The Big Break
But even the "Best Musical, Ever," is a gamble.

By SHALIN HAI-JEW
International Examiner

Culled from a cattle call for dancers for a Broadway show, this is the moment of truth. "How many people does he need?" ripples up and down the aspiring chorus line. All are striving to stand above the other dancers and yet maintain the rapport of the teamwork that will get them the show. They are trying to please the disembodied voice of the perfectionist producer named "Zach" (played aptly by Scot Charles Anderson).

This is the familiar premise of the Repertory Actors Workshop's (ReAct) new rendition of the long-running 1975 musical, "A Chorus Line," playing at the Broadway Performance Hall through Aug. 23.

"A Chorus Line" breaks ground for David Hsieh, founder of ReAct, as their company's first musical. "The company is always trying to do new things or different types of shows they haven't done before," Hsieh said. "We've done the classic plays, romantic comedies, mysteries...and the next logical step was a musical, so looking at all the musicals out there, we wanted to choose one that could be cast more diversely (sic) without tweaking or damaging the script in doing so."

The intense modern and tap dance requirements were a challenge to fulfill in combination with the acting, he said. still, he wanted ReAct's regular company members to perfect their all-around skill levels.

In a production estimated to cast upwards of $50,000, Hsieh found little outside financial support. "Funding is less and less each year, and there's more and more companies out here each year scrambling for a piece of the pie. If this show is a hit, and it looks like hopefully it will be, our costs will be covered, and we'll have raised enough money for the company to continue for another year or two."he said.

Creating quality from a lower budget entails being "dollar-wise," Hsieh said. He also borrows things from other theatre companies and gives them program credit. "Just knowing the right people in the right places helps a lot. Over the years, if I happen to see something that I think would be perfect for the show four years from now, I'll ask my friend if we can borrow that piece or stuff.

The actors themselves, who haven't "turned Equity yet" are paid on a "fringe contract," which entails much less pay, he siad.

With two to three productions a year usually, Hsieh finds himself very busy. In 1998, they're putting on an unprecedented five shows. In November, at the Theatre Off Jackson, ReAct will mount Shandell Sosna's "A Letter to Three Wives" (based on a black and white film from the 1940s and 50s).

Of the characters in "A Chorus Line," Hsieh himself must relate to each one so he can direct and support the cast, but he especially related to the naivete of Mark because he "was young and inexperienced, thrown into a situation where he didn't know what he was doing and surviving and doing good" and Richie "because I went to college and got scholarship and had majors, and what I studied really doesn't have much to do with what I'm doing these days."

At 32, Hsieh has a Bachelors Degree from the UW in Advertising and a minor in theater. His interest in theater grew out of sibling rivalry with his older sister, Kathy, who was involved with theatre from an early age. But later, "I got bitten by the bug, and it's with you," he said simply.

He started ReAct in 1993 and has worked with over 200 actors, designers, directors, technicians and theatre artists. "A Chorus Line" is the 19th production of the company, and the 16th main stage production. ReAct started humbly enough: "A group of us just wanted to do a show ("Curious Savage") that I wanted to direct, so I cast a lot of my friends from NWAAT and presented it at the Theatre Off Jackson, and it did pretty well. I put so much work into getting that show up and running, especially in filling out tax forms and acquiring a business license, that it seemed silly not to do more in the future."

In a Aug. 6 interview in The Seattle Times by Misha Berson, Hsieh is quoted as saying that he started ReAct in 1993 "to give people of color, and different genders, the opportunity to do things on-stage they wouldn't have the chance to do otherwise." ReAct has the distinction of being Seattle's "only remaining multi-ethnic theatre company still in production."

ReAct has done benefits for numerous groups such as the Northwest AIDS Foundation, University of Washington School of Drama, Theatre Puget Sound, Chicken Soup Brigade, the Wing Luke Asian Museum, the March of Dimes, and Northwest Harvest and other charities. All have had some tie-in with a particular production for a natural fit.

"We're always open to other groups contacting us, and we're always contacting other groups as well about whether or not they want to do a benefit thing." said Hsieh.

  

August 19 - September 2, 1998

For many actors of color, this is a rare chance to play the role of a lifetime.


"A Chorus Line"
Thurs. - Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 7 p.m.
The Broadway Performance Hall at Seattle Central Community College
1625 Broadway on Capital Hill.
Tickets: $24 for general admission; $20 for students/ seniors/disabled; $12 for children 6-11 years old.
(206) 364-3283.
Through Aug. 23

© 1998 The International Examiner. Reprinted with permission by ReAct.

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