Williamston Theatre’s Opening Night production of New Releases takes you on a nostalgic trip down memory lane with this touching comedy full of spunk. The World Premiere production by Michigan playwright Joseph Zettelmaier leaves you satisfied yet wanting more. This is the perfect combination since the playwright envisions producing a trilogy centered around the main character, Jen. Audiences can only hope Zettelmaier decides to continue the story and delivers sequel plays.
The Story: Jen is going down with the sinking ship. That ship is Avid Video, a small-time video rental store that is circling the drain. One night, a strange woman comes in to rent a video that has never been rented…one that Jen didn’t even know the store carried. The two of them strike a bizarre deal, and as the months go on, Jen struggles to unravel the mystery of this woman, even as the store she loves marches towards extinction. A warm comedy that’ll tickle your funny bone and touch your heart.
The cast of New Releases consists of newcomer to the Williamston stage, Jamie Lien, along with Sandra Birch (A Hunting Shack Christmas, Beau Jest) and Scott Norman (Flyover, USA: Voice from Men of the Midwest). Paige Conway makes her Williamston Theatre directing debut. The production team includes Scenic Design by Bartley H. Bauer (A Hunting Shack Christmas, Memoir), Lighting Design by Shannon Schweitzer (The Gin Game, Our Lady of Poison), Costume Design by Karen Kangas-Preston (Silent Sky, Memoir), Sound Design by Quintessa Gallinat (Silent Sky, Doublewide) and Props Design by Michelle Raymond (The Gin Game, To Quiet The Quiet). The Stage Managers are Stephanie Din (The Gin Game, To Quiet The Quiet) and Nan Luchini (Memoir, Our Lady of Poison).
Paige Conway is thrilled to be directing at Williamston Theatre where previously acted as a Stage Manager for many productions. She is enjoying working with cast and crew and shares how the casting process was a fun experience. Sandra Birch was already selected for the role of Carol when Conway joined the production; she was thrilled to work with Birch again in a new capacity. She enjoyed Scott Norman’s callback auditions and agreed with Williamston Theatre’s Artistic Director, Tony Caselli, that Norman was the right choice to cast as Bob. Since this production is in collaboration with MSU, Conway had the unique opportunity to return to her Alma Mater for the audition process. This part of the experience was both challenging and fun resulting in casting Jamie Lien in the role of Jen.
The director and cast are enthused when examining the script and their first reactions to reading it. Conway discusses how the main character feels very authentic to what college students are going through. She shares, “Immediately upon reading the script, I knew that I loved our protagonist: a twenty-one-year old, sarcastic, kind-of punk college student with all the cynical pieces of herself that she is working through. It is certainly a very relatable time in your life that is very fun as we don’t get to experience that much in a theatrical setting. There aren’t many roles that are specifically set around that time so that was my favorite part.” Lien also states she instantly related to the character of Jen and what she is going through. “Joe got it so on the nose. The way that she sees the world is through such a small telescope and I feel like everybody my age is in a constant catastrophe state because they see life through that small telescope.”
When discussing the production, characters and favorite things; the collaboration and excitement this team shares is contagious. Birch says, “I love that they all have great relationships. This twenty-one-year old has great relationships with these two older people. I love that.” Norman enjoys the relationship between his character, the employee, Jen and the sweetness it showcases. Lien discusses how fun it is to play such a sassy and sarcastic character and to experience that role with other people. Conway shares, “The whole thing feels so nostalgic. Nostalgia feels like its own character in a way. The set kind of brings to that too.”
Meeting this team, it is so apparent that they love working together and are having a blast. Norman summarizes everyone’s favorite thing about the show, “Williamston. This group, this team that they put together, is always wonderful. Awesome to work with and it is like coming home.” When delivering a World Premiere play, the director, cast and playwright work closely together embracing changes as the rehearsals progress. Birch eloquently summarizes, “It’s nerve wracking. Things that you love can go away and things that you hate have to stay. And sometimes you just end up loving the whole thing.” The team is enjoying the process and growth of the play. Conway summarizes, “I love directing new plays. I really like the process of working with writers and watching something come together and change. Really working with everyone being in a collaborative spirit to make this story work.”
Williamston Theatre’s stage takes you back to the past and a simpler time when Friday night consisted of selecting a video or two and your favorite candy to take home and enjoy. A vintage video store fills the stage floor and the classic movies props are amazing. The set has a cool movie posters and a video drop-box that is reminiscent of the time-period. The retail store set does not feature chairs or usual “stage” places to sit so learning to maneuver was initially challenging for the cast. Luckily, it comes together with perfectly timed blocking on stage.
Opening night, the theatre was packed and the atmosphere crackled with a play full of intrigue, laughter and relatable characters. The performance of New Releases takes the audience on a journey that is fast paced and makes you laugh out loud. Audiences will relate to the characters, the different stages in life and the experience of looking back while watching this play. The show offers a talented playwright, director and cast that truly capture your heart with sass, humor and relationships showcasing a tender entertaining story that the audience is sure to love. Don’t miss checking out the show by ordering your tickets here.