Oct. 18--SULLIVAN -- Since joining Sullivan's Little Theatre-On the Square as a marketing director in 2006, there's almost no role John Stephens hasn't played.
He's spent his days negotiating with Actor's Equity performers, securing play rights, fundraising, marketing, making costumes, painting sets and even unclogging toilets. In fact, there was only one major job he had avoided, and that's directing an actual show.
Tonight he'll add "director" to his list of activities as The Little Theatre opens a two-week run of "Nunsense."
"This is a show I've loved for a long time, so I finally wanted to take on one of my own," Stephens said. "My background is in directing and teaching, but the last time I directed a show it was eight years ago in Decatur at St. James Catholic School."
Since then, Stephens has held an array of titles for The Little Theatre, working his way up to executive director and then his current "executive producer and artistic director" role. He figured that after watching so many shows produced at the theater he would have a good grasp for running a show himself, but the actual experience of directing has been more varied and challenging than expected.
"It has made me look at the timelines I've put in place for other directors in the past," he said. "I'm seeing more than ever that it doesn't matter how well-planned you are for a show, you're always going to hit roadblocks. It's definitely been more difficult than expected, but also more fun."
"Nunsense," Stephens' show of choice, is among the most popular musical comedies to perform on a nationwide scale. Ever since its premiere in 1985, thousands of smaller theaters have tackled the show, its six sequels and three spin-offs. Clearly, dancing and singing nuns hit a sweet spot with theater audiences.
"It's the zany humor that has made it a classic," the director said. "There are lots of touching moments, but mostly you just laugh and laugh. They really found a great formula with this show and kept with it through all the sequels."
That formula combines singing and dancing with a rather morbid streak of humor. The impetus for the whole show comes from the mass death of 52 nuns who are killed by a vat of tainted soup. The eventual variety show put on by the surviving sisters is to raise money needed for burials of several nuns who are still on ice.
"It's said that the entire show started from a joke greeting card with a dead nun," Stephens said. "There is some of that black humor, but it still manages to be family friendly for the most part once you get past the initial premise."
Of course, in order to raise that money, the nuns have to show off their considerable talents. The Little Theatre cast, including mainstay Therese Kincade as Mother Superior and last season's Kara Guy and Melissa Jones in returning roles, had to learn not only how to perform all the show's song and dance numbers, but do them all while wearing habits and veils.
"They have to do everything from belting out some operatic stuff to tap dancing and telling jokes," Stephens said. "They had the habits on for the first time yesterday and are just getting used to them now. It's going to be a great show with a little bit of everything."
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