Question: Why did Short North Stage choose to put Hand to God on the season?
Edward Carignan: Our Artistic Committee had the opportunity to see the original production on Broadway last year. We were all blown away by how edgy, distinct and, most of all, hilarious this new play was. It was a huge hit in New York and in London and we were thrilled to receive the Ohio premiere license. We all agreed it was a perfect show for our audiences, based on the success of our previous productions of Die Mommie, Die, The Little Dog Laughed and The Divine Sister.
Question: What makes Hand to God such a unique comedy?
Edward Carignan: Hand to God is unique because it approaches typically dramatic issues in a truly hilarious light. Anyone who grew up in church school, as I did, knows the growing pains and awkward moments that can occur. This play lampoons those moments with a truthful and insightful lens. Throw in a possessed puppet, a mom on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and a love-starved pastor and you have a comedy like none I’ve ever worked on before. I also love that we are setting the show in an immersive and intimate environment. This really changes the experience for the audience, who literally walk into a fully realized church basement.
Question: What has been your favorite part of rehearsing this play?
Edward Carignan: I have really enjoyed learning about the real-life Puppet Ministries. I had no idea they even existed, and apparently they are HUGE. There are tons of clips of them on Youtube. We even had a puppet ministry director come and speak to the cast.
Question: What are the challenges of designing this play for a black box theater space?
William Pierson: The challenge of any production is to give the appropriate aesthetic while making sure that the action can flow quickly and seamlessly. Balancing the aesthetic with practical problems of staging is not an easy chore when the audience is as close as they are in your studio space. Multi-scene and multi-location shows are particularly challenging. This show has five distinct locations. Of those five, one of them has to miraculously transform itself into a variation on itself in full view of the audience. Without giving away specific details I focused on creating a space that could address the numerous interior and exterior spaces efficiently, look unified, service some rather complex action.
Question: What changes when setting this comedy in an immersive environment?
William Pierson: The advantage of designing in the space is the proximity of the audience to the action. For better or worse the audience feels intimately connected with the characters and the world be being surrounded by it. They are immersed in the show because they are inside the world. With a show like "Hand to God" it should mean rooting for these characters, flaws and all.
Question: What is the process of creating the hand puppets for this show?
Zakary Newman: While putting a new spin on characters the Broadway designer had already done exceptionally well was a challenge, it was an exciting one. After preliminary sketches and color schemes were approved by the director, I had to create patterns. My mother “volunteered” to have her hand wrapped in plastic wrap and duct tape so I could draw out the patterns the way they would fall on an actor’s hand. Once the patterns were cut out, I had many hours of hand sewing ahead of me. I prefer hand sewing puppets because I think it blends the pieces of fabric together better than machine sewing. The next stage was wardrobe and detailing. This stage is the most fun because it’s where you get to really bring the character to life.
Question: What were the inspirations for creating Tyrone, the show’s devilish puppet?
Zakary Newman: Because most of my experience is in building monsters and horror themed props, creating Tyrone was very exciting for me. I wanted to really push the demonic look and make it appear as though some creature had taken shape beneath the fabric of the original puppet. In his design, I drew inspiration from Gremlins, one of my favorite films growing up. Not only does possessed Tyrone have gremlin like features, he is also a larger, more aggressive version of his cuter, more innocent self. The final touch was the mutated Jesus fish on his shirt, completing the perversion of the original puppet.