The cast of “We Will Rock You,” one of two musicals staged by Theatre Under the Stars at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl this summer. (Photo: Emily Cooper/TUTS)

The cast of “We Will Rock You,” one of two musicals staged by Theatre Under the Stars at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl this summer. (Photo: Emily Cooper/TUTS)

MUSICALS

Surrey director gets intimate with TUTS shows ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Something Rotten!’

‘This is my first time working on 2 musicals like this, on a bigger stage in such a fantastic location,’ Jessica Nelson says

Whenever actors kiss, hug or otherwise physically interact during this summer’s Theatre Under the Stars shows in Vancouver, Jessica Anne Nelson has done her work.

But her work is about much more than that.

The Surrey resident is the Intimacy Director for the productions of “Something Rotten!” and “We Will Rock You,” two TUTS musicals staged at Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl from July 2 to Aug. 27.

“Something Rotten!” offers a satirical rivalry with Shakespeare, while “We Will Rock You” is based on Queen’s huge catalogue of rock hits.

Nelson, 34, a theatre professional trained at the University of British Columbia, worked with TUTS for the first time this spring.

“It’s new for me,” said Nelson, who lives in the Clayton area. “I’ve known about TUTS for years and have been a fan of their performances and musicals, but this is the first time I’ve worked with the company. I love musicals and going to musicals, and this is my first time working on two musicals like this, on a bigger stage in such a fantastic location.”

Her intimacy direction centers on the principles of creating consent-based and trauma-informed work, according to a bio. “With her MFA in Directing, and many years of experience in devising, creation-based techniques, and community collaborations, her work focuses on stories that shine a light on stereotypically negative or dark characters and stories, while also striving for social change.”

And yes, kissing on stage is the kind of thing she helps choreograph and direct.

“Lots of my training has been through Theatrical Intimacy Education, an amazing organization out of Chicago, and through the pandemic I was taking workshops online,” Nelson explained. “Their training is that intimacy is anything that is asking an actor to bring something intimate to them to a character they play.

“In the past when physical intimacy moments were created in theatre,” she continued, “lots of times the conversation would be, ‘How would you, the actor, do this moment?’ And that’s something very personal to bring to a fictional story, a fictional character, right. But as far as what I’m doing for TUTS this summer, there are moments of physical intimacy between characters – kisses, hugs and other moments of intimacy. Reading the script, I flagged moments where I wanted to be part of the direction.”

STORY CONTINUES BELOW

An irreverent homage to Broadway, “Something Rotten!” is a whimsical satire that follows Renaissance-era playwright siblings Nick and Nigel Bottom, whose dreams of writing a hit show are thwarted by Shakespeare’s wild success. Returning to the stage for his fifth TUTS season is Daniel Curalli (as William Shakespeare), joined by Kamyar Pazandeh (Nick Bottom) and Vicente Sandoval (Nigel Bottom).

The role of Bea, who is married to Nick, is played by Katie-Rose Connors, who was raised in Surrey and graduated from North Surrey Secondary.

“It’s interesting because they’re playing characters who’ve been married for 10 years,” Nelson explained, “so that level of ease and comfort you’d have with a partner is a different level of intimacy, having been together for that long. It’s different than the other characters, Nigel and Portia, who are newly in love and it’s exciting that way.”

Nelson said TUTS audiences are going to be very entertained at Malkin Bowl this summer.

“I saw a run of ‘Something Rotten!’ last week and it was just so great to see it on stage, and it’s super funny,” she raved.

Nelson is also excited about “We Will Rock You,” but for “totally different reasons,” she said. “It’s actually quite funny at times. If you’re a Queen music lover like I am, it’s so great to hear those songs in this story.”

The Queen musical follows Galileo and Scaramouche and their gang of misfits 300 years in the future, as they rise up to fight for their freedom from the oppressive Killer Queen, who has banned all music. Playing the lead roles of Galileo and Scaramouche are Danny Malena and Jessica Spenst, who both make their TUTS debuts. Steffanie Davis will return for her fourth TUTS season as the villainous Killer Queen and Jennifer Suratos for her fourth TUTS season as Bohemian Oz.

TUTS shows have been staged at Stanley Park since 1940. For tickets and more show tickets, visit tuts.ca or call 1-800-514-3849.

Special events at TUTS this summer include a relaxed performance “Something Rotten!” on July 25, in partnership with Canucks Autism Network. Also planned is a “We Will Rock You” sing-along night Wednesday, Aug. 3, and early 7 p.m. shows on fireworks nights (July 23, 27 & 30).



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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