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Talk Story with Cass Foster, Nell Foster

Cass Foster and Nell Foster believe this could be Women In Theatre’s finest season. It’s been around nearly 20 years, but this season is going to be something special.


For the first time, it has a full lineup of five productions (see related story at right).

It has marked one year since it moved into its new home, WIT’s End, at Kukui Grove Center.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever announced a season for the year because we have a home,” Nell Foster said.

“That was a big step for us, to make that commitment,” she added.

The relaxing environment of tables and chairs spaced around the stage creates something unlike other community theaters. It’s more informal than the usual theater, designed so people can sit back, eat, drink and enjoy the show.

The idea is also to change how the cast and audience interact.

“She wanted to create something that was not like any of the other community theatres. She wanted to create something more intimate,” Cass Foster said.

“What I want is, the moment someone walks in that door, their jaws drop and their reaction is, ‘This is going to be fun.’” Add she’s done it.

Cass is directing “Proof” that opened Friday. Nell is WIT’s artistic director and in charge of set and costume design. Their goal is to keep the momentum going and keep the audiences coming back for more.

“I’m hoping I’ve done that with this show,” Cass said.

Word is getting out about WIT and, for the first time, they’re selling sponsorships.

Nell Foster has been involved with WIT about eight years. She knows what they want — diversity of productions.

“We are very interested and supportive of new and original works,” she said.

For instance, Nell noted that “Christmas from Home: 1941” to run Nov. 28 to Dec. 15 is being adapted for WIT, to make it specific to Hawaii.

“We’re really doing original stuff that’s just different,” Nell said.

Both are of strong will and strong mind. Both are dedicated to their craft. Both have senses of humor that keeps them laughing.

At one point in their interview with TGI, Nell leaned forward and whispered, “The secret is, don’t tell him this, I have to make him think it was his idea,” she said with a smile.

“She does a good job,” Cass added.

And they are meticulous when it comes to the plays they are involved in.

Right now, “Proof” is on their minds, pretty much day and night, at the theater and at home.

“Until we get through this, it’s pretty much all-consuming,” Nell said.

“Ultimately, we get a good finished product,” she added.

Theater is in their blood.

Cass was a theater professor for 25 years. Together, they have worked “every capacity possible in theater.”

“When you’re the wife of a theater professor, you just do what needs to be one,” Nell said.

“She supports me, I support her,” Cass said.

The two enjoy a night out for theater — but it’s not always easy to just enjoy the show. When you’re a director, you notice things that the casual theater-goer would not.

Whereas Nell can let little miscues go that might bother her as a director, Cass has a tougher time overlooking things. He wants it all as good as it should be.

“Me more than him. He can’t just take off his director’s coat,” she said.

With its new home, a stronger following and top productions, WIT is in the spotlight — and happy about it.

“As artistic director, we have to keep the bar up for quality,” she said.

Cass has no doubts what his job is: “To pull people in is what we’re trying to do. I think when people come to the show, they’re going to be engaged.”

That’s why he is focused on developing the humanity of his characters.

“It’s important the audience cares about these people,” he said.

When you put your heart and soul into theater, like Cass and Nell Foster, caring is all you know.

Now, in their own words, let’s hear from Nell and Cass about WIT and why it means so much to them:

“I am delighted our community theatre is able to stage five fully mounted productions each season. We finally have a home conveniently located that not only accommodates 70 patrons but provides an intimate environment where guests sit at small tables of four. Our audiences enjoy being able to take advantage of a drink and snack while watching our shows. And having air conditioning is a certainly a plus. Part of my challenge as WIT’s first artistic director is to find and bring in directors and designers with the skills and commitment to provide our shows with a polished and professional look. We are always looking for new talent.

“We start our first fully-mounted season with a sensational production of David Auburn’s Pulitzer-Prize winning ‘Proof.’ I admire the playwright’s skill at weaving serious issues that exist in most families with wit and humor. WIT is pleased to have Cass Foster as the show’s director. He is, excuse my bias towards my husband, a highly accomplished director with numerous credits at university, community and professional theatres. Women In Theatre started 18 years ago by two women, Roberta Cable and Sandi O’Shaughnessy, who wanted to create an additional theatre to compliment what was already here. Thanks to their passion and commitment we have blossomed into a community theatre with professional standards that encourage
participation from all genders and all ages. We love what we do and we are so very grateful for whatever support comes from our patrons.”

— Nell Foster

Cass Foster shares his approach to directing Women In Theatre’s February production of the Pulitzer-Prize winning “Proof’ by David Auburn: “My interest as a director is three-fold: Find a script that intrigues me, give it a life as close to the playwright’s intentions as possible and bring audiences back for more.

“I’ll be teaching a workshop this June for WIT on directing, acting and stage managing, and participants will learn about three primary directing styles: The first is those who provide little more than blocking (actor movement) because they have total trust in their actors or know little about directing. A second style is like a puppeteer who leads their team by the hand every step of the way without interest in input. I’m neither talented enough nor smart enough to do it all so I’m the third type: I collaborate.

“I encourage input from every member of my team but I don’t necessarily use all their suggestions. My experience tells me actors and designers appreciate being able to share their ideas and insights. It’s important my team has a sense of ownership on opening night.

“That it’s not my show, it’s our show. But ultimately the play must have one concept that falls under one genre: And that is decided by the director. We are left with utter confusion when a show opens with a dozen artists and designers each doing (often in the genre of their choice) what they would do if they were the director.

“Ideally my shows start the moment the audience walks into the theatre, not when the curtain goes up. Literally the minute they walk into WIT’s End I want them looking at the stage, thinking. ‘This is going to be fun.’ I’m fortunate to have a unique board of directors. Most board members do little more than attend monthly board meetings and schmooze on opening nights. Each member of WIT’s board is actively involved in every production they produce. They are a unique and exceptional team.

“I am also fortunate to have four talented and committed actors (Taylor Howell, Erin Gaines, Andrew Rice and Andrew Wolenter) and two exceptionally gifted designers: Chris (“Angus”) Sweitzer for lighting design and Nell Foster for set design.

“Let’s face it, we can’t please all the people all the time, but hopefully a large percentage of WIT’s patrons will enjoy the show enough to come back for more. And if they don’t enjoy it, they will at least enjoy a drink and bowl of freshly-popped popcorn in a very-intimate, air-conditioned space. And if they doze off? Well, when you’ve been involved in directing and academia as long as I have, you’ve put a lot of people to sleep.

— Cass Foster
Source: The Garden Island

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