. He is excited to be working on his fourth project for Actors’ Theatre and his first project with Scott Mellema at Actors’. He began his performance career at the age of 10, and has studied at the Interlochen Arts Academy, EGRHS, GRCC & GVSU. Scott has performed before presidents Bush, Reagan & Ford, for PM Margaret Thatcher, Queen Beatrix (NDL), and has opened for Taylor Dayne, Black Box, and Tony Randall. He has traveled and performed in venues throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, California, New York, and continues to provide public and corporate entertainment. Scott has produced work for Heritage Theatre Group & GVSU, Circle Theatre, Jewish Theatre Grand Rapids as well as summer concerts for Jazz At The Zoo with the West Michigan Jazz Society. Scott’s repertoire of work includes:
for longtime mentor and friend, Cedric Ward, at Robeson Players. Scott has been a returning guest artist at Fountain Street Church and St. Thomas the Apostle, as well as several other charitable organizations.
We sat down with Scott Mellema, Scott Patrick Bell, and Erin Kacos and asked them a few questions about the production:
Actors’ Theatre: What is it about CHESS that made you want to be a part of creating this production?
Scott Mellema: Chess was one of my favorite musicals as a teenager going from high school into college. In college, we had the songbook and would constantly spend nights singing music from it. The show has always intrigued me because the story is so complex and (as we hear in the “Story of Chess” song) has so many variations. I still remember how excited I was to perform in the chorus of the Circle Theatre production in the early 90s. The music was fun, but difficult, and the story was a little jumbled. As a director, I’ve spent time over the years considering what I might bring to the table and how I might stage the show. Specifically, how might we clarify some character points to make the story more human and accessible to the audience. Luckily, we are starting with a much cleaner script, that provides an amazing foundation for the music to shine.
Scott Bell: Chess has always been one of my “Bucket List Shows.” My first exposure to the music, was dancing in a club and hearing, “One Night In Bangkok.” I had Flock Of Seagulls hair…that should give you an idea of how long ago that was. I have been fortunate enough to have performed selections from the show with different groups over the years. I am looking forward to finally getting to perform the entire piece.
The creative team at work! Photo credit: Dave Kagan
Erin Kacos: The music is what drew me in. I listened to the soundtrack and didn’t even need to read the script before committing to the show. The music is unique, clever, and moving. I especially love the use of duets, quartets, and the epic ensemble numbers. There are so many interesting components in the score, it gave me a lot to work with movement-wise.
Actors’ Theatre: What can the audience expect to get out of this production of CHESS?
Scott Mellema: The audience can expect many peaks and valleys. They’ll be able to see the characters grow from point a to point B in what, I hope, will be an engaging story. Most importantly, they’re going to hear all the songs that they love from the show sung by a truly outstanding and focused cast.
Scott Bell: There is an edginess to this music, that often seems to get lost. Very real and raw emotions that are able to come forward, when the score isn’t over sung and over orchestrated. The audience can expect to really hear this cast share this story, uncluttered.
Erin Kacos: They can expect to be entertained by the fast moving ensemble and the stunning vocal performances, as well as challenged by the diverse themes explored in the storyline.
Actors’ Theatre: How does this show fit into Actors’ mission (…providing West Michigan with the best in Entertaining, Innovative, Challenging, and Thought-Provoking theatre.)
As you can imagine, Chess is a show that is driven by its psychology, which you don’t always see (with a great deal of depth) in Broadway musicals. With the casting, I tried to imagine what these players in the chess world and the political world would truly be like, and I allowed that to guide me. Hopefully, the results will be honest and fresh, something that I know Actors’ audiences appreciate.As the story progresses, you’re constantly re-framing your views on who the players truly are in the story and who are the pawns. You think of chess as a very personal game played between two isolated individuals. It is intellectual and small scale.
In our show, we see that refined arena invaded, manipulated, and in many ways violated by the interference of both Cold War governments and the media. As a result, we see the chess world characters twisted and distorted by those influences. We see Anatoly, Freddie, Svetlana and Florence as square pegs in round holes; they are very much out of their element and continually adjusting just to survive in the emotionally dangerous waters. The results range from ridiculous to heartbreaking. I hope that our audiences appreciate the dimension we provide to the piece.
Scott Bell: Growing up in the cold war, we had this fear that somebody was going to push “The Button,” and send us all to hell. I remember the USA, boycotting the Olympic Games, Hostages in Iran, the fall of the Berlin Wall. Decades later, we are still seeing sanctions with foreign countries, subjugation of free speech, acts of senseless terrorism, gender, race, and class discrimination. Unfortunately a lot of issues in the story of Chess, exist today. Looking back at our history, not only helps us to avoid reliving mistakes of the past, but also illuminates things we don’t readily see in the present.
Erin Kacos: I think some people were surprised to see Chess on the schedule this year, given it’s an older show that has been reworked and revived several times over the years. This actually encouraged us to be innovative with the way we chose to create the Actors’ Theatre version. We explored different motivations, different stories within the songs, and unique usage of blocking and movement. We were also presented with the task of performing the show with a much smaller ensemble than traditionally used, and a 5 piece band instead of a full orchestra. I think all these factors combined will create a unique Chess experience, even for those familiar with the show.