Tag Archives: 2014-2015 Season

Sneak Peak Behind the Scenes of “Chess”

Curious about Actors’ upcoming production of Chess? Check out the great rehearsal photos shot by Dave Kagan of Sensitography and posted in our Facebook albums. (That’s right – there are several albums Chess of photos for your enjoyment!)

Chess open December 4 and runs 4-6, 11-13 &18-20
All shows begin at 8PM.

Tickets are ON-SALE Now! Call (616) 234-3946 or go to www.atgr.org and purchase your tickets today!!

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Meet The Creative Team Behind “Chess”!

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Scott Mellema (Director) is a native of Grand Rapids who has been an active member of its Theatre community for over 20 years.  This work began with a performance in Chess, during the early 90’s, and has continued up to Les Miserables, which he directed for Civic Theatre last season.  He earns a living as a teacher of Theatre and English at East Kentwood High School.  Scott is married to a beautiful woman named Cinnamon and has been blessed with two amazing children, Reilly and Johnnie.

Scott Patrick Bell (Music Director) returns to Actors’ Theatre after music directing last year’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. 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: Ain’t Misbehavin’; Smokey Joe’s Café (Grand Award); Love, Perfect, Change (GA nomination); Back to Bacharach & David, Pippin, Altar Boyz, Little Shop of Horrors(Grand Award) and Circle Celebrates: Songs You’ll Remember, Jesus Christ Superstar in Concert, and The Music of Queen Concert for Circle Theatre.  He appeared onstage in the Magic Circle production ofAndrocles & the Lion and Circle’s production of Company.  He directedOnce On This Island, Shout Somebody, and conducted They’re Playin’ Our Song 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.


Erin Kacos (Choreographer) is thrilled to be working with Actors’ again after choreographing last seasons’ production of Grey Gardens. She has also choreographed locally for Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Circle Theatre, Cornerstone University, Unity Christian High School, Jenison High School, Hudsonville High School, as well as many churches and dance studios. She is a published author, having written and produced a book and instructional DVD on using dance in the church. Erin has also been seen on stage in several productions at both Civic and Circle Theatres.

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

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.) 

Scott Mellema: 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.

CHESS runs December 4-6, 11-13 & 18-20
All shows begin at 8pm.

* There will be a Talk-back after the December 5th performance.

Tickets are On-Sale NOW!

to purchase your tickets!

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December 5th “Chess” Talk Back at Actors’ Theatre

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Join us Friday, December 5th, for a talk-back after the performance with Professor Robert Hendershot, Ph.D, and Robert Tolbert as they discuss the Cold War, Russian and American relations today, and the game of chess; including its symbolism in the production of CHESS. Meet our talk-back panelists:

Robert M. Hendershot, Ph.D. is the Associate Professor of World History at Grand Rapids Community College.  An expert on the history of American international relations, the Cold war, and the influence of culture on foreign policy formulation, he has multiple published works and is a very active scholar in the field of transatlantic studies.  At GRCC, he regularly offers specialized seminar classes and teaches surveys of world history and Latin American history each year.

Robert Tolbert traversed many states between Grand Rapids, Michigan, his hometown, and New York City. He was a small business counselor and assistant to the director of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Small Business Development Center in Lansing for four years, a supply chain specialist at FedEx in Memphis, Tenn., then a manager of sourcing and procurement at the Walt Disney Co. in New York before becoming sourcing manager for media powerhouse Time Warner Inc. At Time Warner he was responsible for identifying and implementing cost-saving opportunities for the company’s business units, as well as developing strategies to leverage corporate buying power. He was named one of the “Top 40-Under-Forty” as a top achiever by the Network Journal (TNJ), a New York City-based magazine that focuses on African-American professionals and small business news.

Tolbert decided to return to Grand Rapids in 2011, where he now works as a consultant for the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council, a non-profit organization that works to develop opportunities for minority owned businesses to obtain contracts with large corporations. He heads a group of area corporate executives from leading corporations specifically targeting supplier diversity strategy for West Michigan minority owned firms.

Tolbert has played chess since childhood, and continues to be fascinated by the game. As a business professional, he uses chess to relax and remain alert. He is a fan of playing speed games and loves to take time to play outdoors. He enjoyed playing games in the city parks of New York and continues to play daily online with players from around the world.

Make ticket reservations for Chess today at www.atgr.org

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Coming December 4th… Order Your Tickets Now!

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November 2, 2014 · 9:46 pm

Announcing the Cast of “Chess”!

Just in case you missed the announcement on our Facebook page:

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Florence: Jess Barton
Freddie: Wayne Swezey
Anatoly: Jeremiah Postma
Molokov: David Hatter
Svetlana: Amy Groen
Walter: Brian Lauer
Arbiter: John Girdlestone
Gregory Vassy/Ensemble: Bud Thompson

Michelle Matson
Liz Brand
Brianna Clark
Carly Uthoff
Kallie Piette
Matt Hartman
Jason DeJager
Rob Reminga
(and a few more to follow)

Chess runs December 4-6, 11-13 & 18-20.

Tickets are on-sale now!! Call (616) 234-3946 or go online to atgr.org to purchase tickets!

We look forward to seeing you in December!

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