Behind the curtain: A WLAA inside look at Theatre NOVA’s latest play “Constellations”


Director Carla Milarch likes what she is seeing from her two young actors, Forrest Hejkal and Meghan VanArsdalen, as they go through the paces of Theatre NOVA’s latest play “Constellations,” which is new to Ann Arbor but not exactly a world premiere. There are a lot of steps to take before a new play can walk, let alone run. And right now they are walking – but at a brisk pace.

Milarch has brought more than 25 brand new plays to world premieres so the former artistic director of the award-winning Performance Network Theatre knows what she likes – and she likes what Hejkal and VanArsdale are doing.

But – yes, there is usually a “but” with directors especially as their creative minds try to turn words on a page into action on a stage – Milarch has some small suggestion on how things can go from great to greater.

During a scene where the two lead actors are having an emotional conversation from opposite sides of the room, Milarch would like to see Forrest stand up and try to calm down Meghan.

“She’s getting emotional and you are trying to calm her down,” Milarch says to the two actors as they are closing in on less than two weeks from opening the play. “When you see she is getting worked up, try and move in closer and put your hands on her knees. And (Meghan) you aren’t having any of it. You are angry and upset. You need him to understand this.”

Milarch says that’s really the only blocking the scene needs because the audience will be focused on the dialogue.

The two actors take on the scene again and deliver it “greater.” Mission accomplished.

And that’s the role of a director working on a new play, especially when the director has strong dialogue to work with and exceptional actors delivering those words. Milarch, in this case, is just putting the final pieces together and putting everything in place as rehearsals head for the home stretch.

The audience chairs have coats and purses sitting on them – not people. There really is no stage in place at this point. The lights never change. The stage manager, keeping a close eye on the dialogue, is wrapped in a blanket because the heat isn’t exactly cranked up. But with all this out of place stuff, the energy in the room is in place and on high as the play is rounding into something everyone can get behind.

“I feel really good where we are,” says Hejkal, who is from Ann Arbor. “We’ve got the whole show blocked and staged and we’ve done several full run-throughs. It’s feeling really good getting into the rhythm of it.”

And there isn’t a lot of time to find that rhythm.

Hejkal and VanArsdalen were cast for the production in mid-December giving them less than two months to learn the play, memorize their lines and find their groove. Oh, and learn sign language.

“We had about three weeks between getting cast and starting rehearsals,” VanArsdalen said.

While everyone involved in the play is working to figure out how the play will best be presented, the actors are not only doing that but also doing what they do best, acting.

“I think it all comes together at the same time,” VanArsdale says. “While we are learning the blocking and the lines we are still acting.”

Hejkal agrees.

“Yeah, there are stages were you are not focused as much on acting because you are trying to figure out where you are so you can’t get into the flow of it,” he said. “But the blocking is hopefully motivated by the intentions and emotions of the scene.”

Milarch is an award-winning director who has what she calls a “very improvisational directorial style.”

“I like to start out doing a read-through of the entire play without giving them any direction,” she says. “I can get a sense of what their impulses are and then we break it down by scene. We usually get some ideas when we break it down by scene. This play is unique because it takes a moment in their relationship and repeats it four or five times with something different happening every time.

“It’s about me responding to what the actors are doing and taking it from there.”

“Constellations,” written by Nick Payne, is a spellbinding, romantic journey that begins with a simple encounter between a man and a woman. But what happens next defies the boundaries of the world we think we know – delving into the infinite possibilities of their relationship and raising questions about the difference between choice and destiny.

The production team includes Hejkal (scenic design), Daniel C. Walker (lighting design), Diane Hill (sound design), and Michelle Resnick (stage manager).

“Constellations” will run Jan. 26 through Feb. 18, 2018 at Theatre NOVA (410 W. Huron, Ann Arbor), a downtown performance space. Show times are 8:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and Sunday matinees start at 2 p.m. Theatre NOVA features free parking for patrons, as well as quick access to the city’s restaurants, bars, bakeries, and coffee shops.

Tickets are $20, and Theatre NOVA continues its commitment to make theatre accessible by offering pay-what-you-can tickets for those who need them. For tickets, visit, call 734-6358450 (Tuesdays through Fridays from noon until 3 p.m.), or buy them in person at the box office one hour before show time.

Theatre NOVA is Ann Arbor’s resident professional theatre company. Its mission is to raise awareness of the value and excitement of new plays and playwrights and provide resources for playwrights to develop their craft by importing, exporting, and developing new work.


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