by Frank O’Donnell
Michael Ferron is excited to be directing “And Then There Were None” for Woonsocket’s Rhode Island Stage Ensemble. It’s his first time directing, and he gets to work with his father, Rich, who’s the show’s producer.
“My cast is wonderful,” he said recently. “They’re very tolerant of my being a first-time director and have had a lot of helpful input about how to make the production better. I told them at the first rehearsal that I’m just here to see the big picture. They will all know their characters better than I ever will by the end of the run. They took that direction and ran with it, and the result is that I have eleven beautifully portrayed roles that are all better than if I just told them what to do. They are at least as big a driving force behind the artistic direction of this show as I am, probably more so.”
“And Then There Were None” is based on Agatha Christie’s best-selling novel. A small group of people have been invited to a small island, and one by one, they start to turn up dead. A good old-fashioned murder mystery. “I don’t think the classics, especially a masterpiece like this one, ever really go out of style,” said Michael.
Michael’s dad, Rich, is taking a hands-off approach to his son’s direction. “As producer, I said at the start that my job was the business side of the production and Michael’s was the artistic side,” said Rich. “Having directed several shows, it is always hard not to want to give advice, but the director should have a vision of what the production looks like in his or her head and that’s what needs to be brought to the stage. Everyone else can make suggestions but it is that vision that the audience needs to see and feel. It makes it all the more challenging when the director is your son and you want him to succeed. I have offered Michael the advice that a producer would offer his director and I have encouraged Michael the way any father would his child. Even after all that, the kid is making it work.”
So, what’s the best part of the process? “So far, it’s been seeing the reactions to some of my decisions for the first time when crew members stop by to see parts of the show,” says Michael. “It’s knowing that the plan is coming together and that it’s having the effect we want it to have. If we do this right, this won’t just be an evening’s entertainment for our patrons. I’m hoping to make this a real experience for them, something they’ll remember.”
For Rich, the fun – other than to be working with his son – is “to watch a new director figure it out, make the mistakes, rebound and charge forward. All the while, I try to keep a supportive team around him and keep all that other stuff moving forward. It’s all the better when you are watching your child do that. Not only is he using what he has learned in the past, he is growing and learning a new skill set and perfecting that set. Those skills will serve him well in the future, even beyond the theater.”
Michael agrees that he’s learned a lot from having watched his father in the theater world. “I’ve adopted his battle cry of ‘That’s in the show now!’ whenever something unplanned goes particularly well. I think we are both pretty good about putting aside our personal business when we walk into the theater and becoming the producer and the director. I’m not always the most on top of things and I’ve made him crack the whip a few times, though I basically knew that was going to happen going in.”
Rich sums up the relationship simply. “Maybe the line from the Godfather is appropriate. ‘It’s business, I tell ya, only business.’ Michael has surprised me with his focus and his zeal for making everything right. While it is true that he has needed a couple of kicks in the butt, for the most part it’s been fairly easy. He stays on the artistic side, I stay on the business side. I yield to the artistic decisions and, well, he has no choice but to yield to the producer’s decision. Because it’s only business.”
“And Then There Were None” runs through Sunday, September 23, 2018 at the RISE Playhouse on Clinton Street in Woonsocket. Visit www.ristage.org for tickets and details.