By Kati Moody
The Wallace Theater in Levelland recently hired a new artistic director, Anna Hogan, who has hit the ground running and is excitedly preparing for the theater’s first large scale production, Sweeney Todd, set for the week of Halloween.
When Hogan joined the team at the Wallace Theater, her first priority was to establish a theater main stay season, which began by choosing a musical to plan the season around.
“My thought was by choosing a musical of this magnitude, we could fast track the logistics of hosting a production of this scale for a season,” Hogan said.
She said what really started the process of choosing a musical was the space, the theater itself.
“This space is what started the process,” Hogan said. “I wanted something that would fit in the space instead of changing the space to fit the play or material.
“It’s a little spooky, its aesthetic is welcoming to turn of the century work,” Hogan said.
Hogan added that the first production she saw at the Wallace Theater was The Woman in Black, which the theater featured last year during October as a Halloween special.
“I wanted to honor that tradition of doing a great Halloween production and Sweeney Todd is a good one to choose,” Hogan said.
After deciding on which production the theater would host, Hogan said the thought process then shifted to orchestration.
“We do have a live orchestra in collaboration with Texas Tech Vernacular School of Music,” Hogan said. “It’s an innovative orchestra project and not just static, they move in costume, sing and dance. It’s part of the storytelling device.”
Next came casting. Hogan said the Wallace put out a casting call in Lubbock and in Levelland at South Plains College and said staff was excited to see a greater turnout from Levelland.
“We had a bigger turnout in Levelland, which we were really pleased about,” Hogan said. “We did two days of casting and asked auditions to come with a song time selection and a song selection they were more comfortable with, a standard for them.
“It was new or scary for some folks, but people really came out and the talent was incredible,” Hogan continued. “We were very pleased.”
The theater ended up with a cast of 17, not including the orchestra or crew, which includes individuals from across the region, including Lubbock and Hockley County.
“We could not be happier with who is on board,” Hogan said. “It’s a good mix of regional talents, community talent, both in Hockley and Lubbock County, as well as two artists who have both worked professionally in New York. It’s a good cast and a good mix of people.”
The next step in the process for planning such a production is to source crew members for the production.
“The crew consists of stage management, lighting designers, sound designers, costumers, make-up and hair, and then we will also have a chorus master,” Hogan said. “This music is some of the most difficult theater music that exists. It is more in the style of opera.”
From there, Hogan said the responsibility will fall back on the staff at the Wallace Theater to promote and market the event with ticket sales.
Rehearsals for the production will begin mid-September, at which time the cast will go through the play scene by scene until they are ready to pull the full production together for technical rehearsals, which incorporate all the elements.
“They will be breaking down the script, scene by scene, to see how each of those scenes and characters build into the bigger picture, while doing it safely and sensitively,” Hogan said.
She added that Sweeney Todd is not just an experience for those who will be attending, but will be quite an undertaking for those who will be performing.
“It’s quite a heavy hitter in some ways,” Hogan said. “It deals with a lot of topics that are anchored in trauma or the human experience. That can be exciting, but is a sensitive experience for actors to go through while navigating that with extreme attention to everyone’s comfort level and while being sure we have a consistent product.
“From there, we’ll go into technical rehearsals where everything comes together,” Hogan continued. “The show turns over from me to the stage manager to run the thing. I fine tune it to make sure the universe has come together in a way we were all expecting and then it’s all up to the actors to put on the show. It’s going to be really exciting.”
There will be four performances of Sweeney Todd, beginning Thursday, October 28 and ending on Halloween night.
In conjunction with the production, the Wallace Theater will be partnering with Studebaker Events in putting on a pre-show dinner and post-show event alongside the production of Sweeney Todd.
Alycyn Keeling, executive director at the Wallace Theater, said it will provide a catered meal for those attending the play beforehand, then a post-show event for everyone to enjoy following the show.
The two plan to incorporate some elements of Sweeney Todd into the pre-show and post-show events and ticket holders can expect to see some themes from the show carry over into the events.
“We’re keeping all the Halloween action in downtown Levelland,” Hogan said. “You can expect some of the aesthetics from the show to carry over into the menu and decorations.”
However, Hogan jokingly assures all ticket holders that Mrs. Lovett’s special meat pies will not be on the menu and “everything is up to health code standards.”
“That’s one of the more fun collaborations we’re working on,” Hogan said. “It will be a one-stop shop for the Halloween season and gives everyone a chance to really escape for a night.
“It’s a great option for people who want to stay local and have a pretty unforgettable experience,” Hogan said.
Hogan said that by putting on a production of the scale that Sweeney Todd is, it will help the theater to establish policies and logistics moving forward and set the tone for how productions will be hosted in the future.
“By tackling something of this scale, it’s going to set the standard in how we can proceed,” Hogan said. “We are fast tracking a lot of trouble shooting and establishing a lot of policies that will support future full seasons.
“What we hope this show can accomplish long-term is that we will be able to provide this community with top quality theater, consistently,” Hogan said. “That we will be able to provide actors, designers and arts workers with paid opportunities to perform their art, which I think is so important to both Alycyn and I.”
Hogan said she hopes this is the next step for the Wallace Theater in being a part of the conversation among the local arts community, and providing a space for artists to hone their craft, grow and take the next step in their artistic careers, if they so desire.
“We hope this will make a space for the Wallace Theater on a bigger scale,” Hogan said. “We can say that we helped develop this show, we helped this actor take the next step; we hope we can be a practical space for art workers to hone their craft and fulfill their craft and take their craft to the next step if they’re wanting to.”
Keeling added that the Wallace Theater’s mission remains to create experiences that entertain, inspire and empower its audiences, specifically in the Levelland and surrounding communities.
“With that mission statement at the heart of every decision, we’re always putting Levelland and Hockley County first and wanting to make sure we create experience that tie into educational opportunities,” Keeling said. “We are so excited for the partnerships that are building even more with South Plains College, with Levelland ISD, and I want everyone to know we are really working to expand and to build partnerships with other communities and school districts within Hockley County.”
Hogan is a graduate of South Plains College and said her experience in Levelland as a student was formative and impacted her overall view of her career.
“I always knew I wanted to return and provide this resource,” Hogan said. “I have a very strong tie emotionally to SPC and it provided that inspiration…all those Fine Arts instructors were so impactful and showed me it was possible to really pursue a dream and that means the world to me.”
She said she hopes that by creating these experiences people want to participate in here in Levelland at the Wallace Theater that others will find that same inspiration to pursue their artistic passions.
“We are creating a place for people to do that here in Levelland without having to explore it elsewhere,” Hogan said.
Tickets will went on sale Thursday to the general public. The Wallace Theater has started a membership program for $15 per month, which provides early access to members, as well as an invitation to an annual membership party.
For more information, go online to wallacetheater.com/events.