Directing ‘Chicago’: Paying for ‘all that jazz’

A cast of 22 people, a 65-seat venue the size of a living room, five weeks to prepare, and barely more than $2,000 to spend. These are the numbers behind Generic Theatre Company’s upcoming production of “Chicago,” which opens Thursday at the Lisner Downstage.

Director Scout Seide, a senior who has worked with GW’s three student theater groups and is the president of the Student Theatre Council, said “Chicago” is a “capstone moment” for her college theater career.

“It wasn’t a matter of wanting to do the show. it was a matter of needing to do it,” Seide said.

Funding, especially for a show like “Chicago,” is a priority. In March, Seide wrote a budget proposal, which Generic sent to the Student Association Finance Committee to review for cosponsorship of the show. Since she was asking for $4,000, Seide had to meet with the committee to discuss exactly how she would use the money. The final budget allotted by the SA was $2,300.

“It’s pretty good,” Seide said. “I’ve noticed in my history with student theater that you get about half of what you ask for.”

Chris Clark, the vice chair for the SA Finance Committee, said in an e-mail that the committee considers several factors when determining a cosponsorship budget.

“We want to see the student org lay out their list of expenses, truthfully, and if they have revenue such as ticket sales we love to see that as well,” he said.

Clark added that each show’s budget is considered on “a case by case basis.”

“The rights to different shows and the overall production costs differ from show to show,” he said.

For “Chicago” the biggest expenditure, said Seide, was purchasing the rights to put on the show, which cost $1,700. Without those rights, Generic could not charge money for tickets and cannot advertise for the show.

Generic’s production of “Chicago” resembles the original Broadway version more than the movie. The costumes are streamlined and simple: Guys are dressed in shirtsleeves and black trousers, girls in variations of black spandex, fishnet stockings and lace. Still, Seide said buying those costumes quickly becomes expensive.

“I’m trying to be as frugal as possible. But it adds up. I have 22 people in my cast,” she said.

The show’s crew set up the Downstage Theatre late Sunday night, and the cast had its first rehearsal there on Monday, four days before opening night. Prior to that, the cast had been rehearsing wherever it could find space.

“It’s always a huge adjustment going from a random space, like the Thurston Piano Lounge, to the actual place you will be performing,” said Claire Austin, a senior who plays Velma Kelly in the show.

Seide said that during the final week of rehearsals, spacing became the biggest issue.

“I have a lot of people on stage at one time, many times throughout the show, and I want to make sure that everyone is seen and comfortable, and there are no train accidents,” she said.

Seide said she has no regrets about taking on the show, citing its universal appeal as one of the reasons for wanting to direct it.

“People from everywhere know the show. People who have never seen the show know the show,” Seide said. “It’s so fun; it’s so different from other musical theater. This is a jazz musical; this is not your Rodgers and Hammerstein ‘Oklahoma,’ or ‘The King and I.’ It is different.”

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