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  • Writer's pictureKaren Pauley

John Hemstock Black: Interview with TIP

John Hemstock Black opens on Friday night! This is a copy of the interview I had with Tokyo International Players about the musical.


We're thrilled to speak to Karen Pauley, director of our upcoming original musical JOHN HEMSTOCK BLACK. Karen has directed TIP Main Stage productions such as CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG as well as staged readings including NATURAL SHOCKS.

How is directing a brand-new show the same or different from directing an established script?

Directing always involves a lot of preparation before the rehearsals begin. With an established script, I spend my time carrying out text analysis and working on a concept for the show. It can be a lonely process as most of this work is done before any of the designers or other collaborators join the project. In this case, however, I have been working directly with Alexander Page, the playwright and composer, for the past year. I’m still analyzing text and themes, but I spend time discussing these with Alexander and hopefully helping him as he writes new scenes and songs. I have also been working with him on the music so that he can hear it in another voice and again can decide if what he has written says what he wanted to say. I imagine that if I get to work with other playwrights in the future that it will be a different process, as there are no set rules on how you collaborate with someone; everyone will have different needs or an approach that works for them.

Which aspects of the script appeal to you?

At the start of the process it was not the script that appealed to me, as it was unfinished and I therefore didn’t have all of it. It was the playwright. I have worked with Alexander before and was intrigued by the concept of him writing a musical as opposed to short plays or stand-alone songs. This was a project Alexander started years ago and he was keen to get it to the point of performance. He had created a short video of the beginning of the piece and I liked his framing device and the gothic horror. I felt that I could understand the cultural influences of the musical and also the exploration of the nature of evil.

What themes are you trying to explore when directing?

I don’t have a specific set of themes that interest me. Like many directors, I have agreed to direct before I receive the script because I’m interested in working with a particular production team. I do have a list of plays and musicals I would like to work on, but they cover many different themes and stories. I know I can be attracted to clever writing, and I will say that the puns sprinkled throughout Alexander’s musical can certainly amuse me, as well as his sense of whimsy. I am also intrigued by the titular character in JOHN HEMSTOCK BLACK. I grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during The Troubles, and spent a long time thinking about the nature of people and how one person can have the capacity to do things that we consider good and also do terrible things that we describe as evil. So exploring the multiple facets of John’s personality interests me.

How is concert reading different from a full production?

In a full production we would expect to have all of the design elements associated with a musical. In this case, we won’t have a set or many props, and there will be very little blocking or choreography. We will be reading and singing the entire script though, not just performing the songs. Although this won’t be as visually engaging as a full production, it does allow us to focus on the text and the songs, which is great when the musical is going to be new to everyone who hears it.

What can the audience expect?

We have a great cast and crew, so I do expect that it will be an enjoyable evening, as much as watching any musical about a historical murder can be described as enjoyable. Without an audience, we don’t have a performance. I'm excited to see how the audience responds to the material and I hope it will lead to some interesting conversations.

John Hemstock Black Rehearsal, Our Space, Tokyo International Players, October 2022

Photo Credit: Rodger Sonomura

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