Wertheim Theater bridges and builds up worlds with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

The Taxi Driver | Photo Courtesy of FIU Theatre

Kaysea Suzana | Assistant Entertainment Director

The Herbert and Nicole Wertheim School of Music & Performing Arts fires up the Spring semester with their Feb. production: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Based on a musical by David Yazbek which draws inspiration from the 1988 Spanish movie this FIU adaptation marks the first joint production between the school of music and the school of theatre.

A majority of theatre students take acting classes, meaning that the singers for this production are also actors.

Musical Director Jessica Diaz spoke about the spritzprobe, the first time that actors and instrumentalists rehearsed together.

“There are fifteen rehearsals. So that’s a lot, and that’s why interest is important…. They worked on choreography and blocking…we do big chunks of the show and music direction,” Diaz said.

Diaz spoke that some of the challenges in producing the performance was communication.

“Setting the precedence is one of the biggest challenges. Each musical in the past was a specific situation. Whatever we decide to do this year, is going to set the precedent.

If we decide we’re going to do this avant-garde way of doing things, then that might be how it’s done…Or if we stick to industry standard, then that’s the precedent,” said Diaz.

Alongside pressure, Diaz mentioned that communication was an issue.

“I’m teaching two different kinds of people right now…For me it’s difficult to communicate and translate the terms or the directions I want into theatre talk,” said Diaz.

Alongside the singers, the instrumentalists are composed of keyboards, guitar bass, and drums. 

Jennifer Ivey, Assistant Professor of Scenic spoke about the creation of set pieces.

“When it comes to creating scene design, you have to focus on two elements. The mechanical, which is how it moves and functions. And the make-up, the aesthetic and how it’s stylized,” Ivey said.

Given that the production is meant to canonically take place in Spain, Ivey mentioned the use of both English and Spanish in props.

“Most of the written things that we see are going to be in Spanish, but [the actors] are going to be speaking English. 

“But, we tried to be as accurate as possible by having Spanish themed magazines that were accurate to the time period…” Ivey said.

The scenes design is meant to represent the time period’s decor, with a total of six scenes prepared in which the production will alternate through as the story develops. 

A kitchen, a street,  a courthouse, Lucia’s apartment, a phone booth, Pepa’s penthouse and Paulina’s office all make up the different sets for the production.

These set pieces are popping with color, focused on soft pastels that represent the 80’s style, aided by the lighting department’s kaleidoscopic hues.

Painted partition | Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Ivey

Among the creation of the scene were important structures of the plot like vehicles, such as a vespa and taxi, all of which had to be handmade. 

The faux-taxi was a logistical marvel, featuring emergency systems so passengers won’t fall off, as well as reinforced structures so the frame withstands movement.

Performance wise, the taxi balances most of the weight on a fulcrum, allowing the taxi-driver to operate it with ease and without strain to their voice.

But even theatre benefits from editing.

“There are always discoveries in rehearsal. Sometimes those discoveries are big, sometimes those discoveries are small…And sometimes that means we have to make compromises,” Ivey said.

However, Ivey mentions that she could not have done it without her props designer Alexis Gaffney  and paints designer Alexis King. And for the editorial process.

“It’s about adaptation, flexibility and kind of being able to improv your way through some of those moments and make adjustments that feel right for this story in this place.”

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown runs from today Feb. 16 to Feb. 25.

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