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a Story of Two Artists

Meet the Co-directors of Amadeus

McHugh: Tell us how you two connected.

           

Houghton/Causer: We met when we were both performing in a production of Wild Party. We discovered rather quickly that we had a lot in common when it came to passion for theatre, and general lack of chill. And at the same time, our differences seemed to balance one another. After that production, we kept finding reasons and ways to work together until we naturally evolved into this creative partnership. We started our theatre company, Moving Bench Theatre, in 2019 which is when we produced our first original world premiere, The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham’s Magical, Miracle, Sure-Cure for all Female Weaknesses. And the rest, as they say, is history.



 

McHugh: You are both multi-talented and versed in all aspects of theatre. What are some of your favorite projects?


Houghton:   My favorite acting role was probably Patsy in Spamalot.  I’m not sure I could pick a favorite directing or choreography project because I fall in absolute love with every project and every cast I get to work with. But up there recently would have to be directing/writing/choregraphing for the Clearbrook on Cue program; which is a performance opportunity for adults with disabilities. I do theatre for the human connection and joy of it, and that experience was all that to the umpteenth degree.


Causer: Favorite acting roles have been Leading Player (Pippin) and Berger (HAIR) - I feel grounded in my body playing characters that are required to keep the pace throughout the entire show. Favorite Directing projects: My first Main-Stage production -The Fantasticks, and directing the World Premiere of “The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham’s Magical, Miracle, Sure-Cure For

All Female Weaknesses” written by Jenilee Houghton.



McHugh: How did you two transition into directing?


Houghton: I actually started as a dancer first, then an actor, then went hard as a costume designer for many years, and then found my way back to Directing/Choreographing as well as writing. I think I was always meant to be a storyteller in some way, shape or form; and the great thing about the Chicago theatre scene in particular, is that you don’t have to limit yourself to just one lane.

           

Causer: I was raised in the Theatre by a Theatre Family. My first production I was cast in was the musical Camelot when I was 6 years old. Growing up I would make the other kids in my neighborhood learn skits and choreography for made up songs. I was just copying what I was seeing in the rehearsal rooms when my Mom was directing or my Dad was in a show and I got

to sit in on rehearsals. I knew by my teens that I was going to head in that direction.

 

McHugh: What led you to directing for PPTC?


Causer: We’re always looking for brave, supportive companies that are willing to take chances and try something different. Jen (Houghton) directed Love/Sick with PPTC in 2023 and had a wonderful experience, so when they invited us to pitch another project, we thought it was a great opportunity to co-direct a rather wild new attempt at an epic classic. 

 

McHugh: How do you view the role of theater in a community?


Houghton: Oscar Wilde once wrote that “theatre is the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” In a world where the incessant need to be plugged in has left us struggling to remember how “to human,” theatre reminds us of exactly that.

 

McHugh: We went back and forth over so many possibilities. How did you land on Amadeus?


Causer: We’d been searching for a couple of months for a play that fit the goals of PPTC, while also providing an exciting challenge for us, that would also work with a co-directing scenario. We read and re-read dozens and dozens of plays and one day Jen (Houghton) texted me this prompt: “Can you think of a play where a story is being told from two or more perspectives; And/or takes place in a lucid reality vs a fantasy/memory?” I wrote back one of the biggest most epic answers I could think of: “Amadeus?” To which they wrote back: “YES! But make it punk?” So, it sort of started as a joke, but we ended up falling in love with this wacky idea, and here we are!

 

McHugh: Describe a bit how you arrived at the ‘slightly anarchic’ aesthetic for Amadeus?

           

Houghton/Causer: Well, it’s definitely more than just an aesthetic we’re after. We loved the parallels of Mozart and the birth of “punk.”

One of our favorite quotes is by Patti Smith. She said, “In different eras, the essence of punk-rock freedom might be expressed in different ways. You could say that Mozart was a punk rocker!”

And Britannica describes the punk movement as “Often politicized and full of vital energy beneath a sarcastic, hostile façade, punk spread as an archetype of rebellion. Punk mirrors social upheaval with a series of visionary songs blanketed in black humor.” And let’s be honest, we’re all feeling a little need to rebel these days, right?

 

 

McHugh: Through the entire pre-production process you both emphasized how this was to be ensemble driven. Describe what that means.


Houghton: We like to say that this is a story of two artists and how their ego-driven battle for success (be that fame or fortune) ultimately leads to their own demise. But we’ve also always been interested in how this battle effected Salieri and Mozart’s surrounding worlds. Who did they drag down with them; who tried to save them; or who gave them a nudge in the “wrong” direction? By casting such an incredibly dynamic group of performers, we’ve been able to build a collective interested and capable of developing these worlds with layers and depth. This ensemble doesn’t sit for more than a few seconds at any point during the show. EVERYONE is helping to drive this story forward at all times.

 

 



McHugh: I imagine that sharing the intense job of directing might be difficult. However, you've handled the shared responsibilites beautifully. How do you divide your roles as co-directors?


Causer: We’ve worked together so closely for many years now, so we sometimes know where the other one is headed, before they’ve even arrived there themselves. Together, we formed the concept and the big ideas for the production. Then we decided that we would split the work with myself taking the first stab at the staging and choreography, with Jen leading the design direction as well as the intimacy work. Then from there we just pass the ball back and forth as we build each idea and moment up together. We’re able to challenge and support one another in a way that allows us to take on a project as massive as this one.

 



McHugh: What other directors have impressed or inspired you?


Houghton: I’m very inspired by Mary Zimmerman. I love her balance of whimsy and darkness. I think she’s a true master of creative storytelling and her eye for detail (both visual and emotional) is something I hope to achieve some day.


Causer: Gregory Doran - Former Artistic Director Emeritus for the Royal Shakespeare Company

 

 

McHugh: What’s next for you both?


Houghton/Causer: In addition to some upcoming musicals that we’ll be directing/choreographing, we’re very excited to begin workshopping a new project about the Pack Horse Library Initiative of the 30s and 40s, called The Bookwomen. It’s an original play that we wrote that will be an inspiring movement-based theatrical experience for the whole family. Our hope is to start touring it to libraries and education programs within the next 12-18 months.

           

 McHugh: Okay. Now for some fun, random questions.

             

Best Stress Relief?

Houghton: Camping, gardening, and cuddles with my dog JoJo

Causer: Watching old Tony Awards and Olivier Awards broadcasts, reading autobiographies by Artists in Theatre.

 

Favorite book you’ve read?

Houghton: Too hard!

Causer: Year of the King by Antony Sher

 

Do you prefer...


Book or audiobook?

Houghton: book

Causer: audiobook

 

TV or Podcast?

Houghton: TV

Causer: Podcast

 

Movie or Series?

Houghton: yes.

Causer: National Theatre at Home app






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