A Director Prepares:

an interview with Hello,Dolly! director Jim McLean


Jim McLean is a graduate of the Professional Actors Conservatory in Southern California.  He came to TWS in 1989 as an acting intern and now serves as the company’s casting director. He took some time from his busy schedule to talk with TWS literary associate Dan Tarker about TWS’ production of Hello,Dolly!, the craft of directing, and the role theatre plays in our lives.


Why is Hello, Dolly! such a popular show?


People who have seen it have good memories of it. It talks about hope. It talks about love, and about going out and tasting life, and living life, and not waiting for it to pass you by.


How do you prepare as a director before going into rehearsal?


I read about the period and about what was happening at the time. I look at the architecture and where the world was. I try to get a very strong idea of the background of the characters and what’s happening in the environment that molds them. This helps me guide the actors in the development of their characters.


Do you have a vision of what you want?


I envision it taking place in a Vaudeville or Musical Hall setting.   


What’s the biggest challenge going to be for Hello, Dolly!?


Making sure that it has a strong vitality to it. I don’t want a show that’s just stand and sing and parade. I want a show with a lot of vitality. A show where the characters can really pop. And not just the main characters. Even the ensemble characters can really pop. So that if you just wanted to follow a particular character’s point of view, you could actually see things happening with him.


How is the collaborative process with designers change and evolve your ideas?


I get an idea of where I think the play should go and then I have a conversation with the designers. They basically tell me what will work and what won’t work technically, and also their vision of the show. I want someone who understands the organic process of the rehearsal, how a show evolves. Nothing can be locked in stone, because things can change, and if something changes, then that dictates what the show needs to be.



What do Donna Federico and Bill Lindsay bring to the roles of Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder?


I think both of them have a really nice homespun quality to them. Donna is a firecracker. There’s a lot of pizzazz and power there. And Bill will give Vandergelder a lovable, curmudgeon quality. I think they’ll work well playing off each other.


As a casting director, what do you look for in an actor when they come to audition?


I want to look at what their skills are. I also look at what they need, because we’re a learning institution as well. We want to give everybody the opportunity to grow and develop. There are some people who hit the character right on the nail, and there are others who have the potential for it. Sometimes the actor with the potential is the one who gets the role, because that’s the actor who will benefit from the opportunity to grow more.   


Why do you think the theatre is important?


It’s a place where people can come together to bond, to explore, to grow. It stimulates your brain. If you’re a theatergoer, if you see theatre often, you’re not lazy in your participation. It’s very hard in theatre to just sit back and remove yourself, especially if it’s good theatre. You’re always engaged. You can’t put it on hold and go get a snack. That moment is happening right now. And it can reach in and grab you. Move you. Challenge you. Make you angry. Make you laugh. It makes you want to cry out. It makes you feel something.


What do you want the audience to take home with them after seeing Dolly?


They’re going to go out and grab life by the throat and run with it. Y’know…Dolly says, “I need to get going before the parade passes me by.” And Barnaby wants to go see the stuffed whale. Cornelius wants to go get kissed. And Mrs. Molloy wants to go out and wear a beautiful hat with ribbons down her back and fall in love again. So, if people have been complacent, or they’ve been constipated, its time to go out and get cookin’. Find out what’s out there. Life is a banquet ready to be tasted.