First-Time Director Brings the Hills Alive
What more could a first-time guest play director ask for?
A great cast and crew. Talented singers. And sold-out performances.
Noblesville High School graduate Evan Elliott is having the time of his life directing “The Sound of Music” in The Belfry Theatre’s 58th season.
Why did he want to direct a show?
“It has always been on my bucket list,” the 2009 NHS grad said following the show’s opening weekend of standing ovations. “The Belfry was looking for a guest director to produce a musical in their holiday slot, and I jumped at the opportunity,” Elliott said. Four more performances continue this Friday through Sunday at The Ivy Tech Auditorium in Noblesville. Tickets are still available at press time but are going fast.
While it’s Elliott’s first time in the director’s chair, he came in with assistant play director experience, assisting director Carla Crandall in 2007 for “The Christmas Story” and assisting director Connie Murello-Todd in 2015 for “Bus Stop,” both at The Belfry, where he has acted on stage.
He said, “I love the idea of bringing talent of all ages together to create one big spectacle,” Elliott said. “The casting process has been my favorite part, because it’s like putting together a complex puzzle. Everyone has to be in the right seat on the bus for the production to be a success. Directing at The Belfry came naturally, because I’ve grown up on that stage.”
Why did he choose “The Sound of Music?” Elliott said, “I wanted to direct a ‘feel good’ show that attracted all ages. Being in a holiday slot, I also wanted to direct something a bit different than what is normally produced onstage around Christmas.”
What was most important to Elliott? “I was fortunate to field a cohesive cast that is not only talented on stage, but also friendly off stage. Stair stepping the children was one challenge we faced, as there were so many talented kids who auditioned.”
Auditions took place the second week of September, and rehearsals began the following week with cast members learning the music led by music director Brenna Whitaker of Noblesville.
Elliott said after the many weeks of rehearsals, his greatest challenge in directing this show came just before the show opened.
“Our greatest challenge has been moving into the Ivy Tech space with only four days of rehearsal before opening night,” Elliott said. The show moved into Ivy Tech on the Saturday before Friday opening, had a “tech rehearsal” on the Sunday, then rehearsed the show Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, was off on Thanksgiving, and opened last Friday. (But thankfully Elliott had an experienced crew, including stage manager Fran Knapp of Noblesville and assistant stage manager, Knapp’s sister, Anne Auwaerter of Fishers, who have been working crew at The Belfry since 1976 and 1975, respectively.)
“Getting everyone in the same place at one time for rehearsals was also a challenge, because we are no longer rehearsing or performing in the former Belfry building,” Elliott said. (The last public performance in The Belfry building was “Side by Side by Sondheim” musical directed by Ron Richards, with Whitaker as vocal/musical director Jan. 24-Feb. 9, 2020, just before the pandemic.)
For “The Sound of Music,” Elliott said, “We hopped around three different rehearsal venues. With busy schedules and some early illness, we truly had to adopt a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude.”
Elliott’s first time on stage was at age 5 in a kids’ production of “The Little Mermaid” at Meridian Street United Methodist Church. “I played King Triton and wore some pretty awesome swim trunks,” he said.
His parents moved from Indianapolis to Noblesville when he was in first grade. “Since then, I performed in nearly every school production, including all four years at NHS.” After graduating in 2009, Elliott took on the role of Director of Speech & Debate at NHS, when he was 20, and loved coaching the team. At that time, he was still in school (he’s a proud Purdue University grad) and began a career in real estate. Today, he owns his own real-estate brokerage downtown Noblesville with his mom, Paula, and he assists NHS Theatre teacher Susan Nieten with the NHS Thespian Troupe. “I enjoy helping students with monologues and competition strategy. Through coaching students, I’ve found my greatest passion in helping others discover their greatness.”
The first weekend’s show totaled more than 1,000 patrons during four general-admission performances, with tickets still available for four more performances this weekend. But tickets are going fast.
Elliott’s best theater advice that he has received and would like to share?
He said, “As a director, I’ve always been told ‘cast the right people and the rest will fall into place.’ I truly believe that defines our show.”
Contact Betsy Reason at [email protected]
Want TO GO?
What: Hamilton County Theatre Guild’s The Belfry Theatre presents “The Sound of Music,” directed by guest director Evan Elliott of Noblesville.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Where: The Ivy Tech Auditorium, 300 N. 17th St., Noblesville.
How much: $20, all tickets, general admission seating, online, and at the door, if available.