story and photo by janet i. martineau
Theatergoers to whom the name Stasi Schaeffer is familiar remember her days as an actress and director with such groups as Pit and Balcony Community Theater, 303 Collective, CAGE, Bay City Players and Midland Center for the Arts.
Well, late last year she made her operatic debut.
In Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
With the Scottish Opera.
“Thankfully it was not a singing role,” Schaeffer assured with that familiar laugh of hers.
Schaeffer, who also was the manager of the Temple Theatre from 2003-2007, left Saginaw in 2007 to explore acting and directing possibilities in New York City.
“And when I was there, I saw an advertisement for getting a master’s degree in classical and contemporary text for directors at the Royal Conservatory of Scotland.”
It is ranked as one of the world’s top drama schools, she says, offered a fast-track one-year to getting that degree and off she went when she was accepted.
“And I’ve been there -- in Glasgow -- ever since; now as a freelance director in theater and opera.”
Enter the Scottish Opera and “La Traviata.”
The company, says Schaeffer, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the 2012-2013 season by touring the opera to 50 venues throughout Scotland.
“I was the rehearsal assistant director, and on the road I am the tour director -- watching the performances, taking notes, dealing with different leads, always dealing with a different stage for each performance-- we have three configurations we use.”
There are only eight cast members and a small chamber orchestra, but a full set and costumes, she says. “It’s a beautiful product, set in the late 1950s and sung in English.
“The set and costumes go in a semi-truck and the cast and crew in a luxurious touring bus. We’ve played high schools, community halls, movie theaters; some really small towns; the outer islands.”
And since most of those locations are within an eight-hour drive from Glasgow (population 598,000), if a singer gets sick there is time for a replacement to get to the venue.
Except for that one time there was no time, she says, when a non-singer got sick and she took the stage.
She has, she says been surprised “at how many hidden opera fans there are out there. They are always asking when we are coming back.”
The Scottish Opera, she says, tours its productions regularly to its largest cities. Before “Traviata” she worked on “Opera Highlights” and “Tosca.” “La Traviata” ends its 50-show run this coming weekend.
Not to worry for Stasi on what she will do next. She’s also tuned in to an unusual Glasgow venue titled A Play, A Pie and A Pint.
“They are located in a bar (the Oran Mor) that was a church, and downstairs is a club space that does all new plays commissioned by them. They have done 300 plays in seven years -- each one running 45-50 minutes during the lunch hour. Up to four actors in each one.”
The name of the 150-seat place indicates what patrons get for their money.
Each play is rehearsed for two weeks and performed for one.
“It’s amazing. They’re all professionals (meaning there is a paycheck) and they get plays from established playwrights as well as new one.”
She has assistant directed one and directed two and found, she says, she loves working hand in hand with a playwright in crafting a premiere of a new work.
While working on her masters, she spent a month at the famed Globe Theater in London, was the assistant director of a “Richard III” that went to Germany, and worked on a new play (titled “God of SoHo”) that was performed in Scotland and England.
Yes, she says, it is cold and dreary and rains a lot in Scotland “but the people are fun-loving and good natured.” What she likes about Glasgow, she says, is the openness of the theater community.
“There are lots of opportunities to talk with other directors because they are inclusive, accepting. You would not get that in New York City or London,
In her mid-Michigan years, Schaeffer acted in 25-30 plays and directed 10. She graduated from Arthur Hill High School/Saginaw Arts & Science Academy.