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This weekend, the Windham Actors Guild produces Chess. Courtesy photo.




Chess

Where: Windham High School, 64 London Bridge Road, Windham
When: Friday, April 7, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, April 9, at 2 p.m.
Admission: $18
Contact: windhamactorsguild.com




Challenging season
WAG takes on Chess and AACT national championship

04/06/17
By Kelly Sennott ksennott@hippopress.com



Chess hasn’t been produced in New Hampshire for nearly 20 years, likely because it’s a difficult musical to pull off — but difficult is what the Windham Actors Guild was looking for this spring. The 25-member cast takes Chess on this weekend at Windham High School.

“Last year we played it safe; our main show was Fiddler on the Roof. It was a wonderful production, and it looked great and was well-attended, but this year we wanted to do something more challenging and less well-known,” said Keith Strang, the show’s producer, via phone.
Chess opened in London’s West End in 1984 and hit Broadway in 1988. It involves a Cold War-era chess tournament between an American grandmaster and a Soviet grandmaster. As the show goes on, it becomes clear the chess match isn’t just a chess match but a metaphor for what’s going on outside the game, from politics to love triangles. 
“It’s not about chess, as in the actual physical game, with pawns and bishops. It’s about the games people play,” said Vicky Sandin, the play’s director.
Though the show itself isn’t well-known, the music is. Music credits go to Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (from ABBA), lyrics to Ulvaeus and Tim Rice. Singers often use “One Night in Bangkok” and “Anthem” as audition or recital songs, Strang said. In the past, companies have performed the music in concert, but Strang wanted to go with the full production and emphasize story and character, which is why the community theater company hired Sandin to take the director’s role. 
“The orchestration is unbelievable,” Strang said. “But rather than it being a concert, we hired Vicky Sandin, because she does mostly straight plays and her focus is on character work. And we felt character work was just as important as the music.”
Sandin, who saw the production in London’s West End in the late ’80s, thinks the characters could easily be played two-dimensionally, but she believes they’re complex and flawed. She sat down with each actor at the beginning of rehearsals to figure out, What’s the character’s history? His hopes, dreams? And why would he be singing this particular song? 
“The music is the star of the show, but in order for the music to be working effectively, there has to be some acting behind it,” Sandin said. “For some musicals, you see people talk. And then they sing. And then they talk. And then they sing. I wanted fluid dialogue from song into scene.”
Challenges go beyond the fact that Chess is obscure and thus harder to sell tickets for. The show contains many moving parts; a giant 12-foot by 12-foot chess board needs to move on and off stage seamlessly, and scenes change frequently. Two sets will be on stage at any given time, with lights switching from stage right to stage left to amp up the pace, Sandin said.
But challenging is kind of the theme of the 2016-2017 season. After Chess, the company will get ready for the American Association of Community Theatres National Festival June 26 through July 1 in Rochester, Minn., where four actresses — Shawna Ciampa, Laurie Torosian, Amy Winkle Agostino, and Hannah Heckman-Mckenna — will perform in The Most Massive Woman Wins by Madeleine George. The company won the statewide competition this past fall and was the first New Hampshire group in 28 years to win the New England competition in February.





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