The Light in the Piazza – From Tech Week to Performance

by Kristen Leinbach, Dramaturg

As the months have passed, it is hard to believe that “We’re finally here!”  The show is well underway and we are thoroughly enjoying bringing the 1950’s Italy to BYU.  After beginning back in March with auditions, having production meetings throughout the summer, holding rehearsals starting in August, The Light in the Piazza opened on November 15th and will run through December 7th.

In order for us to bring The Light in the Piazza to life here on the Pardoe theatre, a lot of work has been done back stage.  The week before the opening of the show we held Tech week in order to add the final elements and polish the performance.  The Light in the Piazza is the first of BYU’s productions to implement what is known as a ten out of twelve tech rehearsal.  Instead of having a full week of tech rehearsals we had one day where we rehearse for ten out of twelve hours on the Saturday before we went into dress rehearsals, preview and then performances.  The performers, technicians and designers worked tirelessly in order to perfect the performance before we opened on Nov. 15th.

One of the most amazing aspects of theatre is watching as words are taken from a script, memorized, discussed in production meetings, rehearsed in rehearsal spaces, designed, built, polished and then come to life on the stage.

After production meetings we began with rehearsals 

Then we added Hair, Makeup, and Costumes to capture the beautiful essence of the 1950’s

Next we prepared the lighting and the projections


We also had a great time taking production photos!

Finally we brought all of the elements together in Tech Week

“The Light in the Piazza”

The most enjoyable part of this whole journey, was the opportunity to discover what really is the Light in the piazza.  I believe that answer is different for each person who worked on the show and for all of those  who will come to see the show.  Working on The Light in the Piazza has been a challenging and a wonderful experience as we have come together as a cast and production team to bring a little Light to the theatre and to each of our lives.

Meet the Cast – Cameron Smith as Roy Johnson

By Kristen Leinbach, Dramaturg

When Margaret and Clara leave for their vacation in Italy, Roy Johnson – Margaret’s husband and Clara’s father – stays home in Winston Salem, NC for work.  Margaret frequently calls Roy to update them about their adventures in Italy. It is through Roy and Margaret’s relationships that we are introduced to another difficulty in Margaret’s life that she must overcome and as a result learn and grow.

Cameron Smith, who portrays Roy Johnson shared the following…

“I’m from Sandy, UT and am a Junior in the Music Dance Theater program at BYU, I’ll graduate next year and begin a professional career in acting. I served a mission in the Arizona Mesa Mission, and theater dance and music are my biggest passions in life. I love Hip-Hop and venting my troubles and joys through dance. I love my family and know they are a big reason I perform.


Being in Piazza is the most beautiful theater experience I’ve had in YEARS. The story is so poignant, so perfectly crafted. There is so much to be learned from watching it.

Specifically the character I play, Roy, who is the father of Clara, I’ve learned some things from. There is a scene in the second act of the show where he and his wife are having an argument and he just keeps starting his argument points with “if”…

I realized while working this scene one day, that this is a person ruled by ”if’s”… by doubts and fears. Because of this, as you see in the play, Roy doesn’t blossom and find greater happiness, like the rest of the people in the play do.

Realizing this taught me once again, that I can only make my choices in life based on what I know, and that hope is vital for happiness. We have to hope. We have to hope that the unlikely or even the impossible can happen, if we need it to. And we can’t let fear dictate our decisions and affect our future. We worship a God of miracles, who does impossible things for us. The Atonement was the greatest miracle that proved that, and we must hope in that for ourselves, and our families.

As Margaret says to Roy in this scene: “Why can’t we hope for once instead of dreading everything?”


Meet the Cast – Alicia Shumway as Franca Naccarelli

By Kristen Leinbach, Dramaturg

As we continue to explore relationships and the various types of relationships we form in this life, The Light in the Piazza provides many opportunities to see not only the positive but the trials that can come from love.  France and Gusieppe Naccarelli feel in love only to watch that love dwindle and fade due to selfish choices.  Alicia Shumway, who portrays Franca, shared the following about her experiences with Piazza…

“I am a music dance theatre major with an editing minor.  I am from Tokyo, Japan and I will be graduating soon.  I essentially do nothing aside from school!

photo (12)

Piazza rehearsal from left to right – Tyler Hatch, Alicia Shumway, Chase Elwood, Michael Milkanin

I died happy when we knew that BYU was doing Piazza; there’s nothing else I’d rather be busy with. It’s one of my very favorite show, and I am ecstatic to be a part of it my last year at BYU! Working with people who all believe in the work is a wonderful feeling.

I got attached to Piazza because it’s about broken people. Fighting for happiness, maybe not necessarily succeeding, and then being drastically turned around by or experiencing moments of rescue from others. Every human feels inadequate, and all people desperately need people: I think that’s why this show is so powerful. You don’t have to be something specialized to strongly identify with it.”

Meet the Cast – Chase Elwood & Amanda Van Orden

by Kristen Leinbach, Dramaturg

Throughout the show, The Light in the Piazza, the world of the play is really brought together by members of the ensemble who bring light and life to the piazza’s of Italy.

photo (10)

Piazza rehearsal from left to right – Rachelle Elbert, Chase Elwood, Jack Shapiro, Amanda Van Orden.

I would like to introduce you to two members of the chorus.

Chase Elwood shared the following…

“I have been studying Music Dance Theater and Psychology at BYU.  I love connecting with people.  I have really enjoyed creating a story for background characters in Light in the Piazza.  For me personally, this show has emphasized the importance of being true to myself and grounded in my body, and being able to love and be loved.  It has been very meaningful.  As for a bit about my character… I flirt with multiple women (it often takes priority over anything else) and enjoy my special moments with each of them.  I love my little family owned cafe and have high hopes for future success in business.  Life is beautiful, full of passion and zest!  It is to be enjoyed and remembered.”

Amanda Van Orden stated…

“My name is Amanda Van Orden. I’m from Fort Collins, Colorado and I am a junior in the Music Dance Theater program here at BYU. This show has been a fantastic learning experience for me because in addition to being in the ensemble, I have the opportunity to understudy Signora Naccarelli. Signora Naccarelli is a very strong presence throughout the show. Even when she doesn’t say much, she is in control and her influence is felt. It has been such an interesting experience watching Julia take on that role so well, and then try to make it my own while still remaining true to the direction Julia has received from Scott.  It has been really fun so far to learn about the rich Italian culture and to bring their passion for life into our show. I love creating and living in this world with the incredible cast of Light in the Piazza!”

Meet the Cast – Ted Bushman as Signor Naccarelli

by Kristen Leinbach, Dramaturg
One of the most important relationships in this life is that between a family.  In The Light in the Piazza we have the opportunity to experience the love and relationships found between many different types of families.  Signor Naccarelli is the head of the Naccarelli’s household and Fabrizio father.  In BYU’s production of Piazza Teb Bushman is portraying Signor Naccarelli and he shared the following,Ted
“My name is Ted Bushman.  I am a Senior MDT major from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and by night I am a playwright and composer too.  My favorite stuff I’ve done while at BYU includes putting on my first play, Fontanelle, which Scott Eckern directed, and composing a score for The Monster of Dr. Frankenstein in 2009, in which I also played the Monster.  I loved the experimental, creative nature of those things, and that’s a lot of what I love in real life.  Apart from music and theatre, I like chicken of all varieties, artful video games, choral music & Daft Punk (usually back to back) and my family.
I play Signor Naccarelli, and for the life of me I can’t find a first name for the guy.  What I really like about playing him is how different he is from me.  I didn’t live in the fifties, I have nothing like an Italian temperament, I am not fashionable, whereas Signor Naccarelli is a patriarch of this Italian family, was involved in liaisons during WWII, is possessed of a great dignity and a great temper, and owns a tie shop.
One of my favorite stage directions in the play comes in a scene with Signor and Margaret, where it says “He shines his warmth on her.” I love that, and it’s something I understand about him.  Signor Naccarelli feels very in charge of his world.  In general, he knows what he wants and knows how to get it, and for other things he wants to make everyone feel happy and at home.
The best part about this journey of doing The Light in the Piazza is working with the cast and crew.  I have never been involved in a production where such a spirit of focus and mutual compassion lives.  It is particularly delightful to work with Kim Bunker, as our characters have a special relationship–we have too much fun and we hope Scott doesn’t find out and stop it.  It’s also great to work with Michael Milkanin and Becca Petersen, who are so talented and so hard-working.
My last thought about Signor Naccarelli comes from one of his lines, where he rather poetically says that “the human heart is mysterious and sometimes also dangerous.”  I think more than anyone, Signor N. understands the complications of love, which are the center of this show.”

Meet the Cast – Michael Milkanin as Fabrizio Naccarelli

by Kristen Leinbach, Dramaturg

In The Light in the Piazza, not only are the beauties of triumphs and struggles shared with us between a mother and daughter but we also are able to join Clara on a journey to find and experience the love found between what can only be called true love.  As Clara and Margaret vacation in Florence, Clara meets a young Italian named Fabrizio.  They fall in love and begin to build a relationship that will not only present challenges but also new found discoveries and joys.  Michael Milkanin who portrays Fabrizio in BYU’s production of The Light in the Piazza stated the following…

“Hi! I’m Michael Milkanin, from Riverton, Utah, and a Senior in the BFA Music Dance Theatre Major. I have had so many amazing opportunities over my years here at BYU. I was able to play Slave Master Dance Feature in The Phantom of the Opera and Phil Davis in White Christmas, as well as travel with the BYU Young Ambassadors and the Contemporary Dance Theatre. I could not be more than thrilled to be doing this show with the amazing cast and crew.

When I first saw clips of Piazza, I was completely enthralled. My high school theatre teacher showed us during class and I remember thinking that this was a very special show. The main things that really drew me to my character [Fabrizio] were his lack of emotional inhibition; he feels what he feels and he expresses it, he lives his life in the Here and Now, and he puts a big emphasis on family relationships. These characteristics are what I feel best characterize Fabrizio and how I like to approach him in rehearsal. I try and find myself in a very loving, happy, and emotional available place as we start each rehearsal and let the immensely talented cast around me help influence the choices I make.”

Meet the Cast – Becca Petersen as Clara Johnson

By Kristen Leinbach, Dramaturg

When asked about writing The Light in the Piazza and about the relationships of the characters, Craig Lucas said the following

 “Clara apprehends the world differently than her mother. [Margaret] goes through Italy with a guidebook. But the girl sees experiences, she sees the light in the piazza. She literally experiences the light as representative of her deepest feelings…That’s why the score has moments where words no longer suffice or are no longer important. It’s the feeling and light. Those things carry us. Human beings are just a conduit for love. I think Clara sees that. Love comes before her and after her.”

I asked Becca Petersen, portraying Clara Johnson, to share a little about her life as well as her experience getting to really know Clara.

Becca Petersen (Clara) with Kimberly Bunker (Margaret)

“I am Becca Petersen from Carmel, Indiana. I am a senior studying Music Dance Theatre. I will be graduating in April with plans of moving to New York City! At BYU I have performed in PETER PAN as well as two years in the Young Ambassadors traveling to Southern Africa and China. These past two summers I have performed professionally at The Muny and Music Theatre of Wichita. Aside from musical theatre I love to go thrift shopping, take naps, eat out, and spend time with my friends and family.

Clara Johnson has always been one of my dream roles and I could not be more excited and grateful to have the opportunity to play her.

The Light in the Piazza follows Clara and her mother, Margaret, as they travel through Italy. Clara is a very youthful girl who lives life exactly in the moment. She is bright-eyed as she sees and experiences this new place for the first time. The plot is centered around relationships: Clara’s relationship with her mother and her new budding relationship with a Florentine boy, Fabrizio. I feel that I connect with Clara on many levels. I love to travel, explore, and see new places. Because of previous travel opportunities I have had I understand what it is like experiencing different cultures and having to figure out how you fit in. In the show many of the characters, including Clara,  go through big life transitions. Currently I can relate as I am getting ready to graduate, preparing to move to NY, having family members and close friends get married, and trying to understand love and relationships of my own. All of these experiences can be scary but can also be incredible if we let ourselves learn, grow, and live in them. We must allow ourselves to find the happiness and joy in all things we experience. In essence, that is what Clara does. Clara finds what makes her happy.”

Meet the Cast – Kimberly Bunker as Margaret Johnson

by Kristen Leinbach, Dramaturg

Elizabeth Spencer, author of the novella The Light in the Piazza stated,

“I believe no one can read The Light in the Piazza without seeing how remarkably Southern Margaret Johnson is. She appears to be feminine and gracious, certainly well mannered, a little vulnerable, a little innocent, a loyal wife and devoted mother… It is worth considering Margaret Johnson in many ways–isn’t she basically a very practical woman? It is practicality versus love that comes into conflict. Her heart goes to battle with her mind…

Readers and audience members will certainly have their own opinions as to the rightness or wrongness of Margaret Johnson’s decision. This mystery is the center of any real story’s appeal and offers, to my mind, the only approach to what life is about. It cannot be predicted or reasoned through from any remote vantage point. It can only be lived, experienced, felt. My story invites you to go along with her and see.”

Margaret Johnson, Clara’s mother in The Light in the Piazza experiences a fascinating journey with her daughter as they vacation in Italy.  In BYU’s production Margaret is being portrayed by Kimberly Bunker.  When I asked Kimberly about her experiences here at BYU and her opportunity to perform as Margaret Johnson, she shared the following

“I am beyond excited to play Margaret in BYU’s Piazza. I am a Senior this year in BYU’s Music Dance Theater program. So many wonderful experiences and opportunities have surrounded me here at BYU. I have been privileged to be a Young Ambassador on the South Africa, Swaziland, and Botswana tour. I have also had the opportunity at BYU to play Madame Firmin in The Phantom of the Opera, Gussie Carnegie in Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, and Young Anne in Mel Larson’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I couldn’t have asked for a better production to cap off my wonderful time here at BYU, as The Light in the Piazza.

The Light in the Piazza Rehearsal Clara Johnson (Becca), Margaret Johnson (Kim)

I first fell in love with Piazza when I was about 17 years-old, while watching the PBS broadcast with Katie Rose Clarke and Victoria Clark. Being 17, I immediately connected with Clara and Fabrizio’s love story. I didn’t really take much notice of Margaret! Through the years of admiring the sound track and then playing the role of Margaret in a class project, I came to see how the story of Piazza is just as much about Margaret’s journey as Clara’s. Margaret is a smart, charming, polite, and strong southern woman. Though I have not experienced many of the things she has in life, I see bits of her in myself and in others around me. She has taught me a piece of what it is like to be a parent. How truly hard it must be to give your life to a person and then have the bravery to set them free to find their own happiness. Piazza is already a joy to rehearse and be a part of. I think audiences will be surprised at how much they will laugh and tear-up all in one evening. Piazza is such a beautiful journey I cannot wait to share!


Welcome Backstage – Piazza Costumes

By Kristen Leinbach, Dramaturg

The process in bringing The Light in the Piazza to life continues to be an incredible journey.  In order to recreate the idea of  the 1950’s a lot of time has been and continues to be spent on the design elements of the show.  Our costumes are a crucial part of not only helping the actor’s to feel like they are in a different decade but also establish a consistent world or our production.

The costume designer, Ashley Cook stated the following….

“The design process thus far for The Light in the Piazza has been a great experience. This is such a beautiful story, and the music is so gorgeous, I was excited to work on it from the start. It has also been such a joy to work with such a talented director and this team of talented designers.

For this production, our director wanted the costumes to be really stylish, classy 1950’s. These are all fairly wealthy, stylish people and therefore need to look really sharp.  He also wanted me to take inspiration from old technicolor films. I have decided to achieve this with a lack of patterned clothing. Everything is pretty solid and clean which, along with the use of brighter colors, should add to the technicolor feel of the show.  I also took a lot of inspiration from the short story that the musical is based on. I love the description it has of the way Clara changes the longer she spends time in Italy, with the Nacarellis’. I wanted her costumes to reflect this change. Color is very important in this production. We wanted there to be a visual difference between the Italians and the Americans in both the cut and color of their clothing. Not only are the colors of the costumes a way to differentiate the Americans from the Italians at the beginning of the show, but it will be used to illustrate the changes that these characters have.

We just started fittings with the cast, and so far, these have gone really well. It is always a little scary because if things don’t fit,you have to go back to the drawing board. But for the most part, everything has worked out great. Other than that we are in the midst of building some dresses for the production, which has been such a fun experience!”


Welcome Backstage – Piazza Makeup

by Kristen Leinbach, Dramaturg


Makeup and hairstyle inspirations

As our rehearsals and production process get well underway, we are ecstatic to begin seeing all of our ideas come together.  At each production meeting for the show we spend time discussing design and production ideas such as costumes, the set, the lighting, the sound, the makeup and the props.  Our main focus is on finding a way to bring 1953 Florence, Italy to life on our stage and for ourl audience.

For this blog post I would like to welcome you back stage to our production meetings and introduce you to concept ideas from our makeup designers.  The makeup designers for The Light in the Piazza are Mary Beth Bosen and Allyson Thaxton, both students here at BYU studying Theatre Education and Theatre Arts Studies respectively.  When talking with Mary about their makeup designs, she sent me the following:

“Ahhh hair and makeup…what a wonderful thing!

For this show, our main goal for the hairs and makeup is to visually support and texturize the 1950’s Technicolor world that Scott, our director, has established. The nature of the piece as well as our director’s concept got us thinking about ways that we could draw visual parallels to the looks of 1950’s film stars-both of America and Italy-who’s style and personalities have shaped so much of the images we associate with the time period today.

In the phases of our designs, Allyson and I been working on blending iconic silhouettes, shapes, and colors that made up popular fashion (for hair and makeup) to support the personality, lifestyle, and just overall vibe that each character gives off.


Inspiration photo

For our particular production we have some unique challenges and opportunities especially in terms of hair design on a Period piece like this one.  We’ve been asked to use as much of the actors’ hair as we possibly instead of wigging them up! This sounds easy enough, but considering that 50’s hairstyles were much shorter (and more elaborate) than those we sport today, this means that we have the splendid opportunity to do a lot of researching and a lot of experimenting to create pretty designs that suggest the time period as well as being functional, do-able, and maintain-able on real heads of hair!  As far as the female cast members are concerned, there may be a few hair trims, but largely we will be adapting and applying period hairstyles to their current hair length. Thank goodness for bobby pins and hairspray! Oh, and a few men in our show get to grow their own moustaches in order to fit the 1950’s look we are creating!”

Keep checking back as I will be updating once a week regarding further production concepts as well as blocking and staging as we continue to create the world of The Light in the Piazza.