Three decades of working well together on two fronts–both domestically and in the theater–have made Karen and William T. Fleming (who goes by his middle name, Todd) an enviable pair. Their most recent undertaking, a production of Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvnors” will be on the Silver Spring Stage (SSS) from June 30 to July 29.
This time around, Karen is the producer and Todd, the director (and set designer), but it’s not always that way, and both are comfortable with that arrangement. “I produce when he directs, and he’s the set designer-master carpenter when I direct,” Karen said, noting that her organizational and planning skills make “the producer role a good fit for me when Todd is directing.”
“Likewise,” she added, “he’s the man of ‘spatial relations,’ so he has a great eye for set design, and is a fast carpenter. He’s built beautiful sets for me.” The partnership also works well, she said, because “we can have production meetings at any given time.”
For this production, the division of labor was the “luck of the draw,” Todd said. “When this show was selected, Karen had other things on her plate and I really liked the show. She was willing to produce for me, so I knew I would have the support I needed to stage a good show. I enjoy directing, but if Karen needs a set designer or a fight director, that is fun, too.” On the other hand, he is self-aware: “Producing is beyond me. Paperwork is my bane,” he admitted.
The Flemings have worked out the kinks of working together in the 30 years since their first collaboration at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. “That’s not to say we don’t have our stressful moments, but we are able to resolve, and even laugh about them,” Karen observed.
While their visions and sensibilities are similar, their approaches may not coincide. They “bounce ideas off each other and respect each other’s positions,” Todd said. Still, “there are moments when one of us will argue for a different viewpoint,” said Karen, but in the end, we respect that whoever is directing has the final say.” “And the other will do whatever we can to make things work,” Todd said, acknowledging that his wife “is the most thorough and talented producer I have ever worked with. I love working with her because she helps me to realize what I have in my head.”
Well before they met, each of the Flemings was passionate about the stage. As a young child in Bethesda, Karen’s parents took her to see shows at Arena Stage and the Kennedy Center. “I fell in love with theater right away,” she said. Her first role was the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz,” in third grade. “Ironically,” she noted, “(it) would be the character type I’d continue to play in most of the shows I’ve done.”
Her resume includes performing at Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre in Laurel and four years in assorted roles with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. She returned to community theater—acting, directing and producing at SSS, Montgomery Playhouse and Rockville Musical Theatre–after her first child was born in 1991.
During his childhood in the Philadelphia suburbs, Todd “listened to records of Broadway musicals. They were my bedtime stories.” At age 9, he landed the role of Prince Chulalongkorn in his older sister’s high school production of “The King and I.” “From the first rehearsal,” he recalled, “the positive attention I received from the teenagers and the director sold me on theater. It was the first time that I felt I was more than just a son and a little brother.”
Karen earned a BFA in theater arts from Hofstra University, where the program, she said, “not only gave you lots of opportunity to perform, but also had mandatory tech hours each semester. I helped draft set and light designs, was the properties mistress for a show, and worked in the costume shop and as a make-up artist.” She also took classes at New York’s HB Studios and D.C.’s Studio Theatre.
Todd, who has acted and taken acting classes since age 9, started out in musical theater and spent a decade in various capacities for the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in history and secondary education at Eastern University, he studied theater at Boston University for two years, but said that his “education in theater has been mostly the result of doing. My teachers have been the directors, technical directors and producers I have had the privilege of working with.” Since moving to Maryland, he has performed in community theater and the Virginia Renaissance Faire, and has earned two Washington Area Theatre Community Honors (WATCH) awards for his fight choreography. His day job also has a theater connection: he teaches history at Gaithersburg High School where he is also technical director for the drama program.
Both have a track record with SSS, Karen for more than 40 years. In the 1970s, at age 12, she played Tillie in its production of “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds,” returning in the mid-1980s to perform and direct. “More recently I’ve performed, directed, produced and have been a board member,” she said. And Todd has, he said, “designed sets, done fight choreography, directed…and, God help me, acted at Silver Spring Stage.”
As for “One Man, Two Guvnors,” Karen said it “was chosen because it’s fast, it’s clever and it’s funny…a challenging piece with physical comedy, music and audience interaction.” She calls the play “a bit of a hybrid. It’s not a musical, but it has a skiffle band (for those not in the know, skiffle is a musical genre with jazz, blues, folk and American folk influences, usually using homemade or improvised instruments) playing in between scenes. Our band is a three-piece combo of very talented young musicians. The music is reminiscent of rockabilly and early Beatles.”
Another challenge for the production are the British accents. “We made sure to have a dialect coach on board,” Karen said, but “Fortunately, the actors were already strong with the Cockney accents.” “The British accents will be used,” Todd qualified, “but authenticity is going to be sacrificed for comprehensibility in some cases.”
Beyond the production values, the humor and the music, “One Man, Two Guvnors,” Todd proclaimed, “is a good night out. With all the complications and frustrations of the real world, it is nice to spend an evening among harmless fools, in a world where everything ends up working out.”
Richard Bean’s “One Man, Two Guvnors” is on the Silver Spring Stage, Woodmoor Shopping Center, 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, from June 30 to July 29. Shows start at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, July 16 and 23. A post-show reception on June 30 and a talk back after the July 23 matinee are planned. Tickets, $22 to $25, are available at www.ssstage.org/the-season/one-man-two-guvnors. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.