FITA: The Stage Play Interview with Director Christopher Bentivegna

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Somewhere in the Deep South, beyond the bayous, beyond the swamps , Flowers are beginning to bloom …………

The vibrant city of New Orleans, setting of the best selling VC Andrews novel, Ruby, has been chosen to host the world premiere of Flowers in the Attic : The Stage Play.

AtticSecrets, Lorraine Elgar, has been lucky enough to be granted an exclusive interview with director Christopher Bentivegna , whose articulate and creative passion shines through whenever speaking of his latest project.

Hi Christopher, thanks for agreeing to this. We’re very excited about this project.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am originally from New Jersey. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University (Peabody Conservatory of Music) with a degree in vocal performance. I work for a national non-profit; The NHP Foundation. I supervise and oversee community centers across the country that provide health and wellness, financial literacy, and youth programming to people who live in affordable housing communities. I moved to New Orleans almost 12 years ago. Ironically, it was after reading V.C. Andrews’ “Ruby” that I first became interested in New Orleans. In that series of books, the bayou, the city itself, and the people was presented in such a magical and fascinating manner…almost mythical. I definitely became infatuated with New Orleans at that point. But when I finally got to visit, it was every bit as wonderful as I had imagined; and then I fell in LOVE with it. So I moved here. My purest true love in my life is this city. 

What attracted you to this play? 

My first memory of “Flowers in the Attic” was the book cover. My mother had the book and I was so drawn to the cover. I asked my mother what the book was about and she said, “A mean lady locks her kids in the attic because they’re bad…like you. So be careful.” Now, I’m sure she was kidding. Maybe? But regardless, as soon as she finished the book I started reading it. At that point, V.C. Andrews had published the first three novels in the Dollanganger series and “My Sweet Audrina”. I devoured all four of those books in a matter of weeks. I credit V.C. Andrews for turning me into a voracious reader. She truly did instill a love of reading in me. Her books were hypnotizing, chilling, exciting, surprising, and I found her writing style to be captivating. I feel as if it has actually influenced my own writing style; that is how deeply those books affected me. I’d write book reports or essays for school and I’d think, ‘What words would V.C. Andrews use
here?’ or ‘How can I make this more interesting in a V.C. Andrews way?’. I’m actually thinking those things as I write THIS.  🙂

When I was a senior in high school, we had to direct and produce a one-act play for our final grade in drama class. Instead of picking a published play, I decided to write a one-act version of “Flowers in the Attic”. I stayed very truthful to the book and took a couple of gems from that campy 80s movie version; and I was very proud of it. Just like Mr. Neiderman’s play version, my script had only seven characters and they were the exact same characters that are in the real play. I had an ‘Older Cathy’ role where the actress narrated the play as she sat at a typewriter writing the novel of “Flowers in the Attic”. It was so meta! From that time on, I was smitten with the idea that ‘Flowers in the Attic’ should become an actual stage show. I never in a million years dreamed that when it did that I would be directing and producing the very first production of it. Interestingly, I am still in contact with every single one of those seven cast members who were
in that show and they were all so excited and supportive of me when they heard about this project. My high school drama teacher, Louise Wigglesworth, (who played the role of the grandmother in that version) sent me the sweetest note afterwards. She wrote, “This is clearly an example of the principle that “The past is prologue.” 

How does it feel to have been hand picked by neiderman and what is it like to work with him? 

Andrew Neiderman is the most amazing, supportive, and kindest person I have met in a very long time. He has treated me so graciously and shown me such care and encouragement. And just a month ago, he had no idea who I even was! I was trying to decide on the next few shows for my theater company’s upcoming season. I started “See ‘Em On Stage: A Production Company” two years ago in order to bring rarely done, or never before done musicals to New Orleans. I was particularly interested in shows that originally came from another source…a book, a movie, etc.–something that people were familiar with but had never seen on stage. So, when I saw that ‘Flowers in the Attic” was available for producing, I decided to pursue it. I emailed Mr. Neiderman’s agent. It was a several-weeks-long discussion and negotiation actually. I sort of pitched some ideas to her and at some point she must have shared my information with Mr. Neiderman because one day I got a surprise
email from him. He mentioned that there were others who were interested in producing the world premiere but that he felt like I could potentially be in the running. Honestly, we sort of just hit it off. We started emailing back and forth and I shared my ideas with him and he was hugely open-minded and responsive. One day, he just said, “Let’s lock this up and have some fun with it.” And so, we did. 

How do you feel about this being the world premiere of Flowers in the Attic the stage play? 

I am so excited that I literally cannot sleep. I keep seeing the show in my head and I want and need it to be as perfect as it can be. To be able to tell the story of my absolute favorite book in a fully-realized stage production is extremely exhilarating. There is already a really nice buzz about the show here and people have been so sweet and kind and excited about it. I have a wonderful production team that I work with and they cannot wait to get started; and there are a large number of people who are coming to audition for it this weekend. I know that fans’ of the novel are eager to see how this turns out and there is definitely a lot of pressure to not disappoint them so hopefully the fact that I too am a fan will make some of them feel more comfortable. I know that I will never be able to please everyone, but as an artist, I am already indelibly influenced by V.C. Andrews’ artistry . I have been for years. So I feel like a part of that energy
will be with me throughout this and will guide me to do something that would make her proud. 

You created  a beautifully haunting trailer … can you tell us more about the process and song choice? 

I created the trailer even before I had the contract to produce the play. ! I felt very strongly that I was going to do the show. I was so passionate about it that it felt inevitable. And so, I wanted every moment of the whole process to be special. Special for fans, for Mr. Neiderman, for the memory of Virginia, for theater lovers here in New Orleans…I wanted to start off with a bang so I had this idea to announce the show through a short teaser trailer. The only problem was that I had no idea how to make a movie! I bought iMovie and pressed every button on it for four days until I figured it out, but once I did, I just focused and I was able to create the trailer. This is actually the second version of the trailer. The first version had a different song. It was a rock song that had been turned into a slow haunting version and it was beautiful. I thought it fit the tone of the material perfectly but ultimately I didn’t feel like it fit the tone of the
whole situation completely perfectly. The announcement needed something more dramatic, grander, with more irony, poignancy, and vibrant sweetness. I researched and listened to a bunch of new songs and then this opera duet suddenly popped into my head. I couldn’t even remember the name of it. I put a few random words in Google describing it and found some videos of it. When I saw that it was called ‘The Flower Duet”, I KNEW that was the song. I found the most beautiful modern version with just the right amount of dramatic rock influence to capture the feeling I was looking for. I showed the trailer to Mr. Neiderman and he loved it. He shared it with the publisher and the estate. A few days later, we announced the show. 

Lastly can you share your vision of this play with us?

The play, as written, has been modernized. Fans talk about this all the time. My version will both address fans thoughts about that and also honor the spirit that Mr. Neiderman was intending. I’ve read the play many times and I really understand what he was going for. I think it is possible to create an ethereal, haunting, gothic, beautiful production that stays true to the spirit of the novel, while incorporating modern elements. Maybe those elements don’t have to be literal but a modern energy infused into the production might make it a more memorable and captivating night of theater. You don’t really get the option of slowly drawing an audience in the way V.C. Andrews does in her novels. You have to hook them from the beginning and the story has to move! That way, when the story does slow down to present some of the sadder, sweeter moments, people will be drawn in more because of the contrast.

This is the first time the play will ever be produced. Every play goes through some changes leading up to opening night. Mr. Neiderman wants the show to be a success. He and I have discussed many elements of the play and he is open to my ideas. In my vision, the play’s setting is timeless. I want to focus on the journey of the characters and the themes of the work and bring the audience into this world without the presence of too many real-world reminders. I plan on approaching the drama of the story itself and the characterizations as earnestly and truthfully as possible allowing these aspects to organically eclipse the time period or the exact setting. When I read ‘Flowers in the Attic’ for the first time, I knew that V.C. Andrews mentioned the time period to be the 1950s in her opening sentence, but she created a world that transcended that time period and I was captivated and lured into it. She had established for me, as a reader, a story that could
have taken place in any time. I hope to honor the spirit of that in the play version. I’m also looking forward to some of the scenes that have been altered from the novel and that are not in either of the movies. Mr. Neiderman never changes the basic structure of the story, but he does translate it and interprets it and takes creative license with it which I thought was very intriguing. That’s what a playwright does. The fun part is now getting to interpret his words and bring them alive. 

V.C. Andrews created vibrant and extraordinary characters and placed them into circumstances that were often terrifying but were also compelling. Her characters may have lived lives that we may not have wanted at times, but they certainly did live! And I cannot wait to see them live before a live audience for the very first time. I think Virginia would have liked that. 

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Flowers in the Attic:The Stage Play will be premiering on the 13th August 2015 at The Old Marquer Theatre New Orleans.

You can keep up to date with all the lastest news from the show here

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Neisha Chetty says:

    I loved this ! Christopher is truly awesome. Hopefully there is more to come !

    Liked by 1 person

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