Meet Our Director!
South Pacific Profile: Theater veteran Jorge Bermudez makes his Summer Place directorial debut
Summer Place Theatre is honored and excited to have Jorge Bermudez make his Naperville directorial debut amid a long and distinguished career directing, acting, and teaching theatre. Jorge has earned a Bachelor of Arts in Performance Studies at the University of Illinois, a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Pedagogy with an emphasis on acting and directing from the Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as a Master of Science in Human Resources from Loyola University. He has taught acting and directing, and has directed countless musicals at the collegiate and community theatre levels.
Coming to Summer Place Theatre after a short break from the theatre and having never directed South Pacific before, Jorge has brought a fresh outlook and energy to the production, guiding an experienced and talented cast through the production process to create a unique and new look at this American musical theatre classic in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the award-winning show that debuted in April, 1949.
Taking time away from his hectic rehearsal schedule, Jorge talked about his theatre roots and the challenges and joys of presenting South Pacific to a 2019 audience.
South Pacific opens on June 7!
Get your tickets here
QUESTION: Where did you grow up and what kind of childhood did you have?
JORGE BERMUDEZ: Palatine/Rolling Meadows. On the one hand my childhood was rough, as my parents separated when I was 5 years old and divorced at 9 years old, and it was turbulent. I learned at a very young age relationships can be complicated. At the same time, I had parents that not only provided for me, but at an early age were vigilant about protecting me from potential racism. My name is spelled "Jorge" but I didn't learn that until I was 14 years old and applied for my first job while I was a freshman in high school. Until then, I believed my name was spelled "George" and thus I pronounced it in the American way. My mother later explained to me as being the first Mexicans moving into the neighborhood she didn't want me affected by discrimination. And although I can't say I was ever bullied per se, my parents were right in that whenever I explained I was Mexican or that my name was actually Jorge, I was teased many times and/or left out of social events enough to understand and appreciate why my mom protected me as long as she could until I was ready to handle it myself. It is for this reason (and more) that I am sensitive to the central themes of South Pacific and am proud to be able to present this production with Summerplace Theater.
Q: When were you drawn to the theater and what was it that originally drew you in? Do you remember the first live theater you saw?
JB: It was actually the movie version of Grease. My father was a physician and some days he would be called to the hospital for emergencies. One weekend he took me to the movie theater and I saw the matinee of Grease, and I was absolutely mesmerized. So much so that I stayed and watched it repeatedly the whole day. In those times, employees didn’t check for tickets if you were already sitting and there were no assigned seats, so I ended up seeing the movie 24 times in a row over the course of 3-4 weekends in one month in 1978. I knew then that I wanted something to do with theatre. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the first live production I ever saw - I do think it was a junior high play but it didn’t do anything for me compared to what the musical did.
Q: What was the musical that had you fall in love with musicals?
JB: Grease, as I mentioned, but I must also mention West Side Story was the one that made me fall in love with the process of directing them.
Q: How has your education and real world experience in Human Resources helped your theater career and your approach to directing community theater?
JB: It has served me well. I understand the importance of clear communication, of teamwork, of fairness, and integrity. These are all values I believe I learned in my HR career that seem to be appreciated in my approach to directing.
Q: How much of the teaching element is there time for, and a need for, during a community theater rehearsal process like South Pacific?
JB: This varies because experience levels run the gamut in community theatre, And there usually isn’t a whole lot of time for focused work specific to teaching. But I would then argue that if done in a certain way, there’s some amount of teaching which can be infused with every rehearsal whether it’s obvious or not.
Q: How has the approach to the direction and presentation of live musical theater changed in the technological age?
JB: A lot. It has obviously allowed us to digitize and augment a lot of aesthetic and visual presentations we may not have been able to fully realize before. It can also make things logistically easier in some ways, but of course there is always a risk of a technical malfunction. Economically, I think it’s intended to save money, but some technology is rather expensive so the jury is still out on this. Lastly, I think it adds another option, but it doesn’t necessarily replace, meaning some visuals may be better depicted with technology, but I also feel it can look impersonal and disengaging and in a lot of ways doing it the old-fashioned way is still preferable.
Q: What were your impressions of the talent pool you had to choose from at Summer Place Theatre’s Unified Auditions and what was the decision-making process like for you compared to other shows you have directed?
JB: I was impressed at the level of talent coming from a perspective of not knowing what to expect. Casting this show was one of the more challenging experiences I have ever had due to the deep talent. The choices were difficult!
Q: How does it feel to have control of a cast again after some time away from the theater?
JB: I’m loving this process but I don’t think of it as having "control". I am collaborating with everyone and although I may be leading and advising or coaching, we are all in this together. That may be an HR philosophy but it’s important because it sets the tone of connection for us all and consequently we have been nurturing each other and that’s just well… amazing. There’s nothing like it.
Q: What are the similarities and differences of the two love stories in the plot of South Pacific?
JB: The similarities are that they both deal with the concept of forbidden love. The differences are about the particular issues and struggles, and whether they come externally or from within or both. It’s fascinating - especially for this show to have been written in the 1940’s - that it comments on so many themes, including racism, culturalism, ageism, sexism, socio-economic issues, war/politics, just to name a few.
Q: These social issues such as race and culture differences are as relevant in 2019 as they were when the show opened on Broadway in 1949, 70 years ago. How will this production deal with that arc of racism and bigotry in our country’s history?
JB: It will both be an educational ride in terms of showing the audience how the state of affairs were at one point and also depict how much in some ways we still have these same issues today. The overarching goal is to spark conversation because I don’t want to ignore that many pockets of society have made progress in many areas. But in short, and especially with one or two particular scenes/songs, we will highlight just how challenging it is to change for some.
Q: Candidly, you are not the biggest fan of Rodgers & Hammerstein. You have directed dozens of musicals and only one of theirs, Oklahoma, which you have said you grew to love in the course of the production process. What are your thoughts on South Pacific and have you fallen in love with it yet?
JB: Candidly, I have not fallen in love with it yet but I have come to deeply appreciate it for its time. And I think part of it is because this is actually a very difficult show to direct logistically. From a performer’s standpoint, I may feel very differently about this show. However, In its own timespace, this show was revolutionary in its storytelling narrative. People have now had 70 years to listen and see this content so the impact the writers intended to communicate is now not as impactful for obvious reasons. So the thrill for me as a director is taking the material and presenting it in a way that moves the needle and connects an audience with hopefully even some modicum of engagement as what was originally intended.
Q: Why should people come see this production of South Pacific?
JB: It is my utmost hope and desire that people see that we have made this show as funny as possible when appropriate without disrespecting the serious themes and emotions contained within the plotlines of the show. By doing so, I hope people will find those moments more meaningful and thought-provoking. Bottom line, I hope they will laugh more but also feel everything more. A fulfilling and rewarding experience that will be worth the price of admission, but most importantly respects the story and gets us talking about how to accept people and treat each other with kindness, love, and dignity, which I truly believe we all - at our core - genuinely want.
Summer Place Theatre's production of Rodger's & Hammerstein's South Pacific opens on June 7.
Learn more about our production here Get your tickets here