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July 24, 2013

Ferndale resident relishes chance to direct youth theater production

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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Jody Florkowski works with the kids in the Stagecrafters youth theater program during rehearsals for “Seussical Jr.,” a musical based on several Dr. Seuss books.

FERNDALE — Jody Florkowski has a history in the theatre business. He has acted, he has directed and he has even been what he calls the air traffic control manager behind the stage, making sure everything runs smoothly.

“Seussical,” a musical that incorporates stories from several Dr. Seuss books, is also not a new production to Florkowski. The 34-year-old Ferndale resident has acted in the musical and directed it twice.

However, the combination of the Stagecrafters youth theatre program and the “Seussical Jr.” musical, a youth version of the 2000 Broadway show, is something new for Florkowski. The musical, which was held July 18-21 at The Baldwin Theatre in Royal Oak, was Florkowski’s first time directing the Stagecrafters youth program.

“When I look back, a large part of what I have done in theatre is educational theater or theater for the youth,” Florkowski said. “Working with youth is important to me and I love it. This is my fourth time being involved with ‘Seussical,’ but it is always different and this is a new opportunity for me.”

Florkowski grew up around theater productions, as his parents were involved in different productions and eventually bought a community theater. His mother, Nancy, is the artistic director at Motor City Youth Theatre in Livonia.

His freshman year of high school gave Florkowski his first chance to step off the stage and take a directorial role in a youth play. Since then, he has directed a number of Berkley High School plays, as well as adult plays at Stagecrafters.

“In theater, there is always something different in every production, and I like to do pretty much anything with a musical or play,” Florkowski said. “There is a running joke with us in theater that we aren’t sure if theater is our hobby we go to after work, or if work is just what we do before we go to the theater and provides a way to afford our hobby. It is a hobby for me that I am very passionate about and it is a strong community between the people I have worked with.”

While he is a computer technician during the day, when the opportunity came about to direct “Seussical Jr.” for Stagecrafters, Florkowski didn’t think twice before interviewing for the position.

Stagecrafters Executive Director Mary Ann McCourt said Florkowski’s long history in theater was a positive, but his view for “Seussical Jr.” was also something that intrigued those involved.

“Jody’s family has been involved in theater for a long time and he grew up in the business,” McCourt said. “He was a director for (an adult) play in the spring, and he did a great job. He has a really wonderful vision and a great instinct of the theater because he grew up around it.”

The kids who are part of “Seussical Jr.” are between the ages of 8 and 18. Florkowski’s history working with young actors was another reason he was chosen, McCourt said.

“I think a good director has to have a good feel and instinct of the cast they are working with and a great knowledge of what they are putting together,” she said. “Jody is young and creative and talented, and we had great runs when he was directing other plays. I value his input and vision as a director, and I know he can put on a good show.”

Florkowski said a lot of actors would do a musical or play and then move on to another production, rarely coming back again to the same thing. But, in the case of “Seussical,” Florkowski said he isn’t the only one who has been a part of multiple productions, and it is because Dr. Seuss material resonates with most people.

“A lot of people in the cast and on the directorial team have done this production before, and I don’t think that is just a coincidence,” he said. “Dr. Seuss wrote his first book in the 1930s and, by now, anyone around has read these books themselves or to a young person. The fun, wacky content and the stuff that happens and the great artwork are all so recognizable.

“The nature of the show is in fantasy, so you can do the show over and over, and it will always be a little different. Some new interpretations of costumes or of a set piece can make it a different show.”

After four months of auditions and rehearsals, it was great to finally see the show completed and performed in front of an audience, Florkowski said. Whether as an actor, or in this case a director, the finished product is well worth the work.

“For everybody involved, I think the final show is something magical because you put so much time and effort into it and you get to see all the energy and fun come together,” Florkowski said. “From a directing point of view, you have 10,000 little instructions and you get to see them all played back in real time and see it all done during a live performance. It is nerve-racking, but it is also really great.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.