Moving forward in a 'One Room' theatrical engagement

An Interview with Josh Short, Director/Artistic Director


“Once” the musical is a heartfelt and enchanting production that shines with its simplicity and authenticity. “Once,” book by Enda Walsh; music and Lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, captures universal themes of love, longing and following one’s dream. The Wilbury production fully immerses the audience in both storytelling and action. This “one room” experience, directed by Wilbury’s Artistic Director, Josh Short, delivers a truly moving and unforgettable evening of theater running now through June 23. I had the opportunity to catch up with Josh Short in a recent interview.

Ida: What drew you to select “Once” as a production for the Wilbury Theater Group?

Josh: I think that there are a lot of thematic elements of “Once” that resonate with me and with the community right now. It’s a beautiful story about two people who feel stuck in their own lives. Coming out of COVID over the last few years, there were a lot of people that were looking for connection. This play is about that and about two people who are stuck within their own minds, find each other and help each other move forward. The musical recognizes the inherent loneliness that we all carry with us as individuals. Everybody is stuffed in their own story, but it’s hard for us to look outside of ourselves until somebody comes along in our life and gives us the kick in the pants that we need.

Ida: So how does “Once” resonate with the theater’s artistic at mission and vision?

Josh: It’s a great ensemble, musical piece which is something that we really love doing here and that the team here does really well. All the actors play their own instruments, and we utilize the whole space. It’s very much one of those pieces that for a long time I thought would be a great thing for the Wilbury. “Once” clearly engages and provokes the audience which is what our productions offer to the community. John Carney who wrote and directed the film was asked why it was called “Once.” He said, “Because everybody goes through their lives thinking that ‘once I do this, then I’ll have that or once this happens, then I’ll be able to do that.’” We put off pursuing the dreams that we want. I’m excited to share this production with audiences and have that conversation.

Ida: What were some of the unique challenges in bringing “Once” to life on your stage?

Josh: We had a very long casting process, trying to find actors, who were also excellent musicians. I admit, we have an A-Team of string players. I’m so happy with how it all came together, but that was certainly a challenge. Also creatively maximizing the space, as you know we have a small, black box theater with a 70 to 80 seat house. We have 18 cast members with instruments which pushes the space to its limit.

Ida: What particular elements of the show do you think will resonate most with your audience?

Josh: Well, I think in addition to the performances, which are really moving, I hope people walk away recognizing the sheer talent in the room as well as how we have creatively engaged them as participants within this production. I hope they are excited about that.

Ida: How have you worked creatively with the cast and the team to really capture the essence of “Once?” Have you done anything unique in terms of staging, direction or design?

Josh: I think what’s unique is the size of the theater which is very intimate and so the audience and the actors are out there the entire time together, sharing the space together. As the design team, we wanted to create an expensive community and shared storytelling was important to us and so from the moment the audience walks in, the actors are out mingling with them. The audience is not removed from the action of this piece which we call “immersive” or “one room theater.” You can’t do that in a large, Broadway theater. It is not only sharing space with the audience, but also storytelling.

Ida: Can you share any sort of behind the scene insights or anecdotes about the production process of Once?

Josh: Some actors have a very solid music background with formal training. Some are musicians with some acting experience. The cast is then made up of actors who are playing musicians and musicians who are playing actors. I honestly wondered how all of this was going to meld together to make something real and cohesive. It is exciting to see how that line between musician and actor has not only blurred but practically disappeared. This is a musical in which it is more than learning lines and notes. We have created something here that integrates the music with the action in order for there to be a direct relationship to the script, actor and audience. Together, the music and the script tell a very intimate story in which we can all relate.


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