Conductor, New York City Opera
To Whom It May Concern:
The opportunity to write a letter of support for Shawn Churchman presents me with an enormous challenge. Simply, how to coherently and concisely express my admiration and respect for his diverse professional body of work? It would require a writer far more gifted than I to adequately represent Shawn's gifts as a director, as a dramaturg, as a professional man of theatre. Suffice it to say that I am thrilled and honored to be asked to recommend him — which I do happily without reservation, and with the greatest affection.
Shawn and I have known each other since attending undergraduate school together at Oklahoma City University. He was a voice major and is an exceptional musician, with a real understanding of the structure — dramatically and musically — of a piece of music. He was not only a featured performer in musical theatre and opera, Shawn also appeared in numerous productions in the theatre department. I remember many evenings watching him on stage; specifically his performance as Paddy Chayevsky's GIDEON — loving his choices, and enjoying his consummate skills as a performer.
The next time I worked with Shawn in a professional context was at the Utah Festival Opera Company in Logan, Utah. He was engaged to direct Naughty Marietta, Victor Herbert's delightful operetta — a production I was conducting. We spent many evenings together, re-writing a truly problematic book, and arranging musical numbers to service the piece. Shawn's insights into restructuring the show into a tightly woven piece of musical theatre — with true understanding of its original period, and an appreciation of its context; but also in an effort to make it accessible and 'with something to say' to a contemporary audience — were truly remarkable. Our finished play is quite an achievement, successful both from the audience's and the actor's perspectives; and our work together was truly gratifying.
The real achievement, however, was watching Shawn take a group of mostly inexperienced, very 'green' opera singers, and give them the tools to become successful professional performers. His rehearsals incorporated not only staging of specific scenes, but also basic stagecraft and body movement in a way that inspired the ensemble members to expand their abilities and their sensibilities — to grow as multi-disciplined performers; aware, of course, of their vocal mechanism, but also of their bodies as fully incorporated stage actors. Involvement in a scene beyond stock 'posturing', varied crowd reactions beyond 'rutabaga, rutabaga', and the challenge of doing more on stage than producing beautiful sounds and wearing one's costume well. Shawn gave these performers an incredible gift: the skills necessary to successfully transition from conservatory-trained singers to well-rounded working stage performers.
And he accomplishes all this with delightful humor, with his own grand Texas style, and great passion for the art forms of theatre and opera. He is truly an ideal colleague — a rarely used and even more rarely earned compliment. Shawn is an inventive, demanding, and, especially, loving person of theatre. I count myself fortunate to call him a professional associate, and even luckier to call him friend.
Please do not hesitate to contact me directly for more information on this wonderfully gifted man.
Former Artistic Director of The Hangar Theatre
Current Associate Artistic Director of The Fords Theatre, Washington, DC
To Whom It May Concern:
I am pleased to offer this letter of recommendation for Shawn Churchman. While I was Artistic Director of the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York, Shawn directed professional, Equity productions of Forever Plaid, The Fantasticks and Dames at Sea. All three productions were extraordinarily well received and among the finest productions produced during my four seasons at the Hangar.
Shawn’s knowledge of the musical theatre community makes him an exceptional asset when casting and putting together a production team. He was able to attract talent to the Hangar that was far superior to that previously seen in musicals on the Hangar stage. He has a tremendous sense of integrity and is unwilling to compromise singing ability for acting and vice-versa. Both are important to him and both contribute to the success of his productions.
His work with actors is very fine. He elicits wonderful performances infused with a sense of delight and joy from all of his performers. Clearly, they love working with him and it shows in their work. His work with designers is imaginative and precise. With the designers, he creates a context for the production that illuminates the play brilliantly, enhancing, but never distracting, from the material in a light that honors the composer, lyricist and playwright.
I enjoyed collaborating with Shawn tremendously. He is always open to suggestion, never defensive and always a delight. He really knows musical theatre and his love and passion for it shows through everything he does. He worked hard for months on each production prior to rehearsals. Each one of the productions mentioned above he mounted in a ridiculously short two weeks and their success is due much to his commitment and thorough preparation.
I have a firm belief that Shawn is a significant talent and will contribute wonderful productions to American Theatre that will delight audiences fortunate enough to encounter his work. I recommend him highly and without reservation. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Stamford Theatre Works
To Whom It May Concern:
Having lost our director/choreographer just prior to auditions for our original production of ALWAYS, IRVING BERLIN (Now MADE IN AMERICA: IRVING BERLIN), Shawn Churchman, unknown to me before I hired him, came highly recommended by colleagues. Shawn’s extraordinary familiarity with the American musical song-book, exceptional knowledge of dramatic structure, and keen understanding for “what works,” took hold of a story-line that was virtually non-existent, endowed it with intelligence, imagination and poignancy, and produced a dramatic, musical production that set a 15-year, Stamford Theatre Works record of attendance!
Just as important is Shawn’s collaborative ability, without which no theatre director, no matter how talented, can succeed. The enormous success of our production, therefore, was due in no small part to Shawn’s easy and productive relationship with our musical director, cast members and designers. To be sure, the creative environment that Shawn established with his gentle leadership and open personality encouraged a risk-taking that elicited everyone’s “best”, and a collective pride in the work that kept everyone “giving” – right up until the very last performance.
Shawn is a remarkable and inventive talent. Anyone who has the opportunity to work with him should not hesitate to do so!
Shami J. McCormick
Artistic Director, The Depot Theatre
To Whom It May Concern:
I am pleased to provide a strong recommendation on behalf of Shawn Churchman as both an actor and a Director of considerable note. I have had the pleasure of working with Shawn first as an actor and then as a director for a 1996 production of Forever Plaid. He has since performed and directed at the Depot Theatre on several occasions. Most recently, he directed and choreographed our production of ALWAYS PATSY CLINE.
The Depot Theatre is a small professional theatre company operating under an SPT V contract with AEA. The 136-seat theatre is long and narrow, has no wing space and certainly operates under tight resources and with a small (but capable) staff. Rehearsal time is minimal (average of 34 hours per week with 10 rehearsal days). It can be a difficult assignment for many directors.
By the same token we have often produced shows at the Lake Placid Center for the Performing Arts. LPCA has a 40 ft.’ proscenium, fly and wing space and many amenities and resources absent from the Depot’s home venue. In doing so, the works must be totally re-staged.
Shawn has worked for us in both venues and has done so with equal enthusiasm and ability. His work as a director begins with a respect for the vision and intent of the playwright. He understands the text and is adept at helping others give the playwright’s vision form and passion. Shawn always knows what he wants from a text and from an actor and designer. He is able to communicate his vision clearly through specific directions and does so without stifling the artistic contributions of his actors or production team. Indeed, his work embraces the personal signatures of his company while directing them towards a unified vision and standard of production.
Shawn readily accepts his leadership role within a production team and does an excellent job of understanding and coordinating the team’s different energies, abilities and personalities towards a common goal. He is flexible and accommodating without forsaking the helm. He does not panic when catastrophe strikes, he does not lose his cool when others’ boil over. Shawn is also gracious is asking for feedback and in accepting criticism. It takes a secure person to invite criticism and I think this reflects Shawn’s interest in constantly improving his craft. He has always proven to be a wonderful collaborator and a personable, creative individual whose work and work ethic merit high praise. Finally, he is a person with a sense of humor and one who can maintain a realistic perspective in complex situations.
In summation, Shawn’s work is highly professional and his personal style comfortable and accessible – he always has the respect and admiration of his fellow artists, providing a clear, thoughtful and creative atmosphere in which all can collaborate to do their best work. His meticulous and inspired direction infuses the work of others with energy and specificity and always results in a cohesive, polished production. He is nurturing of his actors and does much to help them gain confidence and dimension during a short and rigorous rehearsal process.
I would not hesitate to recommend Shawn Churchman and a Director and/or Director/Choreographer and would be happy to discuss my experience of his work with you in greater detail. Very simply, Shawn’s expertise and affability is such that he will, in all likelihood, become a regular part of your production team.