Ross Hellwig

Los Angeles-based actor Ross Hellwig will make his Bakersfield debut Friday in "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour," a theatrical collaboration with the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra at Rabobank Theater.

Courtesy of Ross Hellwig

Tech week is crunch time for any theatrical production. The week leading up to a show's opening is full of dress rehearsals and last-minute adjustments. But director Jennifer Sampson is really putting the pressure on for her "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour," which debuts Friday at Rabobank Theater. For this collaboration with the Bakersfield Symphony, Sampson was introducing her lead actor, Ross Hellwig, into the mix just days before the only two rehearsals her actors would have with the musicians. Talk about pressure.

"It’s all thrilling and terrifying, as art should be," Sampson wrote in an email.

"This is definitely the most challenging project I’ve attempted. Ideally, you work with the orchestra for several rehearsals and make sure the actors, musicians and conductor feel comfortable and confident. However, we don’t have that luxury."

Hellwig arrived in town Monday and jumped into rehearsals with the other actors. In the show, he plays a dissident, Alexander, who is imprisoned in a Soviet mental hospital. Visited by a doctor (Donald Kruszka) and colonel (Jon Sampson), he is pressured to admit his anti-government statements were caused by a mental disorder (which he doesn't have) in order to be released.

His cellmate, Ivanov, played by Karl Wade, is a schizophrenic who believes he has a symphony orchestra under his command.

The show also features Belle Boren as Alexander's son, Sacha, and Abby Bowles-Votaw as his teacher.

Sampson said she was relying on her cast to pull it all together this week. Any adjustments after meeting with conductor Stilian Kirov and the chamber orchestra, who will perform the music by Andre Previn, would need to be made quickly as they prepare for Friday show.

"It’s unlike any process I’ve experienced. I want to be sure to be a strong and clear leader, while being sensitive to Stilian and his leadership in this project. There is a lot to juggle."

This weekend in Bakersfield is a big one for playwright Tom Stoppard. In addition to this production of "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour," Bakersfield College is presenting "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" as part of the 33rd annual Kern Shakespeare Festival.

Of the timing, Sampson said, "Stoppard’s work is complicated and meaty and requires deft direction and focused acting. I think it’s a good sign that sophisticated theater in alive and well in Bakersfield."

This show is also the first in the new series of pops concerts for the symphony, which opens its season next Saturday. Sampson said she's thrilled to be part of the lineup.

"I think we will be a lovely appetizer to the first course."

If the stars align, this won't be Sampson's only foray with the symphony. She'd like to direct "Midsummer Night’s Dream" as a choreographed stage reading with the Felix Mendelssohn score. Having not seen a high-concept stage reading like this in town, the director said she'd love to present this one.

"This could be done so beautifully. It would be fully costumed with some sets and props, but the actors would be on book and responding to the music."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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