SHSU professor’s novel adapted to screenplay

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The Sam Houston State University College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication will kick off the 2016 fall semester with the premiere production of Ruffled Flourishes, written by Philip G. Warner Endowed Chair professor Peter Roussel.

Ruffled Flourishes follows White House spokesperson Sox St. Louis and his struggles in the press corps.

Roussel was inspired by his time as Press Secretary to then U.S. Congressman George H.W. Bush from 1971 to 1974 and two tours of duty in the White House as Staff Assistant to President Ford from 1974 to 1976 and Deputy Press Secretary to President Reagan from 1981 to 1987.

Roussel soon realized the immense toll of his work but additionally found humor that occurred behind the scenes.

“What I discovered when I was working as a spokesperson for the White House was that the daily press briefing and the press room at the White House was a theatre in itself,” Roussel said.

Throughout his time in the White House, Roussel was continuously told to write about the unexpected humor he experienced.

“A good friend of mine, Horton Foote, came to the White House and I invited him to the press briefing. We were sitting in my office and he said, ‘Pete, you should write about this,” now I never forgot he said that, especially coming from someone that I had such high regard for,” Roussel said.

Nearly 10 years after his tours in the White House, Roussel began Ruffled Flourishes because he was looking to begin his own memoir.

“I didn’t do anything about it for a while, probably 10 years later, but I never forgot,” Roussel said. “So I thought I would finally write my memoir, like most people do but I thought, ‘wait a minute,’ what really struck me was the unexpected humor that came out of the White House press corps. It’s completely unexpected and the public is unaware of it.”

Ruffled Flourishes is not directly correlated to Roussel’s specific colleagues or experiences but rather the typical lifestyle and runaround that a White House spokesperson is exposed to throughout their career.

“The simple answer is the book and the play are about the press slash presidency process and the daily taffy pull that occurs between reporters covering the White House and a spokesperson for the president,” Roussel said.

“All you see at night is about 45 seconds of the network correspondent, you don’t see the 12 hours that it took to get that reporter to that point. That’s hopefully what you see in the book,” Roussel said.

The stage production will be set in the 80s, modeled after Roussel’s tour in the White House.

“The first thing you are told in the theatrical program is that this was a while ago, it’s not today but it’s also not so far back either,” Roussel said.

Penelope Hasekoester, Department Chair of Theatre and Musical Theatre, will direct the first production of Ruffled Flourishes.

“It will be a part of our summer repertory program and we changed it to be focused on new works,” Haskoester said. “The entire month of June we will workshop the play. That means we will sit down, read through it, work through ideas and we will culminate that with a stage reading at the very end of June.”

Casting has not yet begun as the Theatre Department has allowed time for students to prepare for auditions along with finals.

“People are checking out the scripts, they are reading through them and we’ll do casting on the week of finals, that way I’ll be able to give them scripts to look at so when we come back for the first class in June we can get right on it.”

Selected cast members will sign up for the summer repertory class and will spend the bulk of the break in rehearsals to prepare for the premiere in August

“July will essentially be cast members working on their lines and we will really kick it into gear,” Hasekoester said. “At that point in time we hope our showcase theatre will be refurbished. It will be the first show of the fall semester.”

The play will spotlight the satire that occurs in serious situations. Although there will be cast members who play roles such as the president, vice president and various other White House positions, Ruffled Flourishes hopes shed light upon the press corps and what goes on behind the scenes.

“This is a great satire piece on the press corps of the United States and I think that’s something that people don’t look at when they think of Washington,” Hasekoester said. “It’s an interesting look on what actually happens behind the scenes that we don’t see – the way the information flows, the way people respond behind closed doors. So it’s really about the press corps.”

As the 2016 presidential elections draws near, Hasekoester thinks it is appropriate to premiere this play because the subject matter brings a lighter tone to the tense campaigns of the season.

“This being a political year, I think it’s going to be fun to kick the school year off with a play like this,” she said. “Since it is a new script, we have to work with it differently than we would with an established script.”

Ruffled Flourishes will premiere on the first weekend of the fall semester, August 26 in the SHSU Showcase Theatre.