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Posts Tagged ‘drama’

Actor Finn Wittrock wrote recently at the New York Times about helping to start a mini Shakespeare company in the 1990s to entertain his parents and other theater professionals. He recalls with wonder his young self’s confidence of success.

“I was born in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. I lived there until I was 6, then moved to Evanston, Ill., and later to Los Angeles. But every summer for most of my youth, I would go back East with my brother, my mom and my dad, who most summers was acting or teaching for Shakespeare & Company. I would often be cast as a page or an altar boy in one of the professional productions.

“I went in lieu of a summer camp; I went to romp in the Berkshires, see old friends, get out of the city. But mostly I went for the Very Young Company.

“Starting at the age of 8 and until I was 16, my oldest friends and I would get together every summer: Rory, Reilly, Wolfe, and later my brother, Dylan, and Wolfe’s brother, Tiger (yes, their real names) would arrange five or six scenes from Shakespeare, rehearse them on our own time in the sun-drenched Berkshire afternoons and perform them for the adult company after one of their Mainstage shows. We began the company ourselves and it ended when we were no longer ‘very young.’

“For a kid, it was an epic undertaking; an outlet for pre- and post-adolescent energies. We were totally self-motivated; nobody told us to do it, which was in itself an incentive. We’d choose a scene based on our own criteria: Had the company done it before? Could we make fun of them for it? Could we put Reilly in a wig and have him play a girl? And, most important: Did it end in a sword fight? …

Sometimes I yearn to have the boldness of one who knows nothing, who jumps onstage for no other reason than because he is young and has a loud voice.”

Later in his essay, Wittrock recalls something the celebrated director Mike Nichols once said about his own early years: ” ‘Why was I so confident back then? I had no business being that confident.’ And yet he attributed most of his early success to that unreasonable confidence. …

“No one gave us permission to do the Very Young Company; no one ordered us to do it, and no one had to boost our confidence to do it. We just did it. We were just kids howling Shakespeare to the Berkshire trees, and our readiness was all.” More at the New York Times, here.

At one point in my  childhood, I, too, was confident. I thought, if my parents would only call the movie theater and set it up, four of us kids — the Gordons, one of my brothers, and I — would be a smashing success performing our version of “Snow White and Rose Red” before the feature. The grownups didn’t quite believe in it.

Some neighbors and I did perform an original play about a snowman for family members. One of the actors returned a copy of the pencil-scrawled script to me at my aunt’s funeral in 2002, decades later.

Photo: Lauren Lancaster for the NY Times
Finn Wittrock, right, and Rory Hammond, enacting the killing of Lady Macduff and her son in a mini-“Macbeth.” The young actors formed their own company more than 20 years ago to entertain their parents and other professionals at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass.

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Did you read the Ancient Greek tragedy Antigone, by Sophocles, in school? I was actually in a college production — performed in Greek. It was much too hard for me, even with my bit part.

But in high school, the play really captured my imagination with its young heroine insisting that the higher laws required her to give her rebel brother a proper burial and the king determined to make an example of rebels.

Anyway, that’s how I remember dinner discussions — my aunt and uncle arguing for the power of the state and me arguing for rebels.

So you may imagine how intrigued I was when I saw that a theater troop was enlisting big stars to bring Antigone (in English) to Ferguson, Missouri, to generate a community dialogue. Ferguson was where the majority of Americans first became aware of the issues that have led to the Black Lives Matter movement.

National Public Radio alerted listeners to the event, here.

“WILLIS RYDER ARNOLD (REPORTER): Bryan Doerries is a director who puts on ancient Greek plays. He says his productions aren’t boring classroom exercises.

“BRYAN DOERRIES: These are readings on steroids, and spit is flying and tears are projectile crying off the stage, and sounds are coming up out of the actors that they’ve never heard themselves make before.

“ARNOLD: After the performance, Doerries asks the audience to react. He leads a conversation that can take as long as the actual play. For him, the performance is a chance to ask some deeper questions.

“DOERRIES: How many different ways can we give you, as the audience, permission to have a conversation that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, to speak your personal truths, to be acknowledged and heard?

“ARNOLD: A local resident urged Doerries to bring his project to Ferguson. Doerries will present ‘Antigone.’ ”

The plan for “Antigone in Ferguson,” developed by Outside the Wire and the PopTech Institute, and co-presented by the Onassis Foundation USA, was as follows:

“Screening of selected segments from the documentary Antigone in Ferguson, followed by a dramatic reading of scenes from Antigone with Reg E. Cathey (House of Cards, The Wire), Gloria Reuben (ER), Glenn Davis (24, The Unit), and Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black).

“The reading will be followed by a town hall discussion, framed by remarks from community panelists — including members of law enforcement, activists, and concerned citizens — facilitated by Bryan Doerries, with the goal of generating powerful dialogue and fostering compassion, understanding, and positive action.”

I managed to find twitter reactions the day after the Sept. 17 performance:

Sep 18 Amazing! brought the community together through art and our own human experiences!
Sep 18 All of tonight’s was incredible. Thank you . Wow.
Sep 17 I wish everyone I know could have been at the reading of Antigone in Ferguson by . Church choir as Greek chorus? Amen

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An experimental theater piece to test the Theory of Purposefully Divided Attention to Fend Off Meltdowns.
Cast: Grandma (G), Adult One (1), Adult Two (2), Adult Three (3), Small Child (Small)
Setting: Dinner table

G: Why is your hairdresser your hero?

1: She’s a real bootstrap entrepreneur. She’ll try anything.

G: Is that a blackberry in your popsicle?

Small: No, a blueberry.

2: Well, when you have kids, you can’t participate in every charity event or random partnership.

3: You have to prioritize, be strategic. Know when to say no.

1: But she has a great community reputation. She’s so upbeat.

G: I really think that’s a blackberry. Like Mrs. Rabbit’s in Peter Rabbit. Supporting everything in the community can add up.

1: It rolls up.

3: But you can waste a lot of time.

2: And energy.

G: People are grateful, though. If you’re strategic, you miss the kind of opportunities that you have no idea where they will lead. I like the way that popsicle drips right into the holder. It’s less messy.

Small: Do you want one?

G: I don’t want to take your last popsicle.

Small: We can make more.

G: Maybe after dinner.

Small: Let’s do it!

G: Careful — the juice is spilling. One and one and 50 make a million. It’s good to be open to serendipity if you possibly can.

2: There are only so many hours in the day.

3: Numerous small investments can’t get what one big investment would.

G: Do you want a napkin?

Small: I got a green popsicle at Whole Foods, but it dripped all over my dragon shirt. It was green.

G: There is nothing like a reputation for being upbeat and cooperative. I know where we can pick blackberries for the next batch of popsicles.

Small: But you have to add juice so it sticks together.

1: We now trade services. She does that with almost everyone. I feel like she could teach a class in entrepreneurship.

G: Teach one together, how about?

Small: Do you want a popsicle? Do you want one now?

G: Maybe after dinner. Look, that’s a raspberry. Or do you think it’s a strawberry?

Small: Do you want a popsicle now? I can go get it. We can make more later. Yes or no?

G: OK. Yes.

Small: Say, Please.

G: Yes, please.

Photo: Matthew Klein

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Maura Judkis of the Washington Post blogged recently about an actor who wants the opportunity to perform in your home and will throw in a surprising service.

Judkis writes, “Fringe Festival audiences have opened their homes to Brian Feldman. He has met their families and friends, admired their art, eaten their food, handled their precious china. …

“The premise for Feldman’s show, ‘Dishwasher,’ is this: He will come to a person’s house, wash all of the dirty dishes, perform a monologue of the audience’s choosing and then conclude with a single question: ‘Am I a better actor or dishwasher?’ The answer can depend on the monologue that he cold-reads — and on how crusty that casserole dish in the sink has become. The show — the first Fringe show to take place in private homes — has sold out its entire run. …

“His [work] follows in the tradition of great performance artists such as Tehching Hsieh and Marina Abramovic, but it’s more playful — and in his opinion, more theatrical.

“ ‘It’s hard to define — I’m straddling the middle, and I’m always pitching it as theater,’ he said. ‘I was always more interested in theater that had a concept that was hard to define, or things that didn’t have an ending, and didn’t necessarily have a beginning.’ …

“In the week of performing the show so far, he’s dealt with messes big and small. There was the Cleveland Park home with the too-small sink.

“ ‘It was hard to wash anything,’ he said. ‘They had a door that you could enclose yourself in the kitchen. I used it to comic effect, it was almost like “Noises Off.” ‘ …

“So far, five of his hosts have told him he’s better at acting, one has said he’s better at dishwashing, and two couldn’t decide.

“ ‘I’m trying to do as good a job dishwashing as I am acting,’ he said. ‘It’s subjective, just like art.’ ”

Read how Judkis and her friends got him to read “the character of Mrs. Pringle, who is fretting about a disappointing party, from the play ‘Fourteen’ by Alice Gerstenberg. ‘This is my last dinner party — my very last — a fiasco — an utter fiasco!’ ” here.

Photo: Maura Judkis/The Washington Post
Brian Feldman performs a monologue in the writer’s home.

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A Syrian actor who visited a refugee camp, felt compassion for the children, and returned to help them put on a play decided to start at the top. Only the best playwright would do.

From the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, NY Times reporter Ben Hubbard describes the scene: “On a rocky patch of earth in this sprawling city of tents and prefab trailers, the king, dressed in dirty jeans and a homemade cape, raised his wooden scepter and announced his intention to divide his kingdom. His elder daughters, wearing paper crowns and plastic jewelry, showered him with false praise, while the youngest spoke truthfully and lost her inheritance.

“So began a recent adaptation here of King Lear. For the 100 children in the cast, it was their first brush with Shakespeare, although they were already deeply acquainted with tragedy. All were refugees who had fled the civil war in Syria. …

“ ‘The show is to bring back laughter, joy and humanity,’ said its director, Nawar Bulbul, a 40-year-old Syrian actor known at home for his role in ‘Bab al-Hara,’ an enormously popular historical drama that was broadcast throughout the Arab world.

“Last year, he and his French wife moved to Jordan, where friends invited him to help distribute aid in Zaatari. …

“Children he met in the camp made him promise to return, and he did — with a plan to show the world that the least fortunate Syrian refugees could produce the loftiest theater. …

“The mere fact that the play was performed was enough for the few hundred spectators. Families living in nearby tents brought their children, hoisting them on their shoulders so they could see. …

“The crowd burst into applause, and a number of the leading girls broke into tears. Mr. Bulbul said they were overwhelmed because it was the first time anyone had clapped for them.”

More here, at the NY Times, where you can also see a slide show and watch a video about the refugee-camp theater initiative.

Photo: Warrick Page for The New York Times

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Ted-Shen-Second-Chance-at-PublicWe went down to New York this weekend to see my husband’s classmate’s new musical.

Ted Shen wrote the book, lyrics, and music to A Second Chance, a lovely little cameo about a widower and a divorcee. The title refers to new beginnings for two people, but it’s hard for my husband and me not to think of new careers, too, since Shen was an investment banker for 30 years before turning to music so seriously.

At TheaterMania, where a couple of old reviews I wrote are still archived, Shen describes how he began to develop his musical after Stephen Sondheim gave him encouragement.

And he explains his style. “In my role as composer, my preference has been to emphasize the use of ‘action songs’ that show the characters interacting with each other and conversing primarily through lyrics rather than pure spoken dialog, and to limit the use of ‘introspection songs’ that stop the action to express feelings and inner thoughts. I have attempted to create a contemporary musical ‘language’ that is jazz-inflected rather than written in today’s predominant pop-based genre.’ ” More at TheaterMania.

Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater, where the show is being performed, says that Shen “has written some of the most elegant and sophisticated music I have heard in theater in many a moon.”

While in New York, we also saw the musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (based on the movie Kind Hearts and Coronets). It was pure Broadway fun, and we laughed a lot. But A Second Chance gave us more to talk about after.

Consider checking out the site for the Shen Family Foundation, here, which “concentrates its grant-making in the area of musical theater through its funding support of works of exceptionally gifted and highly original musical theater composers.”

Photo: Suzanne‘s Dad reconnects with his classmate decades after business school and asks him to sign a Playbill.

032914-John-and-Ted-Shen-at-Public-Theater

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One thinks of Iran as repressive, and having watched the doomed 2009 revolution unfold on twitter, I believe it is. But Iranian theater people seem to be managing to squeeze in some fun.

I blogged before about the Tehran production in a taxi, here. Now Studio 360 has a story on what might be called extreme improvisation. I take that back. There’s a script. But the actor doesn’t get to see it in advance.

“Actors face stage fright all the time,” says Studio 360, a radio show. “But consider this scenario: you show up to perform a one-person show, and you’ve never seen the script. You don’t know what it’s about because you promised not to do any research. It’s your first performance, and the only one you’ll ever have. The theater’s artistic director hands you a fat manila envelope with a script. And go.

“Also, the audience will decide whether you drink a glass of water that appears to have been poisoned.

“This is the premise of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. ‘I did not know what was in front of me inside that envelope,’ says actor Gwydion Suilebhan. ‘What if this script is going to require that I disrobe? Or insult my mother? Or be rude or self-debasing?’ …

“Soleimanpour pulls his strings from afar, because — although the play has been performed in Toronto, Berlin, San Francisco, Brisbane, Edinburgh, London, and now Washington, DC — he really is in a cage. He doesn’t have a passport and can’t leave Iran, so he has never seen his play performed. ‘Nassim has given up the kind of control that is customary for playwrights,’ says Suilebhan, of working with actors and directors to realize the play. ‘At the same time, because he has put all of these restrictions on how it is to be performed, he has seized certain kinds of control that playwrights normally do not have. So he is literally embodying the ideas of control and submission and manipulation that he’s baked into his script.’ ” More.

Photo of Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour found at the HuffingtonPost

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