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Posts Tagged ‘play’

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Photo: Tiny Theatre
Rachel Burttram Powers and Brendan Powers, actors married to each other, created a theater in their closet for these self-distancing times.

Sandra’s dear departed mother had the best recipe for boredom: Go clean out a closet. Sandra cleaned out a lot of closets as a kid, and now as an adult, she is never bored because she knows how to find something more interesting to do.

When I was a kid, I was one to play in the closet rather than clean it and had many tea parties with Carole, accompanied by flashlights, cinnamon toast, and dolls.

Today’s story is about two actors, married and stuck at home in the pandemic, who did both: They cleaned out a closet and then played in it.

Sarah Tietje-Mietz reports at American Theatre, “The stage lights glow like dozens of small stars while the countdown to curtain plays over the intercom. … The actors come together, separated by mere inches, so close that their knees bump and their shoulders touch, so close that they have to lean back to even look at each other.

“The stage is a 4-by-4 closet, lit by a string of Christmas lights. … The audience is all online. Welcome to Tiny_Theatre.

‘I think there’s a need for humans to connect, maybe more than ever,’ said actor and Tiny_Theatre co-founder Rachel Burttram Powers. ‘Toni Morrison says that it’s the artist’s job to create in a time of crisis, you know? We created this out of necessity.’

“Tiny_Theatre is the passion project of Rachel and her husband/co-founder, Brendan Powers, as a response to the shuttering of all theatres in the wake of COVID-19. The couple perform from the guest room of their Fort Myers, Fla., home three times a week — Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays — on Facebook Live. …

“Rachel and Brendan have established a network of playwrights to tap into for their newest project. Some writers have even reached out directly with suggestions of work. Rights for the plays have all been granted gratis to the couple. …

“In early March, Rachel and Brendan were in the final dress rehearsal for Florida Rep’s production of Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2. The theatre closed its door the next day. Though the couple’s turn as Nora and Torvald was recorded and streamed online, the two found themselves suddenly faced with an abundance of time and artistic energy.

“ ‘We were sort of in that mindset as performers,’ Rachel said. ‘We were ready to go eight shows a week. Suddenly it was like a needle pulled off the record.’

“Added Brendan, ‘A couple days in, once we knew we were canceling the show, I could see Rachel — I can tell when she’s thinking of something.’ …

“Back to Rachel: ‘I started cleaning out a back closet because I thought, “What would happen if you made a theatre at home?” We knew everyone was self-isolating. We both have a passion for new plays, and we have a lot of playwright friends who are very well established, and I just thought, “Let me just send an email to see if people would be game to play with us.” ‘ …

“There is evident respect in the way they communicate, not just as a married couple but as professionals in their field. Playwright Arlene Hutton acknowledges this interplay as creating an environment akin to a mini-repertory company in Tiny_Theatre. Hutton was already familiar with the couple, having worked with Brendan when he starred in her work, Running, and seen Rachel in Florida Rep’s production of Audrey Cefaly’s Alabaster. … ‘They’re not trying to make it more than it is, you know?’ …

“On March 21, Tiny_Theatre debuted with scenes from Cefaly’s Maytag Virgin. This inaugural performance was also the couple’s first Facebook Live experience. (Brendan did not even have a Facebook account at the time.) Their setup was a smartphone, a broken tripod, and a paint stirrer, all literally held together with duct tape. …

“The technical system has since been upgraded, which they credit to the community that has bloomed around Tiny_Theatre. Friends, family, followers, and even strangers have sent gift cards (resulting in a new iPad) as well as printer paper and toner (for printing and notating scripts). …

“There’s a goofiness and levity to these two, a palpable happiness for the work they are doing. Silliness aside, the two have dedicated years to honing their craft onstage. In such close proximity, their acting is distilled to their voices, the acuity in their facial expressions, the gentle placement of a hand, through which they transport their viewers beyond the confines of their closet.

“ ‘That’s been tricky,’ Brendan said of the lack of mobility. ‘As we read a scene — you’re an actor, you start to feel it, and then you get put in that situation where you can’t storytell physically or only very, very minimally.’ …

“It was this challenge that attracted Nathan Christopher, who found out about Tiny_Theatre through the Playwright Submission Binge online community and became enamored with the project after just one viewing. The Powerses accepted Christopher’s submission of his recent play A Man Walks Into a Bar, performing it on April 6, as well as Clairvoyant, which came from an open call they put out that asked writers to create short works inspired by a single photo they provided as a prompt.”

Read more here.

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Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov for the New York Times
A girl performing during a hobbyhorse competition in Helsinki in March 2019.

Now here’s an unusual pastime: hobbyhorse competitions. Who knows how these things get started with kids? They make up their own fun. It starts out as private play, under the radar, and before you know it, it’s on TV.

Ellen Barry reported from Finland for the New York Times. “A dozen girls waited in line in a Helsinki arena for the dressage competition, ready to show off their riding skills, their faces masks of concentration.

“The judge put them through their paces — walk, trot, canter — and then asked them for a three-step rein-back, that classic test of a dressage horse’s training and obedience. The judge looked on gravely, occasionally taking notes.

“If anyone thought it strange that the girls were riding sticks, no one let on. The make-believe world of the hobbyhorse girls extended as far as the eye could see.

“A veterinarian lectured girls on hobbyhorse vaccination schedules, saying ‘check that the eyes are clear and there is no nasal discharge.’ The girls discussed hobbyhorse bloodlines and hobbyhorse temperaments, hobbyhorse training routines and hobbyhorse diets. There were rhinestone-studded bridles for sale. …

“ ‘The normal things, that normal girls like, they don’t feel like my things,’ [Fanny Oikarinen, 11,] said. But she is at home in the world of hobbyhorses, where boys and grown-ups have no place.

“Fanny and her friend, Maisa Wallius, are training for summertime competitions. They have choreographed a two-part dressage routine to a song by Nelly, the rapper. Asked which types of girls are drawn to hobbyhorses, Maisa thinks for a while before answering.

“ ‘Some are sports girls,’ she said. ‘Some are really lonely girls. And some can be the coolest girl at school.’

“It is impossible to say exactly when the Finnish hobbyhorse craze began, because it spread for years under the radar before adults became aware of it.

“In 2012, a filmmaker, Selma Vilhunen, stumbled across internet discussion boards used by hobbyhorse enthusiasts and was enraptured.

“Teenage girls had invented a form of hobbyhorse dressage, in which the rider’s lower body pranced and galloped like a horse, while her upper body remained erect and motionless like a rider. This evolved into an elaborate network of coaches and students and competitions, but it was discussed only online, for the most part.

“ ‘It was like a secret society,’ Ms. Vilhunen said.

“One of the girls she sought out as a guide to the hobbyhorse scene was Alisa Aarniomaki, a teenager from a city on Finland’s west coast.

“Leather-jacketed and fuchsia-haired, Ms. Aarniomaki was a celebrity in the online world for her hand-sewn hobbyhorses and riding videos, but she was apprehensive about letting her classmates know about it. When she was 12, some friends happened to spot her practicing in the woods near her school, and teased her for playing a child’s game. …

“When Ms. Vilhunen’s documentary film, ‘Hobbyhorse Revolution,’ was released in 2017, it captured its subjects in long spells of raucous joy. This was important to the filmmaker, who has made adolescent girls the focus of much of her work.

“ ‘Little girls are allowed to be strong and wild,’ she said. ‘I think the society starts to shape them into a certain kind of quietness when they reach puberty.’ …

“Within the rapidly expanding community of enthusiasts, the problem of ridicule really doesn’t come up. ‘I haven’t run into that sort of situation in a long time,’ [Ms. Aarniomaki] said. ‘I live in a bubble that is filled with hobbyhorses.’ ”

More here.

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Dolls that used to attend my “school.” I’m sorry to say that the book We Grow Up was pilfered from my second grade classroom.

On the third floor landing in the house where I spent most of my childhood, there was an alcove with a window and a couch. On nice days, the sun streamed in and revealed the perfect spot to set up a space of my own. I called it “The Little House” and hung signs around to indicate it was off-limits to everyone else.

In my space, which eventually evolved into “The Little School,” I set out all the toys related to keeping house or teaching school. The two pupils above I had received earlier. Susie, on the right, is still my favorite. She came into my life when I was 5. The cape is the original, but I don’t know what happened to the blue- and white-striped dress Susie arrived with, or her black shoes and white knee socks.

On the left is Toni, who when I was 7 brought along her hair curlers and styling lotion, courtesy of the Toni hair-perm company. I was an easy grader as a teacher but firm about hard work.

I suppose that whatever children most like to play with reflects their interests and is a way of practicing something grown-ups do that looks like it might be fun. I myself moved on from teaching dolls to using teaching as a camp counselor, a parent, an editor — and an actual teacher.

Nowadays, girls don’t seem to spend as much time with dolls, but nurturing remains a life skill worthy of being practiced by any child. When today’s small daughters enter the workforce (let’s say daughters for the sake of argument), will those engineering and truck driving jobs be the ones that are available? Young adults will probably invent new kinds of jobs, and who knows? Maybe nurturing will be useful in those fields, too. Certainly, there will always be a need for nurturing parents, caregivers, and teachers.

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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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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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I read this NY Times article with relief. It seems that educators are returning to (or perhaps being heard about) the importance of play in learning.

Reporter Motoko Rich says, “Call it Kindergarten 2.0. Concerned that kindergarten has become overly academic in recent years, this suburban school district south of Baltimore is introducing a new curriculum in the fall for 5-year-olds. Chief among its features is a most old-fashioned concept: play.

“ ‘I feel like we have been driving the car in the wrong direction for a long time,’ said Carolyn Pillow, who has taught kindergarten for 15 years and attended a training session here on the new curriculum last month. ‘We can’t forget about the basics of what these kids need, which is movement and opportunities to play and explore.’

“As American classrooms have focused on raising test scores in math and reading … even the youngest students have been affected, with more formal lessons and less time in sandboxes. But these days, states like Vermont, Minnesota and Washington are again embracing play as a bedrock of kindergarten. …

“Still, teachers like Therese Iwancio, who works at Cecil Elementary School in Baltimore’s Greenmount neighborhood, where the vast majority of children come from low-income families, say their students benefit from explicit academic instruction. She does not have a sand table, play kitchen or easel in the room. …

“Traci Burns, who has taught kindergarten for the last five years at Annapolis Elementary School, said she was looking forward to retrieving previously banished easels.

“ ‘With the Common Core, this has been pushed and pushed and pushed that kids should be reading, sitting and listening,’ she said. ‘Five-year-olds need to play and color. They need to go out and sing songs.’

“At Hilltop Elementary, a racially and economically diverse school in Glen Burnie, Melissa Maenner said she had found that teaching kindergartners too many straightforward academic lessons tended to flop.

“ ‘They are 5,’ Ms. Maenner said. ‘Their attention span is about five minutes.’ ”

Read more here.

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As a kid of 10 or so, I played in the woods, frequently all alone. It was magical.

As an adult, I wonder if it’s no longer considered safe. I don’t ever hear of children playing in the woods. That’s why I was interested to read about a growing movement called Forest Schools.

Siobhan Starrs writes for the Associated Press, “In the heart of north London lies the ancient Queens Wood, a green forest hidden away in a metropolis of more than 8 million residents. The sounds of the city seem to fade away as a group of children plays in a mud kitchen, pretending to prepare food and saw wood.

“These aren’t toddlers on a play date — it’s an unusual outdoor nursery school, the first of its kind in London, following a trend in Scandinavia, Germany and Scotland. It allows local children to learn, and let their imagination run free, completely surrounded by nature. …

“Each morning a group of children gather at the Queens Wood camp, which the nursery team prepares each morning before the children arrive. A circle of logs provides a place to gather for snacks, stories and songs. The mud kitchen provides an opportunity to make a proper mess and have a sensory experience, a rope swing provides some excitement and a challenge, and several tents are set up for naps and washing up.

“In a clearing in the woods, a fallen tree trunk can be transformed by imagination into a rocket train, calling at the beach and the moon, with leaves for tickets.

“A 2-year-old, Matilda, finds a stick — but in her mind it’s not a stick. It’s a wand. She says she is a magic fairy who can fly. Then suddenly the stick has become a drum stick, and a gnarled tree stump her drum. She taps away contentedly, the rhythm all her own.” Read more here.

Speaking of fallen tree trunks, I particularly remember a big tree that fell in the forest after a storm and the fun a friend and I had making up stories on it.

Photo: Matt Dunham/AP
Forest schools are increasing in popularity in the United Kingdom.

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Play is important for all kinds of reasons in childhood, including testing out skills and experiencing the satisfaction of creativity.

John Poole at National Public Radio focused on the socialization aspects of play in a recent report.

He began, “Why do we humans like to play so much? Play sports, play tag, play the stock market, play duck, duck, goose? We love it all. And we’re not the only ones. Dogs, cats, bears, even birds seem to like to play. …

“The scientist who has perhaps done more research on brains at play than any other is a man named Jaak Panksepp. And he has developed a pretty good hypothesis.

“In a nutshell, he, and many others, think play is how we social animals learn the rules of being social.  …

“Play seems so deeply wired by evolution into the brains of highly social animals that it might not be a stretch to say that play is crucial to how we and they learn much of what we know that isn’t instinct. …

“Not surprisingly, Panksepp and others think the lack of play is a serious problem. Especially at younger ages. And particularly in school settings. …

” ‘It’s not just superfluous,’ says Panksepp. ‘It’s a very valuable thing for childhood development. And we as a culture have to learn to use it properly and have to make sure our kids get plenty of it.’ ” More here.

More still from Jon Hamilton, another reporter in the NPR series on play, here.

Photo: David Gilkey/NPR
Deion Jefferson, 10, and Samuel Jefferson, 7, take turns climbing and jumping off a stack of old tires at the Berkeley Adventure Playground in California. The playground is a half-acre park with a junkyard feel where kids are encouraged to “play wild.” 

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My friend Jean Devine is always up to something interesting. A Brown U grad, with an MBA from Simmons, she used to work in investor relations but in recent years has been testing the waters of social entrepreneurship.

Her latest initiative, with Barbara Passero of Sandpiper Creative, is called meadowscaping and is intriguing on many levels.

With access to a Waltham church lawn for a summer youth program, Jean and Barbara will work with kids to convert the yard into a meadow that uses native species from Garden in the Woods and provides a habitat to the bugs and other small creatures that make a healthy environment.

From the Meadowscaping for Biodiversity website: Meadowscaping “is an outdoor, project-based, environmental education program that provides middle school youth with real-world experiences in STEAM learning (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), while inspiring and empowering them to address challenges to the environment and our society.

“Today, few children spend time experiencing Nature and the benefits of outdoor recreation, education, and contemplation. Founder and former Director of the Children and Nature Network (C& NN) Richard Louv coined the phrase nature-deficit disorder to describe the negative effects of reduced outdoor time on children’s development. …

“Children who spend little time outdoors may value nature less than children who spend time outdoors in free play. Similarly, children who feel part of something bigger than themselves may … understand their dependence on a clean environment and know that they are responsible for caring for the Earth as their home.” More here.

The idea behind the meadowscaping summer program is that children, both at a young age and as they become adults, can actually do something about the environment.

Remember our post “The Doctor Is In” about the woman who sets up in a Providence park to listen to your worries about global warming (here)? Stop worrying and do something, say the meadowscape entrepreneurs. Give up lawn chemicals, plant a meadow, provide a home for tiny necessary critters, and work to make change.

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I love reading about and sometimes seeing offbeat and experimental theater. You may recall a couple recent posts on Iranian productions, for example — one play performed in a taxi, and another featuring a script the actors aren’t allowed to see until it’s time to go on stage.

So I was intrigued by a story in the Guardian about an experiment with one-on-one productions. Lyn Gardner writes, “Earlier this year I was lucky enough to take part in Whispers, a project created by the Exeter-based Kaleider, that takes the form of a co-operative gifting chain of performance, as a story and a metal tablet pass from person to person who each take responsibility for passing it on.

“At the Brighton fringe something similar is taking place with Host, a project created by the Nightingale Theatre that takes place in one of two bathing huts. Taking the form of a short text written by Tim Crouch … it works like this: You enter the bathing hut and somebody performs the text to you, and then you perform the text – reading from the script – to the next person.

“All participants subsequently get sent a copy of the script via email. This means that they can set off their own chains of reading and receiving, which creates in effect a tree that then has branches going off from it but which are all traceable back to that first performance by Tim Crouch in Brighton. It’s like a baton being passed.” More here.

This week, I’m having dinner with three other women who have at various times been active in the Concord Players. We meet up a couple times a year to indulge in theater talk as most of our other friends are not into that. I’ll be sure to pass along some of these experiments. The Concord Players isn’t a place that indulges in avant garde, but we all like hearing about what’s going on in the wider world.

“Host,” a one-on-one play at the Brighton Fringe Festival in England, is performed in this bathing hut.

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Wow, what an awesome job the Concord Players did with this goofy musical by the folks who brought you Monty Python!

Spamalot had so many insane costume changes, extravagant production numbers, and giddy jokes that it never allowed you a minute to think how silly it all is.

We laughed a lot. They say laughing is good for your health, and I can see why it is good for mental health at least — when you are really laughing, you can’t think about anything but the thing that is making you laugh. So you’re really “living in the moment,” as the gurus advise.

Tom was one of the trumpet players (not the one who gets shot by the conductor for playing the wrong trumpet themes in the overture), and Claire gave a party after the matinee. Wisely, she decided not to emphasize Spam for the meal (“No one would have come to the party,” she said) and instead presented a delicious spread with a Cinco de Mayo theme.

Several guests cracked out their smart phones to inform us about what Cinco de Mayo celebrates (the 1862 defeat of the French by Mexicans at Pueblo — not sure I feel much wiser, though).

Spamalot is sold out. But it was sold out today, too, and I saw a few empty seats, so take a chance — maybe a ticket holder won’t show up. The woman next to me was offended by some of the naughtiness and irreverence and left at intermission. So you could always come for the second half.

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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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A lovely, warm day for walking, grandkids, and friends.

Here are a few photos, including one of director-playwright Jermaine Hamilton with cast members at Brandeis University.

I was so happy I managed to get to Jermaine’s senior-thesis play about inequality of U.S. high schools, Bridging the Gap. What a challenge to make it work for both his social sciences major and his theater minor! A great bunch of natural actors and Jermaine’s lighting and sound collaborators pushed it over the finish line, and judging from the audience comments in the talk-back, the issues that the play presented struck chords.

Jermaine has a teaching job lined up for next year, after graduation. The school is lucky to have him.

Jermaine, standing, joins his cast for a talk-back with the audience. The other pictures are walking-around shots.
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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.

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