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Posts Tagged ‘theater’

Photo: Paula Keller
Actor Luverne Seifert demonstrates techniques of Ten Thousand Things, which brings free, low-budget, high-quality theater to people who are not rich.

A new theater company trains actors to do high-quality, free performances for new, nontraditional audiences. Somehow I knew it would be based in Minneapolis, a hotbed of theatrical innovation in the late 1990s when I lived there.

Theresa J. Beckhusen reported the story at American Theatre.

” ‘If I was going to spend my life making theatre, I didn’t want to make art for rich people.’ This is how Michelle Hensley, artistic director of Ten Thousand Things (TTT), a theatre company in Minneapolis, kicked off a recent conference. …

“The gathering drew around 100 theatre makers from across the country to compare notes about working with the grass-roots theatrical model championed by Hensley’s company. Its motto could be fairly summed up as … art for not-rich people.

“For 30 years Ten Thousand Things has been touring productions to prisons, transitional housing, rehab centers, immigrant centers, shelters for survivors of domestic violence, and more — and all for free. …

“TTT productions are performed in the round, in whatever space their tour sites have available. … Actors mingle with audience members, interacting before, during, and after performances.

“The productions are spare: no lavish costumes, no fancy sets, no lights. Hensley puts a premium on story and language. …

“Many conference attendees shared stories … One incarcerated woman in particular was moved by a wedding scene in The Tempest because she’d missed all the weddings in her family. [Another told] how audience members drove from Tijuana to San Diego just to see a bilingual Twelfth Night. …

“Playwright Kira Obolensky led a session on choosing material that would work in the intimate settings pioneered by TTT. She began by posing a question … : What story would you tell if everyone was in the audience? … ‘I don’t think a lot of American playwrights and directors ask themselves this question.’ …

“Brad Delzer reported that he recently began employing TTT’s model with True North Theatre, his new theatre company in Carlisle, Pa. Sensing an opportunity to bring theatre to places that don’t typically see it, and to connect with the strong military community in the Carlisle area, Dezler toured Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare’s An Iliad to a soup kitchen, a men’s shelter, and the town’s Army Heritage Center, before holding two public performances. …

“He had been generally apprehensive about the whole thing, but had particularly fretted about how a six-minute list of wars from the last few centuries would go over. ‘It played really well, he said, noting the power that came from the moment. ‘It surprised us.’ ”

There’s more at American Theatre, here, where you can see how different TTT groups manage to fund free performances.

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Photo: True Story Theater
An Arlington, Mass., theater troupe performs the stories of ordinary people.

Recently, John told me about an unusual improvisational theater group that will perform your story. Called True Story Theater, it is affiliated with the worldwide Playback Theatre movement, which seeks to right wrongs experienced by minorities and marginalized groups by putting their actual words into plays to build understanding.

From the website: “True Story Theater is a nonprofit theater company that offers 50-75 improvisational performances and workshops a year for community groups, businesses, and individuals mostly in the greater Boston area. We work with hospitals, universities, corporations, religious communities, with teen leaders, cancer survivors, activists, philanthropists, business leaders …

“Our mission is to build empathy and respect in community through honoring all of our true stories.

“In performances, volunteers from the audience are helped to share what’s important in their lives. On the spot, actors then portray the heart of what they heard using music, movement, and dialogue. From this simple interaction, people laugh, cry, share fresh insights, and bond. … True Story Theater offers audiences fresh perspectives, deeper connections, and a renewed appreciation for our common humanity.”

The troupe says it employs many dramatic styles but is especially indebted to the technique of Playback Theatre, which “was founded in 1975 by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas in New Paltz, NY. …

“Globally, Playback is often used to reach disenfranchised people and to build understanding where conflict had driven people apart. A few examples:

“Southern India: Groups of Dalit people have used Playback Theatre to assert their rights. Western Australia: Playback has helped landowners and Aboriginal people find common ground. Burundi: Hutu and Tutsi actors work together in a Playback troupe in a country healing civil war.”

Watch samples from performances here.

True Story Theater is also available to draw people out at weddings and other such events.

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Photo: Richard Anderson
After running Center Stage in Baltimore for seven years, Kwame Kwei-Armah returns to England to serve as the new artistic director of the Young Vic.

The London theater world learned recently that the Young Vic‘s new artistic director would be the man behind seven strong years at Baltimore’s Center Stage. He is not native to Baltimore but England, where he has been an actor, a director, and a playwright — a versatility that is expected to serve him well at the Young Vic.

In September, Georgia Snow wrote at The Stage, “Kwame Kwei-Armah is set to be announced as the new artistic director of the Young Vic. …

“Kwei-Armah is understood to have been linked to other artistic director jobs in the UK recently. His recent productions as a director have included One Night in Miami… at the Donmar Warehouse, and a musical about the life of Bob Marley, which he also wrote and which ran at Birmingham Repertory Theatre earlier this year.

“He is currently in rehearsals for an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea, also at the Donmar Warehouse, which he directs. …

“His plays have included Bitter Herb, and Elmina’s Kitchen, which ran at the National Theatre in 2003 and was nominated for an Olivier Award. …

“In an interview with The Stage last year, Kwei-Armah also said he thought black representation in the UK has not come as far as the US, and that Brexit has resulted in Britain taking ‘a step backwards into a world of xenophobia.’ ”

Michael Billington at The Guardian adds, “It is significant that Kwei-Armah, born Ian Roberts in London, changed his name when he was 19 after tracing his family history through the slave trade back to its ancestral origins in Ghana. He became interested in the past through watching the TV series Roots and much of his work has been about the search for identity. It was certainly a theme in his first big hit as a playwright, Elmina’s Kitchen, which was seen at the National in 2003 and later became one of the first plays by a black British playwright to make it to the West End.”

More at The Stage, here, and at The Guardian, here.

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When we lived in Minneapolis in the late 1990s, we would tell friends back in Massachusetts that we thought the Twin Cities theater scene was the best anywhere. They would say, “You mean the Guthrie?”

No, actually. We meant the many small, more-experimental theater groups that popped up everywhere.

Friday we were introduced to new one, TigerLion, which performed an outdoor “walking” play about Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson at the Old Manse. Above you see one of several stages and the warm-up team performing before the show. (Note also that the audience’s path to the next stage set is lined with apples.)

The highly physical acting style kept everyone from toddlers to adults entertained as did the whacky sound effects, wild locomotive and cabin-in-the-woods creations, and energetic choruses.

When the Royal Shakespeare Theater decided in the late 1970s that the best way to convey the uniqueness of Dickens was to recite chunks of his narration (as in their production of Nicholas Nickleby), I think they changed theater forever. The inventive TigerLion expands on the use of a chorus, at one point having it speak the conversation of the pantomiming protagonists — even the crunching of the apples they eat. (Really funny.)

The troupe wants audiences to delight in nature and save the planet from unchecked exploitation. From the website: “We celebrate human wisdom and the spirit of nature through creative works that awaken, inform, and delight. …

TigerLion Arts presents Nature, the mythic telling of Emerson and Thoreau’s mutual love affair with the natural world.  …

“A professional ensemble of actors takes the audience on a journey through the natural environment as scenes unfold around them. Bagpipes, ancient flutes, drums and rich choral arrangements are intricately woven into the experience. …

“This original work is collaboratively created with writer/actor Tyson Forbes, a direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“In today’s world, we are so estranged from our natural environment, and at TigerLion Arts, we feel that humankind must reconnect with nature in order to survive.  As oil spills into our oceans, as we race through our lives, as we look further and further outside ourselves for the answers, it is our hope that Nature can be a catalyst for our collective healing.”

More.

Photo: TigerLion
Energetic Minneapolis theater group recreating the interactions of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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Photo: Ben Gilbert/Wellcome Collection
Art and science meet at performances for farm animals in England.

Today I have another of my offbeat stories for you. It’s about performing for farm animals and checking their reactions.

Lyn Gardner writes at the Guardian, “Almost 10 years ago, David Harradine made a show in a basement for the Brighton festival. It was called An Infinite Line and featured a horse that stood entirely unconcerned throughout the performance, barely blinking at what went on around him. He was an impressively large presence, a symbolic representation of the natural world, and clearly didn’t give a fig for the theatrical avant-garde.”

Harradine was looking for more reaction from animals in March as his company, Fevered Sleep, conducted “an experiment in which human artists perform for sheep, pigs and goats at a location in Peckham. …

“The show [was] part of the Wellcome Collection’s fascinating Making Nature exhibition, which aims to explore our relationship with the natural world and how we perceive animals. ‘We are starting from the point of view that perception is knowledge,’ says its curator, Honor Beddard, ‘but when you have an encounter with an animal, how do you know that you are not projecting something on to it?’ …

“For Harradine it’s definitely ‘the most bonkers project I’ve been involved in. But it’s fascinating too. The performances are being used to start a conversation.’

“As Harradine says, we prefer not to see animals as being just like us: complex, sentient beings, with emotional responses. To that end, the animals chosen to experience Fevered Sleep’s performance are all what Harradine, himself a vegan, describes as creatures that are mostly perceived as ‘meals in waiting.’ … ‘The purpose is not to suggest that people shouldn’t eat meat but to examine our relationship with animals – and the ethical and political responsibilities of humans towards them.’ ” More here.

Sounds like such fun to be part of a “bonkers” performance. I think we could all do with a little nutty creativity in our lives.

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Have you ever run into one of those pay-it-forward situations — when a stranger does you a small favor and then you choose if you want to do the same for another person? I was in line to buy coffee at a Jamaica Plain shop a couple years ago when the person in front paid for me. Then I paid for the person behind me. Fun. I blogged about the phenomenon here and here. It can be about helping someone who has few resources, but not necessarily.

Here’s a recent example of the practice. It involves theater tickets.

“A theatre in Rome has taken the tradition of ‘suspended coffees’ — where a person buys an extra drink for someone less well-off — and applied it to tickets.

“The initiative [ran] for just over two weeks at the Teatro delle Muse, where people buying tickets for a variety show [purchased] an extra seat at a reduced price to leave at the box office for someone else … The aim is to use a small charitable gesture to make the theatre accessible to everyone. The comedy show, called ‘You Are Not Neapolitans,’ [started] on 16 February. …

“The ‘caffe sospeso’ tradition originates in Naples, the idea being that when ordering your coffee you also anonymously gift another to a stranger in need. The idea has now spread internationally, and in some places has been adapted to include pizza or other food items. In a nod to the original Neapolitan custom, the theatre’s donated tickets [came] with a steaming cup of coffee … courtesy of a local bar.”

More here. Il Messaggero reported the story, and the BBC passed it on.

I’d love to know if you have encountered this kind of thing. Panera Cares, for example, was a noble experiment begun during the economic downturn in 2010 to help the hungry, but I read that the some of the locations ran into trouble.

Photo: Google Maps
The initiative at Teatro delle Muse is called “Theatre and Coffee… on hold for you”

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Here’s a great story from the Japan Times about a theater group for people over 60. Where do I sign up?

Nobuko Tanaka writes, “At the age of 91, Saitama resident Izumi Noguchi is speaking at his first press conference — at least as an actor anyway.

“ ‘When I saw an advert in April inviting anyone aged 60 or older to audition for a new project called 10,000 Gold Theater, I just felt like challenging myself to do something I’d never had a chance to try before,’ he says.

“Noguchi is the oldest person to join the 10,000 Gold Theater ensemble. …  ‘Gold Symphony, my dream, your dream’ [is] a staging on an unparalleled scale that features some 1,600 performers (not 10,000 as the name suggests) who are all volunteers and almost all amateurs …

“Arts promoter Taneo Kato came up with the idea [when] he was watching a performance of ‘Hamlet’ in which stage icon Yukio Ninagawa directed members of the Saitama Gold Theater and Saitama Next Theater — troupes made up of older and younger actors that he formed in 2006 and 2009, respectively, after becoming artistic director at Saitama Arts Theater in 2006.

“ ‘Out of the blue, midway through “Hamlet,” veteran enka singers the Komadori Sisters — who are actually twins — appeared and sang “I Want to be Happy One Day,” ’ Kato says, recalling how striking a moment it was to see the women, born in 1938, sing those words.” More here.

I wonder how big an issue memorization is for the performers. My friend Dorothy started a group of older amateur actors in Concord, but they do readings and don’t have to memorize. I have many memorized stories, Bible verses, and poems in my head and can trot them out at a moment’s notice. Not sure if I could acquire new ones to the same extent.

Photo: Maiko Miyagawa
Massive undertaking: Seiji Nozoe directs elderly actors during rehearsals for the play ‘Gold Symphony, my dream, your dream,’ performed in Chuo-ku, Saitama City, December 2016.

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