Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Little Night Music

I had lunch today with fellow playwright Dan Goggin, the creator of Nunsense.  And if you’re just back from the Delta Quadrant and haven’t heard of the show, here’s a little piece of it with Terri White and the immortal Rue McClanahan.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

It’s A Tradition

Fiddler_on_the_roofIf you’re in South Florida and looking for some family entertainment this weekend, check out the Miami Acting Company’s production of Fiddler on the Roof at the Banyan Bowl in Pinecrest Gardens.  This legendary musical that opened fifty years ago once held the record as the longest-running show on Broadway.  This production runs tonight through Sunday, so go already.

I attended the final dress rehearsal last night (which explains the dearth of posts this morning) and it looks good to go with a strong cast, a good-sized orchestra, and a very nice set that was assembled by a dedicated crew of skilled (if uncredited) carpenters last Sunday just out of range of the pouring rain.

This is not my first trip to the shtetl.  In 1972 the University of Miami Ring Theatre did Fiddler on the Roof.  Tevye was played by Ernie Sabella and the cast also included Gail Edwards and yours truly as the Russian priest.  I had one scene behind a scrim.  But to quote the immortal Avery Schreiber, there are no small parts, just short pay.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Stratford Memories

In years past, today would be the day we packed up the car and headed for Stratford, Ontario.  Then we’d have four days of theatre and touring around to see our friends at Jonny’s Antiques, Rundles restaurant, and Callan Books.  But the move to Cincinnati and the inexorable passing of time have made the trip now a wonderful memory.  And while we’re not going this year, we knew that our trip last year was our farewell tour, and we made the most of it.

So I’m not going to get all maudlin about it.  We have over fifty years of memories, stories, and pictures to share, and as long as we have them, we’re there.

14. Festival Theatre

The Festival Theatre.

3 Garden

The Shakespeare Garden in front of the Festival Theatre.

010 Callan Books

Callan Books — now closed — but once the best little bookshop in Canada.

012 Me

Some random theatre goer and erstwhile drama critic having a picnic along the banks of the Avon River.

003

Dad and Mom outside Fanfare Books. Thanks for taking me and forging the love of theatre.

008 The Avon

The Avon River that wends its way through Stratford

It was in Stratford that I truly fell in love with theatre, and from there I took that love and turned it into my life study, if not my profession.

It’s not goodbye; it’s just intermission.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fifth of July

Fifth of July is not just a date, it’s a play by Lanford Wilson. It opened off-Broadway in 1978, then, after some revision, on Broadway in 1980. It’s also the play that was the starting point of my doctoral studies and the subject of my doctoral thesis in 1988.

In 1985 I directed a production of the play at the Nomad Theatre in Boulder with a great cast.

Fifth of July Nomads March 1985

The cast of Fifth of July at Nomads Theatre, Boulder, Colorado, March 1985

In the course of my studies I became friends with Mr. Wilson, and the director of the productions, Marshall W. Mason. So ever since then, I have marked the 5th of July as a special day for me and my love of theatre.

“Matt didn’t believe in death and I don’t either…. There’s no such thing. It goes on and then it stops. You can’t worry about the stopping, you have to worry about the going on.” – Sally Talley, Fifth of July.

Speaking of theatre, last night was the opening of the Miami 1-Acts Festival at New Theatre where my play Last Exit was a part of the program.  I was very happy with the performances by Hector Dominik and Gabriel Bonilla and grateful to director Jerry Jensen for his nuanced interpretation of the play.

Hector, Jerry, and Gabriel

Hector, Jerry, and Gabriel

There’s one more performance of the play tomorrow evening.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Holiday Schedule

I’m putting up my traditional 4th of July posts a little later, and that will be it for the day.  Today I am going to a car show to celebrate the day, then tonight is the opening night of the Miami 1-Acts Festival at New Theatre where my play will be done.

miami1acts

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Short Takes

U.S. P.OW. freed by Taliban in Afghanistan in exchange for five prisoners from Gitmo.

Six hikers missing on Mt. Rainier.

Golfer Phil Mickelson under investigation for insider trading.

Thousands march in Cyprus’s first gay pride parade.

Jesus Christ Superstar tour abruptly cancelled.

The Tigers lost to the Mariners 3-2.

You-know-what season starts today and runs through November 30.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare

250px-ShakespeareToday, according to the best information we have, is the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare.

I’m quick to admit that as a theatre scholar, I’m not as steeped in his works as many of my colleagues.  As an actor, I’ve been in exactly one production of his play Othello, and that was forty years ago.  (I had a small part whose name began with “The.”)  Later on, I worked on several productions of his plays backstage (A Midsummer Night’s Dream seems to follow me wherever I go) and I was an assistant director on two productions at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival: The Merchant of Venice in 1987 and Hamlet, which starred Val Kilmer (and he was very good), in 1988.  And of course you know of my annual pilgrimages to Stratford, Ontario, to the Shakespeare festival there.  Those began in 1970, and while I missed a couple of years in the 70’s and 80’s, I went almost every year since.

So even if I can no longer recite whole soliloquies from memory* and wouldn’t dare direct a production, and even though my field of study of theatre is largely based on works and writers who lived 400 years after him, there is no doubt that the works and the characters in his plays represent the standard by which most plays are judged, and his words are among the most discussed, debated, and lauded in the English language.  They infiltrate our language to the point that we quote him without knowing it: phrases such as “vanished into thin air” and “foregone conclusion” came from his pen.  His works have been turned into operas, ballets, films, and canvas, and characters from his plays have shown up in new garb with new names.  In short (probably a Shakespeare-ism), his work is everywhere.

There have been debates over the centuries as to whether or not Shakespeare actually wrote all of the plays credited to him; whether or not he was just a front for someone else who was out of favor with the Court; whether or not he was gay or other such idle speculation.  Scholars far more prominent than me have spent their careers on such subjects and who am I to deride them?  But in the end it really doesn’t matter.  We have the works, we have the characters, and we have the insight to the humanity that speaks to us from those days to now.

*

*When I was in college, I was tapped into the honorary society Alpha Psi Omega.  In order to be accepted, I had to recite a speech from Shakespeare, and the one given to me was from Act V, Scene 1 of The Comedy of Errors.  It remains the only long speech of his that I learned and retained for any length of time.

It’s a good rant by Antipholus of Ephesus, and in order to really make it work, you have to recite it all practically in one breath.

My liege, I am advised what I say,
Neither disturbed with the effect of wine,
Nor heady-rash, provoked with raging ire,
Albeit my wrongs might make one wiser mad.
This woman lock’d me out this day from dinner:
That goldsmith there, were he not pack’d with her,
Could witness it, for he was with me then;
Who parted with me to go fetch a chain,
Promising to bring it to the Porpentine,
Where Balthazar and I did dine together.
Our dinner done, and he not coming thither,
I went to seek him: in the street I met him
And in his company that gentleman.
There did this perjured goldsmith swear me down
That I this day of him received the chain,
Which, God he knows, I saw not: for the which
He did arrest me with an officer.
I did obey, and sent my peasant home
For certain ducats: he with none return’d
Then fairly I bespoke the officer
To go in person with me to my house.
By the way we met
My wife, her sister, and a rabble more
Of vile confederates. Along with them
They brought one Pinch, a hungry lean-faced villain,
A mere anatomy, a mountebank,
A threadbare juggler and a fortune-teller,
A needy, hollow-eyed, sharp-looking wretch,
A dead-looking man: this pernicious slave,
Forsooth, took on him as a conjurer,
And, gazing in mine eyes, feeling my pulse,
And with no face, as ’twere, outfacing me,
Cries out, I was possess’d. Then all together
They fell upon me, bound me, bore me thence
And in a dark and dankish vault at home
There left me and my man, both bound together;
Till, gnawing with my teeth my bonds in sunder,
I gain’d my freedom, and immediately
Ran hither to your grace; whom I beseech
To give me ample satisfaction
For these deep shames and great indignities.

Whew.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Long Day’s Journey…

This will be a very long day.  I’m leaving Independence at 3:00 a.m. local time to catch a 6:55 a.m. flight out of Tulsa in order to get back to Miami, where I will arrive around 1:00 p.m. EDT.  From there I go home, drop my bags and computer, then head out to Miami Beach for the reading of Can’t Live Without You at SoBe Arts, which is located at 2100 Washington Avenue.

The reading is free and open to the public.  Curtain time is at 7:00 p.m.  It will be directed by William Roudebush and feature Terri Garber in the ensemble cast.

So this will probably be it for posting today.  I don’t know what time I’ll get back from the reading, and after traveling halfway across the country and then going to the reading, I’ll probably be a little tired.  I also have to go back to work first thing in the morning.

Spring break is over.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Works In Progress

It was a day of workshops and fun stuff at the William Inge Festival on Thursday.  I spent the morning in a discussion on Arthur Kopit’s new play BecauseHeCan which led to some interesting perspectives on privacy and what we think of as reality in an connected world.

That was followed by a workshop for high school students in monologues and audition techniques led by John Schuck.  For those of you too young to remember the Painless Pole from the 1970 film of M*A*S*H, you’ll recognize him from numerous appearances on TV including Law & Order SVU and national tours of the musical Annie playing the role of Daddy Warbucks.  He is a gentle and encouraging teacher for the students, and they had a great time.

After lunch I sat in on a musical theatre workshop with Barry Bostwick.  This too was geared to high school students — one of the Inge Festival’s best aspects is its outreach to young theatre students — and it was both entertaining and educational.  (But no, he didn’t sing anything from Rocky Horror.)

That was followed by an energetic acting workshop with George West Carruth, one of the guest actors who performed in BecauseHeCan.  For me it was like going back to my undergrad acting classes.  I’m sure I’ll be a little sore this morning.

Last night we saw a staged reading of the first draft of Mat Smart’s play The Great Barrier.  Mat is the Otis Guernsey New Voices award winner this year.  It is a recognition of promising playwrights, and so far it’s proved to be prescient: past winners include Joe DiPietro, who won the Tony for Memphis.

Today we will continue with the Conversation with Arthur Kopit.  Then tonight is the Gala dinner.  Yes, I brought along a coat and tie.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

In Stages

Last night at the opening of the 33rd William Inge Festival, we saw a staged reading of Arthur Kopit’s play BecauseHeCan.  It’s described as a “techno-thriller,” and it was really quite good; a tale of intrigue, doubt, deceit, and mistrust all bound together by the internet and its virtual reality capabilities.

One of the readers was Barry Bostwick, an actor with a long list of stage and screen credits, not the least of which includes Danny Zuko in Grease and the mayor on Spin City.  He was part of a good ensemble directed by Jane Unger.

Doing a play in a reading makes it sound like there is something lacking; there’s no set, no costumes, few if any props, and the actors stand on the stage behind music stands reading off a script.  How can the audience expect to get a sense of the play and the characters if that’s all they have to go with?

Actually, a lot.  In the hands of good actors, a script can come alive by the words alone, and a good director who trusts both the word and the ability of the actors can make the play come to life with as much depth and nuance as if they had all the trimmings.  All it takes is for them to trust both the play and themselves.

(Full disclosure: This coming Sunday night, my play Can’t Live Without You will be done in a staged reading at SoBe Arts on Miami Beach.  Therefore I’ve been thinking a lot about staged readings for the last couple of weeks.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Welcome to Independence, Kansas

I made it to Independence and I’m settled into my room at the Apple Tree Inn, my home here for the last 23 visits to the William Inge Festival.

Inge Theatre outside daytime

 

The festivities begin tonight with dinner and a reading of Arthur Kopit’s new play.  Mr. Kopit is the honoree this year, and I’m looking forward to seeing my Inge family again.

A bit of playwriting karma: I’m in the same room I was in in 2006 when I wrote my ten-minute play Ask Me Anything for Tina Howe’s master class.  It took about twenty minutes to write it, and it’s my most-produced work.

Travel Day

Inge ICA photoI’m on the way to the 33rd annual William Inge Theatre Festival in Independence, Kansas.  For you regular readers you know what that means: four days of theatre and writing from the home town of the playwright who wrote Come Back, Little Sheba, Picnic, Bus Stop, Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and won the Oscar for the screenplay for Splendor in the Grass.

It also means that blogging will continue to be light and variable, and when I do, it will be about the goings-on at the Festival.

I’ll check in when I get to the Apple Tree Inn and get settled.  Until then, if you’re at DFW this morning, you might see me running like crazy to make my connection to Tulsa.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Geniuses

Congratulations to the new MacArthur Genius award winners.  One of the winners is playwright Tarell McCraney of Liberty City in Miami.

“I thought somebody was playing a very elaborate trick on me,” McCraney said. “The crazy thing was that I was headed to Yale University where I was one of three playwrights to receive the inaugural Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize — a no-strings award of $150,000. It wasn’t until my brother in Miami FedExed me the official letter that I really believed it, and even then I was a bit suspicious.”

Until March of 2014 McCraney will be busy overseeing his adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” which will be show in the U.K., Miami and at New York’s Public Theatre. He also is working on a new play inspired by “Old Rosa,” a novel about a mother and son by Reinaldo Arenas, the late Cuban writer.

McCraney, who lives out of a suitcase these days traveling between London, Chicago, and Miami among other stops, says he plans to “deposit the money in a 401(k) account,” but mostly it will serve “as invaluable focus money.”

“Rather than flying around trying to make a living doing three or four projects at once, I’ll now be able to take my time and concentrate on one,” said McCraney, who grew up in Miami’s inner-city Liberty City neighborhood, graduated from the New World School of the Arts High School there, and earned degrees from Chicago’s Theater School at DePaul University and the Yale School of Drama.

Standing ovation.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Career Choice

I have three degrees in theatre: undergrad, masters, and doctorate.  Early on I had planned on a career in theatre, then changed to teaching when it became obvious that I was not the next Ray Liotta or Arthur Miller.  I went on to writing and teaching, and now work in education, although not in theatre.

I’ve never regretted my choice, and while I may not have the career I envisioned forty years ago when I was a senior in college, I think that all those years were worth it and even applicable to what I do now, which is mid-level administration for a school district.

I’m not alone.  Brian at Change Agent has a comprehensive list of why having a theatre degree trumps a business degree.  It’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but a lot of it is true.

There IS no weakness in having a theatre background. There is only strength. Here are just a few skills that a theatre degree gave me that have served me enormously well in business:

  1. You have advanced critical thinking and problem solving skills: taking a script and translating it into a finished production is a colossal exercise in critical thinking. You have to make tremendous inferences and intellectual leaps, and you have to have a keen eye for subtle clues. (believe it or not, this is a skill that very few people have as finely honed as the theatre people I know. That’s why I listed it #1).
  2. You’re calm in a crisis: You’ve been on stage when somebody dropped a line and you had to improvise to keep the show moving with a smile on your face, in front of everyone. Your mic died in the middle of a big solo musical number. You just sang louder and didn’t skip a beat.
  3. You understand deadlines and respect them: Opening Night is non-negotiable. Enough said.
  4. You have an eye on audience perception: You know what will sell tickets and what will not. This is a very transferrable skill, and lots of theatre people underestimate this, because they think of theatre as an ART, and not as a BUSINESS. I frequently say (even to MBA-types) that theatre was absolutely the best business education I could have gotten. While the business majors were buried in their books and discussing theory, we were actually SELLING a PRODUCT to the PUBLIC. Most business majors can get through undergrad (and some MBA programs, even) without ever selling anything. Theater departments are frequently the only academic departments on campus who actually sell anything to the public. Interesting, isn’t it?
  5. You’re courageous: If you can sing “Oklahoma!” in front of 1,200 people, you can do anything.
  6. You’re resourceful: You’ve probably produced “The Fantasticks” in a small town on a $900 budget. You know how to get a lot of value from minimal resources.
  7. You’re a team player: You know that there are truly no small roles, only small actors. The show would fail without everyone giving their best, and even a brilliant performance by a star can be undermined by a poor supporting cast. We work together in theatre and (mostly) leave our egos at the stage door. We truly collaborate.
  8. You’re versatile: You can probably sing, act, dance. But you can also run a sewing machine. And a table saw. And you’ve probably rewired a lighting fixture. You’ve done a sound check. You’re good with a paintbrush. You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty for the benefit of the show. In short, you know how to acquire new skills quickly.
  9. You’re flexible: you’ve worked with some directors who inspired you. Others left you flat, but you did the work anyway. Same goes with your fellow actors, designers and stagehands… some were amazing and supportive, others were horrible and demoralizing to work with (we won’t name names). You have worked with them all. And learned a little something from every one of them.

But what I really want to do is direct.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Speak the Speech

Via Andrew Sullivan, doing Shakespeare in the original pronunciation at London’s Globe Theatre.

Josh Jones:

As linguist David Crystal explains, the theater’s purpose has always been to recapture as much as possible the original look and feel of a Shakespearean production—costuming, music, movement, etc. But until recently, the Globe felt that attempting a play in the original pronunciation would alienate audiences. The opposite proved to be true, and people clamored for more. Above, Crystal and his son, actor Ben Crystal, demonstrate to us what certain Shakespearean passages would have sounded like to their first audiences, and in so doing draw out some subtle wordplay that gets lost on modern tongues.

It actually sounds better.