All Aboard The Ghost Train

With every blog I write here, I try my darndest to make the title as clever a pun as possible. I consider this in the spirit of good journalism. I also consider this in the spirit of my current show, The Ghost Train, which lends itself to a litany of loco locomotive puns.

  • Wow, that rehearsal really went off the rails.
  • But don’t worry, we’re right on track.
  • That was my train of thought.
  • Full steam ahead!
  • And my personal favorite – chug life.

Now in case you’re still thinking The Ghost Train is a serious commentary on the state of the U.S. infrastructure, let me clarify even further by saying that it’s about a band of disparate travelers who’s night train has broken down, leaving them stranded at a rural station in northern Maine. This is no ordinary train station mind you… in fact, it is HAUNTED by a paranormal locomotive that drives any witness to madness. The travelers must then put aside their personal troubles to solve the mystery and save the day.

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For my part, I play Charles, a newly married young man who would love nothing more than to get to his honeymoon hotel. Believe me, those are some pretty high stakes but don’t get too caught up in the details, this play is just plain fun.

Aiding in the irreverence is the time period in which The Ghost Train was written. The play, by Arnold Ridley, is full-on 1920s and premiered in London in 1923, running sold-out for over a year. In the subsequent decades it was made into several movies and established the trope of “strangers who get stranded and have to come together to defeat something bigger than themselves.” I would also say that William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were probably familiar with this play when they produced Scooby-Doo – there are so many of the same conventions!*

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My personal favorite rendition of the “people stranded together” story – the haunted train episode of Hey, Arnold!

With such a history, it escapes me as to how I’ve never heard of this play. It may be almost a hundred years old but the humor is astoundingly fresh; it’s silly and absurd what some of these characters do in the midst of a haunted train station.

This production also promises to offer a unique perspective on the play. Produced by Wayward Theatre Company and Mission Theatre Company, the show is be performed in partnership with the Minnesota Transportation Museum in St. Paul. The museum itself is in an old train depot and includes actual train cars! It’s super cool and brings a level of authenticity to the hi-jinks abounding. Definitely look into it and come to the show early enough to be able to look around the place and seeing some really interesting bits of history, when trains were the only practical mode of transportation.

You can do that soon when The Ghost Train pulls into the station on March 31st!

Choo Choo.

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*Joe Ruby and Ken Spears were the actual creators of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, so in all fairness to them, it was probably they who were inspired by The Ghost Train.

 

Yo Ho, We’re Off and Sailing

Last month I was back in the director’s chair with a fifth grade production of Treasure Island. The show was at Sunset Hill Elementary in Plymouth, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis) and I was actually co-directing with another theatre artist in town, Amy Abrigo.

The show was something that was handed off to me late in the game but of course I accepted with eagerness. While I’ve directed a bunch of community theatre and high school students, it had been a while since I’d been in charge of so many little ones. I had been a substitute teacher in Florida and experienced what a handful of second graders could be, but to be fair to all those fifth graders reading this, they’re not that bad. They are in a transitional age group where they are old enough to be “cool” and talk to you like an adult, but still young in that they have very little self-control, respect or understanding of the consequences their actions may have. In short, it was a mixed-bag of screaming and praising.

Image result for treasure island

While the rehearsal process lasted a few weeks, it was only for two short afternoons a week  where most of my time was spent herding cats and being a disciplinarian. The whole time I kept reassuring myself that “it will all come together in the end”, because I am no stranger to the way shows work out sometimes. However, while I knew at some point those kids would listen to me and memorize their lines, I wasn’t fool enough to think it would just happen on it’s own.

I did the kids, Amy and myself a favor and took a hatchet to the already short script. Being that Treasure Island a story we’re all kind of familiar with I said nuance-be-damned and essentially cut out anything that didn’t feature Jim Hawkins or Long John Silver. The show was a musical as well so that really helped bridge any gaps in the story. Even with those cuts, the show was just under forty minutes! Which flew by but was plenty, believe you me.

Of course my eternal optimism was rewarded in the end and the two performances went off without a hitch. The little bastards pulled it off and I was ultimately proud of them. I was even witness to some extremely humble moments when they would confide in me about how nervous they were to perform in front of their peers… it was very touching! It’s so funny working with kids that age because you really do want the best for them and think they are just the cutest, but damn do you want to wring their necks. I say all of this, of course, with tremendous love and I think anyone who has shared my shoes gets it 100%.

Finally, I would just like to include the cast list here (pictures will come at some point on my directing page) so one day one of those little munchkins can Google their name and read exactly what I thought of them. Also, here’s a song from the show that was the absolute bane of my existence.

Yo ho ho!

Sunset Hill Elementary
presents

TREASURE ISLAND
by
Kathryn Schultz Miller

Directed by
Vincent S. Hannam and Amy Abrigo

with
Will Kirven
Lilah Krauth
Amanda Michelsen
Colin Bissonette
Jaden St. Urbain
Emily Raiche
LeBraun Dewey
Kaelyn Hvidsten
Seth Aydinalp
Christina Nockel
Charlotte Thompson
Sam Hulst
Camryn Balloy
Myra Klumb
Tyler Jensen
Sebastian Lumitap
Nishanth Baddigam
Angelina Pyle
Raziah Loyd
Ivan Vasylchenko
Gia Wees
Sanaiia Montgomery
Soo-Jin Lee
Bergan Wolf
Gabe Wernimont
Ella Dando
Avery Mikolai

Technical Crew:
Noah Stephens, Jacob Behr, Thomas Theising,
Luke Schultz, Nadia Fessenmeir, Talia Eddy, Nate Lindblad

Technical Director/ Producer:
Julie Schottler

It’s a *Death* trap!

This past weekend I had the immense pleasure of opening Deathtrap at Theatre in the Round Players in Minneapolis. From the cast to the director and most certainly the script, it has been an all round joyful experience.

deathtrapplaybillWithout revealing too much, Deathtrap is a thriller that tells the story of a veteran playwright named Sidney, who’s a bit washed up and eager for inspiration. Inspiration then walks in, in the shape of Clifford- an eager young playwright and former student of Sidney’s. There’s so much more that ensues, but I’ll leave you with words like “diabolical”, “conniving”, “murder” and “thrilleritis malignis” – the fevered pursuit of the one-set five-character moneymaker. The play itself was just that, running on Broadway for four years and 1,809 performances. Good enough for fourth all time (when it comes to straight plays).

Now in Minneapolis in 2017, Theatre in the Round Players (TRP) has it’s own venerated distinction as one of oldest theatres in town, opening in 1953. Amazingly enough, in 65 seasons, Deathtrap has never been produced. A thousand other plays have, for sure, including a production of The Great White Hope in 1975 that starred Ernie Hudson and is still talked about in the theatre community here.

deathtrap-promotionalAside from working at TRP, the show itself has been great. My director, Shanan Custer and stage manager, Stacey Britt, have made the process a delight, as well as my stage companions Charles Numrich, Meri Golden, Tina Frederickson and Todd O’Dowd. Ira Levin, too, who is the playwright and mastermind behind the curtain. In addition to Deathtrap, Levin is stupid famous for works such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys from Brazil. If you know me, you know how much I love a good thriller and how much I relish the chance to play the genre on stage.

Part of Deathtrap‘s charm is that it references the famous stage thrillers of it’s day; shows like Sleuth, Angel Street and Dial “M” for Murder. I’ll admit that I was not familiar with those plays before, but I’ve loved the chance to revisit some of my favorite movies of that grisly ilk. Why I love playing in Deathtrap so much is because it’s the closest I can get to being in Misery or Psycho or The Silence of the Lambs. Of course now that Misery is itself a play maybe I can get even closer…

So without having said too much about the actual plot of Deathtrap, I hope I’ve still managed to paint an enticing picture nonetheless. If you love any of the aforementioned titles then by all means comes to Theatre in the Round. You’re guaranteed to jump, laugh and cover your ears!

Theatre in the Round Players
presents

DEATHTRAP
by
Ira Levin

Directed by
Shanan Custer

With
Charles Numrich Vincent Hannam
Tina Frederickson Meri Golden and Todd O’Dowd as “Porter”

February 17 – March 12, 2017

 

I Tell ya Chum, it’s Time to Come… Blow Your Horn

Originally published as: “Blow that Horn!”

Happy New Year from sunny Jacksonville, Florida where I’m currently employed at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining playing Buddy in Come Blow Your Horn.

It’s a gem of a comedy by Neil Simon and happens to be the first one he ever wrote, about two brothers desperately trying to escape the overbearing thumb of their businessman father. Buddy is the youngest of the two. He is an aspiring playwright who’s just turned twenty-one and wants nothing more than to emulate his older brother’s swinging, bachelor life. Of course the play is hilarious but it has the right amount of dramatic heart-to-hearts to keep it deeply engaging.

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In fact, that’s why I love Neil Simon and know when he’s on the money, boy is it a good night at the theatre. Since plays like Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple and Biloxi Blues are among my favorites, knowing that Come Blow Your Horn was first is a real treat. Within these lines you see the blue prints of what was to come – the arguments between Alan and Buddy scream Oscar and Felix, the relationship between Alan and his girlfriend Connie is basically that of Paul and Corrie, and there is even an offstage character named Felix Ungar! It’s all right there, blended into its own unique one-liners.

The play opens this week at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining, which happens to be the nation’s longest running professional dinner theatre, opening in 1967. The fact that I’m getting to play on a stage shared by Sid Caesar, Omar Sharif and Betty Grable (among many many others) is deeply inspiring. Additionally, since I am in Florida after all, my family and friends are able to see it and I’m able to relish a sense of homecoming. I’m incredibly thankful to be in the position I am now with the cast and crew of the Alhambra.

Tickets and Info: http://www.alhambrajax.com/show/come-blow-horn/

Playbill feature: http://www.playbill.com/article/booth-family-to-perform-together-for-alhambra-theatres-50th-anniversary

The Alhambra Theatre & Dining
presents

Come Blow Your Horn
by
Neil Simon

Directed
by
Tod Booth

with
Adam Kaster
Vincent Hannam
Tod Booth
Lisa Valdini
Jessica Booth
Abby Jaros

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The Neil Simon Theatre in NYC. Love this playwright! (Photo by Terrance Jackson)

Merry Christmas, ya Filthy Animal

With the turning of the calendar into November, I guess you can finally say that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Especially if you’re in the theatre world, you’re either currently rehearsing a holiday show or determining when you can go see A Christmas Carol (I’ve got two right now – A Christmas Carole Petersen at Theatre Latte Da and A Christmas Carol at the Commonweal Theatre).

Gratefully, I am also in the first camp, although what I’m rehearsing is a little different than the familiar Dickens tale. This play is by Adam Hummel and called Snowed Inn. No, not Snowden, but Snowed_Inn. Not only is it a pun, but it’s also hilarious, telling the story of a disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter returning to his family inn in rural Minnesota on Christmas Eve, 1932. Like all good screwball comedies, of course, events quickly spire out of control when a mobster and his moll crash the party looking to run some hooch into Minneapolis. The play is a wonderful tribute to those romantic comedies of the ’30s as well as the classic gangster movies that I love so so so much!

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In fact, I get to play the role of the gangster! His name is “Dutch” and he’s got his own work cut out for him; trying to keep his cool and get promoted up the ranks with no help from his dizzy dame of a girlfriend, Flossy. Although I don’t get to say any of the famous lines, I do get to wear a fantastic suit and play the part of so many of my favorite actors. Certainly James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, but I’d throw in George Raft, Humphrey Bogart and Paul Muni as well.

With that said, you can bet in addition to learning my part, I’ve taken this as a perfect opportunity to reacquaint myself with those pictures. Back in high school I went through a phase and now own about a dozen of them. Classics like The Public Enemy, Little Caesar, White Heat, Angels with Dirty Faces, The Petrified Forest, and Each Dawn I Die. Whew, even the titles are enough to set your imagination running!

All that is to say, of course, that I’m really stoked about this one and want to share it with as many people as possible. It’s directed by Ben Thietje and is at DalekoArts in New Prague, Minnesota. It’s really not that far (this is where I did Wait Until Dark last year) and with a cast of goofballs having the kind of fun we are, it’s definitely worth it. With such a quirky mix of holiday cheer, fun and thrills how can you resist?

SNOWED INN
a DalekoArts original holiday show
by Adam Hummel
directed by Ben Thietje Nov 25 – Dec 18, 2016
Fridays & Saturdays @ 7:30pm
Sundays @ 2:00pm

After failed screenwriter Archie Ježek leaves the glitz and glamour of 1930s Hollywood to return to the small, Minnesota town where he grew up to run the family hotel, his dreams of a quiet, steady Midwestern life quickly devolve to madcap holiday hijinks and mayhem. Featuring a cast of zany characters and silver screen slapstick, Snowed Inn is a family-friendly Christmas card celebrating your favorite classic films and the nostalgia of holidays past.

It’s another DalekoArts original holiday show!

DalekoArts recommends SNOWED INN for ages 13 and up.

Cast
Bobby Gardner*
Susan J Gerver
Vincent Hannam
Lindy Jackson
Zakary Morton
Dann Peterson
Emily Wrolson

Production
Jane Ryan (sets)
Kurt Jung (lights)
Elin Anderson (costumes)
Abbee Warmboe (props/scenic painter)*
Ben Thietje (sound)*
Janice Geis (stage manager)
Trevor Muller-Hegel (technical director)

*denotes company member

What is Love?

I LOVE announcing this bit of news about an upcoming production of my ten minute play, Jay & Julia!

Directed by my good friend and theatrical maestro, Philip Muehe (of Looking for Fun(Bags) fame), the play is part of a larger evening of theatre called “It Is Love” that aims to explore the various ways in which love is expressed. Big stuff, right? It promises to be hilarious and touching. No pun intended.

I should also say that the show is produced by In Heart Theatre, a new company in Rochester, Minnesota co-founded by Muehe and Amanda Pyfferoen. I would definitely suggest checking out their rad IndieGoGo campaign here and consider donating towards the production of “It Is Love”!

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Poster design by Joanna Walters

As for my own play in the cycle, Jay & Julia concerns a newlywed blue jay couple who are dealing with the trials and tribulations that come with a not-necessarily-planned marriage. They’re trying to make their nest a home and keep everything together when they’re suddenly faced with an intruder and an uncertain future. I would say it’s both funny and bitter.

Come see it! It runs Thursday, Dec 8th thru Saturday, Dec 10th at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.

And consider helping out independent, local and kick ass theatre!!!

Tampa Bound #Throwback

GHS Drama Troupe Bound for Tampa
Friday, 06 February 2009
By Jessica Solis – staff writer, Osceola News-Gazette

They’re breaking legs left and right at Gateway High School’s drama department.

It has been a winning year for students from acting Troupe 4061, which has won an award in every competition it has entered since the beginning of the school year.  Now, the troupe is preparing for the year’s climax: a pair of performances at the Florida State Thespians competition in April.

Drama teacher Donald Rupe said he saw potential in his students; enough to have a good year in the drama competition circuit, but the accolades the group has received weren’t completely unexpected, either.

“I’m thankful, but I’m not surprised,” Rupe, a 2003 Gateway graduate, said.
In December, the troupe competed with 25 schools from around Central Florida, and was selected as one of five to take its one-act play, “Woman at a Threshold, Beckoning,” to be judged for April’s Florida State Thespians competition in Tampa, the first time the school has had the opportunity.


Last month during the District Individual Events Competition, the school won three best-in-show awards – the competition’s highest accolade – for acting and set design. The school also won awards in more categories than any other school in the district that makes up most of the Central Florida area.
For April’s state competition, the troupe also will perform “A Few Good Men” twice to audiences of more than 2,000. The play about military lawyers who uncover a conspiracy while defending a group of soldiers is one of six plays to be performed by schools from around the state, and it will be the third time a school from Osceola County takes the main stage at the competition. The first time was during Rupe’s senior year at Gateway.
The schools selected to perform at the state competition are usually established performing arts schools, Rupe said.
“It’s a huge deal,” he said.
And for the students, the class provides them a workload lighter than the usual math or science course, but still requires them to memorize lines and “break a leg” once they hit the stage.
It’s not an easy class, because what we do, it’s actually a lot,” Vincent Hannam, drama club president, said. “But it’s generally relaxing … it’s a fun atmosphere.”

Hannam, a fourth-year drama student who’s also in Gateway’s International Baccalaureate theater program, said he’s trained himself to focus on the people watching him. “I’m saying the words, but I’m also looking at the audience, trying to get the feel from them,” he said. Hannam received excellent and superior ratings in two pieces he performed during January’s district competition. “I’m just thinking about how they’re going to react,” he said.
Senior Luis Penedo has only been in Rupe’s class since last year, but said acting has given him the opportunity to learn more about himself. He, along with Hannam, will perform in April’s production of “A Few Good Men” at the state competition. “I wasn’t as shy anymore,” Penedo said. “I just try to be confident.”
Rupe, who’s been directing theater since high school, said the class not only gives students a rewarding experience, but also an outlet for him. “Obviously, I like to see the smiles on their faces, but I also like to do my art,” he said. “Everybody gets something out of it.”