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”!

It is Love.jpg
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.”

 

It’s All Greek to Me

The play I’ve been involved with for a couple months now is an adaptation of The Oresteia trilogy by Aeschylus. This parred down version of that story is by Northfield Poet Laureate, Rob Hardy, and only runs about two hours.

Those three original plays of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides tell the story of how Orestes is compelled to avenge his father, Agamemnon, after he is slain by his rueful wife, Clytemnestra. Yes, Clytemnestra is also Orestes’s mother and that’s where things get tricky. With the help of sister Electra, Orestes finally does commit matricide and order is restored to the city of Argos. Or so is thought. The final act is basically a courtroom drama where Athena descends to earth and gathers a jury to decide whether or not Orestes was justified in his actions.

Orestes.jpg
Orestes is tormented by the Furies.
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Unfortunately no one is naked in our version…

This is a big deal as Aeschylus was dramatizing the cultural shift from personal vengeance to procedural litigation in Western philosophy. The playwright garnered as much ire as admiration, however, as he was also questioning his society’s fundamental belief in the gods.

History aside, it has all the elements you’ve come to love in a good Greek tragedy: Blood! Sex! Graphic knife murders! All of which I haven’t actually performed yet in my professional career. High school was the only time I’ve ever done anything Greek (nearly falling off the stage as a blindfolded Oedipus…) so it certainly has been a thrilling challenge to embody Orestes and be a part of a story that is both so relevant and completely foreign to a modern audience.

At the end of the show we have the audience members vote themselves on whether to convict or acquit little old me. In the end, every single time, I have been acquitted of my murder and what’s so fascinating is that when pressed, the audience will say that it wasn’t because they necessarily sympathized with the character – it was to end the cycle of violence. To actually show mercy to an individual no matter how cruel his crime. I know it’s Minnesota and all, but this thinking does parallel the current national mindset when it comes to the death penalty.

That and so many other themes of what constitutes “justice” is what gives this play and other classics of the era their appeal. It’s literally the beginning of our Western beliefs and the foundations of everything we’ve come to build and rely on. It’s a testament then to Aeschylus that he’s still around and still making us question what really is fair when it comes to the law.

 

 

A Triple Play

A couple weeks ago I was simultaneously involved in three different productions, wearing three distinct hats: actor, playwright and director. I love it when this happens! Even though it’s only happened once before… nonetheless it counts in my mind as being a bonafide triple threat. If I can’t dance or sing then I gotta give ’em something else.

In this case I didn’t have to go far to find my chair as a director. For those of you who don’t know I’m actually not a full-time actor and do have a day job to sustain my daily ragers. I’m what they call a “desk-jockey” at the National Theatre for Children, who’s mission is to provide free educational theatre to the youths of America. It’s actually a pretty great company who has had a presence in schools now for decades.

I’ve been with them for a year now and as actors were being hired and tours developed I had to the notion to break free from the cubicle world and actually get involved on the creative end. The production manager went for it and I was assigned to direct the show, The Conservation Caper. A 25 minute two-hander that follows a superhero-in-training named Nikki Neutron as she learns (and consequently teaches us) all about energy technology and conservation. It ain’t winning any awards but it’s does have a slick script and my actors and I had a ball improvising a ton of comedic bits.

The gig itself only last a week (including my Labor Day – what gives?) and was only down the hall from from my regular-programmed job, but it was a great experience and I relished the chance to do something creative with my days. The show itself ended up being great and my actors, Sasha and Katie, are currently somewhere in North Carolina inspiring and educating the little ones.

A Tempest is A-Brewin’!

This summer I’ve been back in Maine at the Heartwood Regional Theater Company, rehearsing Shakespeare’s The Tempest. We open this Friday!

I get to play King Alonso of Naples of Milan, who with his nobleman, must battle storms, harpies and lingering melancholy while they search for Ferdinand – the young heir to the throne. Little does Alonso know that his old arch-rival, Prospero, is is full control of all these maladies.

The Tempest, 2016
Photo Credit: Jenny Mayher

Not only is the show truly delightful to be a part of – with all it’s heartbreak, love and fantasy – but it’s just great being back in Damariscotta so soon after Our Town! Griff Braley is directing again and this time the cast features so many old and dear faces: Diana Jurand, Jay Pastucha, Deirdre Manning, Jason Osorio and Patrick Sylvester! I wonder if so many UCF alums have ever been in a show together after college? Of course the cast is more stacked than that with Helena Farhi, Steve Shema, Steven Czajkowski, Jahmeel Powers and Sebastian LaPointe.

So here we are about to tell this magical story, the last of old Billy Shakes, while the sea beats on not eight miles from here, against the timeless rocks.

Feed My Frankenstein

Super duper uber excited to share with the world that the fundraising campaign for my play, Frankenstein, is… wait for it… alive!

Okay, just had to get the puns out of the way there before you think that this adaptation is anything close to cheesy or corny. We’ve all seen those movies and cheap Halloween costumes so why would I create something even close to that? This adaptation is as true to the original novel as I could make it, keeping in line with all the themes of mortality, religion and self-being. Only one act, the classic story is told with two actors, who along with the whole creative team, are dedicated to keeping everything as grounded as possible.

Frank 1 for paper

As the playwright, though, I have to give all the credit to the Hampstead Stage Company who commissioned the piece and is producing it as part of their Young Adult series this fall. With a focus on middle and high schools, the play will be toured throughout New England at a theatre near you.

My friends at Hampstead have been working tirelessly to get the project off the ground and now as we’re about to start production, we come to the final stage of preparedness; raising the last amount of funds we need! I can go on and on about how important I think the mission of Hampstead is but fortunately, the Artistic Director and Company Manager have made a hand-dandy video that explains everything so much better than me.

Please take a look and consider donating to a company who really takes advantage of theatre to affect the lives of both young and old. Let me know too, if you would like to know more about either Frankenstein or Hampstead as a whole, because there is so much to this company than my little old play.

 

Reviews are in for Our Town!

4/27/2016 1:51:00 PM
‘Our Town’: a Timeless Classic
By Eleanor Cade Busby

“Our Town” opens Friday, April 29 at the Poe Theater in Newcastle. Heartwood’s production of the play, under the direction of Griff Braley, strives to bring the production directly into the audience. It has an inclusive quality that welcomes the attendees into the story.

Thornton Wilder began his 1938 play “Our Town” with some of the most famous stage direction in American theater: “No curtain. No scenery.” He could have added “no props” as, nearly without exception, all props are imagined in each production of this timeless classic.

In “Our Town,” Wilder highlights the importance of communication and human connection, literally bringing his audience into contact with his characters by breaking the fourth wall and defying the theatrical convention of separating the actors from the audience.

Wedding Scene
Grace Experience and Vincent Hannam. Photo courtesy of Jenny Mayher.

“Our Town” insists on a lack of artifice, both in pared-down staging and in the person of the Stage Manager, who speaks directly to the audience much as an interlocutor does. Its emotional transparency – no hidden meanings, no brooding silences – and its spare, realistic dialogue are its greatest assets.

Its evocation of life in a small New Hampshire town in the early 1900s seems idyllic: the only deviant in this righteously decent community is a drunken choirmaster.

Even Wilder’s formal innovations have been picked up by others: his portrayal of a bride’s inner panic was brilliantly exploited by Stephen Sondheim in a number in “Company” called “Getting Married Today.”

“Our Town” is really every town at any time. The story is simply told: a boy and a girl in a small New Hampshire town and the people of that town go through an ordinary day in the first act. It all revolves around Emily and George, the children of the town’s newspaper editor and the town’s doctor, and how they go through life, and death, in their small town.

The cast is perfectly suited, both in talent and in appearance, to their parts in this ode to the quieter life we all need to revisit at times. Braley and his crew have brought Grover’s Corners to life, a tribute to the dedication of the actors as well as the determination of the director.

Grace Experience captures all of Emily’s smarts and exuberance, her joyousness and openness, and her pained acceptance of a new reality.

It’s a smaller moment, but there’s a scene where a teenage Emily stares out her window at the moon, while George, across the way, does the same. The actors are perched atop stepladders, and Experience stares out into space with such palpable yearning and intensity, marveling at the beauty of the world, that the audience can’t help but absorb her wonder.

Vincent Hannam, as George, is a find. He persuasively plays a dreamy, naive adolescent living in 1900s rural New England, without resorting to condescension. He is uncertain and awkward and utterly charming.

The final scene, with Hannam leaning on Experience’s gravestone, is heartbreaking with his understated grief.

The “Ice cream soda” scene has the Stage Manager (Stephen Shore) doubling as the shopkeeper. (Shore, Experience, and Hannam made a field trip to Waltz’s Soda Fountain in downtown Damariscotta on Sunday to see how the drinks are made.)

Kathleen Creamer, who served the three, was impressed at the dedication to be realistic. “They watched every move I made,” she said, “and then watched each other carefully.” The lesson in making an imaginary ice cream soda looks real with no props at all; drinking from invisible straws from absent glasses must have taken as the three did an admirable job at preview.

As Julia Gibbs, Allison Eddyblouin catches her character’s insecurities and anxiety, her pride in being a small-town wife and mother, and her frustration that she is probably doomed never to achieve her fondest wish, to see Paris.

Garrett Martin, as Doc Gibbs, epitomizes the man’s decency and integrity, and also his obtuseness where his wife is concerned.

As Charles Webb, the newspaper editor, Steven Hufnagel strikes the right notes of mildly jaundiced skepticism, acerbic humor, and, in his scenes with Experience, the kind of paternal affection and wisdom that make their scenes very affecting.

Mary Boothby, in the role of Myrtle Webb, Emily’s mother, has a no-nonsense, pragmatic humor and generosity. Anyone who has ever lived in a small town will know her, and that her gruffness is a shield for a soft heart.

The two mothers, Eddyblouin and Boothby, are perhaps the most credible characters onstage. They never “act,” they simply offer up these hardworking women with matter-of-fact ease.

Stephen Wallace, as the dyspeptic Simon Stimson, has some lines of pointed dialogue but conveys, in a way that no dialogue could, that there is often a heavy price to be paid for so much small-town intimacy, so much judgment, so much knowledge.

As the Stage Manager, Shore has a comforting gravitas, a self-deprecating manner, and an easy way of letting important lines sit lightly before they sink in. Once in awhile, a resemblance to Hal Holbrook appeared. He is the glue that holds “Our Town” together and Shore’s charm extended into the audience.

In the smaller roles of Howie Newsome, the milkman; and Mrs. Louella Soames, the town gossip; Mike Rowe and Susan Goodwillie Steadman, respectively, make vivid impressions. Sam Bailey, Nick Buck, Lainey Catalino, Elizabeth Chasse, Kent Cooper, Jonah Diaute, Thalia Eddyblouin, Andrew Lyndaker, Nick Miaoulis, Isobel Petersen, Scott Petersen, John Reinhardt, and Riley Stevenson ably round out Wilder’s assortment of townspeople.

In the opening of act three, as the Stage Manager looks over the cemetery, he says, “Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take’m out and look at’m very often. We all know that something is eternal … everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.” There is something eternal and appealing about this production of “Our Town.”

“Our Town” opens Friday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m. The show runs April 29 and 30 and May 5-7 at 7:30 p.m. and May 1 at 3 p.m. Student tickets are $10, adult tickets $30. On Thursday, May 5, adult tickets are $25. Reservations are suggested. To make a reservation, call 563-1373.