All things come to an end, and we get better at it.
By Sam Perwin
I'm writing this on a Sunday night having just finished the run of Life Could be a Dream at the Meadow Brook Theatre. Last night we had a little cast-party hosted by our local cast member, but as we had our last show the next day, the festivities, though fun, were relatively tame. After our matinee today, we got together for dinner and some drinks to celebrate the run. There are only 5 of us in the cast, so we got pretty tight; comeraderie abounded, but I'm back in my room by 10pm writing a blog post, i.e., no one was looking to party into the night. Tomorrow I'll get on a flight and come back to New York to search for my next job.
My time at MBT has been nothing but a joy (really). But, now that I'm grown-up and Equity, I find myself looking back nostalgically on the days when Summer-Stock was more like theatre camp. Where every day was filled with drama and tears, drunken fights and drunken hook-ups, and the fact that any actual theatre happened was a minor miracle. From that chaos, I learned so much about how to make things work for myself as an actor. Amid the insanity of playing Harold Hill in The Music Man (at 19!) in an unairconditioned barn in Vermont in 100 degree heat, I learned how to pace myself. Amid switching from peforming Gilbert & Sullivan at night to rehearsing Cole Porter during the day in one-week stock, I learned how to play with different styles of singing. Who needs conservatory when you've got got summer-stock?
Why isn't this show as popular as it should be?
By Michael Kras (Actor/Playwright/Director)
A few years ago, I went through this huge rock musical phase, pretty much like any theatre-loving teenager. I raided the iTunes Store and bought every album I could... Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, Bare, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. You name it, I had it. Then, one day, I stumbled across a little show called Passing Strange. I'd never heard of it before, but it intrigued me... the vague plot description I found on Wikipedia told me it was the story of a young man's journey into the artist's world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. A story about self-discovery? I can relate, man. Then I found out that Spike Lee filmed the last performances of the show on Broadway and edited it into a movie. I tracked it down, watched it, and... I was immediately struck by the fact that nobody seemed to know about the show.
Not like regular rules. Cool rules.
By Alisha Giampola (Actor)
Fellow ladies who live in this great city we call New York, here are some things I think we should be trying to be doing. I say "try" because according to Rule #8 in my list, one of the things we need to be doing is cutting ourselves a break occasionally. But nevertheless, in no particular order...
Trying to understand the place of Shakespeare in modern theatre--starting with the mighty Macbeth.
By Kimberly Lew (Playwright/Blogger)
I am going to come out and say it, blasphemous as it may be: I have always had a problem with Shakespeare. Okay, maybe not with Shakespeare. Never met the guy, so I can't say it's a direct kind of thing. Maybe it's more like I have a problem whenever I see a production of Shakespeare.
I've always had difficulty getting through Shakespeare's text, whether on the page or on the stage. Part of it is the language. I can't tell you how many times I've read some soliloquies over and over again, realizing halfway through that I had no idea what exactly the words I was scanning meant. Another part of it is the sheer reverence that his work seems to garner-- this pressure that everyone has to not only respect his work, but also know it, too. As a result, productions of Shakespeare's work, adapted and reinterpreted every which way, always abound, and everyone feels an obligation to go to these shows and familiarize themselves with these stories because there is an obligation to the cultural zeitgeist to do so.
A few weeks ago, Ali Gordon asked whether or not artists (and critics) should ask of productions "Why bother?" And while I wholly agree that this question should never intimidate artists from creating work, I actually think that the question "Why bother?" should always be on the table, especially with revivals in the case of Shakespeare (and Orphans, which her post originally referenced). I think in some ways people view Shakespeare as being an easy choice, because of its reputation and public domain status, and as a result, lots of new productions attempt to reinterpret the text with modern concepts that only highlight some aspects of Shakespeare's work on the page, or drudge through the text without any attempts to inject new life into the show. While both of these approaches attempt to put Shakespeare front and center, in a lot of ways they only seem of point out the irrelevance of his work to our everyday lives. Yes, we owe him much both in language and in theatre in general-- but does that mean that we need multiple commercial celebrity-studded interpretations? Maybe we could afford to cut back a bit...
There are some great shows that happened outside of the Broadway sphere over the past few years - why should we miss out?
By Joanna Syiek (Director/Producer/Blogger)
Outside of the much talked about German musical Rebecca nearly making it and soon-to-arrive Ahrens and Flaherty's Rocky (premiered in Deutschland), Broadway's hasn't opted to bring many all too many international shows into its inner circle. Let's leave UK aside for a moment since we tend to borrow and share with the West End with ease. Instead we'll take a look at those shows that premiered in another language entirely whose productions are arresting, interesting and deserve a little attention from the US.
Robert Wilson's/Rufus Wainwright's Shakespeare's Sonnets - Germany
This incredibly distinctive production from director Bob Wilson with music by Rufus Wainwright featured gender reversal, shadowplay, unforgettable makeup, and of course nods to Brecht and Weill (of Threepenny Opera fame). More please.
Mozart l'Opera Rock - France
I love a musical that throws all caution to the wind. When thinking of Mozart, the notion of early rock-star may not come to mind. A child prodigy, yes. A whiz on the ivories, no doubt. But emo-rock sex symbol? The creative team behind Mozart l’Opera Rock certainly thought so; they re-envisioned his life for the stage and took France by storm. This cheeky single became one of the show’s most popular anthems. The song follows Wolfgang as he attempts to distribute his music and find a job in Paris. The lyrics dabble with sexual wordplay (somewhat evident, though undoubtedly less subtle, in the English subtitles available on this version).
Rag - Sri Lanka
No video for this one, but the concept sounds noble and thrilling. The most recent hit out of the country is a new musical by Jehan Aloysius entitled ‘Rag’ which grapples with the divisive practice of ragging – a ritual seen by some as an equalizing activity, and by others as worse than bullying and hazing. Ragging is typically enforced by senior students on younger ones and includes forced consumption of alcohol, insects, and/or chemicals, physical exertion to the point of organ failure, and an assortment of humiliating activities meant to break the newcomers upon their arrival. The show’s creator, director, composer and lead actor, Aloysius, had been developing the show for more than ten years, sparked by his own experiences with ragging at university. When Aloysius first received his university acceptance letter he was filled with dread and hid it from his mother. Four months later she found it, and off to school he went. During his eventual ragging, he was spared some of the worst practices but he says that his classmates underwent processes worse than what he could have imagined. Some of these events have made their way into the show. While the show circles instances of rape, discrimination, shame and suicide, the writer’s efforts to reveal the darker side of university life ultimately provide for a cathartic experience.
Aloysius sought out a cast who had experienced ragging first-hand and after auditioning 250 people, he assembled his lead cast of 12. The story follows the creator’s character, Joseph, who starts a non-violent anti-ragging movement which runs into opposing forces who say it must be violently resisted. The result is an empowering musical that’s breaking boundaries abroad.
JOANNA SYIEK is a Los Angeles-based music junkie with a penchant for long road trips, original theatre work, clean graphic design, and really good Indian food. She directs around the City of Angels and writes about nourishing creativity, Broadway favorites, and talent obsessions over on her blogging home. www.thoughtsontheatre.wordpress.com
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Apparently I've missed having TV in my life, especially HBO and Showtime.
By Jen Littlefield (Librettist/Choreographer)
A few weeks ago, I moved to the Upper East Side to live with my best friend, whom I've known since junior high school, and whom I lived with in Brooklyn for six years. One amazing and time-consuming part of our relationship was watching fantastic TV series together. He has a huge collection of DVDs, and we would systematically watch shows that had long been cancelled, in addition to the new ones we DVRed and became obsessed with together. Some of my favorites included Gilmore Girls, Felicity (Team Ben or Team Noel, screw Edward and Jacob), Six Feet Under, Arrested Development, and Weeds. I mean come on, awkward Alexis Bledel, confused and searching Kerri Russel, the tragic Fishers and the ridiculous Bluthes, and Nancy f*cking Botwin.
What a better way to bond? These were our stories and we watched them together religiously.
Cut to last week in our new apartment for two, and an added subscription to Showtime complete with OnDemand. Let's talk about this for a second - are you guys as obsessed with the shows on this network as we are? I've been out of the TV loop for a while, but I circled right back in as my roomie caught up on the last seasons of SO MANY AMAZING SHOWS. Seriously - Nurse Jackie, Californication, Shameless, Homeland, and I haven't even started the Borgias, which I hear is pretty great too.
And then I got to thinking, if you could only have one premium channel EVER, which one would you choose? We chose Showtime because we both have friends' subscriptions to HBO Go. BUT WHAT IF YOU COULD ONLY HAVE ONE? Which one is better? Showtime? HBO? (Sorry Skinemax, you don't factor into this discussion) And how do you compare current shows against past shows? Do you pick greatness now, or go for the promise of potential based on past brilliance? Let's break it down:
(for length, I'm only dealing in scripted shows on a weekly basis, no movies or mini-series)
Sure, I burned your house down, stole your car and spent
$10,000 on your credit card, but I’m the victim here.
By Bob Simpson (Writer)
When I think on the very worst people to inhabit this planet, three come to mind: that blueberry pancakes singer, Ray Lewis (he killed a guy), and a group of people I’ll lump together and call “Blind Victims.”
I’m sure you know the type – people that are only consistent in their ability to do horrible things, then can’t understand why people persecute them. This rant has bloomed thanks to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s fantastic history book, Team of Rivals. I touched on one of these characters a few weeks ago, General George McClellan, a man so completely devoid of humility that his statements seem like lines from a farce. The book also devotes numerous passages to the bumbling ambition of Treasury Secretary, Salmon P. Chase, a man known in modern times for having a delicious first name, especially with lemon and rosemary.
Walking away from a shot at Second City in order to start an improv troupe in Lincoln, Nebraska certainly isn't the obvious choice. Why this comedian says she's never regretted taking the road less traveled. (Part of the series Art Outside the City)
by Lauren Silverman Durban, writer
The theater has saved Beth Muehling more than once. Her story is punctuated by the times when performing has pulled her out of dark places, given her better options, and pushed her in healthier directions.
At 12 years old, she moved from a tiny town in Iowa to the “big city” of Lincoln, Nebraska. She describes it as a major shock to the system, and says she sort of shut down for awhile. When a friend suggested she get involved in drama, she agreed. And then, when she performed a monologue from The Children’s Hour that made people cry, she was totally hooked. “There’s something so awesome about affecting people in that way. There’s no replacement for that.” She had found her niche.
At 21 years old when she came out of the closet, she spent her evenings sneaking into a local gay bar to watch the drag shows. She couldn’t believe how happy, silly, and free it all was, and she longed to be a part of that world. When she was given the opportunity to start performing there as part of a group, it was the beginning of a long string of drag/comedy groups she’d be part of founding. She traveled all over the Midwest, performing in bars and clubs. Again, she says she had discovered where she fit in.
Several years later, Beth had stopped performing entirely after the suicide of one of her best friends. The AIDS epidemic was ravaging the gay community all across the country, and at one point she attended 13 funerals in 6 months. “I just couldn’t be funny anymore.” Once again, it was theater that brought her back. A friend from her drag days asked her to audition for a production of Rocky Horror that he was directing, and she ended up getting cast as Riff Raff-- in drag, of course. She discovered a new way to be on stage, and did back to back to back shows both as an actress and later as a director.