Saturday, January 28, 2012

Emotional Scenes

(An article from Achtung! member and actor Allyson Carranza):

For many actors learning to 'cry on cue' is one of the most difficult skills to learn.  There are many exercises one can practice to reach the emotional level where tears can come freely.  Perhaps the best method is simply not to try.  In other words, the more we attempt to use a technique, the it less it may work for us.  This is because we remove ourselves from the scene, and therefore the character and her emotion, by focusing on the technicalities of our acting.

Imagine, your best friend tells you she never really liked you.  Would you stop and say to yourself, "Okay, I have to cry now.  How can I make that happen?"  Of course not.  The emotion of the scene would naturally take over.  You have to trust that same organic wave of emotion when playing out a fictional scene as well.

Honest emotion is not foolproof.  Who knows?  Maybe you get into a scene and your organic response to the situation doesn't involve tears at all, but another reaction all together.  That's okay.  That's honest.  And in scenarios where your character must cry sometimes the best method is to...well, act.  The next time your cry in real life, try to recall how you do it.  What does it feel like?  Sound like?  Learn to recreate this so you can cry in a realistic manner...even if no tears come.

Monday, January 23, 2012

We've got Paypal!

Yes, we've made it easier to support the arts.
Please note the "Donate" button to your right.  Every donation is tax-exempt.  Allow me, Rufus, to elaborate on what your donation will go towards:

  • Paying for rights to shows.  This is one of the biggest expenses we have.  We won't advertise or hold auditions for a show we haven't secured rights for.  Typically average show rights go for $75 a night.  
  • Renting theatre spaces.  This is usually the biggest expense for growing theatre companies that don't have a space of their own just yet (we're not homeless, we just move around a lot).  
  • Publicity and advertising.  This can be as expensive as the rights and it gets people into our shows, plain and simple.  Without PR the theatre shrivels into something rather sad.
  • Paying for third-party expertise, particularly lights and sound.  The rest we pay on a case-by-case basis depending on respective contracts. 
We appreciate every donation.  If you believe in the importance of the arts (especially in this current economy) then please click on the "Donation" button to the right.  We take every dollar seriously to create the best theatre experience possible for all involved, behind, on, and in front of the stage.  Thank you for your support!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What is theatre?

What is the theatre?  It might bring to mind someone looking suspiciously like Derek Jacobi or Lawrence Olivier spewing Shakespeare.  In a modern context, plays certainly qualify as theatre.  Probably musicals, too.  Maybe even opera and ballet.  But what about...balloon art?  What?!?

Bear with me for a moment.  On December 1, 2011, the world encountered Stuff Theatre:  a 24-hour Facebook theatre extravaganza featuring everything from muppet Shakespeare to dolphin improv to gospel singing, all coming together to bring your facebook page to life on the stage.  Hard to imagine?  See the Best of Stuff Theatre video here.

So in light of this remarkable feat of performing arts, it begs a new look at the concept of theatre.  I had always drawn a strict line between cinema and theatre, but the definition I am coming to accept is that theatre is any situation in which a performer (in-person or otherwise) does something (perform in any sense) for an audience.  Of course, that opens a potentially rotten can of worms.  Does that mean a sporting event is theatre?  What about a circus?  Or a political speaker?  Is it something that only takes place in an actual theatre, so to speak?  But then what about grassroots companies like ours, many of whom perform out of doors?

In the end, this is probably a semi-rhetorical question.  Almost as bad as "what is art?"  People will simply have to agree to disagree.  But I like to think it encourages us to keep open minds, always.  Be adventurous.  Be analytical.  Be amazed.  Enjoy a performance for its own sake and the experience will be rewarding.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The death scene of the century...Hallelujah!

Twentieth Century, adapted by Ken Ludwig:  Synopsis

If you have ever looked up a review of Ken Ludwig's Twentieth Century (adapted from an adaption by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, to give credit where credit is due), I believe you would be concerned.  As it so happens, I read several in preparation for experiencing the eagerly-anticipated (by me, at least) Utah State production of the depression-era comedy.  And as it so happens, I was slightly concerned.  Let me give you a taste of what the critics were saying:

Matthew Murray of "Talkin' Broadway" described it as "one of the most unnecessary and desultory rides of the season" adding that the work had been "twisted, routed, and adapted...into flavorless unrecognizability."  (Is 'unrecognizability' a word?  Spell check seems to disagree.)
In Steve Palopoli's review of the TheatreWorks production he apparently felt that they "didn't quite pull it off," that while playwright Hecht wrote plenty of masterpieces in his time "this wasn't one of them,"  and that the plot "grows tedious."
Simon Saltzman, writing for, at least gave a nod to the supporting cast, noting that they give a "decided lift to this otherwise labored...production.
Even in the one positive review I read from Hope Baugh at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre, she admits that she "didn't find it hilarious...but...uniquely enjoyable," calling it "amusing," "elegant," and "romantic."

So, having no prior knowledge of this or any other version of the show, I entered the theatre this evening, still eager, but more eager for this production not to fall as flat as all the others apparently have in recent years.  Now, two hours later, I sit here wondering if we saw the same play.  I thought it was supurb!  I laughed pretty much continuously throughout the show, as did the rest of the audience.  So, are my tastes unrefined?  Am I easily pleased?  I never thought so before, I guess I don't think it matters.  Tonight's cast did themselves proud.

Of course, my first impression (as it was hard to miss) when I walked into the theatre was that the set was remarkable (kudos to USU's Spencer Potter).  It appeared to be the better portion of a train car, complete with platform, and spiral staircases to an upper dining car.  My description hardly does it justice, but I was impressed.  Little did I know...  Scene 2:  the whole train car spun around to reveal two interior suites!  Needless to say, I am not a designer, but to me it looks super impressive to have a single set piece that large spinning ponderously on its axis.  They should have been blaring Wagner in honor of the feat of engineering.

I must also give a nod of appreciation to costume designer Nancy Hill (assisted by Bethany Deal and ATC's very own Rufus ZaejoDaeus!) for her off-beat and often outrageous costumes.  Lily Garland's constantly changing wardrobe was delightful...particularly the spectacular prison-striped halter jumpsuit.

As for the actors, I thought the cast was, in general, outstanding.  I have to agree with Mr. Saltzman:  the supporting cast was terrific.  Some credit must surely be given to the playwright(s) for creating such rich characters, but the actors made them memorable.  Two of the most notable performances of the evening (for me) came from Gordon Dunn, whose frank portrayal of the wise-cracking 'Owen O'Malley' made him easily the most likable character in the show despite his drinking and womanizing, and Christian Parsons who so skillfully embodied the bible-beating, sticker hurling, possibly dangerous ex-CEO/conman/escaped lunatic 'Matthew Clark' that you were never sure what to believe.

Not that I would want to neglect the rest of the cast:  Cameron Parsons (Max Jacobs)'s physical comedy was as capricious as ever; Tim Roghaar (Beard) was predictably versatile as the quirky German actor (and I loved the accent!); Angela Roundy (Ida Webb) channeled Amy Fowler through the efficient, say-it-like-it-is business manager; and Lance Rasmussen (Dr. Grover Lockwood) and Rachel ZaejoDaeus (Anita Highland) were, respectively, at their earnest and flirty bests as a neurotic doctor/aspiring playwright and his pampered, outspoken mistress.

Rounding out (or perhaps topping off) the troupe was Mackenzi van Engelenhoven (Lily Garland), whose performance was an impressive balance of flounce, hysterics, charm, and intelligence; and Jason Craig West (Oscar Jaffe) who, barring a flubbed line or two, was convincingly larger-than-life and takes the award for Best Death Scene I've Seen in a While.  I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. *wink wink*  I was sincerely concerned, actually.  The play had been pure comedy up to that point and I was in a certain amount of agony over whether or not the playwright would pull a fast (and devastating) one on us.  In the end, I believe it was well-handled.

In keeping up my track-record of ungraceful conclusions, I would like to end with "Most Notable Quotes" for your enjoyment.  (Please note that I jotted these down from memory, so if they are misquoted, do let me know.):


Lily Garland--"Yes, I tried to save you pain.  I lied, yes, to save you."
Oscar Jaffe--"That's from Sappho!"
Lily Garland--"Get out."

Lily Garland--"They were all lies!"
George Smith--"There was no midget?"
Lily Garland--"There were two midgets!!"

Oscar Jaffe--"Dear John:  I am in the market for 25 camels, several elephants, and an ibis.  Give me the rock bottom price."

Oscar Jaffe--"Go on, Owen, tell her I'm dying...and don't overact!"


By Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, based on a play by Charles Bruce Millholland, in a new adaptation by Ken Ludwig.  Directed by Leslie Brott.  Sets by Spencer Potter; costumes by Nancy Hills; lighting by Mauri Anne Smith; sound by Ben Bielefeld.  Presented by the Utah State Theatre Department, Ken Risch, Dept. Head.  At the Morgan Theatre on the Utah State University campus.

WITH:  Jason Craig West (Oscar Jaffe), Mackenzi Van Engelenhoven (Lily Garland), Robert Burdzy (George Smith), Gordon Dunn (Owen O'Malley), Jacob Marquez (Detective/Ensemble), Cameron Parsons (Max Jacobs), Christian Parsons (Matthew Clark), Lance Rasmussen (Dr. Grover Lockwood), Timothy Roghaar (Beard), Angela Roundy (Ida Webb), Jackson Simmons (Conductor), John Terry (Porter), and Rachel ZaejoDaeus (Anita Highland).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What is it about A Christmas Carol?

At first I intended to ask if Dickens's timeless story was becoming obsolete.  However after 30-seconds of Google research spurred by semi-idle curiosity, during which I discovered 5 pages of unique links advertising upcoming productions of the play or musical or both (with two exceptions involving Doctor Who), I quickly realized that the answer was probably NO.  Nevertheless, I have to wonder what it is about this show that inspires such fanaticism.

Of course, I've read the story (several times) and enjoyed it.  It's classic Dickens and I'm a huge fan. But seriously?  According to my super-secret wikipedic sources, there are over 30 stage adaptations alone--and despite my automatic skepticism, I am inclined to believe, in this instance, that that is an under-exaggeration.  Not only that but it is performed every year without fail, often several times within the same community (mine, for example), by everyone from high school students to professional company actors.

So why aren't we tired of it?  And if we are tired of it, why do we still go see it?  And if we don't still go see it, why do we still perform it?  I think the truth is that our love of A Christmas Carol is one of the worst kept "dirty little secrets," as they say.  Sort of like the way we complain about the Wicked craze or the way we don't want to admit we are obsessed with Phantom of the Opera (although, as it happens, I've never seen Wicked and I honestly don't like Phantom, but I digress).  We insist that if an overgrown Tiny Tim tries to bless everyone of us one more time we are going to puke or clobber him with his overgrown little crutch or both, but we still go back for more every holiday season like addicts.

I do not want to diminish Dickens's masterpiece, but I believe moderation in most things, stage productions of A Christmas Carol being among them, is healthy.  So this year, why not take a look at the other great holiday rep out there?  For the traditionalist (although perhaps not quite as traditional as Dickens), there are several interesting adaptations of It's a Wonderful Life, including a couple live radio plays to add a twist to the mix.  For the musical enthusiast, check out A Christmas Survival Guide, a holiday revue that pokes fun at the "urban holiday landscape".  And for the more adventurous theatre-goer, I've been enjoying George Cameron Grant's collection of one-acts entitled 4 X'masa set of four creative pieces that offer a nice balance of grit, moral, and humour.  These are fun pieces to read, but let me offer this as a nudge to the production companies out there looking for next year's December material.  In the words of Arthur Kipps (I'm still coming down from the Halloween show), "have sympathy with your audience"!  Add some lime and coconut to your holiday mixer and give the Christmas Spirits a break.