Theatre

What Highschool Theatre Taught Me

Amelia Brooker

Preparing to graduate high school, I am looking back on the moments that shaped me through the last few years. The most vivid memories, the times that have stuck with me, are those spent with my high school theatre company.

High school theatre taught me to sing, dance, and act, but also taught me so much about myself and my relationship with the world around me. Some of the best lessons do not have to do with theatre specifically, but how to succeed in general. The following are five of the best lessons I learned in high school theatre, which are ideal for both students entering this sphere, as well as anyone entering a new area of life.



1. Do not hold anything back

Looking back on my theatre experience, my biggest regret is not pushing myself further. Whether it comes from self-consciousness or lack of experience, it is easy to hold back in some areas. Giving anything less than one hundred percent will inhibit you as you move forward. You might not have any dance experience but seek help and practice. You might be bad at improv but give it a try and hope for the best. Nothing but good will come of pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone.


2. Avoid the drama

What do you get when you put a few dozen of the most dramatic kids in school together in one room, for five, ten, fifteen hours a week? And then have them compete for roles? Even the closest and kindest groups of theatre kids will get on each other’s nerves once in a while. The best advice I can give is to stay out of it completely. Do not spread rumors, criticize other performers, or give in to any drama. You’ll be happier if you stay out of it all.


3. Be a team player

Theatre is a team sport. Even a small-scale production requires dozens of people to fulfill all the necessary requirements. You will need to work with all kinds of people who have different ideas, points of view, and levels of experience. Listen to others’ ideas with an open mind, speak with kindness, and treat everyone equally. Trusting the people you work with is of the utmost importance in theatre, whether it be actors, directors, stage managers, or crew. Because in such an unpredictable environment, strong and trusting relationships will take your far.


4. Adaptability is your best asset

To build off the last point, working with others sometimes requires compromise. You might disagree with how a director wants to do something or have a discrepancy with another actor or crew member. The choreography might change the week before the show, or a new rehearsal be added last minute. Live theatre is fast-paced and unpredictable, so going with the flow is always the best option. Being able to adapt to a new situation or rise to the occasion will serve much better than fighting it.


5. Be present and enjoy yourself

It is no secret that doing theatre on top of the regular stresses of high school can be difficult. Like any other class or activity, it requires you to put your best foot forward in order to succeed. However, the memories you make and the relationships you build will make it all worthwhile. Through the early morning and late-night rehearsals, quick trips for food before rehearsals. and bonding over show runs, theatre can be some of the best times of your high school life. Enjoy every burst of laughter, every piece of fun choreography, every song you get to belt out with your friends. Create an atmosphere of positivity and creativity and be your authentic self. Do everything you can so that in the future, you can look back and smile.

 

A Musical for Everyone According to Their Hobby

Chris S Lynn

We have all heard it.

  • “I hate musicals”

  • “Breaking into song and dance is not realistic.”

  • “Musicals are gay.”

  • “I don’t like that opera crap.”

We can all give a rebuttal to each of these platitudes.

  • “You cannot possibly hate all musicals because they are not the same.”

  • ”Breaking into song and dance is just as unrealistic as a Die Hard movie.  Both are escapism.  So Yippi Kay yay, O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A!”

  • “If you mean, many gays love musicals, then yes, just as gays like football.  If you mean gay as in lame, then I better brace myself for ‘a whole lotta ugly coming from a never ending parade of stupid.’”

  • “You don’t like opera?  Neither do many music theatre fanatics.  There is no single ‘Broadway musical sound’.  For every musical genre, I can give you a musical that contains that style of music.”


Sure, you can argue with these people.  However, if your goal is to share your love of musicals with those that you value, then there is a better way.  If you are reading this blog, chances are that not a day goes by where you do not 1. Listen to a show tune, 2. Rehearse/audition for a show, or 3. randomly break out in song based on mere everyday conversation that has even the most remote connection to a show tune.  Heck, I am guessing you have done just that at least 3 times so far while reading this blog! Your life is better with musicals. Without musicals, life would be like…. (go ahead! Sing it! You know you want to!) Why would you not want to share this same joy with others, even if they will never become quite as obsessed as you?


The purpose of this blog is to demonstrate that there is a musical for virtually all tastes and interests and to share experiences of those we value who have “lived in the darkness for so long” and were “waiting for the light to shine.”


My first challenge was to locate a reliable poll of the most popular hobbies and then match them to musicals of interest.   I found the The Harris Poll, that has measured public opinion in the U.S. since 1963 and used to advise U.S. Presidents such as John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.  Below is data of the most popular American hobbies from 2013. Sorry International readers, please play along. 2057 adults were polled in this survey.  



  1. Watching TV (42%)

  2. Reading (37%)

  3. Computer Internet (19%)

  4. Spending Time With Friends/Family (18%)

  5. Watching/Going to Movies (11%)

  6. Exercise/Working Out (10%)

  7. Playing Video/Computer/Internet games (10%)

  8. Walking/Running/Jogging (8%)

  9. Gardening (7%)

  10. Concerts/Listening to/Playing Music (7%)

  11. Hobby Related Activities (5%) Whatever the hell that means!

  12. Eating/Going to Restaurants (4%)

  13. Cooking/Baking (4%)

  14. Sewing/NeedleWork/Quilting (4%)

  15. Shopping (4%)

  16. Attending/Watching Sports (4%)

  17. Resting/Relaxing (3%)

  18. Sleeping/Napping (3%)

  19. Fishing (3%)

  20. Crafts (3%)

  21. Swimming (3%)

  22. Golf (3%)

  23. Playing with/Walking Pets (3%)

I decided to consolidate some of the categories and grouped them as such

  1. TV/Movies

  2. Reading/History Buffs

  3. Computers/Internet/Video Games

  4. Social Time With family/Friends

  5. Exercise/Sports

  6. Gardening

  7. Crafts/Sewing/Quilting

  8. Food - Baking/Cooking/Eating

  9. Fishing/Hunting * I added hunting because I live in Missouri.

  10. Pets

  • I eliminated resting and sleeping categories unless the goal is to induce a “cat”atonic (oops! Sorry Andrew Lloyd Weber fans) coma like state while attending a musical.

Let’s begin!

TV/Movies - The topic of TV shows and movies being adapted to the stage has been a recently trendy one, both on Broadway stages and in debates on the All Things Broadway Facebook page.  Many question the lack of originality on the Broadway stage today. Some of us point to the fact that Broadway musicals have always been inspired by secondary sources such as movies and books.  Others, such as myself, point out that taking big box office hits or movies with iconic characters that were on the big screen less than 20 years ago, and transferring them onto a musical stage is a fairly recent phenomenon.  The Full Monty, for example, landed on Broadway in 2001, only 5 years after its movie release.  Since then, we have had an innumerable amount of non musical films rewritten for the musical stage.  Regardless of whether you like this trend or not, for many of our showtune virgins, this concept might be the hook for them to start the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  One of the shows that introduced me to musicals was The Phantom of the Opera.  While I cannot stand the show today, I credit it for opening a new window for me.  Then again, introducing your movie geek to these shows can backfire if they are of the “breaking out in song and dance is unrealistic” ilk.  Yes, I do realize, folks, that not all musicals contain happy themed tap shoe numbers.  However, this is a stereotype we must all endure. My advice to introducing your TV/movie mogul friends to musicals via their interests is to know them well and tread lightly.  Certainly, they may love the adaptations. If, however, you get the vibe that these shows would turn them off, then introduce them to those musicals that take themselves a little less seriously and are parodies/satire of their favorite movies and TV shows.  Often, the parodies/satire pay homage to the originals the others simply cannot touch. If your friend is a Disney fan, then he/she should already be in heaven. While I have seen very few adaptations, below are a few of my favorites:

  • A Christmas Carol

  • 42nd Street

  • La Cage Aux Folles

  • Dogfight - For those of you who enjoyed music and lyrics from Pasek/Paul’s The Greatest Showman, LaLa Land, and Dear Evan Hansen, check out their musical based on the Liv Tyler and River Phoenix 1991 film of the same name

  • Evil Dead - Evil Dead is a Canadian rock musical parody based on the cult classic horror movie trilogy.  Nothing is serious in this silly, ridiculous parody about sex crazed college kids that spend a weekend in “A Cabin In the Woods”.  The guilty pleasure musical would not be complete without its unique Splatter Zone seating, reserved for the first several rows where audience members are spewed with onstage blood.  Hey, the extra cost of entering the Splatter Zone includes a freshly blood soaked souvenir t-shirt! Theatre patrons,”This is my boomstick!”

  • Grey Gardens - this musical was based on a documentary of the same name chronicling the lives of Jaqueline Kennedy’s aunt and cousin: Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale ("Big Edie") and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale ("Little Edie").  Set in a Mansion in East Hampton, New York, the musical follows the lives of the two characters from respected aristocrats to hoarders trapped in their own home by trash and overrun by cats.   The sad story is dramatized by the two leading ladies who play both roles, switching characters after Act 1. I will never forget attending a performance of this show and having to listen to the eerie sound of cats meowing and growling piped in as “pre show music.”  The musical opens with the set presenting a dilapidated mansion with the characters living in squalor. During the first musical number, the set is transformed to its former splendor and grandeur 32 years prior. Act 1 is set in the past, and Act 2 is set 32 years later.  If you are ready for something different and mesmerizing, then give Grey Gardens, a try.

  • Hands on A Hardbody - who would have guessed that a 1997 documentary film centered on a contest where contestants can win a new pick-up truck by being the last man or woman standing (or sitting) with one of their hands on a hardbody?  This musical wins the best title for a musical award, but will also win your hearts as it delves into Americana and the lives of the contestants, the car dealer, and radio announcer.

  • Heathers

  • The Lion King

  • A Little Night Music (based on Inmar Bergman’s 1955 film Smiles of Summer)

  • A Little Shop of Horrors

  • Reefer Madness - Reefer Madness is based on the 1936 propaganda film of the same name.  The musical is a tongue and cheek parody of the “squeaky clean” America of yesteryear, under attack by the evil “demon seed.”  The film was originally financed by a church group and shown to parents to scare them about the dangers of marijuana, under the title Tell Your Children.  Other fantastically ridiculous titles given to this film included The Burning Question, Dope Addict, Doped Youth, and Love Madness.  There is nothing to be afraid of with marijanna, nor the musical Reefer Madness that joyously and hilariously pokes fun at the hysteria over a joint.

  • Spamalot (based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

  • Sweet Charity

Link to Stage musicals based on films:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Musicals_based_on_films

*I noticed StarKid productions were not included on this list.

Link to stage musicals based on TV series

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Musicals_based_on_television_series




Reading and History Buffs - Many musicals produced from great literature as well as historical figures should come as no surprise.  Once again, if you are introducing someone who is new to musicals via this route, you must know the person well.  Additionally, knowing the source material or reading the novel in which the musical is based is not a bad idea either.  Once upon a time, a professor friend and I were going to make a road trip to San Francisco to see the pre Broadway opening of a new musical called Wicked.  I have always loved Stephen Schwartz and my friend loved the dense cerebral novel which he taught in his higher level literature courses.  We both wondered how such a complex story would be staged and set to music. We now know that the musical, like many adaptations, was vastly different from its source material.  Wicked, in fact, was virtually nothing like Gregory Mcguire’s book.  They shared some of the same characters and settings, but little else did the two relate beyond the spectacle.  My friend did not care for the show and I thought it was mediocre to unmemorable. Word to the wise, if you take a bookworm to a musical based on their favorite read, just be careful.  Some of my favorites musicals based on novels include:

  • Big River - Take the wit of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and pair it with Roger Miller whose rockabilly novelty songs that had the penchant for clever and whimsical lyrics and you will have a  combo even better than peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, or ketchup and grits! Wait! What?

  • Be More Chill - I don’t understand the hate with the little show that could.  I usually do not listen to cast recordings prior to seeing a show, but this one was an exception.  I listened to cast recording about a year and a half ago when the music first went viral in Youtube land.  Fearing I would not see the unlicensed show anytime soon, I gave it a listen and instantly loved the show. Go figure!  A 45-year-old loving Be More Chill!

  • Into the Woods - Interestingly, Sondheim’s complex intertwining fairytale musical took inspiration from Bruno Bettleheim’s 1976 book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.  Bettleheim analyzed the fairytales in terms of Fruedian psychoanalysis for which he was once renowned and then later discredited as a fraud.

  • Mame

  • Mary Poppins

  • Les Miserables

  • Mystery of Edwin Drood - The Charles Dickens inspired musical was based on his last work that remained unfinished after his death in 1870.  Only 6 of the 12 installments were published from the original source material with no evidence or notes left behind by Dickens to solve the mystery. Rupert Holmes, author of the book, music, and lyrics, decided to painstakingly write several short endings to determine every possible solution to the mystery.  The audience is given the ultimate power to vote who killed Drood, with the actors tasked to quickly tally the votes and carry out the ending chosen by the audience.

  • Natasha, Piere, and the Great Comet of 1812 -  Are you kidding me?  A musical based on a 1440 page novel?  Wait a minute. The musical is based on only 70 pages taken from the middle of the novel. Whew! No one would ever think of turning such a large volume of classical fiction into a musical!  That would be like turning Victor Hugo’s 1462 page novel, Les Miserables into a musical.Unheard of? Unthinkable? Unspeakable?”  Nope. “Tradition!”

  • Oliver

  • Once On This Island

  • Peter Pan

  • The Robber Bridegroom

  • The Scarlet Pimpernel

  • A Very Potter Musical

Computers/Internet/Video Games  - Everyone, just Be More Chill.  Remember, life is a “Two Player Game” and while “There are voices in my head, the loudest one is mine!”  Great show, fun songs, and beautiful message of being under your own influence.

Social Time With Family/Friends - The best way to get someone involved who enjoys time with family and friends is to recruit them in the actual production of a musical.  Nothing says family, comradery, and bonding, better than working as a team on a musical. I have been involved in many shows with entire families pitching in as cast and crew members.  The next best thing is to bring your friend to a musical that highlights relationships. Many from the list below includes musicals from religious sources since many people spend a great deal of their social time at church activities. I also included shows that highlight dysfunctional families which is a huge part of life and relationships as well.

  • Avenue Q

  • Baby  - this delightful Shire/Maltby musical revolves around three couples, each at different stages of their lives, who must all uniquely take the journey of experiencing a pregnancy and an impending parenthood.  The 3 couples range from an unmarried college age students, a thirty something couple with a history of failed attempts at conception, and middle aged parents and soon to be empty nesters.

  • Be More Chill

  • Children of Eden - This is a Stephen Schwartz musical based on Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah’s Ark.  The major theme revolves around the universal truth that “the hardest part of love is the letting go” and allowing ones children to make their own mistakes.

  • Company

  • Dreamgirls

  • The Fantasticks - a boy and his father, a girl and her father, and a stick (wall).  Add a bandit and his goofy players, an indian whose expertise is in dying, and an aging Shakesperian actor to help tell the story and teach us lessons.  Result: a charming, intimate, and poetic musical about love and coming of age.

  • Fiddler On The Roof - If you do not cry at least three or four times during this musical about a man who loves his religious traditions, but loves his daughters and their desire for happiness even more, well then, you are just a bunch of heartless sons of bitches.

  • Fun Home - I won’t give away the story of this Best Musical Tony winner based on an autobiographical graphic novel,only to say that it is the most genuine LGBTQ+ musical I have seen.  The scenes are heart wrenching, written and executed in a way that invites audiences to firmly plant their feet in the characters’ shoes without ever succumbing to preaching to their audience. Bravo Fun Home.  You have my heart!

  • Godspell

  • Hair

  • Hairspray

  • Into the Woods

  • La Cage Aux Folles

  • The Secret Garden

  • Mame

  • A New Brain

  • Oliver!

  • 13

  • You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown\

Exercise/Sports -  One of the best sports musicals I have seen never made it to Broadway:  Fantasy Football...the Musical?  Billed as a “Bromantic Comedy”, the musical parodies late 1980s and early 1990s and tells the fictional history of how fantasy football began with a wannabe sports newscaster and a computer geek during the birth of the dial up internet circa 1991.  This is a great show to bring your college football and NFL fans for a great night of laughter and bromance. Other musicals with sports include:

  • The Beautiful Game (football) Andrew Lloyd Weber/Ben Elton musical

  • Damn Yankees (baseball)

  • Rocky...The Musical (boxing)  Anytime you see “[fill in the blank]...the musical” be fair warned.  Yikes!

  • Golden Boy -(boxing) this one actually looks and sounds cool!  The musical opened on Broadway in 1964, starred Sammy Davis Jr., and played a respectable 564 performances.  The opening number contains some fantastic grunts and punching noises that are used as percussion for the music. The title track is “Work Out (Fight Scene)”.  Give it a listen!  The sounds are truly glorious!

  • Bring It On! (cheerleading)

  • Lysistrata (basketball)

  • The First (baseball)

  • Good News (football)

  • All American (football)

6. Gardening

  • The Secret Garden

  • The Fantasticks - Two old farts who are best friends, sing about Planting a Radish and lamenting that sowing seeds is so much less complicated than raising children who you can “Never Say No”.

7. Crafts/Sewing/Quilting

  • Quilters - A Pioneer woman patchwork musical

8. Food - Baking/Cooking/Eating

  • Sweeney Todd  - of course!

  • Waitress

  • Pump Boys and Dinettes

9. Fishing/Hunting * I added hunting because I live in Missouri!

  • Pump Boys and Dinettes

  • Big Fish

  • Carousel

  • The Ghosts of Celilo - a Native American musical

  • Happy Hunting!

10. Pets

  • Cats

  • Bark! - or DOGS!

  • Honk! - based on The Ugly Duckling

  • Lucky Duck - The Ugly Duckling meets Cinderella.  Music by Dreamgirls, Henry Kriger

  • Just So - based on Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories

  • A Year With Frog and Toad

Well, that’s all folks!  Let me know what I forgot.  I mentioned a ton of shows, but I know I have neglected to mention some (purposely, accidentally, and some accidentally on purpose!.  Now go take your friend to a musical, the most glorious thing on earth!

* One last thing. You can easily search for specific musical productions in your area if you know the licencing company for each show.  Most licensing websites will have a searchable database to find productions of their shows, with dates, cities, and the name of the theatre.  Below is a link that lists many shows and the company that licenses them. Also includes are the websites of the major licensing companies:

http://www.musicals101.com/alphinde.htm


How to Succeed in Performing Without Really Trying

Elizabeth Bergmann

Three years ago, at the 2016 Tony Awards, James Corden sang about how seeing a show makes us say "That could be me!" When I was a freshman in high school, I was cut from the volleyball team and needed a new activity to fill my fall semester, so my band squad leader suggested the fall play. In the summer of 2018, I talked my whole family (Mom, Dad, and younger brother) into doing The Music Man with my community theatre family. We all have different ways that we find ourselves wanting to enter the world of theatre. Maybe a local group is doing one of your favorite shows, or a friend keeps insisting you should do a show together (I am this friend).

 

Whatever the reason, providence seems determined to get you in a show. If you’re brand-new, from a non-theatre family, and generally haven’t done anything except those school plays about bullying and the seasons, you have no clue what you’re getting into. The idea of auditioning for a big show can be terrifying. People throw out words like “blocking” and “dramaturge” and you have no clue what they’re talking about. With no single source of all this information available up to this point, I’ve decided to become that single source myself. I plan to focus on auditions for musical theatre, mostly because those tend to be the most complicated, but aspects of it will apply to auditioning for plays, as well. So, if you have no clue where to start, why not start here?

 

Where do I find a group to do a show with?

There are lots of Facebook groups for different theatrical groups and communities. I’m lucky enough to currently be in two groups that cater to my area, but local news sources and postings can let you know what is in your area. There may even be smaller groups that you rarely hear about looking for fresh talent! I found my community theatre family pretty much by accident: they rehearse in the same community center where I was taking dance classes. If you know people who perform, ask them where. If you’re a student, look for your school’s program. Find out which shows these groups are doing, and check when they rehearse. What’s the cast size? Can you be at rehearsals? If it looks like you’d be able to be in this show, audition!

 


What do I do to get ready for auditions?

The first thing I like to do when considering auditioning for a show is research. Who wrote the show? What is the basic story? What style of music is it? Are there any characters you’d like to play? I tend to accidentally memorize shows, but general familiarity will be your best friend. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into (a girl quit a Guys and Dolls production I was in because she suddenly discovered it could be a little sexist), and this will also give you a baseline for your audition. The audition description will tell you if you need to prepare a monologue, a song, or anything else. Monologues should fit the tone and time period of the show you’re auditioning for. Pick a song that you know you can sing well no matter what condition your voice is in. I personally don’t recommend a song you don’t know too well, but also try to avoid cliché audition songs (that’s a whole other article, ask theatre friends and/or Google if you aren’t sure). The song should ideally be in the style of the show, so do a pop song for a pop show, a classical song for a classical show, etc. Be sure to have sheet music, or a karaoke track, or whatever else they might say you need to supply. Plan out an audition outfit (again, a whole other article), and make sure it’s not too specific and you can move in it.

 

What do I do once I get to auditions?

Show up a little early so you can fill out any forms, turn in sheet music, whatever you need to do before you get up and sing. As you fill out the form, be honest about any conflicts so they can make a rehearsal schedule. If they ask if you want a specific role, put it down. Since you’re just starting out, I highly suggest putting that you’d be willing to play any role and that you’ll take an ensemble role. Ensemble is a great place to start, and directors often like to see that you’re not just here for the one role you specifically auditioned for. After you turn in the form, you’ll usually be singing. You might sing in front of just those casting, you might be in a small group, or you might be singing in front of everybody. If you have an accompanist (pianist), let them know what sections you’re singing and the tempo you’d like to sing it at. You might be asked to introduce yourself, usually by giving your name and the song you’re singing. As you sing, try to act while you perform your song. If it’s a happy song, show that you’re happy, if it’s sad, be sad-- you get the idea. Once everyone has sung, you may be asked to dance a little, or to do “cold reads” from the script (perform a scene with little to no practice time). Take whatever they throw at you and give it 100% effort. You might get called back, you might not, but make sure they’ve seen that you can do a lot with whatever you’re given.

 

What happens after auditions?

The cast can be announced in a number of ways. You might receive a phone call or an email, there could be a website, a Facebook page might be set up, etc. A lot of groups may ask that you respond to accept or decline a role (I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be prompt in responding).You’ll likely receive a date for a read-through and a rehearsal schedule, which you’ll want to put in your calendar as soon as possible. You’ll receive either a separate script and score or a full libretto. You’ll want to check and ask if you can use highlighters or if it’s pencils only for marking it. GUARD YOUR SCRIPT. Bare minimum, write your name in the front cover so people know it’s yours. Script thieves are everywhere, and your name in it means you can get it back.

 

What should I do in rehearsals?

Up until tech week, rehearsals will be just about learning and perfecting the material. You may or may not be rehearsing in the space you’re performing in. You’ll take this time to learn music, dances, and any lines or blocking you’ll need to know. Show up to rehearsal on-time, and don’t be afraid to ask questions! Your fellow actors, your director, and especially your stage manager are all there to help and support you. Write notes for blocking (movement while acting), choreography, and music so you don’t forget them. If someone asks a question about costumes, shoes, hair, or makeup, listen for the answer (and I’ll tell you more later).

 

What’s this “tech week” people talk about all the time?

“Tech week” is the last week of rehearsals before the show opens. It’s dedicated to incorporating the technical elements into the show, hence “tech week.” You’ll be in the performance space, and these will be the longest rehearsals you’ll ever experience. You’ll likely be called earlier and kept later. In addition to technical elements (lights, sound effects, microphones, etcetera), your show’s band/orchestra will appear (if there is one) and you’ll be in costume with hair and makeup done. These rehearsals are meant to perfect runs of the show so it’s ready by opening. You’ll likely get notes each night, and you’ll want to write these down and implement them. Everybody will be stressed and tired, so make sure to take care of yourself and have patience. Maybe give something nice to your stage manager so they don’t go insane.

 

You keep talking about costumes, hair, and makeup. What do I need to do for that?

Each theatre group is different. You might be supplying your own costume, or they might have them for you. You should learn what you need to supply from the production team, but don’t be afraid to ask. As a good base, it might be wise to invest in character shoes if you play lady roles, black dress shoes if you play man roles, and jazz shoes either way. Each production has different visions, but these shoes usually work no matter what time period you’re in. As for hair, you might be doing your own or someone might be doing it for you. This depends on the group. If you are doing it yourself, ask for what it should look like for the show. Wigs might be involved depending on the show.

 

Now, makeup. I know some groups will have other people doing your makeup, but I’ve always done it for myself. If you are doing it yourself, everybody has their own preferences for how they do it. Some shows will require bright colors or wrinkles or something drastic, but a lot of shows are fairly simple. My advice: Your face, but bigger. I recommend foundation to even out your skin, concealer for under your eyes, blush to give you some color, and eyeliner & mascara to bring your eyes out. If you’re an eyeshadow and lipstick person, use nude browns on the eyes and pick a lipstick that looks natural (unless this is a time period where red was the color of choice). Apply a little more of everything than you would for every day. The whole purpose of stage makeup is to ensure your face looks good from the back row of the theatre. Ask your castmates for help if you’re not sure how much is too much.

 

What should I expect from performances?

Things will go right, and things will go wrong. The whole atmosphere of a show is different when there is an audience there with you. The important thing is to not add things once the show opens. You’ll be tempted to push for laughs or try something new, but don’t do it. Make sure you’re paying attention to the show so you don’t miss your cues. Enjoy the applause and feed off the audience to keep your energy up. There is nothing more thrilling than performing for a great audience. You’ll likely get to greet the audience after curtain call, so take that opportunity to thank everyone who came to see you.

 

What happens when the show ends?

A lot of groups need help striking the show after, so be sure to stay and help with that. There will likely be a cast party that you should definitely attend. You’ll probably be sad, and your time will feel a lot emptier without rehearsals in there. But that just means you can look forward to the next show! Not many people can stop after just one.

 

I hope you’ll find your home in the theatre. It has been the best family I could ever ask for, and it really will fill you with a joy that nothing else can create. Welcome home! We're glad to have you!

The Bloggers Vote on the 73rd Tony Awards

Collective Blog; Put together by Darren Wildeman and Erica Jurus

2019 Blogger Tony Awards

 For the 2019 Tony Awards, the All Things Broadway blog team voted on each award based on who we think should win each award. And these are the results of said voting.

Tony_Award_Medallion.jpg


Best Orchestrations Nominees

Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown

Simon Hale, Tootsie

Larry Hochman, Kiss Me, Kate

Daniel Kluger, Oklahoma!

Harold Wheeler, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

 

And the bloggers voted: Michael Chorney and Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown


Best Choreography Nominees

Camille A. Brown, Choir Boy

Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me, Kate

Denis Jones, Tootsie

David Neumann, Hadestown

Sergio Trujillo, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

 

And the bloggers voted: Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me, Kate

 

Sound Design of a Musical Nominees

Peter Hylenski, King Kong

Peter Hylenski, Beetlejuice

Steve Canyon Kennedy, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Drew Levy, Oklahoma!

Neil Steinberg and Jessica Paz, Hadestown

 

And the bloggers voted: Peter Hylenski, King Kong

 

Sound Design of a Play Nominees

Adam Cork, Ink

Scott Lehrer, To Kill a Mockingbird

Fitz Patton, Choir Boy

Nick Powell, The Ferryman

Eric Sleichim, Network

 

And the bloggers voted: Eric Sleichim, Network

 

Lighting Design of a Musical Nominees

Kevin Adams, The Cher Show

Howell Blinkley, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Bradley King, Hadestown

Peter Mumford, King Kong

Kenneth Posner and Peter Nigrini, Beetlejuice

 

And the bloggers voted: Kenneth Posner and Peter Nigrini, Beetlejuice

 

Lighting Design of a Play Nominees

Neil Austin, Ink

Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Peter Mumford, The Ferryman

Jennifer Tipton, To Kill a Mockingbird

Jan Versweyveld and Tal Yarden, Network

 

And the bloggers voted: Jennifer Tipton, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Best Costume Design of a Musical Nominees

Michael Krass, Hadestown

William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice

William Ivey Long, Tootsie

Bob Mackie, The Cher Show

Paul Tazewell, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

 

And the bloggers voted: William Ivey Long, Beetlejuice

 

Best Costume Design of a Play Nominees

Rob Howell, The Ferryman

Toni-Leslie James, Bernhardt/Hamlet

Clint Ramos, Torch Song

Ann Roth, To Kill a Mockingbird

Ann Roth, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Adronicus

 

And the bloggers voted: Ann Roth, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Best Scenic Design of a Musical Nominees

Robert Brill and Peter Nagrini, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Peter England, King Kong

Rachel Hauck, Hadestown

Laura Jellineck, Oklahoma!

David Korins, Beetlejuice

 

And the bloggers voted: David Korins, Beetlejuice

 

Best Scenic Design of a Play Nominees

Miriam Buether, To Kill a Mockingbird

Bunny Christie, Ink

Rob Howell, The Ferryman

Santo Loquasto, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Jan Versweyveld, Network

 

And the bloggers voted: Rob Howell, The Ferryman

 

Best Featured Actress in a Musical Nominees

Lilli Cooper, Tootsie

Amber Gray, Hadestown

Sarah Stiles, Tootsie

Ali Stroker, Oklahoma!

Mary Testa, Oklahoma!

 

And the bloggers voted: Amber Gray, Hadestown

 

Best Featured Actress in a Play Nominees

Fionnula Flanagan, The Ferryman

Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird

Kristine Nielsen, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Julie White, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

Ruth Wilson, King Lear

 

And the bloggers voted: Celia Keenan-Bolger, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Best Featured Actor in a Play Nominees

Bertie Carvel, Ink

Robin de Jesus, The Boys in the Band

Gideon Glick, To Kill a Mockingbird

Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This

Benjamin Walker, All My Sons

 

And the bloggers voted: Brandon Uranowitz, Burn This

 

Best Featured Actor in a Musical Nominees

Andre De Shields, Hadestown

Andy Grotelueschen, Tootsie

Patrick Page, Hadestown

Jeremy Pope, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

Ephraim Sykes, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations

 

And the bloggers voted: Patrick Page, Hadestown

 

Best Leading Actress in a Play Nominees

Annette Bening, All My Sons

Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman

Elaine May, The Waverly Gallery

Janet McTeer, Bernhardt/Hamlet

Laurie Metcalf, Hillary and Clinton

Heide Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me

 

And the bloggers voted: Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman

 

Best Leading Actress in a Musical Nominees

Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show

Caitlin Kinnunen, The Prom

Beth Leavel, The Prom

Eva Noblezada, Hadestown

Kelli O’Hara, Kiss Me, Kate

 

And the bloggers voted: Stephanie J. Block, The Cher Show

 

 

Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play Nominees

Paddy Considine, The Ferryman

Bryan Cranston, Network

Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird

Adam Driver, Burn This

Jeremy Pope, Choir Boy

 

And the bloggers voted: Jeff Daniels, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical Nominees

Brooks Ashmanskas, The Prom

Derrick Baskin, Ain't Too Proud -- The Life and Times of the Temptations

Alex Brightman, Beetlejuice

Damon Daunno, Rogers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!

Santino Fontana, Tootsie

 

And the bloggers voted: Santino Fontana, Tootsie

 

Best Direction of a Play Nominees
Rupert Goold, Ink
Sam Mendes, The Ferryman
Bartlett Sher, To Kill a Mockingbird
Ivo van Hove, Network
George C. Wolfe, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

 

And the bloggers voted: Bartlett Sher, To Kill a Mockingbird

Best Direction of a Musical Nominees
Rachel Chavkin, Hadestown
Scott Ellis, Tootsie
Daniel Fish, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!
Des McAnuff, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Casey Nicholaw, The Prom

 

And the bloggers voted: Casey Nicholaw, The Prom

 

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre Nominees
Be More Chill (Music & Lyrics: Joe Iconis)
Beetlejuice (Music & Lyrics: Eddie Perfect)
Hadestown (Music & Lyrics: Anaïs Mitchell)
The Prom (Music: Matthew Sklar, Lyrics: Chad Beguelin)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Music: Adam Guettel)
Tootsie (Music & Lyrics: David Yazbek)

 

And the bloggers voted: Hadestown (Music & Lyrics: Anaïs Mitchell)

Best Book of a Musical Nominees
Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations (Dominique Morisseau)
Beetlejuice (Scott Brown & Anthony King)
Hadestown (Anaïs Mitchell)
The Prom (Bob Martin & Chad Beguelin)
Tootsie (Robert Horn)

 

And the bloggers voted: The Prom (Bob Martin & Chad Beguelin)

 

Best Revival of a Play Nominees
Arthur Miller’s All My Sons
The Boys in the Band
Burn This
Torch Song
The Waverly Gallery

 

And the bloggers voted: Torch Song

 

Best Revival of a Musical Nominees
Kiss Me, Kate
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

 

And the bloggers voted: Kiss Me, Kate

 

 

Best Play Nominees
Choir Boy
The Ferryman
Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Ink
What the Constitution Means to Me

 

And the bloggers voted: The Ferryman

 

Best Musical Nominees
Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations
Beetlejuice
Hadestown
The Prom
Tootsie

 

And the bloggers voted: Hadestown

 

 Final Tally for wins by show
Hadestown: 5
To Kill a Mockingbird: 5
The Ferryman: 3
Beetlejuice: 3
Kiss Me, Kate: 2
The Prom: 2
The Cher Show: 1
Tootsie: 1
Burn This: 1
King Kong: 1
Network: 1


Thanks for reading, let us know your opinion on the vote, and don’t forget to watch the Tony Awards on June 8 at 8/7c on CBS, hosted by James Corden, to find out the winners.

Where Are the Teenagers?

Rachel Hoffman

In the past few years, there has been a surge of new musicals whose stories are centered around teenagers. From shows with serious themes, like Dear Evan Hansen, to shows that are more extravagant and fun, like Mean Girls, to shows that fall into both categories, like The Prom, the teens seem to be taking over Broadway.

But despite the slew of shows set in high schools and with high-school-aged characters, there are very few actors in these shows who are actually the age of the characters they are portraying. While there are some exceptions, it is very difficult to find a professional show about high schoolers with a cast the same age as its characters.

Of course, there are many valid reasons why it is difficult to cast teenagers in Broadway shows. The most obvious reason is that kids under the age of 18 are still considered minors in New York, and are often still attending school. When children and teens are employed as performers in New York, their employers are responsible for ensuring that the child’s work schedule, tutoring schedule, and break time comply with the state’s child labor laws. (For curious minds, these regulations can be found at https://www.labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/wp/LS559.pdf.) And aside from the legalistic side of it, it is true that older actors and actresses are often just better choices for the roles. It is much easier to find a performer in their 20s with several Broadway credits and professional training than a teenager with the same qualifications.


Obviously, there are some shows that require children to be cast. Shows like Matilda, School of Rock, and The Sound of Music, among many others, simply cannot be performed in a convincing way without child performers. It is the characters in their late teens that are most often filled with actors and actresses that are older than their onstage counterparts.

While there have been many recent shows set in high school, the casting of adults in teen roles isn’t a new trend. Musicals about high schoolers have been around for decades. From West Side Story, to Grease, to Bring It On, Broadway musicals set in high school have always had casts full of 20- and 30-year-olds.

But at what point does an actor stop being believable as a teenager? Perhaps the most drastic recent example of casting older actors as teenagers is the current Broadway production of Be More Chill. With a cast made almost entirely of actors in their late 20s and early 30s, much of the cast is almost twice as old as the characters they are playing. Living in the midwest, I haven’t had the luxury of seeing this show- or any recent show, for that matter- on Broadway, so I feel that I can’t make a judgement on whether the actors truly appear to be in high school in the show, or if they appear to be adults portraying high schoolers. But I do wonder, what made the casting directors decide to cast multiple actors in their 30s instead of actors closer to the age of the show’s characters? What must be done to make a 30-year-old believable as a high school student? Does anything have to be done at all? Would they have still cast the same actors if they were 35? 40? (But I digress… perhaps this should be a discussion for a later blog.)

Of course, an obvious exception to this trend is Andrew Barth Feldman, who just made his Broadway debut in January as Evan Hansen at just 16 years old. This was a huge shift from the opening of the show three years ago, in which Ben Platt, at 23, was the youngest member of the original cast. Since Platt, several actors in their 20s have played the role of Evan. But now, for five of the eight performances each week, Evan’s shoes are filled by someone who has been walking the halls of a high school himself for the past few years. (Feldman isn’t playing the demanding role full time in order to allow time for training and to build up his stamina. Michael Lee Brown, an actor in his 20s, plays the role for the remaining three shows each week.)

Recently, a friend of mine took a trip to New York City, and was able to see Feldman as Evan. When I asked her about it, she could not stop raving about how amazing he was, and how wonderful it was to see a teenaged role filled by a teenager. When I searched for reviews online, these same remarks kept popping up. Many of the critics talked about how seeing a teen play this role made the experience all the more real and raw. And just last week, a new review came out in The New York Times, claiming that, “At many moments he [Feldman] surprised me, despite my repeat viewings, with new melismas and spins on lyrics that sharpened the story to a slightly different point.”

This got me wondering, should Broadway be giving teens more of a chance? Of course, there is no shortage of incredibly talented adults searching for work in the theatre world. But I also don’t believe that there is a lack of talented teenagers who are capable of impressing audiences on a Broadway stage. After all, there have also been shows on Broadway that required children to hold very large roles (Tuck Everlasting, Finding Neverland, The Secret Garden). Why, then, should there not be a larger number of teenagers playing teen roles?

Whatever the reason, teen actors and actresses will most likely just have to wait their turn to be in the Broadway spotlight. While seeing a teen play a leading role on Broadway is no doubt inspiring, there is no indication that the age of the actors are correlated to the success of the show. And after all, the goal will always be to sell tickets and fill seats. Teenage actors who wish to wish to attend any of Broadway’s most famous high schools may just have to wait until they’re older to do so.



If Hamilton Never Was: Revisiting the 2016 Tonys

Darren Wildeman

Often dubbed “The HamilTonys”, the 2016 Tony Awards were dominated by Lin Manuel Miranda’s smash hit Hamilton winning 11 Tonys, just one short of tying the record set by The Producers. And it is still one of the hottest shows on Broadway. However, what if there was a universe where Hamilton was too innovative and too different for its time? What if Hamilton didn’t make it past the out-of-town try outs and faded into obscurity? What would the 2016 Tonys season have looked like? In this article I will be breaking down who may have been nominated in a world without Hamilton and who would have won in its place.

Lin-Manuel_Miranda,_Phillipa_Soo,_Leslie_Odom,_Jr.,_and_Christopher_Jackson,_White_House,_March_2016 (1).jpg



Best Orchestration Nominees

August Eriksmoen, Bright Star

Larry Hochman, She Loves Me

Darryl Walters, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Sara Bareilles, Waitress

In this scenario you are going to see Waitress come up a lot. And I don’t think anyone will argue against the orchestrations of this show. Sara Bareilles wrote a beautiful score and a nomination for Orchestrations is more than deserved.

 

And the winner is: August Eriksmoen, Bright Star

I think people forget just how good the music in Bright Star is. 2016 was an incredibly strong season. Bright Star has a beautiful blue grass feel to it and the orchestrations go flawlessly with its music. Bright Star may have gotten a bit lost in 2016, but I feel like this would be a nice nod towards what the show did and was.

 

Best Choreography Nominees

Savion Glover, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Hofesh Shechter, Fiddler on the Roof

Randy Skinner, Dames at Sea

Sergio Trujillo, On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan

Casey Nicholaw, Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting isn’t remembered for much these days. Unfortunately, its score underwhelmed many and the book wasn’t that highly regarded either. However, one thing it did have is absolutely beautiful choreography. Some people considered it a snub that it wasn’t nominated in the first place, so I think it falls in here pretty naturally.

And the winner is: Casey Nicholaw, Tuck Everlasting

This choreography choice is incredibly intense. But Tuck Everlasting has a style and beauty about it in the actors’ movements. Also, while people don’t like to admit it, politics certainly plays a role in Tony voting and Nicholaw as highly regarded as he is up to this point has never won a Tony for his choreo. So, between choreo being a strength of Tuck and Nicholaw not having won in this category yet, that he becomes the automatic favourite here.

 

Best Direction of a Musical Nominees

Michael Arden, Spring Awakening

John Doyle, The Color Purple

Scott Ells, She Loves Me

George C. Wolfe, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Bartlett Sher, Fiddler on the Roof

 

There were a lot of incredibly well directed shows this season. However, the revival of Fiddler on the Roof breathed new life into a timeless show. If it was possible to make that show anymore stunning Bartlett Sher found a way to do it. I think a nomination here is incredibly well deserved.

 

And the winner is: Michael Arden, Spring Awakening

I think in this scenario Michael Arden winning is a no brainer. A fantastic director who has yet to see his Tony who did a beautiful job with the Deaf West Spring Awakening. A well-deserved Tony for a gorgeous job on what is a very heavy musical.

 

Best Lighting Design of a Musical Nominees

Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Ben Stanton, Spring Awakening

Justin Townsend, American Psycho

Japhy Weiderman, Bright Star

 

There isn’t an obvious choice here for what show would be nominated. However, Bright Star did have some very beautiful lighting effects that gave a really nice setting for the show.

And the winner is: Justin Townsend, American Psycho

American Psycho isn’t remembered for much these days although it did get some love. However, one thing it did do well is incredibly intense lighting design. The visual effects are incredible and are certainly worthy of a Tony.

 

Best Costume Design of a Musical Nominees

Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting

Jeff Mahshie, She Loves Me

Ann Roth, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Ann Hould-Ward, The Color Purple

 

And the winner is: Gregg Barnes, Tuck Everlasting

Again, the visual beauty of Tuck Everlasting. As I said when they won choreography, there isn’t necessarily a lot that gets loved in terms of music or book. However, it is a very visually appealing show.

 

Best Scenic Design of a Musical Nominees

Es Devlin and Finn Ross, American Psycho

Santo Loquasto, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

David Rockwell, She Loves Me

Walt Spangler, Tuck Everlasting

 

Once again, Tuck Everlasting comes through to pick up another design nomination. Not much I can say here that I haven’t said already. This musical is simply stunning to look at.

Since She Loves Me won we will not be changing the winner of this category.

 

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical Nominees

Danielle Brooks, The Color Purple

Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me

Jennifer Simard, Disaster!

Adrienne Warren, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Keala Settle, Waitress

 

And the winner is: Jane Krakowski, She Loves Me

Jane gave a terrific performance in this production of She Loves Me. Everyone else here is amazing but that production was so incredible and Jane played her role so well this is well deserved

 

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical Nominees

Brandon Victor Dixon, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Christopher Fitzgerald, Waitress

Michael Mulheren, Bright Star

Steven Skybell, Fiddler on the Roof

Billy Porter, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

 

And the winner is: Billy Porter, Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

This is a very tough category all of a sudden. A lot of fantastic men here. This was incredibly difficult to decide. However, Billy absolutely gave it all in Shuffle Along. And I think his performance really stood out.

 

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Nominees

Laura Benati, She Loves Me

Carmen Cusack, Bright Star

Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple

Jessie Mueller, Waitress

Ana Villafañe, On Your Feet

 

On Your Feet is another musical that had a somewhat lukewarm reception. However, playing Gloria Estefan is not an easy task and Villafañe gives a great performance.

Since Cynthia Erivo won this award that year, we will not be changing the result here.

 

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical Nominees

Alex Brightman, School of Rock

Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof

Zachary Levi, She Loves Me

Benjamin Walker, American Psycho

 

Note: For this category we are rolling with four nominees instead of five. All the male nominees from a major show have been nominated and any of the remaining shows did not get enough love from critics or voters in other categories that I feel comfortable adding a fifth nominee.

Benjamin Walker gave a fantastic performance as a serial killer. Some considered it a snub in the first place that he wasn’t nominated so he’s the obvious choice here.

 

And the winner is: Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof

Burstein as Tevye breathed all sorts of new life into the musical. Tevye is not an easy role to play in the first place and Burstein did it flawlessly. In a very tough leading male category, Burstein was the obvious choice here.

 

Best Original Score Nominees

Bright Star, Music by Steve Martin and Eddie Brickell, Lryics by Eddie Brickell

School of Rock, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webver, Lyrics by Glenn Slater

Waitress, Music and Lyrics by Sara Bareilles

American Psycho, Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik

 

The now fourth nominee was a tough one. There isn’t an obvious show that should step in. However, Duncan Sheik wrote a fantastic and very unique score that I think in this scenario would grab the attention of the voters.

 

And the winner is: Waitress, Music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles

Bareilles’s score for Waitress is nothing short of gorgeous. She wrote a very catchy score with songs that hit all the right notes. I think she hands down wins best score in this scenario.

 

Best Book of a Musical

Bright Star, Steve Martin

School of Rock, Julian Fellowes

Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed, George C. Wolfe

Waitress, Jessie Nelson

 

Waitress being the next big musical of the season that wasn’t nominated I think giving it the nod for book here is a pretty no brainer. However, that being said the book of Waitress is quite a bit weaker than the overall score.

And the winner is: Bright Star, Steve Martin

 

I think Bright Star may have had a chance to win score. However, it also has a very strong book which is something Waitress didn’t have as much. So it makes more sense that Waitress would win where it’s really strong, and Bright Star would win book. And Bright Star definitely deserves this. The story does not have that many flaws in it and is overall a very well put together story

 

Best Musical

Bright Star

School of Rock

Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed

Waitress

American Psycho

 

I don’t think it’s too insane for American Psycho to be the next show up in this scenario. It already got acknowledged for its unique score and it collected a decent amount of nominations elsewhere. It would only have an outside chance of winning but to be the next show nominated I think is quite reasonable.

 

And the winner is: Waitress

Despite the shortcomings I mentioned earlier, I think Waitress is what would win. It seems like after Hamilton, Waitress was the baby of both fans and critics alike and this would lead to it getting the favour for Best Musical.

 

Well that’s the Tonys without Hamilton. Before I totally wrap this up though I’m going to crunch some numbers and breakdown which shows did well in an absence of Hamilton.

 

Hamilton article.png



Please note that a couple of shows won awards and were nominated for awards pertaining to Revivals so there are some awards here won not seen in the actual article. As you can see this season becomes very spread out if Hamilton was not a thing.

 

American Psycho, Tuck Everlasting, and Waitress become the big winners. Each one picks up 3 more nominations and each picked up some wins as well. Bright Star also gets its recognition for awards.

 

Let me know what you think of these nominations and awards? Do you agree or do you think some shows should have won more?

To the Unrecognized Theatre Workers

SarahLynn Mangan
A thank you letter to all those not recognized or hardly recognized for their work in the theater. Many times, the people who get the least thanks are those who do the most.

To the costumers to dressers to set builders to painters, to the stage managers and their tech-operators and their running crews, thank you. To the casting directors to the choreographers to the dance captains, thank you. To the laundromats to the wigmakers to the curtain cleaners, thank you. To the conductor to the pit to the assistant music directors, thank you. To the people who came up with the original vision of the production to the ones who decided to take a chance on it, thank you. To the marketers to the poster making companies to the web design fanatics, thank you. To the ushers to the program folders to the kiosk tenders, thank you. To the house manager to the production manager to the assistant stage manager to the interns to the box office manager, thank you.

 Thank you for creating theatre and always being willing to sacrifice your time, your energy and frankly your sanity to put on a wonderful show that is reflected through the actors on stage.

 Actors are consistently receiving flowers, food, and praise for their performances and connection with the audience, but I believe that the most praise should go to you people and even all the people I didn’t list. The actors would not be receiving this praise if it was not for you.

 I know you know this and you say it in your own head before the curtain opens or whenever someone gets hissy at you asking “Well what did you even do for this show?” but I am going to recognize it anyway, here in writing.

 For many of you on this list, your talents could be used in many different areas in the world, but you choose to spend them on something that can truly make an impact on either the teenagers seeing their first show or the elders seeing their last. Without you willing to spend a fraction of your talent in this industry, actors would not have anything to work for.

 Thank you for putting up with stuck up actors and people who really have no idea what your job entails but still being willing to continue to work with them.

 From the bottom of my heart, Thank you.

 

 Now for those actors who don’t always say thank you to the costumer every time they repair your costume or your dresser who helps you during the fastest quick change of your life, start thanking them. For those who don’t come in early to see what they can help with during tech week whether that being painting the set, sewing some hems, or even folding some programs, start doing that. For those who might have some extra cash to order an underappreciated crew member some coffee or a donut, start doing that. Start taking the time to really appreciate the people who help your job run smoothly, cause without them, you would be naked in an empty theatre with no lights on except for the ghost light.

Finally, for those audience members who get grumpy at the house manager or ushers when you arrive late and can’t be seated, take a deep breath and relish in the fact that you have made it to a theatre where all your troubles are supposed to melt away. For those who never shake the hands of the orchestra or stay until the end of the exit music, start doing so because they tend to do more work than the actors on stage, and applause for them after the exit music. For those who stare at the crew when you see them for a quick second in confusion for wearing all black, ask them what they did for the show and congratulate them on a smooth show. For those who aren’t patient with the box office start doing so and maybe they can figure out how the dates on your tickets were actually for a week ago instead of tonight.

 If everyone took the time to thank the people we don’t think of when we think of theatre production, everyone would have a grander time at the most amazing place in the world, the stage.

Be More Chill Has Too Much Chill

Darren Wildeman

One of the shows that has been under the most scrutiny since it announced a Broadway run is the musical Be More Chill with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis and a book by Joe Tracz. It has a science fiction theme and has a very rabid fan base. However, it has also faced plenty of scrutiny over if the show is appropriate for Broadway, and people not being sure how it is going to do. Many people hope it succeeds; however, it also has a very large number of detractors. I’m not going to be talking about the plot and music of Be More Chill as much. Rather, I’m going to analyze the opinions surrounding this show, how this show will do, and why or why not it might be fit for Broadway. Instead of exploring the show itself I’m going to explore how polarizing this show is, why that might be, and why in general a lot of people see it as a potential flop when so many others think it deserves Best Musical at the Tony Awards this spring. This article isn’t meant to trash Be More Chill or to burn it to the ground. If it can be successful in some capacity the more power to it, and the people working on it. However, there are some major concerns for this show and its life in my opinion.


The first thing to acknowledge is that Be More Chill does have a large fan base. To deny that there aren’t fans and try to say no one likes it is 100% promoting a false dichotomy. However, part of the issue lies with who this fan base is. Be More Chill’s fan base is largely comprised of teenagers, and younger people all around the country. This is fine, in fact a musical that appeals to the younger fans is kind of neat. However, this is also what is hurting Be More Chill. Unlike Dear Evan Hansen (more on the comparisons between these shows later) or Hamilton, Be More Chill almost only appeals to the younger audience at times. And for the most part, young people aren’t the people who can afford to go to the theatre, and obviously the vast majority of America does not live in or near New York City, so the show is not able to be viewed by the many other fans it does have. That’s the problem with appealing to a somewhat limited demographic. There aren’t as many people. And this limited demographic also appeals to my next point.

For some reason Be More Chill gets constant comparisons to Dear Evan Hansen. However, that is an awful comparison in my opinion. The two shows aren’t even in the same area code. Dear Evan Hansen deals with mental illness, and the impact our words and actions can have. Dear Evan Hansen is a much more maturely written musical. I’m not saying that to crap on Be More Chill but I don’t think it can be argued. It’s teaches lessons, and has very well written adult characters. In short, it has more things that would appeal to a more mature audience. The story is also SO different that I don’t think you can even make a fair comparison to Be More Chill. The reason I bring this up is because people will point to Dear Evan Hansen’s success at both the Tony’s and commercially. But these shows are so far different that this isn’t a fair comparison at all.

If we’re going to compare Be More Chill to anything it would probably be Little Shop of Horrors because of the sci-fi camp vibe. However, Little Shop of Horrors while being campy and cheesy at times has the spectacle that some theatre goers look for, while still having characters and moments that will still resonate with a broader audience. Be More Chill, while it does some things well it just doesn’t have that mass appeal. It’s a niche show that while appeals to some, doesn’t have the writing nor the qualities that the larger audience looks for.

Some would look at the minimalistic staging, some might even call it intimate. They might argue that the minimalistic staging works because shows like Once, and last year’s big Tony winner The Band’s Visit have the same minimal staging properties. However, I don’t think I need to tell you the difference here. Those shows have much more mature writing and the staging works with the story in totally different ways. Minimal staging does not immediately mean it’s a really well-done intimate show.

In fact, in many cases it’s much better for an intimate show to stay Off-Broadway. Shows like Once and The Band’s Visit are exceptions. That’s not to say that every small show with a niche audience appeal should stay Off-Broadway; however, Off-Broadway theatres have the type of atmosphere about them where these types of shows tend to do much better. So many shows that are Off-Broadway have the vibe about them that Be More Chill has; and unless a show has superior writing or a quality about it that puts it over the top a show is generally much better suited to stay Off-Broadway. Honestly going to Broadway can absolutely swallow a show like Be More Chill whole and it will get lost.

Also, if the show flops on Broadway that could kill its chance of coming back and having success in an Off-Broadway theatre. Not a lot of shows make the transition back Off-Broadway if it goes to Broadway.  There is a chance that it could have success as a touring show so it could be more accessible to its younger fan base. However, for a show like this going to Broadway is a huge risk and I don’t really see it paying off. A move like this could literally kill the show outright.

One could even argue that Be More Chill could have gone for some spectacle and been successful. The issue is that would greatly change the vision of the show but again I go back to Little Shop of Horrors. That is not a small stage show, it does have some stripped-down qualities but it also has some spectacle. And spectacle can cover a lot of miscues in writing. I don’t think Wicked is an awful musical; however, it certainly has writing flaws that are covered up by the stage presence of the show. Bringing some of that stage presence could have possibly helped Be More Chill in its move to Broadway.

However, it is obvious that Be More Chill wanted to go with the small musical/intimate vibe. However, it just doesn’t have the audience appeal or extreme high-quality writing or story telling that is going to bring it over the edge like the smaller shows such as Once or The Band’s Visit. All in all, I think Be More Chill has bitten off more than it can chew, and I’d be concerned about the ultimate survival of this show in any capacity once it is done on Broadway.

My (Not so Good) Thoughts on Community Theatre

Jyothi Cross

I was born and raised on community theatre, it helped me grow from a tiny 8-year-old with too much energy and no acting skill to what I am now. I will be forever grateful to the gifts of confidence, improvisation and voice projection (it’s never not useful) that community theatre has given me but over the past year I have come to understand the dark underbelly of community theatre and, in some ways, have come to resent it.

This week I directed my first show, a production of Peter Pan for a school competition, with a cast of mostly 13-year-olds and it rocked. The process was hell, but the show itself – which involved Tinkerbell flying in on a fishing rod to the Mission Impossible theme song and around 20 lighting cues – rocked. Nonetheless, one quote stood out just as we were preparing for our second out of three shows that day:

‘Let’s go show them that theatre kids can be cool!’

It’s a nice sentiment, but a sad one too. These 14 kids worked their butts off to produce a 30-minute show in 6 weeks, giving up most of their lunchtimes and spending however much on costumes and make-up. My co-director and I fell out 5 times over the course of the show and had both lost our voices by the end of it. Every single member of our production gave their soul to that show and all the audience would think of them was that these kids were ‘Theatre Nerds’ who weren’t worth their time. This is the first thing I hate about community theatre, the fact that this audience who would spend their weekends idolizing actors like Zac Efron or Zendaya don’t recognize how amazing these people are to even get up on the stage. Community theatre actors don’t want praise or fame, they act because that’s what they enjoy but are considered leagues below the football team who spend 80 minutes faking injuries and kicking a ball – Theatre Kids are cooler than them any day.

My second reason for hating community theatre? It all stems for the downfall of my local theatre group – my lifeline if you will. I had spent 4 years in a cold Church hall watching numbers slowly decrease until eventually, last November, the group kicked the bucket. I’m not afraid to admit that I cried pretty much all that evening, with my childhood gone there was nowhere to go and in a little town like mine, there were no other opportunities. Community theatre is addictive; it draws you in and then, unless you’re lucky, it doesn’t go anywhere. We get addicted to the lights, to the characters, to the rush of adrenaline when you step on stage in front of an audience even if that audience is just your mum and dad. Unfortunately, this addiction isn’t sustainable. 

Of course, my perspective is from one town in the UK and I know in bigger areas or bigger countries like America the opportunities are more common and there is more space for development but, nonetheless, the facts stand. Unless you are the best of the best community theatre doesn’t go anywhere, instead, it simply becomes a fun story you’ll tell your kids one day. However, people get bored of seeing the same crazy show again and again. They get bored of doing the same workshops again and again. In the moment it feels great but from the outside? People start looking for unique and varied theatre which often leads them to larger theatre companies and slowly but surely your local theatre group dies out. 

Do I sound bitter? Perhaps. I hate community theatre because I love it so much. I love the family, the characters, the training, and I hate it because no-one ever seems to realize how cool a person that makes you. Does that make sense? Put your thoughts in the comments!

 

Rodgers and Hammerstein? No Thanks.

By Grumpy Olde Guy® (a/k/a Michael Kape)

When I was three years old (yes, I really was—once in 1957), my mother, the late, great Frumah Sara(h), bought me a box of 45 rpm records filled with Rodgers and Hammerstein for Children. And I played those 45s until they wore out—even the songs from Pipe Dream and Me and Juliet and Allegro. No Flower Drum Song or The Sound of Music; those had not been written yet.

Got older, wiser, and learned a thing or two along the way. Played the Professor in South Pacific in my junior (and last) year in high school. Did my senior thesis in college about the impact of Oklahoma! on American musical theatre. Actually saw productions of Allegro, Me and Juliet, and (*gasp*) Pipe Dream. Cringed through the stage version of The Sound of Music (a/k/a Life With Father in Austria). Read the biographies of both men as well as Musical Stages, Richard Rodgers’ autobiography. Was even accused of reporting a wayward production of Oklahoma! to the R&H Library (it was indeed wayward—setting the show in a rehearsal hall on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed; don’t ask but we at Atlanta Theatre Weekly carried the review in 1997).

No one can say what I’m about to discuss comes from a place of ignorance.

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* * *

I was maybe 10 years old; the television remake of Cinderella was airing (with Lesley Ann Warren in the title role). She starts singing, “In my own little corner,” and I remark to my family (gathered around our giant 24-inch RCA color television at the time), “That sounds just like all the other Rodgers and Hammerstein songs!” Same exact music. Same cadence. My 10-year-old self had called it. It’s pretty damn sad when a 10-year-old can see through the miasma and deception now known as Rodgers and Hammerstein.

* * *

The first (and only) time I saw The Sound of Music onstage, I couldn’t help but notice something very odd about the song, Do Re Mi. It’s a song filled with English language puns (“Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray a drop of golden sun”). So far so good. But here’s the rub. The characters singing it (seven children and their governess) only speak German. They don’t know from English language puns. Just one of the many things I dislike in Austrian Life With Father.

* * *

Richard Rodgers wrote incredible scores with Lorenz Hart. Some stunning work. American Songbook classics. Rodgers wrote the music first, and Hart then supplied the (often-brilliant) lyrics. In Musical Stages, Rodgers spend two-thirds of the book on his collaboration with Hart. It was about the art of creating Broadway musicals and how much it thrilled him. Then he gets to his time with Hammerstein. Just a few scant chapters. It was a business deal. And he got bored after Carousel, which might be why all his subsequent shows with Hammerstein began to sound the same (even the melody to Me and Juliet’s No Other Love, arguably the best song in the musical, was actually a cutout from an earlier effort, just as The King and I’s Something Wonderful sounds so much like Love Look Away from Flower Drum Song). Is it any wonder my 10-year-old self could immediately identify an R&H song? After all, the songs for the “slightly-older-but-wiser” alto they wrote all sounded the same from show to show to show.

* * *

Ever notice how the best music Richard Rodgers wrote had no lyrics? I mean Carousel Waltz. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue Ballet. Victory at Sea scoring. March of the Siamese Children. But when he did his own lyrics in No Strings, they were pretty lame (except the opening number, The Sweetest Sounds).

* * *

There is the matter of R&H racism. Before you start citing South Pacific, let me go further back and cite Oklahoma! Even in my college thesis I called out the racist approach Hammerstein used with the character of Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler. I’m not Iranian, but I found the characterization to be extremely offensive and, yes, racist. It was meant to be funny; it was not. Racism is never funny.

Likewise, examine the casting of African American actress Juanita Hall. First in South Pacific, because her skin was darker than others in the show, she played Bloody Mary, a Tonkinese proprietress (and pimp—more about that shortly). A few years later, R&H cast her again, this time as an Asian American in Flower Drum Song. Really? What about the casting of Jewish actor Larry Blyden as Sammy Fong? Another case of “Oh just give them slant-eyed makeup and the audience will think they’re Chinese.” Yeah, not racist at all (bullshit).

Bloody Mary is a character in the short story Fo’ Dollar, one of the pieces in Tales of the South Pacific R&H used as the basis for their show. She also pimps out her 14-year-old daughter Liat to Lt. Joe Cable. Liat’s age is never discussed in South Pacific, but it sure looks like pedophilia to me (not unlike one of the storylines in ALW’s Aspects of Love—but I digress). Can we say this is just oh-so-distasteful? I knew we could.

I even question the pseudo-liberal bent of South Pacific (You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught). I’ve checked and anti-Tonkinese discrimination is not now nor then running rampant. Just me, I guess.

* * *

When the last revival of Carousel (the one R&H show I can stand) was playing, a lot of discussion arose (finally) about the matter of spousal (and child) abuse. Billy strikes Julie. He strikes Louise, his daughter. He’s a sexist pig (Soliloquy) who would much prefer having a song to a daughter. The problem here is simple—what worked in 1945 doesn’t work 70+ years later. It definitely makes an audience uncomfortable—and not in the intended way.

* * *

For 62 of my 65 years, I’ve had Rodgers and Hammerstein drummed into my head. I want them out. Gone. Vamoosed. If I could reach out to my 10-year-old self, I’d say, “Kid, you’re smarter than you realize.” (I’d say smarter than you look, but I was a bespectacled geek back then and I looked pretty damn smart.)

I know people will start raining venom on my head because I just don’t like the work done by these two. “It’s classic American musical theatre,” they’ll cry. It might be classic but it ain’t good. “But I love [fill in the name of any R&H show]. How can you not like it?” After all this time, believe me, it’s very easy.


Race and Representation in Theatre: The Most Commonly Questioned Shows

Zachary Harris
On the heels of MLK Day, we start to look a bit closer at some shows that continuously come up in the race debate in our group. Before diving into this I wanted to share an opinion of mine that will be a helpful segue into this dialogue. I will also note that these are all my opinions as a Theatre/African American Studies graduate and I would love a dialogue!

 In many cases these conversations on race, representation, and what that means turns into a very black and white dialogue. It is very important to understand that more people are in the line of fire when it comes to underrepresentation than just black people or African Americans that audition for shows. However, I do truly believe that the idea behind telling authentic stories does then too extend to not having the broad stroke of people of color playing roles they shouldn’t because they are of color or having roles that in actuality should be played by white people. How often does a script actually call for a white person specifically? Not that often, however in an effort to to authentically tell these stories (given circumstances aside) these are all things that we must keep in mind when tackling plays or musicals of any type.

If I’ve missed shows that you think should be discussed, please let me know and down the line I can make another one of these! Before beginning I’m going to define two words that I’ll be tossing around a ton:

 Classism: prejudice against or in favor of people belonging to a particular social class.

 Colorism: Discrimination based on skin color, also known as colorism or shadeism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

 

Evita

 But Zach, why this show? Recently news broke that a company in the UK was searching for the first ever black Eva Perón. The show does not (to my knowledge) specifically discuss the characters race, which in many cases then becomes the standard of “should this be cast regardless of the color of the actor”, however in the case Eva Perón we hit a cross road - for those of you who don’t know Eva Perón was a real person. You can google her, there are books on her, and she did indeed exist (http://bfy.tw/H0vr for those of you curious). As you can tell, she wasn’t black. Now certainly she wasn’t white in the American sense either, because being from Argentina makes her South American or Hispanic. Historically speaking Eva Perón has been played by a white person, most notably by Elaine Paige, Patti LuPone, and Madonna (in the movie!) so what does that then mean? For me personally that then means that we should be casting Hispanic women in the famed role, along with the other roles in the show. However the show isn’t ABOUT race, but more so about the woman. This gives me pause, however I do truly believe that when picking shows to produce we have to be conscious of these decisions/what they then mean. In the same way many argue that Eva Perón is not black, she certainly wasn’t white either. There are HUNDREDS of shows, why pick this one?

 

Now I will note that my opinions on this show do differ than my strong opinions on similar casting decisions discussed later, and very plainly the reason is because the show doesn’t revolve around her race. While again I personally believe the show should be authentically cast, this rubs me less in the wrong way than other shows on this list. By no means does this imply cast the show with people ONLY from Argentina due to a lot of what I had mentioned in the previous article, however this is an opportunity to create a platform in musical theatre that (outside of works by Lin-Manuel Miranda) don’t really exist for Hispanic/Latinx people.

 

Aida

 Oh boy! Based on the opera by Giuseppe Verdi, Elton John and Tim Rice wrote a musical depicting this love story between Aida (played by the impeccable Heather Headley) and Radames (played by Adam Pascal!). The focus of this show are the Egyptians and the Nubians, who are longtime foes, and how that comes to head. The show in many cases is about love transcending time and culture, and honestly in many ways this musical is incredible (though, not my favorite). The question I kept asking myself is how Adam Pascal (or any of the Egyptians for that matter) look anything like Egyptians? Well, they don’t. Now this is an interesting thing because in many cases people who are from that region can really range in appearance. However, the stark difference between Nubians (all played by black people) and the Egyptians (you guessed it! White!) is really staggering to me and I think in this case really unnecessary. Why not cast the show with black people? What does stark difference do? In my mind the casting of white people as Egyptians is to create a stark contrast between the cultures and the people by connecting it to modern day race issues… I think the show and the text speak for itself when creating those differences (along with whatever dramaturgy would then be available to them). Is the concern that audiences can’t tell difference between the people onstage? Can people really not tell the difference between black people on stage? Sass aside, a show in Africa should probably have people who could generally look like the people in the story. Though this show differs from Evita in the sense that these people aren’t real historical figures, we should quite definitely be aware as to where the show takes place.

 Again, as artists and creators we are continuously at the helm of a platform, and a lot of the disparity in casting can be fixed with a bit of awareness. Aida, while not in the same spectrum as a historical piece like Evita should be looked at carefully. Why would we cast this show with someone other than people who look like Africans?

 Once on This Island

 I’ll begin this section with this - if you missed the revival you certainly missed some incredible theatre. Now, this show centers on the idealisms of colorism, colonization, and classism. The skin differentiation between Daniel and Ti Moune are incredibly important to the story and to these characters. To quickly quote a line from the song The Sad Tale of the Beauxhommes “They despise us for our blackness, It reminds them, Where they’re from”. For those of you who don’t know the show the Beauxhommes are people who descend from France AND the French Antilles. They long for France and French culture, and the peasants are not able to access the same sort of luxury. Daniel is a Beauxhomme and Ti Moune is a peasant, the colorism and classism presented in the show really creates the obstacles that Ti Moune face within this show. White people playing Ti Moune in the original version of the script makes no sense. The whole script is about their struggle and classism created by their blackness, so doing it other ways is really missing the point. In the case of Daniel, he’s supposed to be biracial as the story says, however casting Daniel as white (which Isaac Powell is not, before you go there) really is missing some of the most important parts of the story. Here we should consider a fairer skinned black man before erasing the anchor to the island that the curse of the Beauxhommes gives to Daniel/his people.

 In the alternative version of the script (that apparently exists, however it’s not advertised on the MTI website), they remove all mentions of race and focus on the idealism of class… So problem solved? Not really. The classism here is all great and dandy, there are a ton of love stories that focus JUST on classism. However dramaturgically speaking, have we forgot the show still takes place on an island in the French Antilles? The island would still be inhabited by black people, and the sanitation of the materials inherent blackness is also missing the point. Again, there are LOTS of shows about classism, so why pick one that you don’t have the diversity for?

 

Hairspray

 This one always baffled me as to why this becomes such an argument. The show takes place in the 60s and uses a faux Civil Rights Movement as a platform the integrate a TV show. The obvious points to race being instances such as “though the night is as black as my skin”, “only see the color of my face”, and “the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice”. With this in mind, people always get up in arms about Hairspray when an all-white cast comes along. Now I will note, though I don’t have the copy of this that came in my scripts any longer, that the creators of the show state that disallowing anyone of any color to play any of the roles is racist and the suspension of disbelief should be used when watching (wrongfully) alternatively cast productions of Hairspray. I wholehearted believe that this is incorrect in this instance, and just people a particular majority has had most opportunities to do what they would like to does not then mean that everything needs to be universal. This story isn’t about some sort of universal grief, but of a white girl who gets fat shamed and black people who are facing segregation.

 Many note that their productions have used shirts, hairstyles, and (god forbid) blackface to get around such an issue, which I find odd. Obviously with these adjustments everyone involved then is realizing that they lack the people of color to do the show, so they do what they can to do what they can to fill the gap in a modern minstrel-adjacent way. What I then must bring up is that black and African American people can’t peel their skin off, and have to live with the harsh reality of what society gives to them on a day to day BECAUSE of their skin color. No t-shirt or other concept can really encapsulate what the symbolism of the black body on stage can stand for.

 

Miss Saigon (and other shows involving Asian heritage/culture)

 Admittedly, this is a show I knew far less about than the others mentioned. However first I would like to send you to when it comes to the (now corrected) yellowfacing history of the production.

 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/17/theater/the-battle-of-miss-saigon-yellowface-art-and-opportunity.html

 Outside of this, let’s talk about Asians/Asian Americans in musical theatre. From The Mikado to Miss Saigon there is a history of yellowface when it comes to shows based in Asian culture. I’m taking this moment to then also note that in many of these cases these shows revolve around a white person either saving or teaching or conquering the people of this area. Outside of the Jonathan Pryce scandal of sorts, Miss Saigon revolves around Chris (an American soldier there for the Vietnam War) and Kim (a prostitute). It has in many instances been protested against for being racist/sexist, and to quote Sarah Bellamy, co-artistic director of the Penumbra Theatre, dedicated to African American theater, states "It gets a lot easier to wrap your head around all of this for folks of color when we remember a key point: this work is not for us. It is by, for, and about white people, using people of color, tropical climes, pseudo-cultural costumes and props, violence, tragedy, and the commodification of people and cultures, to reinforce and re-inscribe a narrative about white supremacy and authority."

 Returning specifically to the point of the importance of casting, though I can discuss the potential problems within works written by white people for Asian Americans, we need to continuously remember that these stories are usually deeply entrenched in a portrayal of their culture and it’s incredibly important to give Asians and Asian Americans that opportunity to tell those that are previously written. Instances like The Mikado (which is historically done in yellowface) don’t have a space in an ever evolving society where authentic storytelling (read: not denying people of color to tell their own stories) should be at the forefront of every conversation. These dialogues are SO important, and in many cases the default is black or white… However the representational struggle of minorities is MUCH more than just that.

 

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Hamilton

 When creating works you get to set the rules for your world, in many examples things like race and gender get turned on their head to make a point (such as in Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9, which I highly suggest) … So why does Hamilton get people all in a rut? Obviously when looking at history books, portraits, etc. of the founding fathers none of them are of color, so why here? Lin-Manuel Miranda through his hip-hop storytelling and the standard created in casting by having everyone (outside of a few ensemble members and King George) being of color to show that they (like the immigrants of yesteryear) can “get the job done”. The link between the present and past creates a really strong image that is a huge part of what makes Hamilton great in my opinion. This then means that any use of Hamilton to backup the reasoning behind not casting people of color in other things is less than supported. Miranda created a unique world that then has no bearing on other things, and any fundamental understanding of the material would bring you to a similar conclusion. The artistic foundation with Hamilton is built is deeply rooted in that idealism, which isn’t present in other shows, is why George Washington can be played by someone like Christopher Jackson. That then doesn’t mean Motormouth Maybelle can be white, because George Washington certainly wasn’t black. While I understand that then means a huge group of people may never get the opportunity to be in a production of what many consider the soon to be (if it isn’t already) biggest hit in the history of Broadway that doesn’t then mean spaces that should be for people of color should disappear.

 For every Hamilton there are hundreds of shows that don’t have a single person of color in them, for every Lion King there are hundreds of shows that are long running that are just now having their first black principles, and while I understand the strife that may be caused by this reality the use of Hamilton to attempt to whitewash other works is very specifically working against what the story is meant to be about.

 Overall, I think theatre has come a long way, however we are chasing ourselves in circles many times in the comment sections of these debates. These dialogues are incredibly important and until we as individuals look at the privilege we each have (or don’t have) we can never really make headway in this department. Theatre is supposed to be accessible to everyone, however cultural appropriation and accessibility are not one in the same. In the same way I would never want to tell a story that wasn’t mine (or like mine, outside of the given circumstances) I hope that we continue to move forward as a community when going about casting. Race in theatre continues to be a hot topic, however we need to continue to work towards listening to our fellow artists on the matter instead of figuratively (or literally, who knows) smashing our heads against a wall. This series is a particular perspective, not the only perspective, and I will be more than to continue the dialogue in the comment section.

 

 

 

An Interview with Upcoming Writer and Composer Joseph Purdue

Darren Wildeman

Joseph Prudue is a writer and composer for two musicals. One of which has been out for awhile now, Unfolding Tales, and another one in production which is Legends of Arahma. For the blog I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph and getting some more information about both of these shows and the writing process. His first show, Unfolding Tales, has a cast recording available wherever you get your cast recordings and I strongly recommend giving it a listen. It was quite interesting to get a glimpse at the creative process of these two shows and to hopefully be able to follow their journey from still being written and smaller scale productions to full blown produced musicals. I wish Joseph the best of luck with both of these shows and I hope you enjoy getting a look at these musicals and the process for Joe.

Darren Wildeman: Your first musical Unfolding Tales, based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, has been out for a few years now and it even has a cast recording available on Spotify and other platforms. What has the reception been so far from the people who have seen it?

Joseph Prudue: The reception of the show has been incredible and I'm very honoured to receive so many compliments each month about Unfolding Tales. The thing that surprises me the most is the emotional connection it has with an audience. You can feel it in the room when we perform, there's something gripping about certain songs and certain characters the audience gets attached to.

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 DW: As stated previously this musical is based on the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, what inspired you to write a musical about him and why Tolkien specifically? There are many other authors and other stories that could be told in a musical so what stood out to you about him?

JP: Well first of all I'm a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's work. I think the size of the world he created, the history of it all, the different languages and cultures he created, it's truly remarkable and possibly unequalled in terms of creation. Some of the languages he created were as complete as any we use in day to day life. He was an such an intelligent and inspiring man.
So when I decided I wanted to write a musical, my first thought was 'what am I truly passionate about?' I've always loved The Lord Of Things, but obviously that musical had already been created, so I decide to look into the life of J.R.R. Tolkien and found a very emotional, powerful story, about friendship and courage. The definitive moment for me happened when I was reading the biography by Humphrey Carpenter and found the letter G.B. Smith wrote Tolkien before he died. The whole letter is beautiful, but the line that captured me was, 'may you say the things I have tried to say, long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot.' From that moment, I knew I wanted to write about this story.

 DW: When you are doing a biographical musical on a person, how do you decide what aspects of it to cover? He wrote other works as well as LOTR, was good friends with CS Lewis and other authors, fought in both wars, was very involved politically, had a wife and 4 kids among many other things. In such a full life how do you decide what goes into a musical?

JP: That's a good question and one which I still think about, as I'm not sure I've created the final version yet. For me, you have to look at the pivotal and most emotional moments in Tolkien's life. In school he formed a group called the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, the T.C.B.S. They had great ambition and shared dreams of how they can change the world. Tragically, they were torn apart by The Great War – two of Tolkien's best friends were killed. So, the journey of this friendship became the heart of the show. Also because The Lord Of The Rings is full of similar friendships and the emphasis on courage against overwhelming odds resembled the bravery of those who fought in the war.
So much of Tolkien's story could've been in the musical, but you can't have too many characters in a two hour show or there's not enough time to really know them or emotionally connect to their story. However, I know Tolkien did have a very strong relationship with his mother and so I wanted to include her. I felt a resemblance between her and Galadriel, with the love of nature and so on. I feel the device worked very well and captured the audience. She's one of my favourite characters.

 DW: It’s fairly well noted that Tolkien was a very devout Christian. He also had many talks with his friends including CS Lewis about his Christianity. When writing a biographical musical, how much do you let that person’s personal beliefs influence the material of the show?

JP: I decided early on not to go into much detail there, because like answered in the previous questions, there's just not enough time to cover everything in one story. However, you get a sense of it in terms of his morals, the things he believed in and the relationship with Father Francis, who became the guardian of Tolkien and his younger brother after their mother died. Tolkien loved the stories of Christ and took inspiration from them. But the scenes with C.S. Lewis, I steered more to their discussions about creative writing, myths and legends.

DW: Where and when can audiences expect to see Unfolding Tales in the upcoming months and years? And what are your hopes for it and the next steps going forward?

JP: I'm not too sure at this stage. Of course, I would love to scale up and find a producer who is passionate about the show and has a vision to take it further. But I think the structure may need further edits before that's possible. I'm hoping to do a performance in 2019. No details yet though.

DW: Your next project is an original fantasy musical Legends of Arahma which you have been working on for just over a year. Where are you at in this musical and what are your hopes and prospects going forward for productions?

JP: At the moment I'm finishing the concept album. All the singers have been recorded and now I'm mixing the songs, with hope to release the album within the next few months. Then we'll be looking to do either a concert or rehearsed reading of the show. We're very excited to see what the response is from the concept album. I'm very proud of what we've created. I do believe it's something new and I can't compare the music to any other theatrical piece. Musically, it's more film score inspired, as I have a huge passion for that genre of music. I actually think Legends of Arahma would make a wonderful movie as well as a musical.

 DW: How many people do you have working on Legends of Arahma and do you prefer to work on a musical independently or with a team of people? What are the advantages and challenges to both situations?

JP: At the moment it's pretty much me and the book writer, Dries Janssens. We've had some good help from Nathan Deane with graphics, but apart from that it's only us and of course our fantastic cast. Stephen Schwartz did have a great impact on the show in terms of lyrics. He met with me and taught me a lot about the craft, how the lyrics should match the rise and fall of the melody, where to draw inspiration from, how to make a lyric sound natural and many other things. After that evening, we virtually re-wrote the entire show lyrically.

DW: Legends of Arhama is totally original. What are the challenges of writing something totally original as opposed to having someone’s life or a source to work with?

JP: Great question, and to be honest it's a blessing and a curse. First of all, writing a completely original story is risky, because producers are unsure whether the show will have audience or not. Even if they love the music and the story, can they convince investors to come onboard and also sell it to the public?
However, the rewards of writing an original story and seeing it grow are very, very exciting. We all know the feeling of seeing something new and magical, which lights our imagination, something that we can't wait to tell our friends about. It's the reason any of us became artists, because we wanted to create something new – that's what an artist is. Someone who follows formulas to make money is not an artist in my eyes.
We need original stories right now, I can't stress that enough. We're seeing so many stories in both film and theatre being remade over and over and I find it very sad. It's actually stopping new writers from getting inspired and it takes excitement out of the world. We need original work to inspire the next generation of writers.

I hope audiences can listen to Legends of Arahma and get inspired – make them wanted to create something of their own, the way my idols did for me. Ultimately, that's the dream.

DW: Without giving away more than you’re comfortable what is the premise of Legends of Arahma?

JP: The thing I like about it, is there's more than one story thread. It's partly about a man called Copernicus who finds out who he truly is in another world. He becomes more than he ever thought he could be and saves a beautiful green world from the destruction of the enemy. The importance of protecting nature is a big part of the show and a message we wish to share, as well union between the different people of the world.
However, it was the conflicted villain, Zoran, who drew me to the piece. I had a great image of her when reading the book and I thought it was the perfect character for me to bring to life musically. Zoran has depth and has been sung beautifully by Jodie Steele on our concept album.

DW: When you write music whether it’s Unfolding Tales or Legends of Arahma where do you draw your inspiration from both musically or in storytelling? Which composers, authors or other writers have left an influence on you?

JP: For me, inspiration can come from many different places. Usually, something in the story has an impact on me and instantly I get images of what the scene should look and feel like. I then try and capture that feel, or emotion with music. But sometimes an interesting character is enough to draw inspiration from. Sometimes it's the description of the landscape which paints a picture and then I know what instruments will capture that.
As for my influences, everyone who's worked with me knows I'm a massive Alan Menken fan. His music is infectious, it's dramatic, emotional, full of life and incredibly memorable, it lives inside the audience long after they've heard it. I noticed early on that it was his melodies above anything that made him superior to many writers and I've always kept that in mind. So when I write song, I always start with the melody. If I can make you feel something and paint a beautiful picture with just chords and melody, no words, then I know I'm on the path. Then when we add the words, considering they're good and match the music, the song will bloom.
I'm also a huge admirer of Stephen Schwartz, for his work on Prince of Egypt, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame and of course, Wicked. I love the work of Stiles and Drewe. I also take influence from the great film composers, James Horner, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Howard Shore, James Newton Howard and many more. Once again, their music does magical things without words and further demonstrates the importance of the melody. Then there's J.R.R. Tolkien, who inspires me as an overall creator and perfectionist.

 DW: Joseph, I want to thank you for your time with me and agreeing to do an interview with us for the ATB blog. Is there anything else people should know about either musical or yourself as a writer and composer?

JP: Thank you. Yes, the Legends of Arahma concept album will be available as a free download within the next few months, so please take a listen and share it with your friends. Also, to any other creative artists out there, if you have an idea, put in the work and bring it to life. No dream career is easy to achieve, but if you're keen to learn, you're prepared to work hard, then great things will come of it. Be sure to keep going – you'll only get better and better.

"I've Had Enough of Just Passing By Life": How One Musical Changed Our Lives

Kelly Ostazeski

Fans of musicals often can cite one musical that changed their lives, whether it's the show that inspired a performer to pursue theatre as a career, the first show we ever saw that got us into theatre, or in this case, how a musical can bring us out of darkness and back to the light.

In this case, it's the musical Hello, Dolly, and how the recent revival impacted so many lives. No matter what actress the audience saw play Dolly, they left the Shubert Theatre transformed. I've interviewed several fans of the show who felt that this one show somehow impacted their lives. Most of the interviewees, including myself, saw actress Donna Murphy as Dolly, but a few here also saw Bernadette Peters and Bette Midler.

Before we proceed, there's something that makes the show even more powerful: both Murphy and Peters share a connection with their character, their own personal loss of their husbands. This makes certain moments, like Dolly's monologues to Ephraim to let her go and let her move on, even more emotional. People often think of Hello, Dolly as a simple, fun musical comedy - and it is, but like so many classics, there is so much depth and emotion at its core. This show is about a woman who wants to move on from the loss of her husband. Yes, she's a matchmaker and she meddles in the lives of the other characters, but while she improves the lives of those around her and helps them, she also needs to find her own happiness again.

Without Dolly Levi, I wouldn't be a writer for this blog. Because of this show, I've found a goal again, a drive again, and I felt my heart coming alive again. Yes, these are lyrics to the famous and inspirational song "Before the Parade Passes By". These are the lyrics that changed me. Before I saw the show (a second time, and it happened to be Murphy's last performance, on January 7, 2018 - a year ago, exactly. Yes, I planned this article for the anniversary of the life-affirming, changing performance).

I knew I was depressed. I'd given up on my career goals and I was settling for a job I had no passion in. I had just lost my grandmother and several other sources of inspiration in early 2016. I felt stuck for two years and filled the void with anything I could distract myself with. There was always a looming feeling of emptiness. I had no reason to carry on. When I saw the show a first time, I loved it, but I guess I wasn't ready to let go. Perhaps the universe was trying to get me to open my heart again.

Something about the energy of the audience, the joy of the show, the optimism of Dolly Levi and her personal journey to "rejoining the human race", and the masterful, emotional performance of Donna Murphy - something woke up inside my heart that day a year ago. I literally "felt my heart coming alive again" as I sat in the theatre. I was changed. Not only could I feel the love of theatre and performing radiating from Murphy on stage, and from the cast members to this insanely talented Broadway legend while she worked her magic, I could feel the audience giving it back.

Maybe it was partially Murphy herself who brought about this change - because I went to BroadwayCon later that month and saw her on a panel about audition stories and the panelists all emphasized our uniqueness, and suddenly I felt like I didn't have to compare myself to others. Suddenly I felt I could start trying again. That's when I realized maybe there's hope for me. Maybe I am enough, maybe I am worth it. Something was missing from my life and I think it was theatre. I saw more Broadway shows last year than since I felt myself sinking futher into depression. Musical theatre completes me - and Hello, Dolly, this panel at BroadwayCon, and meeting and connecting with Murphy and experiencing her kindness - these all helped me realize that. Murphy has told me to be good to myself and to keep doing what I love, and I'm trying. Now I want to take on the world. I want to live life to the fullest and do better, be better, be the best version of me. I want to live those dreams and work toward them.

I started taking voice lessons again. I saw more theatre. I went to New York City (which I've always cited as my happy place, where dreams come true, where I've met most of my inspirations) a lot. I made plans to move there soon, and to no longer take no for an answer, to keep trying. Because really, "I've had enough of just passing by life". Who wants to watch life just pass by and miss out on so much because you don't feel like you're good enough? And just because anxiety and depression tells you you're not worth it? That's not living. That's what I got out of Hello, Dolly.

Murphy returned to the role of Dolly in July and August of 2018, and I got to see her (and talk to her at the stage door) several more times, now with this awareness of what she and Dolly mean to me, and I got to take several friends with me, as well as make several friends through the show. Those were wonderful days I will always remember, and moments I will always cherish.

I wanted to show how we've all been changed by one musical. We've all struggled, we've all been inspired by this magical show. These friends, the people I interviewed for this article, we've all been changed by this extraordinary show.

Before the Parade...

I look back on 2018 with fondness because of all the memories attached to Hello, Dolly, and I honestly don't know where I'd be now if I hadn't found this show when I did. I don't know what I would want out of life; I don't know if I'd have any dreams, or what would keep be going.

Life before Dolly, for all of us, wasn't as bright.

Robbyne had also just lost her grandmother and that loss made her lose hope in her dreams. "I was in a very dark place,"she wrote. Zach was also in a dark place: "I felt trapped, like my life was on autopilot and I was stuck in a rut. Work life was far from perfect, I felt isolated, and was struggling with depression for the first time in many years."

Allie went to see the show with her mother, and noticed a connection between Dolly and her mom. "[My mom] is an incredibly strong inspiring woman who has sacrificed so much for her family. At the time she was in the process of divorcing my dad who had been abusive and terrible to her for my entire life. My mom reached a point where she realized that her marriage was not healthy for her or her children and left her husband of twenty-five years."

Another fan, Kaity, had also experienced loss. "I was floundering. I didn’t know what to do with my life. My dad had passed away about 2.5 years prior, and I felt guilty for feeling joy when I didn’t have him in my life."

Then we all bought a ticket to see this classic, joyous Broadway musical, and were all transported to Yonkers and New York City for a journey to happiness.

In the Theatre

I asked each fan what specifically about the show and the performances that moved us, and so many of the answers were similar, but it was also really interesting to see the differences. Something different captured each of our hearts. The most commonly moving moment was also my favorite, "Before the Parade Passes By". At Murphy's last performance in August, I remember sobbing at intermission after this song, because it was so emotional and so powerful, and I was there sharing it one last time with so many of the friends I'd made through this show.

Rebecca, who also saw Donna Murphy, wrote, "I especially loved her approach to ‘Parade’, the way she went through a whole range of different emotions was very touching and made everybody in the audience connect with the character and her story... I also was very worried that she would start crying during ‘Parade’ in her first performance (I certainly did) because it was so incredibly charged with emotion."

Allie, who saw Bernadette Peters, said, "As we were watching the show...I had a moment of realization during the song 'Before the Parade Passes By' of just how similar my mom was to Dolly. They were both strong talented women who, for different reasons, were coming out of dark periods in their lives. And even though they were older they still had fight left, they still had the ability to get life back into their lives!"

"Dolly reclaiming her heart and her joy from years of grief and sorrow, and I needed that so much," Kaity wrote. "I needed to see Dolly’s heart coming alive again, reclaiming her life before the parade passed her by. I needed the joy of the technicolor Sunday Clothes, of the pastel wonderland of 'Dancing'. I needed it all. I needed this wonderful woman more than I ever knew." She also mentioned an incredible line near the end of the show, as spoken by Cornelius Hackl: "The world is full of wonderful things!" It's amazing how a simple line like that can make you smile and make you see the world a little differently.

Zach, who was lucky enough to see all three Dollys in the Broadway production, mentioned the famous "Oak Leaf Monologue" and Murphy's characterization. "[Donna Murphy] connected with this role in a way I have only rarely seen from any actor or actress in any kind of role, and it was moving from start to finish. Her interpretation of Dolly was one of a woman ready to reclaim her life, to stop living from day-to-day and really savor the feeling of living in the moment and celebrating the big and small things that make life worth living." The Oak Leaf Monologue happens right before "Before the Parade Passes By" and is a monologue to Dolly's late husband Ephraim. Dolly wants to let go of the pain, "rejoin the human race", and carry on. "She claims her own agency in that moment," Zach wrote, "and reclaims her life after years of grieving and trying to avoid moving on out of fear of losing her beloved Ephraim forever."

Robbyne, who also saw all three of the Dollys, was moved by a scene between Dolly and Horace toward the end of the show. Dolly asks Horace, "Am I a somebody?" Robbyne says, "As someone who’s always been very insecure and felt invisible, it always spoke deeply to my heart, and it made me feel like maybe I could matter too."

Others connected to different aspects of Dolly and the performances. Lorraine, who saw Bernadette Peters, wrote, "I love Dolly for the fact the lead is outspoken in a time where women should be meek, that she stands her ground, shows how to make an entrance and how to outwit many a man."

Life After the Parade

Theatre can change our lives even in the smallest way. Rebecca wrote that every Tuesday she thought of Donna Dolly Tuesdays, since in her original run, Murphy was the alternate and performed only on Tuesdays (and during Bette Midler's scheduled vacations).

"I left the theatre feeling more open and joyful than I had felt in years," Kaity said. She also wrote, "Hello, Dolly has connected to me to amazing people, both fans of the show and performers in the show. The show itself gave me a place of refuge while it was running, a safe place to just forget my troubles and be immersed in Dolly’s world for 2.5 hours. I’m a completely different person now than I was before I saw Hello, Dolly, and I’m so much better for it."

"After seeing Hello, Dolly and meeting [Donna Murphy] at the stage door," Christian wrote, "I felt that I could be happy more often. I also felt that I could live my life once more. Dealing with certain things in my private life, that show taught me that I can begin my life again. I can un-pause and continue the chapter I was meant to live and to finish. That we all deserve to be happy and to have seconds chances in all areas in our lives."

Robbyne wrote, "Donna Murphy has taught me so much about the integrity and humility I aspire to have, and the way I hope to make people feel through kindness and caring...She is just captivating to watch. Her authenticity and talent just radiate the entire time she is performing...Seeing her strength, and her ability to keep going through the pain [of loss] and to continue her acting career, made me want to try again in my own. I had given up hope when I lost my Grama. [Donna Murphy] was the one to reignite my acting goals and dreams."

Zach wrote, "I'm a more positive and optimistic person for having experienced this show...Like Dolly, I found a drive to rejoin the human race, to stop wasting away in loneliness, and to seize the day and the opportunities I see right in front of me...Highs are a bit higher now, and the lows last a little less of a long time."  He also said, "Hello, Dolly is one of those shows that from the first note of the overture to the last note of the curtain call is about being positive, about facing challenges, about meeting them head on, about never taking no for an answer when it comes to our own happiness and the happiness of others."

So Long, Dearie

Hello, Dolly closed on Broadway in August 2018, and is now on tour across the country starring Betty Buckley as Dolly. If you have a chance, and especially if you need a little inspiration, go see it. Any show closing on Broadway is sad for its fans, but fans of Dolly are keeping the love and inspiration taught by this wonderful show alive in our hearts. It's not always easy to keep going, after having such a light in our lives. I know I try to carry the messages of Dolly and the journey of this character with me, and always will.

Allie said, "This show and what it helped me learn about my mom helped me see that it really doesn’t matter where you are in life, it’s never too late to grab life by the horns and make a difference."

Zach described his life after Dolly as more positive. "I notice the joy around me more often, and humming the tunes from the show helps me get through some of the tougher times life has thrown at me."

"I am forever changed by the beauty and the heart of this show," Robbyne wrote, "It is filled with memories that I will treasure deeply for the rest of my life. From special moments during the many shows, to my personal interactions and conversations with [Donna Murphy], to meeting some of my dearest friends because of Hello, Dolly. I am permanently changed in some amazing ways."

"I try to live my life how Dolly (and [Donna Murphy]) would want me to, with joy and heart. I take leaps, and I try not to hide behind a cloud of grief. I know my dad would want me to be happy, and that’s what I try to do, always," Kaity said. "The first time I met Donna Murphy at stage door, I told her that I felt true joy for the first time since my dad passed in that theatre. I told her that I felt so guilty feeling that joy previously, but I felt like he would want this for me."

Be positive. Feel joy. Feel the freedom to be happy after a loss or a tragedy in our lives. Never take no for an answer and move forward. Hold your head up high. Live life to the fullest. Keep dancing. Feel you heart coming alive again.

These are just a few things we found through Hello, Dolly. As Dolly sings in the title song, "It's so nice to be back home where I belong."

Carol_Channing_-_1964.jpg



Special Thanks

Thanks to all those I interviewed for the article: Robbyne, Zach, Kaity, Rebecca, Allie, Lorraine, Christian. You all deserved your stories to be told. I am sorry I had to condense so many of your wonderful, eloquent, emotional answers. We were all moved by Dolly, so inspired by the magic inside the Shubert Theatre. Let that magic live on forever. To all the friends I found through Dolly, this is for all of us. Happy Dolly-versary to those of you who were there that night.

Special thanks to everyone involved in the 2017-2018 Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly, especially those mentioned in interview answers: Donna Murphy (especially), Bernadette Peters, Bette Midler, Kate Baldwin, Gavin Creel, David Hyde Pierce, Victor Garber, Santino Fontana, Taylor Trensch, and Charlie Stemp.

"Dolly'll never go away again."

Thank you.

Slim Pickings From the Cobwebs of my Mind

Michael Kape

My first Broadway musical—well, the one in which I was a sapient, walking, talking, singing, dancing human-type person (I know some people question the “human” part)—was What Makes Sammy Run? I was ever-so-close to turning 10. My mother had bought the tickets months in advance—Steve Lawrence! Sally Ann Howe! Robert Alda! How could we miss? Except it was Christmas week. Steve was on vacation with Eydie. Sally Ann had flown to England for the holiday. Robert Alda was still there, looking properly disheveled and grumpy. Even then, the budding critic in me was crying to get out. The show was meh and not very memorable. (I did encounter Steve’s standby many years later when we were both in the same theatre at the same time in Palm Springs, where I now reside in retirement).



My first Broadway musical—really—was the original production of The King and I. Of course, I don’t remember much about it. Mother and I were seated together; she had just become aware of my existence that day because, well, the rabbit died, according to Cousin Eleanor’s OB/GYN (Eleanor was pregnant with my cousin Cheryl, who is three months my senior; Eleanor had urged Mother to go with her because she had been feeling poorly and speculated she had morning sickness). “I hope it’s a boy!” cried the OB/GYN to Mother across a crowded waiting room. It was. “Good times and bum time, I’ve seen them all and my dear, I’m still here.” Of course, Mother, being an obsessed Rodgers and Hammerstein fan (don’t get me started, please) chose to celebrate by taking in The King and I. I kicked along to “Shall We Dance”. She hadn’t bothered to inform my father (425 miles away back in Buffalo) of the turn of events yet; she had a show to see. Mother definitely had priorities (plus she was angry at my father).

The second Broadway show I saw (first row mezzanine, 46th Street Theatre) was the one I sat through the next day on my birthday: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. That time, the budding director (as opposed to the critic) took over. “Did you see how the sets coordinated so perfectly with the costumes? The actor playing Finch [by then the late, great Ronnie Welsh, who was also half of a super-couple on As the World Turns] was amazing. The actress playing Rosemary [19-year-old Michelle Lee, actually] was so terrific. Those songs [Frank Loesser]. That orchestra. The choreography [Bob Fosse] I want to do that when I grow up.”

(To be fair, I was already smitten with the stage having played the title character in The Gingerbread Boy at age six—but I digress.)

I sit here typing this blog on the 65th anniversary of my natal day—65 years of being obsessed with doing, watching, and writing about theatre. That’s a couple of thousand times I’ve sat in a darkened room (okay, a few times in bright sunlight when I was seeing or doing shows outdoors), tens of thousands of hours of my life I have spent doing the most worthwhile thing I know. I’ve acted, directed, produced, designed (sets, lighting, costumes), run props, been a dramaturg, been a playwright (The New York Times gave me a good review—does that count?), had a lighting board explode in my face and catch fire (without missing a lighting cue or burning myself). And in that time, I’ve been through some amazing theatrical experiences.

I sat through nearly nine hours of the RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby. It felt like an hour, tops. To see a full Dickens novel come alive on stage in so creative and brilliant a fashion was one of those great theatre moments; it can’t be captured on film.

Not knowing what was going to happen, I was at the opening night of Sunday in the Park with George. At the end of Act I (spoiler alert), when the painting we know so well comes together as a living tableaux, there was this huge, audible gasp from the audience at the Booth. Then dead silence. Then a deafening ovation as we collectively realized and understood what we had just seen.

Dear Evan Hansen. Come from Away. Brilliant. Perfect. ‘Nuff said.

As I recently noted elsewhere, I think She Loves Me is one of those rare properties—the perfect musical, where not a line, not a lyric, not a note of music is out of place. I’ve seen it many times, and I still am left sobbing at the end. C’mon. Unless you have no heart (and I’ve certainly been accused of this, but this belies it), you have to be crying at the end of this gem.

In Spring 1965, my parents took us to spend Passover in the Catskills (if you’ve been binging on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon—which I recommend—you know what those resorts were like). And every second-rate act performing at night was singing some song (out of context) from Fiddler on the Roof. After hearing “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” and “If I Were a Rich Man” sung badly night after night, just about the last show I wanted to see was Fiddler. Again, Mother prevailed, and we trudged our way to the Imperial Theatre to see it. I was so wrong. Fiddler is a magical show, it really is. I’m seeing it once again for the umpteenth time in May.

One fine fall afternoon in 1971, I was with my college chums Sally Beddow (if anyone knows where she is now, let me know) and Cleo (Pam) Gurenson (who introduced me to future Tony winner Reid Birney; she’s also MIA). We would regularly go into New York City to see if we could find student discounts at any of the Broadway houses. Someone directed us to the Winter Garden. We got $5 student rush tickets (last row orchestra) for the original production of Follies. Um, uh, well, yeah, it kind of made a lasting impression on us. (Cleo and I had gone a few weeks before to see Company as well; one year later she accompanied me to my first Broadway reviewing gig, the disastrous Hurry Harry.) Sally, Cleo and I also went to see Pippin for my 18th birthday—with the original cast, including Irene Ryan (who sadly passed away a few months later).

Spring semester 1973, our stage management teacher took us to see Irene, followed by a backstage tour. He had helped design the backstage at the newly-opened Minskoff Theatre, so he had lots to show us. While we were there, he took us to meet Debbie Reynolds in her dressing room. She was there with her daughter, Carrie Fisher (this was two years before American Graffiti and four years before that little film Carrie did—I think it was called Star Wars—and six years before I saw Carrie in one of the worst Broadway musicals ever produced, Censored Scenes from King Kong).

Indeed, amongst those many thousands of hours spent in a theatre were many I wished I hadn’t experienced. Lysistrata starring Melina Mecouri (she left acting after this and became a member of the Greek Parliament). The aforementioned Hurry Harry and Censored Scenes. Dude (which I did think had merit, but it was an unholy mess—and a tad uncomfortable since I was seated next to Gerome Ragni, who authored it). The never-ending (seemingly) Tale of Two Cities. Harrigan & Hart (starring another Star Wars alum, Mark Hamill). The calamitous Up from Paradise, which has the distinction of being the only musical ever written (if you can call it actual writing) by famed American playwright Arthur Miller. Voices, starring Julie Harris and Richard Kiley (notable only because its producer, mobster-about-town Joey Gallo, was gunned down in an Italian restaurant the same night I saw it). There were also such gems as Shrew, a musical version of Taming of the Shrew, which was not (unfortunately) Kiss Me Kate, and The Bodyguard, a bad version of the movie. And I shouldn’t omit Amélie.

Along the way, I’ve also found some hidden gems not necessarily huge successes. Inner City, the best directing job Tom O’Horgan ever did. 9 to 5. Enron (I genuinely loved this show—I thought it was brilliant). Finian’s Rainbow (okay, disclaimer here: I was an investor in the Broadway revival, and it deserved a much longer run—damn Marketing department).

Other shows I’ve loved over the years: Fiorello, Falsettos, A Chorus Line. Most Happy Fella, Hairspray, Plain and Fancy, Evita, Next to Normal, The Book of Mormon. City of Angels. Little Me. Brigadoon (I still think it’s the best show Lerner and Loewe ever wrote, or as Sondheim noted, “I saw My Fair Lady, I sorta enjoyed it”). Almost anything by Sondheim (except Do I Hear a Waltz?). Hello Dolly with Carol Channing (so sue me; I thought Bette was doing her typical one-woman show up there, and not playing Thornton Wilder’s Dolly Gallagher Levi). Mame. La Cage. Les Miz (well, before I inadvertently got the entire touring cast fired on the road for giving a fifth-rate performance).

And popular shows I just didn’t like, which I offer with no explanation except I found all of them weak in their own way: Rent, Wicked, Love Never Dies, The Lion King, Cats, August: Osage County, Miss Saigon.

I know I’ve left off hundreds of titles I wanted to include here. Shows like Big River, Little Shop of Horrors (which I saw before it was a monster hit), Smile, Sweet Smell of Success, Bright Star, High Fidelity, Legally Blonde, Peter and the Starcatcher. Maybe when (or if) I turn 70 I can have another go at this. Damn, I’ve seen a lot of theatre. I so need a life. Or maybe this is my life.

 

Michael Kape is a Grumpy Old Guy® who is in a reflective mood. Contrary to popular opinion (which he might just have fostered himself), he doesn’t hate everything. He just hates bad theatre. It makes him grumpy, which in turn makes him yell at the young whippersnappers to get the hell off his lawn.

RENT: An Imperfectly Perfect Musical

Jonathan Fong
It introduced thousands to Broadway. Every night it played at the Nederlander Theatre, it touched the souls of hundreds. It did so with one simple message – no day but today.

I am, of course, talking about the rock musical sensation of Rent. Born of Jonathan Larson’s creative ministrations and orphaned just before its first preview by Larson’s unfortunate passing, the musical about a band of young bohemians trying to navigate life riddled with death, bills and AIDS is loved by millions, and for good reason. For its brash, coarse yet utterly real content matter – not many musicals unabashedly yell odes to “mucho masturbation” in their Act 1 finales – it truly touches the heart too. The harsh electric guitar and frenetic energy of “Out Tonight” is tempered by the soft guitar melody and haunting repetition of “Will I”, inspired by one of Larson’s own visits to an AIDS support group, while the lighthearted romance of “I’ll Cover You” is turned on their head by its reprise in the second act. Not to mention, of course, the joyous, life-affirming finale with everyone belting their hearts out to affirm the show’s message and show that all does, indeed, work out in the end and that there truly is no day but today. And that is truly among the show’s biggest flaws.



Thing is, Rent is just too perfect. Everything, all the dramatic tension, the underlying question of “will I lose my dignity” and the ever-present fear of death within all the scenes, is thrown away quite simply on a whim in those last few moments; a true deus ex machina, if I’ve ever seen one. Angel’s death leaves a grim, stark impression on the cowed audience; that one of the most beloved, kindest and most selfless of people the audience sees in the show can so easily be taken away is one of the most grim reminders of the true dangers of AIDS back then, in a time when the epidemic was so widespread and few knew what to truly do to contain it. In light of that, Mimi’s sudden, seemingly magical (or rather, illogical) revival and second wind comes across as a scoff in the face, a ‘whatever’ moment. It makes for a heartwarming ending to the show, sure, but it doesn’t make the touching, heart-wrenching one we as the audience have been led to expect from the show. Not to mention how some parts of the show simply don’t quite make sense – dogs do generally know not to jump off buildings, even when in extreme auditory discomfort from a street drummer’s fierce drumming – while others do feel a tad awkward (“Your Eyes” isn’t the most touching goodbye song, not in the same way “One Song Glory” or “I’ll Cover You Reprise” are heartbreaking ballads setting near-impossible standards to match, at least).

And yet, does that change the perfection of the show one bit? Does it make the tears of joy as Mimi and Roger embrace any less heartfelt or the joyful reunion of the cast – plus Angel – at the end to belt out the final lyric “no day but today” any less beautiful? Does it mean that “One Song Glory” suddenly loses its meaning, ceases to remind one of our inner fears, of death and failure and of making a mark? Does it make the show as a whole any less poignant and coarse and utterly real? The answer, in my opinion, is no.

Sure, Rent’s ending leaves something to be desired. Sure, there are a couple of songs – particularly in the second act – which fall a little flat, perhaps somewhat explainable by the fact that they simply couldn’t be revised or replaced by their original composer between the show’s initial Off-Broadway debut and its inevitable record-breaking run on Broadway. Sure, the show as a whole could have been made more watertight had Larson had more time to work on it or simply written it with another ending in mind (he was, after all, insistent on Mimi living in the end, though who knows if time and additional previews/performances might’ve changed his mind). But nothing changes the fact that the story and message of the show are just so incredibly necessary in a way that one cannot comprehend unless they’ve seen or heard it and so perfect in that they, even in spite of being imperfect and flawed, make you feel a whole rollercoaster of emotions and then some in a mere two and a half hours of runtime (plus the obligatory 10-minute intermission). If you were to ask me to choose between a technically perfect yet bland show and the raw, imperfect truth of Rent – made ever more poignant by the fact that its composer and writer lived, breathed, and died in the same world as the musical he wrote was set in – I’d choose Rent any day as an example of what a truly perfect musical should be. For it, unlike any other show, truly reminds one that there is no day but today.

Race and Representation in Theatre: Introduction

Zachary Harris


Representation and Theatre

As a group it’s sort of become a meme every time a sure-to-be intense conversation about race comes up, and as it continues to move forward as a society I am sure the conversations will just grow in frequency. As a biracial theatre artist, I often get stuck in the middle of these conversations, but as an African American Studies major (along with theatre!) my opinion has really been shaped by reading about things such as the achievement gap (educational or otherwise) for African Americans and other institutionally based issues.

Here is my attempt at breaking down why accurate representation in theatre is important, if you have questions/comments PLEASE leave them as I will try to respond to them in another article. Hopefully this will be a multi-part sort of thing, and discussion is very important in situations like these. This will be about why race matters and given circumstances in theatre, and hopefully at the beginning of each I will try to redefine why race matters… Either by quoting comments or finding quotes from other sources.

Why Race Matters

You see this argument made more than enough in these discussions, “if the person is the best for the part, who cares!” along with the idealism of “I don’t see color”. While this is fine and dandy, this thought process too is problematic. The meaning behind it is well intentioned, but the idea behind not seeing color is closer to saying that you’re not seeing them or that racial identity is erasable/not important. The suggestion of “I don’t see color” is really more so leaning towards that their experiences aren’t valid or real even though they do. Now obviously, this is not what anyone is usually meaning to say, but this is what that means. The person, usually, is meaning to say “I see you, the person (along with your racial identity), but I’m not going to actively (emphasis on actively, or knowingly) discriminate or have active prejudice against you” which is great. In practice, this common erasure of someone's race in such a way is neutralizing the things that people of all colors/creed/ethnicity go through. There are certain things that particular subsections of the population deal with that most of us will never go through, especially here in America.

 Though I serve as a black body in this country (though I am biracial, which we can unpack that sometime if you’d like) I do not deal with the same thing someone who is Latinx does on a day to day basis. While yes, there are similar institutional things riding against us there are many things that I would just never be exposed to. When you’re not white the ignoring of your race is just not something that can be done (regardless of privilege). The existence of racial identity is linked to a vast amount of experiences and history that is so special, however can also be linked to a painful past. This all needs to kept account when discussing these sorts of things.

 For those looking for another interesting read, I would look up Dr. Osagie Obasogie, a professor at the University of California’s Hasting College of Law and the author of Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind… Where he researches if the blind can see race. Tl;dr the conclusion was yes.

The Idea of Given Circumstances

 Continuing on though, let’s talk about actual roles in theatre. In Uta Hagen’s teachings there are 9 questions we should ask ourselves as actors:

Who am I?  Filling in as many details here as you can (though I suggest making these things playable) including name/age/likes/dislikes etc.

What time is it? Sometimes this is a big thing, and sometimes it’s not. However, keep in mind general setting and how that may change things for you.

Where am I? Self-explanatory!

What surrounds me? In the literal, in a scene what do you have around you? Does an argument change with the presence of a weapon on stage… etc. etc.

What are the given circumstances of the past, present, and potential future? By answering this question, you can create a progression that is specific. Again, don’t lock yourself in, but this can be helpful!

What are my relationships in the scene? Define for yourself your relationship to the events, other characters, and objects in each scene.

What do I want? Be specific about your character’s needs, immediate and longer term.

What do I do to get what I want? Which is found in rehearsal through the exploration of objectives (what you want) and tactics (how you get them).

With this in mind, many people state “well it’s just acting”. Obviously most of these given circumstances that are evident for a character will never exactly line up for who you are as a person/the time you live in. That is what the art of acting is for, bridging the gap between you and the character you’re playing to create a well-rounded character. However, your body is always on view and in many cases informs performance either through things The Alexander Technique or Viewpoints… So ignoring race isn’t really an option.

Some Examples

Actor: Oh no! A character owns a cat and I’m allergic! I can’t do the show anymore!!!!

This is obviously not something that should be a thing as everyone has the possibility to own a cat, or even another pet. This is a given circumstance that you can figure out, as if your scene is LOVING this cat with your life that can be substituted. This is a universal feeling that can be shared. Looking for plays/musicals with cats that isn’t CATS? Read Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin Martin McDonagh!

Actor: My hair isn’t black, I can’t play Wednesday Addams anymore?

Again, something that can be changed or wigged. This is fine, and another one of those universal things that can be changed. Not only can this be changed, anyone on this earth can experience having black hair if they so choose. These things are fickle and can be adjusted if need be.

Actor: I’m white, but I can act ________… Why can’t I play Coalhouse Walker/Seaweed?

And this is where the issue lies. For those of you who don’t know Ragtime, please listen to the recording as it is beautiful. The issue here is that the only reason that Coalhouse Walker/Seaweed/lots of other people are having the struggle that they are having is because they are of color. If Coalhouse isn’t black, Ragtime doesn’t happen. While you can create a character while not black, it removes the point from the musical. You don’t get called a n-word (yes, hard “er” and all) by another white person if you’re not black. While yes, we are supposed to stretch our imagination and it is the magical world of theatre there is such an importance to this representation. While I understand the want to play roles there are hundreds of other roles that have nothing to do with race (or are assumed white until proven otherwise). Black bodies (as this is what I’m talking about specifically) are placed through these similar instances even today though the show is set in 1906, and the stripping of that importance is ignorant in nature.

Yes, our given circumstances will almost never line up with the characters we play. Yes, it is very important to think about race when looking at people while not discriminating against them or making their value being the color of their skin. But, we have to make sure that we are conscious in the role race plays in society. As artists and fans, this awareness will only make things better while also making our art more authentic in the long run.

Next article I will be addressing some of our favorite shows to bring up while discussing race. If you have suggestions as to shows I should dive into, please comment them in the thread!

On Pantomimes

Jyothi Cross

Well, not just yet, but I thought I’d get you all into the festive mood to start the day off right… Sadly, only 6 days into December, the Christmas slump has got to me, and I’ve already rewritten this blog 5 times, as Santa has not yet gifted me any worthy ideas.

So, here’s the worst idea I could think of: Why we should ban Pantomimes. Please.

Dan_Leno_and_Herbert_Campbell.jpg


1. They are, ultimately, incredibly cringy – It’s not fun to watch old men strutting around on stage pretending to be women and looking horrifically ugly. I can’t quite understand why it is so funny, we’re long past the days of mocking women, transgender folk, and Drag Queens, so why do we a continue a tradition of watching a ‘dame’ prance about on stage; simultaneously insulting themselves, the story, and the groups of people I previously mentioned.

2. Nobody ever does them very well – Of course this is a very broad comment, and I’m sure we’ve all seen good pantomimes in our lives, ones that made us laugh even. I’m also equally sure that your theatre group did an absolutely smashing version of Jack and the Beanstalk last year, but you do not account for the general trend. The general trend includes distasteful jokes about racism and gender, as well as some very poor acting on behalf of one person who signed up for a laugh. I don’t have a vendetta against any of the actors of course, just a severe dislike for pantomimes.

3. Audience participation – I’m all for audience participation, in fact I absolutely love it. Watching my peers get picked out and have the time of their lives is absolutely great, but do you know what? I never get picked. I. Never. Get Picked.

4. I never get picked – Now, this blog post wasn’t written to solve a personal vendetta I have against pantomimes. They are an age-old art form, descended from the time of the Greeks and yet there is something fundamentally wrong with them. And that thing, lurking deep in the depths of the sadistic world of pantomime is that I never got any sweets. They were never thrown to me, passed out to me, given as an award to me, and honestly this lack of audience-interaction-involving-myself ruined Christmas.

5. Christmas? Oh, sorry, it can’t come to the phone right now. Why? It’s dead. – Maybe I’m being a little overdramatic, but maybe I’m not. After all, if I can’t have it, why should anyone else?

This is why I argue that this house should move to ban pantomimes, because I never got picked to get sweets.

Drama School Survival Guide

Drama School or a major in Musical Theatre - a dream for many young performers, for obvious reasons. Being able to make a living from acting, singing and dancing seems like a dream for every musical theatre nerd. And drama school really is a wonderful time, but what many people tend to forget is that after all the college auditions and preparations the real work is just about to begin. So here it is, the Drama School Survival Guide. In every edition we will have a look at a different area, that can improve your experience. This week we will focus on the right starting point - a successful and healthy mindset. 

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After all the initial buzz of stating at a new place, meeting your new classmates and teachers, it is time to polish your technique in all three disciplines. This will at first seem incredibly exposing, not only will you have to sing in front of other incredible strangers who might be harsh, arrogant or simply mean, but also will you notice your own habits and patterns of doing things.
You will probably enter your course quite optimistic and convinced of your talent - I mean you got in, right? And it is true you in fact were maybe the best actor, dancer and singer in your high school or even home town, but suddenly you're around many other talented students and not only that: you will start developing a better understanding of your speaking and singing voice, the anatomy behind dancing, and learn about naturalistic acting. Teachers will remind you of your habits and your default ways of doing things, in order to - later on - provide you with a number of choices. Something that will give you versatility and employability, however, you will notice that a lot of these things you won't be able to change overnight: constantly locked knees, jaw tension, your accent or nasality of your speech (and many more things) that you have developed over years and years, and it will be a very ongoing process to overcome these. 
Still, something in you will change, suddenly you will go from being unconsciously incompetent to being consciously incompetent, so you're now aware how far away from perfect you are, but still not able to improve immediately.
This can feel very disheartening, and you might start to doubt yourself. But be reassured, you're not the only one to feel that way, in fact, everyone who will later on improve will feel that way, because it is the first massive step towards growth. It all starts with your awareness. 
And to give you something to look forward to, it won't be too long until you achieve a state of conscious competence, so a state in which you will notice you're improvements and see how much you are able to get rid of your own habits. And eventually you will enter a state of unconscious competence, where you will no longer have to think about it, and it just all comes naturally to you. Just as you're no longer daily aware of how magical it was to read for the first time, it just happens.
If you're stuck and you almost feel like you haven't made much progress recently, it can help to leave your college bubble. Go out into the "real world" attend your old dance classes or some normal, casual classes outside school, and you will suddenly realise you are a lot better then the majority of people and a lot better then before, even if you're not the best at your course at the moment. Everything might seem so big and overwhelming being around the most talented people of the country, but you getting in already means you've made it to the top and are better than the average human being. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge every tiny thing you've learnt. 

Other than that, you will most likely have other emotional costs, you might have to move away from your safe surrounding. You might not be able to maintain your relationship or get a new one, you might not see any sun anymore, especially when the sun goes down earlier in winter. But just think of your final goal, and keep fighting, in the end, everything will be worth it.

So what can you do to keep you going:

1. Firstly, work as hard as you can but don't overdo it. Make sure you're not pushing yourself too hard and jeopardizing your health, give yourself time. 

2. Eat, Drink and Sleep enough. A healthy lifestyle will enable you to work at your own highest potential and simply function. 

3. Try different methods to keep you balanced and grounded. For some, this might be meditation, yoga, certain music or your favourite TV-Show on Netflix. Or how about a trip to Broadway/London? ;) 

4. Educate yourself about Mental Health. These days, you will find books virtually everywhere, you can find awesome websites, apps or YouTube channels. Or you might choose to see a counsellor or therapist to keep on top of everything that could hold you back psychologically. Maintaining a good physical and mental health is key and the more you understand your feelings, the easier it is to deal with them. As a nice side effect, it will also help you with all your acting.

With that, I wish you a lot of fun in your current or potential future training. Keep healthy, happy and smash it - I believe in you. Feel free to share this with anyone who might want to see it and comment on your own tips and tricks before. I can't wait to discuss your thoughts with you. 
In the next part of this series, we will be looking at a beneficial attitude towards training.

 

The (Really) Lower Depths

There once was a king named Oedipus Rex.
You may have heard about his odd complex.
His name appears in Freud’s index
’Cause he loved his mother.
His friends all used to say quite a bit
That as a monarch he was most unfit.
But still in all they had to admit
That he loved his mother.

Tom Lehrer

Michael Kape

Here was the challenge. A recent ATB blog examined the decidedly dark side of some famous musicals. Could I do the same thing with plays (i.e., tragedies)? Well, harrumph. Theatre was created by the Greeks from tragedies. Now, I know many of you prefer discussions about musicals here (and I can discuss them for hours on end), but it’s good to broaden your horizons and get down to the lower depths (more about that later). I’ve done a little time travel to pick and choose some of the great ones for your consideration.

The Greeks invented tragedy (and comedy), as I noted. To me, the “Oedipus Trilogy” by Sophocles is perhaps the greatest extant set of Greek tragedies: Oedipus Rex, which was followed by Oedipus at Colonus and then Antigone. (I have special affection for Antigone having once played the Grumpy Olde Guy in the show, but Oedipus Rex is the best.) Oedipus accidentally kills his real father (he was adopted), solves the riddle of the Sphinx, marries his mother, has four children, discovers the truth, his mother/wife hangs herself, he plucks out his eyes, his children war on each other and their Uncle Creon, and ultimately kill each other and/or themselves. It’s a devastating story, based on mythology, with no happy ending in sight. And yet it’s great theatre.

In Greek mythology, Electra was the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, and princess of Argos. She and her brother Orestes plot revenge against their mother Clytemnestra and stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father. She appears in two Greek tragedies, Electra by Sophocles and Electra by Euripides. She is also the central figure in plays by Aeschylus, Alfieri, Voltaire, Hofmannsthal, and, our own great tragedian, Eugene O'Neill (more about his version shortly).

(Just a note for you musical purists: all Greek tragedies were actually sung and danced by the actors and chorus.)

After the Greeks (and their inferior Roman copycat tragedies), theatre came under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church—which pretty much frowned on the artform. It was the age of morality plays (like Everyman), which weren’t really tragic or comic but instead served to keep the unwashed masses in check (really—theatre as political propaganda; ah, well, that’s a subject for another blog which I’m not supposed to write). And then, well, Welcome to the Renaissance, as they sing in Something Rotten.

The greatest tragedian (oh, hell, playwright) of that age (or any other) was, of course, William Shakespeare. His plays have been classified into four categories: the comedies, the histories, the romances, and the tragedies. And what tragedies they were:

·         Hamlet—Arguably the greatest play Shakespeare wrote (and certainly his longest), this is the tragic story of a young Danish prince whose father is killed by his uncle (who then marries Hamlet’s mother). He seeks revenge when challenged to do so by his father’s ghost. He employs a troupe of wandering players to perform a dumb show in front of the new king, who realizes Hamlet is on to what he did and exiles the young prince. In the end, just about everyone dies in the last scene and Denmark is conquered by Norway. Hamlet certainly contains the most exquisite language Shakespeare wrote. I fear you can’t call yourself a true theatre person without knowing Hamlet.


Edwin Booth as Hamlet in 1870

Edwin Booth as Hamlet in 1870

·         Julius Caesar—It’s about greed. It’s about ambition. It’s about murder. And a funny thing happened to poor Julius on the way to the Forum—he was stabbed multiple times by the Roman senators, including his beloved Brutus (“Et tú, Bruté?”). It’s another Shakespeare play where almost everyone ends up dead, except Mark Anthony (“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”), who lives to show up in another tragedy.

·         Anthony and Cleopatra—Middle-aged Will Shakespeare set his sights on mature love in this tragic tale of a beautiful Egyptian queen and the two Romans who come to control her (though she really controls them), love her, and ultimately doom her. In his time, onstage lovers were usually portrayed as comic foils and not tragic characters. In this play, Shakespeare completely turned the tables on the contemporary norms (he had started to do that in an early play discussed below) and made this the stuff of tragedy.

·         Romeo and Juliet—My late, great college Shakespeare professor, Dr. Irving Ribner (of the Ribner-Kittredge acting editions) made us change our thinking about this play. As I noted above, in Shakespeare’s time, love—especially young love—was the stuff of farce. And the first two acts of R&J are some of the funniest material Shakespeare wrote. Romeo is a foolish cad. Juliet is a silly young teenager. The balcony scene is actually very funny (with Juliet trying her damnedest to get Romeo to leave). But when Mercutio dies, the play goes from farce to tragedy in a heartbeat. A series of misunderstandings and miscommunications kills the main characters (ironically in a tomb). And this is the true brilliance of this tragedy. It completely upset the theatre norms of the time, making Shakespeare a truly revolutionary playwright. We don’t consider R&J to be a comedy because Shakespeare so skillfully changed the way we look at young (and foolish) love.

·         King Lear—“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” But nothing could be worse than to have a foolish old king (along with his fool) divide up his kingdom based on which of his daughters professed undying love for him. A great tragedy, yes. Easy to pull off as an actor? I’ve seen Lear many times with great actors and I’ve never liked it.

·         Othello—Someone once described this play (Shakespeare’s shortest) as a lesson in how wives should be careful with their personal linen. Othello is a great but foolish and jealous soldier who loves his wife Desdemona. Iago is his evil lieutenant who hates Othello (racism definitely fuels the engine of this play) and plots his downfall. While Othello and Desdemona die tragically, Iago essentially gets away with his evil doings, which makes this yet another revolutionary moment for Shakespeare.

·         The Scottish Play—If you don’t know what play I mean, then stop reading. Seriously, one of the greatest tragedies ever written, this is another story of greed, ambition, revenge, and a moving forest.

·         And more (Timon of Athens, Coriolanus, Titus Andronicus).

(Around the time Shakespeare was creating his tragedies, another artform arose, closely akin to the original Greek drama—the opera. Tragic stories sung to beautiful music. But opera is fodder for a different discussion, so I’ll let it go at that.)

The late 19th and early 20th centuries gave rise to stark realism in the theatre, perhaps to counterbalance the frivolous romanticism of the age. Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths is perhaps the greatest of these tragic plays, depicting a group of impoverished Russians living in a shelter near the Volga. It is stark, humbling, difficult to watch without being moved. Gorky is said to have been inspired by the denizens of a Russian homeless shelter. The play was initially slammed for its pessimistic outlook (not much happens and everyone who starts out poor ends up poor), but still, The Lower Depths is a masterpiece.

Henrik Ibsen plays often bordered on tragedy, though they depicted more political themes than real tragic ones. But one of his plays does stand out, Ghosts. No spectral characters, but the tragedy of the father is visited upon the son, with an underlying story of venereal disease (never stated but firmly implied) making this one of the playwright’s most controversial works.

Two playwrights came to dominate American tragedy in the 20th century—Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller.

It has been argued Miller’s greatest play is Death of a Salesman. In this piece, Miller takes the majesty of Greek tragedy and applies it to a humble traveling salesman (He argued strenuously for tragedy not always being about people of noble birth, which I believe to be a correct stance). Willy Loman is one of the great figures of American tragedy. His frustrating life (for both himself and his family) makes for a towering work. Still, it can be hard to like this piece for some of us. It creaks. It’s verbose. But the story itself is infinitely sad. (I would argue The Crucible the better and more tragic piece, and certainly better written.)

O’Neill simply turned tragedy on its ear. He made it compelling. He paid tribute to its Greek roots in plays like Mourning Becomes Electra (based on the Electra plays), moving the Orestes tragedy to 19th century New England. But perhaps his greatest tragedy (one of the rare tragedies where nobody dies) is his most autobiographical one: Long Day’s Journey Into Night. This intimate look at the disintegration of a family tells a tale of frustration, drug addiction, serious illness, and alcoholism. And it all plays out in less than one day. It is perhaps the greatest American tragedy ever written.

There are hundreds more tragedies out there and I’ve barely scratched the surface. One of the great joys I had growing up as a theatre nerd was discovering new tragedies written long before I was born. They speak to universal truths beyond their settings—the foibles of human beings and the unfortunate consequences they can cause.

 

Michael Kape is a Grumpy Old Guy® and definitely a cynic, but he does so love a great tragedy. Lighten up. It’s only a play.

ATB Drama School Packing List

Drama School Survival Guide - Part 1: Getting ready to rumble - BFA / MT Shopping List

Anyone who ever chose to go for a course in Acting, Drama, Musical Theatre etc. knows this weird feeling you have the weeks before your course start: these buzzing sensations of excitement and happiness on the daily, and yet you’re somewhat scared. I mean, leaving your hometown, family and school is pretty scary enough, but there is also that sudden realization that you might no longer be the strongest dancer, singer, and actor in town.

You might be asked to compete with 2nd and 3rd years and mostly you don’t know anyone. As the weeks pass, suddenly you are facing all sorts of burning questions: “What do I take with me?", "Am I good enough?" and “Do I have what it takes?".

Consider this series to be written by ATB Members for ATB Members, and we will try to address all your questions and worries. We will make sure you take the most of your course whether it is at a small school, or a highly recognized university; whether it’s in the US, the UK or anywhere else in this world.

Photo by RomoloTavani/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by RomoloTavani/iStock / Getty Images

 

This week we’ll start with the basics, what to do to prepare, what to pack and some general advice to calm your nerves.

We collaborated with nearly a hundred ATB Members, and here it is:

THE ULTIMATE ATB PACKING LIST


For your Course

This is certainly only a guideline to help you with the process, most schools will give you some kind of an (often times) incomplete checklist, but obviously if in doubt, always go with what your school says and ask someone there. The Obvious:

-          Loose and fitted plain black clothing (i.e. jogging pants, leggings, t-shirts etc)

-          Jazz shoes/trainers make sure to try a couple of different ones on, some people prefer harder soled, some softer, some splitter and so on

-          Ballet shoes

-          Ballet tights/Leotards Make sure you have enough, you will be dancing a lot if you do MT and that might get really sweaty, start stocking up!!!

-          Tap shoes

-          running trainers  (indoor and outdoor) most schools won’t have special colour regulations here, but if you want to be on the safe side go for pure black

-          Girls- Character/practice skirt, character shoes (black or tan, with a heel of at least 2-3” (think LaDucas), Sports bra

-          Boys- black character shoes (smart brogues), Jockstrap/dance belt (look for something in either nude or black, but make sure you feel comfortable in it, it doesn’t help anyone if it’s perfectly tight, if you’re not going to wear it)

-          Bone prop (Especially UK Schools will ask you for that, it is a device to train your acting voice ) and Hand Mirror for your voice lessons

MUST-HAVEs

-          a pretty/cool/handy water bottle (keeping yourself hydrated is crucial)

-          A Bag where you can carry a lot with you (dancing stuff, sheet music and scripts do need a lot of space)

-          I found it useful to get packing cubes (google it), one for each style of dancing etc., that allows you to find the stuff you need much quicker and make sure no drinks or ink spills on your expensive shoes.

-          headache pills, vitamins, skin care, heating pads and cool packs for muscle pains, cough drops and any other things you can think of to secure your health

THINGS YOU MIGHT USEFUL

-    good speakers and headphones this might sound very random, but it actually might be one of the things of this list you will need the most. First of all, being able to just relax and calm down with an hour of Netflix, will energize you for all that is ahead of you, but more importantly you will be introduced to a lot of fantastic music, and you want to do the music justice and listen to it in a proper manner. It will also come in handy for warm-ups and practicing your routines with your classmate.

-    microphone/camera to record yourself while singing and acting to improve yourself, and later for potential self-tapes, when your phone isn’t doing a good enough job.

-    yoga strap - stretching is important and won’t kill you :)

-    some acting and theory books to read - we will be giving you a more specific list on that throughout the year

-    a piano or an app that allows you to fine tune your pitch

-    basic costume items sometimes, especially if you work on your own pieces, it might help you to have things like a hat, a scarf etc. at home to get into character.

-    songbooks and sheet music usually you will have some sort of a library in school, but having the score of Hamilton at home won’t only seem professional and prepared but also makes a pretty item on your shelves.

-    pointe shoes many schools don’t require pointe work, but if you’ve been trained on pointe shoes before, why not continue your training outside of class.

-    barre this might sound crazy, but getting yourself a small barre for your room allows you to train on your own, and they start at around $50 (think about getting a used one), it also makes a lovely decoration item for your room and shows everyone what your passion is.

Gender Neutral Makeup Essentials (as recommend by the make-up-artist of WICKED UK

This is like a cheap and easy starter set for people with less make-up experience (aka most guys). It works perfectly both for stage or camera work and I created that list for myself with the help of a make-up artist working at the London Production of Wicked. I keep everything in a small transparent bag (the ones that are actually made for taking on an airplane: they are handy, waterproof, and really cheap). I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with make-up, because more often than not you will have to apply your own make-up, and you better get some practice while you’re still in the learning phase.

-          facial moisturizer - this is crucial, all the sweating and any products will dry your skin. Keep it hydrated and there is less work for your make-up artists. There are tons of products for both guys and girls

-         mattifying powder - get one in your skin town or transparent, you will need it for the stage as well as camera work

-         oil blotting powder - these are awesome, they take away your sweat and work similar to the powder, but you just wipe over your face and you can go back on, you will find them on any movie set especially for male actors

-         concealer/cover stick - we all have our tiny imperfections, and especially if you have no makeup experience, a cover stick is much easier to use than any kind of foundation

-         large brush to apply powders

-         cosmetic sponge - always useful

-         hand cream - not really makeup, still very useful

-         sunscreen transparent spray (for filming/outdoor productions) - this is something I’ve discovered on set, these are sprays which you can just apply, they are completely invisible and no rubbing in required; Great between takes.

-         lip balm

-         toothpicks - there always might be some food stuck in between your teeth, and it can be really distracting to the audience

-         fixing spray - the very first thing to apply to your face, and everything stays where it should

-         fixing powder - if you want to be sure, add some fixing powder at the very end

-         Good deodorant - Did I mention how sweaty your course is gonna be?

More advanced (for girls or experienced guys):

Won’t explain anything here, you girls know your make-up best, but just to put it out there:

-         base / foundation makeup

-         blush

-         eyeliner

-         lipstick

-         eyeshadow

-         mascara

Stationaries - because come on who doesn’t love them?

-          extra pencil - trust me, you’re gonna need them.

-          a highlighter because you’re basically gonna live from scripts and sheet music

-          black binders, auditions might come up sooner than you think. I recommend getting two, one for sheet music, and one for scripts etc.

-          a couple of pretty notebooks (one for each class plus one for random ideas)

-          sticky notes make you look so professional ;)

For Your (New) Home

Dull but useful

-          Storage containers (or IKEA blue bags) Towels, one big and one small

-          Hangers

-          Stool or chair*

-          Laundry bag to hide those dirty socks and leotards

-          Bedside lamp*

-          Bin*

-          Dustpan and brush

-          Alarm for when your phone dies - trust me it happened to most of us

-          Plates, bowls and mugs

-          Spatula

-          Cutlery (and a sharp knife)

-          Can opener – tinned tomatoes are your new BFF

-          Corkscrew/bottle opener yeah, drinking is still important

-          Pans including frying pan

-          Food containers (for the fridge and cupboard)

-          Duvet, a double is a good idea

-          Duvet cover and sheets (x 2 sets)

-          Plants you can’t kill, and that won’t kill you. Guys leave your Audrey at home!!!

-          Rug to cover up that hideous carpet you might get in certain dorms or flats

-          Everyday Clothes - might be obvious but bring enough clothes for potential filming, nights at the theatre etc.

-          Toiletries - whatever you’re used to

* Might be already provided

To make your life more enjoyable

-          Cuddly toy to see you through the sad times, get out you’re Olafs and Pooh Bears

-          photos and posters for once homesickness kicks in

-          Fairy lights and candles (if allowed) for instant atmosphere

-          Humidifier and a steamer - must-haves for every singer

-          Washi tape (doesn’t mark the walls)

-          a mini fridge this is something almost everyone who lived in halls/dorm recommends

-          Lots of cushions, you’ll live in your bed whenever you’re not at the studios

-          Throw/blanket

-          you might want to get a big mirror to allow you to go through your dance routines once again

-          spare cables and chargers - these tend to always break when you really need them; having a couple of them in store will make your life so much easier.

-          talking about charging, listening to music and watching your routines on your phone will really drain its energy, a good power bank, will safe you when you don’t have a plug nearby.

 

This is everything we could think of, but obviously, not everyone is the same, we had really opposing viewpoints from literally “take everything, trust me you will need it” to “Bringing too much unnecessary not only makes it more likely to forget something, but it wastes time and energy to transport. Only bring as much as you need. “

So, the truth lays somewhere in between, go ahead and customize your personal list, it might be you have more or less space, more or less money, and so on…. But this list should serve as a starting point and provide some inspiration. 

Here is a selection of quotes from what I have collected, to make it a bit more personal:

"I had a bag of clothes just for theatre. The bag included my obvious dance clothes and shoes but other things like I had my own corset for period shows, long consecutive skirts, big flowy ones, cute flirts ones and of course all the super fun Halloween tights and shorts for dancing rehearsal. I also was great at making things as I needed them. We did Beauty and the Beast, and the plates were having spacing issues during dance rehearsal, so I used hula hoops and strapped them to their backs to get an idea of how much space they needed once they had their costumes. College was where I learned to live a minimalistic lifestyle. I learned quickly that everyone you meet at college brags about all the roles they had and the shows they were part of, but most of them have never been on crew, or built sets, made costumes or been in the pit. Having been on every aspect (required on my high school and at desales) made surviving easier. I didn't bring anything from home with me, except my music note bedspread my grandmother made. “- Deanna Young

“Bring a mini fridge that you can stock with food/drinks that remind you of home or foods you love! But also put some fruits and veggies in there, love yourself. A pitcher with a water filter will save you soooooooo much money on plastic water bottles. I suggest getting Amazon Prime, especially with the student discount, it makes life easier!” - Ashley Offmann

“Pack a bunch of nice clothes/things you look really good in. You're going to be performing a lot and (at least for me) I'm one level less anxious when I have my outfit together.” - RJ Christian

“For packing you definitely need jazz shoes and ballet shoes and pointe shoes. Being a theatre student, your best friend is to always have tea and water and cough drops! I don't have a roommate, so I brought all my posters and playbills but really, bring pictures of friends and family because theatre can be a hard major and you need to remember all the love and support you have!” - Marcus Thomas

“For starters...make sure you're allowed to have some of these things. A Keurig sounds nice if you're a coffee drinker (caffeine yuck) but it might actually be a banned item. 

"In the movies, dorms are these awesome spaces. Room for everything. In real life it's nothing like that. If you're going to get a humidifier get the smallest one you can get. The rooms are small and outlet space is at a premium. 

"Speaking of - curved surge protectors are the way to go. Something like Flexigon on Amazon. 

"Invest in a good mattress topper. Even getting one of those foam egg crate things. Dorm mattresses are evil and do not do a body good.

"Get sticky poster tac. My first dorm room had block walls. Couldn't use push pins for my posters.

"Unless you're renting from the school don't go halvsies on anything with your roommate. That way you know what belongs to whom if one of you leaves mid-year or decide not to room together the next year. Instead talk beforehand and decide who is bringing what. This goes for traditionally shared stuff like fridges, microwaves, and TVs.

"Get a smartkleen ball. They ionize the water in the washer to clean your clothes. They last over 300 washes. 

"Oh, and don't get one of those expensive shower caddies from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. A plastic basket with a handle from the dollar store suited me just fine.” - Kristin Márie Veronica

“Must haves (health-related): steamer, all manner of sports guards (e.g. knee, elbow, ankle), all manner of heating and ice packs for those sore muscles, all manner of heat ointments, sports tape, compression gear (I slept in them a lot of the time to improve blood circulation and the promote faster healing), all manner of medical ointments (hot and cold), a gym roller and hockey ball for deep tissue massage

"I made a (vile-tasting but incredibly effective) concoction of apple cider vinegar, raw ginger, fresh lemon and chopped garlic which I drank every day to keep the bugs away. Add a teaspoon of it to juice every day!

"Must haves (performing related): video editing software, audio editing software, a selfie-stick with a tripod (for self-tapes), a keyboard app on your phone

"Must haves (sanity related): a really good set of earphones to block out all the noise and drama” - EuJin Hwang

Last Words

 Last but not least, everyone at ATB really believes in you, and we know you’re gonna have an awesome time wherever you are headed, that’s why we collected some words of encouragement and advice for you:

“I think it helped me tremendously having a sense of purpose for my art. I am very fortunate that my program was designed in such a way that we had to think about what we wanted our art to stand for, and to explore any manner of expression.

"I also think it is EXTREMELY important to become aware of how you need to take care of ALL aspects of yourself – physically, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. I saw so many people who were talented, but who did not have a healthy way of dealing with the pressures of a career in the performing arts. This is why I have embarked on a journey to help actors develop a “Healthy Inner Life Practice”. In this way, you build a career that you own, that grows and that stands a much better chance of being sustainable. And if you have a healthy inner life, there’s a high chance that the work you create as a performer will also be more authentic, more connected and touch more people.

"Talent will only get you that far. The rest of sheer and deliberate hard work. You can’t meet the Universe half-way. You have to meet the Universe 99% of the way. You have to look under every rock, explore every possible nook and cranny to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed. And the final 1% that you can’t control, you let it go.

"Find your OWN WAY to stand out. Compete with yourself. I went to school with 2 identical twins and if you want to talk about identical casting, they would be it. But even they found a way to shine as individuals. So, the rest of us who don’t have our identical twins on our program have absolutely no excuse. The thing is – what is probably the most unique thing about you. There is NO ONE else like you on the planet even though the industry is going to want to pigeon-hole you immediately. That’s OK. There is enough time for that once you are working. For now, find the unique story only YOU can tell.

"Finally, your time in drama school is limited. Don’t waste ANY opportunity. Show up. Every single day. Take care of your shit and don’t bring it into the room. Stay present and when magic happens, you’ll be there to see and learn and experience it.”  - EuJin Hwang

“Don’t give up! You’ll be rejected over and over again but it’s so worth it when you get an opportunity to do what you love!” - Gemma Forsyth, Australian/American Actress ( Mako Mermaids, Akoni, Scrap)

 It’s okay to be nervous. My first musical theatre class was terrifying and I thought I was going to pee my pants. I told myself that if this was what I wanted to do I would just have to deal with it. It ended up being my favorite class! We’re only allowed to take it twice but the teacher is letting me take it a third time because it’s just so much fun! It’s ok to be scared, but you shouldn’t be afraid to try things that are new and different! Just be yourself and have fun, make it your own.” - Rachel Blugrind

 “A piece of advice would be to keep on top of the work, if you need help, ASK! There are so many times where I was stuck and didn’t ask for help which lowered my grade. As well as this, positivity is key. A negative attitude is no fun and to be a performer you need to be willing to push through the tough times and try and think of positive things through each situation that you may come across!” - Sammy Terry

 “You have to want whatever your goals are because they are truly spilling out of you. You have to know what you want and go after it fiercely. My dreams weren’t always theatre based, but I had this unignorable need to create art. Find what you love, hold it close, and surround yourself with people who lift you up!” -Chris Medlin - Mean Girls on Broadway

 With that, I would like to thank everyone who helped to make this article happen, it wasn’t possible to feature every single one in this edition, but there is so much more advice that will help many people, so I decided to make a series out of this. If you have any advice to share, or you have questions or worries yourself and recommendations for future topics, feel free to comment below or get in touch with me. If you know of any freshmen, go ahead and share this source with them, because I believe it sometimes really helps to remind yourself that you’re not alone in your situation and to get some advice from the experienced.