THE BREECHES CHRONICLES: WHERE, OH, WHERE ARE THE MEN? by Barbara Biddison
We are in the big midst of auditions. At the first one, several women appeared, and all had the opportunity to read for various roles. I find it interesting, and inspiring, to hear a given woman read for a character nowhere near her age, and then read for a character that is close enough to her age, and then read a man's role. I really like how Thomas Putnam does this, and how if you listen carefully you can learn so much about an individual's ability to be flexible. It's fun, but it is really challenging if you are a 25-year-old female to read a 60-year-old man's role. So, I guess that brings me to the real question here.
Where are the men? There are two male characters, one about 60 and the other in his 40's. And as I write this, there are still two auditions left. These two roles are interesting and challenging and a real opportunity for our talented men to be on the new HG Warehouse stage. Or for someone new to HG who is ready to jump in. Ellsworth, the conservative board president, and Stuart,, the quipping stage manager, are a real part of this show. Ellsworth has to deal with a somewhat flaky wife and a determined director. Stuart ends up playing Mistress Quickly while managing the stage. Come on, guys!
I listened carefully last night at auditions. I just love watching actors read character roles "cold," and admiring their willingness to just give it a try. It's amazing how close to the character a person can come. I'm assisting with this INTO THE BREECHES challenge, and I still find something new or slightly more complex (not hard, just maybe what you didn't expect) each time I read it again or hear someone bring it to life in auditions. Everybody come on out Saturday or Sunday!
By Barbara Biddison
As we approach auditions for BREECHES, I find myself remembering the 2011 family drama by James Still, HE HELD ME GRAND. I love thinking about that intergenerational and inter-racial focus on one American family. It featured a cast of 17, double the cast of 8 for BREECHES. So, why a connection there? Well, both focus on history in some way, HHMG a hundred years worth, and Breeches just a few months during WW ll. Both reflect real life with humor, and challenges, and an overall "feel good" spirit. I think in both plays the characters grab your heart.
I played April, the lead white 88-year old woman who lived next door to Grace, a black woman of the same age. They had been best friends since childhood. My April also found a friend as she practiced her newly-learned computer skills, and he and she decided to meet with the very strong likelihood of getting married. When he arrived and walked through the door, we the audience, and she the interested 88-year old white woman, discovered that her new friend was black. The title of the play comes from her description of what it was like to dance with him, "He held me grand." Now to why I'm remembering this decade-ago play right now.
There were five characters in that play who were black. We actually managed to cast the play with people of color from a local 8th grader to the old guy that April was to marry. There was a comfort level and togetherness that I felt deep inside. I still feel like that next door neighbor is my best friend for life, and I'd still spend hours with the older fellow who showed up in that play. Recently HG has had to cancel plays because the required black person could not be found. There is a great role for a black woman in BREECHES. I hope some 30-ish (or able to look about 30) women come to auditions. This play is so worth doing. If only we can cast it.
By Thomas Putnam
I'm writing this blog on the day we remember and celebrate the vision and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. I'm also writing this on a day when I'm working with Diane Eaton on press releases for our upcoming auditions for the play INTO THE BREECHES. These overlap like a Venn Diagram in that this play has a character that must be played by a black woman. It's a terrific role and when we explored a few years ago the possibility of producing this play I was quite certain of the importance of casting this character before we even announced that we were going to produce it. It's crucial that this character is black.
As is often the case, my resolve to do something has either been forgotten or canceled out by...well...by wishful thinking? I respect this play and this character (as well as the others in the story) to the degree that my eagerness to produce it tips the scales. And here we are, ready to hold auditions next week and without a woman of color to fill this role.
Of course, I could trust the possibility of an ideal situation in which all the actors needed to fill the roles will miraculously show up at auditions. Wouldn't that be grand? It rarely happens, particularly when we are looking for an actor with very particular characteristics. In this case, we need a woman of color.
In the past we have tried to get the word out in press releases and newsletters and word of mouth. We have been fortunate to have actors of color in many of our shows. Such shows as The Crucible, He Held Me Grand, Driving Miss Daisy, Big River, Second Samuel, The Miracle Worker. But almost without exception none of these actors actually appeared at the regular, scheduled auditions. We had to search for them.
I'm determined to find the perfect woman for this role. It's a story worth telling. I don't know how we will find this person, but we cannot do this play without her. She's out there, somewhere.
By Thomas Putnam
Last week I introduced the plan to chronicle the process of producing a play from beginning to end. Barbara Biddison offered her initial take on this project earlier this week. The reality, however, is that there likely is no moment of beginning, and hopefully there is no moment of ending. Sure, there is an actual date when the performances begin, and there is a moment when, after the last performance, the set and props are completely off the stage and put back in storage. I can remember the first time I heard the title INTO THE BREECHES by George Brandt, but all that I have lived before that moment is part of the journey.
For example, the play takes place during World War II. The characters on stage are primarily women whose husbands have gone to serve in the war. My dad was in the war and my mother was left at home. He first was stationed in various places in the the country and then went to Europe. He had just enough time to see his newborn daughter whilst on leave the day before he sailed away. There are some incredibly moving moments in the play as the characters talk about hearing from or not hearing from their overseas husbands. I'm not sure whether reading these sections of dialogue have given me more insight into their challenges (one of them has an infant) due to hearing the stories of my own parents; or whether I have been given more insight into my mother's war-time life due to reading the dialogue in the play. My life is richer either way. As Atticus Finch says...
The first time I heard the title of the play was when I was at Chautauqua a few years ago. The arts at Chautauqua (opera, dance, theatre) are all glorious and I looked forward to seeing whatever they offered. The play actually opened the evening that I was scheduled to leave, so I contacted the director and asked if I could see a dress rehearsal. About 10 of us were in the audience. There's a warmth in my memory of that performance; not just the performance but the whole experience. Just a few people—I knew none of them—there primarily as part of the production crew in some way. It's a very welcoming theatre space. The plot concerns producing a play, and we were all part of producing a play about producing a play. Good stuff.
I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and knew then that I would love to have HG produce it sometime. The script hadn't even been published yet, but I was able to get a typed manuscript. Sometimes when I see a play and then read it later I'm not as taken with it. Not in this case. Reading it a few months after seeing it provided a confirmation that I hoped HG could produce it one day.
And here we are, launching into this particular journey. It gets better each step of the way. Into the breeches...!
By Barbara Biddison
First of all, just show up! Understand that I love auditions. I have auditioned for roles that I really wanted but didn't get, and I have auditioned for roles that I doubted I would get but I did. I understand that the director of the play is considering the "whole picture," and that factor accounts for why it "takes a while" sometimes before a cast is announced. But the auditioning process is fun. Sometimes there aren't very many people at an audition and so each one there gets to read several different parts. That's fun. Or maybe all men show up and it's a primarily female cast, and a man or two reads a girl's role. Or all women are there and there are two male roles. Everybody loosens up and dives in.
BREECHES has a cast of 8 (6 women and 2 men). One woman must be African American because that's how George Brant wrote it, for very good reasons. Ages range from 60s to late teens in "real life" in this story, but they play the various King Henrys and Falstaff and the Kates in the show they are putting on. And since it is set during World War II, the men are gone fighting the war so the women must play all the characters. But never mind all this detail. To me, this just makes it sound like fun. I'm working in a different capacity for this show, but maybe, as long as I'm there, I'll get to read for a part or two.
How to prepare? Well, you can ask to borrow a script and read it if you must, but that is really not necessary. Like I said, just show up. And, since you'll be asked to fill out an audition sheet, check your calendar for any commitments between now and the end of April. The director needs to know your contact information and when you can be available for rehearsals and, of course, for the five scheduled performances.
Celeste, the "diva" in her 50's or so, has this line which I think would be so much fun to say (in character of course):
"None of the women in the company have ever
been paid before, but our men? Our men have always
been paid. I am now playing a male role, ergo. I shall
I can think of about a half dozen ways to say that! What fun.
Come on out for a good time , January 26, 29, 30, and take part in these auditions!
By Barbara Biddison
A new year. And I have something to look forward to.... the BREECHES connection. So I'm re-reading the play, and I'm actually letting myself picture it as a Hamilton-Gibson production. We've been looking at this drama for a couple years and we were not seeing a clear way to cast it. So, why not go for it now, when we must move ahead and we must believe in all possibilities? We have a "rack card" for 2022 and it includes the actual titles of stage plays that we want to produce. And one of these plays is INTO THE BREECHES, scheduled for April 2022. A recent quote from another Amanda Gorman poem says it well, "Those moments we missed/ Are now these moments we make." It's time to look forward, and I am so ready for that. It has been a while since I have felt like this.
Thomas is directing this one, and he has asked if I'd like to work with him wearing several hats including dramaturg (loosely defined, no doubt) and book holder/line giver. So that's why I read this play again today. It is even better now than it seemed upon first reading a while back. I laughed out loud a few times and I cried real tears once or twice. It seems to me to be a show for everyone.....women, men, gays, blacks, older and younger......in the cast and for an audience. Shakespeare aficionados will love it, but you don't have to know or love Shakespeare ("cast members" certainly don't at the beginning of the play). INTO THE BREECHES is set in 1942, and the men are off fighting the war, a premise that we remember as we watch the story unfold. I'm going to believe, I am believing, that this show will be on the HG stage in April.
I had a small part, sitting on a long bench after walking on stage and before walking off, in ALMOST, MAINE. It was scheduled before a pandemic descended upon us, and we were rehearsed and ready to go. Then we had to cancel, but Thomas told us to keep our learned lines memorized because we were going to do this lovely show as soon as possible. When "possible" arrived we had to replace about half of the entire cast because life had taken people elsewhere. We did the show. We were masked and distanced at all times when off stage. It was a wonderful enriching and empowering experience for the actors and for the audience. Somehow HG has managed to squeeze in a show here and there during this challenging time, most recently the mega-successful Woodpecker Lips. And now here we go Into the Breeches. There is something different about it this time, and I like it. I'm looking forward, and I find myself saying not "if" but instead, "when.' Not if we can produce this play, but when we do.
(Robert Panitzsch Interior with a reading woman in the sunlight by the window, 1936)
By Thomas Putnam
This morning on FaceBook I read this post: “Honestly could be Friday, could be Wednesday, could be January already, who knows, not me.” I laughed because for the past few weeks (years?) I've found myself saying something similar, waking up wondering what day or week or month it might be. It used to be somewhat unsettling, but now these thoughts just seem like the new reality.
I'm finding that the way to work through such unsettledness is to go ahead and make plans and to dig right in and work toward that end. Yes, we all know by now that any plan, no matter how insignificant or life-changing, could be dashed or canceled or postponed or forgotten at a moment's notice. Realizing this, however, makes it all OK and right to set off on the journey of the plan: so that's what I'm doing.
We host a choral tribute to Martin Luther King every year. (Well, we attempt every year.) This year's event is scheduled for January 17. We waffled back and forth about whether we should or shouldn't host it and came to the above conclusion: let's move forward with plans, realizing... So we've got a handful of choral groups working on pieces and the WAHS auditorium reserved. The journey so far has been well worth it: working with the HG Youth Choir on a few incredibly powerful pieces is simply worth it.
Looking ahead, the first play I'll be directing with HG in 2022 isn't until the first two weekends of April. INTO THE BREECHES by George Brandt. It's a wonderful play and I'm glad HG is producing it. Often I can't really dig into a play until much closer to production, but due to the postponing of the two winter theatre arts camps and due to someone else directing SHREW (performances in early March) I have time to dig in.
I have often wished I could blog through the whole process of a production, from beginning to end and have been partially successful, but not too. This just may be the opportunity to do this: offer a behind the scenes look of what goes into a production. The commencement of HG's affair with this play was months, maybe years, ago. So, get ready for some blogs about INTO THE BREECHES; I'm hoping two or three per week throughout the next three months. We'll see.
In the meantime, it seems a fitting title as we enter a new year. We always hope for good things on the threshold of a new year, but this year seems especially in need of a good dose of hope. So, let's dig in and plan and move forward with resolve. ONCE MORE, INTO THE NEW YEAR.