THE LINGER EFFECT by Barbara Biddison
I have experienced this "linger effect'' without knowing to call it that. INTO THE BREECHES gives us Maggie who argues for casting Shakespeare's HENRIAD with women playing men's roles. Ellsworth Snow, chairman of the Board, says no, and Maggie counters his argument with her own experience of the Linger Effect. She argues that the play will lift the morale of the 1942 WW2 audience leaving "a glow that lasts for days, weeks, sometimes a lifetime."
I thought back on my own lifetime of attending live theatre productions, and I found, without half-trying, many plays that fit the description. I went for a pretty recent one, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME with Rob Garrison in the lead role. It still leaves a glow now and I'm pretty sure I'll remember it for the rest of my life. One vivid "picture" for me is of the young man sitting on the floor letting his pet rat (a real one) out of the cage and affectionately playing with it. No fear that it would get away, just calm attention to the rat. It lingers. The play lingers.
I already know that BREECHES will linger for me, and not just because I'm assisting in rehearsals, The scene on the fire escape, with Stuart and Ida, entered the linger category for me when I first read the play. Now the whole thing is there. Winifred is such a hoot, and I totally believe in her transformation, as unlikely as it is. The auditionees, June and Grace, are funny and sad and eager and missing their husbands. And there's Celeste, the diva, who thinks highly of herself. All 8 characters are memorable, they linger. When the costume designer ends up in a sword fight and the conservative board president dresses up in a way that you wouldn't expect, you're bound to experience the linger effect.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (Or Ruth?)
Remember the film from the 60's with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford? It was spooky and twisted and a whole lot of fun. Well, this blog isn't at all about that film, but the title reminds me of our June production of SOMEONE SAVE MY BABY, RUTH. If you didn't have any idea before now, just the title suggests what we're in for with this melodrama.
Do you know anyone who loves puns? They just can't stop uttering them, one after the other. And if you're in the presence of a few pun-lovers they banter is endless. Think of a whole script of puns. Oh, quit groaning, there really is a certain mind that can relate unrelated things and words and sounds, a clever, juggling, playful exercise.
Also, think of surprises. Actually, they are expected surprises. In almost any melodrama a villain is going to sneak in with some sort of startling news (accompanied by the “boo's” from the audience. In almost any melodrama the hero bursts through the door with something like “Here I am to save the day!” (accompanied by the cheers from the audience.) And the heroine—sweet, innocent, lovely—probably will swoon at least once during the course of the action.
Most melodramas are set in the drawing room or the parlor of the heroine. Well, with a title like “Someone Save My Baby, Ruth!” where do you suppose this one is set? Yes, a candy shop. And the characters? Are you ready? Remember it's set in a candy shop. How about Taffy and Toffee and the owner of the shop, Praline Candy. And the heroine? Why, none other than Praline's daughter Penny. On to the villain. None other than Sidney Swindle. And this one even boasts of a villainess—Ada Sourball, of course. I'll let you imagine the name of the hero. C'mon, get your pun-hat on.
All this to encourage you to audition for this fun outing. March 25 at 6:30, March 26 at 10:00AM, and Sunday March 27 at 1:00 at the Warehouse Theatre. No experience is necessary. We welcome all new-comers and all races and genders. The play is only an hour with a whole host of characters so it'd be a great one to start out your experience on stage—not too much memorization and not as much of a rehearsal commitment as a full-length play.
Titus Himmelberger is directing this family-friendly fun. Titus has worked with just about every HG director in the past ten years so he's observed and learned from varying directing styles. He's got an eye for comedy and would welcome your presence. Performances on Laurel Festival weekend.
THEN...AND THEN...AND NOW... By Thomas Putnam
Remember Peter, Paul and Mary? Folk singers, social activists, tight harmonies? They sang a song that was a bit different from their usual songs (and yes they did have a wide variety of styles.) The tune was by Bach. The words were 1960s Tom Glazer. Our HG Youth Choir is singing it in 2022. That's three different eras of engagement. You may have read Barbara Biddison's blog about three different eras of costuming involved in our play INTO THE BREECHES. I'm looking at this song also through the lens of our our experience with this extraordinary play.
“Because all me are brothers, Wherever men may be,
And women all are sisters Forever proud and free.
No tyrant shall defeat us; No nation strike us down.
And all who toil shall greet us The whole wide world around”
Okay...doesn't that just ring a little close to home at the moment. There's a tyrant ruthlessly taking over a country. We're witnessing men and women standing against this tyrant. In the play there is a tyrant taking over a country and more in 1942. And the play is about producing a play that was written in the late 1500s about a war in the 1300s. There are layers and layers and eras and eras at play here: in the play, in the song, in our lives. Can we even remotely realize the connection?
“My brothers and my sisters Forever hand in hand;
Where chimes the bell of Freedom, There is my native land.
My brother's fears are my fears; Yellow, white, or brown;
My sister's tears are my tears, The whole wide world around”
The connections just keep revealing themselves. The play beautifully explores race relations in the 40s. It's painful at times to realize the historical racism of the time. Did you know that the blood of a person of color was not accepted for the war effort? I won't even begin to explore the racism that is still so painfully present in our legislative system...and elsewhere.
“Let ev'ry voice be thunder; Let ev'ry heart be strong.
Until all tyrants perish Our work shall not be done.
Let not our mem'ries fail us, The lost years shall be found,
Let slav'ry's chains be broken the whole wide world around.”
Powerful song. Bach in early 1700s, Tom Glazer and PP&M in 1960s, HG Choir and Ukraine in 2022. Powerful play. Henry V 1300s, Shakespeare 1600, setting of play 1942, HG production and Ukraine in 2022. We are not alone. We are not alone. We are not alone. “Let not our memories fail us.”
THE COSTUME QUEST by Barbara Biddison
Our HG Community Theatre used to have what we called a "costume warehouse." It was right across the road from the The Wellsboro House. We had to move out of that building some years ago, and now the building itself is gone...raised, I guess you call it. My memories remain though and have resurfaced as we costume BREECHES, set in 1942 with some scenes featuring Shakespeare's kings and queens and a quirky Falstaff. We are dressing for two very different historical periods right now, and here I am in 2022 looking back on a 2007 touring children's show called ONCE UPON A SHOE. I had been cast as Mother Goose, and we toured offering something like 15 shows in 2 counties. And we were in costume.
I didn't happen to have a Mother Goose outfit in my closet, so Thomas Putnam took me to the costume warehouse. I walked into this huge warehouse and saw what appeared to me like acres of carefully organized costumes. Everything from kingly garb to skimpy dresses, and shoes, and hats, and jewelry, and all sizes of ordinary period dress. There wasn't a Mother Goose section, but we found a couple possibilities and I tried them on. I walked around in each dress as Thomas cast his artistic eye on the options. He proclaimed one of them to be "perfect," as I recall, and that was that. I remember feeling so special.. I was relatively new at this community theatre business. I had been in undergraduate productions and in MU's tent theatre, and I had worn costumes for sure, but this was different. Never before had the director taken me to a costume warehouse and let me try the possibilities for my character.
I hope our cast of 8 for BREECHES is feeling special too. We have dresses, and "costume costumes," and uniforms, and even a fat suit. They are coming back from a costume hunt as I write this, and I'm off to see what they found!
TALKING NONSENSE ABOUT SALARIES FOR ACTRESSES By Barbara Biddison
So, it's 1942 and we're in the midst of the second world war, and all the men have gone. The director's wife, untested so far, has taken on the scheduled production of Shakespeare's HENRIAD (Henry the Fourth and Fifth combined), and the local women are going to take on the male roles. It occurs to the theatre group's Diva, that the men have always been paid for their acting, and now that the women are playing male roles they should be paid too. Of course, the too-old-for-war Mr. Snow, who controls the money, does not see it that way, until . . . .
Gradually the younger left-behind-women gather up the courage to audition. And when they are cast, they must deal with learning lines as well as knitting Victory Socks and organizing scrap metal drives and finding child care while they wait for letters from their husbands who are "over there." And Celeste, the Diva, continues to claim her role as Julliet (to, one presumes, a much younger Romeo) as justification for playing the younger Henry V instead of playing his older father Henry IV. But there's a guy who isn't "over there" and he's the Stage Manager who has to deal with questions about that. And the clever costume designer who may or may not end up on stage as well.
So many stories in this one play. It takes all of us into the breeches of one kind or another. What a journey it is! It opens in the Warehouse Theatre in a month. As Assistant I'm privileged to watch it grow, and to read certain parts when an actor cannot make a rehearsal. I'm getting to know these people who lived in a world quite different from ours now, but in many ways the same.
THE JUNGLE OF THE JUNGLE BOOK by Thomas Putnam
We typically offer our Winter Theatre Arts Camps in January and early February. I typically don't direct the first mainstage production of the year so that I can devote the time and energy needed for the camps. This year we didn't offer our camps (one in Blossburg and one in Elkland) due to...well, to what we are blaming everything on these past two years.
About five weeks ago, we spoke with NTSD about offering the camp sometime in March. YES, was the response. I was hesitant due to being in full rehearsals for INTO THE BREECHES and beginning rehearsals for THE MAY QUEEN and helping to work on the MLK concert and two other small concerts the HG Youth Choir was doing. But...YES...let's do it for the kids.
First, registration/auditions in all three NTSD elementary schools. There was a mix-up with the information sheets being delivered to every child in grades 4-10 and the registration forms. Fewer kids showed up. (Sometimes we have 70 or 80 kids.) We ended up with 39.
Monday rehearsal. Assigned roles, read through the script. Sang some of the songs. Everyone catches on to THE BARE NECESSITIES. It's catchy. Learn your lines. Stay healthy. See you Wednesday. (We skip Tuesdays so I can have rehearsals with the HG Children's Choir.)
Wednesday arrives and it's a very snowy day. School is let out early; cancel the camp. See you Thursday. Thank goodness for Thursday; but the weather report is really snowy for Saturday, so let's have a longer rehearsal on Friday. Thank goodness there is a half day on Friday so we rehearsed for a bit over three hours. See you Monday.
I come down with whopping cold on Friday night and am in bed all weekend. Monday comes and I know I can't conduct the camp. Thank goodness for Janelle Davis who is working with us again this year. She'll take the camp. All goes well. See you Wednesday.
Thank goodness, I'm better. Good rehearsal, but we've realized we don't have enough elephant costumes and what about those vultures and writing up the curtain speech, and what about those few kids who weren't present? Thank goodness Alan Weed could stay late to help me create at least a feel for a jungle. (Did I mention that the auditorium is now being used as a classroom, so there is lots of equipment on and off the stage?)
Thursday. Where did the kids get all their energy? The leads all nail their lines and take direction really, really well. Real troupers. Some of the jungle chorus don't seem to be singing. Drill some of the words. Work out the bows. Run the whole thing two times? Or did we just run it once and work on specifics. Clarify that the performance times are at 7:00 on Friday and Saturday. Make sure you wash your camp tee shirts. All your costume in your box? Any questions. See you Friday night for the performance.
A few prop things to fix on Friday. Get the word out to the public that 30+ kids have devoted a lot of energy and love into creating something very cool; the public really should come out and affirm these kids.
I realize that we didn't have behavioral issues this year. Some of the kids have been with camps for a few years. (One girl who is in 10th grade has been with us since third grade, I think.) Others are brand new and barely talk above a whisper. These kids have been great to work with. They are all real troupers.
Won't you take the time to encourage these kids by checking our their creation? It's been a jungle of a process, but a glorious one.
FROM SHREW TO CHICAGO by Barbara Biddison
Sounds like a song, "From Shrew to Chicago zisboombah." Well, after the past few days I feel like clapping and singing a happy song. First a trip to see a granddaughter in her first play. And our first time away from home in two years. Then back home to head for the Deane and a Saturday performance of SHREW in the Coolidge Theatre. Theatre-in-the round is something I have grown to appreciate. For one thing, as an audience member I feel like I am right there in the middle of the action. And, in this case, I thought that director Clare Ritter had blocked the movement of the actors so I could see them all from where I sat. And I could hear them too. And I could watch them interact with each other. It is a much more "immediate" audience experience. There's nothing like being involved with characters that came initially from Shakespeare's pen and have been cleverly embellished by a modern director. And there's nothing like an encircled playing area that includes the audience in it all.
I also was interested in the more modern treatment of language in SHREW. I've seen and heard a lot of Shakespeare, at least since I was about 17. I can understand the language as he wrote it, and I get the story, but I am well aware that some others are not so fortunate. SHREW removed that barrier and gave us words that all could understand, and, in addition, the actors were good at projecting and having movement emphasize thought! I would hope that audience members, previously convinced that they could not understand Shakespeare, would now be ready to head for Stratford, Ontario, and see professional actors present Shakespeare.
Then, unable to go for more than a day without theatre we headed for CHICAGO. Well, not the actual city, the musical by that name. This very ambitious choice of the " teen edition" was admirably produced by the Cowanesque Valley Drama Club.under the direction of Dave Wert. (He's back! After a few years in the Marines and then at a totally different kind of school, he's back.) And, oh my, what a high school production this was. There was an on-stage orchestra, in front of which the action took place. There was a lot of action. These high school actors, the leads and the ensemble, were rehearsed to perfection. They sang, they danced, and they performed intricate movements together for a couple hours. If a dozen of them were to pick up their chair and put it down with an audible tap, they executed this movement with confidence and absolute unity. Oh what a treat it was to see these high school students perform like this and obviously have a great time knowing how good they were. Theatre is alive and well in rural northern Pennsylvania.