Seasons of Love by Dawn McLelland
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of “MYSELFING.”
I joined Hamilton-Gibson on their annual pilgrimage to Stratford, Ontario for the world-renowned Stratford Festival. This entire experience did not disappoint. A morning person, I am not, however I always seem to put my positive pants on...waking up at an hour I would rather be sleeping. Bags packed. Passport packed. Coffee in hand. Love in my heart. A five (plus) hour bus ride, to do what?!?? …read a book, take a nap, chat with friends?!
Ok! The excitement upon arrival was thick…what does our hotel look like? Where should we eat? Make a reservation now! New geography to explore! When and where to meet? Make new connections!
The three shows on the menu were enough to feed my soul, however the culinary options did not disappoint…but yes…make a reservation. Two nights, three days, watching three fantastic shows from seats that you want to watch from. Sunshine and rain during a walk along the Avon. Just amazing.
But, perhaps, the best part of this trip is the aftermath. One of the shows we were fortunate enough to watch was RENT. I was aware of RENT, and in fact, it was on my list of “I need to see.” The only song I knew beforehand was “Seasons of Love”…it affected me before, and so it seems, it affects me still.
Seasons of Love.
I am currently facing that deadline of 525,600 minutes, a day my life changed forever. A sad day for me and the ones I love most. Seasons of Love.
Loss has a way of making you feel...well...lost. It can leave you bitter, angry, sad, and just not wanting to care a whole lot about the things you always cared about. So, I am fortunate, in my travels to Stratford, to be reminded of my 525,600 minutes, and just how many seasons of love I may have. I can choose love.
The Stratford Experience by Barbara Biddison
We left on the Benedict's bus Friday morning, heading for two days of theatre in Stratford, Ontario. Even the bus ride is a treat. Got there in time to check in to the hotel and for a few to see an unscheduled 2 o'clock show. All made, or had made before leaving home, reservations for an evening meal that would allow time to get to 8pm RENT in the Festival Theatre. This is a rock musical that first appeared on Broadway 25 years ago in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. I knew that much, but I was not prepared to be hit so hard as it began and throughout the first act. Intermission discussion helped me regain my balance, and I was ready for the second act. I've seen a lot of plays and musicals in my theatre life, many of them works that I had not seen or read before. This was a first for me in terms of wishing I had done more advance exploration. It would still be hard-hitting emotionally, but having heard the music and the lyrics before would have helped me jump right into the struggle and the emotional pain.
Back to the hotel for a quiet room and a night's sleep. And a morning free to walk about town and (one of my favorites) buy boxes of Rheo Thompson chocolates for myself as well as for hard-to-buy-for family members. Then off to the 2PM Shakespeare tragedy KING LEAR. I've seen this one before about an old king and his ill-treatment of his daughters. Of course, nobody ends up happy in this play, but we've satisfied the Shakespeare expectation for this trip to Stratford and we're ready for a bit of food.
Then to the 8PM Avon Theatre and MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT. What a treat! What a wonderful show! Great, full appreciative audience! Second and third row seats! Laughs and entertainment at its best!! Our travelers' handout sheet calls it "a hefty share of irreverence in a hilarious spoof of the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as they go in search of the Holy Grail." When we got home our adult sons wanted to hear more and more about this show that we "got to see"!!!!
So, this was HG's 22nd trip to Canada's Stratford Festival. And it was wonderful. Larry Biddison "sorta retired" from the organizing and planning and all that goes into such a trip. And Thomas Putnam could not stand the idea of not going anymore, so he took over all that. And he did a wonderful job, so he's probably got it now. Of course, the Biddisons went on the trip and the only thing Larry wanted back was the microphone on the bus! He cannot get to Stratford without describing where we are as he asks the bus driver to drive around the Festival Theatre campus.
Here's to next year and another rich and rewarding trip!
[Registration for the 2024 trip will be available soon. Let us know if you are interested.]
A Choir, a Tenor, an Upright Bass...and One Thing After Another by Barbara Biddison
A warm sunny early October afternoon. The beautiful St. Paul's Episcopal Church. An Autumn Chorale with Treble Choir and guest tenor soloist. And Director Putnam has already noted in an earlier blog what was planned to be, and all of that happened. Of course, he couldn't describe in advance the audience participation, the "Join us in singing" parts such as "The Moose Song" and "The Fruit Song." I'm going to guess that at least half the audience members were related to, or close friends of, the singers. So, everybody sang. At the end of the concert, we heard songs from next year's HG musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. And then we went out again into the warm sunny afternoon with hearts full of music. We're told that there are openings in both choirs now as they learn new music.
What's next? Auditions for Women's Project which will include Holiday letters and three short plays that center on the holidays. (See below for audition times.) And in November a musical Anne of Green Gables (which is now cast and in rehearsal). Jessie Thompson is directing this one. Those who saw and/or were in WOODPECKER LIPS will remember this Jessie Thompson, this Anne director, as the one who envisioned the idea and produced the whole woodpecker series. Then after all of this comes December with its Dickens and its choirs and its Christmas Carol and its MESSIAH Community Sing. But more of all that another time. It's early October now, and it's time to admire the changing leaves and to walk around town without worry about icy patches.
Details for Women's Project auditions: Oct. 14, 1-3pm; Oct. 15, 2-4pm; Oct. 16, 6-8pm. Lots of juicy roles for women, and some for men too (including a guy wanting to play a large dog. who writes a letter). Y'all come!
THERE IS A TOWN... by Thomas Putnam
I looked in the mirror a few weeks back and wondered who that was looking back at me. It was a strange and curious moment, almost an out-of-body moment. So I took a breath and found a whole lot of questions running through my brain. I've heard that in the moments one thinks are their last that their life to that point flashes before them. That's kind of what happened. Just who is and was this person?
Experiencing a play like Elephant's Graveyard is kind of like a community looking in the mirror. The story involves two distinct communities: a small town and a creative organization/circus. Who is this community? Is my community anything like either of these? We're a small town. HG is a creative organization. Can I see anything of Wellsboro in Erwin, Tennessee? Anything of HG in Sparks World Famous Circus?
A whole lot of questions come to mind when experiencing this play. What do we as a community remember? What do we choose to forget? What is the value of a person? Does that value differ between a person who is white and a person who is black? What is the value of an animal? What is the nature of justice? And who determines what is just? What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of one dollar? Or 8000 dollars? Why do we feel a twinge of excitement at something tragic?
Remember the trial of Walter Goodwin? The photos of the day of his hanging just across the street from where we are sitting show a town full of dressed up folks eager to get a glimpse (through the knotholes of the erected fence) of the gallows. Are the people of Erwin much different from the people of Wellsboro?
Greek tragedy explored some pretty difficult subjects. The culture had known war for some time. The theory of catharsis explained just why this community gravitated towards such plays. The theory posits that catharsis is a “clarification of the essential and universal significance of the incidents depicted, leading to an enhanced understanding of the universal law which governs human life and destiny.” And so we return to Romeo and Juliet, The Laramie Project, Death of a Salesman, Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, West Side Story, Angels in America, Shindler's List and so many more.
I chose to have the seating for this production on three sides, and to have the community enter the audience space. I thought about having reflective backdrops, but the action/words of the townspeople are reflective enough. You'll hear the words “There was a town...” As we look in the mirror of this production we realize “There IS a town...” and it is us.
A Time to Talk by Barbara Biddison
I attended the talkback after the Sunday matinee for ELEPHANT'S GRAVEYARD'. Most of the audience stayed for this opportunity, and it was lively and thoughtful and altogether satisfying. I had seen the show in performance opening night, but we had food and conversation in the lobby instead of talk in the theatre that night, so I returned post-show Sunday to hear what a wide variety of matinee people thought. This is a play that benefits from some kind of response, and from thoughtful listening.to what others have to say.
The whole cast gathered casually on stage, as is the usual custom, and the director sat to the side making sure that those who wished to speak got to do so. This is a large cast of actors and musicians, and all seemed quite willing to talk about things as it seemed to them..
And audience members spoke without worrying about "what others would think." "About 15 minutes" was the expected time allowed, and though I did not time it I think it was more like a half hour. I love listening to various "takes" on a show, and thoughtful, sometimes a
struggle to express, opinions/reactions/explorations. It is especially valuable to hear different ideas and cast responses about the characters they play. And these actors have thought about that.
I'm going again next week Friday or Saturday. and maybe to a 9AM special show on Wednesday. There is that much to ponder.
What to Say When the Show is Serious and Sad and the Story Must Be Told by Barbara Biddison
How does a person go about encouraging someone to see a show that is more likely to make us cry than smile. How do I tell people about the full run, in rehearsal, that I saw last night? How do I describe a stageful of actors who face the audience, speak to the audience,
and are still obviously together as a crowd, who as individuals have witnessed the same event? How do I say, "You must see Elephant's Graveyard" because..
Because I don't think HG has produced a drama this serious and this meaningful since LARAMIE PROJECT. Because it gives actors (mostly men) an opportunity to take on real and different male characters. Because the play itself, the drama based on a real-life happening, is worth exploring. Because our actors and our audiences deserve challenging theatre. Because just last year HG produced INTO THE BREECHES which gave actresses the opportunity to explore female characters. And this one and that one are by the same playwright, George Brant.
Because, as much as we all like to smile and laugh and "feel good," we also all have challenges in our lives, and sadness. And we just need to sometimes "get away from it all." And sometimes the hard facts and the grief-laden story can actually take us away from ourselves for a while.
There's another thing that this play does. It lets us see something that really happened. It lets us see our own HG actors immerse themselves in this story, this play, this real-life experience. They are quite good, these actors, but they don't always have a character like the one they play here and bring to life here. At which point I must say that the actresses, though few in this particular play, are also believeable in their roles which are not at all like their personal selves.
[Note: There will be "talkbacks" after the show for all five performances. Actors and tech folks and musicians, and director Thomas Putnam. They'll all be there to talk and to answer questions and to explore ideas. Audience members will be given a few moments to come back to reality, to get a refreshment, and then to return to the theatre. It's an opportunity to ask questions, make comments, listen to others, and process what we've just experienced. Personally, I love talkbacks. Those who participate usually do, too. All are invited to "talk back."]
The HG Treble Choir offers a delightful afternoon of music on Sunday, October 1, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Pearl Street, Wellsboro. The HG Treble Choir consists of singers in grades 5-8 from all over Tioga County.
The concert will feature guest soloist Carter Route, a music major at Mansfield University. Mr. Route wowed audiences in his dynamic performance as the title character in MU's Phantom of the Opera this past spring. Route will also be the tenor soloist in this December's MESSIAH: Community Sing on December 10. Route joins with the HG Treble Choir for “Close Every Door” and “Any Dream Will Do”, two songs from the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat . He will also join them for “Gloria Tibi” from Leonard Bernstein's MASS.
HG Treble Choir will sing such songs as “A Place in the Choir” a rousing, fun song made famous by Celtic Thunder.They will also sing “Hold Fast to Dreams” a new setting of poet Langston Hughes' words: “Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly.” One of the themes the choir is exploring this year is Water, with such songs as “Afton Water” a melodic Scottish Folk Song with words by Robert Burns, as well as “Bring Me Little Water, Silvy” attributed to Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) and accompanied solely by local musician Anne Acker on upright bass.
The concert will also feature the HG Choir TOO, a training choir for singers in grades 2-4. They will sing the haunting “Manx Lullaby.”
Considering Elephant's Graveyard
by Sean Bartlett
My career with HG so far is book-ended by Laramie Project and Elephant’s Graveyard. The two shows have many similarities and many possibilities for introspection as both an individual and as a member of a broader society. Both offer us a mirror that promises redemption if we look deeply and honestly.
That we are, this time, enacting an event from 1916 and can find so many parallels with contemporary society is a testament to the playwright's ability to encapsulate human nature as well as a depressing commentary on how long it takes our society to move beyond the baser nature of our existence.
What is justice? What is redemption? When should we respect the boundaries of community and when should we accept technology as it moves us beyond our prior limitations?
To say that my character struggles with this would be disingenuous, but he does present aspects of this struggle and clearly represents the need for defined rules and the perception of justice. The play itself, and the other characters, represent the bounds of true justice, even if my character is not able to look beyond his own limitations to perceive the broader reality. But, isn’t that an essential necessity for any consideration of justice? Don’t we need to be able to crawl inside the skin of each individual in order to see the truth of a situation? Theater is a great medium for exploring that, and this play does that in spades.
While we weave wonderfully from the sinner and the saint of womanhood to the complexities of the abused, yet loving, jester who serves as a reminder of how many seek redemption by oppressing those with the most sensitive natures. We sympathize with the trainer who embodies the capacity for love and question the ringmaster and tour manager as they are able to purely present capitalism with all its warts. We weave through many of the different aspects of humanity and are faced with bracing clarity how our limited perceptual boundaries inhibit our capacity for redemption.
Maybe we would all be better if we ate more peanuts. That, too, becomes clear once you see the play.
The One I'm Working On by Thomas Putnam
Sometimes someone will ask me what my favorite production has been to direct. I typically answer “The one I'm working on.” It's the one I'm immersed in. The one I'm talking to and through and about. Indeed, some plays intrigue me more than others for a variety of reasons, but most usually due to a fascinating story told in a highly theatrical way. Underneath the Lintel, Of Mice and Men, Every Brilliant Thing, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Elephant Man come to mind. The current one is on this list.
Elephant's Graveyard is a tough pill to swallow. I was eager to direct it, but it sure scared me in terms of how to present it. There's no actual dialogue (except for about 10 lines between the Marshall and the Preacher); the rest consists of 13 people speaking to the audience, telling the story through their eyes. It could be disastrous, but therein lies the challenge.
Where to place the actors on the stage, somehow making their proximity to other characters and the audience relevant? Finding the rising and falling action of the story line. Exploring the tempo of those various actions. Where to use sound effects created by the percussionist and guitarist? How to make this tragic story relevant to us today?
Of course it all started with who to cast in each role. We lucked out, again. These actors have worked hard and have been eager to engage in the exploration of this story. Each one has been more than willing to accept direction and, in turn, to bring their own sense of their character to life.
The process is stimulating and fun, and meaningful and well worth the effort. Now, how to market this show so that we can share the result of this effort. Hope you can join us next week.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Elephant's Graveyard by George Brant
When we produced the play The Laramie Project years ago, we decided to have “talkbacks” following the performances. It was a challenging play in terms of subject matter and theme, and we wanted to offer an opportunity for audience members to work through what they had just experienced. The playwright Moises Kauffman stressed that he and his creative team had purposed to simply “further the national dialogue” and we embraced that concept. We've offered talk backs for a number of plays that we felt warranted such an opportunity. Recently those plays have included Grand Horizons and Every Brilliant Thing. Based on the participation in those talks, we've found them to be very helpful and welcomed.
Typically, following the close of the play, we offer a few minutes for audience members to either leave the space and/or to get some refreshments in the lobby and then return to the theatre. I usually offer a few background comments about the play and then ask a few questions. We're not so interested in comments about the acting or the production itself, but more about the script and the response to the whole experience. From that point, a lively conversation occurs.
Many times people have told me they talk about a play on the ride home or the next morning at breakfast or throughout the ensuing days. Sometimes a play is so impactful that a person simply needs to let it sink in; they just haven't had time to formulate a response to what they have just experienced. We all bring to the theatre a wide variety of life experiences and plays hit us all differently. These talkbacks are simply an opportunity for those who'd like some time to process the experience. Many times people stay but say nothing, and just allow comments from other audience members to help them navigate the response time.
No doubt about it, this play hits hard, and we hope in a very meaningful way. Our rehearsal times include a great deal of time talking about the various themes and the way the playwright presents those themes. The style of writing is often beautifully poetic and helps to us to be able to handle the difficult subject matter. We talk about each of the characters and their relation to the event. I love this kind of rehearsal process with a script that welcomes and almost demands hearty and honest dialogue.
We encourage folks to stay for the talk back. Nothing is expected of those who stay except respect for other's ideas and responses. They can leave whenever they wish. The talkbacks generally last 15 minutes, though some have lasted longer, but, again, people can leave whenever they wish. We look forward to sharing this remarkable play with you…and to talk about it.