THE OVER-55 FOLKS RECONVENE by Barbara Biddison
Suppose you're 65 or 85 (or older or younger or in-between) and you wake up one morning and wonder when Acting Up is going to start meeting again. Or suppose you're that age and remember that you have heard about HG's Acting Up and wondered if that would be something you'd like to do. Or suppose a friend wants to go and is reluctant to go alone. Well, it's time to give it a try, or to return to it for the umpteenth year!
It's time for ACTING UP to gather together for Hamilton-Gibson's opportunity designed for folks over 55 (no age limit on the top—we've welcomed in recent years at least 2 who have reached 90). We meet on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month at 2PM on the second floor of the Deane Center. All are invited to "just show up" for an hour of reading aloud to each other, a casual ReadersTheatre experience.
People come and go as their lives require. You can still go to your grandson's birthday party, or to a doll club meeting, or south for the winter. No gold stars for perfect attendance! We do like to know
about how many will be there on a given Tuesday so we can plan an appropriate group reading, but we like to keep it loose. That's probably how we have been able to keep Acting Up going regularly since
Who is this "we" newcomers may ask. It's Larry and Barbara Biddison. We both have some background in literature and in theatre, and we love helping people develop skills in the oral presentation of all kinds of literature. Yes, we read plays, and also prose and poetry. Y'all come! We welcome newcomers as well as longtime regulars.
THE SCENT OF A MELODY by Thomas Putnam
I was in a play at Mansfield University in the summer of my 16th birthday. (I remember it was my 16th because I had just gotten my driver's license and got a ticket driving home very late one June night from rehearsal! Yeah...for speeding. It's a good thing the policeman wasn't around when I had turned off my headlights because the moon was so bright and I wanted to see if I could drive without them.) Sorry...I digress.
I was in a play with college students and faculty (I was the only high school student) and in one scene my character climbed up into the bedroom loft with his former but still dear girlfriend and we were to make-out on the bed. The most memorable thing about that romp on the bed was the actress's perfume. It was mesmerizing...and memorable. I don't remember that co-ed's name, nor have I ever had any contact with her since. But, over the many decades since, I have instantly thought of her when I happened to smell that perfume. I don't remember the name, but wow, does that perfume take me back to those nights on the old Allen Hall stage.
What makes MY WAY work is hearing a melody that Frank Sinatra used to sing (or still sings if you listen to recordings or other avenues.) None of the four singers in this revue which opens on September 16 even begins to try to sound like Sinatra, but the tunes....oh, those tunes. In this case it's not the sound of Sinatra's singular voice that stirs us, but the remembrance of that melody.
Like that perfume from long ago, the scent of a melody transmits us back to another time or place or company or situation. Some of these melodies most of us have heard, I bet, a hundred times, and that scent is strong; sometimes triggering a very, very specific moment in our lives (like making out in the loft on Allen Hall stage), and for better or for worse we are broadened by the memory. Breathe deeply.
WHAT WERE YOUR PARENTS LISTENING TO? By Thomas Putnam
MY WAY opens September 16, so many of my waking moments (and many of my sleeping moments!) are taken up with all things Sinatra. Even in the midst of the past few weeks' muddled-Covid-brain, my thoughts go to that voice, that face, that phenomenon. With a singing career that lasted so many decades, there is a lot to think about.
One of the lines in the musical revue indicates that “half the U.S. population over 40 was conceived while their parents were listening to the music of Frank Sinatra.” Actually in our script it says “over 80” but I've heard that age modified in a few different productions. Regardless of the age indicated, how in the world would this be a statistic that could be verified?
I think it's a fun thought, however, and probably one that at least during many of the years between 1945 and the early 1990's there probably would be a good chance that a large percentage of conceptions occurred while the participants were hearing the voice of Frank Sinatra. He had at least three career wanes with equal number of career revitalizations; and the wanes were fairly short-lived. He also recorded somewhere between 1200 and 1600 different songs. Uh...that's a lot of air-time.
This might be a fun question to ask couples around an extended family picnic: what were they listening to when their children were conceived? Of course, for many of us who are of a certain age we can't ask our parents that question. The sheer number of Sinatra recordings however, makes it plausible that the Crooner was present.
Our musical revue is family friendly so there's no need to worry about such questions being asked when you attend on September 16, 17, 18, 23, or 24. But “family friendly” takes on new meaning when considering this question, yes? Good ol' Frank.
FOOD AND WINE...AND SOME IVORY by Thomas Putnam
I've been reminded the past few weeks of a particular person who means a great deal to me...and ultimately to you. The person is “the accompanist.” With the commencement of the new season of the HG Choral Program for kids in grades 2-12, and planning ahead for music gigs in October and even the musicals for 2023, and the fast-approaching musical tribute to Frank Sinatra, I am reminded that I and the projects I direct are worth very little without an accompanist. Wait, let me clarify that...without a really good accompanist.
I don't think most people realize the value of a confident, talented, flexible, selfless accompanist. HG has been hugely blessed with just such people. Over the years Kay Galloway, Marian Miller, Cheri Ayres have all bolstered our choirs and shows. More recently Parker Neal, Adam Mahonsky, and others have sat on the bench, which we might call the Mercy Seat. Without the strong support of those who sit at the piano, the choir or the show simply falters.
In the past few weeks, two guys have reminded me of this. Gary Citro became our accompanist for the choirs last year, and as we begin this year, he is once again is faithfully providing the support the singers need. He also played for the melodrama and the Animal Crackers show this summer! We couldn't do it without him.
Derek Young was the choir accompanist a few years ago. He also accompanied a few shows and traveled with the choirs on tour. Last month he came to our rescue when we were in great need of a solid accompanist for MY WAY, which opens next Friday. Though now living in Sayre and with a full schedule, he's making the time to accompany the four singers as they croon their way through 50 songs made famous by Sinatra. We couldn't do it without him.
When you attend an HG event, or a high school concert, or a Wellsboro Men's or Women's concert, take the time to thank Pat Davis and Judy Smithgall and Marian Miller and whomever is on the Mercy Seat, tickling those ivories and providing the support the singers need.
You're on the Air by Barbara Biddison
I sat in on a final rehearsal for this radio show in the Coolidge
Theatre. The live audiences won't get to see all the pre-show prep
that entertained me for about a half hour, but I'm here to tell you
that it's pretty interesting. And the sound effects people are every
bit as important and well rehearsed as those with speaking roles. It
runs August 19, 20, 21.
So the first "row" of the performing space consists of tables with
every kind of sound that you can imagine including a small door with
doorknob opening and closing, bells of all sorts, and people whose
sole job it is to operate the sound effects exactly on time. (They
sometimes use their personal bodies (hands for slaps and mouths for
sounds, for effects also.) Day-dreamers need not apply for these
Behind the row for sound effects, we find the human characters.
Again, you have to pay attention. These real human people with real
human voices convey age (little child, crotchety old guy, lovely young
woman with accent) and character with skill and fun. And, because
this is LIVE radio we get to see their wonderful facial expressions
too. Each person will voice different characters throughout the show
As I see it, the trick for the audience is to simultaneously give
attention to voice for gender and age and accent as well as to facial
expression for mood. And to keep an eye on the sound effects as well.
It's not "nap-time"! And we get to see people on this stage who we've
seen in regular plays or musicals, and people who participate in
Acting Up and Out, and people we have, as far as we know, never seen
before in a theatre or walking down Main Street. This radio
opportunity is all-inclusive. Gabe Hakvaag directs .
STARS IN THE SKY. STARS ON THE STAGE by Thomas Putnam
I attended a rehearsal for HG's evening of show tunes to be presented at the Stony Fork Campgrounds on Saturday at 7:30. The evening was a perfect August night. Warm, but not hot. Still, but with just a whisper of a breeze. And, yes, one could say “the hills are a live with the sound of music.”
There were about 10 people milling about, and techie Gary Fizzano had all his sound equipment on and off stage. Everything was ready. The coordinator of the event couldn't be at this run-through; it was mainly for Gary to check to make sure all was well with the sound. The well-prepared group began to run through the pieces in order of the show.
One after another they mounted the open-air stage facing the wide expanse of hillside lawn where the audience will be bringing their lawn chairs. The line-up begins with Ramon Duterte delivering a powerful rendition of a song that will be familiar to many, new to others.
I remember when we produced THE SOUND OF MUSIC in the early '90's and a man—who was not particularly eager to attend the show, but did so to appease his wife—leaned over to her after that glorious opening of the nun's chorus and said “That was worth the admission; I could go home now and be completely satisfied.” It was good, imho, with over 30 women in habits skillfully trained by Barbara Winters. I felt kind of like this man after Ramon was done. If the rest of the show is half as good as this, we're in for a great evening.
And I wasn't disappointed. One after the other came to the mic and sang their heart out. Some of these folks are trained, experienced performers; others are kids who took a shot and sent in an audition recording. One of the foundation stones of HG is that all are welcome; that we're providing opportunities for people of all ages—and all experience levels—to enrich and empower their lives through community performing arts. It's good stuff.
I had not met a few of these folks. Some I've known for decades. They each chose their particular song that they felt some connecting to/with; and they do a bang-up job of sharing with us that connection.
There is food and beverage and some fun games of chance before the show and during intermission. It's going to be an evening to simply relax and hum along with songs that you have known for years and songs that you may be hearing for the first time. Invite some friends and grab your lawn chairs and treat yourself a well-deserved rest. “The hills are alive...”
On the same Saturday, the last Saturday in the month of May, I
attended the final wonderful performance of THE MAY QUEEN and the
first exploratory meeting of Artistic Planning to begin the
putting-together of a 2023 Season for HG. But we actually have more
than half-a-year left of this one. So that June through December is
for me the "in-between time."
The first connection that I'm carrying with me is that of a very
recent MAY QUEEN and the reading of new plays, remembering that some
plays "read" better than others for me. If there are certain scenes
that call for a closer look in a play new to me, I'll remember that.
It even helps sometimes to read aloud some scenes in a new play. It's
not just take-them-home and read a couple every day. I've read 2 now
and can't see a place for either in the next HG season, but maybe
someone else can so I returned them and got 2 more. Right now the
hardest part is disciplining myself to stop planting red petunias in
my hanging baskets, and planter, and in the ground. And sit on the
back porch and read a play.
This morning I got up and put on my "Life is Good" t-shirt, the one
with the picture on the front of a big yellow dog riding in a yellow
convertible. (I once had an 80-pound yellow dog who rode in my yellow
convertible..) And then I started reading a funny play. It's a good
THE MAY QUEEN CHRONICLES: Now We Are Here by Thomas Putnam
We look at scores of scripts every year in order to fashion a season. I haven't calculated, but I wouldn't be surprised if 85% of those we consider we never produce. Of that remaining 15% we choose the few shows that will comprise the next season. Sometimes when I peruse a script I can tell within a few pages that I just don't connect with it. It could be the subject matter; it could be poor writing; it could be a less-than-engaging story line. I try to plow through to the end, however, because...well, it ain't over 'till it's over. We're in the midst now of wading through scripts...and hoping for that 15% from which to choose and 2023 Season.
Sometimes I see a play at another theatre and immediately think “HG should produce this one.” And that's what happened with THE MAY QUEEN. I had heard of it when it was workshopped at Chautauqua a number of years ago, but didn't see it until it was produced at the Geva in Rochester. I knew immediately that I'd like to direct it with HG. I sent for the script and my reading of it confirmed that it was a show we ought to—needed to?--produce.
The weeks of rehearsal confirmed even more that this is a play we want to share with our community. The in-depth discussions, the questions, the character analysis, the crawling around in another's skin...all have deepened my appreciation for this work.
And the audience response. I wish I could record the responses of people as they leave the theatre. From their comments and expressions, I know that I'm not the only one moved by this work. This is noTV fluff that you forget about the moment you turn it off. This one stays with you. I'm hoping you will allow it to stay with you, by attending one of the remaining performances: May 27 and 28 at 7:30.
And then it's gone. The beauty and the reality of live theatre: this work will never ever be revisited. It is not a disc or a stream that can be watched and re-watched at whim: it will only happen in this spot at this time with these actors on stage with these audience members with this weather through the lens of all the personal stuff that's going in your life at this moment. Now we are here.
THE MAY QUEEN CHRONICLES: We're Telling Stories by Thomas Putnam
Some of you may remember the Storytelling Festivals that MU hosted a few years ago. (Well, maybe a few decades. Was it really half a century ago?) I remember the experience as if it were just a few years ago. One person standing there telling a story. No sound track. No special lighting. No second takes. Just one human being telling a story to another, or in that case to hundreds of other humans. There was something incredibly powerful in those moments, something incredibly human.
I've come to realize how much we need to recognize the power of story. It's what we do as humans. I'm not convinced that any other living form can do such a thing (though I'm not ruling out the possibility.) Indeed, it is what makes us human.
I think I've mentioned before in these blogs that during the depths of the Pandemic, some on the committee that helps to decide on what plays we're going to produce the following season felt that what we all needed at that time was to laugh...some plays that were just plain funny. I disagreed then and even more so now. I believe what we need is to tell stories...and to hear stories.
During the course of the process of getting THE MAY QUEEN to the stage, I've been struck with the story-telling nature of this play. Every character in the play has a moment (or more) when they tell a story. Remember, this play takes place within the four walls of an office pod—anything but a reflection of healthy humanity. And yet in this sterile place, five humans meet and interact and tell stories. A few of the stories are pages long in the script.
We find out that some of the stories that have been told in the past turn out to be not true. (We're certainly familiar with that phenomenon in this country in recent years!) But the play is about telling the truth...telling true stories. It's a powerful experience.
We've got the audience almost circling the action of the play. One of the reasons is for us as listeners of stories to be a part of the action in that life-less pod and to allow ourselves to be quickened by the experience of being hearers. Truth is told. Stories are told. It's what theatre—and life—is all about.
THE MAY QUEEN CHRONICLES: SO MUCH CAN HAPPEN IN A "POD" by Barbara Biddison
Last night I saw a dress rehearsal. Just five people and 4 desks and 4 chairs and all kinds of "stuff" kept my rapt attention for an hour and a half. These three women and two men are so real and so clueless sometimes that I laughed out loud, and so different in character, and so troubled at other times, that I cried. In the opening scene Dave is moving about and Mike is drunk, and normally drunk isn't funny in my world, but he's funny And his desk is so cluttered with garbage from the food he brings in to eat that there is no desk surface to be seen. And then there's Gail, older than the others, dressed in crazy beautiful "work clothes" and blessed with the ability to give a massage in the office. Then in comes the tiny irritating, insecure, loud office manager with a new sullen, quiet "temp" who it turns out is not as much of a stranger to the others as we had thought. So we watch all of them try to sort things out. Who IS this woman?
This play is for me the kind of treat that I don't usually have as a long-long-time audience member. I've been going to plays since my late teens. I've been going to HG plays for its 30-some years of existence. For much of that HG time I've been on Artistic Planning, and that means that I have probably read every play here before I see it. Usually I just love to see the stage come to life. What I have read becomes real, pretty much as I hoped for and pretty much as I had expected. Well, this one is different. I read it. OK. But this play comes to life on stage in a way that I could never have imagined. This play goes from reading a "not-my-all-time-favorate-play" to an " I really want to see it again, maybe twice again" play. Seriously. The acting is really good. But more than that, This play must be seen and heard live. Yes, live and on stage.
I drilled lines with a couple of the actors. We talked some about what was going on there. I was familiar with the words, but no play is just about words. Good plays are about people and emotions and life happenings. We have to pay attention when we see this play. Dialogue is clever and meaty and often funny. The long monologues are works of art thanks to the playwright and the character who speaks. And their timing is just so good. Ah, yes,. Who is Jen Nash?