RACISTS DON'T DO THEATRE by Thomas Putnam
Racists don't do theatre. It's simply too much for them. Is this a politically incorrect thing to say? Actually I don't care much if it is politically incorrect, but I am concerned if it is morally wrong. It's just that I am ready to have auditions for our Spring production of Molly Metzler's THE MAY QUEEN and for once it would be a dream to have a fully racially-mixed cast. This is Black History Month, and we are celebrating MLK's vision/mission this Sunday (after being re-scheduled from January 15.) MLK had a dream, and I don't think that mine is too far off from his, certainly smaller in scope but actually a demonstration of that dream.
There are only five people in this cast: two men and three women. Any of these characters could be played by any race. Of course, that could be said of any play, but this one which takes place in an insurance office could very well be filled with people of any and all races.
We've never had this in an HG production. One might argue that this is not surprising since Tioga County is hugely populated by white residents. But certainly not everyone in Tioga County (or within driving distance for rehearsals and performances) is white. We rarely have people who are not white auditioning for roles in plays. Why is that? We have had people drive from Elmira and Corning and near Williamsport and nearly to Bath and Coudersport and Troy.
I want to make sure that Hamilton-Gibson Productions is a place where people of all races feel welcomed and safe. Theatre tells some powerful stories and some of those stories are ones that racists just might not tolerate. Theatre has the potential to transform, to change, to enlighten, to convict, to broaden. A racist can't handle that kind of change.
The auditions are February 23 at 6:30; February 25 at 6;30 and February 27 at 1:00 all at the Deane Center, upstairs, Main Street in Wellsboro. Later on Feburary 27 we host a choral celebration on the last Sunday of Black History Month of the life and vision of MLK at the Wellsboro High School. We welcome all races to audition for this play, The May Queen. I have a dream that this cast will be multi-racial. Spread the good news.
BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE by Thomas Putnam
Do you know the song from the musical KISS ME KATE called “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”? It's a fun song that incorporates a whole lot of titles from the Bard's list of 36 (or 37...or 38...or...) plays. The musical, itself includes a play within a play, in this case Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW. It's a clever weaving of the basic SHREW story as the characters in the musical almost parallel the characters in SHREW. I've been thinking a lot about Shakespeare lately for a number of reasons.
First, HG is opening a version of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW on March 3. (Don't miss the opening night reception following the performance on Thursday!) It's the story through and through re-told in “modern” English. If you've had trouble in the past with iambic pentameter, try this production out. Though we miss the poetry, we get all the humor and plot situation that has intrigued audiences for over 400 years. It's in the Coolidge with re-configured seating...and you get to see real-life couple Natalie and Titus Himmelberger duking it out.
I'm also thinking about Shakespeare because the following play is the comedy INTO THE BREECHES which tells the story of a community theatre that decides to produce Shakespeare's HENRY IV and HENRY V without any males to play the roles! They are all off fighting in WWII. The play by George Brant wonderfully weaves in much of the glorious language of these two plays as the cast of women rehearse for the Henriad. We're in rehearsals for this one which opens April 1.
And I'm thinking about Shakespeare because our summer theatre arts camp for kids is SHAKIN' UP SHAKESPEARE. We'll be jumping into all sorts of things Shakespeare...and we'll be singing “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”!
Shakespeare is funny.
Clare made that comment in rehearsal recently in an appreciative response.
In rehearsing for Shrew, we find ourselves laughing, much of the time.
While I greatly appreciate the original language of most of Shakespeare’s writing, this show uses a modernization of the script. While some of the music of the words may be lost, the meaning is much more accessible, as is the humor. The actors are finding innumerable ways to accentuate the implicit tenderness, belligerence, and funny bone tickling that the bard bestowed upon us.
Clare and Linda have been working on this show for years, and now that they chose to include us in the process, they are deftly guiding us to find ways to both enhance the presentation as well as overcome our tendency to play to the audience downstage. This is theater in the round, and we have to learn to move (a lot) and to to be expressive with our bodies and the backs of our heads as well as our faces and voices. Cheating takes on a whole different meaning (the theatrical kind people …. ok … there’s a little bawdy humor too, but … ), and audiences can truly have a different experience every time they come – especially if they don’t sit in the same seats.
I love the period in a production when people are starting to get comfortable with their characters and lines because then the hidden interactions are discovered. Things are tried, and experiences evolve, and the best stuff gets kept for the performances. Given what I’ve seen so far, Shrew will pull at a lot of emotional strings – including the funny bone. That’s because...
Shakespeare is funny.
A little over three weeks from opening, the cast was getting ready to rehearse Act 5, Scene 2, described by director Clare Ritter as "the big hoo-haw conclusion." As I arrived, the cast was "coming and going," to the Deane upon arrival, then to the Warehouse for "head shots" with Bruce Dart, then back to the Deane for rehearsal in the Coolidge Theatre. Here and there actors tried on a costume piece. I asked Clare about the time period "historically" for costumes and all, and she said something like, "Well, the audience will certainly know that the costumes are not current dress." And I'll add, audiences familiar with Shakespeare will know that this tale is being retold. And all will relax and sit back and have an enriching good time. It's not the SHREW you saw in Stratford. It's this one.
It has a cast of about 15, twice as many men as women [see earlier blog inquiring about where the men are—now we know where some of them are]. And it has some younger folk in the cast.. They arrived from HG high-school-age choir practice just as I was leaving. I know most of these people and have seen them in other shows, and it is always fun, and enriching and empowering, to see them do something quite different. And the Petruhcio/Katherine leads are played by real-life couple, Natalie and Titus. I saw Natalie to chat a bit as she was going home, and she spoke of Kate as witty and clever and her own person (which is how I saw her in this rehearsal, and wanted to confirm with the actress herself). Audiences will love this interaction I think, between this man and this woman, and will find it believable.
As all were through running this scene a couple times, Clare made a few director comments including how the feeling of "reacting and interacting" among all was developing so well. And then to the practical advice (requirement) about what shoes to wear: quiet soles and low heels because the loud sound of footsteps carries so clearly in that theatre! One guy asked if his red shoes would be okay; I didn't hear the answer.
Aside from the show itself, which promises to be delightful/engaging/inspiring, I came away feeling very happy about the relationships of the actors off stage. My experience is that HG people get along nicely, and that they often actually create new friendships. So, it's no surprise to me, but I just love what I saw when people were off-stage or leaving. I don't know how well they knew each other before SHREW, but I liked what I saw last night. I have felt that too.
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!