Sunday, June 22, 2008

Peter Breaks through

In college, my directing teacher, Bob Hetherington was once talking about a production of Peter Pan he directed at the University. He said that the best performance of the show that he saw was the run through just before going into technical rehearsals. That final day in the rehearsal studio was, for him, the most magical, before the scenery and costumes. It was more imaginative and more pure, watching actors pretending to fly, like children, than it ever was watching them hooked into harnesses and flying about the stage.

Bob’s story sparked something in my imagination that I have never been able to shake loose. Why not do a rehearsal hall production of J. M. Barrie’s famous play? Something that captures the feeling of story time in kindergarten, by inviting people to grab a carpet square and sit on the floor and watch a story unfold.

Matt Lageman was an actor I had worked with in nearly every show I directed at WSU, from my first to my last. I liked him very much, but he always seemed to end up playing the second banana in my shows. It was my intention to build the show around him. Matt was to be my Peter Pan, and the role of Wendy was to go to Lisa Roth. Lisa was an actress who’s work I always enjoyed, but who seemed underutilized in the theatre department.

Matt’s parents told him he couldn’t act in any shows because of his grades. For whatever reason he listened to them, and he told me that it he couldn’t be in the show. I couldn’t imagine doing Peter Pan with anyone else and it never came to pass.

If anything my desire to do a production of Peter Pan free of technical considerations and full of imagination is stronger now than it was fifteen years ago.

I look forward to a day, next spring, when Playlab NYC can bring it to you.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Attitude of Gratitude: The Tempest Edition

In honor of the Tony awards this weekend…

Oh my goodness. I can’t believe it. [Carefully removing a stack of notecards from inside my jacket pocket.] I don't have anything prepared. Wow. Thank you. [Flipping through the cards.] I'm speechless! So many people to thank. Wow. [Pause. Inhaling deeply.]

My sincerest thanks to all the members of our immensely talented cast. Bob, Molly, David, Major, Johnson, Jonathan, just to be included in a group with you all is an honor. I'd like to thank our director, Kyle Grant, our stage manager, Colleen McKeever, and all the people at the Juilliard School for their generous help with props, costumes, and rehearsal space. Elizabeth, Traci, James, Kathy, Joe, Mary, and Marion. Thanks to all of them.

I've been thinking a lot about fathers in the course of this, and I'd like to thank my own father, as well as my own fine boy, Edison. I'd also like to thank Jennifer Wilcox, Playlab NYC’s Managing Director and my [Gazing into the audience.]

To the audience, all those who came out to watch the show, it is to you whom I feel the deepest gratitude forgive me if I say just simply, "Thank you."

I’d like us to take a moment to remember all the visionary people who said “yes” but whom we lost during the course of the production. [Begins tearing.] Todd, John, Mick, and of course... [Orchestra begins to play.] No! Zoiks!! Don't start playing that music, I have forty-two more people to thank! Our Lab Assistants, Jon, Rob, Heather! My brother Eric, the crowd down at the Bel-Aire, Tara and the staff at Socrates Sculpture Park. And finally a shout out to God for not making it rain even more than you did, and for not striking Molly with lightning. Thank you all very much indeed. Oh I forgot, thanks to...

[Music swells. Looking lost I wonder off stage in the wrong direction.]

Acceptance speech jokes aside, my sincerest thanks.


This blog was created in part using the Radar Oscar Acceptance Speech Generator by Willa Paskin.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

I've Got No Strings to Hold Me Down

When we began talking with Kyle Grant about directing out production of The Tempest one of his ideas was to use puppets in the roles of Ariel and Caliban. Kevin and i had been talking about exploring puppetry as a part of or vision of Playlab NYC, and this gave us a chance to dive into it with our first show.

We found Ariel at an antique store disguised as a carpet beater. Caliban grew from a couple of puppetry books including The Complete Book of Puppetry by George Latshaw and 101 Hand Puppets: A Beginner's Guide to Puppeteering by Richard Cummings. The real breakthrough for us in creating Caliban was a picture of a death puppet found in Eileen Blumenthal's Puppetry: A World History.

David Ledoux with the mockup of Caliban is in the middle working with Kyle, our director. One of the challenges in designing Caliban is that he needs to be able to use props, lugging wood and drinking from a jug. In the left photo, Molly Garber holds Ariel. You can see that at this stage Ariel's wire frame tends to disappear into her surroundings.

In the pictures below Caliban starts to take shape. We created him using a couple commedia dell arte masks and paper mache. Kevin worked on the head. I'll be working on the costume over the next couple of days. I have the perfect fabric for him. It flows great; it's light and it's just the right length. I'm eager to get it finished for David when we begin dress rehearsals on Wednesday. He's grown skilled at using the prototype and I want to give him as much time with the finished puppet as I can.

Below is Ariel again with Molly. the challenge with Ariel is that since she is a found object and not a traditional puppet how do we make her expressive. We've added some colored ribbon and fabric to the wings to improve her visibility for the audience and to give the wire frame some life. The puppet is quite beautiful with all the bead work. It's as if she was washed up on shore and Prospero created this creature out of polished stones and wire.

Working on this puppets continues to be quite a task. This has got to be one of the most ambitious projects I've ever done. I've never built puppets before, so I hope that this first endeavor goes over well. The show is next weekend and Ariel is nearly done, but we really need to get in gear on Caliban. I look forward to sharing the production shots next week to show the final results.