1. Back Home Again: A John Denver Holiday Concert closes on Monday, Christmas Eve. I saw it last Sunday, and it is actually quite charming. You should know that it's a full-on concert, not a theatre piece, with a mix of Christmas songs and John Denver classics, and Mr. Denver won't be there. Because, he's you know, not living. But the music is great, many of the musicians used to play with John, there's a little twang, fiddle, and boot stomping, and it's the perfect sort of uplifting holiday entertainment to bring your family to. I know, I brought my parents and they loved it. And I even bought them tickets. You can get yours here.
2. We're gearing up in a big way for The Breach, a fascinating new piece by three playwrights responding to Hurricane Katrina with three different stories. We have some great actors already on board, including John Aylward (of ER and West Wing fame).
We also have a ton of great programming lined up to deepen our understanding of what happened in New Orleans during Katrina and what is still happening. Times-Picayune journalist and author Chris Rose is coming to speak, Elliot Bay Bookstore is hosting a reading, The 5-Spot, with a New Orleans-themed menu, will be offering diners discounts to the show, we'll be selling art from NOLA-based artists in the lobby (proceeds going right back to them), and plenty more. I'll keep you updated, and there will be a calendar on our website, but you heard it first, as they say.
3. It's still raining. Ugh.
By the way, we got a sneak peek of the music (performed by former members of John's band, including Dan Wheetman who co-wrote Fire on the Mountain, which we did last season). It was awesome. I didn't even think I liked John Denver, and surprise! It almost brought me to tears. Take me home, country roads.
Seattle Repertory implemented a pay-what-you-will night for the usually light Halloween, and it sold out. Like many theaters, it holds one such night per performance, totaling around a half-dozen a year. The minimum cost is $1, but customers pay on average $5. But each show, there's always somebody who is willing to pay the full price of $40, because that's what they decide the show is worth, said Christy Carlson, the ticketing services manager.
The article also mentions KEXP, the band Maktub, SAM and more.
I've seen first hand the huge lines that form on the days that we offer Pay What You Can performances (usually the first Monday preview of a Bagley show). People love cheap tickets, but more than that, they love getting to decide what the experience is worth for them.
Wouldn't it be nice if everything was like that? Oh, yes Apartment Manager, this month I'll be giving you $50 because that's really what this place is worth.
It's definitely a good thing for Seattle theatre and seems like a real effort by Intiman to bridge the gap between the few remaining mid-size theatres in town and the big houses. Bringing in artists from the "trenches" like Marya Sea Kaminski and Jen Zeyl as we did for My Name is Rachel Corrie proved to be a very good thing for everyone involved—the energy and vision around that show was palpable. And that was just for one production. I don't know about you, but I'm psyched to see what Sheila will do as a full member of their artistic team.
You can read the full scoop in the Seattle Times
If nothing else, know tickets are going fast, and if you want to see it, you should get your tickets now. It's the perfect show to bring your family, you know the ones who are in town and smothering your existence crammed in your house.
Check out One Minute With...Chuck Smith, director of Birdie Blue. I haven't seen the show yet because last night, while everyone else was watching the opening performance, I was in the kitchen swirling up gallons of the specialty cocktail, Sock It To Me Cider. The cider was great, so I think it was worth the price.
I can say the general feeling after the show was: "Wow." Great, acting and a really touching, heart-wrenching story. We survey our preview audiences, and one person said, "You must see this play. The actors are unforgettable in their roles. The story is touching and rings true. This play would touch anyone's heart and change their view of contemporary life."
So there you have it.
Seattle Rep knows that stipend only goes so far, so come holiday time, every year the staff and volunteers in the Seattle Repertory Organization pitch in to buy food, gift certificates, toilet paper and other sundry items (sometimes beer).
But we make our interns work for their food. Check out the video of yesterday's intern feeding ritual. More information about the less mysterious parts of our internship program is available here.
Last year on the other side of the country (and in a different sort of arts venue), Signature Theatre Company in New York did something unthinkable: They made every ticket for every seat $15. People came out in droves, especially young people.
The Rep's $10 ticket for anyone 25 and under is certainly popular, though not close to that level (every one of Signature's productions sold out). It costs $10 to see a movie, but when I ask my under-25 friends if they want to see a play for that price, they quite often balk, "That's a lot for something I don't even know if I'll like."
So where's the line? I'm curious how people decide what's too much for art. I know my measures: trust in the company/venue, knowing people involved, interest in the subject matter. I myself have hesitated to pay $15 for a fringe theater show but now that I'm putting up my own fringe show I have no hesitation in setting a $15 ticket price. All that work...of course it's worth the price of two cocktails.
What do you think? What will you pay for art?
"The Cook is a genius at work: Zabryna Guevara is magic at The Rep"
"The Rep's near-flawless production...favors (Eduardo) Machado's abundant humanism and humor" —Seattle Times
"A touching and heartbreaking tale...Eduardo Machado's beautiful script is powerful and pithy, and captures the soul of Cuba." —BroadwayHour.com
The audience says:
"Ms. Guevara's portrayal was perfect. I loved her grace and emotion and strength."
"A must see! The Cook seduces you with its music, language and smells...DELICIOUS!"
"It was captivating. I love history and enjoyed seeing it come alive."
"My wife and I were riveted. Best show of the season."
Tickets are going like hot cakes (yum, hot cakes). Buy them here.
On Friday I shot Eduardo Machado, the playwright of The Cook, and Michael Domitrovich, co-author of Eduardo's memoir/cookbook, making a traditional Cuban dish called Morros y Cristianos. I wish I could have left the footage unedited because what's not in the video is Michael talking about his first cooking experiment (blueberry muffins—his mom made the muffins, he put in the blueberries), Eduardo pretending to be downing vodka, and the two of them discussing how you might make this meal for breakfast.
Both of them were so incredibly funny and kind, and their food smelled amazing, even for a vegetarian like me (by the way, Michael said you can substitute the bacon for a 1/3 cup of olive oil).
Just got back from a conference in Miami, where I had the realization that just I was just 230 miles from Cuba. I knew that fact, but being in Miami drove it home. Miami is so influenced by that culture: everywhere I went the language, food and spirit of Cuba were present (just trivially...fried plantains and mojitos—yes, please).
This was so interesting to me because tonight we're opening The Cook, Eduardo Machado's play about a woman named Gladys who survives three decades of Cuba revolution by cooking. Since I've been out of town, I haven't seen the show yet, so I'd love to hear your thoughts if you have...please comment!
This is going to have to be fast because it is crazy in my world. So, in brief:
Murderers is awesome and tickets are going faster than a downhill golf cart (what? is that cheesy?). It plays until Nov. 4, so get on it. In two seconds I am going to post a video spoofing Sarah Rudinoff's character Minka Lupino, a murdering condo saleswoman.
Had a meet and greet for Birdie Blue today and met the director, Chuck Smith who's in residency here but lives in Chicago and works at the renouned Goodman Theatre. In addition to hearing the design concept (a set that will really play up on the imagination-sparking elements of the play and awesome costumes that will ground things in reality), we also got introduced to Chuck's blue fisherman's cap, which he wears when he's working. "If you see me without this hat," he said, "I'm not working."
It's going to start smelling really good around here because we're about to go into previews for The Cook which features, among other things, some delicious Cuban food prepared on stage. Word on the street is you might smell garlic chicken and a lot of citrus wafting from the stage. Personally, I am going to hit up Paseo in Fremont before seeing the show to avoid awkward stomach grumbling.
OK, must go. Be back in a second with that video.
Saw Murderers last night. There were a lot of things I loved about the show. Sarah Rudinoff for one (who has been blogging for us). Her comic timing is brilliant. I guess she wasn't a Stranger Genius for nothing. I've convinced her to star in a little film we're making on Friday, so keep an eye out here for that. Also awesome about the show? The funniest "turn your cellphones speech off" I think I've ever heard. I won't ruin the joke, but hopefully you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
Speaking of clever, sometimes we do things in the Communications department for our own weird enjoyment. We did end up using these pictures for for the cover of our student theatre zine OffBook, but mostly we sat in the office chuckling morbidly. Here are my favorites. The rest are here.
If you can't read the fine print, starting tomorrow you can buy $20 tickets to any performance in any seat for the extension week of Twelfe Night, in honor of Live Theatre Week. Go to www.seattlerep.org or call the box office at 206-443-2222 for tickets.
Not that I should have to sell you on cheap tickets, but this show is awesome. Shameless lack of modesty:
The critics say:
"Where they strut and gambol, one is happy to follow… David Esbjornson gives this many-faceted comedy a postmodern look, a fine verbal cogency and rigor. " Seattle Times
"...hilarity dances across the stage...fantastic performances." BroadwayHour.com
The audience says:
"It was fantastic... Loved this version of it."
"Magnificent, you must see it."
"The funniest Shakespeare play we've ever seen."
For one, don't freak out. The blog looks different, but it's all the same, you know, in its heart. We're trying out a new look that looks more like the Seattle Rep homepage. Thoughts?
For two, we just made our first "behind-the-scenes" video. I'd like to share it with you now.
I felt bad about forgetting to blog—I was asked to write my thought on rehearsals when I wanted to and then I realized...I forgot to. Funny to add blogging to the to do list. Rehearsals have been going well. We all miss each other because we are not acting together. The three of us have a moment in the beginning together and of course we get a few moments to rehearse it and all we want to do is visit and bond as we wait for the music cue that gets us onstage. Our most amazing stage manager, Cris Reynolds (who is one of the best and really is that most incredible mix of den mother, organizer, ship captain and artist) gives us some leeway to futz around and give pecks on the cheek and talk and make jokes—she knows we need this strange ape like actor grooming ritual with each other. It's funny but true to think that many of us got into this craft, this life, for the pleasure of connecting with people and this camaraderie and community that is created. When I have done a solo show—especially when I have toured a solo show and don't even know any of the crew and stage managemen—I have sat in my dressing room (or the pool table room, or someone's strange office) and joked with myself in the mirror "Have a great show! No you have a great show. Break a leg! I think I will." I think we are all secretly looking forward to our 12-hour-a-day tech rehearsals that start this Sunday because we will all be together for a week and get to see each other.
I had a trip planned to L.A. when I got cast in the show, and I was allowed to go on a shortened version last weekend. It included seeing Rufus Wainwright doing Judy Garland at the Hollywood Bowl, very fun. I got back and had had 2 1/2 days less of rehearsal that everyone else and everyone was off book but me!! I felt ahead before I left and then....I am one page away from this 17 page monologue being in my bones and I am going to memorize the last page before we do a run of the show for an invited crowd at the Rep today. I love these invited crowd days because people come from everywhere in the building to watch, and it is incredible to see how many people work in the building. When you see everyone gather you realize what it takes to run a huge theatre—painters, props masters (who are doing the most fun version of these "cheesy paperbacks" I have on stage), costumes, admin, education, marketing. It is pretty wonderful.
Rehearsals have been very focused and I adore Steven. He doesn't want to just listen to the sound of his voice or pontificate (I have a creeeping suspicion that I am this kind of director actually). He is one of those great directors that understands if he lets you find it then you can recreate it each night in a fresh way, because your brain synapses and nerves and hunches and body language and thoughts and all these little, almost imperceptible, things lead you there. If you are just "following directions" the performance can feel empty and your mind is filled with "then Steven said to go here, then here, then I am supposed to do this," rather then a life lived on stage. He puts these perfect questions in your mind that you have to answer about the character and he supports you in finding the answers—really lovely.
Yesterday we told each other our monologues, just sitting there talking to each other using the text. Great exercise in scale as well as really seeing if you can look someone in the eye and talk to them like it was the first time you were saying these words. Mark and Joan were wonderful, really taking this opportunity to break it apart. Joan is from NYC and is a member of the Actor's Studio (I googled her and then talked to her about it a bit) and you can really tell she is in her element in an exercise like this where you have to just drop it down into the belly and be real with it. We all had tears in our eyes as she was telling certain parts of the story and then she is also incredible funny—I think hearing an older woman swearing and saying exactly what she thinks is so refreshing. Outside of my own living granny who is the most real and amazing woman who doesn't put on airs or play the granny part whatsoever, you rarely see older women in our culture (TV and film come to mind...) who can be raunchy in language and very direct and jealous and sexy. Love that Joan.
Well, I will try to remember to blog more. I think I will bring the computer during tech. Ah...tech. I always tell young actors when they ask me if they should go to LA or how it is working on camera, "If you like tech, you'll love film and television!" It seems like one big lighting set up—I am sure it gets better when you are Meryl Streep. Everything must be better when you are Meryl Streep...that might have to be a song title.
I am really excited to be starting rehearsal again. I haven't been in a play since I closed Wonderful Town at the 5th Ave. in May of 05. I took over a year off to get my real estate business off the ground and consistent, and after a lifetime of rehearsal clothes and Mondays off and vocal rest, I was driving around in my car and talking to people in escrow offices and holding the hands of clients and friends as they made this insane purchase or sale...now I am back to the rehearsal room and it certainly feels like the first days of school.
I have done solo shows before and the rehearsal process can be really daunting: no one to really bounce thoughts off of or shoot the shit with except for the director. Lines become not funny at about day 2 or 3...we are already there! You have this relationship with the director that is unlike a big old play with lots of people running around, they are the only ones you are performing to and for, then you realize- why am I performing? Just tell the story. It is a good reminder.
I remember my first solo show, written after I was already booked to tour it with Theater Simple to the Adelaide Festival in Australia, Broad Perspective (a title I had to come up with before I wrote the show...and soon hated...well actually I came up with Broad which I thought was a clever way of saying I was a woman while opening up the possibilities that the show could be about anything and since I hadn't written it yet, I wanted to give myself a long enough rope...) This title was nixed for being, well, too broad. I chose as my director someone who I worshiped but did not know very well- another interesting choice when I look back at it. Kevin Kent was about the smartest most unexpected performer I had seen and I knew he directed shows. So my early 20's self asked him for coffee, proposed the show and off we went. The first days of rehearsal were horrifying- I was a new writer- is he liking my work? Does he think this is funny? Also I was a new solo performer- was he supposed to laugh? Am I interesting enough to be watched and listened to for over an HOUR?! All in the basement of that building downtown by the market that used to house a movie theatre and a theatre space.
All of these thoughts were making me giggle at my younger self as I sat with a director I didn't know, the lovely Steven Dietz, (who is directing Murderers,) and began a process of unearthing a monologue. I must say that doing someone else's 17-page monologue, which I have never done before, is a lot better in some ways- none of the "why did I write that!?" If something is not working I think my mind can take a load off assured that it couldn't possibly be me.
I love the REP and am reminded what a good and gentle soul David Esbjornson is, and it is already a blast getting to be in an intimate cast, but having the enormous cast of Twelfe Night in the green room with us- including one of my nearest and dearest Nick Garrison who has directed me in solo shows, so I think I may be going to that well when I am in the tearing my hair out and why did I become an actor phase. Oh the angst.....
I was downstairs hanging the Twelfe Night lobby display and from the theatre I could hear Charles Legget playing the harmonica on stage. Harmonica is pretty much my favorite instrument, right before banjo, but perhaps after the keytar. I don't know exactly what part the harmonica plays in the show, but it sounded awesome.
Ok, so I am here, in the balcony. It appears nothing is happening. I think they're on a break. Just my luck. There are two guys, not actors, standing on stage. One offstage is operating an elevator that is raising and lowering a platform on stage. Ok, that's a little magical. One guy gets on the platform, which is exciting.
The set is spectatcular. It's reminicient of the hull of a ship, but it twists and rolls across the stage to the edge where it splinters off. Everything is blue and green.
Back from break. The stage manager asks the actors to get in position. The house lights go off and the lighting is suddenly a magnificant sunrise. Magic! The actor playing Sebastian does the end of a monologue. Olivia comes on in a giant purple dress. Fabian comes on in a leather skirt, black stockings and tiny black pumps. David, the director, asks Nick, playing Fabian: " How much traction do you have in those little pumps?"
My ten minutes are up. I have concluded: this show is going to be not your usual take on Shakespeare. And I have just remembered that I only have one week to find a dress for our black tie opening night party, so I better go. More soon.
I'm not too upset about diving headfirst into our first show because it happens to be Shakespeare's Twelfe Night (no, I didn't spell that wrong, we are using the folio spelling of "Twelfth"). David Esbjornson is directing and a whole load of local actors are currently downstairs rehearsing: Charles Legget, David Pichette, Nick Garrison, MJ Sieber, Mari Nelson, Brad Farwell.
We had our meet and greet (the time for the company to hear about the design concepts of the show and the time for me to take notes to report back to you), and I learned the following:
1. There may be flying. Like humans, airborne, possibly scantily clad.
2. At least one costume was inspired by Marilyn Manson.
3. The set will have some really cool twisty metal.
4. But before you go thinking this is some sort of goth redition, know the major design inspiration was Maxfield Parish.
5. So in a nutshell, don't expect traditional Shakespeare, but do expect a comedy with a dark side.
This season's is going to be great, and you can look forward to this from me: witty blogs (of course), behind-the-scenes YouTube videos, possibly pictures of sparkly gowns (Twelfe Night opening is black tie), alcohol consumption (of course), and hopefully some guest bloggers. I'll be asking some the amazing actors and artists we have lined up to grace the stage. Tina Landau for one, Steven Dietz, Robert Schenkkan, Suzanne Bouchard, Mark Anders and—just announced and terribly exciting—the hilarious Sarah Rudinoff will be in Murderers
This blog is starting to sound like US Weekly or something. I better go roam the halls and pray for someone in a scandalous state of deshabillé.
If you saw Thom Pain: based on nothing in October, you might recognize the show's needy nihilistic protagonist (or was it antagonist?) who managed to piss off legions of theatregoers in a play that I absolutely loved. Some people didn't: having this guy up in your face for over an hour making you question if your life is worth anything is a little challenging.
Anyway, Todd as Thom showed up and confronted David as to why his show wasn't getting a repeat in the next season. He led the board members in a call and response session and then suggested a Thom Pain Christmas show. (brilliant!) I laughed so hard I was almost crying. I am already mentally writing the script for An Existential Holiday. Think it could sell? Don't worry, it's not actually going to happen. This holiday season we'll be spreading the holiday cheer with a John Denver retrospective called Back Home Again.
The rest of the (real) preview performances were pretty awesome. Twelfth Night, which we're opening the season with, is going to be really fun and dark. David called it "Shakespeare's farewell to comedy," meaning it has great wit and some of his best clowns hamming it up, but also some deeper, biting looks at love.
I was especially excited to see a reading from The Breach, a new play in response to Hurricane Katrina. The play was very uniquely written by three different playwrights and weaves together three stories that each touch on a different aspect of the disaster, but in a very personal, yet highly theatrical way. I wasn't sure from reading the script how it would play live, but I think it's going to be fascinating, touching, and ultimately a piece that will inspire a lot of conversation.
The three playwrights are also here this week for a workshop of the piece. At the meeting, they talked for a bit about the process, describing it as a marriage. Like all marriages, sometimes it's really hard, said the youngest of the playwrights, recent Yale School of Drama MFA grad Tarell McCraney. "Sometimes I don't want to be married to Joe Sutton," he said. (Sutton, by the way, wrote Voir Dire. The third playwright is Catherine Filloux.
The way the piece came together is fascinating, but in the interest of blog length (and the fact that I am three minutes away from lunch), I will save that for another posting.
And the sun appears to be making a comeback. Off I go into it.
I had the great fortune of meeting Ms. Rashad, and she is probably the most eloquent, graceful women I've ever talked to. This event is also a benefit for the Rep's amazing education programs, so your ticket price ($75) supports local students AND gets you into a post-show champagne celebration. If there's champagne, there's a good chance I'll be there. You can tell me how much you love the blog, and I'll autograph your blackberry.
More information is here. If you're sold already, you can call the box office right this minute (unless you're reading this in the middle of the night) at 206-443-2222.
Tickets are really limited because we're holding the event in our smaller Leo K Theatre to make it a more intimate affair. Need more convicing?
We built it because, well, the Seattle Center asked us. They asked all of the campus tenants to design and build benches. They gave us dimensions, but every bench will look completely different and be made of a different material. Ours happens to be metal. No word if it'll be a permanent fixture or just a summer thing, and we don't know where it's going on the campus grounds, but keep an eye out.
We dragged it out in front of the theater for a goofy photo shoot yesterday. You can see it's "interactivity." Who doesn't love sticking their faces in things?
Points for anyone who knows what play this season inspired this photo shoot.
I forgot to mention that the TBA we had in the upcoming season has been filled by Cheryl L. West's piece Birdie Blue, a lovely (albeit frank) look at love, marriage and the passing of time. Cheryl is a Seattle playwright, in fact her piece Addy: An American Girl Story is actually playing right now at Seattle Children's Theatre. She also penned Jar the Floor, Holiday Heart, and Before It Hits Home.
The addition of Birdie Blue has rearranged the order of the Leo K season a bit. Visit the Rep's website for all the details. By the way, if you're currently a subscriber, the renewal deadline is April 27. If you're wanting to start subscribing (AKA be totally cool), you can do it anytime (you just won't know your seats until early this summer). Just call our box office at 206-443-2222. I won't bore you with all the benefits, but I'll tell you my personal favorite is the free cocktail you get at the Rep's bar. You know me, if I can reference a martini in a blog, it's a good day.
It's a weird time around here. The season is winding down, the Rachel Corrie team is in Olympia for a weekend of shows in Evergreen's Experimental Theater (FYI: April 27 & 28 at 8 pm and April 28 & 29 at 2 pm; tickets online at BuyOlympia.com or call 360-876-6651).
Anyway, it's quiet around here. I've been doing some very exciting archiving, a little myspace page updating, a little brainstorming about next season. In all this dim of activity in the admin offices, it's strange to remember that there are still two huge shows happening downstairs. I got to work today and realized there's only a week and a half left in this season. May 6 is the last day for both My Name is Rachel Corrie (which is still generating controversy—director Braden Abraham was just interviewed on Al-Jazeera) and Gem of the Ocean (which is still generating audience exclamations of, "That was fantastic!") I just heard that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is also doing Gem of the Ocean and our production is a half an hour shorter. Phylicia Rashad knows how to keep the pace up—must be all those years on The Cosby Show.
If you haven't seen Gem of the Ocean yet, Friday would be a good time. April 27 is national August Wilson Day (it would have been Mr. Wilson's 62nd birthday). If you happen to be in New York, head down to Bryant Park at 10 a.m. for the celebration kick off with Whoopi Goldberg, Tonya Pinkins and Tamara Tunie. Radio Golf (which we did last season) is also about to open on Broadway. It's essentially our production (same set, costumes, majority of the same actors), which is pretty exciting.
Speaking of exciting, I think there might be some cinnamon rolls in our production department. It's crazy around here.
Dear Rachel Corrie.
Aries. The Ram.
I am so glad you were born.
Which is what I say to all my best friends on their birthdays.
Glad. Certainly. Does not say it.
I want to wrap all of my thanks. In parchment with poems and tie it with the boy scout belt that I stole from my brother when I was in the seventh grade.
I want to thank you.
For introducing me to bravery.
Not the vaguery of bravery. Not the abstract concept reserved for difficult situations.
Real bravery. Bravery reserved for people who will themselves into their hometowns. Which I could never do.
Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.
For teaching me how to talk to a room full of people without taking their temperatures first. To speak the truth without being afraid. To follow my gut. To deciding every night, over and over again, in every show, at 7:42pm every day for the last month... to decide. To be. An artist. And a writer. And for telling me not to give a shit if I'm mediocre.
I'm in the phase of this production when I cannot help but quote the play at every turn. So forgive me while I offer your words back to you. As some contemporary sort of blog sacrifice. As some testament to the way you continue to speak loudly, and sometimes with severe superbowl fumbles, through me every night.
Thank you for giving me this moment. On the eve of my thirtieth birthday.
To remember what it is like to be twenty three. And to throw my body around with exuberant flirtation. To speak what you feel in your gut is truth, and haven't met enough men or newspapers to second guess it.
This is no accident. You. Your birthday. You.
Thank you for walking me to a place, word by word, where I can cry every night. For the murderous climate of the world and for my family.
Rachel, your family misses you so much. It stops my breath every time I hear them speak of your death, or of the following months. At a talkback last week, Sarah talked about watching your mom sitting in a Starbucks a few weeks after you'd been killed, and realizing that their lives will never, ever be the same.
Of course not.
After my brother Adam died in 2002, I had a similar realization. Not in sadness. Of course, his death left a hole in me that will remain vacant and inhabitable for the rest of my days. But not because I am wounded. But because I am so, so full of him. And his joy and insight and restlessness. I will never be the same because he shifted my entire understanding of the world in a profound way. And now he is gone. And I am shifted.
I can't help but think Sarah is peppered with the same resonance.
The world will never be the same for having lost you.
But, mostly, we will never be the same for having had you.
You have reminded me what the smell of rain is.
Not rain on sidewalks, or cleaning out gutters.
But real rain.
You have reminded me why I love to ride the bus.
Because no matter how tired or battered or annoyed I am, we are all on the bus together. Going about our small days.
In your essays, you talk about your butterfly. That you chase with a hat pin. You talk about trying to get other people to chase your butterfly with you. But they can't. Because they have their own to pursue. Their own fluttering greatness that leads them forward... onto the bus, and into their day, and through their heartbreak, and beyond their day jobs.
Every night, before I go onstage, I conjure that. I conjure the butterfly in my chest. In the middle of my chest, my heartspace, that is flapping delicately against the whirlwind and leading me forward. On to the stage. Into the audience.
When I look out into the audience for the first time every night, and get ready to invite them into your show, I imagine their butterflies. Pounding loud and delicate in their chests. The butterflies that have lead them here to witness, or argue, or experience you.
I open every night to a field of butterflies, turning off their cell phones and folding up their programs.
Thank you. For reminding me that we are all the same. We are all after the same thing.
And thank you for making me listen to my music more deeply. And for challenging me to dance at every turn. And for making me imagine what it is to swim in Puget Sound naked in the night. And for making me imagine the horrors of Rafah. To bring it home. To envision what it would be for all of my friends, and my family, and the gregarious black boy who bags my groceries at the Safeway... to envision what it would be to have our lives ripped out from under us. To have sniper towers and tanks instead of cell phone towers and taxi cabs defining the perimeters of my neighborhood.
I can't believe you. I can't believe your guts.
To give up everything. And by everything, I don't mean your young and vibrant life which is the sacrifice that so many people jump to. But to give up your world in Olympia, you amazingly nurturing family, your quilt of good friends, your unquestionable promise, to go and see what the world is really like. Beyond Seattle. Beyond happy hours and self-congratulatory fundraisers. For actually going out and witnessing the actions that actually define the world we live in.
I can't believe that you were only twenty-three.
My ripe and tender twenty-nine bows down, and gathers the stones you have dropped.
Happy birthday, Rachel Corrie.
I am so glad that you were born.
Opening night. I am emerging from the Kleenex-strewn haze of a cold. Was going to blog from home on Monday, in between tea and DVDs of Six Feet Under, but wasn't sure what kind of delirious drivel would come out of my (very low-grade, don't worry mom) fever. So, now that I am on the mend, I thought it might be a good time to reach out and, you know, touch someone. Coincidentally, Marya also sent over a blog today, so you're in for a whole lot of blog-y goodness.
So, tonight we open Gem of the Ocean. I saw it last night in previews. I was a little wary because I wasn't sure if I would be able to stay focused in my sniffly state, but I was completely engaged. Really, you have to believe that I say these things truthfully and not because I work here. Just know that I'm not a liar, so if I don't like a play, I'm going to write, "I'm so busy, I didn't have time to see it, but I heard it was awesome!" So, I can say in all honestly, that this is a really beautiful, excellently paced (i.e. not boring), surprisingly funny piece. The acting is really solid, and the actors (with Ms. Rashad's direction) have made some really interesting choices that bring astounding depth to the characters. The music is awesome. The writing, of course, is so eloquently woven. The friend I saw the show with said afterwards, "I don't know how August Wilson did it. Every line moves the story forward in such a beautiful way."
And, as always, you don't have to take my word for it. We send out surveys to our preview audiences to see what the initial response to the show is. The feedback has been really positive. Such as:
“Aunt Ester will be for me one of the great characters of American theater... [the play] is hauntingly beautiful...historically stark with invaluable lessons about the fragility and preciousness of freedom in our own time.”
“We told our family about our enjoyable evening at the Rep. It was nice to finish the August Wilson cycle with such a good production. The play stands well on its own but if you've seen any of Wilson's other plays it has a feel of family.”
“Lively and quite entertaining - very thought provoking”
“The production is amazing and profoundly moving. The acting is extremely fine. The play is stunning.”
“Excellent! A fine theatrical experience.”
“I thought Phylicia Rashad's production was superb! Very few actors or directors could do it so well. I hope she does more at the Rep. It was fabulous.”
Personally, I am grateful to Gem of the Ocean above all because it meant in celebration of the opening each department at work got a cake, and all day people have been wandering around in sugared-up stupor declaring, "The carrot is better than the white chocolate mousse!" Ok, I'm being glib. But you only be intellectually stimulating for so long. Someone get me a fork.
I just came back from taking photos of students from three local high schools warming up for their show tonight, Teenspeak: My Name Is (for details, see the blog below "Thinking, Talking"). I don't feel right posting pictures of our high schoolers (although I can testify they were giggly then they were impressively focused), but I do feel fantastic posting this picture of our Education Programs Manager Scott Koh, taken just prior to warm-ups, which he clearly didn't need.
Scott might be making that face because the education team has got a bit of the crazy, winding down a really intense year. This particular Teenspeak project, under the guidance of Scott's fellow Education Programs Manager Fran Kao, has been a year in the making and now will be debuted and closed in less than 40 minutes in one night. Without any breather, they all launch into Drama Intensive, a collaboration with The Center School. Playwriting students work with Education Director Andrea Allen to help shape a script (this year's is an adaptation of the restoration comedy School for Scandal) then switch gears to become the actors while another class designs sets and costumes. I was involved in the marketing last year for the circus-y "Pants on Fire." It was fun and exhausting, and I think I made that Scott Koh face more than once.
It is cool, though, with so many education programs happening, there's always a sense of vitality around here. We have a new crop of post-college interns every year (you can read their blog here), high school interns at different points in the season, and very often some students in one of the rehearsal spaces preparing for something under the direction of one of our teaching artists. We pack out the student matinees, which, for shows like Fire on the Mountain, become something of a rock concert (you should have heard the girls squeal over hottie Lorenzo Pisoni in The Great Gatsby, of course I did too, so that's not really a high school thing). It's just a nice reminder that these are (we hope) the next generation of arts patrons; some are already. The sustainability of theater really depends on them. Scary? Yes, sometimes, when you're teaching a class and can't compete with iPods and cell phones, but also exciting. When they're committed, they are committed and producing really amazing stuff.
Speaking of, time to go down and watch the My Name Is Project. Would it be horrible to have a cocktail at the bar downstairs before I go? I want to try out the new Gem of the Ocean specialty drink (a gimlet, called the Aught 4). Ok, ok, I'll wait until after.
How's that for short and sweet? (the blog, that is.)
I have a goal to try to write shorter blog entries. I know I can be a little long-winded, but I mean really what do you have to do on a Friday at work besides read my (brilliant) musings? Anyway, here you go, short and sweet, our recently announced 2007-08 season. For the details I am omitting for the sake of goal achievement, go here.
In the Bagley Wright Theatre
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (Drunks and cross-dressing!)
The Cook by Eduardo Machado (Cuba!)
The Breach by Catherine Filloux, Tarell McCraney & Joe Sutton (Hurricane Katrina...which I think should be sans exclamation point)
The Imaginary Invalid by Molière (Satire on the medical profession!)
The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney (Greek adventure!--I'm hoping for hot, bare-chested men)
In the Leo K. Theatre
By the Waters of Babylon by Robert Schenkkan (Cuba pt 2!)
how? how? why? why? by Kevin Kling (Hilarious!)
Murderers by Jeffrey Hatcher (Hilarious pt. 2!)
TBA (There was a scheduling mishap at the fault of the previously scheduled play's publisher)
Holiday Special Presentation
Back Home Again: A John Denver Holiday Concert (Take me home, country roads...Fire on the Mountain creator Dan Wheetman returns!)
It's amazing how the weeks can just slip by around here. One play opens, another closes. My work days recently have been measured in free food and drinks: champagne to toast Braden and Marya on the great opening of Rachel Corrie; pizza to send off the musicians of Fire on the Mountain (no Kentucky bourbon, but it was lunch time). Now a brief reprieve before Gem of the Ocean (with the amazing Phylicia Rashad at the helm!) will open with great fanfare, capping a great, albeit exhausting, season. So, now that my very poor explanation of blog lag (excess food...ok, I've been busy with other things too) is done, let me share something with you.
The other day, I snuck into the end of a student matinee of My Name is Rachel Corrie to see the post play discussion. I was curious to see how high school students would respond to a play about someone not too much older than them. Would it resonate and ring true? They were virtually silent throughout the entire performance. The discussion was slow to start, but once Marya came back on stage and started--in her graceful, optimistic, humble way--to dialogue with the audience, the questions started rolling in.
Yes, there was the ubiquitous "How did you memorize all of those lines?" ("I'm still not sure I know them all," she said) but there were also questions about how the play has changed Marya's outlook on the controversy. Students asked if Rachel's spirit has inspired her to become more of an activist (yes, "I don't think I'll ever be the same," she said). One student from a school in Olympia shared that she played pinball at the same place Rachel mentions in the play. Marya's face lit up, "Really? You've been there?"
I've been having a hard time remembering that Rachel Corrie was a real person. Of course I know it rationally, and I've seen pictures and met her parents, but it seems impossible that these beautiful words could have come from the pen of someone just a little younger than I who lived an hour away and died in a country I pretty much know nothing about. I feel connected to her in a strange, remote way, but I feel oddly voyeuristic looking inside her head without knowing her. However, I think Annie Wagner might have been right when she wrote on the Stranger slog yesterday, "Everyone who keeps a private journal has some consciousness of a future audience, whether you’re aiming at your older self or fantasizing a public ravenous for your juvenilia."
It did seem like Rachel was writing for an audience of some kind, and I'm sure she would probably be happy to know her words were eliciting this kind of response--even outrage. The student audience asked Marya what she imagined Rachel would think about the play. Marya said she thought Rachel would be proud and happy to know her words were making people think and talk. It makes me think about what I'm doing now that would possibly impact anyone once I’m gone. I've just finished writing a country musical about heartbreak. While I'm sure someone might find it funny, entertaining, whatever, I feel really motivated now to use my passion for theater to start a spark. About something. Wow, it sounds like I'm writing a cover letter or something.
Speaking of writing, next Wednesday, April 4, Seattle Rep is presenting Teenspeak: My Name Is. Using My Name is Rachel Corrie as a jumping off point, students from three area high schools worked with Seattle Rep teaching artists to develop short theatrical pieces about their lives and the issues that are important to them. I got to sit in on their first read through. I was just stunned at the concise, insightful poetry that they've created. The performance takes place at 6 p.m. prior to the April 4 performance of Rachel Corrie. It's free, but reservations are necessary. Whether or not you're coming to Rachel Corrie that night, I would really encourage you to check out the My Name Is project. I think you'll find yourself rather inspired. To make reservations call the box office at 206-443-2222.
Exhale. That's sort of the general feeling around here. We opened My Name is Rachel Corrie last night after a media storm (front page of the Seattle Times anyone?), controversy, anger, elation...and that's just from the promotion side. As you can read from Marya's gorgeous blogs below, the artistic process has also been exhausting, wonderful, scary. Now the production can fly on its own. That's not to say the work is done—from our end we'll be constantly dialoguing with the audience, making sure the work remains the focus of any controversy—but the piece can really have room to breathe now.
I saw the show on Tuesday, the final preview. I felt like I was holding my breath the whole time. I was caught up in Rachel's words, in Marya's pitch-perfect, vibrant portrayal, in every nuance and turn-of-phrase that she and director Braden Abraham overturned. The play is truly a journey and by the end I was a little shell-shocked. I stood with the audience in an ovation and it was then that I started crying. I let out the breath I was holding and the play finally really seeped into my blood. Afterwards, I couldn't stop thinking about it, talking about, which seems to be common impulse. The lobby stayed packed for a quite a while afterwards as audience members shared with each other their thoughts about the story.
For me, I was most caught up in the passion that Rachel had to make a change in the world. I know I've written about it before, but it's what is the most striking to me. I talked to my friend Diane afterwards, and we both shared this sentiment that the play makes us feel so sheltered, so spoiled, so ineffective. Yes, we are working at a theatre that is producing art that is encouraging people to talk about really important things. I don't want to discount that. But both of us feel like how can we possibly ever truly understand the privilege we have without being faced with people who don't have it? Rachel Corrie talks a lot about that in the play, the idea that we must leave our comfort zone to try to understand humanity. Of course, that's really the goal of art, isn’t it? To help us understand or at least consider our place in the world? But I have to commend Rachel for leaving the comfort of a privileged life to try to figure out what she could do—as an artist and just as a human—to make a difference. Maybe it wasn't the right choice to make, but she made one.
This is one of the first pieces I've seen at the Rep where I really didn't feel like there was a wall between the art and me. This isn't a criticism of the theatre I've seen here in the past—I work here because of the caliber of plays we produce and their ability to spark dialogue. It's just a testament to the acting and direction of My Name is Rachel Corrie, to the willingness of Marya to completely open herself up to the audience and let us into her world, Rachel’s world. We are on the journey with her, in her bedroom, in her head. This play gets under your fingernails, in your mouth in a way I have only experienced in small, intimate theaters. And even though the Leo K. isn't tiny and I was sitting in the back row, I felt the immediacy. This isn't an in-your-face confrontation like Thom Pain (which I also loved, though the style was off-putting to some). This is Marya/Rachel taking your hand and saying, "Let me show you something." It's an indescribable feeling.
First preview tonight. A strong show. We are on a steep learning curve. And by we, I mean me. The audience was kind and so, so interesting.
"Nothing could've prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can't imagine it unless you see it."
That's what Rachel Corrie wrote on February 7th, 2003 about living in Rafah. And I feel that, in the first moments of the play, looking out at the audience folding up their programs and settling in. The analogy is weak, but that line resonates in the experience of putting this show in front of a house full of people. A house full of you. You are my scene partner. You are fully participant in steering this journey, whether you like it or not. That's what happens when it's just the one me and the you. And some of you lean forward, elbows on your knees, jumping a little at the revelations, and breathing deeply. And some of you lean back. Like you're waiting for something. Like you're expecting me to strike a match and send all the issues surrounding this play up into heavy smoke. It's fascinating. Acting with you. Reading you. Trying to open my book and turn on my light and hoping that you will see the things that Rachel is trying to show us.
I mean, it's for her, really. When you scrape away all the noise. The lights and the sound and the words and the applause are for her. That is a tremendous thing to experience. It makes me believe in Theatre. It makes me scoff at Time. It keeps me Awake. Like more awake than I've been in a long while, to conjure her relentless spirit and feel it under my clothes in the brief moments that it dances across the stage. I think that wherever she is, she's laughing. And probably waltzing around in her underwear. And struggling to put truth to words. And looking all of us square in the eye.
And she is kicking my ass. To be perfectly blunt. The play is stitched together quite beautifully at this point and Braden is still pushing and digging. He is gnawing at more peaks and valleys in the text, more vibrant colors in the corners of the performance. Rachel's relentlessness has gotten under his skin, I think. I guess it takes one to know one. There is no time to rest in this process.
Which is killing me a little. All I want to do is sit up there and take a good look at you guys and gather in the moment. Hold it in my hands and contemplate it deeply and put it in my pocket and move softly forward. And there is no time and no rest for that in this play. The writing moves so quickly, her goodbyes are short and deep and her hellos become nexts before there's time to decide on a direction, she's moving forward. This is difficult for the pleaser in me, the part of me that wants to put something out there, and search for response, and move forward when we've reached some kind of agreement. Rachel didn't wait for that. She didn't wait for permission. She moved heartfirst on the balls of her feet.
It's so good. And by good, I mean deliciously difficult. To live in that. To not wait. To not double check to be sure. To not look for so long that you forget that you came here to leap.
A ten out of twelve tech today for MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE. That means we're all there from noon to midnight, with a big, strange two hour dinner break. Today was tougher than Sunday, the second day of school is never as romantic as the first. We are fastening the pieces into the puzzle, and then smoothing out the edges. Working transitions. Rather than listening to the sound, and seeing the lights, and hearing the words, it feels like we're experiencing the play. As a whole. As a sum greater than its parts. It is an exciting, exhausting time.
I got a little wobbly towards the end of the night. Stepped back from the edge of the raked stage after fleeting visions of tumbling into the first row. When I opened IN DISDRESS NOW: REDUX at Washington Ensemble Theatre in January, I slipped on an icy bit of sidewalk on the way home from the opening and broke my wrist. I feel a little less indestructible than I did last December. I'm going to try not to break, or even deeply bruise anything during the run of this show...
The exhaustion is welcome, though. It's instructive. Robyn Hunt, one of my incredible mentors and an unbelievable actor, always spoke of exhaustion with admiration. In the midst of our Suzuki training, it was only when we started to get tired that the work began. When you don't have the energy to put anything on top of your performance, or the will to add 'flare' or 'meaning' to a moment, is the time when the honest moment can actually emerge. That is where the art lives, Robyn would imply, on the other side of that threshold. It was good to teeter there tonight.
I'm excited to get an audience. And, admittedly, scared. While the work is definitely starting to settle into my bones, ninety minutes of lines is still alot to hold inside my head. Feels a bit like a house of cards right now, and the audience is going to bring another whole deck to the table. That's when the play is going to breathe, though. When I will find its rhythm, discover where the play wants to rest and where the text wants to run. I suspect the first couple of previews are going to be baptisms by fire. A long journey finally coming, crashing home.
One more thing. I meant to blog about this earlier, but you'll just have to forgive me...
In Michael Caines' March 2 theatre blog for the London paper The Guardian, he writes "Why does Edward Albee hate directors?" about some comments that Albee has made implying (and flat out saying) that in the play creation process the writer should be in charge no matter what and that directors often just get in the way. Caines writes "Perhaps Albee, now in his 70s, simply hasn't met the right director yet."
I find that an interesting point to consider because we just staged The Lady From Dubuque here last month with our artistic director David Esbjornson at the helm. David and Edward have worked on a number of successful projects together, including the premiere of The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia? on Broadway. So, Edward clearly has found a director he doesn't mind working with. The thing about Edward's plays is that the characters are so specifically drawn that there isn't much space in there for interpretation of intent. The directors really have to rely on and trust what is given to them.
I saw Edward and David speak together at our Stage Voices event during the run of Lady and Edward really had nothing but positive things to say about his collaborations with David. That makes me wonder if David just trusts Edward's scripts more than any other director or if Edward just trusts David more than any other director. Or maybe it's both.
It's 8:30 and I'm still at work, killing some time until the end of Fire on the Mountain when I'll go down to the lobby and, as a service to the musicians, sell their CDs to the legions of adoring fans. I really don't mind hanging out at my desk during the show because I can listen to the music over the monitors. I've heard the 90-minute musical play through probably about seven times now, and I'm at the point where I can sing along (harmonies and melodies) with just about all the songs. I wake up in the morning singing "It's dark as a dungeon way down in the mine." In the shower I'm humming "Daddy, won't you take me back to Mullenburg County?" On my way to work...ok, you get the point. I live in Seattle, but I might as well be a coal miner's daughter.
I already knew I liked bluegrass, but I didn't realize I liked it this much. Maybe it's that Fire on the Mountain has such a poignant story about the history of coal miners in Appalachia. Maybe it's all the bourbon I've been drinking lately. Who knows? But despite not having really any point of reference, I am really moved everytime I hear the music from the show. Not to mention, the musicians in the show are some of the nicest people I've met. Now if I could get one of them to teach me the banjo, I'd be set for my own career in bluegrass...
If you want more bluegrass, I guess there is a weekly Monday night bluegrass jam at Conor Byrne in Ballard (bluegrass at an Irish bar? Well the music does have its roots in Celtic tradition...). I keep meaning to go check it out. I guess I don't have any excuse not to now.
Well, as I'm listening to the musical, it sounds like the miners have black lung now, so that means it's almost over and I need to head down to the lobby. Don't worry, you'll leave smiling. The people the show is about are resilient--even black lung can't get them down.
"I am given to making very important lists."
stayed up too late.
first day of school.
a turquoise bathrobe.
and a lovely woman named leslie.
two pairs of matching underwear.
two pairs of matching jeans.
two pairs of matching tshirts,
long sleeve shirts colored a purplish blue.
set everything in order.
new makeup brushes from rite-aid.
a bedroom like every bedroom i've ever slept in.
except missing one wall.
and two cats.
duct tape on the bottom of my feet.
stop and go and stop
and go go go go.
lb at his desk.
pushing buttons and then there was light.
obediah at his computer.
traffic. gunshots that make my heart stop.
kati with her notebook in the third row.
jolene quiet and fastidious in the upper right.
jen making faces at me from the back of the house.
braden speaking gently speaking direct.
like he is starving and finally smells food on the stove.
erica runs the show. a heartbeat in the sixth row.
david on the stairs.
is he always here on sunday?
long dinner break.
i hate taking breaks.
want to go and go and go.
into jerusalem, through khan jounis, finally
violently arrived into rafah.
my boots feel at home on that ground.
steady. even with the rake.
hover on the window ledge while a world
falls down around
the downstage left corner.
i will be able to hear you breathe, i think.
i'll try and pay attention.
the audience is going to be close enough
to smell sweat and smoke and fear.
the day is so long.
but no messages on my voicemail.
this is the everything.
the place where i live.
tuesday we'll start on february 7th.
i will have lived in palestine for two weeks.
and one hour.
saved for daylight.
Saturday March 10, 2007
The Last Day of Rehearsal,
on the Eve of Tech for MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE
“How’s the play going?”
asks my best friend, across the sticky table ghostlit by the flourescent beer sign. We haven’t seen each other in a week.
Well, it rivals falling in love. You know. There’s always that rush. The adrenaline of finding a role that you’d like to wear and stretch and stitch together, and then there is the dynamite in your stomach of actually getting cast. Of getting the phone call. Of saying thank you, goodbye, and looking around at your new world bursting with vibrant color, possibility, and the intoxication of sudden purpose. That’s what getting cast in MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE was like. Like dynamite exploding in the gut.
And sometimes that’s the best part. Sometimes the victory outshines the prize and you wrestle yourself into the rehearsal room everyday and make grocery lists in your head while you’re on break. Your imagination becomes resentful for all the parties and movies and slow dinners and long naps you could be having if you weren’t committed to living inside this play.
Rehearsing this play has not been that. It has not been the sweet fleet of a crush. It has not been the adventurous resonance of a night on the town. It has been like falling in love. Deep, and difficult, and beautiful in a way you cannot describe to your friends over beers.
For the last three weeks, I have woken up every morning and taken my time. I have eased into the day with the gentlest joy. Unforced, in the way that my day jobs and teaching gigs and endless meetings can sometimes demand the dregs of my energy. I have woken up every day with no wishes to make. I have had no restlessness or arm’s reach dreams of moving to Europe or taking a long vacations or going back to school or re-evaluating the Whys and mapping out the Hows or where I am. I have woken up every morning and prepared to go into the world of this play, eager to soak up all the delight and poetry and maddening curiosity Rachel Corrie used to paint her days.
I am happier than I’ve ever been, getting to know this woman. This girl. Her writing has seeped under my skin and pierced me in places. Her conviction, which somehow feels like a dirty word in this time of Great Apathy, is more fun to attend than any party I’ve every been to. Her politics, which so many people have dismissed as naive or deemed controversial and dangerous, are a dynamic story of calling things like you see them. No more and no less.
My last few weeks have been peppered with all of these press interviews, which have been nerve-wracking and sometimes shallow. The questions dress Rachel up as a hero, a martyr, an innocent victim... The more I get to know Rachel, the more I think she was just a girl. You can scour her writing and never find any desire to be a hero. She wanted to make a difference and she believed that she could. Maybe that’s naive. Maybe that’s heroic. I know that it is uncommon.
Admittedly, Rachel Corrie has become my hero. As an artist. And as a writer. And as a defender of her own spirit, her own light, which she knew was finite and indescribable. I am inspired by the way she followed her gut. Trusted her intuition. Saw a path laid before her and did not look away when that road became very, very dark.
The rehearsals have been dream-like. They have gone very, very fast. I show up in the morning and Braden and I warm-up and then we get to work. I blink and six hours have passed. I always feel like we’re just getting started. Every day I feel like that. Even when the time has gone roughly. Last Thursday, the weight of the text and the noise of all the expectations hit me from behind while I was trying to practice the delicate ballet of the blocking. But even in the rare times I feel like crumpling under the pressure of embodying this extraordinary person in the middle of the place where she grew up, the difficulty has been welcome. Rachel courted difficulty. She seemed to have a knack for looking challenge deep in the eye and painting it sky blue.
We go into tech tomorrow. I am reluctant to leave the rehearsal room. Not because we’re not ready. This play wants an audience. This play wants to be heard and laughed at and fought with. I am reluctant to leave the rehearsal room because it has been a wonder-full time, looking into Rachel’s world and building it from the inside out. It has been an artistic dream come true to meet Braden Abraham every day and devour the work in front of us. It has been an experience of warm sunlight through the window to run lines with our Stage Manager, Erica Schwartz-Hall, and to share small insights on the text and discover the happy secrets that Rachel buried every place she went. It has been a trip around the world to sit with our Dramaturge, Kati Sweeney, and build a clear picture of the sounds of tank shells through concrete and the banter of young children playing soccer in Rafah. It has changed my life, for good, I think, to spend these days with Rachel Corrie.
I will never be the same.
“It’s going really well,” I say to my best friend. “I can’t wait for you to see it.”
It's 5:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, and I can say a few things with certainty: I am not wearing shoes (my high heels have been removed and tossed under my desk), I have consumed a ridiculous amount of food and wine (including two different desserts), and I would be napping face first on my keyboard if I didn't need to see Fire on the Mountain tonight.
An explanation? I'm not really a bad employee. In fact, it was my boss who bought me a ticket to the Nordstrom Spring Fashion Ovation--a fashion show organized by the Seattle Repertory Organization and fundraiser for the Rep. This year brought in a record amount for the Rep and featured the designs of Diane von Furstenberg. Basically the whole morning for me was spent applying lipstick, pretending I'm rich and fabulous (well, I don't really need to pretend about being fabulous) and then crashing back at my desk. Do actual work? Um, that's what tomorrow is for.
Once some of the wine had worn off, I headed downstairs for the meet and greet for Gem of the Ocean, the last play of the season. The excitement around this show is palpable. For one, it marks the Rep's completion of August Wilson's 10-play "Pittsburgh Cycle." It also means we're the only theatre in world (galaxy...universe...) to have performed all 11 of his plays because he performed his one-man show "How I Learned What I Learned" here in 2002.
During the meet and greet, August's wife Constanza Romero spoke about her and August's long history with the Rep. Set designer John Jacovelli shared his model of the set--Aunt Ester's house--and talked about the intricate wallpaper that might transform during Citizen Barlow's journey to the "City of Bones." (This probably sounds like gibberish, but go to Seattle Rep's website for a synopsis of the play). Director Phylicia Rashad (by whom quite a few of us staffers were a little star struck) chimed in with details the designers had forgotten to mention, but was mostly gracefully reticent.
My Name is Rachel Corrie is underway in rehearsals, Fire on the Mountain is playing to packed houses and has gotten some amazing reviews, and Gem is now in rehearsals. It feels like a great way to start winding down the season. And we're already gearing up for next season. We should have titles to announce in the next week. Stay tuned!
Also, I promise some blogs soon that will give you more of a peek into the artistic process, filled with thought-provoking nuggets, ripe for instigating intelligent discourse. Just don't give me a glass of wine for lunch...
I meant to write this post on Tuesday, but this week has quickly slipped between my fingers as we amp up for opening night of Fire on the Mountain (in previews now, officially open on Wednesday). I finally took our lobby display for the show to print this afternoon, and now the office is quiet, the weekend's almost here. If someone could get me a pina colada, I'll be ready to blog. Ok, apparently our cabana boy has the day off, so it'll have to be a less tropical blog. Which is fine, considering I'm going to jump right into talking about My Name is Rachel Corrie.
We had the meet and greet for the show on Tuesday, and beforehand I got the amazing opportunity to sit in on the first read-through. If you haven't heard, Washington Ensemble Theatre superstar Marya Sea Kaminski will be playing Rachel. If her first reading was any indication, she is going to be fantastic. She seems really connected to the role and already is capturing the passionate spirit of Rachel. I actually cried at one point in the show. That’s impressive for me because I'm not a crier at all (unless it’s It’s a Wonderful Life, which gets me every time). I was just right there with Marya the whole time.
I felt the same way watching her perform in her one-woman show In DisDress Now: Redux, which I saw at W.E.T. last month. The whole time I felt like we were having an intimate conversation. Of course, this was kind of awkward when I thought I knew Marya and were best friends already and went to talk to her and realized, no, I’ve never actually met her. She's very gracious and funny, though, and I am really excited to report that she's going to be blogging right here about her experience rehearsing My Name is Rachel Corrie.
I know this is a controversial play, but seeing the read-through really affirmed to me that this is a story about someone just looking for a way to make a difference. Ultimately, and I know some people will disagree with me, the route she took to try to make that difference doesn’t matter. What matters is that she was passionate about art and about eliciting social change to lessen suffering. She was just about my age when she died in 2003, and though her words can sounds young and maybe a little idealistic, I find the piece inspiring simply because she wanted to make the world a better place--as corny as that sounds-- and tried to do it. I would like to think I haven't reached a place of cynicism or jadedness in my life and might still be able to make a difference too. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I work in theater.
To completely switch gears, we're hearing nothing but raves about Fire on the Mountain, and if you want to see it, you should get tickets now because it's going to be packed. I think the show is so appealing because it's really your most basic story of survival and hope against all odds. Plus with great music. And presumably a delicious specialty cocktail for you to enjoy in the lobby. But first I need to go dream one up. Stay tuned for something bourbon-y.
If you were wondering why I haven't written in two weeks, it's not because I'm too busy at work or anything. I've just been at Disneyland. Sorry. But eventually everyone has to leave Space Mountain and a diet of beer and churros to return to the real world, and lucky for me, I returned just in time for the Fire on the Mountain meet and greet.
This morning the Seattle Rep company got together to listen to the cast of our upcoming bluegrass musical play and sing some snippets from the show. I was in heaven because I love bluegrass music and these performers are amazing. Dan Wheetman, who co-wrote the show (based on interviews with Appalachian coal miners), used to be John Denver's fiddle player. I couldn't help tapping my feet, and anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I'm not really a toe-tapping kind of girl. The show goes into previews next Thursday, Feb. 22, and runs until March 24. Dan and his collaborator Randal Myler wrote Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, which they performed at the Rep in 2004. I didn't see it, but apparently both shows have the same sort of documentary feel to them, coupled with stellar music.
After the songs, we all gorged ourselves on a giant cake that was ordered to celebrate cast member Margaret Bowman's birthday/60th wedding anniversary/Valentine's Day. Margaret is a talented musician, of course, but I was most excited when I found out she played the costumer in Waiting for Guffman. Am I totally dorky?
Oh, and happy Valentine's Day. What a great day to go to the theater (hint, hint). Blue Door is still playing and the audiences are LOVING it. And by audiences, I mean my parents, who came this weekend while I was in L.A. and left me a note that said "We LOVED Blue Door! P.S. We left some chicken in the fridge." Ok, other people love it too, but when my parents like something I know most people will. They're smart, like to be entertained, and are suckers for anything that takes them on some sort of emotional journey. Since I've been out of town, I haven't seen Blue Door yet, but I'm going tomorrow and then I will be able to tell you in all honestly to see the show, assuming it's as awesome as everyone is saying.
It's 5:15 on a Friday afternoon and it would be a lie to say I'm not thinking about ducking out of here and running downstairs to have one of our new show-themed specialty cocktails. The one for Blue Door is The Insomniac: Coffee, Bailey's, Chambord, Kahlua and whipped cream. Like a raspberry mocha, but with the promise of intoxication. Anyway, I clearly have weekend on the brain.
But, before I go, I wanted to make sure you knew that tomorrow (Saturday, Feb. 3), the playwright of Blue Door Tanya Barfield will be at the Rep for a free talk. The event (part of our Stage Voices series) takes place 5:30-6:30 in our Rotunda lobby. Tanya will be interviewed by Amy Wheeler, executive director of Hedgebrook, a writers retreat for women. After they chat about Tanya's work, you'll be able to ask questions. Tanya is one of those on-the-brink-of-the-big-time (how's that for an adjective?) writers. This is your chance to have an intimate hour with her that you might never get again. You don't have to have tickets to Blue Door, you can just show up. Maybe have an Insomniac!
The Times ran a preview piece on Blue Door. You can read it here. It talks about the play (of course) and also Tanya's former job as a spelunker (!)
Next weekend is closing weekend of The Lady From Dubuque. The reviews have been mostly positive, but all sort of academic. If I hadn't seen the show and just read a review, I might think, "This could be boring." But as a 24-year-old with not the world's best attention span for highly heady works, I can say I was really engaged the whole time. Yeah, it's about death and denial and caustic friendships, but it's also really funny. Some people don't like that kind of theater. But personally, I like my theater experiences to leave me thinking, even if it means I have to forgo skipping out of the theater in an ebullient stupor.
And on that note, I will be skipping ebulliently toward the weekend.
Tuesday we had the meet-and-greet for the next show we're opening in the Leo K, Blue Door. The staff consensus was that this might have been one of our best meet-and-greets ever. Coming off two weeks of rehearsal in New York, the cast of two (Reg E. Cathey and Hubert Point-Du Jour) and director Leigh Silverman seem really relaxed and comfortable with each other. So much so, that Leigh shared the funny story of how she cast Hubert. Apparently she was really determined to cast an older, experienced actor in Hubert's part, which requires him to play over 20 characters or different ages, races and genders. But the rather young Hubert (I'm still trying to dig up his age) just floored them during the audition. So much that as soon as he left, they called him right away and asked him to come back in (he had gotten as far as the bathroom), where Leigh drilled him with questions like "are you SURE you can handle this?" Hubert was sure. You might have seen the other half of the cast, Reg, on the TV show The Wire where he plays Norman Wilson. Leigh made sure we all knew TV Guide had declared that the E of his middle name must stand for Excellent.
All backpatting aside, I think this show is going to be really cool. I've been entrenched in creating the lobby display (when you come to the show, look for the big posters in the Rotunda and imagine me hard at work at my computer), and have gotten to do a lot of research on the show, playwright Tanya Barfield, and some of the show's themes. Blue Door is about an insomniac mathematics professor who is confronted by his ancestors during a sleepless night. Their stories about slavery, Black Power and academia get him thinking about what it means to be black, especially a black man. The interesting thing about this show? It was written by a black woman and directed by a white woman. I think that's just a testament to this play's ability to speak to everyone. I mean, we all have ancestors. We all have stories. We're all searching for something.
The play deals a lot with the issues of double conciousness: how the main character Lewis views himself as a black man versus how others view him. Everyone has a sense of double conciousness, I think. I do being half Jewish. I'm also a small town girl in a big city, which gives me another sort of duality. I'd be interested to know what other kinds of double conciouness exist. Thoughts?
Forgive me for the lapse in posts. Lots of blog-worthy things have happened this week, I've just been recovering from a fantastic (read: late and wine-filled) opening night. But here we are, Friday. The Lady From Dubuque has opened and is getting strong reviews already. Read Misha Berson's take on the play in today's Seattle Times. She says, "(David) Esbjornson tracks down every nuance, comic and tragic, in a script that does keep surprising you." But of course I'm paid to market the show and can hardly be trusted, so read it yourself.
Monday night Edward Albee was here for Stage Voices, a free, non-regular series we put on at the Rep that lets audience members engage in a more intimate dialogue with theatre artists. Last season we did one with Ariel Dorfman and another with Heather Raffo (playwright of 9 Parts of Desire). It's pretty amazing to get to peer into the heads of some incredibly talented and smart people. Or, in the case of Mr. Albee, one of the greatest American playwrights, um, ever. He was funny, insighftul, and spoke with the sternly playful authority of a man who has written nearly 30 plays.
On his writing process: He doesn't like to talk about it because he doesn't really have a process. He puts his trust completely in his characters. He knows they're ready to be in his play when he can go to the beach and write a 20-minute improvised, not-int-the-actual-play scene with them that's truthful. He writes long hand because then he can write anywhere and besides he doesn't trust computers.
On the state of theater: "For every 100 plays I read, one is good." He said the state of theater is OK when there are three or four playwrights who really get it, who are really creating works that help us understand what it is to be human.
On becoming a playwright: As a teenager he wrote bad stories and even worse poetry. But one of his stories had a brilliant first line: "Everything in Rome is uphill." He was great at imitating other writers, but didn't really find his voice until he wrote his first play, Zoo Story.
On the title Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf?: He saw it written on a mirror in a bar in Greenwich Village.
Mr. Albee stuck around for opening night and was approached or at least eyed by many-a admirer. For us theatre people, it's kind of like having Brad Pitt around, except shorter and smarter (sorry, Brad). I didn't meet him personally, but I did get to interview Phylicia Rashad today who was here casting Gem of the Ocean, which she is directing here in March. This is her directorial debut, though she's very familiar with the play having starring in it on Broadway. She had a lot of passionate things to say about August Wilson's work, but I found the most endearing part of our conversation when my tape recorder kept stopping and she suggested we name it Priscilla and stroke it gently to get it to keep working. For the most part, it was a very relaxed, comfortable interview, although I did have a moment or two of, "Um, this is Mrs. Huxtable!" I think the play will be amazing. She has this graceful presence about her that I can tell is just going to flow out her fingers and cover the entire production (why does that sentence make me think of Spiderman?).
This blog is getting awfully long. Is anyone reading these? Leave a comment or something and let me know. If I don't hear from you, I will assume I have free reign to say anything, and my next blog will probably be about how I spent my weekend.
Other things happening at the Rep:
Tonight is College Connections, a subscriber series for college students interested in theatre. They get to meet each other at a pre-show reception and then see the show. I only wish we had had something that cool where I went to school (but that's what you get for going to college in rural Washington). In conjunction, tonight is also our first-ever Arts Career Fair. You need to RSVP to attend, but if you're reading this and thinking, "Wow, I'm looking for an internship or entry-level job in the arts," get on the phone and call Winnie at 206-443-2210.
Some of our staff are not braving the snow, so it's a quiet day. But at least our offices aren't flooded like the INTIMAN's.
Tonight is the first preview of The Lady From Dubuque. Misha Berson previewed the show in today's arts section of the Times. You can read it here. Personally, I'm most excited about the ENORMOUS glass wall that is part of the set.
I have started brainstorming ideas for the Lady specialty cocktail. Stop by the bar during the run of the show (Jan. 11-Feb. 10) and try The Afterlife, which will probably be some delicious concoction of Grey Goose, Kahlua and other stuff. I'm going down to the bar later to "experiment."
So, I've been letting Paul do most of the talking (typing?) about The Lady from Dubuque process, and maybe you've been thinking, "Where's Joanna? I can barely live without her!" (well, a girl can dream). Here I am.
First off, John Logenbaugh had an article in last week's Seattle Weekly about whether or not Seattle is really a theatre town. You can read it here. I've been thinking a lot about what John says, essentially that Seattle is seeing a severe deficit in mid-sized theaters and that's hurting us. Now that the Empty Space is closed, there's a sizable gap between fringe theaters (and there are lots and many of really high quality) and the "big houses" like us at the Rep. This clearly affects those of us working in theatre--it means less places to work that can afford to pay actors, directors, etc.
The question I have is, how does the lack of mid-sized theaters impact us as audience members. Will the gap change what we see on stage? I don't feel completely confident in answering these questions, being relatively new to the Seattle theater scene and to the Rep. But my very knowledgeable boss Cynthia Fuhrman may have some answers.
According to Cynthia, who also just had this same conversation with Rep Casting Director Jerry Manning, widening the gap between fringe and large theaters will mean Seattle will be less likely to retain the young actors who move here or stay here after school. They will act in fringe theaters like WET and Theater Schmeater, but most won't be able to make the leap to ACT, INTIMAN or the Rep without the stepping stone of a theater like Empty Space. That means eventually you'll see fewer local actors on the big stages.
It also means you won't have the opportunity to see an actor like Lori Larsen in a fantastic production like Frozen in an intimate 120-seat venue. Someone like Lori can't really perform with a fringe theater because of Equity contracts and the fact that most fringe companies can't afford to pay. So, with mid-sized theaters dwindling, your opportunity to experience professional quality theater with really great veterens in an intimate setting also dwindles.
Finally, it's a pretty common belief, said Cynthia, that the more theater that is available, the more people to see it. It's more accessible (if there's theater in your neighborhood, you're more likely to go see it), and you have broader options to match up with your taste. And once you see enough that you connect with, the more you get in the habit of going (like heroin, Cynthia said, but I think she was joking).
So what can we do to try to slow and reverse this trend? Well, for one, don't stop going to theater. All kinds of theater. We say now in hindsight, "Wow, I wish I would have gone to the Empty Space more." So, go to the mid-sized theatres in Seattle: Book-It, Seattle Shakespeare Company, etc. And go to the smaller fringe theatres, especially the ones that you think have a potential to grow: maybe WET, Theater Schmeater, Seattle Public, Balagan. With our support, they may be the next generation of mid-size theatres.
Ok, off the soapbox for the day.
Our last 10 out of 12. We finished teching Act 2 and then ran the whole show. The first act seems to be in fairly good shape. Act 2 still needs some work. A day off tomorrow and then back at it on Tuesday.
Mr. Albee is scheduled to fly in from New York at the end of next week and he will stay through our week of previews and attend opening night. I’m very excited to meet him and look forward to his input and any suggestions he may offer up.
Long day. 12 noon to 12 midnight, with a two-hour dinner break. Got through Act 1 and spent the next 8 hours on Act 2. Will finish tomorrow and try to do a run of the show. The set is beautiful but much bigger than I had imagined. We’re all trying to adjust to the difference between it and the relative intimacy we had in the rehearsal room. David made a number of staging adjustments as we worked through the Act that I found very helpful.
The cast looks fantastic in Beth’s costumes. She has me wearing an off-white cashmere turtleneck in the first act. I hate turtlenecks. But I gotta admit it really works for the character I’m playing. Edgar is most definitely a “turtleneck” guy.