“45 PLAYS FOR 45 PRESIDENTS” IS A ROLLER COASTER RIDE OF AGILITY by Terri Munson

45 Plays for 45 Presidents is a roller coaster ride.

As a cohort, I’ve had a blast attending a number of rehearsals and one show (so far.)   One of my biggest take-aways is that the five actors are agile in every sense of the word.

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Veronika Duerr, Nael Nacer, and Celina Dean. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Mentally Agile:

During the rehearsal phase, the screenplay and stage directions were constantly being tweaked.   As the director and actors better understood the logistics of who enters where and what props and costume fixes are needed, lines and roles are swapped.  Dialog is added or deleted.  Stage directions are changed to tighten up the pace. Changes are made at such a dizzying pace, it made my head spin.  Seeing the final production on the main stage, I understood the result of all that tweaking is a tightly run performance with impeccable timing.  It’s poetry in motion—the kind of poetry that Shel Silverstein writes.

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Terrell Donnell Sledge, Veronika Duerr, Aaron Munoz, Celina Dean, and Nael Nacer. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Physically Agile:

The actors dance, run, die, lift one another, fall down (a lot), jump rope, grab and move props and more.   This is a very physical show.  I wasn’t surprised to hear that Terrell hurt his ankle (he soldiered on).  I can picture the whole cast needing chiropractors by the end of each show.

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Cleveland’s “Frenzied Romp:” Veronika Duerr, Aaron Munoz, Celina Dean, Nael Nacer, and Terrell Donnell Sledge. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Emotionally Agile:

This is what impressed me most of all.  To me, the biggest emotional contrast is the Grover Cleveland play and Abraham Lincoln play.  Grover Cleveland’s is frenzied romp in which all five actors dance and carouse while wearing children’s bright birthday party hats.  They act so goofy, I laugh out loud every time I see it.  In contrast, Abraham Lincoln’s play is a dramatic piece that–with a combination of startling facts, eerie rhythms and poignant singing–gives me goose bumps.

Audiences will feel like they’ve been on a roller coaster ride by the end of the play and come away with smiles and laughs as they process this crazy night at the theater that is 45 Plays for 45 Presidents.

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45 Plays for 45 Presidents runs through October 2.

http://www.mrt.org/45Plays

MRT BY THE NUMBERS by Lisa Arnold

1 – Artistic Director, Sean Daniels.

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Artistic Director Sean Daniels. Photo by Meghan Moore

He’s out in front during rehearsals, watching everything and everyone. He is always looking at the big picture, thinking about the audience, the actors, and the overall presentation.

4 – The number of seasons this play has been produced.  The first play was 43 Plays for 43 Presidents, and the writers just keep adding plays, and modifying the existing ones as history unfolds.

5 – Very talented (and busy) actors: Celina Dean, Veronika Duerr, Aaron Munoz, Nael Nacer, and Terrell Donnell Sledge are needed to put on this production.

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Aaron Munoz, Terrell Donnell Sledge, Nael Nacer, Celina Dean, and Veronika Duerr. Photo by Meghan Moore.

This play is very physically demanding as well as mentally taxing.  If I had to play the role of a president whose politics I disagreed with, it would be a challenge; Imagine playing the role of several presidents whose politics were counter to yours!

5 is also the number of playwrights involved in the production of this play.  Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston, and Karen Weinberg collaborated on writing the script.

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Promotional art for the original Neo-Futurists production: Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Andy Bayiates, Karen Weinberg, Sean Benjamin, and Chloe Johnston.

For the first writing, I’m told they chose which plays to write by drawing names.  They collaborated on the more recent presidents, re-writing updates as history unfolds and opinions change.

12 – People behind the scenes, making sure the production runs smoothly, and everyone has what they need to be successful.  There is Danielle Zandri, who attends all the rehearsals, takes detailed notes, and plans the schedule for each day. At the end of each day, Danielle sends out a report with notes, changes, and/or additions required for Production/Facilities (Peter Crewe), Props (Brendan Conroy), Scenic (Michael Raiford, Scenic Designer and Patrick Storey, Stage Supervisor), Costumes (A. Lee Viliesis, Costume Designer),  Lighting & Sound/Music (Carter Miller, supervisor; Brian J. Lilienthal, Lighting Designer; Stowe Nelson, Sound Designer; and unique to this play: Ido Levran, Projection Designer and Josh Dean, Supplemental Audio Recorder). Choreographer Wendy Seyb works with actors on the dances, fight scenes, and other antics.   There are also the Administrative, Front of House, and Marketing issues to track, as well as script changes to track. Each night a report goes out, and minutes later, the emails start flying: confirming, clarifying, and communicating, to make sure everyone is on the same page.

23 – Additional MRT Staff, from Executive Director Elizabeth Kegley, to the 5 Apprentices and Interns who are the playwrights, directors, and designers of the future.

26 – Days between the first rehearsal and opening night. Which is…

139 – Hours of rehearsal time.  That isn’t really a lot of time when you think about just how much needs to go into a production like this.  I am continually amazed at the amount of effort that goes into this, in such a short span of time.

 

 

147 –  Different characters/rolls played by the 5 actors in the 45 different 2 minutes plays.  That’s A LOT of personality changes in just 120 minutes.

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Veronika Duerr, Aaron Munoz, Celina Dean, Nael Nacer, and Terrell Donnell Sledge. Photo by Meghan Moore.

I encourage everyone to make the time to see this excellent play.  I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed following its progression.  Opening night was tonight, September 10, 2016 and it runs through October 2nd.   You can purchase tickets online at http://www.mrt.org/box-office or by emailing box_office@mrt.org.

-Lisa Arnold, Cohort

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45 Plays for 45 Presidents runs through October 2.

http://www.mrt.org/45Plays

 

 

SMOOTH AS SILK by Geoff Bryant

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Veronika Duerr, Nael Nacer, and Celina Dean. Photo by Meghan Moore.

As I write this, I am excited to think that the cast and crew is getting ready for the first preview showing. That must be so exciting. Are they ready?

Well, I dropped in yesterday afternoon as they finished off the tech. I had stopped in the first day of tech which was quite interesting and this time was about the same. The surprise to me is that when they finished, they had a dress rehearsal that night and the first preview tonight.     I’m amazed at how short the time is from when the cast arrives to having everything worked out and then really one full dress rehearsal of the whole thing before the first audience.

The first time I was there for tech I watched the stage and what was going on for the cast and what the audience saw. There were tables behind me where lights, sound, and effects were worked but I didn’t really check it out. As I wrote I was impressed at how fast effects could be dropped in.    One problem that day was that the projector for the presidents wasn’t bright enough, so it was hard to see effects on there. This time, problem solved and it looked great.

One cool effect is seeing Terrell as George Washington behind the screen. He said he had room enough for 1 step, but he made it look like a real walk and created quite the effect of his silhouette on the screen.

This time I walked up the balcony to check out the tech folks. I expected boards with dimmers and buttons and such. They still do that at concerts after all. But there wasn’t a knob or slider to be seen. Laptops. All laptops. Tech is now high tech. Cool and sad at the same time. It did make sense though as to how they could be down in the seats working out cues  and such.

And back to the question – are they ready?  Well, many things were being worked out in doing the tech, so I doubted they could be ready. Well, tech finished, they took 10.

After the break, they started the play from the beginning. A couple of things to change in the initial trivia.

Ready? Well, then they started and did several presidents. Smooth as silk. Yeah, they’re ready…

Oh wait – can they double dutch? We’ll see…

-Geoff Bryant, Cohort

FIRST PREVIEW

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Veronika Duerr, Aaron Munoz, Celina Dean, Nael Nacer, and Terrell Donnell Sledge. Photo by Meghan Moore.

To start, WOW, quite amazing to see the whole come together at speed.

I must say, after seeing the first table reading to the first preview, I continue to be in awe of the work from the whole team that puts on a production. The design of the stage, the music, the lighting, the props, the costumes, the interaction with the audience.  So much effort and energy from so many contributors, with so many hidden from the audience but adding to the total experience.  Just amazing to get a chance to see some of the process.

Of course, I must admit having seen lots of the parts, I had the luxury of watching a lot of details that go with the show. I found myself watching how Veronika controlled the knife.  I watch as the flashlights were handed out and used, and how the clicks matched the dialog. Not what I hope the audience was noticing, but having watch the cast work on these items in rehearsal, it was a pleasure to see how this happened to make the main action work. In some ways like a great painter prepares a canvas before the main subject is added.  Of course the lighting, sound, and images added quite a lot to the production that I had no insight to when I watched the rehearsals. An energetic and inspiring production.

I hope the area rewards this production with a smashing attendance, since I think the show rewards all, with laughs, presidential facts, and a marvelous set of live performances (including a shoe falling off the stage).

-Richard Pitkin, Cohort

WANNA BE A TECHIE (AND I DON’T MEAN A TREKKIE)? by Paul Galinis

What do the “Phantom of the Opera”, “Miss Saigon”, and Teddy Roosevelt have in common?

You can start with theatrical infinity.  One hides, one cries, and the other rides on stages to never ending audiences everywhere at warp speed.  However, I’m more interested in another commonality which is their use of technology and special effects in the theatre.  Specifically, they all share a stage which is dependent upon technology and special effects to the success of their respective plays and/or productions.  Well, maybe not so much from our deranged masked friend and tragic Kim (dare shall I say it after all these years – the chandelier and helicopter are just gimmicks people)!  There I said it, now I’m in trouble.

Give me Teddy and his other Commander in Chiefs in 45 Plays for 45 Presidents.  This IS a play dependent on technology for it all to come together.  I saw this first hand at a recent tech staging which focused on the technical crew putting it all together.

As I entered the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre in Liberty Hall, things were already underway.  Upon sitting in the balcony, I felt as if I was a passenger on a space ship.  It was dark but there were flashes of light at the controls too.  For example, there was light on the stage.  Hmm, maybe I should say stages; 45 stages that is.  With the ongoing toys that bestow the stage(s) and which scream snap, crackle, and pop – kudos to the designers and creators on the continuous set design.  All I’m going to add on this one is that I want one of those lighted “Quote” thingies for my nightie lamp to reside on.

Moving back ten rows or so and seated from the illuminated stage were three technical crew people.  Here is where I could see the stars before me (or should I say the five actors) being led or manipulated into the 45 Plays for 45 Presidents solar system by the tech crew.  Two of them had laptops which were constantly flashing as if a hurricane followed by a rainbow had hit their machines and caused a viral thermonuclear blast.  A few rows back from the three were two other technicians.  Please forgive me as I don’t know the names of these talented technicians.  Due to this oversight on my part, I must provide substitute names for them as I don’t want to refer to them as Technician 1, Technician 2, etc. out of respect to them and their profession.

Captain Kirk (oops, I mean Director Sean Daniels) is the space ship’s PAC leader of the group.  He oversees the Precision, Accuracy, and Communication (PAC) that are all things technical.  We’ll focus on three of these PAC members and call them Lieutenant Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov (again, just to give them and you a respectable label along with a point of reference).  For the three seated ten rows back, Sulu sat in the middle and drove the space ship’s sound effects from the firestorm that lived on his laptop.  On his right was Chekov who drove the space ship’s lighting (again, from his laptop; the marvel of technology).  He communicated with others around him by phone so as not to scream his direction of constant lighting changes (by my observation).  Sulu and Chekov impressed me not only with their obvious tech skills in sound and lighting but the way they could edit a quick change at the request of Sean or other member of the PAC team.  Moreover, they provided logic to their precision like-work that spoke of a theatrical surgeon.  For example, a quick transition from the sound of a gunshot to the actor’s response followed by a lighting change occurred one after another in a matter of seconds.  For that, I should rename them Bones and Spock but I’ll only confuse myself.  To the left of Sulu and Chekov sat Lieutenant Uhura.  She was the Communicator Officer in the space ship to the five stars.  What impressed me most about her was her cool demeanor.  With microphone in hand, she’s got Captain Kirk (I mean Sean, sorry I did it again) instructing her in one ear to tell the stars to “take it from the top” and Sulu and Chekov in her other ear with any sound or lighting changes.  Talk about multi-tasking in the final frontier, this Lieutenant is one to teach the ultimate class.

How many times have you heard someone say “great special effects” when questioned about a blockbuster movie or technical laden theatre production (I always wondered what they thought about the story but I digress)?  The use of technology is something special in the theatre when the play is dependent on it as part of its lifeline.  Furthermore, a movie has time to edit the process.  In live theatre, there is limited or no time to edit that computer graphic.  No time to edit that quick lighting transition.  No time to edit that explosive sound.  Everything has to come together with no mistakes – timing and technology working together as one in marital bliss.  This has never been so true for something like 45 Plays for 45 Presidents.

Don’t look past the real names or at least the resume of this talented group of techies like I did.  Check out your playbill before the show and read the technical crew’s background and contribution to the play.  More importantly, without these guys and gals, there are no plays and no presidents.  There’s only a ticket refund and a return home to a special effects snoozer on the tube with no story to speak of.  On that note, please tell Teddy that I said hello when you see the play and tell the Trust Buster to ride on.  Just shy away from any falling chandeliers or helicopters in warp speed.  Time for the show to begin, beam me up Scotty.

-Paul Galinis, Cohort

MORE NOTES FROM TECH

After a few hours of the tech rehearsal, I understand a bit more of Sean’s comments “see how we put this cue/prop/everything heavy play together.”

What an effort. As I continue to say my ignorance is massive. I felt for the performers, who now need to take all that work from the rehearsal hall and integrate it with all the other components: sound, lights, props, blocking, ….  Such a tangle of items. I got to watch as Sean, saw both things he wanted to change, and opportunities he came across, as he worked with the performers to see if the timing would work. His question: “Can you get from there to there while the scene unfolds?”  Oh you can, well lights can we get them illuminated?  Of course this continues for seemingly every moment of the play.

Of course with the scenery the placement of items is different from the rehearsal hall.  Oh the cards fell, so Nael dealing with that means he missed a cue.  Oh start again what happened?  Oh Celina can you do this different so that does not happen? Now repeat, next action, repeat.  I have to say I admire the professionalism of the actors to handle this start, stop repeat.  I do not believe that I could ever start and stop in the middle of so much, so often.  Then to see the crew discuss how to handle the balloons. The issues from high school physics that suddenly apply, i.e. static electricity which of course Benjamin Franklin experimented with, (and speaks in the play,) now is affecting the prop.  I did not see the solution, but I am very impressed with the team discussion. It is clear to me that together these folks have a wealth of experience that is coming to bear on the problems.

So much more detail than I saw in the rehearsal hall, and now it comes together even more, and the actors just ‘get it’.  Wow, I sure have a continuing appreciation for the effort, things that are discussed that will rarely be the focus of any one in the audience.  Things such as do we see the portrait or the name of the president first?  What is the action of the actors that cues this change?  Is this always the case or are their exceptions? As I have said before in watching these questions, discussion and decisions I have a new appreciation for Sean’s value as the director.  Of course all this said, it takes a team to realize the visions and given what I am seeing I think Sean leads a great team.

I am looking forward to what is ready for the public and seeing the adjustments that will be made.

-Richard Pitkin, Cohort

NOTES FROM TECH by Geoff Bryant

So I’ll start with Wednesday because while I stopped in, I never got to write about it.

It’s Wednesday, a week after I was last there, and a week before the first preview show. To me, things had come a long way. The actors weren’t using scripts in their hands – though they certainly asked for a line fairly often. They had many details worked out unlike the week before. It was looking good to me.

And they worked again on the double dutch jump rope. I don’t know how that’s going to work.  Terrell almost had it on one run, but many times, well, it failed. Valiant efforts and Terrell must be tired. During the show, they won’t get the repeated tries. I for one, will be more nervous about this than the average member of the audience when I come on my night as a subscriber.

Other than that – things looked good. Especially the Nixon play – that one is really good.

Turns out this is around the end of the day. Time to take 10 and Sean is out somewhere.    Another cohort (I think that’s who he is) and I get a chance to chat with the cast. I say how things look so good and how much progress I see since the last time I came by.  I ask if this is the usual amount of time they have before a show and Veronica says this is typical.     Seems like a tight timeframe and I’m impressed. Now, while they were going through the plays, Sean was pretty much quiet and things went along. After the take 10, Sean was back and the coach spoke. He talked about them needing more focus and how little time was left – a mere two more run throughs before the first preview night. Time is tight. Then he gave them a real pep talk with so many positive things. I guess they need to be further along, but to my amateur eyes, this amazingly talented cast is getting so much done, so fast, I’m truly impressed. And they are truly a team; if they weren’t this show would be impossible. But as I wrote before, there are so many details and so little time.

Oh, and Nael gets an award. Shaving off your beard is something I would never do.    I’ve had it since 1981.

No way does that go. True dedication there Nael!

And now on to Friday night. I was with my wife who was getting an MRI done, so I was waiting and reading the script. I was so surprised to read the lines of one of the early Presidents and what do you know – there’s the Trump script. Pretty cool. Hopefully I’ll find time to read the rest.

And now it’s Saturday and I got another chance to drop by. I was eager to drop in and see tech day.

First thing is getting in. My eyes were adjusted to daylight and I tried coming into the theater on stage left because that’s the way I always go in to our seats. Well it’s dark and filled with stuff and I’m just glad I didn’t knock anything over, break something, or make a loud sound. I quietly backed out and came in the other side.

There is stuff everywhere. There are tables with all the light and sound controls and such in the seats.   There are props and whatnot on the sides. And health food at the bar and near the stage (donuts are health food right?).

Things have come a long way again with the cast. There lines are down and they have pacing of things looking pretty good. They are in costume. It is on the stage. It now looks like a play.

Back at the rehearsal hall it was a real treat to see the cast in normal clothes, as normal people working away.

It is a privilege to see them as Nael, Veronica, Celina, Terrel, and Aaron.

Now on the stage they are the cast. They are on the stage and I’m out in the audience.     Different perspective.

Now the focus is also different. The cast looks to have much down, but the sound and lights, and props are the work (well, props have been going along the way…).  Listening to the talk about cue 14.whatever and all the timing of that is yet more details to work out.  I’m a new cohort, so I haven’t watched this before, but it sure seems to me that there are way more complicated details to work out in this play than I bet the normal show has. I guess I’ll know when I see another production come together.

Today also had the funniest thing I’ve seen – Godzilla Aaron. So the white house is to burn down. The first thing I see is this little model white house, Aaron is there and nothing really happens. Another try and plastic fire comes out of the roof – slowly. So slow and lame it’s actually really funny.  But I guess it’s supposed to be fast – there is little time for each play after all.

So they do it again and Aaron goes Godzilla on the flame and the white house. It was hilarious.    I couldn’t stop laughing. Sean and folks behind me are working on possibilities. Can we project flames?  Can we have the sound of flames? How about smoke instead?  Smoke in a can?      E-cigarettes?  Someone puffs out the smoke of an e-cigarette? Lots of choices. Amazing is that in another run there is the sound of fire – how did that happen so fast? Anyway, the cast is no longer the focus it was before and another million details to work on. And it’s Saturday and the first preview is Wednesday. So little time. Can this all really come together?

I still would love to see Godzilla Aaron – just way too funny…

And a last thought. This is a holiday weekend and these folks are working 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM.  Monday is labor day. Let’s thank the cast, director and crew for all the hard labor going into this show. Thanks everyone.

And thanks for having me as a cohort. This is a blast.

-Geoff  Bryant, Cohort