COHORT REPORT: ‘Native Gardens’ Tech Rehearsal

Chainsaw won’t turn on
Is it the outlet? Safety?
…Time to just move on.

The desks everyone were working from are those specially designed tables with different height legs, very nifty! It was really cool to have each of the tables set up for stage manager, director, lights, sound, etc… and to see the costume designer and other props people pop up on stage.

I really envy their jobs. Sure, the long hours and late nights, but I greatly admire creatives who are putting their crafts to work. Growing up, I had many creative ambitions but ultimately chose what I thought would be a more respected career in the sciences. Seeing these professionals and performers re-ignites my creative energy, reminding me that I should let my inner artist shine some way, some how.

–Audra Martin, Cohort



Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7



COHORT REPORT: How does it work?

I’m a newly minted member of the MRT Cohort Club. 

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about subscribing to MRT for many years is seeing a variety of plays; plays I might not have chosen to see otherwise. Plays capture a life experience from the perspective of the playwright, director, actors, and the rest of the production team. Watching a play presents an opportunity to experience another world for a short while, to learn something about ourselves and others, to set aside our own lives for a time.

As a cohort, it is possible to see how this world of the play is brought into existence in a professional theatre. In future write-ups, I’ll focus on a particular aspect of the development of theater in the context of a specific play.
This time around, I’ll provide some info on the 2018-2019 season, how plays are selected, and the nominal production timeline.

If you are a subscriber who doesn’t want to any advance knowledge about the plays this season, skip this paragraph.

The first of seven plays for this season is the widely produced comedy, Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías. It features one very pregnant actor playing a very pregnant new homeowner and gardener.

This season also includes three world premieres:
Slow Food by Wendy MacLeod, The Heath by Lauren Gunderson, the most produced playwrights of the 2017-2018 season, and The Haunted Life by Jack Kerouac adapted for the stage by Sean Daniels, Artistic Director at MRT.

The Christmas show this year is an eight-actor extravaganza, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly, with characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

At the other end of the spectrum, Murder for Two has two actors playing thirteen characters. The last play of the season, Cry It Out, is a comedy featuring at least one new mom (Veronica Duerr) coincidentally playing a new mom.

The plays for this season were discussed a year ago and selected around the beginning of 2018. Season planning starts with reading plays during the summer. Internal discussions about the 2019-2020 season has already began in August. Sean Daniels says, “It’s a process that is ongoing and our internal goal is to have the [planning] done by Dec. 31st for the next season. So right now we are in the thick of planning for the 19-20 Season.”

When asked how plays are selected, Sean Daniels said“We look to put together a season that serves the multiple constituencies and goals of the organizations.” He provided the following as examples of things MRT looks at when making a new season:

• What do we think our audience is excited by?
• What are we excited by?
• Do we have gender parity?
• Are we accurately reflecting the diversity of our community?
• Which artists do we want to support and say they were here before the[y] broke large?
• Which shows can we get the rights to?
• What we feel is topical and necessary at this moment
• What is the reponsibility of a new play theatre, or a theatre in Massachusetts?
• What do we think will have a life afterwards?
• What’s the strain on the staff?
• How big are these shows outside of actors?

He finished up with “Then we pull all that together with what we can afford and what do we think will sell enough.”

At MRT, the design team for a play is chosen 6-12 months before opening night by the director, and approved by MRT Artistic Director and staff. The production of a play starts about 3-6 months before the first rehearsal with a conference call to discuss the design concepts for the set, costumes, lighting, and sound. Actors are selected about two months before first rehearsal; they rehearse for three weeks. Nominally, about two weeks before opening night, the set is loaded into the theater; lighting, sound, and video are added in later that week; dress rehearsal is on the Tuesday of the following week; previews are Wednesday through Friday; and opening night is on Saturday. From opening night on, the play runs for 3 weeks. The set is removed following the final performance on the last Sunday; the set for the next play is loaded in the following day.

As you can see, there are multiple productions in the pipeline at the same time.

Previews are essentially dress rehearsals with an audience. Adjustments may be made to the production based on the audience reaction. That is particularly true for world premieres. For that reason, tickets for previews are discounted. MRT encourages teachers to attend the first preview on Wednesday evenings. Student matinees are offered for age appropriate productions.

–Cindy McLain, Cohort



Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7


COHORT REPORT: Native Gardens

I knew I missed being a Cohort, I returned last week and loved every minute of watching the Native Gardens rehearsal. Exciting, vibrant, laugh out loud funny, energetic and fun.With an enthusiastic, “energizing rabbit”as a director, and a cast willing to make changes on the go, this process of perfecting orchestrated chaos was pure delight.

–Nancy Weber, Cohort



Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7


COHORT REPORT: What’s that old saying about fences?

Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s first play of the season, Native Gardens, is a fine antidote to the end-of-summer blues, for Karen Zacarías’ timely new comedy involves two sets of neighbors with diametrically opposed ideas about nature and our need to control it.

As I watched the read-through – the first time the actors read the play aloud in the presence of the director, designers and, in this case, landscaping extras – and chuckled along with the rest of the assembled audience at the MRT rehearsal hall. I couldn’t help but wonder where I stood on the horticultural spectrum. Due to temperament and location – situated between neighbors Mr. Fastidious (no leaf remains un-blown) and “Anything Goes” Annie – I decided upon a Switzerland-style neutral.

Differences – of opinion, race, sex and gardening styles – color everything in Native Gardens. Set in an uber-suburb of Washington, D.C., those of us with postcard-size yards will sympathize with the plight of the homeowners and their tight quarters, where every foot of space is precious and privacy paramount.

But the play is not just about competitive gardening and poorly-timed barbecues. As the characters resort to ever more elaborate schemes to buttress their cause, the refrain of “old neighborhood, new neighbors” leads to an examination of what it means to belong – or not – and what happens when the old ways – and the old people – give way to something new, something – well – different, and those differences become hard to ignore.

Where do our boundaries lie – and what gets us to cross them? How do we deal with conflict – logically or emotionally? How can we see ourselves as others perceive us? And can we disagree and still co-exist peacefully? Native Gardens will make you laugh – and think.

–Karla Sorenson, Cohort



Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7


COHORT REPORT: Adventures with ‘Native Gardens’

Paul, the Native Gardens Production Assitant, walked me through the hallway leading to the rehearsal hall. The space is one large room with a wood floor, tall ceilings, and sun streaming through the windows. It’s in one of Lowell’s many old, converted mill buildings.

As I entered, Tania (Vivia Font) and Virginia (Navida Stein) were getting director’s notes on Vignette 10. How exciting and unexpected that the actress playing Tania is actually pregnant, as is her character. There was an open, back and forth discussion between the director and two actors as they figured out the progression and where the characters are at this point–both on their own and in relation to one another. One comment from the director is where you’re pointing the energy in, is how a word or line is said. This is a keen observation to think about in real life everyday conversations. Overall, to echo their own notes, it’s “great fun!”

We had a short break before starting Vignette 11 that featured chocolate, yellow watermelon (my favorite!!), talks of temperature in the artists’ housing, and Vivia’s earlier visit to the hospital.

The next scene started with a table read. They ran through the scene several times to work through blocking. They’re not off book yet, but already there’s such great energy. It’s a wonderful treat to see creative professionals in the midst of their process. I love seeing what the actors come up with organically, with additions from the creative vision of the director and her perspective from seeing the entire scene. Such intricate work is required to get the balanced back and forth as the conversation switches from one backyard to another. I’m so excited to see where their creative energy takes them between now and first curtain.




Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7



A new adventure!

I’ve joined the Cohort Club at the Merrimack Repertory Theater and have the opportunity to watch their first show, Native Gardens, go from paper to performance. On Monday night I read the dialogue––conversations between four people. And today I sat in the rehearsal hall for the first read. The cast and others sat around a large table and I heard the actors’ voices pronounce the words I had read the night before. The director also listened. I look forward to watching her mold and flesh out these four characters as rehearsals continue.

I already know that this play set in today’s world is a perfect antidote for these fractious times when we all need to laugh. And if we listen carefully and think we can laugh at ourselves too. Stay tuned!

–Linda Wolk, Cohort



Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7


Young Company 2018 Student Reflection

My experience here at MRT was amazing. I enjoyed every second of it. Everyone in the company, including my teachers, Will and Rich, were extremely supportive and helpful. They were always there for me if I had any questions or if I just needed to talk. I have learned so many useful techniques and tips that I will surely never forget, as I’d like to pursue theater as a career.

Shohini Lala and Lyla El-Gamel at the Young Company Special Presentation, Aug 3, 2018.

I especially love the size of the cast, 14 people. I was able to receive individual feedback and advice on how I could be a better actor, whereas in the theater program at school, there were so many kids that the directors didn’t have time to do that. MRT’s Young Company has definitely prepared me for the theater world, and I’m leaving today, my last day, as a better actor, thanks to Will, Rich, and the many inspiring guests that worked with us during the three-week period. I will miss everyone dearly and will never forget the life-changing experience I’ve had. Thank you!!

Much love,

Lyla El-Gabel

For more information about Young Company and how to join: