COHORT REPORT: Slow Food

Pictured: Daina Griffith, Joel Van Liew, and Brian Beacock. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Comedy. It often seems like the poor cousin of the theater world, relegated to a position below serious drama and musicals. When was the last time a true comedy (even a bittersweet one) won the Pulitzer Prize? That would be Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers in 1991. At best, you might get “black comedy,” which is basically humor that no one thinks is funny. But Simon, Christopher Durang, and Alan Ayckbourn seem like anachronisms – okay maybe Ayckbourn should be an anachronism – in a world where theater companies favor plays about identity and personal crisis. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with plays that have real meaning, just as there is nothing wrong with wanting to laugh out loud and forget all your troubles.

Under Sean Daniels, Merrimack Repertory Theatre has been bucking this trend by presenting a number of indisputable comedies, most of them, interestingly, written by women. Because maybe we have we sold comedy short. Not only does it allow the audience to experience what Wendy MacLeod, the author of Slow Food, calls the “joy of shared laughter,” it shows that the best time to deliver a message is when the receiver isn’t looking.

Think about the satirization of American politics in Lila Rose Kaplan’s Home of the Brave or her attack on gender roles in the workplace and in comics (!) in Villians’ Supper Club. And while we were chuckling at the antics of the acrimonious neighbors in Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías, we were also immersed in a struggle between the “haves” and the “have nots,” the young and the old, the established and the immigrant – and pondering where we fit in. Comedy gives us permission to laugh at ourselves – and see the humanity in the other side.

And so in MacLeod’s Slow Food, as we howl in cathartic frustration, it doesn’t matter whether you identify with the hungry couple or with the put-upon waiter, you see yourself. For when the laughter dies down (and the food is finally served) the play reveals itself to be a cautionary tale, as the three characters take stock of their lives at the midway point, with lots of regrets but still many possibilities ahead. Carpe diem, the play seems to say, or you may end up an over-stressed man with a drinking problem (maybe), a woman who never reached her potential, or a waiter who is all he is ever going to be.

 

–Karla Sorenson, Cohort

 

 

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Slow Food runs January 9 – February 3

mrt.org/slowfood

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COHORT REPORT: Food, Love, and Respect

Pictured: Joel Van Liew, Brian Beacock, and Daina Griffith. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre continues its focus on new works with the World Premiere of Slow Food . . .

“World’s worst waiter,” says the ad – to which we all reply, “No way. One time . . .” But that’s the appeal of the play, the universality of being at the mercy of someone with passive-aggressive tendencies, who seems to be on “island time” while you’re in New York. So when the waiter in Slow Food introduces himself as “Stephen with a PH,” we all think we know what’s coming.

But there’s always another side, no? And if you’ve ever “worked food,” or know someone who has, you know that dealing with volatile chefs, hand-sy bosses, and the ever-capricious American public is its own special brand of hell.

The cleverness of Wendy MacLeod’s new play is not in the power plays that go on – although wildly entertaining. Denied sustenance, Irene and Peter descend into a primal state, where it’s every man or woman (or waiter) for themselves. It’s soon apparent that food is not the only thing missing from the couple’s lives, for this is a play about survival and what it takes to have our most essential needs – food, love, respect – fulfilled.

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–Karla Sorenson, Cohort

 

 

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Slow Food runs January 9 – February 3

mrt.org/slowfood

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Q&A: with Playwright Wendy MacLeod

“A Metaphor for Marriage”

wendy macleodPlaywright Wendy MacLeod is best known as the author of Women in Jeopardy! (an MRT audience favorite from the 2016-17 Season) and as a writer for the TV cult sensation “Popular.” She has also earned acclaim and awards for the plays Schoolgirl Figure, The House of Yes, The Water Children, and Juvenilia. The film version of The House of Yes, starring Parker Posey, won the Sundance Award and international acclaim. A professor at Kenyon College and Northwestern University, MacLeod regularly writes for The New York Times, Salon, McSweeney’s, The Washington Post, and “All Things Considered.”

What inspired you to write Slow Food?

The play was inspired by a family trip to Palm Springs, where we found ourselves waiting endlessly for dinner late at night in a Greek restaurant, trapped there because it was the only restaurant still open. Our waiter was maddening, and yet his need to be king of this very small kingdom was fascinating. I was reminded of how we become our best selves once we’ve been fed.

Is there a message you hope to impart to audiences?

As far as a “message,” I’m with George S. Kaufmann, that “if you want to send a message, call Western Union.”  A comedy
should entertain, and it does that by being recognizable—the audience needs to see themselves in the characters or the situation. I don’t pretend that I’m communicating “important ideas.” Rather,
I’m creating opportunities for gifted comic actors and allowing an audience to experience the joy of shared laughter.

How would you describe Slow Food?

This play is very much about middle-age and mortality. I call them Woman and Man because the play can’t just be about one couple trying to figure out how to be lovers again after being parents for so long. Over the course of a marriage we all can find ourselves careening between being lovers, co-conspirators, parents, friends, rivals, and adversaries. Being trapped in a restaurant, waiting to be fed, is a metaphor for marriage.

 

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Slow Food runs January 9 – February 3, 2019.

mrt.org/slowfood

Cohort Report: What is a Prompt Book?

This article is about the Prompt Book. There are two sections: the first describes the prompt book and its use, the second is a Q&A with Maegan Alyse Passafume, Stage Manager for Native Gardens, and Nicole Kutcher, Stage Manager for Murder for Two at Merrimack Repertory Theatre.

What is a Prompt Book?
The prompt book, or cueing script or calling script, is often referred to as “the bible” of the production. Books discussing the how-to’s of stage management very clearly emphasize the importance of this document. It is the official record of the production and is archived at the end of the run. It contains information necessary to recreate the production: the script marked up with blocking and cues; scenic design plan; costume design sketches; list of props; and lighting, sound, and special effects cues. During the production, the prompt book is in a three-ring binder.

If anything happens to the stage manager (SM), the prompt book can be used by another stage manager, or assistant stage manager (ASM), to run the show. I read where a stage manager became incapacitated during a show…we all know “the show must go on”…and it did.

During performances of Native Gardens at MRT from September 27 through 30, including the roll-out of open captioning, Nicole Kutcher filled in for Maegan Alyse Passafume, Stage Manager for Native Gardens. I was in the audience for the performance on September 27 and failed to notice any indication there was a substitute stage manager, and I was watching for it. See the comments on that transition in the Q&A below.

Photographs of pages from the prompt books for Native Gardens (final version) and Murder for Two (rehearsal version) accompany this article. In each photo, the page on the left is from the script (and/or the music for Murder for Two). The page on the right contains sections for notes on Blocking (movements of the actors), Scenic (layout of the stage), Lights, Props, Costumes, Sound, and Transitions/Miscellaneous/Other Reminders. To conserve space, abbreviations are used. The circled numbers, in pencil, on the lefthand page are references to the blocking notes with the same numbers on the facing page.

In place of a single script, musical theater has two documents: “Book & Lyrics” (the full script) and a “Book & Music” (all the music). The “Book” (script), “Lyrics”, and “Music” may each be written by a single person or a by a collaboration. The prompt book contains an interleaving of pages taken from the “Book & Lyrics” and the “Book & Music”. The interleaving of pages is crucial. During the read through for Murder for Two, I tried to follow along using the two as separate documents and had trouble on a few occasions, as did others including the actors.

There are three stages of production at MRT: rehearsals, previews, and the run. During rehearsals the prompt book is annotated in pencil by the stage manager. During the run, when the play is being performed for an audience, the stage manager uses the prompt book to call cues and monitor for performance issues. Previews are the transition between rehearsals and the final run; the stage manager is calling the cues but the director may make minor revisions based on the audience reaction and their own observations.

By opening night, the director has settled on the blocking and cueing to be used throughout the run. Small adjustments were still being made for Native Gardens on the afternoon of the opening night.

After opening night, no further changes are made and the stage manager finalizes the prompt book, as shown in the example for Native Gardens. Later in the season there will be three world premieres, so we’ll see whether there are any changes following opening night for those productions.

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Q&A with Nicole Kutcher (NK), Stage Manager for Murder for Two and Maegan Alyse Passafume (MP), Stage Manager for Native Gardens.

Q: During the run of Native Gardens, Nicole Kutcher (NK) filled in for Maegan Alyse Passafume (MP) for five shows. Can you comment on this transition, in particular with respect to use of the prompt book, or calling script?

MP: All stage managers are taught early on that your paperwork and your book need to be clean and legible enough for someone to come in and call the show without ever having seen it. Obviously this is only in case of emergency, which does happen. But I told MRT when I was offered Native Gardens that I would need that weekend off and they would have to find me a sub. Because every stage manager sets up their book in different ways, anyone coming into sub will usually watch that stage manager call the show before they try to call it themselves. That way they can see how the book is set up, and ask any questions they might have.

NK: As Maegan mentioned, every stage manager has their own method of setting up their prompt book—they all contain the same essential information, just set up in different ways according to what works best for them. Knowing this and knowing that I would be covering for her, Maegan sent me a digital copy of her calling script ahead of time to give me the opportunity to study her system and be prepared for when I stepped in. I was able to watch the archival video of the show and follow along with the calling script to ensure that I was familiar with the show itself and how the cues fit in.

[Ed. Note: MRT makes a single archival recording of each play. For Native Gardens and Murder for Two that archival video was recorded on opening night. This video is for archival purposes only and, for contractual reasons, is not publicly available.]

Q: Have you experienced a time where the stage manager became incapacitated during the show? Was the audience aware of the issue while it was happening?

MP: The only time I’ve ever seen someone incapacitated was an ASM I was working with backstage about 6 years ago. Thankfully we were in tech and not performances, so we were able to stop and take care of her.

NK: Fortunately I have not had this experience during a public performance. I did, however, have an experience during a tech rehearsal where the stage manager became ill and as the ASM, I was asked to step in to keep the rehearsal moving while the stage manager received medical attention. At this point, the cues were still being written into her prompt book so after a quick crash course on her particular process for marking them, I jumped in.

Q: Maegan, you are listed as one of two stage managers for the 2017 production of Chill by Eleanor Burgess at MRT. How did that transition play out?

MP: Casey needed someone to take over for her on Chill so she could move on to her next production. So over the course of three days I saw the show, I watched her call the show, and then she watched me call the show to make sure I understood it. Then she stepped away and I took over for her.

Nicole Kutcher was the stage manager for last year’s world premiere of Little Orphan Danny at MRT. For Little Orphan Danny, the “Book, Music, & Lyrics” were all authored by Dan Finnerty.

Q: Was there a “Book & Lyrics” and “Book & Music” for Little Orphan Danny during the MRT production?

NK: There were both “Book & Lyrics” and “Book & Music” for Little Orphan Danny. However, because it was a brand new musical, the script and the music were constantly changing and new edits passed out to the cast & band members almost every day. In the end, those final versions were preserved to be passed on to future versions of the show. For a musical, it is essential to have both a script and music so that the band can smoothly follow along with what is happening onstage without missing a beat.

Q: What changes were made to Little Orphan Danny after opening night?

NK: Usually the show is “frozen” after opening night for shows that have been previously licensed, printed and copywritten. In this particular case, Little Orphan Danny was the world premiere of a show that was still in the workshop process. This, combined with the fact that the lead performer was also the creator/playwright meant that he continued to tweak lines here and there, trying out new jokes and maximizing his time in front of an audience to see what worked. Most of the changes he made fit within the technical elements that had already been established before opening.

[Ed. Note: In Murder for Two, Joe Kinosian, the actor playing The Suspects, is also one of the original authors and performers. As a result, there was additional flexibility during rehearsals, a couple of lines were removed from and added to the script, but the show was still “frozen” after opening night. One of the characters presents differently every performance but that is explicitly allowed in the script.]

Q: Were there differences in how you developed and used the prompt book for Little Orphan Danny and for Murder for Two?

NK: Yes, in fact. My personal philosophy is to constantly adapt my system for what will best serve my current production. In this case, the hyper-specific nature of the Murder for Two blocking, and subsequently the cueing, lead me to adapt my method to allow for the notation those elements in a more detailed manner. It meant tweaking the way the book was set up, the symbols used for notations and layout of the cues in the finalized calling script.

Q: JC Clementz, Director for the MRT production of Murder for Two, also directed the production at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Was the prompt book for the Milwaukee Rep production used at all for developing the MRT production?

NK: It was not. Because JC and the cast had just recently completed the same production, they did occasionally reference what they had done before. However, when you’re putting up the same show in a new space, inevitably things will be need to be adjusted to better suit the new space, new ideas will be discovered and improvements will be made. In this case, it best suited to production to pull together a new prompt book from scratch.

Q: Any other things you want to share about the prompt book, or calling script?

MP: Once the calling script gets to the theatre for tech, it never leaves. It doesn’t go home with you, it doesn’t stay in your car, it’s left somewhere in the theatre until closing. That way if something happens to you, your replacement knows where to find it.

NK: When you’re putting together the calling script for a musical, it can end up as a combination of script pages, pages of music and sometimes lists of step-by-steps of actions (used most often for sections involving movement/dancing without spoken lines). This is all determined by what allows for the clearest and specific documentation, as well as the needs of the stage manager.

–Cynthia McLain, Cohort

 

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Murder for Two runs October 17 – November 11, 2018.

mrt.org/murderfortwo

Q&A: Joe Kinosian (Actor, Composer, and Book Writer)

Joe Kinosian-smJoe Kinosian, the original star of Murder for Two, as well as the composer and book writer of the musical-comedy-mystery, makes his Boston-area debut as The Suspects. After the original production at the Chicago Shakespeare Festival, Kinosian was nominated for the prestigious Jefferson Award for Best Actor in a Musical, and he and co-creator Kellen Blair won the award for Best New Musical. The show ran for nearly two years Off-Broadway in New York City.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Kinosian dazzles “with a plethora of talents and eye-popping energy,” and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said, “Kinosian absolutely nails his performances as a variety of quirky characters.”

Theatre writers note the influence of The Marx Brothers, Agatha Christie, “Murder She Wrote,” and Vaudeville in Murder for Two. Were any of these genres especially influential for you growing up? 

Absolutely. I became an old movie fan at a very early age, largely the result of time spent with my grandma, the consummate fan of 1930s and 40s Hollywood. She first showed me The Marx Brothers’ films, and something about their anarchic combination of intellectual screwball wordplay and physical zaniness has never stopped appealing to me. I was also a fan at a young age (too young?) of murder mysteries, Agatha Christie in particular. When Kellen and I first came up with the idea for Murder for Two, we framed it as “what if The Marx Brothers put on an Agatha Christie story?” (I must pay tribute to The Thin Man films as well, which remain the ultra-classy gold standard of blending comedy and mystery.) As far as vaudeville is concerned, we definitely wanted to channel that comedically broad, “anything for a laugh” approach. All of that formed the basis of Murder for Two‘s style.

Audiences and critics rave about how each of your characters are so distinct. What was the process for creating a host of suspects with such unique mannerisms and voices? How difficult was the creation of so many characters? Do you have a favorite? 

That is very nice of those audiences and critics to say! In developing my performance(s) of The Suspects, I began with an aspect of each of the characters that I connected to, be it an accent or an aspect of their physical vocabulary or whatever. From there, they all took on a life of their own. Over the years, they’ve all continued to change and develop, and I always look forward to diving in again and seeing where they’re at now. Being the co-writer of the book gave me insight as to why the characters were the way they were and what inspired their creation, so in that regard, it was less difficult than it might have been had I not served in the role (no pun intended) of writer as well. My favorite character (and the favorite of most actors who’ve played The Suspects, too, I’m pretty sure) is Dahlia Whitney, the daffy widow of the deceased. Her penchant for saying what she’s thinking and not feeling the way she’s supposed to feel is a beautiful, liberating thing to play.

After five years, how do you keep your performance fresh? 

I’m really lucky to be able to do a production of Murder For Two, step away for weeks or months, and then go back in to a new production. Since each production differs in terms of creative team, theater, co-star, etc., nothing ever gets too routine. But even more than that, I rely on the audience to keep it fresh. Since they haven’t heard this story before (or have, and are hopefully looking forward to hearing it again), I try to see it a little bit through their eyes, and let the comedy and clues unfold as though for the first time.

 

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Murder for Two runs October 17 – November 11, 2018.

mrt.org/murderfortwo

COHORT REPORT: What does a Stage Manager do?

Rehearsal picture (9/15/2018) house left to house right: Gabriel Marin (Pablo Del Valle), Brendan Conroy (Prop Manager), Vivia Font (Tania Del Valle), Maegan Alyse Passafume (SM), Navida Stein (Virginia Butley).

This article provides first an overview of Stage Management followed by a Q&A with Maegan Alyse Passafume, Production Stage Manager for the Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) production of Native Gardens by Karen Zacarías.

The credits page in the playbill lists the playwright, actors, designers, director, producer, and someone called a Stage Manager or Production Stage Manager. If you’re like me, you wonder what a stage manager does and why they are listed in the credits, but not enough to actually look into it.

Truth be told, I didn’t actually look into it until I attended rehearsals for Native Gardens and observed the Stage Manager (SM) and Production Assistant (PA) in action. It turns out the SM is that cool-headed problem solver with foresight and all the right knowledge, supplies, and connections that you want to have around when you’re heading into an adventure. They function as both the navigator and the journalist of your travels. A theater production of any complexity would be a chaotic comedy of errors without them. Sean Daniels notes, “a bad stage manager can sink a show.” He also noted that for a musical, the SM “has to have rhythm.” Sean Daniels is the Artistic Director at MRT.

Before we continue, let’s look at what is meant by “stage.” During a performance, the theater is split into two areas: the house and the stage. The “house” encompasses all aspects of the performance space used by the audience. The “stage” encompasses the rest of the performance space, including the actors, scenery, costumes, props, lights, sound, crews, dressing rooms, etc.; all managed by . . . the SM.

The SM officially starts work on the production the week before the first rehearsal and remains involved with the production until the show closes, following the final performance.

One of the most important jobs of the SM is to compile and use the official record of the production, called the prompt book or calling script. The prompt book will be discussed in a separate article. For now, suffice it to say the prompt book contains the script of the play marked up with the movements of the actors; lighting, sound, video/projection, and special effect cues; and cues for the movement of scenery.

The SM is also responsible for:
• Scheduling pre-production meetings, rehearsals, costume fittings, calls
• Running meetings and rehearsals
• Reading the script and making lists of needs (props, costumes, sound, lighting, etc.)
• Setting up the rehearsal space
• Marking out the set footprint in the rehearsal space
• Publishing and circulating schedules
• Keeping track of refinements in the director’s vision and anticipating needs
• Alerting the proper departments of changes and needs
• Recording and publishing rehearsal/performance reports
• Recording rehearsal/performance notes and giving them to the appropriate person(s)
• Advising the director
• Ensuring the director’s version of the play is recorded and maintained during performance
• Making sure everything is ready for opening night, and all other performances
• Maintaining a congenial environment
• Cuing the performance
• Crisis management

As you can see, this job is a critically important one and it is a shame more people don’t appreciate what it entails when watching a performance.
Now for the Q&A with Maegan Alyse Passafume, Production Stage Manager for Native Gardens at MRT:

Q: What is the difference between a Stage Manager and a Production Stage Manager?

A: There actually isn’t a difference at all. While they are two different titles, the refer to the same position and person. I’ve definitely been called both!

Q: What does the Production Assistant do at MRT?

A: While we are in rehearsal the production assistant (PA) is responsible for helping maintain a clean rehearsal room, being on book and taking line notes as the actors stop relying on looking at their scripts, setting up props and rehearsal costumes in the rehearsal room for the actors, and generating tracking paperwork – where props and scenic elements enter from, exit to, and which actor is using them. When we get into tech and performances, the PA is in charge of the backstage area. They take the tracking paperwork they created in rehearsal and use it to arrange props backstage. They make sure the SM knows when the actors are in their places and ready to start the show. They help the SM troubleshoot any issues that arise while the show is going without letting the show stop. And in addition to all that they have to be at the theatre about an hour before the show starts making sure everything onstage is ready for the beginning of the show, and about an hour after the show is over cleaning everything up. It’s a big job!

[Note: “Being on book” means following the script in the prompt book; in this case, to prompt the actors. “Taking line notes” means making a note for each flubbed line. Paul Smith was the PA for Native Gardens. He is a member of the MRT staff (listed together in the playbill).]

Q: You were Stage Manager at MRT for The Royale and Chill in previous seasons. How did the three productions differ from a stage management perspective?

A: When I worked on Chill, I was taking over for the original stage manager who had to move on to the next show she was working on. It was crucial that I maintain the artistic integrity of the show that she had worked with the director to build, learn the cueing sequences quickly and correctly, and make sure the cast and crew trusted me and knew I that I was there to support them without changing anything.

The Royale was my first full show at MRT, and it was very special to me. It terms of the purely technical, it was very straightforward – not a lot of moving parts or tricky sequences. But it won’t come as a surprise to anyone who saw the show that the playwright is a drummer; those boxing scenes are really percussive, and they have a rhythm that I had to become very familiar with to be able to call the show. And while the show takes place a century ago, there are overarching themes that are still so relevant today, and I wanted to make sure my cast felt supported so they could do the great work they do. And on a purely personal note, The Royale was also special to me because my fiancé proposed onstage after one of the shows!

And now here we are with Native Gardens, which has a little bit of everything! I always enjoy working on a production that stretches multiple stage management muscles, and I wasn’t disappointed here. Relevant content, special effects, intricate cue sequences, and lovely personalities. Before we had an audience I had to hone my timing, especially on the vignettes. The majority of the cues are called to music, so I have to count. And we wanted one door closing on one yard at the same time a door was opening on the other, so I have to know the rhythm of my actors. My director and designers have given me a true gem of a show to take care of, and I absolutely love it.

Q: You got your BFA in Stage Management. What excited you about stage management as a profession?

A: As with many people, I found my way to theatre through acting; I got all the way to college without knowing a lot about what a stage manager does. But when I started working as my friend’s PA on a student production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, there was something about the job that made me infinitely happier than acting did. I enjoyed the paperwork and running around backstage. I loved the collaboration with my team, and my team’s collaboration with the cast, designers, and director. As a professional it makes me feel like the conductor of an orchestra or an airplane pilot – shepherding a group of people on a journey through time, space, and feeling. I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else!

Q: What did you like about working with Director Giovanna Sardelli?

A: Giovanna and I discovered really quickly that we had the same sense of humor! And she sets a super friendly tone in the rehearsal room. She was also willing to take input from me and my team when it was time to problem solve in rehearsal. Where does the hose come from? How should we set the acorns so they don’t all roll away before the fight? What else can we give the landscapers to do in this vignette so an actor has more time to finish a costume change? If we had thoughts she would listen and being able to help your director brainstorm is such a great feeling.

Q: Is there an aspect of the MRT ‘Native Gardens’ production the audience should savor?

A: All of it! Seeing a show is such a different experience from person to person that everyone who sees it is going to focus on or take away something that the person next to them didn’t even notice. Savor the whole thing; everyone who worked on it did an amazing job of telling a cohesive story that’s meant to be taken in as one.

Q: For what other plays will you be Stage Manager during the 2018-2019 season at MRT?

A: Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, The Heath, and Cry It Out

Q: Have you worked with any of those directors before?

A: Not as a stage manager. Of course Sean and I know each other, but we haven’t worked together yet. And I was the PA on Muckrakers at New Rep, which Bridget Kathleen O’Leary directed.

[Note: Sean Daniels is directing The Heath by Lauren Gunderson. Bridget Kathleen O’Leary is directing Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon.]

Q: Do you have a favorite stage management war story?

A: Oh man, it’s so hard to pick just one and they’re all too long for this. Here’s what I will say: every good stage management war story is absolutely not funny as it’s happening. You only learn to appreciate the humor after the event has passed and everyone made it through. But that’s what makes it a good story.

–Backstage with Local Drama Club Geek

 

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Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7

mrt.org/nativegardens

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Q&A: Karen Zacarías (Playwright)

Karen Zacarias headshotKaren Zacarías’ plays include the recent, critically acclaimed Destiny of DesireA Brechtian Telenovela, Mariela in the Desert (Susan Smith Blackburn finalist, Francesca Primus Award), The Sins of Sor Juana (Helen Hayes Award, Outstanding Play), The Book Club Play, Just Like Us, Legacy of Light, and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

Founder of Washington, D.C.’s Young Playwrights’ Theatre, she regularly writes musicals (Jane of the Jungle, Cinderella Eats Rice and Beans) for young audiences with composer Debbie Wicks la Puma. Her musical Chasing George Washington at The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts toured nationally, and when published, included a foreword by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Recent projects include a new stage adaptation of The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the libretto for the Washington Ballet’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and a Brazilian-themed musical version of the Oliver Twist story. She resides in D.C. with her husband and three children.

You tackle a lot of dark issues with outright hilarity. Why is humor an important part of your storytelling? 

I think humor can be “disarming”. Especially if it’s not mean . . . and it brings light to personal foibles.  If you laugh, you usually have to uncross your arms . . . and open up . . . and that allows other ideas and perspectives to come in.  What people have told me about Native Gardens is that even though you side with different sides of the fence in different scenes, the person you end up judging is yourself.

Did a specific incident prompt you to write Native Gardens? 

I was at a dinner party looking for an idea for a play, and someone suggested I write about the fight they were having with a neighbor.  Then someone else recounted a neighbor story and so on. I was struck by how common, how primal, and poetic, and somewhat absurd all these epic battles can be and decided to explore the thorny issues of feuds through a biting comedic play.

Are you a gardener yourself?

No.  But I learned a lot about gardening researching this play. Who would have known that plants could be so political?!

What has most shaped your perspective?  

Being born in Mexico has shaped my perspective. Moving from Mexico to Boston when I was 10 shaped my perspective. Being an immigrant with immigrant parents shaped my perspective, and writing and art is the way I reconciled the bridges . . . and walls that I’ve encountered in my path. Art is a map for navigating the world, and a tool for making sense of the insensible.

What does Native Gardensmean to you personally? 

I think there are over 12 productions of Native Gardens scheduled for this next year.  I am so grateful that a play written by a Latinx artist, giving voice to characters we don’t often see on stage, is getting to interact with so many people from across the country.  It means to me that plays like this are part of the American cannon, and our stories are part of the mainstage of the American story.

 

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Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7, 2018.

mrt.org/nativegardens

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

 

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Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7

mrt.org/nativegardens

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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

 

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Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7

mrt.org/nativegardens

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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

 

NativeGardens_RGB_400px

Native Gardens runs September 12 – October 7

mrt.org/nativegardens

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