Tag Archives: Theater

Prepare Ye the Oral History of Godspell

I’m not sure the “oral history” long-form article became more popular in the social media age, but I certainly have noticed it a lot more in the past 15 years… and I usually enjoy the pieces about seminal stage and screen productions. It’s a good reminder of how, even when we see these works that are exquisite faits accompli, they are the result of hard-working humans, who are on their own journey.

(Alla Dreyvitser/Washington Post illustration; Dick Darrell/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

So I very much enjoyed Zachary Pincus-Roth’s piece in the Washington Post about the 1972 Toronto production of Godspell. I’ve enjoyed the musical since first working on a production last century, but it many other people should find of interest because of the impressive cast of the production, who have gone on to become celebrated performers over the past few decades. And even though the production is half a century in the past, bonds were forged that remain.

So check it out!

(And you may find some of Pincus-Roth’s other pieces for the Post of interest, including one about the enduring love for my favorite film no one else seems to have seen in the theater, The Shawshank Redemption, as well as why the musical Cats became so popular anyway).

Something for Everyone, but Specifically Just for You: Remembrances of Sondheim

As the New York Times obituary put it, a “Titan of the American Musical” has left the stage. Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91.

The whole article is a long and excellent read — and I tend to agree with Mark Evanier in that there doesn’t seem to be much for me to individually add about my own personal connections to Sondheim’s work.

However, one thing that has become evident to me with the outpouring of articles and anecdotes this past weekend is how many people have such specific connections to Sondheim and his work… as if each and every one had their own personal relationship with him.

We can talk about a central goal of art being to touch people — and for great artists being able to touch a lot of people, but for an artist to make such a singular impact to so many individuals with such specificity?

That’s an artist who has given the world gifts on a scale that cannot be understated.

Fred R. Conrad took this great photo of Sondheim for the New York Times back in 1990

Besides the New York Times piece, there’s a fun list from Linda Holmes over at NPR covering 10 Stephen Sondheim songs you probably know even if you don’t define yourself as a fan. PBS News Hour’s piece has some great clips from an earlier interview where Sondheim reveals how he thinks of lyrics and songs.

And for specific, personal connections to Sondheim, it’s hard to top Helena Fitzgerald’s memoir of an essay displaying how Sondheim taught her about life. One section sticks with me:

Sondheim lived a long and enormous life, died old and accomplished and loved at ninety-entire-one years of age. His death should feel neither cruel nor unexpected. But it does. I am still living in the world that he built, and cannot imagine it without him. What a hideous thing it is to live in a world without Stephen Sondheim. What an enormous piece of luck it was to have been alive at the same time as him.

Finally, I’ll link to this video of frequent Sondheim collaborator Bernadette Peters singing one of his best-known songs that, once you’re watching the show it’s in, you realize contains multitudes.

Little (Mobile) Theater on the Prarie

The events of last Wednesday are still dwelling on my mind, so it was nice to catch this article by Lia Kvatum in the Washington Post Magazine about an itinerant creative who’s connecting communities to their history through theater. It provides some much needed light and joy… and the notion that we can communicate with one another.

Theatrical portraits of Hanson in Granite Falls, Minn. (Caroline Yang via the Washington Post)

Reading about how Ashley Hanson has been traveling to different communities and talking with the people reminds me of both how the Federal Theatre Project had a whole “think national, act local” approach to productions as well as the more recent Playback Theatre‘s attempts to translate personal experiences into short plays.

When it comes to theater, I am biased, what with it being a “non-trivial” portion of my working life, to say nothing of participating in some of the “walking theater” mentioned in the article (although my part got to be on stage). I believe live theater has a way of connecting and impacting people in a way that will make it just as relevant 100 years from now as it was 1,000 and more years ago. So I wish Hanson and others great success in hundreds more towns across America, because it means connecting and deep listening.

Theater Strategy Post-Covid

I’ve been watching how theater and film productions have been coping with the pandemic (as you can see from June, July, and earlier in December). Safely producing new works is important not only considering my role in running Jabberwocky Audio Theater, but also thinking of my many colleagues whose livelihood requires being on stages and sets.

Federal Theater Project production of Macbeth, 1936 (Library of Congress)

So this article in Fortune, not my usual source for theater news, was an interesting read. Author Michael Barra puts forth some predictions about how theater may change, starting with Broadway and how the tourist percentage of audiences will drop, and then taking that change and extrapolating out to theater trends overall.

Considering how many performers are affected outside of Broadway, I hope cities and localities begin to look to how ‘creatives’ can help the economy (as, in truth, they have always done).

Video

“I’m standing in a very happy place right now” Behind-the-scenes of Hamilton

As I mentioned the other week, we saw Hamilton along with a good many millions of people at the beginning of the month… and that’s led to listening to the soundtrack non-stop the following weekend, at least one rewatch so far, and delving into all sorts of reading and watching of supplemental material.

Just about none has topped my theater geeky glee quite like seeing Adam Savage looking at the props used in Hamilton.

As many of you know, I worked on both sides of the stage for quite some time, and although I was never the best props maker, I had my moments, I loved most every minute, and there was always a special level of delight in making a prop and seeing it used on stage.

So many moment of “Squee!”

If this isn’t enough to give you your fix, you can also check out Adam Savage exploring:

O.G. Theater, Live This Saturday!

I was about to do a theater post anyway today, but I had to go ahead and share this.

A scene from The Persians, presented by the National Theatre of Greece.
(© Marilena Anastasiadou)

Per this article by David Gordon, the National Theatre of Greece will be doing a performance of The Persians from the historic –and we’re talking anciently historic– theater of Epidaurus this Saturday, July 25th.

The YouTube link is here. Get your O.G. (Original Greek) theater on!

Live Theater & Audio Theater

A lot of our company members of Jabberwocky Audio Theater usually make some of their living from performing in live theater… though at the present you can imagine that isn’t as easy.

Still, I know that live theater will return. Last month, I  shared a message from the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater in Minnesota about theater’s enduring qualities.

In the interim, theaters are finding ways to weather the closures and one way, as detailed on NPR, is to do plays as radio dramas.

The article references Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast from 1938, which Jabberwocky commemorated in 2018 with our own live performance of “War of the Worlds,” set in modern day and locally here in the Washington, DC area.

I hope this trend helps keep the lights on for many theaters — and while I grew up with both types of theater, I’m quite excited by the prospects that this introduces new listeners to the “Theater of the Mind.”

Video

Theater in the Time of Coronavirus

All sorts of physical businesses are suffering during this global pandemic and I know many people, dependent on in-person gigs for their livelihood who now have no income stream (to say nothing of creative freelancers, as one Nation article notes).

So this video posted last week by Joseph Haj, artistic director of the Guthrie Theater resonated:

I was lucky enough to grow up going to the theater and live performances frequently, something I’ve tried to pass on to my kids. I hope that time will come again soon.

Rule of Law: Theatrical Edition

I haven’t been in a stage production for an age, but I was both on stage and backstage enough times to lose count — and I was a theatergoer long before that.

Larry Blyden

So I greatly appreciated Mark Evanier sharing actor, director, and all-around theatrical Larry Blyden‘s theatrical laws. Laws, do you hear?

Okay, to be honest, I haven’t always followed Law #5 or Law #10, but I definitely do my best with Law #17. Law #2 applies to films as well as plays and Law #6 applies just about everywhere.

So if you feel the need for greater regulation, check ’em out.

Rejecting the Poverty Mentality

While I don’t currently work in the non-profit realm, I spent many years working at theaters that were, almost invariably, non-profits.

The anthropology of theaters is worth another post (or really, a book), but suffice it to say that pretty much all the theaters I’ve ever worked at started based on the zeal and passion of a handful of people. They were artistic start-ups, if you will. Time and again, I saw theaters that hit a plateau in terms of growth that seemed to invariably include what I came to call “the poverty mentality.” It was a thriftiness driven to pathological extremes of cheapness.

Vu Le, of Nonprofit AF, has some thoughts about that insane cheapness, which he calls the PISS mentality (Pride in Scarcity and Sacrifice). I love that and will now start using that except in mixed company where people will get pissy about pointing out their PISSiness.