Tag Archives: Theatre

potter

What’s Going Down in London Theatre?

After last month’s  2017 Tony Awards in New York, we thought it would be interesting to see what is hot over in the London theatre scene a few  months after the super exciting Olivier Award winners were revealed at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Of course, there is more than enough to fill multiple blog posts but here is a selection of the hottest tickets in town!

The big winners on the night of the Olivers included Amber Riley for Best Actress in a Musical (Dreamgirls)–and a simply phenomenal live performance of “And I Am Telling You” at the awards–and a new adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma, which took home Best Revival and Best Actress for Billie Piper.

potter

But there was one production that quite simply swept the board and its popularity is reflected in the speed with which tickets are flying out of the box office. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts One & Two) won an incredible, record-breaking total of 9 awards, including Best New Play, Best Actor, Best Actor and Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Director. The plays are taking the capital by storm, soon to transfer over to Broadway’s Lyric Theater in Spring 2018. The buzz is already huge!

If we’re going to talk about a huge theatrical buzz, then we have to discuss Angels in America at the National Theatre. I, for one, sat in the online queue for over 2 hours when tickets were first released and was lucky enough to get tickets for this July. The two-part play runs until mid-August and is completely sold out, aside from ballot tickets. With a cast featuring Nathan Lane, Russell Tovey, Denise Gough, and Andrew Garfield, and very favorable first reviews, this is another play that is dominating London theater headlines.

Sticking to plays for the moment, a new production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Harold Pinter Theater also recently excited the capital’s critics with 5 stars all round. Closing at the end of May, it featured Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill in the lead roles and both actors were praised for their gripping performances. Staunton’s interpretation of the infamous Elizabeth Taylor film role was labelled by The Independent as “one of the greatest feats of acting […] witnessed”.

Indeed Imelda Staunton is working her way through many of the most desirable roles for mature female actors. After winning the Olivier Award for Best Actress in 2013 and 2016 for Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and Rose in Gypsy respectively, she has been cast to star as Sally in the new revival of Follies at the National Theatre, opening in August 2017. This blogger has been fortunate enough to secure tickets for this exciting new production and will report back!

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So, what else is hot in the West End musicals world? Well, it’s definitely the year for the dance musicals. After highly praised runs in Paris and on Broadway, An American in Paris opened at the Dominion Theatre in March earlier this year. With a sumptuous score by Ira and George Gershwin, the musical is headed by the original Broadway stars, Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope. After a series of fantastic reviews and tickets flying out of the doors, it was recently announced that the show will be extended until January 2018.

Another dance-heavy musical recently revived to great praise is the toe-tapping 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. You cannot walk through London or take a trip on the tube without spotting a poster or advertisement for this high-energy production. Sheena Easton has been cast as the vain, prima donna Dorothy Brock, and many of the routines promoted on national television have been quite simply stunning. Well worth a watch, by all accounts!

Finally, the latest London revival of a class dance musical is On the Town, featuring the music of the incomparable Leonard Bernstein. Directed and choreographed by the Olivier-Award-winning Drew McOnie, the show has recently opened for a short two-month run at the lovely Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. In such a stunning, summer venue, 1949 New York City comes to life in a celebration of dance and song.

With so much to see and admire on London’s West End stages, what else would you want to be doing this summer?!

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Dolly staircase

Secretary Hamilton, Have You Met Mrs. Dolly Levi?

Photo Credit Julieta Cervantes
Photo Credit Julieta Cervantes

I hit the Broadway ticket jackpot recently — well, two of my friends did and I was lucky enough to reap the benefits. In one week’s time, I got to see two of the hottest shows on Broadway in 2017: Hamilton, still one of the most in-demand tickets as it approaches two years on Broadway, and the revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler, which broke all first-day Broadway ticket sales records last September. Hamilton and Hello, Dolly!–complete opposites of the musical theatre spectrum, one would think. A month or two back, I wouldn’t have thought that I would find correlations in such different shows and relevance in our current political climate, nor would I see how much we need both of them today in the growth and influence of musical theatre itself.

A friend texted me a few weeks back to see if I was busy one evening, telling me he won a ticket lottery for Hamilton. I thought he was kidding. I bailed out on a board meeting that night (though my co-members were all for it — come on, Hamilton!) so I could go. Our seats were in the front row, all the way down to the right. I could hear the actors singing both live and through the monitors; I was almost hit with flying beads of sweat several times, I was that close. Now I am not a Hamilton obsessive. I’ve listened a few times to the Original Cast Recording, watched some YouTube clips, and I have looked through quite a bit of the big HamilTome (look it up). But I haven’t actively memorized any of it. But it didn’t change the fact that that night, I was excited — the spontaneity of getting to go; the proximity to the virtually bare stage; the ground-breaking elements of this musical presenting American history; and finally being in the room, yes, the room where it happened.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

And the show didn’t disappoint. Even though there were at least three understudies on for major roles, and I don’t know how many were even left from the original cast, it didn’t matter. The cast was uniformly excellent, powerhouse performers communicating in fast rap, jazz riffs, and hip hop-infused choreography. The audience members were on the edges of their seats, resisting the urge to snap their fingers along with the opening number, but roused to thunderous applause time and time again as the biting lyrics coincidentally hit points reflected in today’s news, delivered with precision by the cast. The clean simple lines of the off-white knickers and corsets/vests that the ensemble members wore, the bare brick walls and wooden staircases and platform, and the way in which the central turntable kept the scenes transitioning seamlessly let the sung-through music and lyrics tell the story with minimal distraction. The show was an ensemble piece for the most part telling the story of Hamilton AND Burr, often with all actors on stage, many in multiple roles, weaving this story of the founders of our nation. It was a period piece in a most modern fashion.

For Hello, Dolly! a week later, the story was a little different. A friend went (at 4:00 AM) to queue up for standing room tickets for the Wednesday matinee. And she managed to get a pair for us. This time we were in the far back left of the orchestra–most theaters actually have numbered tags along the back wall where you can lean–almost the exact opposite of where I had been seated for Hamilton. A grand red drape with the simple show logo hung across the proscenium arch. Now I’ve listened to both the Broadway and film recordings of the show and have seen Dolly several times since childhood. It’s one of my favorites, and I know pretty much every word. As the more than 50-year-old overture started to play, I could see heads swaying in front of me as familiar strains washed over the excited crowd. Finally the grand drape opened on colorful, vaudevillian backdrops with sets dressed in the cheerful clutter of a hay and feed store or the purples and pinks of a ladies hat shop. Singers and dancers whirled across the stage in bright suits and dresses, or literally galloped around a staircase as actors farcically popped in and out from behind curtained restaurant booths. Subtle and modern, it was not. But it was glorious, and in the center of it all was a mega-watt force of Bette Midler, a leading lady of the highest caliber in a show designed for a star. Standing in the back, I was hard-pressed not to sway and dance myself bouncing on my heels during my favorite number, the brightly hued “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” and regretting a little that I was already standing as the audience leapt to their feet in a mid-show standing ovation after the title number. It was magical.

Photo Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Photo Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

But here’s what I realized in the audience that day. We need both the Hamiltons and the Dollys in this world. We need the gems like Hello, Dolly! that stand up through the wear and tear of decades and shine that much brighter when brought into the light and are given glittering new productions, and we need the spare and edgy, forward-thinking modern musicals like Hamilton, because without one, the other cannot exist. Listen to Hamilton and you hear allusions not just to rap artists, but to Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics from South Pacific. And it’s not just a matter of building upon what came before, it’s letting the air come back into the older shows and hearing the script and lyrics in the context of today, while celebrating the traditional structure and staging of a Golden Age show. Besides the title tune and Bette Midler’s initial entrance, the most vocal audience response at Hello, Dolly! was to the line, “Money… pardon the expression… is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow!” Cheers, applause, and woots! The reaction was as visceral as if it had been one of the pointed cabinet rap battles in Hamilton, with its witty revolutionary barbs that reflect in today’s politics.

Do I have a type of show I prefer? Sure, I’m a classic Broadway girl all the way, but there is a direct line from classics like Hello, Dolly! or Fiddler on the Roof to the mega musicals of the 80s like Miss Saigon or Les Miz to Hamilton or the current Broadway darling, Dear Evan Hansen. I think the big question is where will that line next loop around and where will it lead next? And how will today’s theatre students and future actors, composers/lyricists, and directors look to the past worlds of Jerry Herman, Rodgers & Hammerstein, or Cole Porter to become the next Pasek & Paul or Lin-Manuel Miranda? There’s room, and the need, for all of them. We don’t have to choose–and we shouldn’t.

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Life on the Road: A Few Thoughts on Touring

If you’re an actor who’s been reading Rob’s wonderful series on National Tours, you’re probably well-primed for getting out there and booking one. Once you have, congratulations! But whether you have five days or five months before you leave, there is a lot to think about.

Having just gotten off the road with my fourth big tour, I have some advice:

Photo Credit: anaa yoo
Photo Credit: anaa yoo

You will not need all those clothes.

Most actors on tour find themselves “trunk-shopping” or “suitcase-shopping,” when they stumble upon a shirt or a dress that’s spent the last four months wadded up hidden in the back, forgotten. On tour, you spend a lot of time in rehearsal or at the gym or traveling, and those clothes do get used a ton. But you do not need sixteen dresses or twelve pairs of pants. NO ONE WILL NOTICE you’re wearing the same thing you did last week. SERIOUSLY. You’ll be sending home a box of extra stuff before you know it, but then you’ll make room for something more essential, to wit:

A Nutribullet can be your best friend.

If you have room in your suitcase or trunk, (which you will, because you won’t overstuff it with clothes) bring something like this. You may not have a fridge and a microwave in every hotel room, but you can pick up ingredients to make protein smoothies without a lot of fuss, and it will save you time, money, and calories to whip up a shake for breakfast or before rehearsal. I also know people who traveled a George Forman grill, or a hot plate and a few pots and pans, but those are a lot easier to blow off. This one gets USED.

Your relationship will survive. Or it won’t.

Being on tour is a very difficult thing for people in relationships with someone at home. Your schedules may be opposite, you may be three time zones apart, you may only be able to schedule one visit in six months, and so on. You both will have to WORK on the relationship, much harder than usual. But it will survive, if it’s meant to. If not – it wasn’t TOUR that broke you up. It was an underlying issue: the demands of your career, fears of infidelity, wanting different things.

So have a frank discussion with your partner before you leave, and understand that both of you need to be extra communicative and considerate of this bizarre situation. And remember, you won’t be on tour forever.

Be wary of showmances.

For those who arrive on tour single and ready to mingle (or those whose relationships really weren’t meant to survive), there are often many opportunities to get a little lovin’ with someone at work. Full disclosure: I know a NUMBER of couples who have gotten married following their showmances!

But you must be very careful. If it does work out, you’re developing a relationship under scrutiny of a hundred pairs of eyes. And if things don’t work out, you have to see this person EVERY SINGLE DAY. A bad break up is not only your problem, it’s the entire company’s problem. If you do embark on an irresistible hookup, do so thoughtfully and with clear boundaries. Understand that tour life is lived under a microscope and is much more intense than “regular” life.

Explore!

Your schedule on tour can be grueling. I can’t tell you how many times we basically had 10-show weeks, with a full understudy run-through and a put-in rehearsal scheduled on top of our regular 8 shows. If you stay up late winding down after the show, and sleep in to get your rest, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for exploring. BUT DO IT ANYWAY. You’ve been given a gift of a paid trip around the country or the world. Make time to find a cool museum or brewery tour or farmer’s market or whale watch trip or baseball game or Buddhist Temple. Those excursions will be the biggest memories you’ll recollect down the line.

At the Sinso-ji Temple in Tokyo. Photo Credit: Annie Edgerton.
At the Sinso-ji Temple in Tokyo. Photo Credit: Annie Edgerton.

The importance of TEAM.

Make no bones about it, touring is HARD. You’re in a different city every week (or more, frequently)! You have to deal with allergies, and horrific travel days, and theatres with six flights of stairs to the dressing room, and the person IN the dressing room who is bugging you, and being away from family and friends, and the list goes on. The ONE thing that makes this all bearable is that you’re on a team of people all going through the same thing. So honor that.

Learn the names of your crew members. (I can’t believe I have to say that, but, sadly, I do.) Respect other people’s boundaries. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Make “dates” for a meal or excursion with someone you don’t know very well. Don’t give in to “bitch sessions.” (While venting is necessary, do it with someone you trust, outside of work, and to get over an issue, not to drag other people into your muck.) Try and stay positive when things go wrong. Your tour family is a family – you’re not going to love everybody, but treat them with respect.

If you lift up those around you, they’ll respond in kind. So help create an environment of TEAM.

Finally…

Get those points!

On many contracts, you are able to receive airline and hotel points, even if the company has paid for the ticket or the room. (Not all, so you’ll have to ask around.) Sign up for ALL those reward programs! When you check in for your flight, ask them to link your number. When you check in to your hotel, ditto. And it’s worth it getting a rewards credit card. There are numerous websites that compare rewards cards, so it’s easy to find one that fits your touring lifestyle.

Touring can be a magical and wonderful experience, whether you’re a replacement in the road company of Wicked, or launching a new tour like Bright Star. Be excited about it! And do what you can to make the most out of your road journey. Break legs!

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Teens Rule the Berkeley Rep Teen One-Acts Festival

Every spring, the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre invites local teens to participate in a new works festival written, directed, designed, and performed by their peers. Unlike most opportunities for teens, recent college grads guide them through the production process, but the teens carry the bulk of the work. The process is exhilarating, exhausting, and inspiring to watch both onstage and off.

The process for the Teen One-Acts Festival begins in mid fall, when the school’s Teen Council—a diverse group of 9th-12th graders committed to cultivating the next generation of theatre makers and audiences—calls for submissions for one-act plays. The school holds a workshop, and playwrights have about a month to conceive their works. Plays range from period mysteries to futuristic multi-planetary adventure tales. Submissions are reviewed by a committee of select Council members, School of Theatre staff, and Berkeley Rep Fellows. The close-working relationship between the fellowship program and Teen Council makes this program unique—every year the theatre houses fifteen young theatre artists in a range of departments—artistic, production, development, and marketing—giving recent college grads a jump start on their career with real-world LORT theatre experience. Together the Directing Fellow and Literary Fellow help guide the committee in choose two one-hour plays the festival fully produces.

For teens like Morgan Saltz (center), the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre is a place that fosters imagination, exploration and creativity. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com
For teens like Morgan Saltz (center), the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre is a place that fosters imagination, exploration and creativity.
Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

After two plays are chosen, the playwrights are mentored through editing and revisions to tighten scenes, rework characters, and make the production feasible on the small stage of Downtown Berkeley’s Osher Studio. The next few months focus on outreach, getting teens from public schools, private schools, and home schools involved. Some are already Teen Council members, spending all four years working on the One-Acts Festival, others get their first glimpse at theatre outside of school.

The design fellows throw workshops, teaching the principles of costume, scenic, lighting, properties, and sound design. From these workshops teens sign up for technical disciplines, while others try their hand at stage management or producing. The Development and Marketing Fellows guide a small group of teens in publicity, graphic design, ticket sales, and promotion, a side of theatre rarely experienced before college.

Of course, acting and directing are the most coveted roles in the festival, but for those who participate multiple years, they usually get the opportunity to work both on and off stage. There challenges are similar to any high school actor’s: playing your peers parents or grandparents, swearing onstage in front of your parents, impressing your crush. The biggest difference is taking direction from a fellow teen. While any high school experience is met with the challenge of personalities, egos, and insecurities, the mentorship of the Fellow program keeps the experience focused on the process of creating professional theatre.

After casting and technical assignments, students begin rehearsal. Stage managers are trained to run rehearsals and note sessions the same way an Equity stage manager would. For many high schools across the country, the notion of a student learning anything about stage management is out of the question. Weekly production meetings are held with designers and their mentors, just like professional theatre. The teens are given the chance to teach themselves how to communicate effectively, skills that many designers and directors don’t attempt until half way through college. Berkeley Rep’s generous production department lends costumes and props, while the production fellows do the bulk of the physical labor, building student’s designs, hanging the lights, and training an eager pupil how to use a sound board. The work isn’t easy. Teens are balancing their festival duties with their school work, and the festival usually falls during AP test prep. The fellow class is always in the middle of a large production, the annual gala, and prepping for their professional lives after the fellowship ends. While both parties are tired, stressed, and overworked, students have the opportunity to learn from young professionals who were just like them a few years ago, while Fellows have their first shot at mentoring. The lines are blurry when it comes to where Fellows step in to tell teens how to create their festival elements—for the most part Fellows want to offer guidance, and teens are hungry for direction.

Caption: (l to r) Rachel Lee and Julianna Aker enjoy a costume seminar for teens at the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre. Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com.
Caption: (l to r) Rachel Lee and Julianna Aker enjoy a costume seminar for teens at the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre.
Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com.

In late spring, the year’s work comes to fruition with a two-weekend run of the festival. Everyone wears their company t-shirt (usually designed by the Graphic Arts Fellow). They sell concessions before the show. They give programs to their family and friends, and at the end of the two long weekends, they strike the show.

Many professionals from the Bay Area start their career, long before they know it, with the Teen One-Acts Festival. In fifteen seasons, the program has given over four hundred students the opportunity to take a show from idea to reality. Lauren Yee, playwright of King of the Yees, and actress Madeline Waters, Diary of a Teenage Girl, are just two of the amazing One-Acts alumni. Perhaps the greatest part about this after school program is that it’s completely free.

For more information about the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre Teen Council and One-Acts Festival, please visit their website.

 

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Look Ma! I'm a meme!

How to Keep a Long-Running Performance Fresh

I’m sure we all remember it, heck, we might even be living it right now. Those halcyon days of educational theatre, where we spend months rehearsing a show, only to perform it two or three times over the course of a weekend in May. All that preparation, all that work, only to get a couple of cracks at glory.

That’s a reference to a typical high school schedule, where you must work around numerous conflicts and extra-curricular activities. By the time we’re in college, rehearsal schedules tend to clock in at 5 to 6 weeks, and performances tally anywhere from the high single digits to maybe 20 to 24. Hardly enough time to get bored, or the performances to become stale or uninspired. But what happens when we grab that brass ring at last, the long-running contract? It could be a tour, or a Broadway show, even some regional theatres that operate continuous schedules, producing the same show(s) for years on end? We’ve finally been rewarded for all our efforts, and that reward is…to do the same thing 6 nights a week for the next 6 months, even a year, maybe even longer?

A quick glance at my IBDB page might reveal I’m not an expert on this subject (I have a strict rule about the shows I do in New York City—they must be unpopular, even if they are very good).

Look Ma! I'm a meme!
Look Ma! I’m a meme!

But seriously folks, I do know a little bit about this. I’ve logged over 200 performances as Ravenal in Show Boat, heaven knows how many performances of the title roles in Jekyll & Hyde, and I just passed 100 as El Gallo in The Fantasticks. And I’m still going. And these minor feats aren’t even a blip on the radar to someone like Broadway star Howard McGillin, who totaled more than 10,000 performances as that creepy guy in the basement in The Phantom of the Opera.

Now, if that last paragraph of not-so humblebrag didn’t completely turn you off, stick around and let’s talk about how to keep your performances honest and true to the work, while the mileage keeps climbing.

As actors, we have certain responsibilities. We must stay true to the author’s and the director’s vision. We must keep our bodies and spirits in as good a condition as possible, so that we can access our own abilities. We are responsible to our fellow actors, to give them what they need to be successful as well. But how do we do this, when we’ve been doing the same thing, night after night, week after week, month after month? Ah, we have now arrived at one of my favorite theatrical bits of wisdom, one I couldn’t believe more strongly in if it were my own.

Okay it is my own. Don’t judge me.

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As actors in a play, we are all kids in a sandbox on a playground. We can create whatever we want, build what we need, tear it down and start again. If I don’t like what’s happening in the center of the sandbox, I can go check out a corner for a while, and build something there. Maybe a friend will join me. Maybe everyone will come to this corner and we’ll all play together. Or maybe someone will drift to a different part of the sandbox and the whole process will start again. But there’s something none of us are ever allowed to do.

We can’t go play on the slide. Or the swings, or the merry-go-round. We all play in the same sandbox.

Do you follow me? We’re allowed to use different colors, as long as we’re all painting the same picture together. Some actors are comfortable giving the exact, same performance night after night. And that’s fine. Some actors are more comfortable listening and responding, and letting the performance flow more organically. Neither is wrong, both are viable, we just all should be striving for the same goal. Telling the same story, staying true to the direction and the text.

But what about the boredom? Doesn’t it get incredibly monotonous after a while? If the answer is yes, then maybe it’s time to move on to something else. I would argue that the show is never exactly the same from one night to the next. We are all humans, affected by the events of the day, and those events can (and probably should) have some impact on your performance. Sometimes you make the most amazing discoveries from the oddest of circumstance.

Not long ago in The Fantasticks, my fellow actors and I completely fell apart with laughter during one of the scenes (thankfully the scene is supposed to be funny). I can’t even remember what happened, I just know that we started to laugh and couldn’t get it back under control. The audience had a good time with us, and eventually we all got it together and proceeded with the show. The following scene is a simple, lovely monologue that I get to deliver, and I suppose it’s been fine enough. But this one day, after splitting our sides with laughter and tears rolling down our cheeks, I entered the speech practically exhausted. I was unable to do what I normally did, so I just said the words.

And the speech was never better than that one night, when I just got out of the way, and let the words do the work. The show has a handful of fans who see it quite often, and on this day our most loyal fan was there. We spoke after, and had to acknowledge the um…foolishness that happened on stage. But he offered up, the moments found after that were new, vibrant and alive, and I probably wouldn’t have found them otherwise.

So really, it’s not that hard to maintain a performance for a long period of time. Do your best to stay healthy, get along with all your fellow artists, listen and respond. Even if your performance is “by rote,” as long as you don’t shoehorn your work into the path of someone else’s, it can appear as fresh as opening night.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost half hour.

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