About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Haunted House As Theatre

Happy Halloween, everyone!

I don't think you'll be surprised to hear that I love Halloween. It's one of the few days a year where us designers actually get to wear the costumes ourselves. Although I do act as well I tend to do more contemporary shows, because on the fancy, high-concept shows, I'm of more use to my company behind the scenes (we have tons of talented actors to pick from).

I'm about to run off to the West Hollywood Parade, but I've spent the last two evenings working on an interactive Pirate Adventure for kids. It's pretty cool; it's a safe, fun thing they can do with their parents that isn't too scary. We have a guide that walks them through the various stations, at which they either complete a challenge, puzzle, or have to defeat the pirates. We're really happy with how it went, and will definitely be doing it again next year.

I mention this because I read the New York Times theatre pages every day to get the latest news, and it's always interesting to see how things are trending, and I'm seeing a lot of interactive walk-through theatre experiences lately.

Here's an articles from the Times on Hotel Savoy, which was a guided Hitchcockian theatre event: http://theater.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/theater/reviews/07hotel.html?scp=1&sq=hotel%20savoy&st=cse

The Times then posted a more comprehensive article on the haunted house/theatre crossover (this one has some darker imagery, and may not be good for young readers: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/22/arts/22haunt.html?ref=theater

These both reminded me of an article I saw in the Boston Globe about an event put on by the Punchdrunk Theater company and produced the the excellent American Repertory Company of Cambridge, MA. They used an abandoned school in Brookline, MA, gave the audience members masks, and let them loose on a production of Macbeth. Rather than being a linear walk-through, the audience could move from room to room at their leisure. I can't imagine the planning and timing involved to make sure that everyone was in the right place at the right time, so that there was no lag, and everyone saw the whole show.
Here's the Globe's review: http://www.boston.com/ae/theater_arts/articles/2009/10/04/sleep_no_more_allows_audience_members_to_pick_their_own_show/

Well it's getting late here, so I'd better run out (otherwise this would be a more comprehensive post, but hopefully the links will make up for my lack of commentary). But I'm going to leave you with this rad video clip I found on another site of the Steampunk Haunted House. Enjoy!

Steampunk Haunted House 2010 from Third Rail Projects on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Das Rheingold

A couple weeks ago, my male roommate and I went to see the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD screening of Das Rheingold. It was 10am here in California, and we were watching the opera being performed live in New York City, so that was pretty cool. I was excited about it for weeks beforehand, going to the website and watching all the “making of” videos and reading the articles on it.
Seeing the screening was really interesting; like I said, it was 10am, and we were at a movie theater in Burbank, and it was packed. As we scooched through a row to find the only two free seats available (conveniently smack-dab in the middle and halfway back, just where I like it), it became quickly apparent that we were the youngest people in the theater. By decades. I had stuffed my purse with homemade mini-cookies and fruit leather, because I couldn’t fathom watching an opera while eating popcorn and Junior Mints. Before the show they did a little behind-the scenes featurette on the development of the impressive stage mechanics, which was very funny seeing the Rheinmaiden’s nervousness doing the wirework for the first time. Then they did a live interview with baritone Bryn Terfel, who sang the role of Wotan that night. I was excited to be seeing Mr. Terfel in something, because when I was taking voice lessons in my teens, I watched a short documentary on him on Bravo (back when they aired arts programs) in which he was preparing a production of Don Giovanni. It was right before I left for a lesson, and I remember being really inspired by him.
I loved the opera itself; there’s lots of resources on the stage mechanics online, but to summarize: there’s a huge spine across the stage of seesaw-like planks that spin to form different orientations. The use of light and projections turns it from the Rhein river itself ( I was an exchange student, so I use the German spellings of things) to the river bank, the hall of the gods, or an underground mine. Also, infrared technology allows the projections to interact with the performers, so to quote director Robert LePage “The Rheinmaden who sings the loudest gets the most bubbles”. Also pebbles on the riverbank would be knocked aside as they swished their fishy tails back in forth, or fall in a cascade as the dwarf Alberich tried to climb up to reach them.

Here's a link to the video preview so you can see what I mean: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid610237632001?bctid=615451417001
I thought this production was incredibly successful, because every part of the impressive technical elements was used to help tell the story. Things like putting the two giants up on the platform above the other performers, and giving them costumes with bulky understructures actually made them look like huge, towering creatures. I’m very interesting in theatre as a tool of communication, and what you tell the audience through the choices you make onstage.
The LA Opera recently performed Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle, an event which generated a lot of buzz. Honestly, I can’t afford to go the opera here, so I didn’t see it myself. My roommate and I checked out the ticket prices, and we can’t afford the worst seat in the house. But I found this video preview on their YouTube page, so the production looked a little like this:

Now, some people really like avant-garde theatre, and I have no problem with Regietheater—I really like it if it finds a way to highlight the themes of the show, or amplify an aspect of the characters, or lets me look at it in a new way. Bu the only thing I get from the LA production of Das Rheingold is Giant Puppet People. And I’m not sure what Giant Puppet People says about the story. Apparently neither did many of the performers themselves, who complained of the staging being dangerous, uncomfortable, and inhibiting to their performances. But obviously I didn’t see it myself, so maybe someone who did  could tell me if they thought the choices were effective. (Also, lightsabers?)
Going back to the New York production for a moment, I looked at a couple of other Opera blogs, and saw a lot of people bagging on the costumes, which I really didn’t get. Not that I know better than other people because I’m a designer, but I thought they worked. They looked good with the other production elements, they were attractive and suited the characters, and they had glowy bits! I actually found myself especially attracted to Donner’s costume—I liked the line of it, the details of the armor on his right arm, and the dark silver color with his red hair was a really interesting contrast. He looked really cool.  

From left: Adam Diegel (Froh), Dwayne Croft (Donner), Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Stephanie Blythe (Fricka)
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
The best thing though, about the Met’s production was that right after I saw it, I said “wow, that was a really terrific show”. And then all weekend, it kept popping back up in my head, and I kept saying to my roommate, “hey, you know what else I liked…” I think that’s when you know you’ve gotten a show right.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Phantom of The Opera Tour- closing week

It really seems fitting to start this blog with “The Phantom of the Opera”. When the soundtrack came out in the US, I was barely out of training pants. I’ve been listening to it ever since. My family took long drives on every major holiday from Massachusetts to upstate Maine to see our relatives, and musical theater soundtracks are a REALLY good way to pass the time on a 5-hour drive. The power of the story both overwhelmed and inspired me as a girl—the great passion, the complicated adult emotions, and the beautiful music.

I finally saw “Phantom” on tour when I was 13 years old. I’d been saving up all summer to afford my ticket. Since then I’ve seen it three more times—when I was 16 while on an exchange trip to Hamburg, Germany, again on tour in Boston right after graduating college, and last night at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, on the final week before the tour closes.

I went last night with two close girlfriends of mine (one being my gorgeous roommate, who bought the tickets for me as a birthday treat) who had also seen the show multiple times. A friend of mine who is a theater critic reviewed the show favorably, but complained that the actors seemed slotted in, without much room for individual interpretation of the roles. However, my girlfriends and I had a very interesting time comparing the acting choices of the performer we saw that night in relation to other actors we’ve seen in what might be musical theater’s most iconic role.

Our Phantom was the tremendous Tim Martin Gleason, who blew us away with the exceptionally beautiful  top notes in his voice, and his strong acting, especially in the final scenes. Here’s a couple moments from the final scene I really loved (Um, spoiler alert? But if you don’t know how it ends, honestly, what are you doing here?):

-during the final reprise of “Masquerade”, he sat down next to the cymbal monkey, and clapped along with it. It was just the right mix of sweet and sad.
-When Christine kissed him, even though he put his arms around her, he never touched her with his hands. It was a simple choice that said so much.
-Anyone who’s listened to the CD know that the scene calls for one “Christine, I love you”, before the ingénue and her suitor reprise “All I Ask of You” in the distance. Mr. Gleason, however, kept repeating “I love you” softly, over and over, as the couple rowed away.

It’s interesting, as I’ve seen that show so many times, I assumed that while I still appreciate it, and enjoy it very much, it wouldn’t’ have the power to move me (unlike my former roommate Liz, who would burst into tears when she saw the show, watched the movie, or listened to the soundtrack). I’m happy to say I was very wrong; seeing the show live, it definitely has the power to affect me.

But from my many years working in the theater myself, and having a strong knowledge of what goes on backstage, I sometimes find myself distracted by thinking about the actors own lives (John Brooke in “Little Women” much? Maybe a little). During intermission we were talking about moments we’ve seen in other performances where a performer’s personal life creeps onto the stage. Hey, it’s hard to be in the moment all the time! Especially when you’re doing it 8 times a week for months or years on end. For example, the first time I watched “Point of No Return” live, the actor was clearly somewhere else—grocery shopping, car needs an oil change, whatever. During Christine’s solo, he was just sort of arranging the robe on his knees. It wasn’t until I next saw the show in Germany that I realized how intense and sensual the physical interaction between Christine and the Phantom is during that song, because the actor was actually in the moment. After all, his hands are the only thing visible during that scene. Do something with them!

One of my friends who came to the last show related a story she saw from a performance in New York: at the end of the Phantom’s lair scene (“Damn you, you little lying Delilah!”), the Phantom actually grabbed Christine around the waist, picked her up off her feet, and threw her across the stage.  She bounced twice on her bum and looked at the actor in shock. To quote my friend, “he had red swirlies in his eyes”. When she told me that story, my first thought was “Wow, that actor must’ve had a BIG fight with his girlfriend that day!” My second thought was that the Assistant Stage Manager must’ve been right there with an accident report when she got off the stage.

Well, I’ve probably rambled long enough. But I just wanted to share some of my long relationship with this show, and the fact that when the actors are giving an honest, committed performance, it has the power to move me like I’m seeing it for the first time, and I fall in love all over again.