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.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Life in the Wardrobe Department With Mary Poppins

I found this great little video on Playbill.com today that shows you what goes into keeping a show running on a day-to-day basis. This is what I used to do as an intern, and later professionally. It wasn't as complicated at the regional theater I worked at, though, because we only had 4-6 week runs, so we didn't have to deal with cast replacements and understudies only covered roles in case of emergency. Also we didn't have to have duplicate sets of costumes, as the rules are more lax for shorter runs in smaller houses.

It's fun to see a feature on this show in particular, as I'm planning to see it this summer!

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Favorite Things- Opera

For fun, I thought I would post some of my favorite opera video clips from YouTube. They're always the first ones I go to. I think everyone finds a version of a song from a show they love, and can't imagine them being done any other way. That's what these are for me.

First we have Joyce DiDonato and Peter Mattei singing the duet "Dunque io Son" from The Barber of Seville, directed by Bartlett Scher for the Metropolitan Opera. The two parts are perfectly balanced, and I love their fun, playful chemistry.

This is from the same production-- "La Callunia" sung by John Relyea. I know it's unusual to enjoy a villainous aria so much, but I love the way the whole song builds from a "little whisper" to "the roar of a cannon".

So, I was surfing channels one day, and I happened across PBS at exactly the point in the show where this clip starts. I kept watching because I loved the old-timey carnival style and tailored suits. Then Kathleen Kim entered and sang The Doll Aria, and blew me away. She has the most amazing precision and clarity. The opera is Les Contes D'Hoffman by Jacques Offenbach, also directed by Bartlett Scher for the Met. The aria itself starts at (5:00), but I recommend watching the whole thing.

Now, the first opera I ever saw when I was a kid was Mozart's The Magic Flute. It was one my grandmother often sung, and I found a version that had run on PBS that I liked a lot. I think that also inspired me to learn German later in life. Papageno was always my favorite character, and as I've mentioned before, I love Simon Keenlyside. He did a great version for Covent Garden where he played Papageno as more of a sad-sack character than the goofy comic relief.

And of course, what is The Magic Flute without the most impressive aria in opera? This version of the Queen of the Night's aria is from the same production, and is undoubtedly my favorite interpretation. Diana Damrau plays the role with the most incredible drama and intensity, but also nuance, that I've ever seen. There's some German dialogue at the start of the clip, and the aria begins at about (2:10)

Well, that was a fun excuse to watch some of my favorite performances again. I hope you liked them, too!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Thoughts on Frankenstein (Spoiler Version)

I wanted to share some more thoughts I had after watching Frankenstein last night, but they ruin some pretty big moments in the show. So if you're thinking of going, don't read this yet.

The start of the show is incredible; it starts with the genesis of the Creature as he is birthed on to the floor with a plop, and spends the next 10-15 minutes alone onstage, discovering how his limbs work. As Cumberbatch said in the pre-show interview, he has a full-grown human brain, and learns super-quick. Which is probably part of his downfall; as a child's brain develops, it layers different kinds of understanding and builds on its knowledge. An adult instead tries to smash the puzzle pieces together to make everything fit.

Anyway, it was an incredibly mesmerizing scene to watch. I would challenge any actor who doesn't bother to study any type of movement to create a scene that requires such nuance and stamina. I have one complaint, though; Frankenstein comes in, sees his creature, rejects him, and quickly disappears. I would have liked for them to hold on to that moment just a little bit longer; to see some kind of admission from the doctor that he was completely unprepared for his experiment to actually work.


One of my favorite scenes was of the female creature (Andreea Padurariu), which the Creature has begged his master to make him. You could really see the crazy/inspiration in Miller's eyes as he began to imagine the improvements he could make in his next experiment. Now this is going to sound a little weird, but stick with me. I've always been fascinated by things that should be beautiful, but are marred or twisted in some way (like the dilapidated theater in my icon). The actress playing the Female Creature is an absolute paragon of female physical beauty--Frankenstein trots her out only partially re-animated and wearing only a small loincloth so you can see her perfect curves and angles, accentuated by neat rows of stitch marks along her pallid, dead flesh.

Frankenstein shows the Creature his bride, and asks him what love feels like. "My lungs are on fire, and I feel like I can do anything!" is his reply, and by the angry, haunted look on Frankenstein's face, you can tell that he has no idea what that feels like.

What happens next is that the doctor distracts his creature long enough to destroy his bride--Frankenstein himself is supposed to be getting married. His fiance Elizabeth is lovely, warm and vivacious, and he feels nothing for her. This thing he created understands what it is to experience life better than he does, so Frankenstein denies him the love he cannot feel himself. I found the bride's death oddly beautiful as well, created in silhouette behind the womb-like membrane we saw the Creature born from earlier, which then rotates to show the aftermath of his destruction.

Photo by Catherine Ashmore- The National Theatre.
The scene near the end where the Creature seeks revenge on Frankenstein by attacking Elizabeth (Naomie Harris) on their wedding surprised the hell out of me--the Creature was hiding in their bed and I had no idea he was there. It's hard to do a jump-scare on stage, because you have to get out there without anyone seeing you and stay hidden. They did it really well.

And at the end of the show, en route the the North Pole, I felt so bad for Jonny Lee Miller. He shaved his head, and was obviously dripping under his hot wig and frock coat, and then he has to put on this seal fur coat! Poor guy must've been dying.

Well I'm sure I'll have a million more thoughts about this show throughout the day, but I wanted to get these ones written down while they were still in my head. How wonderful to see a show that sticks with you so much!

I Have Seen the National Theatre's Frankenstein, and It Was Awesome

National Theatre Live: Frankenstein
I went to see this last night at Graumann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and I'm so glad I did. It was such a great production; well-acted, with some great pieces of stagecraft, and interesting transitions that made the movement of the show flow really well.

The play took the interesting perspective of following the story from the Creature's point of view (the book follows Frankenstein, and then the Creature has a chapter of "this is what I was doing that whole time"), which will be a huge change for people who are only familiar with the classic film.

Also, the Creature's ability to learn and speak may come as a surprise to some viewers, as well. The play contains several riveting scenes of intelligent discussions of morality, the nature of the human soul, and love, to name a few.

The show started with few behind-the-scenes clips and interviews (apparently a documentary is being made; I'll definitely be wanting that when it comes out). The actors said some really interesting things about how they created their characters; Cumberbatch studied stroke victims and people learning to re-use limbs, Miller watched his two-year-old child.

One thing that was a bit odd was that we got the opposite cast from the one we were expecting: Benedict Cumberbatch played the Creature that night, and Jonny Lee Miller was Victor Frankenstein. That was fine with me, I was absolutely thrilled with the performance I saw. I was just expecting it to be the other way around, so I was a little confused for a minute.

Most theaters have added additional showings, and the screening of the reverse cast is coming next week, so find out if its playing near you. You'll be glad you caught it.

The Steam Train- one of the brilliant bits of stagecraft in Frankenstein (all images credited to the National Theatre of London)

The Creature is born flailing into the world to discover alone how his mind and body works.

A note about going to Graumann's Chinese Theatre- this was my first time seeing a movie there, actually. I usually try to avoid that area due to the tourist crowding and creepy costumed street people. I discovered it's not a good idea to wear high heels there; that's where the handprints in the cement are, and I kept falling in the holes!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Company" Has A Ridiculously Exciting Cast

Full casting has been announced for the New York Philharmonic production of Stephen Sondheim's Company, and once again I find I'm living i the wrong state.

Company has a crazily busy leading male role, backed by a strong ensemble of performers, and some very difficult music. It also has some characters who get great dialogue but don't have to sing as much; so you can have a varied cast, but play to all their strengths.

So, let's examine these inspired casting choices:

Bobby (aka Robert, Bob, Robbo, etc)- Neil Patrick Harris, who has shown his singing chops in Rent, Assassins, Cabaret, and Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog.

Amy and Paul- Katie Finneran as Amy has the amazing patter song "Not Getting Married Today". Finneran just won a Tony (and the best reviews) for her comedic supporting role in Promises, Promises last year, so I bet she'll be great in this role. Aaron Lazar plays Paul, Amy's tolerant fiance. Lazar has been in everything lately; Light in the Piazza, Les Miserables, A Tale of Two Cities, and A Little Night Music, just to name a few

Harry and Sarah- Stephen Colbert and Martha Plimpton. Both are best known as character actors, but are also capable singers.
Peter and Susan- Craig Bierko and Jill Paice. He starred in the recent revival of Guys and Dolls, and she was just in a well-reviewed revival of Chess

David and Jenny- John Cryer and Jennifer Laura Thompson. He didn't have too much trouble finding another gig, so good for him. She starred in Urinetown and has played Glinda in Wicked.

Joanne and Larry- Patti LuPone and Jim Walton. Joanne has the songs "The Little Things You Do Together" and, more notably, "The Ladies Who Lunch". Well, it's about time she played this role, isn't it?

April-Christina Hendricks (from TV's Mad Men and Firefly) Can she sing? Who knows. More importantly, she needs to nail April's "Butterfly" monologue

Marta- Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls and The Princess and the Frog). Marta's big song is "Another Hundred People", which I bet she will kill (in a good way)

Kathy- Chryssie Whitehead. I actually had to look her up; she gets a lot of TV work, but is a really well trained dancer--so it sounds like they're doing the "Tick Tock" dance number, which often gets skipped because most people aren't Donna McKechnie.

So, awesome cast, right? By the way, if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend the DVD of the recent Broadway revival of Company starring Raul Esparza. It's a really excellent version of this show.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Dutch Masters- An Art Detour

Filing this one under "Not Theatre, But It's My Blog and I Can"
Cross-reference with "Things You Can Learn From Other Mediums"

So, on the aforementioned emergency trip back to Boston, I went with my parents to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. My family is extremely Dutch (my father is 100%, so I'm a good solid half), and my parents just visited the Netherlands last fall, so they had great fun running around looking at the famous old buildings in the paintings, and indicating which ones they saw.

The Netherlands is well-represented at the Peabody Essex Museum, as Salem is a port city, they emphasize trade and maritime art, and the Netherlands is famous for the Dutch East India Trading company, which dominated the seas and ports for almost two centuries.

As it happens, I've been taking art class lately to improve my skills; it's important for a designer to create sketches that are both accurate and compelling, so that the entire production team understands and is on the same page. One recommendation made to me was to study the masters, so I had great fun bouncing around the exhibit and making erudite art student comments. I managed to track down a couple images I found interesting, and here's some of the thoughts I had on them.

 Still Life with Roses in a Glass Vase, c. 1619 by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder

The placard on this painting pointed out the fact that none of these flowers were in season at the same time, so artists would sketch them all separately. While my father pointed out the cast shadow of the arrangement onto the stone archway, I noticed that the shadow doesn't really wrap around the figure itself (this is something we've been working on in my class). The light is obviously coming from the left, but the flowers on the right side don't seem obviously darker, or shaded from the light by the other flowers.

Still Life With Glasses and Tobacco, 1633 by Willem Claesz. Heda
Best. Lemon Peel. Ever.

Sleeping Dog, 1650 by Gerrit Dou
One of my favorite things about the entire exhibit was pointing out all the interesting little details (like the boots left to dry on fence posts in a winter crowd scene)--which led to the odd experience of a small older lady (who I did not know) following me from painting to painting, pointing out all the details she noticed.

Anyway, I thought it was really interesting that in any group paintings--family portraits, crowd scenes, etc.--there was always a dog. As my roommate pointed out, it was a sign of wealth to have a dog, so you wanted to make sure yours was included in a picture of your family. Or, in a more fictional scene, it was a good way to help indicate the social standing of the characters involved.

Frans van Mieris the Elder’s “The Old Violinist"
I loved this one for a few reasons: the incredible texture of that velvet sleeve, the shimmery and dimensional quality of the ivy, but most of all that violin. The perspective is absolutely perfect. To see it in person, it really looks like it's sticking right out at you.

There are so many other examples from this exhibit I could cite- and maybe ones that are more relevant to theatre. I certainly saw several paintings that were great examples of fashion history, or composition, or capturing a dramatic tableau. But these were the pieces that really piqued my interest.

A few other things I noted from the experience of going to a popular exhibit at a gallery:

If you are a very old lady, it is apparently okay to bump into someone, touch their butt, and not apologize.

If you have children, know what types of entertainment will interest them, and what their limitations are. Some kids can behave themselves really well, and will get a lot out of a gallery. Others will try to touch 400 year old furniture.

A "tronie" is a Dutch term for a kind of portrait where the expression or costuming elements are more important than the accuracy of the likeness. There were several very interesting examples of this type of work, but the group behind me were more amused by suggesting what cosmetic treatments the lady in the painting might benefit from.

I guess you need to know the maturity level of your adults as well as your kids.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Leave Something for the Moment

I apologize for being so long away from the blog, I had to go out of town on short notice. However, long days of travel give me a good opportunity to catch up movies (as long as I can rent them on my iPod Touch).

So on my flight back, I was watching the 2004 movie Stage Beauty, starring Billy Crudup and Claire  Danes. It's set in the 17th century, when women weren't permitted to act on stage. Men were trained to play women's roles, but suddenly found themselves out of a job when the rule was lifted.

The main thing that I loved about this film was the way it addressed the need to see and perform theatre; for actors, the chance to be something when we're on stage that we aren't in our everyday lives. And for audience, the restorative quality and catharsis that you experience from immersing yourself in a play.

My favorite scene is one in which recently minted actress Margaret Hughes gets an acting lesson from Ned Kynaston, whose job she stole. Ned learned to play women on stage through the more mannered, classical style of acting, and Margaret has never learned to act- she just copies what Ned did. Margaret needs to brush up quickly to impress King Charles II, so Ned helps her break down her contrivances and just play the scene.

It goes from the beginning to about 4 minutes into the clip (but you can keep watching to see how their performance turns out). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnT5pLUAzeI

I love it. Those moments in rehearsal are what we live for; when someone reacts in a way that you don't expect, and this whole thing comes to life with a fire of its own. When you surprise each other, you surprise the audience. You surprise yourself.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Knowing What's Going On

This is a follow-up to "Things to Pay Attention To". I was originally going to just say this in that post, but I couldn't think of a reasonable segue, so I just started a whole new post.

Last week I was at a concert, watching the bands "Man...Or Astro-man?" and "The Octopus Project". They're both very unique groups that incorporate projections in their stage shows--trippy cartoons, or old sci-fi films. They also both use theremins in their acts (and if you've never seen anyone play the theremin before, it's really cool. Especially if it's on fire).

Lately, I've been trying to soak up lots of different arts experiences (I happen to not have any major projects at the moment, so I can spend some time diversifying). I've been doing more things like going to museums and concerts. It's amazing what you can learn about drama from the composition of a painting, or about stagecraft from concert lighting (and I'm not talking big arena lights, I'm talking a string of dull yellow "Edison" bulbs and a row of fluorescent tube lights).

It's important for an artist in any field to have a wealth of inspiration and experiences to draw from, otherwise you won't have any perspective. My suggestion is to keep a file on your desktop, and every time you see an image that you react to-whether you think it's beautiful or strange or funny, save it into that file. Mine has subcategories for art, architecture, photography, graphic design, and cake.

For theatre artists, you need to pull your head out of the sand every once in a while; it's good to see a lot of shows and see what everyone else is doing. You also need to go experience other mediums so you know what they're not doing, and take advantage of the opportunity to innovate in that direction.

So I was standing at this concert, having my eardrums blown out by a flaming theremin, thinking about how glad I was that when my roommate with awesome taste in music asked me if I wanted to go see some band I knew nothing about about, I said "Sure, why not?"

London Theatre In Your Hometown: Part 2

I wanted to follow up on developments since I first posted about the National Theatre's production of Frankenstein, and Digital Theatre's online downloads.

Frankenstein recently opened in London, and the reviews have been generally positive (and the show has sold out), receiving strongest marks for atmosphere and memorable stage pictures. The biggest complaint was that the script is a bit lopsided, with the well-fleshed out character of the Creature leaving the underwritten role of Victor Frankenstein left looking even thinner by comparison.

My roommate and I decided that we were just too poor to see the production on both screening nights, and agonized over which version of the cast to see. Eventually, my roommate made an executive decision, and we will be seeing Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Frankenstein and Jonny Lee Miller as The Creature. This was before reviews were posted, and (at least according to the NY Times) they are better suited in those roles. I also found out that British electronic music group Underworld wrote the music for the show, so that should be exciting, as well.

I also checked out the website for Digital Theatre, and they offer some exciting stuff. You can download shows with British stars like The Walking Dead's Andrew Lincoln, and a production of Into The Woods which caught my eye when they published dramatic production stills on Playbill.com last summer caught my attention. Unfortunately, the latter is listed as "coming soon", and they haven't posted a trailer yet. But there is an fun-looking, stripped-down production of Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors, which you can purchase alone, or bundled with a making-of documentary. Downloads are offered for less than $10, so I'll probably get Comedy of Errors first, and let you know how I like it.

You can't embed the trailer, but you can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hie-ks6gD8

I'll update this post with some related media later; I've been sick lately, so I keep half-writing posts, then forgetting why they were interesting in the first place and abandoning them, so I wanted to get something out there before the cough syrup wins out again!