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What’s Up with Theatre Pro Rata?

Currently on Park Square’s Andy Boss Thrust Stage until June 11 is Theatre Pro Rata’s regional premiere of Up: The Man in the Flying Chair. It’s a thought-provoking comedy-drama about chasing one’s dreams, which is exactly what Carin Bratlie Wethern, founder and artistic director of Theatre Pro Rata, did when she formed the company in 2001.

Carin Bratlie Wethern, Theatre Pro Rata’s founder and artistic director

“I’d just always wanted to have a theatre company,” Carin said, so she’d simply set her mind to  making it happen.

In naming her realized dream, Carin chose Pro Rata, Latin for “in proportion,” to further define her vision. The term is most often used in a legal or financial context referring to a distribution of profits and liabilities amongst shareholders based on their portion of ownership. But regardless of size of ownership, all are bound pro rata to create the result.  For Carin, at Theatre Pro Rata “the artists succeed and fail together; we are all responsible for a project’s outcome.”

Cast members of Up: The Man in the Flying Chair
(Photo by Charles Gorrill)

Theatre Pro Rata is a very collaborative company in how it stages its plays. Final say is not automatically deferred to the artistic director; all company members are active decision makers.

But unique to Theatre Pro Rata is its even more collaborative process in curating its seasons. In keeping with their official declaration that “we want you to love the play as much as we do,” Pro Rata actually holds a free public Play Reading Series in which a different script is read each time, followed by an open discussion to gauge its merits, suitability and audience interest. Reading dates are listed at www.theatreprorata.org (note that one is on Wednesday, June 7, 7:30 pm at Park Square’s Boss Stage). The scripts under consideration are suggested by artists and audience alike, and Play Reading attendees also include a mix of the two.

“No one else in town lets audience choose its plays,” Carin said.

Up: The Man in the Flying Chair was first spotted by Carin, but it had to undergo the Pro Rata process to get chosen. Why? So you can experience “theatre where audience and artists share passion for the play”–the very mission of Theatre Pro Rata.

 

GIRL FRIDAY PRODUCTIONS: From Dream to Reality

Though a small professional theatre company, Girl Friday Productions consistently aims to do it big. Created with the “We can do it!” spirit of Kirby Bennett and Natalie Diem Lewis in 2004, Girl Friday’s mission is to stage high-quality large ensemble performances of rarely produced American classics, such as Thorton Wilder’s The Matchmaker on Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage in 2015. From June 29 to July 23, they return to our Boss Stage with the 1936 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Idiot’s Delight by Robert E. Sherwood.

“Girl Friday Productions is the result of intention and happy accident,” said Kirby Bennett, its artistic leader.

 

Founder & Artistic Director Kirby Bennett

After performing in several productions with the Mary Worth Theatre Company founded by Joel Sass, Kirby and Natalie were inspired to think about producing theater, both as a creative outlet and “as a way to contribute to the independent theatre scene that had been so important to us.” In February of 2004, Natalie just happened to have space reserved at the Bryant Lane Bowl so they made use of it to present the epistolary plays Love Letters by A. R. Gurney and Hate Mail by co-writers Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky. The following year, Girl Friday mounted its first fully staged production, An Empty Plate in the Cafe du Grand Boeuf by Michael Hollinger, at the People’s Center Theater in Minneapolis’ West Bank.

Since then, Girl Friday has staged a singular major project every two years. Difficulty in finding available performance spaces, not to mention all the other rigors of planning any production, initially dictated Girl Friday’s long production cycles. This cycle inevitably became its natural rhythm and intentional choice, as the best way to maximize the company’s efforts to work with challenging texts, large and skilled ensemble casts, and distinguished directors and designers.

In 2011, Kirby was appointed Artistic Director by its Board (Natalie had since moved to Los Angeles); and in 2012, Girl Friday received 501(c) (3) non-profit status. Its shows repeatedly garner accolades from audience and critics alike:

Our Town by Thorton Wilder – Pioneer Press 2007 “Top Ten Shows” List

The Skin of Our Teeth by Thorton Wilder – MinnPost 2009 “Favorites” List

Street Scene by Elmer Rice – Star Tribune, Pioneer Press & Lavendar 2011 “Top Ten” Lists; Ivey Award for Director Craig Johnson

Camino Real by Tennessee Williams – Lavender 2013 notable performances recognition

The Matchmaker by Thorton Wilder – Cherry and Spoon 2015 Favorites

Girl Friday’s consistent excellence is no accident and, certainly, no small feat for a small, independent theatre company. Besides its vision to, as Kirby put it, “produce great plays and be able to do it freely, we also wanted to make sure that we maintain high standards.” That intentionality remains a strong pull for some of the Twin Cities’ finest theatre professionals, such as Idiot’s Delight leads Stacia Rice and John Middleton and Director Craig Johnson, to want to work with Girl Friday Productions. That reputation is also what steadily keeps audiences coming time and again.

Be sure to come to Park Square Theatre this summer to get your Girl Friday fix! Not only will it tide you over for another two years, but you also won’t want to miss what will surely top another favorites list.

Why Bother Going to Live Theater?

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard someone say the phrase, “the world is getting smaller.” Apps like Periscope, Meerkat, and Facebook Live have been described as the closest thing to teleportation that we have in modern society. We can stream tv and movies with devices that fit in our pockets or purses, and news from around the world is quite literally at our fingertips.

So why bother going to live theater?

Comedian Louis CK perhaps said it best during an interview with Conan O’Brian:

You know, I think [cell phones] are toxic, especially for kids… They don’t look at people when they talk to them, they don’t build the empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it’s because they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, “you’re fat,” and they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, “ooh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that,” but they gotta start with doing the mean thing. But when they write, “you’re fat” [gesturing typing with his thumbs], then they just go, “mmm, that was fun, I liked that.” You need to build the ability to just be yourself and not be doing something, that’s what the phones are taking away. It’s the ability to just sit there, like this. That’s just being a person.

[Note: I wasn’t sure if I should include the link to the above quote, so before I give you the link: If you’re unfamiliar with Louis CK’s comedy, it can be very insightful, but simultaneously crude at times, so if you are someone who might be bothered by his crassness, consider yourself warned before clicking on this link.]

Screens create distance. Beyond that, movies and television direct our gaze, tell us exactly where to look, and don’t give us a choice about where our focus goes. Consider this: What spaces exist where you, willingly or not, turn off your phone (or set it to silent) and sit for an extended period of time and have a collective experience with another group of people in real time? My guess is that for most people, it’s when you’re at the theater and when you’re in a house of worship. In short, places where great stories are told.

Maybe you’ve seen people go through myriad emotions on screen, but I guarantee you that the experience is different when a person is taking an emotional journey in the same room where you are. You’re seeing that kid’s face scrunch up and you feel the effects in the pit of your stomach, too.

Theater might be the only place where you set your devices aside and allow yourself to be swept away by something bigger than yourself. And while there are plenty of other activities to do, it seems to me that Newton’s First Law applies here: An object at rest stays at rest. I know as much as anyone that the gravitational pull of my couch seems greater than any other piece of furniture I own. It’s easy, convenient even, to stay at home and experience the world through social media or scroll through the new releases on Netflix. But do yourself a favor and get out of the house, go to the theater, and move and be moved.

And speaking of being a part of something bigger than yourself, when you go to the theater, you are supporting the local Minnesota economy. Creative Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts recently released a study on the economic impact of the arts and artists in our state. It showed, among other things, that audiences alone contribute $563.5 million to Minnesota’s economy.  [more on Creative MN 2017 next time!]

From the Creative MN 2017 Survey

So do it to keep your money in your community rather than sending it to out of state movie and TV producers. Or do it to get off your couch. Or do it to practice building empathy. But when you support local live theatre like Park Square, you’ll see that the world isn’t getting smaller, and you don’t need a device, an app, or even a transporter room to go on a journey.

At Its Core, A Love Story

The cast of Amy’s View in a rehearsal.
(Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma)

Amy’s View, currently on our Proscenium Stage until June 4, is sure to bring Park Square’s core audience to its happy place. It pairs two of the Twin Cities’ favorite actresses, Linda Kelsey and Tracey Maloney, in the leads as mother and daughter, respectively, in a regional premiere of a drama by playwright David Hare. A British play set in 1979 and spanning almost two decades, it hints at underlying social themes but is, at its core, a love story.

With daughter Amy’s premise that “love conquers all” running throughout the play, Amy’s View brought to my mind Erich Segal’s Love Story, which was both a film and novel. The book was released on Valentine’s Day in 1970, staying the top-selling fiction in the United States for the entire year. Jenny’s (its female lead) famous line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” became a much debated catchphrase just as daughter Amy’s view will likely become for those who see the play.

Amy’s View features love in its numerous forms: romantic, platonic and, most specifically, familial. Each relationship is greatly tested, even stretching the limits of unconditional love to a questionable degree of self-sacrifice. You will leave asking, “Does love conquer all?”

Then you may also ask, “Who says so?” The writers of both Amy’s View and Love Story are male. “Love conquers all” may have first appeared as a Latin phrase–omnia vincit amor–in Eclogue X by the ancient Roman poet, Virgil.

Just as with “not having to say you’re sorry,” the notion of forgiveness–its necessity (or not) to move on becomes a central question in this play as well. How much can one endure before forgiveness comes off the table? What state of grace comes from keeping it on the table? Must it be earned or be unconditionally offered?

As I’d heard Cathleen Fuller, who plays Linda’s mother-in-law, recently say about Amy’s View, “It’s a powerful piece!” As such, the play lends itself to lively discussion, so consider making a night out on the town as a pair or group with a post-show dinner or drinks. But be careful! What you say may cement a relationship for life or make yourself ask: “Who did I marry?” or “Is she really my mother?”

May you sit long, talk much, and have a great time!

 

Linda Kelsey Speaks for Herself (and Esme)


Having grown up watching Linda Kelsey on television and, in recent years, on stage where she fully embodies the characters that she portrays, it was with pleasure to have the opportunity to meet Linda being herself. Here before me was the harried Linda, running late after a longer-than-expected meeting then having to fight traffic to get to Park Square on time. Here was the gracious Linda still game to answer a few questions right before stepping into a rehearsal for Amy’s View, which will run on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage from May 12 to June 4.

In Amy’s View, set between 1979 to 1995, Linda plays Esme Allen, a grande dame of the London stage and mother to Amy, who firmly holds the view that love conquers all. However, Amy’s unwavering devotion to the narcissistic Dominic drives a wedge between herself and Esme. Though Esme loves Amy unconditionally, she cannot understand her daughter’s willingness to sublimate her own life for Dominic, a man whose primary focus above all else is to further his own professional aspirations, first as a critic lacking respect for theatre (versus popular media) and ultimately as a film director. Meanwhile, Esme also grapples with her own relationship with Frank Oddie, her neighbor and financial handler who desperately wants to marry her.

Amy’s View has a lot to offer as a good, old-fashioned play about people, relationships and ideas,” Linda said. “It’s beautifully written and a joy to speak the lines. Esme is also an extremely interesting woman to play. She touches my heart; she’s such a vulnerable human being, and I appreciate that.”

When asked if she believes in Amy’s view that love conquers all, Linda caught me off guard by, in turn, asking, “Do you mean me as Linda or as Esme?”

While really thinking “Linda,” I seized the chance to find out more by saying, “Both!”

Linda replied, “I believe it’s true but also a glib thing to say because it’s hard to live that out.”

Would you agree after having watched Amy’s View? Come and find out!

The Awful, Gaudy Vitality

Amy’s View premiered in 1997 and is set in various years between 1979 and 1995. Yet there are eerie parallels between those decades ago and our current moment. Sir David Hare is considered the artistic heir of John Osborne, author of the volatile Look Back in Anger (1956) and an “Angry Young Man,” the designation given to a band of mid-century working-class writers who excoriated postwar British policies. At the dawn of our own republic, the Founding Fathers proudly drew distinctions between the class-riven Mother Country and the new United States, a more perfect union populated by we the people.

However, movements in the last decade have troubled the posture that we are a classless nation (#teaparty and/or #taxday). Amy’s View is not just a window onto the past; the challenges faced by Amy, Esme, Dominic, and Frank echo those we continue to confront. The financial fiasco detailed in the play recalls Bernie Madoff’s treachery and the subprime horrors chronicled in The Big Short (if not your bank statements). In contrast, Esme and Dominic’s feuds over the vying relevance of theatre and television (that “awful, gaudy vitality”) may seem myopic and indulgent—artists discussing art with no real implications. Sure, the theatre is regularly declared dead, until Hair, Angels in America, Rent, and Hamilton (among others) married the stage to the moment. And now that the fervor surrounding Hamilton has begun to die down, the theatre will “die” again until it talks to us. (Oh, but it does.) But Sir Hare is skilled in giving us people instead of mouthpieces, and people come from places.

I write this just after the 100th day of Trump’s administration, and those who watch the news will have, by the time of this reading, been inundated and/or saturated with the breathless coverage, analysis, and punditry of the 100-day marker. (Sorry to bring it up again.) What is success? Characters in Amy’s View indict one another as elitists (charges by some of the President’s proponents) and panderers (charges by some of the President’s critics). The arguments made by Hare’s characters about the impact of the performing arts are ripe for discussion, yet the play demonstrates that the clash between populism and elitism is personal and visceral. How and why do we get to be us?

The play’s tragic final-act revelation is an intentional surprise. It highlights the tension between the conviction that love conquers all and the reality that all can feel unconquerable. At the end of the play, Hare puts us, the audience, into the audience, facing characters-playing-characters who are stripped down and raw. The end of the play insists that, no, the theatre is not dead (as you well know). It also insists that we remember we are living now, with each other and with a new generation. And that’s more vital than gaudy.

Linda Kelsey and Tracey Maloney in Amy's View at Park Square

Linda Kelsey and Tracey Maloney in Amy’s View at Park Square

Gabriel Murphy: From His Viewpoint

Gabriel Murphy has previously graced our Andy Boss Thrust Stage in Park Square Theatre’s 4000 Miles in the 2014-2105 season) and Wonderlust Productions’ Six Characters in Search of an Author (2015-2016). This season, he appears on our Proscenium Stage in Park Square’s regional premiere of Amy’s View from May 12 to June 4, playing the pivotal role of Amy’s rather narcissistic partner, Dominic, who sorely tests her lifelong belief that love conquers all.

As Dominic, Gabriel is also the match that lights the fire of conflict between the mother-daughter pair of Esme and Amy, portrayed by Linda Kelsey and Tracey Maloney, respectively. But don’t be surprised if his character also sparks heated debate amongst audience members regarding the boundaries of love.

Recently, Gabriel answered questions that I had about his character as well as himself. Here’s what he had to say:

What attracted you to the role of Dominic?

Honestly, I was initially attracted to the role of Dominic because it meant being reunited with Linda Kelsey and Director Gary Gisselman. We’d worked together on 4000 Miles, which was such a fantastic experience for me. I’m so grateful to be back in a rehearsal room with the two of them as well as with the rest of this delightful cast. In addition to that, I’m excited to be tackling such an intelligent character. Dominic has many flaws, but he is incredibly smart and ambitious. Those are fun qualities to explore.

Yours is a key “triggering” role in the play. What is/are the biggest challenge(s) in playing Dominic?

Triggering, indeed! Dominic does have a tendency to rub people the wrong way. Dominic can be arrogant and caustic, but he and Amy do share a real love so I suppose the biggest challenge in playing Dominic is making sure I don’t ignore his humor and warmth. I also find David Hare’s language inherently challenging. He is a brilliant playwright so tackling his dialogue is a delightful challenge.

How is playing Dominic changing your personal view on relationships, life, etc.?

As a young actor attempting to establish myself in the Twin Cities, I can sometimes focus very intensely on my career. Playing Dominic is an excellent reminder for me that ambition has its drawbacks. In the play, Amy’s titular view is that people should give love without any conditions or expectations so, you know, that’s not a bad thing to think about.

How did you end up being an actor?

I went to a tiny private school in Kansas with a graduating class of 22 people. My school was so small that everyone was required to participate in extracurricular activities because, otherwise, we wouldn’t have had enough people to put on plays or create sports teams. Basically, I began doing plays by force!

Anything else that you would like the readers to know about the play or yourself?

For being such a compact play, Amy’s View manages to cover a huge span of time in the lives of these characters. David Hare’s writing is incredibly funny and witty; but every day in rehearsal, the heart in the play strikes me. I’m always caught off guard by how moving the play is. Also, this is the second play I’ve done with Linda and Gary in which I spend the first moments of the show dealing with a bicycle. In reality, I’ve actually never learned how to ride a bicycle. My boyfriend is making that my project for the summer.

Gabriel Murphy (center) in rehearsal with Linda Kelsey, Tracey Maloney and Nathaniel Fuller (left to right) (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Don’t miss seeing Gabriel Murphy in Amy’s View. Then return to Park Square to catch him again this summer in Idiot’s Delight, presented by Girl Friday Productions, on our Andy Boss Thrust Stage from June 29 to July 23. 

 

How Nate Stanger Nurtures Amy’s View

With the closing of The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, Park Square is eagerly anticipating the opening of Amy’s View! Of course we all know that the show begins  much earlier than the May 12th opening, with rehearsals already under way. This period is often the most rewarding for any talent involved with a play. It is the time where cast and crew can let forth their creativity and where, perhaps, the true art occurs. Naturally, this process can quickly turn into a intangible conglomeration of ideas and impulses so it’s vital to have strong hands at the wheel to shape, form and nurture- typically your director and stage manager.The stage manager of Amy’s View, Nate Stanger, believes in this vitality and approaches his job (and own craft) with his own unique perspective. He was gracious enough to share this views with me and reveal that every good stage manager is really just a whiskey-drinking muggle. Who knew?

Nate Stanger, left with Director Gary Gisselman in the Proscenium Rehearsal Hall. Photo by Connie Shaver.

A long time ago… What is the origin story of Nate Stanger? 
I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana doing theatre in high school and at the community theaters and like most people, I started in theatre as an actor. I decided I wanted to go to school for theatre to become an actor, so I looked for theatre programs that would allow me to move to a city and study a broad range of topics. I ended up getting accepted into the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and started school in Minneapolis in 2009. During those first years I met professional actors and I saw the resilience and determination it took to pursue that life; while I enjoyed acting a lot, it didn’t drive me in the way I thought it needed to in order to have a career.
Around that same time I was taking a stage management class. I had registered for the class on a whim and I quickly realized that stage management would be a good fit for me as I had found a way to utilize all of my skills and interests in theatre. Stage management still allowed me to be in rehearsal like I had as an actor but it opened up a whole other world of technical theatre and production. So I ended up picking up stage management jobs slowly and began to build my resume.
My journey to Park Square was a simple example of right place, right time. The first time I ever worked for Park Square, I was asked to come in and take line notes for a show (this is where you follow along in the script and take notes on any missed or paraphrased lines). After taking line notes for about a week, I got an email from Megan West, the Production Manager at the time. She was going on maternity leave and was looking for a replacement while she was gone. I eagerly accepted the offer and began to work in the office at Park Square.
This was the season right before the Andy Boss Thrust Stage was completed, so the offices were extremely busy prepping for the new stage and the larger season. There was an exiting energy in the building as we all looked ahead to the completion of the second stage. Naturally, because of the addition, there was a lot more work around the office. Right place, right time. While covering Megan’s maternity leave I ended up getting hired in the education department as well to help organize the education season, which was almost twice the size of previous seasons. After a few more weeks, I was eventually hired in the accounting department as an accounting assistant where I helped process payroll and did a lot of bookkeeping. As if that wasn’t enough, I was hired as the assistant stage manager on the first production of Romeo and Juliet! For about a year and half, I stretched myself across just about every department at Park Square. I grew from a wide-eyed, recent college grad desperate for experience to a integral part of a professional theatre company. There’s no doubt in my mind that had the people of Park Square not believed in me and given me those opportunities I would not have had the success I have had.

Integral sounds about right! How do approach all that work, specifically as a stage manager? 

I always say I became a stage manager because I was too nosey and I wanted to know what all of the departments were doing. Stage management not only allowed me to see into those worlds but it gave me a way to help support that artistic process. A mentor of mine, Jenny Friend at the Children’s Theatre, once told me that it’s our job as stage managers to nurture the production. I often think about that word “nurture” when I’m in rehearsal. As stage managers, we are there to help hold these artists up in any way we can. Whether that be making schedules so people know where to be, or sending rehearsal notes to the production team to facilitate problem solving; it’s always my goal to help the director, actors and design team to achieve their visions.
The way in which we nurture the show the most is actually after the show has opened. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the director typically leaves the production after opening night. At that point, the stage manager is responsible for maintaining the artistic vision of the director and designers while still allowing room for the actors to grow and breath as they discover new things over the run. The stage manager is the only person besides the actors who is there from first rehearsal to the final curtain call so it’s only fitting that this person help guide the show through the last leg of the process.
A relationship has to form between the actors and the stage manager. There has to be tremendous trust and respect for each other because, while the audience may not see the stage manager, he or she is just as much a part of each performance as the performers onstage. Just in the way the actors trust each other onstage, the actors and stage managers must trust each other on and off stage. That aspect of being able to help a show grow and develop is a huge draw of the profession for me.

With a philosophy like that, you must be in pretty high demand. What other work do you do? 

I have been fortunate to never have to have a non-theatre job (or as theatre people lovingly call them: a muggle job). Right after graduating, I worked as a free-lance carpenter and electrician during the day and then took stage management work at night. So, I would build a set or hang lights at one theatre in the morning and then head to a different theatre for rehearsals in the evening. It was thrilling for a while; bopping all over the cities, meeting lots of people and making new friends. Every day was something new. Then I started working at Park Square where I stayed for about a year and a half. I ended up leaving Park Square to pursue a full-time stage management career. I have been very fortunate that since leaving Park Square in 2015, I have had regular work between several theatres in the cities including the Guthrie, the Children’s Theatre Company and the Ordway. I just joined the union of stage managers and actors (Actors Equity) this past fall and I couldn’t be more proud.

With all that work, tell me you have a way to live a more “muggle” life.

My biggest hobby when I’m not working is playing the piano. I finally bought a tall upright piano a few years ago and now I can’t imagine how I lived without it. Before I would play on just about every piano in any rehearsal room I could find. It’s a great way for me to decompress after a long day. I find the first thing I do when I get home from rehearsal is pour a glass of whiskey and station myself at the piano for an hour. It helps keep me sane.

Nate Stanger, ladies and gentlemen. A classy dude who knows the value of hard work and being able to unwind. You can bet that the team of Amy’s View is happy to have him! For the rest of us, we can bet on that sense of stewardship to reflect in the show itself. Amy’s View runs May 12 through June 4 on the Proscenium Stage at Park Square Theatre.

Kathy Kohl: On Creating the Costumes for “Watson Intelligence”

THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE, on the Park Square Proscenium Stage until April 30, jumps in and out of three time periods notable for intense technical and industrial advances: the Victorian era, early 20th century and present time. This time-jumping aspect created unique challenges for its costume designer, Kathy Kohl, but they were successfully met by going with Director Leah Cooper’s proposal to create in Steampunk style.

“It was a great idea,” Kathy said, “as this look can layer all of the periods simultaneously, which makes costume changes from one time to another a matter of adding period-appropriate pieces rather than trying to effect a full costume change. It’s a really fun style to do, too, and interesting for an audience to puzzle out what piece belongs to which period, plus it’s flattering to every actor shape–and kinda sexy!”

Merrick CostumeMost of my challenges for this play came with the quick changes that happen with each character change,” Kathy continued. “These I achieved with the usual tricks: a little Velcro, a lot of snaps, some elastic laces for shoes. For instance, Merrick asked to try a shirt collar that could snap up instantly for his monologue with ties, so I stitched in a one-inch belt stay product onto the under-collar. Also, Watson the Android needed a special look when he hooked up to his battery chair. For this, I hand-stitched strings of tiny LED lights into a layer of his vest. In fact, all the hardware is hand-stitched.”

With all the hardware in the costumes, Kathy had to also consider how they could be safely laundered.

“Pants are turned inside out to protect them and other costumes from snagging in the wash,” Kathy explained. “Watson’s vest front panels are Velcroed and fully removable so the vest itself can be laundered. I did have to remove some little gears from Eliza’s jeans because she scraped her hand on one in a quick change in dress rehearsal.”

Watson CostumeKathy’s finished costumes stayed close to her initial renderings, but some details–namely having to do with fabric choice and trim–were adjusted as needed. For example, Eliza’s striped leggings were no longer available, and Merrick’s boxy plaid jacket just didn’t look right on him.

“Watson is very active onstage and has lots of quick changes,” Kathy added, “so I needed to rethink the industrial trim placement on his pants so he wouldn’t get caught on a belt buckle or get scratched by the snap tape that I used.”

Because the play has a small cast of three, Kathy could think through the costume plot carefully and hand off the tracking list, which tells what each actor wears in each scene and what they change into, to stage management early in the process. This allowed Stage Manager Amanda Bowman to plan change timings and where they would happen backstage.

Eliza CostumeThe actors were also given rehearsal clothes to wear (e.g., for when Merrick must change from modern to Victorian in a half sentence during his monologue), which helped to establish a useful muscle memory for them early on.

“This show required a combination of shopping thrift stores, some retail, a bit of building–Eliza’s 1890s coat and some smaller pieces–and rental,” Kathy said. “Leah was present for fittings–always an efficient way to make sure everyone’s okay, including the actors, with how things look and feel.”

Come see for yourself how Kathy’s work impacts the overall production during its final week on stage. Then have some fun pondering what costuming decisions you may have made if you’d been in her shoes.

 

(NOTE: Don’t miss reading the prior blogs “Kathy Kohl: Doing What She Loves” and “What the Heck is Steampunk Anyway?”)

The Curious Tech of the Watson Intelligence

When I was able to catch The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence at Park Square and I was struck by not just the themes of technological fluidity in our history, but how the show itself was able to convey those big ideas through the technical design. Lights, sounds and especially the costumes all worked together to thread a connection between the late 19th century and the new millennium. As technology is the main concept being driven home here, and specifically it’s relationship to humanity (i.e. personalities, communication, companionship) it was impressive to see how the tech elements of this show interacted with the humans on stage and in the seats. 

Beginning the show, the lights and sounds offer a feast for the senses, and then each scene transition proving to be just as entertaining as the action of the play. In fact, the show begins with a sound montage of various phone sounds such as historical voice recording messages and that ubiquitous “ding a ding a ding a ding” of the modern iPhone. In the dark of the house I listed to the laughs of nostalgia and recognition. Hand-in-hand with the audio landscape were the lights that portrayed shadows of turning gears, conjuring thoughts of a bygone industrial age. The coolest thing about the lights, I must say, were also during the transitions and those were the silhouettes of a man who may-or-may-not be Sherlock Holmes, forever calling on his blundering assistant, Watson. I could tell this was actor, Adam Whisner, back lit behind a screen and the effect was pretty captivating.

The backstage "Steampunk Fairies" of Sam Diekman and Rachel Lantow, get to join in on the fun with their own costumes.

The backstage “Steampunk Fairies” of Sam Diekman and Rachel Lantow, get to join in on the fun with their own costumes. Photo by Connie Shaver

 

Whenever the stage wasn’t shrouded in shadowy mechanics and abuzz with the sounds of telecommunications, we had the actors on stage to engage us in the story. Aiding them (and connecting the past to the present) were the costumes that invoked the imagery of steampunk. That is, the anachronistic blending of modern styles with the Victorian era. How fun it was to see ruffled shirts, ascots and waistcoats set against the backdrop of a modern apartment! This of course, was for the dramatic effect of being able to seamlessly transition from one century to the next. Making the transitions all the more imperceptible was the fact that rather than changing garb completely, the actors would layer their clothes how they needed. For example, the actor Kathryn Fumie started off in a nice, standard set of jeans, knee-high boots and a long-sleeved shirt/skirt. Well, over the course of the show I watched this base layer get both stripped away to the underwear and elaborated on with a wonderfully Victorian dress and hat. The boots were a great design idea because I realized they’re a fashion element that has always looked good!

Check out this more in-depth summary of steampunk, but knowing even a little is enough to enjoy the rich ideas offered up by the designers and my goodness, I almost forgot to mention the actual set of the play! Like boots, brick walls have been a staple of design for centuries and so it works here to reflect both time periods. Cleverly we know it’s the present day by the addition of a neon sign or fiber-optic paneling. Simply take them away and voila! You’re in 1876 before you can even say “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence”.

A great look at a scene that takes place in the 1920s. Just one of several time periods invoked throughout the play.

This play, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, is certainly a well-rounded play in terms of acting, directing and design. Owing to the technological themes of the script, however, warranted a blog solely dedicated to such aspects as applied to the show. Hopefully when you see it for yourself you can keep what I’ve said in mind, and find your own appreciation for the sensual feast you’re to encounter. 

 

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