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Posts Tagged Up: The Man in the Flying Chair

Mark Benzel: Wire Walker

 

Actor Mark Benzel

In Theatre Pro Rata’s Up: The Man in the Flying Chair, on Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage until June 11, Mark Benzel plays several characters, including Philippe Petit, the famous French high-wire artist who’d committed what became known as “the artistic crime of the century.” On the morning of August 7, 1974, Philippe wire walked for 45 minutes between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. His cable stretched about a quarter mile above the ground; and he walked, danced, lay down and knelt as he made eight passes along its length.

Philippe Petit wire walking between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974.
(Photo from Business Insider)

As Philippe in Up, Mark lives in the imagination of Walter Griffin, the play’s protagonist who’d once gained fame by attaching 45 helium-filled weather balloons to his lawn chair to levitate 16,000 feet, high enough to be seen by commercial airliners. Philippe appears in Walter’s fantasies to give him advice as he struggles to regain his former glory.

In the script, there’s just a casual mention in the stage directions about Philippe’s wire walking, but the company decided to literally draw out that element in keeping with the magical realism within the play, as an artistic challenge for the cast and to explore the playwright’s intent.

With past experience in physical performance, such as juggling, climbing and dropping from aerial silks and theatrical clowning, as well as personal ability to skateboard and unicycle, Mark was confidently game to learn wire walking. With initial instruction by Robert Rosen, a co-founder/artistic director of the now defunct Theatre de la Jeune Lune and current founder/teacher at Studio 206, Mark was ultimately able to make two to three passes on a wire two feet above the ground and ten feet long but, according to Mark, “not altogether gracefully.” More in-depth training with Jonah Finkelstein, who long studied with the famous Grand Canyon wire walker Nik Wallenda, and Laura Emiola of Xelias and support from Circus Juventas helped provide additional Philippe-like confidence.

Before wire walking himself, Mark had watched the 2008 film Man on Wire, which suspensefully recreated Philippe’s 1974 stunt by mingling both actual footage of the live event with re-enactments. Mere observation certainly gave Mark an appreciation for the incredible Philippe, but actually experiencing wire walking firsthand gave him “new eyes” to better understand the physical and psychological anguish involved to not only perform the feat, but to also be able to do it with ease and grace. The training definitely gave Mark deeper insight into his character.

Front to back: Mark Benzel as Philippe Petit and John Middleton as Walter Griffin in Up: The Man in the Flying Chair
(Photo by Charles Gorrill)

In a play that delves into the achingly human acts of wishing, hoping and yearning–in a play about contemplating those hard life choices–ultimately every cast member performs a high-wire act, metaphorically if not physically. And the audience gets to step out on that wire with them.

 

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.

 

Park Square Theatre Seeks Resident Theatre Partners

Is your  theatre company interested in participating with Park Square Theatre as a member of the second generation of resident theatres?

Park Square is seeking to work with up to three groups, beginning with the 2017-2018 season.  

We need partners who:

  • Can produce one full production per year, for at least two consecutive seasons, as part of Park Square’s Boss Thrust Stage subscription season
  • Have a track record of successful producing for a loyal audience
  • Have plans and ambitions for continued programming and the ability to program ahead (18-24 months out)
  • Are willing to collaborate with Park Square and other Partners to coordinate programming, scheduling and marketing

Park Square’s contribution to the partnership includes:

  • Use of the  Andy Boss Thrust Stage for tech/dress and performances
  • Ticketing, sales and house management
  • Direct marketing and promotion as part of the Theatre’s subscription series
  • Collaboration for joint/shared marketing and the potential for joint fundraising

To be considered for 2017-2018, please submit your expression of interest to Richard Cook (cook@parksquaretheatre.org/651.767.7482) no later than November 1, 2016.

 

  Big Money at Park Square Theatre, 2017             Up: The Man in the Flying Chair at Park Square Theatre, 2017

Current Resident Theatre Partners Sandbox Theatre (photo of Peter Heeringa by Matthew Glover), Theatre Pro Rata and Girl Friday Productions present Big Money, Up: The Man in the Flying Chair and Idiot’s Delight, respectively, for the Park Square Theatre 2016-2017 season

          Idiot's Delight, produced by Girl Friday Productions, at Park Square Theatre, 2017

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