Festival of Trees

Festival of Trees

The Tradition Continues
The Festival of Trees Returns


Scranton has been getting in the holiday spirit with holiday craft markets and the annual tree lighting, but to really get into the giving spirit of the season, you might want to visit the Festival of Trees at the Trolley Museum in Scranton, on Friday, Dec. 12,  from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
For more than a decade, the Festival of Trees has upped the ante of the holiday season in Lackawanna County, first held at the Steamtown Museum and now at the Trolley Museum, with a fundraiser reception benefitting Toys for Tots. Although Lackawanna County is the main sponsor, non-profit organizations and smaller businesses pay $50 each to become a sponsor and larger corporations pay $100, explained Maureen McGuigan, Deputy Director of Arts and Culture for the county. There are 31 trees this year, with sponsors ranging from Sandvick Steel to the Girl Scouts.
Katie Gilmartin, former Junior League of Scranton president and current co-chair of 75th anniversary committee, said sponsoring a tree is a fun way to drum up publicity and prep for the Junior League’s upcoming anniversary. “And when the holiday theme came about, we thought that we would do a little research and come up with movie references and television references to the Junior League — which often aren’t the most flattering — and also, feature some notable Junior League members — Katharine Hepburn was a member and Margaret Hamilton, who was the Wicked Witch of the West.”
The trees will be up for two weeks, but the reception features some extras that make it a worthwhile winter wonderland night. The $20 admission includes food, beverages and music in addition to the decorated trees. “We have beer and Maiolatesi Winery will be there again. We have nonalcoholic beverages as well,” McGuigan said. “Accentuate is the caterer this year so they’ll have all kinds of good appetizers and then we always have entertainment, so this year it’s The Mark Montella Band. I asked if he could do some Hollywood favorites.”
There will even be a special performance by the cast of The Happy Elf, the Scranton Cultural Center’s holiday musical written by Harry Connick Jr.
This “fun, feel-good event” uses artificial trees for safety reasons, but that doesn’t quell the creativity from area sponsors. “The trees are absolutely amazing and the amount of effort people put into decorating them it’s quite remarkable,” McGuigan said. “It’s just a really special time of year.”
“You don’t have to even use artificial trees — we’ve had people create a tree,” McGuigan said.  “You can build a tree out of whatever you want. It doesn’t have to be an actual tree that you buy. (laughing) You never know what you’re going to get! People get very creative. The Lackawanna Heritage Valley built a tree out of bicycles one year.”
Kendra Lewis, an employee of the Trolley Museum, had a hard time choosing her favorite tree from last year’s festival. “Oh, last year they were all so good, I don’t know if I could pick a favorite, to be honest with you.”
And if you’re a business owner thinking about getting involved next year, McGuigan says tree building is great team building. “It’s kind of a good teambuilding exercise and it’s a great marketing tool, because we do get a couple thousand people through the museum looking at them, so it’s a way to showcase your organization. And also, get your employees involved and have a little fun.”
Although this is the first year for the Junior League, Gilmartin has participated in the Festival of Trees with her business, Nada and Co. “I think it’s a wonderful kick off to the holidays,” Gilmartin said. “We have the fliers here in the store and we get a response. People are excited about the theme (A Hollywood Holiday). There was a woman on her way out the door and she said to her little boy, ‘Oh! This is coming up again! Remember we went last year and it was so much fun?’ So, I think it’s becoming a tradition for people.”
The trees will be up for prizes too. In addition to first, second, third and honorable mention bragging rights, reception-goers can vote for the “People’s Choice.” Votes are a dollar and the money is also donated to Toys for Tots.
Can’t make the reception? Go see the trees at the museum until Dec. 31. Entry is $4 for adults, $3 for children (and kids 3 and under get in for free). You can even wait for free entry on “community day,” Saturday, Dec. 27.

kimberly m. aquilina


If you go:
What: Lackawanna County Arts & Culture Department’s gala Festival of Trees reception
When: Friday, Dec. 12, from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
Where: Electric City Trolley Museum, 300 Cliff Street, Scranton.
Additional details: Proceeds benefit Toys for Tots. Twenty dollars includes entry, food, beverages and music by The Mark Montella Band. Trees will be on display until Dec. 31 during regular museum hours (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). For more details, call the Trolley Museum at 570-963-6590, email arts-culture@lackawannacounty.org or check out the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton. on Facebook.

Holiday on the Sqaure

Holiday on the Sqaure

Holiday on the Square is back for a second year catering to your handcrafted desires, gift needs or goodies to treat yourself in Scranton’s winter wonderland. If you didn’t get to go last year, Holiday on the Square is a two-day outdoor marketplace put together by ScrantonMade and Lackawanna County (the folks that brought you the summertime Arts on the Square) and sponsored by ShantyTown Designs.
“The county and ScrantonMade are the main players, but Shanty does the bulk of our design work and website,” said event organizer Cristin Powers of ScrantonMade.
The marketplace will showcase more than 50 vendors on N. Washington Avenue starting on First Friday (Dec. 5) from 5 to 9 p.m. Powers said she hasn’t expanded because she likes to keep Holiday on the Square “small and festive, with a warm feeling” under heated tents. The annual lighting of the city’s Christmas tree will take place at 6 p.m. that night, as well as other fun First Friday events.
The holiday spirit continues the next day, Saturday, Dec. 6 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Powers believes it all started with the first Arts on the Square. “We had a really good time and decided ‘Why not try a holiday sort of like the Kris Kringle market,’ which is in Bethlehem.”
“Also, Chrissy (Manuel) and I lived in New York City before and Union Square has a really great outdoor holiday market and we wanted to bring that feeling into Scranton,” continued Powers. “It gives you something different and gives another outlet for local artists and craftsmen and designers to have another place to sell their goods.”
The marketplace will host vendors like the “classics” — handmade jewelry and upcycled clothing, but there will be some new faces and wares this time around. One first-timer is Lisa Malsberger, owner of Tig & Cooneys, a stone coaster crafter who typically sells on Etsy, but will be adding handmade ornaments (some featuring maps of the area) to her bundle this weekend.
“I’m really excited about it,” Malsberger said. “You’re taking a leap of faith every time you make something by hand. Thanks to ScrantonMade, vendors like me have a place to showcase our business where before not a lot of people would have heard about us.”
“They have a lot of Scranton-themed art, which is really cool and really in right now” said Powers about Tig & Cooneys, the made-to-order vendor named after the owner’s dog’s stuffed animals.
There will also be “gourmet dog treats, a mead vendor, ceramics, a 3-D printing vendor, which is pretty cool and different, and the usual jewelry and candles and scarves,” Powers said. “All types of kitschy things. Lots of Scranton-themed things like mugs and ornaments — hopefully a little bit for everyone.”
And what about keeping everyone warm and happy?
Easy. There will be on-site catering, a seating area “and Sweet Lush Cupcakes will have their food truck, which is just a dessert and coffee truck, which is great,” Powers said.
To avoid any mush and mud on your boots like last year, the marketplace area has been moved from the courthouse lawn to the street and sidewalk.
If you miss out on Friday’s events (which include two 20-minute performances of a “Christmas Carol”), be sure to stop by on Saturday — you could score a gift bag filled with goodies from local businesses and vendors if you are one of the first 100 shoppers.
“Last Holiday on The Square, we kind of incorporated – to Arts on the Square as well – a #ShopScranton campaign to really promote everything that our town has to offer besides our event,” Powers explained. “Our goal is to bring people downtown to support the vendors, but to also go inside and support the businesses that are down there.”
Local brick-and-mortar businesses are getting in the holiday fun, too, Powers said. Note will have a 3-D printer making ornaments; Backyard Ale House is having an ugly sweater contest, plus giving away $100 gift cards; Lavish will have holiday music, cocktails, desserts and is offering a free soap with any purchase over $50. There will even be raffle opportunities in the businesses – be sure to fill out a ticket for chances to win gift cards to Scranton-area stores, so you can #ShopScranton.

— kimberly m. aquilina
If you go:
WHAT: Holiday on the Square, a two-day outdoor marketplace.
WHEN: Fri. Dec. 5 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sat. Dec. 6 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
WHERE: N. Washington Avenue, Courthouse Square, Scranton.
For more information: Check out the event page on Facebook or visit scrantonmade.blogspot.com for an event map and where to find interesting vendors, shops and even freebees.



the artists’ studio: Nov. 20, 2014

the artists’ studio: Nov. 20, 2014

Wyoming Valley Art League celebrates 60th anniversary with new gallery

Once upon a time it seemed like big philanthropists (e.g. Carnegie, Rockefeller) were throwing big money at the arts like it was water. Large theaters and galleries were built and buzzed with creative contributions that didn’t require commercial legs in order to walk. These days artists roam homeless through the streets like society’s black sheep looking for any hospitable venue that might invite them in to share their talents with the general public without charging them an arm and leg for the exposure.
The Wyoming Valley Art League has been endowed with the means to open a second gallery in its Circle Center for the Arts thanks to the generosity of Atty. Carmen Maffei and his desire to remember his wife, painter Sandra Dyczewski Maffei who passed away a few years ago.
“It was a wonderful surprise gift,” WVAL president Margie Bryant told electric city and diamond city. A private reception for family and friends held last weekend attracted 150 to 200 people, she said.
“It was a spectacular event. Atty. Maffei actually sent us a note saying we went beyond anything he ever expected and how much he appreciated us honoring his wife in such a way. So we did good. When someone gives you a nice check you want to show your appreciation.”

Artist Sandra Dyczewski Maffei with one of her paintings. Images courtesy of the WVAL.

Artist Sandra Dyczewski Maffei with one of her paintings. Images courtesy of the WVAL.

Born and raised in Wilkes-Barre, Sandra Maffei worked as a registered nurse and raised a son before going back to school to study art in her 40s. In time, she would become a member of the The Wyoming Valley Art League. The opening reception for her posthumous exhibit of 14 of Sandra Maffei’s own abstract paintings and a public dedication of the gallery will be held Friday, Nov. 21 from 5 to 8 p.m. At least one exhibit in the new gallery each year will be dedicated to abstract art.
The WVAL was established in 1954 by two artists — Caroline Williams and Marjory Smith — who shared a studio in downtown Wilkes-Barre. The organization’s first home was in the Deemer’s building on West Market Street. They held regular meetings and mounted exhibitions in the Osterhout Library annex on South Franklin Street. Among the league’s temporary homes was a spot in the Midtown Village downtown and a rental above Vanderlyn’s Restaurant on Schuyler Avenue in Kingston.
“We never had a permanent location until three years ago,” Bryant said.
Maffei’s gift isn’t the first act of kindness that has bolstered the WVAL. Before that, the generosity of Edith Reynolds allowed the nonprofit association the means by which to purchase the former Luzerne County Medical Society building on South Franklin Street.
The all-volunteer organization plans to continue hosting exhibit openings and receptions on the third Friday of each month even as the recently formalized Third Friday Wilkes-Barre goes on hiatus for the winter. Although the galleries are only formally open with a paid attendant on Thursday afternoons from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., volunteers are often milling about. Also on display on the upper level of the Circle Center is the WVAL’s 60th anniversary juried members’ exhibition. Classes are offered in the building’s basement level. The league’s greatest source of funds comes from membership fees ($40/year). It’s largest fundraiser is the wine and cheese tasting that will be held this year on Friday, Dec. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $25.
“It’s the second year’s we’ll be doing it. It’s a very nice event. And we’re using both galleries for that,” Bryant said.
“We’re at an exciting point here. As the Circle Center for the Arts and the Wyoming Valley Art League. And we named the building the “Circle Center for the Arts” because we do different types of things. We just had a play reading there of a gentleman’s adaptation of The Tempest, and we did that as a fundraiser for Ruth’s Place which we’ll be giving them the check on Friday night also. We have a photo shoot coming up for Project Hope, for women and men with cancer, and a professional photographer is going to use our building to take the pictures of them. We have a makeup and artist and everything else to really make give make them feel absolutely beautiful.
It’s multidisciplinary — not just visual arts. We’ve done film series, we’re hoping to have a showing of Man in A Box there, which is a locally produced film. We’re trying to do different things and the building is available to be rented out if you want to have an event there — recitals, readings, poetry, you name it.”
If you go:
What: Sandry Dyczewski Maffei Gallery inaugural exhibition featuring Abstract Paintings by the gallery’s namesake.
When: Nov. 21 to Jan. 11.
Where: Circle Center for the Arts, 130 S. Franklin St., rear, Wilkes-Barre.
Info: wyomingvalleyartleague@gmail.com


Panaoramic view of the WVAL member gallery at the Circle Center for the Arts.

Panaoramic view of the WVAL member gallery at the Circle Center for the Arts.

Curtain Call: Sister Act

Curtain Call: Sister Act

Broadway Theatre League in conjunction with NAC Entertainment presents Sister Act: the musical on Friday, Nov. 21 at 8 p .m. and Saturday, Nov. 22 at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets range from $37.50 to $59.50 and are available via (570) 342-7784 or BroadwayScranton.com.

Sister Act Takes Scranton to Heaven this Weekend

The witness protection program has sparked fewer stories than amnesia but it’s still popular fuel for a fish out of water plot. In the 1992 film Sister Act starring Whoopi Goldberg, aspiring singer Deloris Van Cartier snitches on her gangster boyfriend and is tucked away for safekeeping in “the last place anyone would think to look” — a convent. The stage musical adaptation of Sister Act opened in London in 2009 features a score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane was called in to do a major rehaul of the book before the show moved to Broadway in 2011.
We took advantage of the opportunity to speak with Beane just after the closing of his stage adaptation of the Betty Comden and Adolph Green 1953 film The Band Wagon, which ran as a New York City Center Encores! special event Nov. 6 to Nov. 16. A part-time resident of Lake Carey and a native of NEPA, Beane grew up in Berks County. His comedy Fairycakes was staged at the University of Scranton this part summer as part of the Scranton Shakespeare Festival’s 2014 season. Other credits include The Nance, Cinderella, Xanadu, Lysistrata Jones, As Bees in Honey Drown, The Little Dog Laughed, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

Douglas Carter Beane at the opening of Sister Act.

Douglas Carter Beane at the opening of Sister Act.

So Sister Act opened in London?
I think it was first done in Pasedena and then in Atlanta and then it went to London. It was picked up by Joop van den Ende who has a company called Stage Entertainment which is one of the largest theater producing companies in the world, and when I say world, I mean the world because he basically has Europe. And he thought Sister Act would be a great European title but he needed it to go on Broadway to be a hit on Broadway … The show that was in London he knew would never play in America because it was just racially insensitive and — it was written by these two old television writers who are sort of in a gated community and they’re not the coolest cats in the world so they hired Jerry Zaks who is a wonderful director and he called me — I didn’t know him at all.

You’ve worked with him since then —
Since then we’re best buddies …but then I didn’t know him at all. He got my number because Nathan Lane had recommended me for the job, thank God. And I stopped by his office and he said, “What do you know about Sister Act?” And I said I vaguely remember the movie and I remembered liking it. He was really cagey about showing me a script … He was like, “Well go look at the movie again, here’s the CD of the score, we’ll get to that.” They flew me to England to take a look at it after I said I liked it and would like to work on it. And it was so unbelievably awful.

So you sat in the audience kind of rewriting it as it went?
I think I saw it three times in two days — it was like an evening performance and a matinee and another evening. I just took copious notes and came back and met with Jerry and we rewrote it. And the show was booked into a theater on Broadway and all the sets and all the costumes were done and we were casting as I was writing it. I mean the casting people would say, “What are the attributes of this particular nun we’re trying to cast?” And I would say, “I don’t know I haven’t gotten to that page yet.” It was that crazy but it was a remarkable and wonderful time. My associate writer started as my typing assistant and by the end he was an associate writer —Paul Downs Colaizzo — was the Catholic-in-residence. I said, “I’ve got to have a Catholic on this project,” because I was the first Christian on it. He ended up writing chunks of it and I would rewrite it. It was so fast and furious.
I saw him two nights ago and he just sold a television series to CBS so I’m really proud of him. And Patina Miller (who originated the role of Deloris Van Cartier in the West End and Broadway productions) has got a TV show right now (Madame Secretary). It was a great time. I loved working with Alan Menken who did the score — we’re looking for something else to do in the future. In the Whoopi movie version it’s all ‘60s Doo-wop music which he had already done in Little Shop of Horrors. He said, “I don’t need to go back there.” So he came up with the brilliant idea of Philly soul and that kind of fabulous sound and set it in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. So the minute I saw that I said, “I know who those people are because I was there.” I was a club kid then. I was out going to discos in the late ‘70s.

I watched two songs online and I was surprised. It was better than I expected. (laughs)
My sister saw the national tour in San Diego and it had been out for about a year then. And I had lost track of it and then my sister sees it out in San Diego and texted me and said, “This show is so much fun. The audience can’t get enough of it.” It’s nice to hear because you sort of forget and these shows sort of become the check in the mail box every two weeks.
People love it. Audiences just dig it and it’s a fun story because it’s about two people who have no business being friends, becoming friends. And that’s irresistible to an audience.

That and the empowerment. In the“Raise Your Voice” number, we tear up right away because we know what it feels like to want to be strong and we’re rooting for these people.
It was wonderful to work on because it had so much heart to it. I love the last scene with the Mother Superior and Deloris before they go into the finale. I’m very proud of it. It’s very beautiful what they say to each other. People love it. They tear up and cheer. It’s very happy.

I was comparing the two synopses from the West End production and the Broadway show tying to see what was different.
The basic story is going to be the same. I think the West End version was unfunny. Just to give you an idea of the rewrites — an impartial lawyer looked at the script and at the end said there were four original lines left to which Jerry Zaks said, “What’s the fourth?” Because we knew what three of them are because they were cues for numbers and we didn’t want to change them. It was a total rewrite. Characters names were changed and character attributes were changed.

Sister ActCan you give an example?
It was just so awful, it’s painful to go back. At one point one of the bad guys said, “Where’s Deloris, we looked everywhere for her — the liquor store, the check cashing place, and the hair salon.” …That’s terrible. They’ll be picketing outside the theater. And so my version is the one that’s around the world now. It’s in Spain right now, it’s on an American tour, it’s about to open in Japan, it did a UK tour. So in England the (old) version played London, and then my version played all across England. . …I wanted to show that people of faith could come to it and not feel talked down to and think it was a fun show and people with no faith whatsoever could also have a good time.

It’s kind of remarkable that’s even achievable.
It’s kind of a task but that’s part of the fun. And nuns are always funny.

People love nuns here so it should play well in Scranton.
It’s a nun town, very Catholic, so it should do very well.

What is it that makes Deloris redeemable?
I think that I knew who she was. It was an abstract to the (initial) writers. But an African-American woman in Philadelphia in the late ‘70s who wants to break into the music business — those were six of my friends. I knew exactly who they were, the way they spoke, their expressions. Exactly the choices they made and how they made them. So it was hugely helpful. Suddenly the set designer and the costume designer were coming to me with questions and showing me things and I’d say, they did this or that was that. It was a lot of fun. I don’t know that I’d do it again. The pressure was insane. At one point I remember shouting a line to an actress as Alan Menken was shouting to a conductor as Jerry Zaks was shouting to a set person behind all of us, as if were all trying to say— if I shout louder, I can finish up before the other person. It was insane. We’re all just sitting there shouting.

It is harder to work on something that’s already half-written than your own from scratch work?
No, because once you get into the mode, and you know who the characters are, it’s a lot of fun. I bumped into the guy whop played the Monsignor last night and we were just laughing about it. “Do you remember how there was one joke that would just be in every scene because you kept trying to find a place for that one joke?… And I was afraid to say it, because I wasn’t sure if it was still in the scene.” It was a crazy time.

Sister Act stars Kerissa Arrington as Deloris and Maggie Clennon Reberg as Mother Superior with Lamont O’Neal as Eddie and Kolby Kindle as Curtis Jackson. Ensemble member Eileen Patterson (eileen-patterson.com) is a graduate of The University of Scranton where she appeared in shows including Urinetown and The Grapes of Wrath. Broadway Theatre invites the community to meet Douglas Carter Beane at POSH following the 8 p.m. performance of Sister Act on Saturday, Nov. 22. There is no charge to attend the meet and greet.

Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@the570.com.

Sister Act



It’s Dinovember at the Everhart Museum!

Did you ever wonder what your toy dinosaurs did while you slept? Apparently, they bake, color on walls, kidnap Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and play Operation! Refe and Susan Tuma are the humans who belong to the dinosaurs and they started snapping pictures of what the dinosaurs did during Dinovember when the magic started in 2012.
“Sometimes things are unexpected,” Everhart’s Executive Director Cara Sutherland said. “For example, Susan’s dinosaurs that she had as a child were sent to her by her parents and her kids played with them. They really didn’t think anything of it. I guess Halloween night back in 2012, she (Susan) just kind of put them in the bathroom and didn’t think anything of it, but the next morning their two daughters were yelping, yelling and saying, ‘Mom! Dad! Come see what the dinosaurs did!’ They (the dinosaurs) were in the bathroom and it looked like they were brushing their teeth. And then every night for the next 30 days, the dinosaurs did something.”
EC20DINO_3_WEBThe “What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night” pictures took off on social media and the images are now featured in a book by the same name. The Everhart hosted a book signing on Nov. 6, but you can still purchase the book at the museum. The Tuma’s children’s book is scheduled for next year and Sutherland said there is a movie deal in the works.
The Everhart is the first museum to host the dinosaurs from Kansas City who have a reputation for mischief. Sutherland goes into work each day not knowing what the dinosaurs got into the night before. “They did a little bit of graffiti at the Everhart,” Sutherland said. “I went into my office on Saturday and they had taken over my office.”
The dinosaurs have even broken out of the museum and been spotted in Scranton and other parts of Lackawanna County. According to Sutherland, they have scaled the Times-Tribune building, tried on lingerie at the Lackawanna Historical Society, hit up both the Lackawanna Coal Mine and the Trolley Museum.
“They get around,” Sutherland said with a laugh.
“The first night, they broke into the Lackawanna County Visitors Bureau,” Sutherland said. “I guess they were looking for maps — they needed to know where they were going!”
The Tuma family dinosaurs were lucky to be in town for a special day: Spike, the Everhart’s resident stegosaurus, had a birthday on Nov. 15. Humans and dinosaurs alike shared birthday cards and cake with Spike. (You can still go see Spike and wish him a belated — he lives in the museum year-round).
Dinovember is a great chance to check out the Everhart’s fossil gallery, which was renovated earlier this year with underwriting by Pagnotti Enterprises Inc. and Lackawanna Insurance Group.
“What’s neat about our fossil collection is they were collected early 20th century from the mines, so they may have a note on them indicating which coal mine they came out of — which vein was being mined. So it’s part of the local history,” Sutherland said.
The dinosaurs have been visited by young and old, but Sutherland said a large demographic of visitors include 20-somethings without children. “It’s really for all ages,” Sutherland said.
EC20DINO_1_WEBThe exhibit started Nov. 1 and runs officially until Nov. 30, but these dinosaurs do whatever they want. “They’ll probably stay longer at the Everthart, because there are a lot of things they want to get into,” Sutherland said. “We’re planning on having them until at least Dec. 29.”
Dinovember gets a small amount of assistance from the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority, according to Sutherland, but a lot of the savings come from the efficiency of the museum staff. “Refe (Tuma) sent me the digital files and I printed them in my office and we did the matting and framing in-house,” Sutherland explained. “But yes, the LHV assisted us with a small grant … We have a modest admission fee for the museum. There is no extra charge for special exhibits. They are included.”
You can see the dinosaurs and photos of their mischief and mayhem in person or on the Everhart Museum of Natural History, Science and Art’s Facebook page. Or, better yet, visit them at the museum.
— kimberly m. aquilina


If you go:
What: Dinovember
Where: The Everhart Museum, 1901 Mulberry Street, Scranton (Nay Aug Park)
When: Monday, Thursday and Friday, noon to 4 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Other details: Admission $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, $3 for children ages six to 12 and free to museum members. You can call (570) 346-7186 for more information.

Curtain Call: Writer Protagonists

Curtain Call: Writer Protagonists

From left: Mike Kranick, Cillian Byrne and Brian Lenahan in rehearsal for The Pillowman. The University of Scranton Players production runs Nov. 14-23 with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Call (570) 941-4318 or visit thescrantonplayers.com.

The Writer is His Own Best Metaphor?

Writer-centered Shows Open on Two College Stages This Week

Maybe writers aren’t any more self-centered than the rest of the population, but the evidence doesn’t look good. The number of fictional works in which writers find themselves at the center of the dramatic storm is so overwhelming that your multi-tasking brain has probably already thought of several examples.

It’s not a new conversation, but writers aren’t changing the subject. This week in The 570 both King’s College and The University of Scranton will open productions of contemporary works in which writers are the central characters, those being Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities and Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, respectively.

I know I’m not the only one who groans audibly to see yet another seemingly self-referential and thinly-veiled autobiographical story about “a writer.” Surely this isn’t what they meant when they said, “write what you know.” It’s tempting to charge lazy authors with short-sightedness and a general lack of empathy for other people. You’d think they were sitting at a desk all day instead of interacting with other people or something.

In the theater, it’s even worse — playwrights tend not only to create writer characters, but also write about the theater. In a piece Jonathan Mandell wrote for HowlRound this week titled “Theater about Theater,” he counts at least four plays running on Broadway this season with prominent playwright characters. Have they given up and resigned themselves to blatant “catering to the in-crowd?”

In the best of circumstances, the writer character becomes a sort of blank-slate everyman on to which audience members are invited to project themselves and watch the whirlwind of colorful characters and life-altering events occur around them. (sidenote: Maybe writers are to blame for the ‘everyone thinks he’s a writer’ trend — audiences have been cast in the role so many times, it’s only natural they identify.)

Other Desert Cities premiered off-Broadway in January 2011 (a few months before the series Baitz co-created for ABC, Brothers & Sisters, concluded after five seasons) and transferred to Broadway with a couple key cast replacements (i.e. Rachel Griffiths and Judith Light; Stockard Channing, Thomas Sadoski and Stacy Keach continued in their roles) by November.

The family drama cheers on troubled writer Brooke who comes home to celebrate Christmas with her wealthy family in Palm Springs. Her “gift” is the announcement of a memoir that will expose the most painful period in the Wyeths’ history. It’s not unlike A.R. Gurney’s The Cocktail Hour (1988) produced by Actors Circle earlier this year, but more overtly political and they’re Jewish instead of WASPs. Brooke’s book is an embarrassment to this Republican family to whom appearances matter, and it must be abandoned. It’s not a new question but we still haven’t agreed on an answer toward the writer’s right to tap his/her own experiences. How selfish of the writer to think she owns her life’s experiences when they have been shared with and depend upon other people!

No matter how many “all persons fictitious” disclaimers are invoked, characters are inspired by real people with real feelings, because we can’t not write what we’ve known. Writers don’t make things up so much as shake the pieces of life up and let them fall into a new, more digestible arrangement. Toward the end of Other Desert Cities, Aunt Silda urges Brooke, “Don’t back down. You’ll win because you have ideas and they only have fear.” The writer’s greatest block may be the gut instinct that if they don’t alienate friends and family, it’s probably not any good.

Irish-born playwright Martin McDonagh has never been afraid to alienate audiences and has admitted a desire to test the limits of dramatic storytelling. One of the batch of seven plays he wrote in 1994, and later freshened for production in 2003, The Pillowman is typical of his works for its flirtation with absurdity, heightened dramatic language (recklessly studded with obscenity) and stylized excessive violence. At times it seems McDonagh is intentionally trying to shock and upset us.

Yet, McDonagh’s has exhilarated audiences as much as he has offended them. The playwright hasn’t created the suffering he depicts, after all, but rather taken a day-glo highlighter to its existence, using comedy to make it cartoonish and therefore something not so daunting that can be overcome.

The Pillowman’s Katurian has written horrifying fictional fairy tales of children suffering cruelty and abuse that have inspired copycat crimes in the real world. He is violently interrogated by a totalitarian-order good cop/bad cop team. But there is an odd compassion in acknowledging the reality of our childhood nightmares. The title nine-foot character comes to bring comfort to adults about to commit suicide by taking them back in time and teaching them how to die in a childhood accident, thereby averting all those years of needless suffering.

McDongah avoids politics and dives into darker personal psyche but his stories, too, beg for the right to exist no matter the consequences — even if the writer must sacrifice his own comfort or, worst case, his life — for the stories to live.

From left: Anders Larson (Trip Wyeth), Jessica Mulligan (Brooke Wyeth), Peter Kmec (Lyman Wyeth) and Iris Ouellette (Polly Wyeth) perform in Other Desert Cities at King’s College Nov. 20 to 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5-12. Call (570) 208-5825 for more information or reservations or visit desertcities.bpt.me.

From left: Anders Larson (Trip Wyeth), Jessica Mulligan (Brooke Wyeth), Peter Kmec (Lyman Wyeth) and Iris Ouellette (Polly Wyeth) perform in Other Desert Cities at King’s College Nov. 20 to 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5-12. Call (570) 208-5825 for more information or reservations or visit desertcities.bpt.me.

Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Email alicia@the570.com.

A Social Reborn

A Social Reborn

Ted Michalowski introduces Synaesthesia Social

Illustrator and professional artist Ted Michalowski finds the time — between his work and his guest lecturing at various schools, universities and colleges — to coordinate two regional events: Drawma Club and the newly updated Synaesthesia Social.
Everything came together after finding inspiration from two educational mentors. College professor Ted Brenner initially sparked his interest to draw live music performances and recommended that he pursue a master’s degree in illustration under the direction of Murray Tinkelman at the University of Hartford. While earning his degree at Hartford in the MFA illustration program, Michalowski chose to write his thesis on Synaesthesia with drawings of live music and decided to start running the Drawing Social (now Synaesthesia Social) events in 2006 at the Test Pattern Gallery in Scranton. The two professors were truly “monumental” to him in his beginnings.
“Being around these people who are just so dedicated to what they do — their energy starts electrifying other people and you can’t help but want to keep conducting that electricity.”
Ted Michalowski drawing Tom Bonomo. PHOTO BY TOM BONOMO.

Ted Michalowski drawing Tom Bonomo. PHOTO BY TOM BONOMO.

He has worked for networks — ABC CBS and CNN — as a courtroom illustrator. He mentions how drawing in the courtroom and live music can appear as opposite conventions, but that they are tied together because of the echoing “intensity and being in the moment and capturing the moment.” All of this carried over to his holding Synaesthesia Social for artists and musicians to draw inspiration from one another and to find artistic innovation.
He recently reinvented his Drawing Social into Synaesthesia Social at the Olde Brick Theatre, 126 W. Market St., Scranton, taking place every Sunday, from 6 to 9 p.m. The change of name and venue supported the transition the event had undergone. “The name of the event is now Synaesthesia Social for a suggestion of its more inclusive element of the arts where it’s not exclusively drawing,” Michalowski said. “With live music, it makes all the sense in the world to have it in a live performance base.”
The event consists of a live music show, but so much more. “It’s a merging of all the arts — music, drawing, painting, poetry and theatre,” according to Michalowski. The music begins playing and then people pretty much do what they want. Artists will draw and paint to the music, often using the musicians as their subjects. People will do their homework, work on their laptops or in their journals and even knit while listening (to the live entertainment). Poetry readings will even occur between and during the event. “But for as much as that goes on, the majority of the crowd just comes to kick back and enjoy the performance and scene.”
Often, but not always, the musicians will produce their music without any prior preparation. “That’s the element of improvisation of live art in the moment,” Michalowski said. “Some musicians will bring in certain pieces that they played.” However, he emphasizes that he does not set “any guidelines or parameters to what music is going to be played, except that there are no parameters artistically.”
Special guests appear at the event. “I have Veronica Lawlor lined up for a workshop in March.” Lawlor “is based in New York City and teaches in the art department at Pratt and Parsons.” She has written two books and will have another out soon (Urban Sketchers), which is a series. “She will have some of my work featured in it.”
Regulars also frequent the event. The list is extensive according to Michalowski, but a few he highlighted include: Jason Smeltzer playing the theremin, Doug Smith who plays upright bass, and Jamie Orfanella performing on didgeridoo. The three remain his close friends within his artistic social circle. They fuel his artistic work and his motivation to continue the events he holds. “If you are immersed in a social group like that, you are more inclined to push yourself artistically.”
Further, The Olde Brick Theatre has become a comfy new home for the event. “The event has so much more atmosphere and ambiance, which is something people remark who have been coming for a long time,” Michalowski explains. “People are impressed at how hospitable both Bob and Paige Balitski have been.” The proprietors and directors of Diva Productions host the weekly event for the community and arts. Paige will bake and make coffee, while Bob stands in as the lighting and sound technician. “The theater is fully staffed and welcoming.”
Michalowski encourages anyone interested to come out. Admission is $5 for general admission and $2 for students.
“It’s an event to bring people together and give them the opportunity to be exposed to all sorts of different music, artistic motivation and integrity.”
Besides Synaesthesia, Michalowski holds Drawma Club on every Tuesday from 6 to 9 p.m. also located at The Olde Brick Theatre, $10 general admission and $5 for students. It’s a “weekly figure drawing session.” Models pose as a character often in costume in accordance with themes.
“Bob Balitski will set the stage,” lighting it to also “encompass various moods and themes” for artists. Also, Michalowski takes events similar to Synaesthesia to Europe, “predominantly Poland,” whereby he collaborates with musicians he brought with him or Polish musicians, or he simply creates a mural on his own or with students he has taken on study abroad.
As for what’s next, he has a few events occurring soon, including speaking at Young Authors’ Day at Keystone College (not open to the public) and an event titled PANORAMA to be held on Nov. 15, at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg. He plans to continue moving forward with Synaesthesia Social events by allowing for “different and new music” to keep coming in the door.

— katelyn english

Synaesthesia Social runs weekly from 6 to 9 p.m. every Sunday at The Olde Brick Theatre, 126 W. Market St., Scranton (next door to Stirna’s, entrance is in back).

The Artists’ Studio: Nov. 6, 2014

The Artists’ Studio: Nov. 6, 2014

Brad Klausen’s poster for the Pixies Sept. 2013 concert in New York City’s Bowery Ballroom is one of many works on display in a new exhibition featuring designs by the Seattle-based artist in The Linder Gallery in the Miller Library at Keystone College in LaPlume through Nov. 30. A reception for the artist will be held Thursday, Nov. 7, from 5 to 7 p.m.


Two years ago Refe and Susan Tuma decided to dedicate the month of November to convincing their four children that toy plastic dinosaurs come to life while they sleep.

November became Dinovember and the Kansas City couple’s photographs of their painstakingly staged scenes were published first on social media and later in a Little, Brown and Company volume titled What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night. On Thursday, Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. Refe Tuma will sign copies of the book at a special opening for a new exhibit of the Tumas photographs in the Everhart Museum’s Gallery 13. The event is free for families but reservations are requested.

Dinovember also celebrates recent renovations to the Everhart’s Fossil Gallery, home of Spike the stegosaurus. One highlight of the upgrade is a collection of carbon plant fossils found in the region’s coal mines.

“Gigantic plants covered the landscape hundreds of millions of years ago. As climate change occurred and they underwent the fossilization process, these plants transformed into vast deposits of anthracite coal that the region is known for in American industrial history,” a notice from the museum reminds.

The fossils, many of which were collected by Dr. Isaiah Everhart and his peers as the museum was being created, give us information on ancient birds, mammals, arthropods, and plants as well as dinosaurs.

What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night will remain on display through Dec. 29. Museum hours are noon to 4 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Museum admission is $7 or $5 for students and seniors or $3 for children ages 6 to 12. Members are always admitted free of charge. Call (570) 346-7186 for more information or visit everhart-museum.org.

“Lily Sky” by Allison Maslow is on display in a new exhibit titled “Waterworks” at the Mainstreet Galleries in Kingston. Works by Bill Zack and Maria Livrone are also featured. A reception will be held Saturday, Nov. 8, from 6 to 9 p.m.

“Lily Sky” by Allison Maslow is on display in a new exhibit titled “Waterworks” at the Mainstreet Galleries in Kingston. Works by Bill Zack and Maria Livrone are also featured. A reception will be held Saturday, Nov. 8, from 6 to 9 p.m.

Curtain Call: Get Your Greek On

Curtain Call: Get Your Greek On

Wyoming Seminary Junior Jabrea Patterson of Wilkes-Barre rehearses for Metamorphoses, playing Friday and Saturday, Nov. 7-8.

I held on to a nameless stuffed teddy bear and my infant white quilt with lavender stitches through adolescence an into college before I finally let go, but the real talisman of my childhood was a set of books. The series of 10 Collier’s Junior Classics books was published in 1962. Its tales from around the globe — my favorite was The Five Chinese Brothers (vol. 1) — shaped my world view, but my favorite volume was number seven: Legends of Long Ago, devoted to Greek and Norse mythology, and other ancient tales.

I would go on to write my own play inspired by the blind prophet Tieresis and later adapt Arachne’s story to modern day. I’ve devoured Joseph Campbell’s insights and will confess to watching all eight seasons of Charmed with my daughters because of the series’ many mythological references. Most recently, I’ve had my mind blown by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver’s Great Courses series audiobook on Classical Mythology.

"Pandora" illustration from Collier Junior Classics' "Legends of Long Ago."

“Pandora” illustration from Collier Junior Classics’ “Legends of Long Ago.”

I’m a sucker for good stories and so it only makes sense that I’m a bit of a Greek geek. Contemporary writers are constantly working to overturn convention and challenge readers with “cutting edge” innovation, but nothing is edgier than these seminal stories written centuries ago.

Wyoming Seminary will present the second local production this year of Mary Zimmerman’s 2002 Tony Award-winning play Metamorphoses this weekend in Kingston. (Ghostlight Productions’ Underage Theatre staged the show in July at Abington Community Library.) It’s too soon to call a neo-classical trend in regional theater, but the coincidence is enough of an excuse to gush about Greek mythology for a few paragraphs.

Zimmerman’s source material is, of course, Ovid who was a Roman poet writing in Latin, but his stories are essentially Greek. The full collection of Ovid’s “Book of Transformations” contains more than 250 myths. Transformation is perhaps the most crucial ingredient of storytelling (without it, why bother). A main character is changed by the course of events, and in watching, audience members, too, have the opportunity to change.

You’re surely familiar with catharsis (literally “cleansing”) as Aristotle defined the spiritual renewal felt when one’s own anxieties are relieved by watching another’s tragedy. Tragedy warns us to choose with greater moral strength than its characters who suffer as a result of fatal flaws such as pride, lust, or greed. Apollo’s oracle at Delphi proclaimed “Know Thyself,” not as a friendly suggestion, but rather a serious warning to know one’s limitations. It is in not honestly facing our weaknesses that we make ourselves vulnerable to destruction.

Whether you can attend Metamorphoses or not, do your imagination a favor and spend some time with these “golden oldies.” Numerous translations of Ovid’s text are available free online and other sources. Among those Zimmerman dramatizes is the story of Erysichithon (trans. earth-tearer) of Thessaly who ordered all the trees in a sacred grove of the goddess Demeter (or Ceres in Ovid) to be cut down. When his men refuse to cut down the last standing, most sacred tree, he does it himself, inadvertently killing a nymph in the process. Demeter responds to the nymph’s dying curse by placing Limos — the spirit of starvation — in his stomach. Eating became like placing fuel on a fire; the more he ate the hungrier he got. He sold everything he had, including his own daughter, to obtain more food, but could not appease his insatiable appetite (“endless cramming but extends the void.”) Finally, he fed off his own body, little by little, devouring himself.

Other stories featured include that of King Midas, (H)alcyone and Ceyx , Orpheus and Eurydice, Pomona and Vertumnus, Myrrha, Eros and Psyche, and Baucis and Philemon.

The Wyoming Seminary Players present Metamorphoses on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 7 and 8 at 8 p.m. in the Buckingham Performing Arts Center in Kingston. Donations will be accepted. Call (570) 270-2192 for more information.

Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond.
Send email to: alicia@the570.com

Curtain Call: Another Tempest

Curtain Call: Another Tempest

Anderson offers ‘Another Tempest’


Playwright Robert Anderson

Playwright Robert Anderson

Academics and dramaturgs have traditionally traced the island setting of Shakespeare’s The Tempest to the Mediterranean not too far from Italy or maybe the Caribbean. It was while living in New Bedford, Mass., where he founded Teatro Gumbo Limbo, that playwright Robert Andrew Anderson heard a theory that the “brave new world” of Shakespeare’s imagination might be inspired by an island significantly less tropical.
There is a theory among locals that word of Cuttyhunk Island, population 26 and the largest of the Elizabeth Islands off the southeast coast of Massachusetts, might have in fact made its way to Shakespeare via explorer Bartholomew Gosnold who “discovered” the islands where he lived for a month in 1602 before returning to England.
This unique claim to the play was the encouragement Anderson needed to pick up his pen. One of his main goals in adapting the work was to give a voice to the mysterious witch Sycorax which Shakespeare’s text alludes to but does not give flesh. The play also pulls in references to The Bard’s other works citing them as stories Prospero has told Miranda over the years. The witches from Macbeth are wedding entertainment.
A staged reading of Anderson’s playful adaptation will be presented Sunday evening at the Wyoming Valley Art League’s Circle Centre for the Arts by Teatro Benefito, with proceeds benefitting Ruth’s Place.
When Anderson and his wife Rose Marie Wright, a native of the area who once danced with Twyla Tharp’s company, moved to Northeast Pennsylvania to inherit her wife’s mother’s house they found the home packed with hoarded possessions. Many of those were donated to Ruth’s Place and the homeless shelter for women secured a place in the couple’s collective heart. He hopes to follow this reading of his Tempest with a similar show in Scranton, but the script may never make it to full production without rights to the Beatles songs which have penetrated the verse and serve as a sort of soundtrack.
Backed by the familiar stains of “The Fool on the Hill,” a monologue by Gonzalo laments:
Simply an old fool am I — in their eyes —
With his head in a cloud, who never
Gives good answers, talking too loud.
But these eyes can see the sun going down,
Can see the world spinning ’round.
Yes, These eyes can see: that they are the fools.

Anderson with frequent collaborator, musician Jason Smeltzer

Anderson with frequent collaborator, musician Jason Smeltzer

Anderson recruited frequent collaborator, musician Jason Smeltzer, to portray Another Tempest’s Harpo Marx-inspired Ariel as well as play his trademark Theremin. Gaslight Theatre Company artist Matt Hinton will play the role of Caliban with other guest artists from the arts community chipping in including painter Alison Maslow and WVIA’s Erika Funke.
The Magic of Theatre: Another Tempest will be presented at Circle Centre for the Arts in Wilkes-Bare on Sunday, Oct. 26, at 5 p.m. A $10-12 suggested donation includes snacks and drinks.


Curtain Call: Carrie the Musical

Curtain Call: Carrie the Musical

From left: Ron Miller as Tommy, Robin Green as Margaret White, Angela LaRose, Abby Martino as Chris and Joey Maguschak as Billy in the Pennsylvania Theatre of Performing Arts’ production of Carrie, the Musical running Oct. 17 to Oct. 26 at the J. J. Ferrara Center in Hazleton Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets ($16-32) are available for dinner and show or show only. Call (570) 454-5451 or visit ptpashows.org.

‘Scary White’ Musical makes local debut Friday night

Thanks largely to its preposterous plot line — no offense to all you telekinetics out there — Stephen King’s Carrie is the ultimate revenge fantasy for anyone who got picked on in high school. Not to fuel stereotypes, but back stage at the theater, that’s almost everyone.

It’s not surprising the 1976 film adaptation of the book would find its way to stage. What shocked the industry, however, was when the show’s financial backers pulled out under pressure from harsh reviews despite sell-out houses. Carrie, the musical closed in 1988 after only 16 previews and 5 performances, making it one of the most expensive disasters in theatre history.

Among early production problems, the Stratford crew was unable to douse Carrie actress Linzi Hateley with fake blood without causing her microphone to malfunction. Later, Betty Buckley, who played the role of teacher Miss Collins in the 1976 film, took over the role of Margaret White when Barbara Cook left after almost being decapitated by a set piece on opening night.

Carrie was revived on Broadway in 2012 with seven replaced songs — the score features lyrics by Dean Pitchford and music by Michael Gore of Fame fame — and would run for 80 performances, including previews. Still not a huge success, the show was rescued from purgatory and productions followed in San Francisco, Seattle (with Alice Ripley as Margaret White), the Philippines, Australia and Canada. Pennsylvania Theatre of Performing Arts opens the first regional production of Carrie, the Musical in Hazleton this weekend with another production following at Wilkes University Nov. 7-16.

We spoke to PTPA director John Schugard for insights into the troubled show.

I always catch you guys in that hellish time just after tech. (laughs)
It’s been quite a challenge with all the special effects to design and rig and everything.

That blood dumped from above is a key moment. You have to have it. I’m guessing there’s a work around but you’re not going to tell.
Off-Broadway did not use liquid; they used red light. But you’re right — anyone who wants to see what we’re doing should come see it. There’s a light bulb that explodes and a couple instances of telekinesis that need to be rigged so there are a lot of special effects to handle.

Who did you have helping to solve those problems?
Me, myself and I.

You didn’t have some tech wizard come in and wave his magic wand?
No, I am my own tech wizard. We’ll see what people think on Friday.

What are you enjoying most about the show?
The show means a lot to me personally more because of the way Carrie is bullied as a kid so that’s kind of where the show resonates for me.

It’s like the ultimate revenge fantasy.
I say that to a point, except that if you take away Carrie’s telekinesis and replace it with an AK-47 that’s a news story and we’ve seen a lot of them. Stephen King wrote a novel that did involve a kid with a gun breaking into a school and it was published as Rage under the name Richard Bachman. He pulled Rage (from publication) because too many kids were doing it and they were finding copies of the book in their locker or something.

There must be some expensive first editions out there.
I’m sure. He was working as a teacher right around the time he wrote Carrie so he was able to observe this behavior first hand.

They changed out seven songs from the original production to the revival, so that would suggest it was the music that wasn’t working?
I’m only so familiar with the original Broadway (show). From the sound of it, they couldn’t decide if they were going to take the story seriously or if they were going to do something campy like Evil Dead. And it didn’t seem to work either way so when they went back and re-did it, they took the story seriously. So this is a straight up horror musical. There’s really no playing it for laughs here.

Stephen King definitely has a sense of humor, but Carrie never struck me as being campy.
Carrie doesn’t have as many funny moments as a lot of King’s later works. They did a very good job in the play of capturing the book’s atmosphere. It has this feeling of inevitability about it.

That Greek tragedy all of these events have already been set in motion and we’re just going to sit back and watch it happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop it?
Yeah, very much like that. That said, I would not say Carrie is a tragic character in the classic theatrical sense — she does not bring her destruction on herself … she’s what you would call a pathetic character. For all her power all she can do is wait to be saved or damned by the actions of others. And I just quoted Stephen King. That’s something he says, I think, in his Danse Macabre.

That’s too bad. I think women especially want her to be a powerful creature. Her powers come when she goes through this life change.
Uh-huh, when she has her first (menstrual) cycle, that’s when it blossoms. A lot of horror stories are movies where the monster wrecks the town, the monster is that. Carrie White is not a monster. It’s much easier to sympathize with her even as she’s destroying everything around her.

Is the show much different from the book?
They’ve toned Carrie’s mother down for the play. In the book there is nothing redeemable about Margaret White at all. She really is the monster. And they didn’t take all of that out, but the show allows for some tender moments with Carrie. I would say it’s for dramatic effect. There’s something really heartbreaking about seeing those tender moments because even for people who don’t know the story, the way the play is set up you are told it’s not going to end well, that something is going to go very wrong. So when you see those nice moments, it’s heartbreaking. And I think in the case of Carrie it’s that much more heartbreaking because she is so put upon, and we do see how abusive her mother can be. And we see how abusive her class mates are. So when she gets these short fleeting moments of genuine affection and positive regard it kind of hurts to see it. Because she deserves a lot more than she gets.

Who is in your cast?
Angela LaRose is playing Carrie. For the most part these are high school kids from the Hazleton area. They are doing very well with it.

It’s not easy work.
It’s not just that it’s a challenging piece in its own right, which of course, it is, but especially locally, how often does horror go up? Sweeney Todd comes up every so often. Misery happened a couple of years ago. I did Night of the Living Dead. These are kinds of stories that are always tests for the stories because it is not the kind of thing you do that often.

Usually around the Halloween holiday they do murder mysteries or Rocky Horror.
And Rocky Horror is based on the old B movies, but it’s camp. And Evil Dead is camp. To do straight up horror that isn’t meant to be over the top and comedic isn’t that common. It’s a new experience for all the kids. And it’s been really gratifying to see them step up to the plate.

So how about the music?
Everyone who’s heard the score has fallen in love with it. It was one of the reasons I went from just being mildly curious about the play – I warned everyone when we started promoting it that they would hear the question – “What? That’s a musical?” So I was curious and then I heard the score and that’s what made me wanted to direct the show and for a lot of kids in the cast it was the same thing, they were curious about it and then they heard the score and that’s what convinced them they wanted to be part of the production.

Is there a number you can describe to give people an idea of what they might see and hear?
A good example is the opener. It’s a song called “In.” It’s performed by all of the high school kids. It’s a good rock song; it’s got a lot of harmony. The best way to describe the kind of music is it’s still the same lyricist and composer who did Fame a few years before Carrie. But it’s an entire song about fitting in and conforming and being part of the group. It’s a great hook. It’s the song that makes you want to listen to the rest of it. But it also conveyed to me that the authors understood one of the central themes of Carrie which is that high school society then and probably now to a point – there’s this rigid clique structure and either you are in and you have your crowd or at the very least you are socially rejected, and of course in Carrie’s case social rejection carries very heavy consequences.
One of the directions I’ve been giving to the kids is about this: whenever something mean happens to Carrie, go ahead and laugh, because Carrie is the one it’s OK to laugh at. There is that structure in society where you don’t pick on certain people but then you have the acceptable targets. And Carrie is the acceptable target.

It’s always nice to see kids in age appropriate roles.
Isn’t it though?

Stephen King does this really well – making what we feel is our own specific experience really universal.
To quote him again, and this is an important point not just for Carrie but for any horror story, is that you have to get that investment in the people. If you care about the characters then when the situation gets crazy you fall in because you are concerned with the people. And I absolutely agree with you about character types. For some of the kids I said, if you really want to get into your character’s head, pick up the book. There is no better source for what your character is feeling, but in the cases of some characters who were rewritten a bit, I actually pointed them toward other books. The bully character shows up in Stephen King all the time.

Oh yeah, he’s like an archetype. She.
Certainly an archetype in King’s own work. In some ways they kind of refined the bully character in the musical to be a more pure bully than she was in the original book. She’s actually a lot nastier.

She’s a mean girl.
Very much.

And they sort of give you insight as to why she is that way? So it’s not just black and white.
Yes, they do. Especially her and a lot of the other mosters. That’s probably why they gave Margaret some vulnerable moments as well. So they bully has some vulnerable moments and the mother has some vulnerable moments so you see them more as human beings.

That’s very modern. We’ve come to expect that on television dramas anymore – everything is complicated. There are no good guys and bad guys so much as complicated people and a point of view. Some them are more good or do bad things but we’ve gotten away from that -
Right, the black and white, this is the good guy who will always be virtuous and here is the bad guy who never be virtuous.

I hadn’t really thought about it that clearly until now, but that’s cool. I know you’re short on sleep… is there anything else we need to hit?
The other thing, and I say this all the time when it comes to PTPA, for anyone who’s thinking about coming down – get the dinner. The food at PTPA is really good.

And you get a better seat.
And you do get a better seat. If you’re coming down from Scranton you’re probably going to be eating at a restaurant anyway.

So why bother to try and find one?
You’ll get as much if not more bang for your buck if you just have dinner there.

Good to know. Thanks for the recommendation.

Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@the570.com

The Artists’ Studio: Oct. 2, 1014

The Artists’ Studio: Oct. 2, 1014

Sublimity 45

Not unlike a text that constantly reveals new messages and layers of meaning with each reading, visual artists will often find a subject of their fixation revealing itself in new ways each time it is painted.
Leigh Pawling has painted grapefruits before. She eats one every day. Her most recent one is darker, and more textured. It is one of 45 12×12 inch panels composing her new Sublimity 45 series, completed as a retrospective of sorts with respects to her 45th birthday.
“I was really kind of intrigued with vertical lines. They’ve emerged more than ever in this show,” she told electric city & diamond city. “It sort of came to be the spring board. I would put vertical lines down and then on top of that, I would put an image.
It’s a technique to just get things out. There is always a lot of fear that comes into creating and sometimes there just has to be something you feel safe with.”
Her fascination with numbers is another motif that has appeared through her work over the years.
“I had a show at Marquis when I was 35 and I had 35 pieces, I think they were 6×6 inches, so these are bigger.”
The show is autobiographical in a sense.
“They are all based on my life and things that are important to me,” said Pawling.
“I made a list of images that I’ve done —salt and pepper shaker, fork, knife and spoon, I wanted to do people hugging. So I had a list to get the project off the ground and then I had the panels made.”
After hanging the panels, she worked on them all simultaneously, rearranging the configuration and eventually editing out a few pieces.
“I love drawing in pencil too and I went through a period when my drawing and my painting had the same sort of language and sometimes I even paint on top of the drawings,” she shared.
Sublimity 45 opens at Marquis Art & Frame on Center Street in Scranton on Friday, Oct. 3 with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. —ag

Nikki Moser. Handshake Deal, 2014. Cast iron, steel, aluminum.  Photos by Lori Ryan.

Nikki Moser. Handshake Deal, 2014. Cast iron, steel, aluminum. Photos by Lori Ryan.

Welcome to the Marcellus

Welcome to the Marcellus is less Nikki Moser’s opinion about natural gas drilling issues than it is an invitation to the viewer to become active in their consideration of NEPA’s geological, environmental and capitalist circumstances brought on by industry.
“I’m far more interested in creating an opening in all of the conversation where you can think about it in a new way, for yourself,” she said of her MFA Thesis project on display on the first floor of the AfA Gallery this month. Composed of only two pieces, the show opens Thursday, Oct. 2. An opening reception will be held on Friday, Oct. 3 from 6 to 9 p.m.
She described “Handshake Deal,” as an illusion and an allusion to what happens underground which we can’t really see we can only imagine based on what industry tells us the process is doing to the shale bed. So it’s this sort of fractured line … made in the positive. They bore a hole and then fracture all of the shale to create all these openings and I’ve filled the opening with cast iron.”
“The industry itself fractured the community. It created these lines that are fighting lines. Maybe not as dramatic as Civil War but it created very immediate fractures, kind of this rhizomic system of fractures in the community,” she noted.
“It polarized families and it polarized communities. It very hard to be a community.”

Nikki Moser. Do You Buy It?

Nikki Moser. Do You Buy It?

The second piece, titled “Do You Buy It?”, was previously displayed at AfA’s annual member show.
“It’s a kitschy tourist cart with merchandise and it says “Welcome to the Marcellus.” And it’s like a tourist farm stand kiosk with coffee cups with pipelines and danger flags and onesies with water and derricks. It’s this idea of the commodification of an industrial landscape. When we have nothing left to sell as tourist destination or as an agrarian culture we just sell souvenirs of the disaster,” she explained.
The art serves as a seductive beacon of sorts to draw the viewer as if along a tractor beam and then invites them to consider their ethics.
“These are personal conversations. They’ve become group conversations and then community conversations and then world conversations but they have to start on a personal level. And if we’re all just screaming at the top of our lungs the most polarizing thing that we can scream at each other, then no one things for themselves.”
A dance party benefit ($8) with music by DJ Walt Luke follows the opening reception on 9 p.m.


Curtain Call: Awake with Art

Curtain Call: Awake with Art

HowlRound Director Stirs Crowd at Annual Arts Breakfast

It wasn’t Dr. Polly K. Carl’s intention to sell copies of Elaine Scarry’s book On Beauty and Being Just when she got in the car with her spouse (and HowlRound content editor Lynette D’Amico) and drove to Scranton from Boston. But at least three people in the audience at the 5th annual Wake Up with the Arts breakfast at PNC Field on Tuesday morning carefully made note of the title which directed much of the keynote speaker’s talk. Those of you unable to attend can see the inspirational presentation on Electric City Television courtesy Comcast public access Channel 19.
When, as a member of the Lackawanna County Arts, Culture and Education Council event planning committee, I nominated Polly as a speaker, I did so out of instinct. I liked the stories I had read on the HowlRound.com journal. I recognized the value of livestreaming theatrical events to distant digital audiences. I spent too much time on twitter seeing Scranton’s problems echoed around the globe with the HowlRound hashtag #newplay. But I wouldn’t realize exactly how pertinent her message would be to all of those in NEPA struggling to create art out of thinning air until she started speaking. And I had no idea she was going to tell the story of my life.

Polly Carl

Polly Carl

“I was determined not to let the wonders and the possibilities of the world get past me,” she shared regarding her childhood growing up in Indiana with no almost access to fine art and theatre. Instead she hung out in the public library and transcended through the magic of books.
“I truly believe beauty as it expresses itself through art saved my life,” she confessed.
We all nodded knowingly.
“My romantic sense of how I think the world should be drives most everything I do,” Carl continued, describing this drive as a sort of internal directive to “find something more real than what seems achievable at the surface. For better or worse this is why I’ve chosen a life in the theater.”
Yes, that was the reason. Art invites us not only to “dream the impossible dream,” but gives us the power to turn those individual dreams into a shared reality.
“Love and beauty are inextricably linked. Don’t we find love in a shared sense of beauty?,” she asked.
I fell in love with the theater in second grade when I saw my aunt in a production of Godspell at Dunmore High School. I had already fallen in love with the stage watching my mom’s blind country singer/guitar teacher boyfriend George perform with his Western Swing band in late 70s California bars that didn’t care that I was there all wide-eyed in the front row pledging my undying devotion to the steel guitar. And then making my own debut in a community center talent show in San Mateo singing Roger Miller’s “I Love A Rodeo” in my first pair of cowboy boots while George dutifully strummed along.
I fell in love with opera in fifth grade when PBS aired The Life of Verdi television miniseries starring Ronald Pickup. In sixth grade, my book report on Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun took the form of a play in which I wore a peach-colored suit and slicked-back hair to play a man (this may have been the apex of my notable unpopularity). I fell in love with Tennessee Williams in high school and felt the electric shock potential of live theatre flow through my entire body in the audience of Marat/Sade.
Mom wanted me to be doctor, but Ginny Rickard assured me it was OK to be an artist if that’s what my heart wanted. So I went on to college and fell in love with Beckett and Brecht, Shakespeare and Euripides, Artaud, Sartre and Durang, Maria Irene Fornes and Holly Hughes and Anna Devere Smith. I learned the personal was political and social injustice is intimate and how to write what I wanted to see in the world but couldn’t find (Thanks, Buzz.) My first play won an award. My second play was staged in a basement coffee house. My third play won an award and was staged by the Playwrights’ Theatre of New Jersey. My fourth play was staged on the Drew University main stage. My fifth play and honors thesis was staged on the Drew University main stage under my own direction and upset a couple of my Wallflower friends so profoundly they never spoke to me again.
I learned art was beautiful and potent but the factory in which it was made horrified me. I had an identity crisis. I got lost and ended up in the desert giving birth to real live flesh and blood babies instead going to graduate school. My family proved so loud I couldn’t hear my own voice, but somewhere deeper, art was still driving me. I wrote hakius and pasted scraps of inspiration into journals for six years before divorce and I could hear myself think again. I had moved to Scranton and stage managed a Douglas Carter Beane play for a theatre company that couldn’t weather The Recession. Four plays later, I hit a brick wall and came to at electric city where I’ve been loving art in print for 13 years. Six years between scripts became three to “not everything has to be a full length,” to what can we do to just keep working despite no venues and vague resources in a broke city with poor self-esteem?
Polly Carl’s message was rooted in love and anchored with the same stubborn attachment to beauty that has propelled me as long as I can remember. It is not optimism to see abundance through HowlRound’s post-scarcity eyes. It is how we will survive. It is the only way we can stay close to our love in a culture that is at times inhospitable and at others downright hostile to art.
The shift from “I” to “we” thinking has begun and will continue as we see even more clearly that we are making art not in isolation but in a community. That we do not have to compete but rather can work together to find and share the resources that already exist.
“HowlRound is a form of civic engagement around art as something that belongs to everybody,” Carl explained. “The idea (of a commons) is to democratize the access to the arts and make it possible for everyone to experience beauty … everyone needs the opportunity to make room for art and beauty in their lives.”
We had all come to the Mohegan Sun Club overlooking the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees ball field on that stunning late September day to learn, she noted, quoting Elane Scarry:
“The willingness to continually revise one’s own location in order to place oneself in the path of beauty is the basic impulse underlying education. We submit ourselves to other minds to increase the chance that we’ll be looking in the right direction when beauty comes our way.”
When you are in love, you will find a way to be with that love whatever it takes. However it changes you. The obstacles will simply disappear.
Visit sites.google.com/site/ectvschedule for a schedule of ECTV programming to see when the 5th annual Wake Up with the Arts Breakfast program will be aired again.

Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@the570com.

Curtain Call: A Behanding in Spokane

Curtain Call: A Behanding in Spokane


Diva tries its hand at McDonagh

Born in London of Irish parents, contemporary playwright Martin McDonagh is better known for his plays The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Pillowman, The Cripple of Inishmaan and the films In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths than the off-color gem opening at The Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton this weekend.
Set somewhere in middle America ­— McDonagh’s first play set in the U.S.— A Behanding in Spokane premiered on Broadway in 2010.
“It’s pretty much like a Quentin Tatantino film on stage,” director Casey Thomas warned. “I picked it for its relevance, the fact that is shocking but still funny and I didn’t think about how it would affect people just coming for a night out.”
The show’s adult language and adult content is all very tongue-in-cheek and needs to be taken with a grain of salt, he suggested. The way McDonagh handles the element of racism and use of “the N-word” makes it somehow palatable.
“He flipped it on its head a little bit. He over used it and over did it and … you almost become numb to it. You get to dance around in this racism, but not have to be a part of it. It sort of taps into the guilty person in all of us, that we know is there and you’re able to sit back in the dark and laugh at it,” Thomas said. “It makes something silly out of something so serious.”
At first the director didn’t feel the play’s language was gratuitous, but after the repetitions of rehearsal he’s not so sure. Thomas suspect’s McDonagh’s intention was, in part, to be shocking, but it’s still a great show, he said.
“(Diva Theatre’s) Bob and Paige (Balitski) didn’t seem as concerned about it as I was. So I might be over-thinking it, because they have much more experience with audiences than I do,” Thomas said. “There is a desire for challenging material, both from local actors and patrons of the arts … and I think they know that,” he said.

From left: Terry Thompson, Tim McDermott, Jessica McDonough and Conor McGuigan star in A Behanding in Spokane.

From left: Terry Thompson, Tim McDermott, Jessica McDonough and Conor McGuigan star in A Behanding in Spokane.

Once his actors got done taking turns taking vacations, they walked into rehearsal excited about “getting dirty,” he said.
“They get to throw things. The physicality is great. They’re moving around like crazy,” Thomas said. “It’s so fast-paced that you don’t really have enough time to actually sit and think about what’s being presented. You just sort of go along with it.”
Conor McGuigan’s character Carmichael lost his hand in Spokane 27 years before the play begins and he’s since been on a quest across the country trying to get it back.
“This is where he finds himself in a new situation with these two kids, Marilyn (Jess McDonough) and Toby (Terry Thompson). They are a young couple — weed dealers — not bad kids just Middle American milk toast hustlers and they’re trying to scam this guy,” Thomas said.
The play’s fourth character Mervyn is played by Tim McDermott.
“He’s hysterical. He’s the nosy, speedy, goofy hotel receptionist guy who is supposed to be helping … he is the catalyst. He fuels everything that goes on and keeps the ball rolling.”
Creating the play’s run-down hotel room set has been an unexpected challenge, Thomas said.
“I’m finding it more difficult to make something look (expletive) than to make something look nice,” he laughed. “It still needs to be a picture. This is theatre. I’m not going to waste an opportunity and just make it a real dumpy hotel room. It’s got to have some character.”
A Behanding in Spokane runs Sept. 19-28 with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10-12. Call (570) 209-7766 or email info@theoldbricktheatre.com for reservations.
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@the570.com.

The Artists’ Studio: Sept. 18, 2014

The Artists’ Studio: Sept. 18, 2014

Above: Zuni Buffaloman a.k.a. Gary Grossmam

Frank Goryl of Moscow Clayworks shares the story behind the ceramic gallery’s Autumn Exhibit 2014

A lot of people know Gary from way back when but can you proivde some context for those newer to the art scene?
Gary was born and raised in Northeast Pennsylvania. I believe he did his undergraduate at Pratt and then came back and got a Masters in education or something at Marywood. He taught at Keystone (College) and was the first president of AfA. He was very, very active in the art scene back in the early days, the pre-AfA days. And one of the original founders of The AfA Gallery and the organization.
And you were hanging around with those guys, too?
I was one of the originals. I remember sanding the floors at AfA. I was on the original board. He’s a dear old friend of ours and subsequently, probably 15 or 20 years ago he moved to the West coast. Ended up living in Seattle for at least a decade and then recently, within the last three or four years, moved down to New Mexico. When we first went to see him he taught full time in a high school … and now he’s a full-time artist. He and I have talked about him doing a clay exhibit for a number of years. He’s been coming back every year or every other year in the fall… and so we’ve maintained contact. And about a year or so ago we said, let’s do an exhibit.
A lot of people are looking forward to it..
I know a lot of dear old friends of his from this area are really excited not only to see him but now to see what he’s been working on as an artist over the last couple of years.
EC18ART_4_WEBMost artists go through an evolution in terms of their work. Have you seen his work change?
I have not. I’m assuming since he said it’s work from the last 20 years there will be work there that will show his evolution over the years. His sister Ronnie came up from Florida and delivered half of the art work already. It’s all boxed; I haven’t opened it. And then he’s driving in with the rest of the work and then during the week we’ll be installing the show. So I don’t really know what work is there. It will be a real surprise for me as well.
EC18ART_2_WEBFrom what you have seen of his work, what impression has it left on you? What do you think is notable or remarkable about it?
Everyone who knows Gary knows that he is really inventive. He’s always been outside the mold. It’s always new and always refreshing. Not only from an artistic perspective but also as a personality. He’s always been in the forefront. Even going back 25 years ago — let’s get a group of artists together and do a gallery in Scranton. That kind of ability to organize people, ability to be visionary enough as an artist to move in a direction and know that it’s going to work out and I think that his art work reflects that as well. It’s never been conventional. It’s never been about making work to sell the work. It’s more about making art to make art and he’s always been driven that way. He’s somebody you look up to as an artist and say, “I like that lifestyle.” And his artwork reflects that style. He’s always been one of the most unique people I’ve ever known.
You’re also going to have live music?
Robbie Walsh usually plays for us at the receptions. He’s done it for five or six years now that we’ve been doing these and at one of the events locally we found out that Ward Roe is taking guitar lessons with him. You know, Ward is chair of the art department at Keystone and I teach at Keystone and I said, “Robbie, see if you can get Ward to play.” So he’s going to be making his musical debut for us playing along with Robbie. He needed a little bit of prodding.
You don’t have to play by yourself …
He was like, “I don’t really have a lot of songs to do and are you sure you have to put me on the flyer?” And I’m like, “Come on Ward, it will be good for the students. They’ll see that you’re multi-talented.” And Robbie had to twist his arm a little bit with the stage fright thing but it will be fun for everybody. It works out nice that we’ll be able to do this for the fall equinox. A nice way to bring in the cool weather.

Zuni Buffaloman artist’s statement

Art is by its own nature very subjective.
That being said, I choose to be considered as a creator/maker of objects. This is a very open-ended statement by intent. If I refer to myself as an artist, there are immediate pre-judgements and expectations. There may even be unjustified competitiveness arising from “artists” and egos.
I create/make objects inspired by my thoughts, observations, and experiences. These three things, combined with the love of materials, tools, and technical knowledge, allow me to flow from ideas, to working, to finished objects.
The constant for me remains in the experience and process of creating/making objects. It is the joy in my life!
If you go:
What: Volver (to return): Clayworks from the last 20 years, PA to NM
When: Sunday, Sept. 21, 5-8 p.m.
Where: Moscow Clayworks, 223 N. Main Street, Moscow
Info: Call (570) 357-1627 or visit moscowclayworks.com