Anderson offers ‘Another Tempest’
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.
Playwright Robert Anderson
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 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.
Anderson with frequent collaborator, musician Jason Smeltzer
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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?
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.
Shells are interpreted as artistic ability, change of consciousness, emotional stability, the goddess, good fortune in relationships, good news, good outcome in legal matters, happiness near water, luck, money, rebirth, safe return, spiritual awareness… -LP
Swimming in open water is transcendental to me. I lose myself; the rhythm, the occasional cool spots invigorate me, and of course it’s all that much better with (my dog) Weez swimming along with me. -LP
This image (left) came from an old photograph by Rudolf Kopppitz (1884-1936) Motion Study. It inspired the large paintings that will be shown at Marquis in Scranton often times many graphite works precede my paintings. I do a drawing a day— I love it. -LP
Black pepper represents the dark – the shadow. My uncle says we wouldn’t know the light without the dark. -LP
Coffee – my mom drank her coffee black and strong and so do my two sisters and I, very early in the morning. I sit and bring her spirit into quiet time – she likes it. -LP
The closed hand represents being closed to life. When I am closed, I am closed to everything and it’s not a fun place to be in. However, I know and accept that nothing lasts forever. Like the moon, I wax and wane. -LP
Grapefruits are included in my diet daily. I love them – juicy, sweet and oh so good for the body. -lp
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.
“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.
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.
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 email@example.com for reservations.
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Most 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.
From 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
Above: Herbert Simon. HBS/Fragmented. Hard ground etching, 10 x 8 inches. 2004.
Object & Image: Sculptures & Prints by Herbert Simon (1960-2014) opened Monday, Sept. 8 at The Hope Horn Gallery at The University of Scranton and will remain on display through Oct. 10. A lecture will be offered at Brennan Hall on Friday, Sept. 12 at 5 p.m. followed by a reception in the gallery.
The exhibition features both abstract and representational works from the artist and educator’s 55 year career.
“The interplay and dialogue between abstraction and representation is the thing which continues to challenge me,” he wrote in an introduction to the catalogue for the show.
Most notably, Simon taught at Wilkes University from 1969 and 1992 and is widely known in The 570 for his public art commissions, including the aluminum sculpture on the side of the Stark Learning Center at Wilkes University and a large aluminum piece titled “Aloft” at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International airport.
Call (570) 941-4214 or email email@example.com for more information.
Herbert Simon. Batman and Robin Over City and Bad Guys. Hand-colored hard ground etching and aquatint, 20 x 21 inches. 2011. Herbert Simon. Batman and Robin in the City. Bronze, 21 x 19 x 13 3/4 inches. 2000-2001.
Herbert Simon. Whirlygig. Aluminum, 36 x 22 x 22 inches. 1977.
Two Modules and Wilkes-Barre City Skyline at Coal Street Park. Photograph, 8 x8 inches. 1977.
Herbert Simon with Two Modules During Fabrication at Lynwood Welding. Photograph, 8 x 10 inches. 1977.
Herbert Simon. Hokusai Revisited I. Aquatint, 10 x 12 inches. 2010.
Herbert Simon. Hokusai Revisited II. Aquatint, 10 x 12 inches. 2010.
Herbert Simon. Three Caravels. Bronze, 19 1/8 x 17 x 13 1/4 inches. 1995-1996.
Herbert Simon. Tennessee Autobiographical. Bronze, 23 3/4 x 10 x 83/4 inches. 1995.
From left: Patricia McAvoy, John Arena, Tom Malone, and Carla Reck star in The Cocktail Hour by A.R. Gurney, opening Actors Circle’s 33rd season at Providence Playhouse in Scranton with a preview on Thursday Sept. 11 and continuing through Sept. 21. Shows Thursday through Saturday start at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 or $10 for seniors and only $8 for students. Tickets to the preview performance on Sept. 11 are only $6-8. Call (570) 342-9707 for more information or visit actorscircle.org for more information. — photos by alicia grega
Family Downs Dysfunction with Spirit in Actors Circle’s ‘Cocktail Hour’
Stinging insects aside, you don’t hear much talk about WASPs these days. The term used commonly in mid-century America to describe that certain privileged portion of wealthy, white, northwestern European-Americans is used so rarely in 2014, it’s hard to be sure if it’s offensive or not. Let’s hope not, because the early work of playwright A.R. Gurney has been so closely identified with that WASP-culture it’s hard to talk about a play like The Cocktail Hour without that label coming up.
We asked the director of Actors Circle’s new production of the play, David Hunisch, what differentiates the WASP at a rehearsal last weekend. In addition to that upper-class conceit, he said, there is tendency to “keep everything very bottled up.” The Cocktail Hour’s action depends on one family’s latent resentments bubbling to the surface as its eldest male son, John (Tom Malone), brings home an autobiographical play he’s written for his family’s approval.
“They are not happy about it. They are very conservative and his play is very frank. It brings up a lot of issues a lot of things he has assumed about his parents and sister,” Hunisch said. “Even if the audience is not from a WASP or upper class background, audiences will recognize the family dynamics,” he said.
“They’ll understand the “family fights and squabbles… the things that pull people (apart) and bring them back together after time. Working out problems,” added cast member Carla Reck who plays John’s sister Nina.
Nina is the most over-the-top character, Hunisch said. Her gripe is not so much that the material is personal but that she has such a small part to play in it.
“It’s a relatively minor role, is the joke,” said Reck. “For her, the worst part about John’s play is that she is not featured prominently in it, when she does so much for the family while her two brothers are away doing their own thing.”
The oldest of the three siblings — her youngest brother is discussed but does not appear in the play — Nina is married to a banker in New York City and is looking for something to fulfill her now that her own children are grown. She has a dream of working with dogs which comes out as the alcohol loosens her up.
“When she’s drinking she explains in great detail how she feels when she’s around animals,” laughed Reck.
“The cocktail hour, especially for WASPs was a very important part of their culture, and this was set in the ‘70s when that (culture) was starting to fall apart,” Hunisch noted. “The two kids are very much on their own and living in the ‘70s but the parents are still almost back in their prime — the ‘40s and ‘50s. When the topic of theater comes up, they bring up the Lunts and Katherine Hepburn and people they have experienced on stage a time when theater was very elegant and very gracious. And by the time the ‘70s comes along things have changed. They have gotten much more kitchen-sink realism and they can’t accept that.”
Like the fictional John’s play, The Cocktail Hour is largely autobiographical on Gurney’s part.
“This is probably his most autobiographical play. The character John, the playwright who Tom (Malone) plays is basically Gurney,” the director said.
With only four characters, he said, it’s a good play for the space.
While John Arena, who plays the family’s patriarch Bradley, and Reck have worked together before, the rest of the cast hadn’t been acquainted until The Cocktail Hour went into rehearsal. Unlike Arena, who has been in the last three shows Actors Circle has staged, Patricia McAvoy, who plays Bradley’s wife Ann, hasn’t been on stage since the ‘70s due to the unpredictable hours of restaurant industry work from which she recently retired.
Tom Malone is on stage for the first time since childhood after his daughter, who enjoyed her own theatrical experience at a Scranton Cultural Center camp this summer, challenged him to audition.
“I think this play didn’t come out until Gurney’s father had died,” Malone said. “It’s not a play within in a play so much as it is a play about the play. If you watch the references and catch on, it really is about what’s happening — this thing that’s sitting on stage the whole time.
McAvoy likened the play’s meta-theatrical layers to a matryoshka doll.
“What he wrote is exactly what happened on stage,” Arena explained.
“You see it unfold before your eyes,” added Malone. “John has been putting on plays since he was a kid and he’s been apparently writing them for about 15 years. His father thinks it’s just a hobby but John thinks, ‘This is my life. My life depends on putting plays out, especially this one, about the family.’”
Although the playwright denies it throughout the play, said Malone, seeking their approval of his work is really about the love and the warmth he feels for all of them.
Meanwhile “Pop” feels “like he’s being neglected and people are leaving him and he is very upset to the point where he thinks he is dying over it,” Arena said.
“His reputation is what is important to him and that his kids follow in his footsteps more or less. And they all want to go off and do their own thing,” he said. “I accuse my oldest son of making fun of our way of life and our family in his play, in all of his plays, and I don’t want it done. And I am willing to pay a lot of money for him not to do it. I don’t want our family being made fools out of in the eyes of the world.”
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carla Reck, John Arena
From left: Patricia McAvoy, John Arena, Tom Malone, Carla Reck
From left: Patricia McAvoy, John Arena, Tom Malone, Carla Reck
From Left: Carla Reck, John Arena, Patricia McAvoy, Tom Malone
From left: Patricia McAvoy, John Arena, Tom Malone, Carla Reck
From Left: Carla Reck, John Arena, Patricia McAvoy, Tom Malone
Patricia McAvoy, Tom Malone
From left: Patricia McAvoy, John Arena, Tom Malone, Carla Reck
Above: Salvatore Infantino stars as Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me if You Can.
Catch Me If You Can Opens Little Theatre’s 92nd Season on Saturday
Frank Abangale Jr.’s story is a product of its time. It’s almost impossible to imagine a teenager cashing millions of dollars in forged checks, seducing numerous adult women and successfully passing himself off as a doctor, lawyer and pilot in 2014.
The true story, featuring FBI agents in hot pursuit of a teen con, was wild even for the 1960s. Abagnale’s autobiography inspired a 2002 film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks and more recently a stage musical with book by Terrence McNally (The Full Monty, Ragtime) and a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray).
The regional premier production of Catch Me if You Can opens at Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre on Saturday under the direction of Mike Wawrzynek, with musical direction by Hollie Major and choreography by Samantha Schguardt.
Katie Owens is the musical’s scenic designer and also appears in the cast’s ensemble. The show’s 60s setting is a large part of its appeal she told electric city and diamond city.
Owens graduated from Elizabethtown College with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry in the spring and took advantage of post-collegiate joblessness to put her minor in theater to the test and has been working on the show almost full-time.
“I was used to striking the set, doing the (reverse) construction of taking down the sets that were built for each show and for my last year I actually worked as part of the scenic shop learning how to build sets … as well as taking classes in scenic design,” she said.
She took the “groovy” look and feel of classic ‘60s television for the show’s colors and flowing shapely lines.
“Frank Jr. is kind of in his own little world. He is trying to tell his story but he doesn’t want it to seem boring, he wants it like a TV show,” said Owens. “The colors are typical of the advertisements … the blue and pink, very bright vibrant colors. His life was truly multicolored.”
Abagnale’s “jetsetting” required numerous locales be incorporated into the design.
“We had to choose which moments we wanted to be very realistic and where we wanted to go with that look of the TV set,” she said.
As a member of the ensemble, she particularly enjoy’s the show’s opening number, “Live In Living Color.”
“(Frank) opens it up with a bang. It’s a really cool number. It’s one of those really vivacious, lively numbers you just have a lot of fun singing and dancing in,” said Owens.
From the wings she’s had a lot of laughs watching Savlatore Infantino and Dane Bower play off each other as Frank Jr. and Sr.
“The number ‘Butter Outta Cream,’” she said, “is a song about making the best out of everything. There’s always a bright side to the downside and they just have a blast on stage together. It’s really great to see them work together.”
A native of Jamaica, 23-year-old Akeem Nugent is also a member of the ensemble. He got his start in theatre through dance, taking ballet lessons at the Joan Harris Centre in Luzerne shortly after moving to the U.S. last year. Catch Me if You Can is his first show at Little Theatre and only his second musical theatre show ever. Earlier this summer he filled the need for ‘racial diversity’ in Theatre at the Grove’s production of Hair.
“It’s a show that challenges societal norms,” he said. “It’s a bit out there and a bit risque and I said sure, I’ll try it. And then a week before the show goes on the African-American lead dropped out. And the said, ‘Oh Akeem, you are going to be the lead. You have to learn all these songs and lines in one week.’”
It was the applause he said that’s kept him coming back. The experience was “exhilarating.”
“It was surreal,” Nugent laughed.
Even though he realized he was too old to embark on a career in dance, after moving to NEPA he still wanted to have the chance to feel what it would feel like to be on stage “dancing for a packed house.”
“When I was in Jamaica I was obsessed with the arts and the elegance and beauty of ballet. I think it really transcends everything normal. But I didn’t really have a chance to (pursue) it in Jamaica,” he said.
His favorite number in Catch Me if You Can is “Someone Else’s Skin.” The song is about transforming and morphing yourself into different people, which is essentially what’s required of you on stage as a performer, he said.
“You’re stepping out of your own body, your own personality. If you are quiet and introverted in real life, when you get on stage you have to really project and transform into whomever that character is, which is what Frank does throughout the musical.”
The greatest challenge has been rehearsing music and dance separately and then later bringing them together.
“I’m not used to the dancing and singing and the dancing takes so much out of me. So I’m now trying to develop this talent of multitasking.”
The cast of Catch Me if You Can also features Salvatore Infantino as Frank Abagnale Jr., Tom Franko as FBI agent Carl Hanratty, and Dane Bower as Frank Abagnale Sr. Other featured players include Wemdi Newell, Jennifer Smeraldo, Alice Lyons, Kevin Holbert, Deirdre Lynch, Mason Riepert, John Beppler and John Bubul.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Catch Me if You Can
WHERE: Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre
WHEN: Sept. 6-14, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m.
TICKETS: All seats are $20. Call (570) 823-1875 for reservations or visit www.ltwb.org for more information.
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: email@example.com.
NACL Theatre’s Weather Project Turns Spotlight on Town
The show would have gone on rain or shine, but the weather was perfect. More than 70 people took part in the NACL Theatre’s pageant-style Weather Project production at Yulan ball field near Highland, New York (about an hour drive from Scranton) last Saturday evening. Several 100s more filled a pavilion to watch what a year’s worth of workshops, research, creative experimentation and rehearsal plays like.
NACL Theatre or North American Cultural Laboratory is one of 80 organizations to receive a $50,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts with community partners including Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development, among others.
Derived without shame from The Wizard of Oz, the story followed a group of school students whisked away from their science fair presentation on climate change to Solar Town. Their quest down the solar brick road with science teacher Mr. Stellar to the Golden Garden led them to real NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies climate change scientist Elaine Matthews in beekeeping garb, who would give them a very simple answer to their impossibly complex question. What can be done? “Live with less.”
Matthews just so happens to own a home down the road from NACL’s theater and volunteered to assist The Weather Project after reading about it in a local paper. To see a real, mature, female scientist featured with such authority was a revelation. This wasn’t a project about making “high art.” This was a project about making a real difference in real people’s lives using the conventions of art and performance and their power to communicate above and beyond the usual obstacles of language. As the “Solar Munchkins” sauntered out in red capes and backwards caps and sang an appropriately science-themed Weird Al style parody to the tune of “Moves Like Jagger,” you wondered what it must mean in the scope of the lives of these young people to be experiencing their entire town clapping along.
The “set” was flanked by risers of real windows each uniquely decorated by a local visual artist. It was backed by a grooving jazz band and trio of female singers providing live accompaniment. The contribution of professionals like Brett Keyser as weather reporter Stu Starkweather and a thoughtfully-choreographed trio of svelte dancers also helped keep the action flowing. Keyser led the project’s stilt-walking workshop that resulted in a gang of six stormy performers who circled the students with a bolt of watery blue fabric to create a tornado early in the play, a tsunami wave later on and the exploding chaos that returned our students home from Solar Town at play’s end.
While NACL has repeatedly said it’s position was for conversation regarding climate change and the Weather Project did not intend to take a position, we certainly didn’t see a presence from anyone suggesting climate change is not a threat. When the “fossil fuel gang” drove up in its red jaguar convertible, project’s director Tannis Kowalchuck held her fist out, thumbs down, cueing the audience to boo. We wondered if any of those booing would feel guilty walking through the sea of cars that had brought us all there to go home and back to reality. This fictional Fossil Fuel gang, although scored by an awesomely angsty teen rock band, was not much of a threat — they didn’t even get out of the car and our student protagonists didn’t have to confront them.
The Weather Project made it very clear that in the climate change war, we, the audience, are our own worst enemy. We are guilty for listening to the data and still not caring. The problem starts with us and, therefore, so must the solution. We need to keep searching.
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond.
Send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Global face of climate change?
Row of decorative umbrellas marked the line between the parking lot and performance areas.
Dharma, The Wonder Dog represents The River Reporter.
Not surprised to see artist John Bromberg and his Corn Maiden puppet in attendance.
Windows decorated by artists from the community flanked each side of the playing area.
Our student protagonists give a science fair presentation on climate change when a “tornado” on stilts whisks them away to Solar Town.
On a windy day, those umbrellas may carry you away.
Mr. Stellar is reunited with his students on the Solar Brick Road.
Stilt-walking storm clouds
Not to be confused with members of a post-rapture cult (a la HBO’s The Leftovers), community members dressed in white carry bird puppets.
Brett Keyser as Stu Starkweather.
The Fossil Fuel Gang
You can make all kinds of weather theatrics with a long blue sheet and a crew of stormy looking stilt-walkers.
A river of blue flows from one of the stilt-walkers. NACL artistic director Tannis Kowalchuck (in red and white kimono) looks on.
Dancers perform with painted umbrella ribs.
Watching and waiting for their entrance.
Our students and Mr. Stellar share a preference for red sneakers.
Perhaps The Weather Project’s most perplexing character – a “mermaid counting extinctions.”
Stilt-walkers confront audience.
Dance sequence in blue sky and cloud shorts.
Looking up at stilt-walkers.
Featuring real life scientist Elaine Matthews as The Great Scientist.
The Great Scientist Elaine Matthews tends to her bees in The Golden Garden.
Blur of stilt-walkers passing by.
Brett Keyser as Stu Starkweather.
An explosion of red – split second of theater magic caught in a still frame.
Curtain call exit.
Curtain call exit.
Stilt walker with donation bucket following the pageant.
Another one of many artistic touches created during a year’s worth of preparation for Saturday’s pageant performance.
Pennsylvania dancer Bunny Bedford (above) was the first runner up for the Crystal Corset Award in 2012 and will return for this year’s festival.
Fifth Annual Festival Brings PA Burlesque Back to Jim Thorpe
Producer Brooke Burke knew after her first burlesque benefit for the Mauch Chunk Opera House that she wanted to continue to present similar shows indefinitely.
“We were sold out and the response was so enormous there was no going back,” she said.
Boolesque followed that October, allowing what was then Jim Thorpe Burlesque to present neo-burlesque performances — more performance art, less gowns, gloves and boas and conceptual and scene-based pieces — in addition to classical burlesque dance numbers.
Now known as The Pennsylvania Burlesque Festival, the event spent its last two years in Philadelphia. It happily returns to its home base in The 570 this weekend for its fifth anniversary.
“Philly has its good points, but they just don’t get it,” Burke laughed. “Their concept of burlesque is really raunchy. It’s just not what we do … actually in this little town of Jim Thorpe, our audience is much more refined. And they’re more polite, too.”
The experiment was a good one, enabling Burke to attract performers that probably would not have gone to Jim Thorpe out of the gate. In year five, it’s not an issue. One of the only festivals in the U.S. that doesn’t require a submission fee, PA Burlesque reviewed approximately 107 applications this year, each entering two to three video recorded acts for consideration. Selected performers include local dancers as well as talents from as far away as Australia.
“I tried [charging a fee] but after a couple of weeks, I thought ‘I don’t care if this is how everybody else does it. I don’t feel good about it,’” she said. “I have the feeling that burlesque festivals in general are an animal that’s created its own extinction. They tend to charge performers for everything. They don’t get paid to perform. They don’t get their lodging or anything comped. They are supposed to just come for the thrill and prestige of being on whathisface’s stage in Maryland or New York.”
PA Burlesque is the only festival in the country that gives away a cash prize, she noted, adding that the only title that really means much in the burlesque community is Miss Exotic World, awarded by the Burlesque Hall of Fame. Dancers can spend as much as $9000 on a dress to compete. And it’s not like winning a title is going to land major endorsement deals. Even a few extra gigs isn’t going to net anyone a lot of cash these days.
“The only one who is famous is Dita von Teese and she’s less famous for being a burlesque performer than she was for dating Marilyn Manson,” Burke said.
PA Burlesque’s 2014 Headliner Medianoche was a cast member on Dita von Teese’s touring show for a while, the producer confirmed.
Although burlesque festivals may have a shelf-life, Burke feels that the genre of performance itself is more of a self-cleaning oven.
“The people who are in it for the wrong reasons will get burned out, just like in any other industry. But those who are careful about curating a good show and treating performers well will have a marketable product for years to come,” she said.
A Burlesque Starr Was Born
A native of Allentown, burlesque star Penny Starr has performed in either Scranton or Wilkes-Barre. She can’t remember which. The dancer just turned 81-years-young on July 31— we won’t hold it against her.
All of her costumes, clippings and other career momentos were lost in a fire in 1985. What we know for sure is that she was good enough then to be named Atlantic City’s Miss Bump-and-Grind 1963, and she’s in demand enough today to say she won’t work without a contract.
“They want me in New York, Alaska, Germany, Hawaii,” Starr told electric city and diamond city. “I guess they’re all starting to talk about this now. I won’t go unless they pay transportation and put me up … I need to have protection and that contract protects me.”
Penny Starr came out of retirement in 2012 to perform at Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas with her granddaughter Augusta Avallone who, after making a documentary on LosAngeles neo-burlesque troupe The Velvet Hammer (http://youtu.be/rD8bJqjWmQE), began performing herself under the name Penny Starr Jr.
In those “dark years,” between hanging up her boa and returning to the spotlight two years ago, she took care of a former husband (one of six) who had diabetes and her mother who developed Alzheimer’s.
“I was real rusty when I went back on stage. I was nervous as heck, but I got through it and now I’m getting a lot of confidence.”
She stays in shape by doing aquatics at the Jewish Community Center, and at Friday’s PA Burlesque fundraising gala, she will perform a new routine to “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke.
“My numbers were ‘Harlem Nocturne’ or some kind of blues. This is the first time I’m doing something fast,” she laughed. “I’m really working at this because, this is not my kind of music, but everybody wants me to do something new. So I’m gonna try … I’ll be wearing aqua. I’m noted for my big boas.”
It was after a burlesque show at Allentown Brew Works that the senior dancer approached Brooke Burke of Dragontown Corsets about making a corset for her. Burke is also producer of the PA Burlesque Festival which she emcees as Madame Corsetiere, and encouraged the legend to dance solo in Jim Thorpe’s annual Boolesque event in October 2013. This year, Starr has worked the Southern Fried Burlesque festival in Atlanta, Victory Variety Hour in Las Angeles and then returned to Vegas. The publicity she’s gotten from these performances has resulted in calls from nursing homes asking her not to strip, but to tell the story of her life.
Back in 1957, she was not, as Avallone wrote in an article about that first performance together, “the kind of woman who wanted to go into the typing pool.” Starr was, rather, the mother of a couple of school-aged children who left the kids with her own mother and ran away with the circus. Starr’s mom loved show business — the dancer’s birth name was Janet Gaynor (Colby) after the star of the 1937 film A Star is Born — and was nothing but supportive. It helped that Starr, known off-stage today as Penny Roberts, sent money home for the kids. The fact that the marriage Starr entered right out of high school hadn’t work out, paved the way for her career.
It was her doctor and childrens’ godfather that encouraged her to “get it out of her system” in 1957. When the Cristiani Bros. Circus came through town Janet/Penny signed up. She started out as a trapeze artist, but spent more time in the safety net than in the air.
“My timing was terrible,” she laughed.
So they gave her a dance number with Lucy, the elephant that ended with her on the ground and the elephant’s foot looming over her.
“I used to think, ‘Lucy all you have to do is step and I’m done.’”
When Penny left the circus a year later to work as a dancer in the Tampa gentlemen’s club Guys and Dolls, it was her mother who would suggest the stage name Penny Starr, a mashup of her two favorite movies A Star is Born and Pennies From Heaven.
“My mother gave me dancing lessons — tap and acrobatics — since I was three years old. And when I got older, I danced at all the clubs. In fact, they couldn’t pay me, they paid my mother, because I was a minor. I did all the revues at West Club and Park. I just loved dancing,” she said.
Going into Guys and Dolls, she had no idea what she was doing, but the other girls showed her the ropes. She got herself a red sequined dress and danced to The Lady in Red (an old jazz standard.)
“There were a lot of girls. There were no CDs, it was all live music and they would go on one after another the whole night through. I didn’t like that. I wanted to star. I didn’t want to be just one of the girls so I worked myself up to being the last girl and then I went to the Chesterfield Show Bar” she recalled. “And then I decided I wanted to come home for a little bit with mom.”
Starr joined a carnival to travel north.
“I became a cooch girl and there I learned. There I really learned,” she said.
Once she got back to Pennsylvania, she found herself an agent, joined the union and started earning “big bucks.”
“I would make $500-600 a night,” Starr said. “He would book me in a club, usually from Thursday to Saturday and it would be a good $1500 to $1600 a check. It was all contracts. You don’t get that today. I belonged to the union and I would only work union houses.”
The first thing a dancer did when arriving to a new town, she said, was visit the Vice Squad.
“They take a picture, they take your prints and you get a card. And they watched the clubs. I liked the vice squad because it was safety,” she offered. “They watched rehearsals. You could not show the crack of your rear. You had to be covered. There was no pasties or stuff like that. It was dancing. I always said, ‘I’m not a stripper I’m an exotic.’”
They show more today than they ever did in Penny’s heyday, she agreed.
“I would never have been able to work with my rear end shaking out like that,” she giggled.
That didn’t discourage admirers, though. There were always roses delivered to the clubs, Starr said. Once she found a fox stole in her dressing room. The gifts were always anonymous.
“For a year I used to get flowers every week and I still to this day do not know (who they were from.) The woman at the florist would not tell me.”
Her first poodle was a gift brought to her in a little basket at a club.
“Everybody knew I wanted a poodle. That was Cashmere Buttons. A couple of years later I got another one and I named it after a bottle of champagne — Piper-Heidsieck. They knew how to travel. They were allowed to go to the cocktail lounge and they would sit on the barstool and drink water in a cocktail glass.”
Starr later worked The Cotton Club in Atlantic City and shared the stage with Dinah Washington, Dizzy Gillespie and Pearl Bailey.
“It was a real good life,” she said.
The 5th annual Pennsylvania Burlesque Festival runs Friday through Sunday, Aug. 8-10 in downtown Jim Thorpe and includes classes and a “Burlesque Bazaar” marketplace in addition to performances both Friday and Saturday nights at the historic Mauch Chunk Opera House. More information on classes and performers is available at paburlesque.com. Among those scheduled to perform are: Headliner Medianoche (medianocheburlesque.com), Dulce Devine, Lucky Minx, Lucy Sky Diamond, Mistress Moxie, Magdalena Fox, Nina La Voix, Ula Uberbusen, Velvet Kensington, Puppie Buffe, Rosie Cheeks, Scarlet Starlet, Sizzle Dizzle, Amber Ray, Bunny Bedford, Venus Mantrapp, Miss Poison Ivory, ‘Stache and burlesque legend Penny Starr (Friday only).
Presale internet tickets are half-off ($10-12.50 plus service fee). Remaining tickets will be available for sale at the box office after 5 p.m. the night of each show while they last. Call (570) 807-8891 or visit paburlesque.com for more information.
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond.
Send email to: email@example.com.
Miss Poison Ivoery
July Evening Light, Seneca Lake, Burdett, NY. Brian Keeler.
First Friday Scranton Highlights
All four seasons in The 570 have something wonderful to offer, but it’s hard not to be a little partial to the more temperate summer weather that pumps up the First Friday Scranton crowds. People watching can be as much of a draw as the art walk’s exhibitions and live performances.
Among August’s highlights are an exhibition of recent plein air oils of Italy and Maine, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania by Brian Keeler titled “Topography of Light.” Opening at Laura Craig Gallery on Linden Street on Friday, Aug. 1 with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m., the show also features studio painted landscapes, like the image at left titled “July Evening Light, Seneca Lake, Burdett, NY” (oil on linen 38 inches by 44 inches). The painting is featured on the cover of Keeler’s new book Dramatic Color in the Landscape, which will be available for sale at the exhibit for only $30 and which the artist will be on hand to sign.
ArtWorks Gallery & Studo on the 500 block of Lackawanna Avenue will open a solo show by Scranton native Samantha Glevick titled Mindscapes. The artist graduated from Syracuse University this year after first attending PrattMWP College of Art and Design.
The images on display in Mindscapes, like “Street Surfing,” (at right) appropriates “imagery from my travels through instant street view maps and the mundane environments that I’m surrounded by,” she explained. “I have learned over time that life is about struggling and coping. My work plays on the fine line of vulnerability, instinct, consciousness and gender identity. Memories of experiences or foreboding clairvoyance’s manifest within my sub-conscious. These fragments of daily imagery are altered and manipulated until I am satisfied with the final synthesis … Much as a layout of tarot cards, the result often reveals information regarding private details of my life.”
If you haven’t been to the Slingluffs’ new Forage Space gallery at 310 North Washington Avenue, First Friday brings one last chance to see Benjamin Adcroft’s latest exhibition “Goodnight Moon.” The collection includes portraits of wolves, friends and nudes and small wood construction pieces from barn wood. Forage Space replaces the Slingluffs’ previous gallery at 527 Bogart Court.
The Vintage will dedicate its First Friday Scranton festivities to a visual art kick-off of its 24 Hours of Art marathon officially launching Saturday, Aug. 2 at noon with hugs and other welcoming gestures. View artwork by Marina Daniel and Sam Kuchwara and enjoy live music by Foolish Hugh. Sponsored in part by the Lackawanna County Department of Arts & Culture, all 24 Hours of Art events are offered by donation. See full schedule at left.
The Vintage: 24 Hours of Art: Aug. 2-3
Noon: Hugging / greeting/ kickoff
1 p.m. Lip sync battle
2 p.m. NEPWC open poetry reading / critique Group
3 & 4 p.m. Spirited Art: acrylic painting class
5 p.m. Improv comedy workshop w/ Conor O’Brien
6 p.m. Mermen. Staged reading of a new play by Roya Fahmy
7 & 8 p.m. Drawing Social w/Ted Michalowski feat. live music by Dan Rosler/ Ed Cuozzo/ Chelsea Smarr/ Jason Smeltzer/ Dio
9 p.m. CM (hip hop group)
10 & 11 p.m. Steel Reels – open film critique
Midnight: Scranton Story Slam — Midnight Stories with featured storytellers Lorrie Loughney, Casey Thomas and Victoria Boost
1 a.m. Stand Up Comedy featuring 11 local comedians
2 & 3 a.m. Unorganized Business improv comedy performance
4-7 a.m. Movie screenings
10 a.m. Musical easels
11 a.m. Wrap up
Balcony: 11:30 a.m. Flame and Shadow, Spark and Smoke: Meditations on Passion feat. John Bert (performance art)
Alley: 3 p.m. Vintage Ensemble Performance; 5 p.m. Constance Denchy in Regina di Torta
Backroom: 1 p.m. Group mural project with artists Sam Kuchwara and Marina Daniel
PNC Park @ Penn & Spruce: Noon-6 p.m. Vendors and acoustic music
6 a.m. Morning yoga
7 a.m. Wright Center presentation
8 a.m. Breakfast picnic
This Saturday, July 26, Scranton will again be home to Arts on the Square, Scranton’s largest arts festival, according to its organizers and the city’s Best New Event of 2013, according to Electric City readers.
Arts on the Square organizers Cristin Powers and Chrissy Manuel, both of ScrantonMade, said they are pleased to see their celebration in its sophomore year.
“The county approached us,” said Manuel. “The arts and culture department, as well as the commissioners, were looking to do something really supportive of our art community and they saw our partnership with the Scranton Cultural Center the holiday beforehand, so they asked if we would like to partner with them in throwing an event on the square.”
Crafters, painters, photographers, musicians and more than 110 vendors will line Courthouse Square. The event will be kid-friendly with an activities tent and Spirited Art instructors’ art classes. There will also be adult and teen art classes, yoga classes in the lawn, a slow-motion video booth, live painting and other entertainment.
“People can literally spend the day there,” said Manuel. “There will be food trucks, ice cream and places to hang out and sit on the lawn. Last year, we saw a lot of people who brought blankets and just hung out on the lawn, which is really cool to see around here, because you don’t really see that often. You see that more in a bigger park or a bigger city.”
A first this year is yarn bombing, which will be one of the installation pieces for Saturday’s event. A yarn bomb, or yarn storm, is a form of removable graffiti that uses knitted or crocheted pieces in place of chalk or paint. Annie Cadden of Fisher Cat Fiber Co. said the yarn bombing is already a success. “The people who wanted to get involved are all so positive and they are all people who don’t even know each other. They will all meet on Friday,” she said.
Yarn bombing is typically a solo project and something done on a creative whim. This piece is planned, but Cadden said she looks forward to seeing what is created with so many influences and artists’ visions.
Ryan Hnat is a painter who was part of the open-air gallery at last year’s Arts on the Square. This year will be the first year that he and his wife, a photographer, will have their own booth, Hnat Designs.
“We’re actually still working on putting our booth together, because this is our first actual festival,” said Hnat. “A lot of vendors travel to several festivals a year, but we haven’t done it yet. This is an exciting time. I really like supporting the growth of art in Scranton and that’s one reason why we got involved.”
Many of the vendors appreciate the focus on local. Billie Jean Williams, owner of Designs by Billie Jean, said she was one of last year’s featured artists for Arts on the Square, but is a regular vendor at many regional festivals and craft fairs. When asked to compare Arts on the Square to other festivals, she said that the city’s affair is “more concentrated on the local crafters of Scranton and the surrounding areas.”
Some of the vendors will show and sell their wares, but others will create right on the spot. There will be live painting by Evan Hughes and Benjamin Adcroft throughout the day and the pieces will be auctioned off.
“I’m honestly not even sure what I’m going to do yet,” said Adcroft. “It’s going to be spur-of-the-moment and spontaneous. I’m probably going to think of it the day or two before.”
Adcroft said sometimes having an audience can be a bit strange, but he is looking forward to painting outdoors and feeding off the other painter’s energy. “I like working big. I like working fast. Trying to finish a piece in one day is going to be fun,” said Adcroft.
Another element of art is music. Arts on the Square will have two stages this year: One on Spruce Street, hosted by Summersteps Records and another on Linden Street, hosted by Highway 81 Revisited.
Summersteps Records is a record label started by Eric Schlittler in 1996 when he began releasing demos for his then-solo-act, Kid Icarus.
“I started doing demos with Kid Icarus and at the same time my wife and I were dating and we were going to a lot of shows in New York City, so when we would go to a show, we would run off a bunch of demo tapes and eventually the idea started, ‘Well, why don’t we put these tapes out on a label?’” said Schlittler.
The Summersteps Stage will feature artists from the record label and bands that Schlittler said fit the vibe of the indie rock guitar stage, such as Kid Icarus, now a full band, Cold Coffee, Eww Yaboo and A Fire with Friends.
Schlittler said he is looking forward to reaching an audience that he may not normally have access to.
“I think it’s kind of a good opportunity to get your music out in front of people that maybe don’t necessarily go to a bar at night and are a little more art-inclined, so I’m kind of looking forward to getting our music out there and present it to maybe some different people,” said Schlittler.
Michael Lello of Highway 81 Revisited, a Scranton-based music blog, agreed.
“Just as a function of covering music and being involved with the ‘local music scene,’ many of the events we’ve been a part of have been at bars, which is fine, but it limits your audience,” said Lello.
The Highway 81 Revisited Stage will showcase five bands: Indigo Moon Brass Band, Heavy Blonde, Katie Kelly & The Charming Beards, Gentleman East and Charles Havira.
“I wanted some musical diversity on stage and artists that are either relatively new or doing things that are interesting or a little different,” Lello said.
With something for each of your five senses, this year hopes for more success than the last. Hnat thinks that the growth in the arts will even affect the financial situation of the city.
“In the last year, there’s a lot more people starting to put more time into doing more events and more artistic endeavors outside First Friday in Scranton,” said the painter. “The city and the artists and the local community can really continue to push the events, the growth of arts in the city can really flourish and if it does, it’ll start to even show an impact on the city and the city will start to flourish again.”
— kimberly m. aquilina
1120 Studios • 2 Cranes Plants • A=Mc2 • A Daily Obsession • Air Affair Body Art • Alchemy Home Company • All Hands On • Aquilina Oddities • Ashley Kujat
bachestinks • Bellaluna Eterna • Benjamin Adcroft • Boutique Libertina • Burke’s Maple • C & P Designs • Campfire Music Festival • Canned Classics • Casey Heyen • Charlee’s Treasures • Charles Arts • Cheryl’s Creations • Cindy’s Jewelry Creations • Clay Chickadee • Coal Country Photography • Cork and Crafts Creative • Crafty Gifts (and Beer Bites) • Crow Designs Studio • D. Potts • Dale B Craft • Danielle’s Designs • Dave’s Art Den • Designs by Billie Jean • Designs from a Burchards Crossing • Ditch’s Delites • Draw the Pig • Earth and Wears • Eco-Chic • Edward Murphy Books • Elegantly Eclectic LLC • Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Society • European Treasures • Everhart Museum • Fisher Cat Fiber Co • Fly Me Home Decor • Folk Couture • FUNKY FINERY • Goldsack Art • Gypsy Jane Pop Up Vintage Shop • Handmade by Eliana • Heart for Art • Hexagon Project • Highway 81 Revisited • Hnat Designs • Igor’s Russian Art Gallery • Invoke Studio & Delectable Dreams • Jenn Bell • Jewelry By LaPierre • JMaz Jewelry • John Ingiaimo • JVW Inc. • Lackawanna County Library System • Lake Pots • Laurabee Studios • Light Curves • Liquid Heart Studio • Little Hands Big Art • Magaret DeBruin Designs • Margaux’s Monograms • Maria Grzybowski • Mercato • Miss Debbie’s Soaps • Mock Pie Studio • Mountain Sky • New Kirk Honey • Patricia Annabelli • Pop Up Studio • Reba Handmade • Reclaimed • a candle company • Reclamation Industrial Furnishings • Ruth Kkoelewyn • S.E.S Styles • Scenes from the Attic • Scranton Civic Ballet • Scranton Cultural Center • Second Time Around • Shanty Town Design • Sonny Jones • Woodturner • Spirited Art • Scranton • Spoon Sisters • Summersteps Records • Sundae Matinee • Symmetry • Tammy’s Stained Glass Treasures • The Bag Lady • The Baklava lady • The Dearly Departed Players • The Hunter Collection • The Pennsylvania Film School • Tiny Galazies • Transformative Art • Valerie Kiser • Verve Vertu Arts • Voyager Video • Well Dressed Cook • Woodland Way and more…
Playwright and director of Fairycakes Douglas Carter Beane poses with his American Academy of the Dramatic Arts production cast of the show. Many of the performers will recreate their roles for Scranton audiences this weekend.
Scranton Shakespeare Festival spreads its wings with ‘Fairycakes’
Once upon a time in Wilkes-Barre, a playwright with a playful sense of humor was born. Of course, little Douglas Carter Beane wouldn’t become a playwright until years later, after his family moved closer to Reading and after he did odd jobs and moved to New York City and attended the American Academy for the Dramatic Arts. Only then would he write unique plays that made people happy like The Nance and As Bees in Honey Drown and screenplays like To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and books for musicals like Xanadu and Lysistrata Jones.
Eventually he would also inherit a house at Lake Carey in Wyoming County and start spending summers there with his husband, Lewis Flinn, and their two children.
“I thought my children should know eggs come from birds and milk comes from cows and not a deli. The important things in life,” he told electric city and diamond city.
That proximity to Scranton led him to contact Rich Larsen at The University of Scranton. About to head into rehearsals for 2013’s The Nance, he asked the theater department director to recommend a recent graduate who might make a good assistant. West Scranton native Michael Bradshaw Flynn had moved on to audition out of Hoboken while also maintaining roots in the region in founding the Scranton Shakespeare Festival.
“I had a lunch with him and I was just taken with him. I thought he was really smart and really inventive and positive and upbeat,” Beane recalled. “So he was my assistant and he did a terrific job.”
Before Beane left for the summer, Flynn would invite him to the Scranton Shakespeare Festival’s 2013 production in Nay Aug Park.
“I went to see it and I was so moved at these 400 people sitting there watching Comedy of Errors and I (said), ‘this could really be … something spectacular.’”
He began to think about making something fun and Shakespeare-flavored without being full-tilt Shakespeare. The resulting Fairycakes, he said, is like a “gateway drug to real Shakespeare.” Written in rhyming couplets, it’s more accessible than strict iambic pentameter, with more of a nursery rhyme or rap feel so that “people can just relax and not be too concerned with it.”
Puck aka Robin Goodfellow aside, the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream have colorful names — Peasebottom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed — but other than flit around in attendance to Oberon and Titania, they don’t get to say or do much. Beane thought on to consider other the fairies of other tales and what Shakespeare’s fairies do when they’re not doing Midsummer.
“I thought one could be Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother and one could be Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy, one could be the Tooth Fairy and one could be a certain fairy which for legal reasons I can’t say but she aids a little boy who won’t grow up and flies,” he laughed. “Just when you think it’s public domain, it’s not.”
When he bemoaned to Michael Flynn that he wished he had the “cojones” to write the work in rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter, Flynn respectfully suggested he get them. Beane began scripting in “pseudo Elizabethean” on his front porch last August.
An early partial draft was worked by seniors at his alma mater, the American Academy for Dramatic Arts, over a string of Mondays and it inspired him to give the work more attention. He would wake one morning soon after the workshop with a great idea for the second act. When his husband Lewis told him it was the plot of Superman 2, he came up with something even better. A ‘no sets, no costumes’ presentation was staged with 22 AADA students and, with the support of president Susan Zech, a full production followed, running for one week in front of an invited audience in New York City.
“The kids loved, artsy-fartsy teachers loved it, the Shakespeare nuts loved it. People who just like comedy loved it. It had a real wide (reach).”
This weekend’s Scranton Shakespeare Festival production of Fairycakes features a slimmed down cast of 15, including Flynn.
“He’s playing a cricket, a ghost and a stepmother. I’m doing what I can to humiliate him in his hometown. He will have six arms or be wearing a ballgown,” said Beane.
It was Flynn’s idea to audition the AADA actors, many of whom boast international origins, for Scranton Shakespeare’s other 2014 productions. Several of the actors we saw in Twelfth Night earlier this month in Nay Aug will also perform on Rich Larsen’s storybook set in Fairycakes at the Royal Theatre this weekend.
“We’re having a blast introducing all these people to Scranton. It’s kind of hilarious and brilliant for me,” said Beane. “The Welsh boy is wondering why all the Welsh food is here in Scranton. It’s coal miners, buddy.”
Beane has also directed the production, with a little input from a few of his friends in the business. Among them director Jerry Zaks, who has been a sort of mentor for the show, Beane said.
“He gives me notes you would think don’t make any sense and then you do them and they work and it’s like magic. I said, ‘The actors keep talking over the laughs, what do I do?’ He said, ‘Just tell them to breathe.’ And so I said, ‘OK guys, just remember to breathe.’ And they did it. It was magic. He’s a genius.”
Fairycakes runs Friday and Saturday July 25-26 at 6 p.m. at the Royal Theatre in the University of Scranton’s McDade Center for the Literary and Performing Arts. Call (570) 614-3313 or visit scrantonshakespearefestival.org for more information.
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@The570.com.
STAGES OF WAR: Actors Circle opens new Original Drama on Friday
In our quest to entertain, we often write plays based on silly things. And Actors Circle’s Lou Bisignani believes theatre should, above all, be entertaining. But he’s also interested in a good, meaty conflict. His new play opening at the Providence Playhouse in Scranton this weekend is set in Ireland during World War II. Titled A Private War, it contains a lot of laughs and even a little action, as he told ec/dc, but it is essentially a drama.
Born in 1939, the writer/director referred to himself as a “ WWII buff.” He’s read a lot about the war and seen all the movies and, while some of his other short plays delved into the topic, A Private War tackles it with greater depth.
“The thrust has always been the affect of war on civilians that are sort of caught up in this mess,” he said. “Years ago, I thought it would be good to have some Americans and some Germans sitting in a neutral country.” (Inglourious Basterds came much later, he noted, but, regardless, that’s not what his play is about.)
He estimates he’s written 15 shorter plays and a few one-and two-act plays. He usually sets them aside for a few years. A Private War was written a couple of years ago and archived. Bisignani assuming it would go unproduced. Then an old friend, Ted LoRusso, moved back to Scranton and lent his considerable playwrighting talents as a dramaturg on Actors Circle’s recent production of Bisignani’s version of Dracula.
LoRusso had been living in New York for close to 30 years, Bisignani estimated, and had a number of plays staged off-off Broadway in that time.
In the program for A Private War, Bisignani doesn’t have him listed as a dramaturg, however, (it’s a term LoRusso detests) but as a co-writer.
“He did not just edit it or add a couple of lines, he added about 10 pages to the script and a new character and I think it really improves the play quite a bit,” said Bisignani.
“I wouldn’t want people to think I wrote the whole thing by myself when I didn’t … he would take a couple of pages home and work on it and bring it back and it was longer, substantially changed and for the better.”
LoRusso didn’t change the story, Bisignani clarified, and the added character was actually his own suggestion.
“One of the kids that works with me didn’t try out and she said, ‘It’s a shame, I’d love to be in the play.’ So we created a girl next-door part for her.”
The plot, he explained, finds an Irish family who has lost a son at Dunkirk.
“They just got a letter three days ago, even though he was killed seven, eight weeks ago, from another Irish man who was there with him who made it back to England. While they are in mourning, they are not opening their little pub in a fishing village on the southwest coast of Ireland,” traced the playwright. “The mother and the daughter convince the father who is pretty adamant to let the priest and a few other people come in and we hear a discussion about (issues) and the father doesn’t want to hear that, but in the middle of all this, a German submarine captain arrives on their doorstep with a young submariner, a young man who’s been badly burned in a grease fire on the submarine seeking medical help. Of course, the father is not too receptive to the idea of helping a Nazi after the Nazis just killed his son a couple of weeks ago. So that’s the conflict.”
“Is he going to allow them to help? And if he does, then what happens?”
Bisignani expects the show will be entertaining, but is interested in seeing how the audience responds and what kind of changes he might want to make for future productions.
“Until Dracula, every time I did a play, I didn’t have Ted LoRusso to help me,” he said. “I was by myself and pretty much whatever I wrote is what we did.”
He directed wrote and starred in that first production of Dracula 25 years ago.
“My ego was such that I had try-outs and decided nobody could play Dracula and so I did it myself … I almost had a stroke doing it all.”
It was the recent resurgence of vampires in popular culture led him to pull the play back out. But it wasn’t as clever as he remembered it and that’s when he asked LoRusso to take a look at it. That contribution helped immensely, he said. In particular, it made the play much more entertaining.
He’s hoping A Private War will be similarly entertaining.
“I don’t want it to be like a documentary. It’s not a documentary. But if you pay attention and the actors use good diction, you’ll learn something. Everything that they say is basically true. People talk about events that happen at that time in the southern part of the Republic of Ireland,” he offered. “There were IRA people dealing with Nazis and getting money from the Nazis to go up to the northern counties and sabotage the British troops that were up there. All that’s true. So we talk about all that stuff, but we don’t talk about it in a scholarly way.”
A show needs to entertain — that’s Bisignani’s bottom line. If it’s a musical, you should leave humming the songs.
“We write musicals today where you can’t hum the songs, but I’m just very old-fashioned about that… you watch TV today and people have sex. You don’t have to watch it. In the good old days, the guy and the girl kiss and the next thing you see, they’re having breakfast and you can assume what happened in between. We don’t need to visualize it,” he laughed. “I don’t like people in scanty costumes or need to hear the strong words like the F-word and so forth.”
He also writes with his actors in mind, specifically creating roles for young people and finding ways to double roles so no one has to stand around backstage wishing they were in the spotlight. It takes a little ingenuity but it can be done, he said.
“If you give me a play where there’s a maid who comes in and says, “Dinner is served.’ Or ‘I’ll see if Mrs. Jones is in,’ and that’s it for her, I won’t do the play or I cut the maid out altogether, or more likely, I give the maid a lot more to do. I don’t care if the author is sitting in the audience. I just can’t stand putting somebody on the stage and giving them two lines.”
He cited Actors Circle’s production of The 39 Steps in 2012. Not only did they break from the recent tradition of having two actors play all the roles, Bisignani added song and dance numbers in a music hall scene to give a few of his 14 cast members additional opportunity to share their unique talents.
A Private War features a cast of 11, including John Arena, George Conrad, Warren Cox, Marissa Gaglione, Jeff Ginsberg, K. K. Gordon, April Holgate, Victoria Kuzy, Lorrie Loughney, David Spitzer and Art Walsh.
It runs July 17-20 and 24-27 with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 or $10 for seniors and $8 for students. Call (570) 342-9707 for more information or visit actorscircle.org.