Friday, November 30, 2007

The Neverending Blog - Tech Begins

Behind the Curtain welcomes guest blogger Gabriel Baron, playing Bastian in SCT's production of The Neverending Story, which opens December 7th.

Tech, Day 1

Tech is usually my favorite part of a rehearsal process. You finally have all the physical elements you’ve had to imagine in the rehearsal room: the props, the set, the costume, the lights, the sound. Your character’s situation really starts to come into light. And the best part is that since everyone is paying attention to the technical elements, you get to run moments and scenes over and over again without those pesky directors telling you what to do. So it really does become a great time for exploration and specification with what you’re doing as an actor. And because you are being asked to run a scene mainly just for the tech folks to learn what they have to do, you feel the freedom to have fun being goofy and silly with your acting (as long as you say the right lines for the cues), which can sometimes wind up being better than what you were doing when you were trying to get it “right” in the rehearsal room.

None of this, however, was applicable to me on this first day of tech for The Neverending Story. Since my character basically just sits up in the attic of his school the whole show and doesn’t actually talk to another actor or even move around, on this day I found myself just sitting in the audience of the Charlotte Martin Theatre, while everyone focused on the exciting and technically difficult parts of the show: flying and puppets.

2:00 - Safety meeting and tour of backstage with [Company Manager] Linda Jo Greenberg. Ooh look! The candy drawer already has candy in it! Thanks Brad. Then a testing of the stage platform. Yup, it’s walkable alright. I don’t know about that downstage ramp, a little shaky if you ask me. Luckily, I don’t use it the whole show. Whew.

2:45- I finally get to go up in my attic! Yup, it’s a high platform. All the fun dressing that the designers and prop people found really make it feel like an old school storage area. Old tennis rackets, a science class skeleton, are those ice skates? And of course, books. Director David Bennett and I decide that with just a few items of clutter near my main playing area removed, the attic is good to go.

3:15- David has me try a variety of positions in the attic to maximize my visibility to the audience. Which is good, because with a face like mine I need to be seen by as many people as possible. These tickets don’t sell themselves you know.

3:28- We’re done with the attic for today. Now I just have to wait around to do my flying rehearsal. My favorite part! Just after these next two scenes, says Stage Manager Claire Zawa.

3:36- There’s a giant turtle on stage. She looks sleepy as her neck lumbers up and down, left and right, while puppet designer and creator Doug Paasch makes minute adjustments.

David Bennett steps on that downstage ramp and requests some extra support.

Mikey Place as Atreyu perches on Chad Jennings’ back. As the hero’s faithful horse, Artax, there has been much concern about Chad’s back carrying a full grown man on a raked (slanted) stage 11 shows a week.

Hans Altweis enters with his flying harness strapped over his street clothes. He looks like some kind of special forces MacGyver. He’s ready to review his intricate and difficult flying choreography as the Luck Dragon, Falkor, with the spider Ygramul.

4:10- Haven’t gotten to my flying yet. Right after Mikey and Hans, says Claire Zawa.

Mikey and Hans hang in mid air dead center of the proscenium, while movement coach Kathryn VanMeter adjusts the blocking of the wind giants.

Understudy David Goldstein sits toward the back of the house studying his many lines for the roles of both Atreyu and Bastian, but he is clearly more interested in the flying on stage. And who can blame him? Who hasn’t wished they could fly? And how often do we get to see live and in person even the illusion that someone is hovering in mid air? It’s magical even though we know there are wires. You can’t take your eyes off them.

In my brief time practicing my simple flying for the show yesterday, I could barely contain the giddy playfulness of my eight year old self which was brimming to my ears. The mild discomfort of the harness quickly fell away when I was lifted up and flown back and forth, up and down. I felt like a superhero, or Luke Skywalker, or Neo. I wanted to act out every imaginable gag of silliness in the air, but here in this professional theater, I had to force my adult self to limit my shenanigans to just a few Chaplinesque arms and leg movements. I got some laughs, I was satisfied.

5:17pm- Still sitting in the audience. I’ve played a few rounds of Star Wars - Rogue Squadron on the N64 in the green room, eaten a Bumblebar and wandered the theater a few times. My flying is coming up right after this next scene, says Claire Zawa. Sure, sure, I say, no problem.

On stage, five actors manipulate the four body pieces and one head of the giant spider Ygramul. David, Doug and Kathryn want to see two body pieces move along with the head as the spider tries to sting Falkor. It’s a tricky illusion to create, having five actors work together to manipulate one creature, doing one fluid action. And even though the pieces of the body are relatively light, holding them up for so long is taxing on the actors.

Meanwhile, over stage right, Hans hangs 15 feet in the air, practicing flipping in place. It’s a beautiful and graceful motion. He controls the action as though he were born on the air. We’ll see if he maintains that grace in performance, adding lateral movement to the wires, lights, sounds, costume and adrenaline. Knowing Hans, I have no doubt he will.

6:28pm- Ten minute break. When we return we’ll only be working the Gmork fight, so everyone except Mikey, Hans and Brad are released for the day. We never got to my flying. I am bummed. Not that I sat and did nothing for five hours, but that I didn’t get to be my eight year old self as a superhero. That’s what tomorrows are good for!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We are thankful

At SCT, we're a pretty happy bunch. We get to do what we love, interact with incredible artists, and make a difference in the lives of children (and the wise and young-at-heart, too). We have much to be thankful for, and wanted to share a little of that with you this Thanksgiving.

I'm thankful for my family, my community and my health! I'm thankful for the laughter and joy that children bring, the beauty of Mother Nature, and all animals. Thank you for coming to SCT!
Linda - Artistic Director and Fearless Leader

I'm thankful to being able to work with wonderful people who all share the goal to make children's lives richer through the arts. I'm also thankful that I have a healthy and happy family who don't take the simple things for granted.
Anthony - Education

I am grateful for being healthy and done with cancer, for dates with my beau, for my charming cat and for having recently finished paying off debts.
Linda-Jo - Stage Management

I'm thankful for warm fires, cozy blankets, a comfy couch and a big screen T.V. for watching football.
Deanna - School Shows

I'm thankful for my mom, for blackberry pie, for beaches and mountains, for my health, for all of my fabulous friends, for Irish Breakfast Tea, for the peace that does exist in the world, and for pick-up trucks.
Leslie - Marketing

I am truly thankful for my 3 sons! My oldest 2 are getting married this coming summer (June and July) so I will have 2 beautiful new daughters! My youngest, Tim, has been performing in High School Musical and I have been so excited to have him stay with me for the past few months. We've had a wonderful time being together!
Phyllis - SCT Gift Shop

I'm thankful for rainy days, because I know that's what makes the sunshine so special around here and keeps everything green instead of "concrete" color!
Jan - Marketing

I am really thankful for the extra time off to spend with my family!
Andrea - Education

I’m thankful for getting my heart’s desire to work at the Seattle Children’s Theatre full time, something I have wanted for the last 20 years. SCT has always been my favorite theatre because of the shows they do and the dedication of the people who work here.
Sarah - Stage Management

I am thankful that, in a difficult world, I have the luxuries of comfort and time to sit and contemplate about what I am thankful for.
Rita - Artistic

I am thankful for my loving and (especially) patient wife, for my beautiful and intelligent daughter, for places like SCT where real people tell you incredible stories, and for the Green Bay Packers.
Jim - PR (and your humble blog moderator)

Happy Thanksgiving from Seattle Children's Theatre and Behind the Curtain!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Joy of Surprise

I didn’t imagine writing many posts for this blog when first we started it, but I’ve been moved by a recent experience to write.

One of the reasons I read as much as I do, go to as many plays as I do, engage with art as often as I do, is the opportunity to be surprised. Not shocked, which is easy and unfulfilling, but shown something I didn’t expect to see in myself and others.

This past weekend, I took my young daughter and a bunch of our extended family to see High School Musical. The trip was originally planned to be just me, my wife, our daughter and her older cousin; initially, we didn’t invite her younger cousin because we didn’t think he’d be into High School Musical as much as the girls are, and weren’t sure he’d be able to sit through the whole show. But, he didn’t want to be left out, and so we ended up expanding the party to include him, his mother and the kids’ grandparents.

He impressed me right away with how patient he was waiting for the play to start and how attentive he was once it did. But, that wasn’t necessarily surprising, because he’s a good kid and had his mother and grandparents along with him. I was just pleased he seemed to be enjoying it.

And then the play ended with its great musical finale, balloons dropping from the ceiling, this huge cast taking their bows, and my nephew is standing up, applauding wildly and literally screaming at the stage “I love you guys!” I take issue with the forced standing ovations I often see from Seattle audiences, but this was nothing of the sort. This was pure, spontaneous joy. He wasn’t standing because he thought he should but because he couldn’t do anything but.

And this was the kid I thought wouldn’t appreciate the play.

It was a great reminder of several things, not to underestimate kids and their ability to appreciate new things for one. But most poignantly for me, a self-professed lover of theatre, it was a reminder of just how powerful and surprising art can be, whether deep and existential or bubblegum pop and romance.

It’s why I keep coming back.

Jim Jewell is PR Manager at Seattle Children's Theatre and moderator of Behind the Curtain.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Neverending Story begins

Behind the Curtain welcomes guest blogger Michael Place from the cast of The Neverending Story. Rehearsal began this week, and the show opens December 7, 2007.

First day of rehearsal for The Neverending Story! Finally. I feel like I’ve been waiting for this day for months, mostly because we all have been waiting that long. We switched around the schedule a bit to do an evening meet and greet so that more connected and interested individuals could attend. No complaint on my end, we started rehearsal at noon today.

I have worked at SCT before as an undergraduate at the UW in The Outsiders back in 2003 but since then most of my excuses to come to this amazingly wonderful theater were to see my good friend and colleague Lathrop rock the Charlotte Martin or Eve Alvord. Today’s approach to the building was slightly different.

My heart pounded as I arrived much too early for our noon rehearsal. I was really nervous. Are you kidding Atreyu!? One of my childhood dreams turned reality. And there’s all of those first day of rehearsal fears and worries, wanting to do good work, wanting to get along with the cast and director, I keep hearing that first impressions are important. With 20 minutes to kill before showing up casually on time I sat across the walkway from the theatre, on a conveniently provided chair, and watched the fountain for 15 minutes while I received instructions via text message from Gwen, Marya Sea and my mom to “Go! Play! Love!”

I entered the west rehearsal hall to a very welcoming table of my new comrades and after [director] David Bennett, our articulate and fearless leader, gave a short speech we hit the text. I am blown away by the talent at this table. Let's see, the table was arranged with David and Claire Zawa, our lovely SM [stage manager], at the head, and then (clockwise) sat Anne Hitt, Hans Altwies, David Goldstein, Gabe Baron, Lisa Estridge, Chad Jennings, Tim Hyland, myself, Brad Farwell, Sarah Hartlett, Betsy Schwartz, Emily Chisholm (whose Childlike Empress charmed me day 1). It quickly became very clear to me that I will learn quite a bit by working in the presence of these multifaceted, experienced and joyful actors. I know that somewhere they must all be experiencing the familiar first day of school feeling that I am, but all that is reading is…ease, professionalism. As Tim Hyland (who, if you refer to the above seating chart, you will notice was sitting next to me) literally vibrated my chair with his resonance as he read the Bookseller. I knew I was truly lucky to be in that room.

We took dinner and then returned to wine, cheese and several of SCT’s staff including [Artistic Director] Linda Hartzell and the design team for NES. The design presentations blew me away but rather than go into too much detail I suggest coming to see the show. I will say that I was so impressed with the range of influences in the design and how grand a scope they are working with. Creating Fantastica in its entirety is, after all, no easy feat. I am continually impressed, finding myself self-aware at times thinking, "look around you, take this in, you are a part of something beautiful and magical." We then read a few scenes. It was awesome to have some SCT students there as well.

The evening ended pretty quickly but I think we were all ready to head our respective directions and process the day’s work. Tomorrow we go again. This time 10am. I cant wait to go back.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

10 Questions for... Caety Sagoian

Caety Sagoian currently appears in The Big Friendly Giant at SCT. The Seattle Weekly said "it’s an exuberant Caety Sagoian who really steals this show with the hilarity she evokes as, among several small roles, a superstitious maid and berating Swedish queen."

How did you get cast in this show?

Well, I was asked to come in and audition for this show and I have to admit I was beyond nervous while I was waiting to go in for a callback! Although intimidating, it was one of the funnest auditions I've ever been to. Rita Giomi is an incredible director who really encourages her actors to play, and I ended up reading with Morgan Rowe and Jenny Sue Johnson, and we all ultimately got cast in the roles we read for. This is by far one of the most dreamy cast/crew experiences I've ever had!

What kind of artistic training & experience have you had?

I am a 2006 graduate from Cornish College of the Arts with a BFA in theater and an emphasis is jazz vocals. It is an amazing school that has really prepared me for the rigors of the theater world!

Who are you in this play? Tell us about your character(s).

I play Bonecruncher, one of the goofy mean giants, Rebecca, the little girl who has the golden phizzwizard dream, Mary, the Queen of England's maid, and the Queen of Sweden!

Are there particular challenges working with large costumes and puppets?

It takes some getting used to at first with our giant heads - what with focusing through the mesh and all, but our costumers are awesome and they've worked SO hard to make our costumes and giant heads comfortable, so we owe them a huge round of applause for making us look and feel as pretty as we do!

Do you identify with any particular aspects of the story?

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the language in this story! Roald Dahl is an absolute wordsmith! His language is so much fun, and totally engaging - we know we're going to have a good audience when the BFG says 'crocodowndillies' and all the kiddies start to giggle!

What dream would the BFG deliver to you?

I love the idea that someone somewhere out there is giving me lovely golden dreams, so I think the BFG would give me something incredibly funny and silly to keep me laughing!

Why do you do what you do?

I don't know exactly why I do what I do, but I remember the first time I wanted to do it. It was my first time seeing a play, and it was Charlotte's Web at SCT. At that time, I wasn't aware of what it was to be in actor in a play, but whatever it was that I witnessed that day, I loved it. This feeling grew even stronger when I saw Romeo and Juliet just a few years later. I was about 10 years old and I knew at the end of that show what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I remember going down to the front of the stage and getting autographs and how exciting that was and how special it made me feel getting to talk to the actors. I feel absolutely, and unbelievably honored to be working with the same theater that forever changed my life as a child.

When you aren’t at SCT, what other jobs do you work or have you worked?

When I'm not doing theater, I do voiceovers. I'm the voice of a lot of video game characters on games like the Mario Nintendo games, Backyard Baseball, and I also voice and do on camera work for a national PBS show called The Biz Kids!

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Ohmygosh. I have NO clue! Hopefully Happy, and doing fun things!

You have the audience’s ear – what would you ask them?

If you could give a dream to anyone in the world- who would it be, what would it be about, and why would you give it to them?

Monday, November 5, 2007

A few minutes with John Patrick Lowrie

The cast of High School Musical has been especially generous with their time, and here is just one more example: John Patrick Lowrie plays Coach Bolton and spent a few minutes with Behind the Curtain.

SCT's production of Disney's High School Musical runs through November 24th.

Friday, November 2, 2007

1 Year of HSM with Mo Brady

Behind the Curtain welcomes guest-blogger Mo Brady, currently playing Jack Scott, the Velvet Fog of East High, in SCT's production of Disney's High School Musical.

This year, I have worked on three productions of High School Musical. Yes, you read that correctly. In the winter, I directed a 60-minute one-act version for a middle school. During the summer, I staged the full-length musical for a summer youth program. When you combine planning, rehearsing, and performing, I've been working on HSM for eleven months. In a row.

This confession might make some grown men blush. Or at least some grown men groan. However, directing the show twice gave me a great perspective on the High School Musical story: the perspective of the SCT audience.

Kids love High School Musical. The students I worked with, mostly
middle schoolers through high school sophomores, LOVE LOVE LOVE HSM. And their enthusiasm for these characters rubbed off on me. I was able to see the phenomenon through their eyes. And, in turn, I shared my professional and critical eye with them, exploring characters' motivations for sticking to the "Status Quo" and "Breaking Free."

When I walked into the first day of SCT rehearsal, I already felt like I had a leg up. I mean, I already had my lines memorized. And not only my lines, but most of the other lines in the show. Not to mention five different versions of the music on my iPod. Suffice it to say I felt prepared.

Before the SCT rehearsals began, I was worried that I might doubt some the work of our directors, solely on the basis of its difference from my previous versions. However, Linda [Hartzell, Artistic Director], Mark [Rabe, Music Director], and Kathryn [Van Meter, Choreographer] truly helped this cast create a unique retelling of the now-familiar story. We've twisted the plot even further away from the movie, and made some tweaks that keep the audience engaged but the characters truthful (in my semi-expert opinion.) In addition, Linda had a clear and unique vision for my character (including some gymnastic feats and a lot more stage time) to which I was happy to oblige.

I'm almost a year into my HSM experience, and I'm not tired of the show yet. I think that what helps me perform eleven shows a week is the excitement of our young audiences. Hearing the kids cheer at the end of each performance thrills my heart, and helps me look forward to the next show with anticipation.

Not to say I'm not looking to a new challenge. This winter, I'm directing The Pirates of Penzance, so maybe I'll spend next year with Gilbert and Sullivan.

Photo: Mo Brady as Jack Scott in High School Musical. Photo by Chris Bennion.