January 30, 2008

Young Writers explore plays

This article about our Young Voices Playwriting program caught my eye this morning. Just had to share:

"From Shakespeare to Broadway, live theatre has survived for centuries through the advent of moving pictures, radio broadcasts, television and iPods, and remains a thriving art form into the 21st century.

A great production requires top-notch performances from actors and crew alike, but none of that can get off the ground without a strong writer and a great script.

One group of Lynn Classical students is taking the first step in becoming the next great American playwrights by participating in a unique program at the Huntington Theatre in Boston, where they will work one-on-one with theatre professionals to polish their scriptwriting skills and produce an original work."

I've got lots of other stuff to share in my reader - which you will find in the sidebar labeled "Todd's shared items". Check out Melinda Lopez's new play Gary, reviews for Shining City at the Goodman in Chicago, and find opinion about Rebekah Maggor's Shakespeare's Actresses which opened this week at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. I've only seen one post so far - but I will add to the list as soon as I see more.

In other playwriting news; our recent announcement of the next round of artists to join our Huntington Playwriting Fellows has been getting some attention lately, with a question coming in from all quarters, including this blog. Click here to read the post and comments.

January 22, 2008

Shining City opens in Chicago

Conor McPherson's Shining City opened at Chicago's Goodman Theatre yesterday to rave reviews in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times.

With an all new Chicago cast, Director Bob Falls mounts a new production of his critically acclaimed Broadway triumph. We knew Boston would be excited to see this production so we'll be bringing it your way in March.

You can read all about it at the Goodman's website as well as view a great rehearsal video featuring an extended interview with Mr. Falls.

Managing Director Michael Maso says "I was at the Goodman last night for the Shining City opening and am happy to report that it's great — very strong acting from an all-Chicago cast and a terrific production."

Photo: John Judd (John) and Jay Whittaker (Ian)

January 21, 2008

Jack of all Things Third

You've got to be a "jack of all trades" if you work in a scene shop. Our shop consists of a base team of just nine employees; Technical Director, Associate Technical Director, Shop Foreman, Master Carpenter, Scenery Mechanic, three Carpenters, and a purchaser. We will then hire in general and specialty labor as required. But titles can sometimes be misleading. Our guys may each have their specialties but there is a wide range of skills needed by all to build a set like we did for Third. Our shop foreman, Brian Sears, took some photos along the way to show you what we mean.

This is a model photograph of the opening scene of the play. Scenic Design by Ralph Funicello. The eleven settings in this production move on and off stage with seemingly very little effort, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes. There are seven electric motorized winches, all controlled by computer, driving much of the action. There are four "palettes", which are pretty much big sleds, that are driven by steel cables built into tracks in the stage floor (think San Francisco's Cable Cars). Two of these sleds move up and down stage carrying the big rooms, such as the kitchen, offices, and bedroom. Two more sleds move left and right just upstage of the proscenium. These carry smaller furniture items, like a bench, tables, and a couch. Then there are two giant sliding wall panels that open up to reveal the scenery as it moves up and down stage. The last motor brings the large bookstore facade in an out from the fly loft to the deck. We also use pneumatics to operate some door panels in the wings that open for scene changes; think Star Trek. A crew of four backstage operate the motors, load and unload the furniture and settings from the sleds, and run the "Flys" which bring in light fixtures, walls, and even make it snow.

Some of our automation equipment is off the shelf, but much of it is custom made right here in our shops. This grooved drum, on which the cable winds, was machined in our metal working shop.

Our Metal Muncher, above, is taking a bite out of some steel in this photo making a long horizontal groove. This part (I think) is what we call a "dog" and is what helps make a hard connection from the sled to the cable in the deck.

Our carpenters usually start a scenic piece by framing it out in steel. Yes, that means they weld too. We frame in steel mostly because it is very strong for it's weight. And we don't like our scenery to be too heavy.

Then comes the wood - in this case a lot of paneled walls and windows. You get to be good with angles, bevels, and miters pretty quick. Wood glue is added for additional strength, and so that we can use fewer nails and staples, as they make dimples that need to be filled. After the shop has a unit all built, filled and sanded, it is sent down to the paint shop for it's treatment. Our three scenic artists turned plywood and pine into some stately oak for this production of Third.

Engineering all of this automation, rigging it and installing it takes a good amount of expertise, and we've got that in spades from our Technical Directors and Shop Foreman. Adam, our ATD, moves a cable winch into place onstage for the flying wall. The motors for the sleds are located below the stage in our "trap room".

Here is Nate spreading down some adhesive as part of the installation of the carpet tiles. The carpet is the secret weapon in this show. It is the perfect surface for sliding the scenery around on and, since most units don't have wheels, we don't have the rumble rumble of the casters drumming on a wooden floor. Another advantage is that the platforms are only just over an inch tall, significantly reducing the usual height of a traditional wagon.

In review, for this production, our shop staff were engineers, draftsmen, computer programmers, riggers, machinists, welders, master carpenters, electricians, and carpet layers just to throw a few titles at you.

Oops - forgot - the sink in this kitchen unit has running water. Add plumber to the list.

January 19, 2008

You're the Man!

Here's a scene from Third in which Professor Jameson (Maureen Anderman) and Woodson (Graham Hamilton) compare their latest bookstore purchases, highlighting their philosophical and personal differences.

January 17, 2008

Audiences Loves Third

The 39 Step Opens on Broadway!

I had the pleasure of attending the Broadway opening of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps on Tuesday night in NYC as a guest of the Roundabout. It was a great night, starting with a rousing performance followed by a fun opening night party.

The show was oh-so-familiar (I've seen it in London, and at least a dozen times in Boston) but director Maria Aitken has added a couple of fun new moments and made a few snips that made the frenetic pace of the NY show even more manic. It was great to see our sets, props and costumes up on that stage.

It was even better to see Maria, the cast, a few of the designers, and our backstage friends including Stage Managers Nevin Hedley and Janet Takami after the show! The growing excitement at the Times Square party gained even more momentum as news of a rave review in the NY Times spread.

Here are some photos, courtesy of Janet, and at the end of the post you'll find a link to the PLAYBILL.com coverage of the event.

Huntington's Costume Director Nancy Brennan (left) and guest enjoying the festivities.

Kevin, Janet, Peggy, Kelly, and Rosie (left to right) . Kevin and Rosie are both BU Students who worked on the Huntington run and reprised their roles as Assistant to the Director and Production Assistant in New York. Back to class you two! Janet and Peggy also stayed on with the show in their respective roles as Stage Manager and Dresser. Kelly, a BU grad who recently returned to NY after stage managing our production of Brendan was there with her S.O. Drew Levy. Drew (not pictured) is also a BU Grad, has several Huntington Sound design credits under his belt, and most recently was Assistant Sound designer on The 39 Steps. I guess he was at the bar. Nice to see these youngsters already working on Broadway! Congrats!

and here are yours truly with our GM, George Ryan, and his guest. For even more photos from the evening click here.
Read the NY Times review here.
and even more photos at BroadwayWorld.com

January 2, 2008

New Fellows

Program helps four local artists develop new work for the stage.

BOSTON – The Huntington Theatre Company announced today its choices for the 2008 Huntington Playwriting Fellows program, which provides a structured environment for theatre artists to explore and talk about their work while providing significant access to the company’s artistic staff and resources.

The current class includes Boston-area playwrights Kirsten Greenidge, Jacqui Parker, Ken Urban, and Joyce Van Dyke. This is the third class since the program began in 2004.

The Fellows meet together with Brownstein twice monthly for one year to discuss creative ideas, receive critical input on their works, and learn the process of getting plays read at theatres across the country. In year two, they receive individual support focused on specific theatrical pieces they are developing. To date, the Huntington has produced five plays by its Fellows.

The 2008 Fellows are, in alphabetical order:

Wesleyan University and University of Iowa graduate Kirsten Greenidge has received commissions from New York’s Clubbed Thumb, The Kennedy Center/White House Historical Association, South Coast Rep, and Boston’s Company One, where she is this season’s playwright in residence. (Company One will produce her play, “Gibson Girl” this spring.) An Arlington, Mass. native, she was the NEA/Theatre Communications Group playwright-in-residence at New York’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre and has had plays produced around the country, including two at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival. Greenidge’s “103 Within the Veil,” featuring stories inspired by a cache of historical African American photographs, was the 2005 winner for Best New Play from the Independent Reviewers of New England.

Recipient of Elliot Norton and Independent Reviewers of New England Awards, Boston's Jacqui Parker is a playwright, actor, artistic director of Our Place Theater Project, and founder of Boston's African American Theatre Festival. In 2004 she received the StageSource Theatre Hero Award. Her play "Dark as a Thousand Midnights" premiered at the 2006 Festival at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA. She has been seen on stages around the country, including the Huntington’s productions of “Breath, Boom,” and as an understudy to Phylicia Rashad in August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean.”

A recent transplant to Boston, Ken Urban is a Harvard University professor and founding artistic director of The Committee, a New York-based theater company. He has received a commission from Target Margin Theatre in New York, and his work has been produced at Soho Rep, Moving Arts, Rude Guerrilla, and other theatres in Los Angeles and New York. His plays ( “Wasps,” “I [Heart] Kant,” and “The Secret Lives of Eskimos”) and critical essays about theatre have appeared in Performing Arts Journal, New Theatre Quarterly, New York Theatre Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Modern Drama, and Yale’s Theatre Journal.

Joyce Van Dyke graduated from Boston University’s playwriting program and was a Massachusetts Cultural Council Playwriting Grant finalist. Her play, "A Girl's War," received a workshop production at Boston Playwrights Theatre in 2001, for which it was named one of the Boston Globe’s Top Ten Plays of the year and won the John Gassner Memorial Playwriting Award. “A Girls’ War” premiered in 2003 at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, Mass., was nominated for the Steinberg National New Play award, and was published in the anthology “Contemporary Armenian American Drama.” New York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre—in conjunction with the Sloan Foundation—commissioned her play, "The Oil Thief," in 2006. She is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, and is a published scholar of Shakespeare and poetry.

The program underscores the Huntington's commitment to fostering and presenting original work by local and new playwrights and artists. Under the direction of Literary Manager Ilana Brownstein, Fellows receive commissions from the Huntington’s Stanford Calderwood Fund for New American Plays.

"This program gives artists a safe place to flex their muscles and develop their work," says Ilana Brownstein. "Our goal is to allow the playwrights to feel they have a permanent artistic home – to welcome them as part of the company and the Huntington family."

The 2005 group of four Huntington Playwriting Fellows has had significant success since its involvement with the program. Plays by Lydia Diamond and Kate Snodgrass are in development. John Shea's "Comp" premiered at Boston Playwright's Theater this year and Rebekah Maggor's one-woman show, "Shakespeare's Actresses in America" is part of this year’s “Huntington Presents” series at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.

The 2003 Fellows also have had success. Melinda Lopez’s “Sonia Flew” has been produced nationwide since its development and premiere at the Huntington’s Calderwood Pavilion. Sinan Unel’s “The Cry of the Reed,” and Ronan Noone’s “The Atheist” and “Brendan” were produced by the Huntington this season, and John Kuntz’s play, “Jasper Lake,” developed while at the Huntington, won the Kennedy Center’s National Student Playwriting Award and a Paula Vogel Playwriting Award.