Monday, February 16, 2015

Georgia Southern's RACE Spurs Surprising Audience Reaction at KC/ACTF 2015

Tatyana Arrington, Whitaker Gardner, and V. Akil Jackson
*Some of the students at the eight schools who brought plays to KCACTF Region IV this week had previous experience with taking a show on the road to the festival. But for current students at Georgia Southern University, the experience was completely new.
The Statesboro school packed up their fall production of David Mamet’s Race and headed to Albany, Georgia, which as we theatre people know well is easier said than done. Members of the Race team say they first had to consider the significantly different structure of the theatre in Albany in relation to the theatre they had used during their run in September.
“The new space affected the set because originally the set piece was on the ground floor,” says assistant stage manager Brandon Muggy, referring to the large platform on which sat the lawyers’ office. “We had risers for the audience in the original space, and they were closer to the set [than they were in the Albany venue]. But the new space was a proscenium thrust, so the set was up higher now, and the audience was below.”
Thus, the new space necessitated the team to anticipate adjustments before arriving at the venue. And with just four hours allowed in the theatre before the performance, they had to make it run like clockwork.
“We practiced load-in one day at the Performing Arts Center,” says Tatyana Arrington, who played Susan. “We were just like, ‘We just want to load in the set to see how long it’s going to take and get a feel for the space.’ So we did it at the PAC at Georgia Southern, because it’s a lot bigger than the Black Box, and more similar to the space in Albany. Doing that ahead of time helped us be faster and helped us get a feel for the space just so we could know what we were doing.”
Muggy says the most onerous part of the practice load-in ended up being not the heavy platform pieces, but rather the simplest set dressing.
“We had so many books!  And to catalogue all the books and to get them on the shelf to please the designer was a challenge. When we did our first practice load-in, it was a disaster. It took us literally an hour to figure out where to put the books and eventually made a catalogue system and used that to tour.”
Besides rehearsing load-in and load-out, the cast, which also included Whitaker Gardner, Harry Hudgins, and V. Akil Jackson, met for rehearsals in the weeks leading up to KCACTF. Even this proved easier said than done, because Arrington had graduated this past December.
“We had to have Skype rehearsals before I could actually come back to Statesboro,” says Arrington. “Then we were rehearsing every day, and Lisa [Abbott] was sitting in on that last week of rehearsals before we left for ACTF.”
Their preparation paid off, because once in Albany, it was smooth sailing, with a load-in that met their one-hour goal. The cast and crew spent some of their remaining hours before the show working out the kinks that came with a new space, though those were few.
Both Muggy and Arrington agree that by far the most surprising aspect to this whole process was the audience’s reaction.
Muggy says, “At our home performance space, the audience didn’t receive it well… The audience here at ACTF had a completely different reaction. We got laughter! That was astonishing. I remember sitting backstage thinking, ‘They’re… laughing at this?!’”
Arrington was surprised at how strongly she could sense the total support of the audience. “It made our performances even better. I feel like just feeling them enjoying the show, laughing and sighing and saying things like, ‘Uh-uh! No way! I can’t believe this! Another curse word!’—everything like that helped better the show for me.”
But the best moment in Arrington’s eyes came after the final line had been delivered. Parts of the audience started a standing ovation without waiting for the lights to come back on for the curtain call.
“When the lights went down, I just remember I breathed really loudly, and then Akil [Jackson] put his hand on my shoulder, and then the lights came up,” Arrington recalls.
“Just to see everybody on their feet clapping and cheering for us, it was the best feeling. We just felt so happy in that moment. I literally ran off stage, changed out of my costume as soon as possible, ran into the guys’ dressing room, and jumped into their arms, saying, “I love you guys! We did it! We did it!” It was such a good feeling.”
Muggy says that even a day after the show, he still heard conversations about the material, as well as praises for the whole team. “I hung out with Harry [Hudgins] today, who was Charles, and some people stopped us and said to Harry, ‘Oh my God, you were so good!!’ So it was exciting to see their reaction today. And they’re still talking about it.”
*I wrote this piece for the American College Theatre Festival Region IV this week as part of the Institute for Theatre Journalism Advocacy's young critics competition. Click here to read the rest of my ACTF articles!

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Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: @BwayGinger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

Monday, February 9, 2015

No, I Wouldn't Rather Be an Actor, but Thanks for Asking

*In my experience with the theatre world, I have been on multiple sides of the theatrical process. I started out acting, I’ve tried out the stage crew thing a bit, and now of course I’ve discovered everyone’s favorite piece of the puzzle: the critics. As much as we want to say “Every part of this creative process is important; the PA holding the back door is just as vital as the ingĂ©nue,” the truth is that the actors are the ones everyone cares about. Let me clarify, they are the ones that those outside of the entertainment industry care about.
It’s true though!
For instance, following the Oscar nominations announcement this year, I saw multiple posts on social media in which people stated there were no African Americans nominated for Oscars… Yeah, not true at all. What they meant, of course, was that there were no African American actors nominated.
Likewise, since Broadway actress/goddess Audra McDonald won her sixth Tony Award last year, setting the record for the performer with the most Tonys, multiple theatre fans keep going around reciting a false statistic. That is, they keep claiming that McDonald has the most Tony Awards of all time, to which I’m fairly certain producer/director Hal Prince utters a condescending “LOL, that’s cute,” as he polishes Tony #21.
So to industry outsiders, acting seems to be the be all and end all of the entertainment world. Thus, I have found that people often assume that anyone working in theatre or film must wish he or she were an actor. Granted, there are definitely some people in that situation, but believe it or not, others would genuinely rather run wardrobe crew than be on stage.
When I tell people about my Broadway journalism aspirations, they consistently mishear me, and it gets awkward really fast. Somehow by the time the phrase, “I want to write about Broadway,” gets to their ears, it has transformed into, “I’m going to act on Broadway.”  And bless their hearts, my friends are so supportive of this new future they have envisioned for me! But then I have to say, “No… I mean… I want to write about Broadway news,” and they take a second to think about it, and then they feebly say something like, “Oh, yeah that’s great too…”
So here is a quick public service announcement to all laymen: when conversing with a theatre person about their future…
  1. Be slow to assume- When you hear the word “Broadway” or “TV,” carefully consider if the word “actor” was actually involved, or if it was just your imagination. Then continue the conversation from there.
  2. Tread carefully- Some non-actors are weird about your assuming that just because they’re in theatre they act. If you do get in that situation, try to casually slip in words like “gaff tape” and “gobo” so you at least seem like you know what you’re talking about.
You’re welcome.
*I wrote this piece for the American College Theatre Festival Region IV this week as part of the Institute for Theatre Journalism Advocacy's young critics competition. Click here to read the rest of my ACTF articles!

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Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: @BwayGinger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway

Monday, February 2, 2015

The 3 Reasons Why Super Bowl XLIX Confused Broadway Fans [Besides the Football Thing]

Super Bowl poster translated into
Broadway terms
Last night was the sports event of the year, and for once, every single Broadway fan actually cared. At least, for the first 3 minutes.

With Tony Award-winner Idina Menzel singing the National Anthem, I think all of us in the Broadway community were holding our collective breath, hoping that she would display the full extent of her talent for which we love her so dearly, but which unfortunately hasn't been up to par in recent live performances (the most recent of which I would link to, but it has magically disappeared from the interwebs). But y'all, we could rest easy, because she nailed it. Straight up nailed it.

But how often is it that a Broadway fan can tune in to the Super Bowl and actually recognize the name of someone involved? Idina Menzel's wasn't the only name we recognized. And that's where the confusion came in.

3 Reasons Why Super Bowl XLIX Confused Broadway Fans [Besides the Football Thing]

Michael Bennett
Reason #1: Michael Bennett (Seahawks)
When normal people hear his name, they might picture a big defensive end, but the Broadway fans immediately thought of director/choreographer Michael Bennett. Most famous for the American masterpiece A Chorus Line, he won a gazillion Tony Awards back in the day, and passed away much too soon. So just picture that every time this Michael Bennett poser did something exciting, every Broadway fan taking the opportunity to see if they could still remember the choreo to "I Hope I Get It."

Richard Sherman
Reason #2: Richard Sherman (Seahawks)
Did anyone else have this issue earlier in the season where you'd see "Richard Sherman" trending on Twitter, and you immediately assumed it was because the remaining Sherman Brother of Disney songwriting fame had died? No? Oh yeah ok... The Sherman Brothers penned the music for basically every awesome "First Generation" Disney musical, including Mary Poppins, Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone, and honestly the list is longer than the Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark previews. #FirstSpiderManReference #milestone

Ben Vereen
Reason #3: Vereen (Patriots)
Ok, I really might be whining about this one, but every time I heard them refer to "Vereen," it took me a second to realize they meant Shane Vereen and not actor/dancer Ben Vereen. I mean, my first clue might have been that Shane plays football and Ben does not, but still! Ben Vereen appeared in a historical/groundbreaking show, like, every other year in the '70s, including the original production of Pippin, for which he won a Tony Award (back when the Leading Player was played by a guy).

I think it's a testament to the extreme egocentricity of Broadway fans that we can turn even the biggest sporting event of the year into a teachable moment about Broadway history. Yay us!

Sally Henry www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry // Twitter: @BwayGinger // Facebook: www.facebook.com/singularsensationbway