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Welcome to the Arden Theatre Company blog, where we share behind-the-scenes stories and current happenings with you. You will hear from the Arden staff as well as actors and other visiting artists, and we hope to hear from you, too. If you have an idea for a topic, please post a comment about it. We can't wait to hear what you think!

Glenn Perlman, Technical Director at the Arden, discusses the challenging set of The Seafarer.

The setting for The Seafarer is a lower-level living room in Ireland, with actors entering from the second floor above. Veteran scenic designer David Gordon has cracked this design challenge by very cleverly integrating a suggested ceiling that comes out over the thrust playing space, indicated by a broken away section of floor boards and ceiling panels above and below large wooden beams. These beams run the entire length of the stage at about 14 feet above the floor, approximately half the height of the cavernous Haas stage.

Lighting designer John Hoey then called for the creation of a gridwork of steel pipes – affectionately named the “Mega-Grid” – to be installed a few feet above these beams, so as to be able to shoot lights between the beams without casting large, unnatural shadows on the stage.

So the Arden’s production staff engineered, created, and installed this new grid two feet above the set, about seven feet below the existing catwalks, in order to light this uniquely designed set. This visual compression of the height of the Haas should create the feeling of the dank, underground environment where the play takes place.

The Seafarer is on stage at the Arden May 14 – June 14.

A 10-minute interview with Philadelphia-based playwright Bruce Graham by theatre students from his alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

A View from the Trenches: APA Hillary discusses her experience as a teaching artist for Arden Drama School Spring Break Camp.

When I was 12 years old I learned how to tap dance. Once a week I would walk with my mom to St. Stephen’s Alley and meet up with my teacher, Juliana Schaurman and the four other students in class (they were all adults). And when the two hour class came to close I would immediately anticipate coming to next week’s lesson. On the days I didn’t have tap class, I tapped. If I was sitting at a desk at school, ask I was tapping under the table. If I was walking around Center City with my parents I was tapping every step of the way. I remember learning choreography to “Lazy River” and my favorite step was the Cincinnati. I have a clearer picture of what I learned in that tap class than the tap classes I took in college or even a year ago. Did I mention that this tap class was at the Arden?

Fourteen years later I am back at the Arden as an APA. It is because of my experience in that tap class that I get excited to see Arden Drama School listed on my weekly apprentice schedule. And, when I discovered I would be teaching dance classes all week during the Kids’ Crew Spring Break Camp, my excitement level quadrupled. I immediately began planning out a week’s worth of lessons. I flipped through all of my music, and surfed YouTube for some choreography ideas. I re-imagined the dance in my one-bedroom apartment and wrote down the structure, the steps and how I was going to teach this. I was so absorbed by it all that I even made some of my friends practice the dance with me.

The first dance class was off to a lukewarm start when the kids made fun of me for putting on the first High School Musical as their warm-up music. High School Musical 2 is the only cool one, I was informed. Oddly enough Pippin was acceptable and we carried on with our jazz hands and grape vines. As the week went on we learned the choreography for the dance that the students were going to perform in their Camp Show. I explained to them that even though they had to remember certain dance steps and certain positions on the stage, dance was actually story-telling through movement. By far their favorite section of the routine was the “free dance” where each student could dance however they wanted for eight counts of music. On Friday I managed to stop giving them hints by flailing my arms and legs in the back of the theater just in time to see the individual free dances. I could not stop smiling. They were fantastic.

I now have one more dance class that I will always remember. I hope that the boys and girls who came to Spring Break Camp will feel the same way. I look forward to continuing work as a teaching artist upon completion of the apprenticeship program and have a sneaking suspicion that there will be many more unforgettable students and classes to come.

Amy Dugas Brown, no rx Associate Artistic Director at the Arden, discusses the inspiring students of Camden Creative Arts High School.

I walked into the Haas today to check out a class with my favorite students in the whole wide world, taught by two of my favorite teachers. The drama and dance students from the Camden High School sat in section E, rapt. Ben Dibble and Jeff Coon were teaching them about acting musical theatre. Ben was thoughtful and thorough and precise. Jeff was impassioned and emotional and entreating. The students were on edges of their seats. They had just seen the 10 a.m. performance of A Year with Frog and Toad. They were simultaneously filled with serious questions and comments (they all, after all, plan to pursue theatre professionally) and excitement and flirtation (we are talking about Ben and Jeff, here).

We’ve been partnering with Creative Arts for six years now. Their drama students see five plays a year at the Arden and we provide them with at least one master class for each production that they see. In addition, I go to Camden to teach them acting and audition technique two to three times each school year. Getting to know these students and see them grow has been one of the highlights of my career. When the class of 2009 graduates this June, they will be the third class I’ve seen grow up from wide-eyed freshmen to college-bound seniors. They are lead in that epic journey by Dr. Douglas Overtoom, a man we all call Doc. He’s part artist, part teacher, and part zealot.

To say that Doc has changed these students’ lives is in no way hyperbolic. It is rare to find a high school teacher as knowledgeable and passionate about theatre as Doc. He puts these kids through their paces. He immerses them in dramatic literature. I could pick any student and that student would be able to perform a monologue from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Moliere and Wilson, with perhaps a little George C. Wolfe thrown in there for good measure. Now, I have my theatre degree from Barnard College, Columbia University, and if you had asked me to do the same my senior year there, do you think I would have been able to do it? I probably would have done you a mean Queen Margaret from Henry VI, Part II, and hoped it was so good that you would have forgotten that I couldn’t deliver the other goods. In the interest of painting a complete picture, I just called my buddy Jeff Coon, who has a degree in theatre from University of Pennsylvania and asked him the same question, “Okay, in school – give me your Greek comedy, Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Moliere, Miller…” He laughed at me. You see what I’m trying to say about the gift that Doc is giving to these kids?

And then there are the students. They are enthusiastic and curious and brimming with energy. They are a group of individuals. There’s Angeline who is going to be a playwright and director. Wait, let me restate, is a playwright and will soon become a director when she goes to college this fall. Then there are the sophomore boys, Kwazik and Marcus, both so good in such divergent ways. (When I envision the future, I see Kwazik playing Tusenbach in The Three Sisters, Whining Boy in The Piano Lesson, Caliban in The Tempest; Marcus will play Paul in Six Degrees of Separation, be Doaker to Kwazik’s Whining Boy, Brutus in Julius Caesar). Then there are the amazing sisters Edilay and Loyda (last seen at the school as those canonical sisters Antigone and Ismene) who can perform Lorca in Spanish. There is so much talent and dedication and potential in Doc’s kids. It is always exciting to be around potential and the palpable energy that potential produces. It’s an energy that makes you believe anything is possible. And in our world, where it is so easy to believe exactly the opposite, to feel that kind of energy is truly an inspiration.

And it’s a good day, indeed, when you can take a walk down into the Haas and leave inspired. So, Doc, Camden Creative Arts High School students and, of course, Ben and Jeff, thank you so very much for the inspiration you provide me!

By Matt Ocks: Assistant Director for Something Intangible

My role on this show pretty much ends in a few weeks. I’ll come watch the play as much as I can. As someone who was there for the rehearsal process, I’ll notice nuances in the performances that other people just can’t, and I’m fascinated to see how the actors delve even deeper into their roles. So many memories will stay with me: Snarky comments, March Madness, the hailstorm. And of course, there’s the story we’ve been telling every day. As befits an Arden show, Something Intangible is a great story, not just about Hollywood but about two brothers, often at odds. I think it is to Bruce Graham’s credit that the conflict between these brothers is not resolved in a tidy fashion.

Watching Dale go on the journey of learning to accept his brother Tony, in spite of the pain he has caused, every day for the past five weeks has been my honor. I take a small degree of ownership over the production that opens April 15th, but as I hope you can see, Something Intangible is very much a group effort. We started with a pile of pages (Great pages! Hilarious pages! But pages, nonetheless). We’re ending with a play. It’s a great play. It’s a hilarious play. Every now and then it’s a quietly devastating play. And I got to see it happen. “In-crowd” or “out-crowd,” I am tickled pink to be part of this crowd.

See you at the show.

By Matt Ocks: Assistant Director for Something Intangible

And then there’s that cast. In the roles of Tony and Dale Wiston, the Arden was smart enough to nab Scott Greer and Ian Peakes. Scott and Ian already are “brothers, ” even if they don’t have the same parents or the same last name, so we could skip the difficult step of having to construct that relationship between two strangers during rehearsals. The Wiston boys have been with us, and with each other, from day one.

Supporting Ian and Scott we have Sally Mercer as Dale’s trailblazing psychoanalyst, Sonia Feldman. Sally’s persevered through several different rehearsal chairs of varying comfort levels in our makeshift set. She’s also persevered through several different rehearsal candies (her character is a bit of a sweet tooth, even though she is not).Fortunately for Sally, Scott has generously stepped in to consume the candies she herself isn’t fond of. It’s saved us all a lot of heartache. No one wants to see Jolly Ranchers go to waste.

Rounding out the cast are Doug Hara and Walter Charles. I’ve seen Doug in several plays at the Arden, and have marveled at his physical prowess along with everyone else here. It’s been remarkable to watch him find not only the physicality but the emotional core of whiz kid animator Leo Baxter. Just the other night, sitting atop rehearsal cubes with a “do-for” whiskey bottle, he made a breakthrough in his big scene in Act 2, and I will not soon forget it.

One of my favorite rehearsal experiences to date was watching Walter Charles work with a dialect coach in preparation for his portrayal of the flamboyant – if a bit nefarious – German conductor Gustav Von Meyerhoff. Walter walked into the Arden conference room with a mental sketch for this character. He came back out an hour later with a fully fleshed out portrayal of a truly Teutonic tyrant.I cannot wait for our audiences to hear how he pronounces the word “quibbles.”

And as for our director – the captain of the ship, the leader of the pack – what makes Terry Nolen so brilliant is…well…Something Intangible. I’m not sure what to say about him, but I’ll give it a try. He is by turns loud and quiet, public and private, spontaneous and prepared. He is a drill sergeant and a cheerleader. And he is Yoda. “Do or do not. There is no try” in Terry Nolen rehearsals. I remain in awe.

And finally, I will write on this blog about Stage Management, because no one ever does. As much as everyone else I’ve just written about does, Stephanie Cook and Gary Thayer do ten times more. They record the blocking, they keep track of all the props, they make haircut appointments and schedule tanning sessions. They are the first to arrive and the last to depart, and that’ll be true every day for the next 9 weeks of performances. Fortunately for all of us, Stephanie and Gary were both born on Planet Krypton. They have x-ray vision and are impervious to physical pain, not to mention ribbing from knucklehead actors.

Check back tomorrow for Matt’s final post before previews begin on Thursday!

Matt Ocks is the Manager of Institutional Giving at the Arden. Currently, he is doubling as the Assistant Director of Something Intangible.

Dear Arden Insiders, >help

When I was in high school, I never got invited to parties with the “in-crowd”, but Something Intangible rehearsals have been nothing if not that. We have the cream of the Arden crop breathing life into this brand new play, and it has been my pleasure and great privilege as Assistant Director to serve as Fly on the Wall (with the occasional stint as Leader of the Line-Through, and slightly more frequent stints as Fetcher of the Coffee.).

I asked to work on this play because, as a young writer, I was eager to see how a playwright with more experience handles the rehearsal process. The mint on my pillow has been the chance to watch so many other brilliant artists – not just Bruce Graham, he of the shiny head and sharp wit – – but the director, actors, and designers, working at the top of their game. On those rare occasions when I get up the nerve, I actually get to engage with them as a colleague and fellow storyteller. It’s spine-tingling.

We’ve been lucky to have a phenomenal dramaturg join us from time to time in rehearsals, and for a discussion that often continues over late night e-mails among the rehearsal staff. Michele Volansky has helped us all hone in on exactly what story we are telling, and she gives the playwright a good kick in the pants when he needs it (and sometimes when he doesn’t, according to him).

And then there are the designers. We’ve got Jorge Cousineau doing sound. Even if you don’t know Jorge personally, you’ve seen his name in countless Arden programs, and I can vouch for his status as a master craftsman (or handwerksmeister, as they say in his native land). We’ve also got Jim Kronzer designing our set. The first year I worked at the Arden – a shy, sheepish apprentice – Kronzer decided it should rain in the Haas during Caroline, or Change, and our genius/miracle worker technical director Glenn Perlman made it happen.

We have just entered technical rehearsals for Something Intangible, where the designers and technicians come to the forefront of the creative process. I cannot wait to see what Cousineau, Kronzer, Perlman, and the other designers and technicians have cooked up for Graham’s play. To quote Something Intangible (sorry, I live and breathe it 6 days a week now), it is sure to be a “veritable feast for the senses.”

Check back on Monday for a new post from Matt about the cast.

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