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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!

By Matt Ocks: Assistant Director for The History Boys

Tech is the time when everything comes together. Scenery, lighting, video, sound, costumes and actors all become one, and the play we’ve been rehearsing upstairs in street clothes takes on new life downstairs in the Haas.

It’s also a grueling series of 10 to 12 hour days that leave everyone – cast, crew, design team, you name it – feeling worn out and sleep deprived.

And it’s invariably a bit absurd.

How else, then, could one capture it than through a series of haikus –an album of poetic snapshots, miniature moments ripe with technical absurdity.

It’s even more fitting for The History Boys, a play that wears its love of poetry on its sleeve.

So without adieu
Straight from our tech, just for you
The AD’s haiku…

“Ten seconds” says Jorge
Typing cues in his Mac Book.
But it will be more.

Boys nap in the House
While teachers try on costumes
Grown ups wear more clothes.

Kate says “restore please”
She is our Stage Manager
She looks good in hats

A ten minute break;
Ping Pong in the green room; Can
Anyone beat Jorge?!!

Where’s David Howey?
Traversing the catacombs.
Tricky Headmaster

At the Piano
It’s the Matt Leisy Special
Step in the light, Matt!

Chris and Mike step dance
While Brian makes a joke and
Jon eats a donut

“No tea in the Haas”
As I swallow the last drop
Crisis averted.

The esteemed Frank X
Walks through walls on his exit
Too cool for the door?

“Ankit on the floor”
“Peterson move back a step”
Terry’s re-blocking

After rehearsal
Evan shows us a jazz club
It’s good to unwind

By Maureen Mullin Fowler: Director of Education

This past Saturday, the Arden opened its doors up to children and parents for our annual Arden Drama School Open House Day. Fifty-one students and five outstanding Arden Drama School Teaching Artists had a fantastic time teaching and participating in “mini” lessons. Children were split up according to their age (Kindergarteners = Red Group, 1st and 2nd graders = Orange Group, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders = Yellow Group, middle and high school = Green Group) and rotated throughout our theatres and classroom spaces taking classes in Acting, Musical Theatre, Improvisation, Storytelling, and Shakespeare.

It was a day filled with energy and creativity! From learning musical theatre choreography with Liz Filios to playing Boom Chicka Boom with Michael McElroy, children used their imaginations and worked together. Only twenty minutes in length, each session on Open House Day was a chance to sample the different types of classes we have to offer while meeting our dynamic teachers.

After the last session, families came together for a reception, while our Teaching Artists mingled about the crowd answering questions that parents had. Children got a chance to introduce their parents to the teachers who taught the classes they enjoyed the most. The Education Staff was on hand as well as our great Box Officers who handled the long line of parents ordering classes at the end of the day.

It is a new season and this Saturday was just the first of many at the Arden to be filled with children exploring, wondering, learning and having fun! We have a whole year filled with classes for kids in grades K-12. Want to learn more from the teachers you met this weekend? Check out our new website which includes audition tips and favorite games and exercises from some of your favorite Arden Teaching Artists.

By Hazel Bowers, Dialect Coach for The History Boys

When I saw The History Boys on Broadway a couple of years ago, I fell in love with the play, >discount and couldn’t wait until a company in Philadelphia decided to stage it – Yea Arden! So, when Terry Nolen called and asked if I would work on the dialects, I was absolutely delighted. Especially as the North of England “sound” is one of my favorites. There are also several characters in the play speaking standard British, which is my native tongue! How great is that!

As far as the process is concerned, I always prefer to work one-on-one with actors, slowly moving through the script, one sentence, even one word at a time, making sure, with constant repetition, that the actor starts to hear and mimic the specific sound of whatever dialect we are working on (in this case,Yorkshire and standard Britlish). I am a firm believer that work of this nature ideally has to be done early on in the rehearsal process, so that as an actor is learning his/her lines, they are also learning to incorporate the correct sounds to ensure that the dialect slowly becomes a natural extension of their characters. I am, in fact, quite a stickler, even having actors mark/highlight their scripts on all words that have to be changed to the correct sound, e.g. change the word ONE to WUN which is the correct Yorkshire pronunciation.

After a couple of weeks of constant reminders, all that should be necessary now are the occasional “tweaks” during runs of the play. I also encourage the use of tapes; movies; websites, YouTube clips etc., to steep actors in the cadence of the appropriate dialect. Finally, I have a personal mantra: CLARITY, CLARITY, CLARITY! – a perfect dialect is of no use whatsoever, if it is too “thick” for audiences to understand. I know that I have done my job if I can understand every word, yet still have the strong flavor we need to honor the play. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a dream cast, which is what I have in The History Boys!

By Matt Ocks: Assistant Director for The History Boys.

So I know it’s called The History Boys but Alan Bennett’s play has one of the juiciest roles for a woman to come along in quite some time. Mrs. Dorothy Lintott, she of the droll asides and witty interjections, is a treasure. Part Ms. Jean Brody (in her prime, of course) and part Professor McGonagall, she’s a no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma’am sort of teacher who is loved and respected by her pupils nonetheless.

Lucky for us that she’s being played in this production by Maureen Torsney-Weir. Maureen was in the very first production I worked on at the Arden: A Prayer for Owen Meany. I remember attending a Sunday evening run-through and marveling at how, as Lydia, the Wheelright’s persnickety maid, she could make such an impression while perched in a wheelchair, magnificently maintaining the illusion that she had lost both her legs. Her warm-hearted performance as the grandmother in Caroline, or Change later that season (does anyone else remember how she danced with such abandon in the Channukah number?) confirmed for me her stage presence. One of the great joys of The History Boys has been the opportunity to get to know Maureen not only as an actress but as a friend.

In many ways Mrs. Lintott is the hardest role to play in The History Boys (I can already hear the men in this show crumpling up paper to throw at me, as if I were Posner, the class victim). Mrs. Lintott’s lines tend to be cryptic, rife with double meanings and innuendo. She is able to say a lot to her fellow teachers without saying too much, if that makes sense. Figuring out exactly what she is doing line-by-line has been a challenge for all of us on the rehearsal team, but Maureen’s willingness to experiment with different ideas each time we try a scene has been a lesson in acting and what a safe rehearsal process can allow for.

Take Mrs. Lintott’s impassioned speech in the middle of Act 2 on the role of women in the study of history. We grappled with this speech for several days, but through discussion, experiment, and continually returning to our scripts, Maureen, Terry, our dramaturg Sally and I were able to figure out that the speech, though seemingly directed at the history boys, is in many ways for the benefit of their male teachers, her colleagues. Once Maureen figured out the two-fold purpose of the speech, so to speak, the scene came to life in a whole new way. It was an exciting breakthrough, and of my favorite Mrs. Lintott moments in the play.

Maureen’s done double-duty on this production, serving as our French teacher for the infamous brothel/veterans hospital re-enactment scene (Performed by 9 American actors! Playing Brits! Speaking French!). Maureen instructed the history boys a week before she even began to act as their instructor in the play. When she came to her first rehearsal as actress instead of teacher, art imitated life in a wonderful way.

I’ve watched run-throughs of this play almost every night the past week. I know that when we open, audiences are going to fall in love with all our history boys. Thanks to Maureen, they’re sure to fall in love with Mrs. Lintott as well.

By Matt Ocks: Assistant Director for The History Boys.

In our second week, The History Boys has reverted from a play about history, memory, poetry and teaching to a play about furniture.

Desks. Chairs. A door. A lamp. The piano.

What goes where? When? And who puts it there? And then who takes it off again?

Blocking is a major part of early rehearsals for a play, and one of a director’s many responsibilities. Some directors come in with an entire plan mapped out, but Terry Nolen works differently. He usually has some preliminary thoughts about how things will go, but he starts every day with an open mind, so that the play can literally come to life through a combination of impulse, instinct, experiment, and collaboration.

I have a theory (I’m not the only one, trust me) that well written plays tend to stage themselves in a lot of respects. So far Alan Bennett’s words have guided us well, even though he sometimes seems reticent to share information. Bennett doesn’t always specify where a scene takes place, or when, so a lot of this week has been about searching for the clues. (Picture our fearless leader Terry in a deerstalker cap a la Sherlock Holmes, with me his bumbling assistant Watson, and you’ve got the idea).

Some of the cases we’ve been cracking: Which boys need to stay in the classroom after a bell has rung? Can a conversation between the irrepressibly witty Mr. Hector and the deliciously droll Mrs. Lintott happen as they walk through the school hallway, or must they be sitting in the staff room? Bennet doesn’t lay it out for us, but he guides us through subtle means, and it has made blocking an unusually satisfying experience.

Though it’s still grueling. Three days in, and we’re on page 34.

Of 109.

End of Act 1 where are you?!!

At a recent reading of The History Boys, >prescription we asked friends of the Arden to tell us about a memorable teacher from high school. Check out the stories they shared!

By Matt Rosenbaum: Assistant Director for The History Boys.

The full cast of Arden Theatre’s The History Boys got together for the first time tonight to read through the play for a smattering of staff members, board members, and Sylvan Society donors and longtime friends. This was the first time we had all 12 actors in the same room, but we’ve already been rehearsing this play for a week.

It’s been “back to school,” as Irwin, a teacher with decidedly forward-thinking methods, says in the opening scene, set a good 15 years later than the majority of the play.

The History Boys is truly a pageant – a mix of poetry, song, history and pastiche. As befitting this multi-faceted piece, our boys and their two main teachers have spent the last week speaking French, making harmony, sharing poetry, and recounting history.

Some of the highlights of our own General Studies class up in the rehearsal hall: World War I, W. H. Auden, Philip Larkin, Brief Encounter, Gracie Fields, the Pet Shop Boys, the English school system, and a rousing sing-along of “Twist and Shout”, unplugged (in a first of what I hope will be many “sharing sessions.” our Timms – Jonathan Silver – strummed the guitar and sang).

We’ve also worked on our dialects. It’s not enough to sound vaguely British – particularly not with an authentic Brit – David Howey as the prickly, priggish Headmaster – among the cast. Yet thanks to our esteemed dialect coach Hazel Bowers, each actor could make a presentation to the whole group on one of a variety of topics (Henry VIII! Rugby!) all the while using an authentic Yorkshire brogue.

We also had a visit from a real-life former History Boy. Robin Kirk, husband of the Arden’s rock star marketing director Beth Yeagle, went through many of the same experiences in life that Dakin, Posner, Rudge and the others go through in the play. His talk was illuminating, and not only because it was over a pint, as Robin would say.

And, of course, we have been consumed by dramaturgy. The role of a dramaturg varies from show to show, but for Americans doing an Alan Bennett play, it’s been research, research, research. The History Boys glossary, as prepared by dramaturg Sarah Ollove, is as thick as the script, and just as essential. The film clips, power points, and one-on-one conferences with each actor have also proved invaluable.

As assistant director, my role in this process is essentially to support the director and the rest of the production team and the cast. In some ways I feel a bit like Scripps, the most observant of the history boys – and the play’s primary narrator of past events. It often seems as if Scripps lives vicariously through the escapades of other characters, particularly his best friend Dakin. This week it’s been my pleasure to live vicariously through the history boys. I’ve learned French, heard music, sat in on dramaturgy and dialect work…and gotten Terry Nolen at least 5 venti coffees (milk, no sugar). Don’t worry about me, though. Whenever I go out for him, he pays for both of our beverages.

It’s my distinct honor to be part of the process, and to share it with our blog readers. Stay tuned for more updates. Class is still in session.

©2009 Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia, PA 19106. For tickets, call 215.922.1122.
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