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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 Amy L. Murphy, Managing Director

We have been blessed in Philadelphia to have had leadership from an extraordinary woman, Peggy Amsterdam. As head of the Cultural Alliance, Peggy took a small and somewhat successful service organization and turned it into a power house in advocacy for the arts. Her intelligent and perseverant defense of the arts played a huge role in thwarting efforts this fall to eliminate funding for the arts in Pennsylvania.

Peggy died on Saturday. Throughout this fall’s intense campaign to save the arts in Pennsylvania, Peggy was being treated for an aggressive and rare cancer. And yet she was still at the head of this fight, refusing to give in to the effects of her treatment and making sure that her presence and her passionate views were known.

While I had known Peggy since she moved back to Philadelphia from Delaware, where she headed up Delaware‘s State Arts Fund, I became friends with her in 2005. She and I attended a program at Stanford that was professionally transformative for us both. In that time we shared our views (and love) for the city in which we lived and gained perspective on the impact that we could have on the arts landscape and the organizations we served. We also shared a personal bond. As the mother of two sons, Peggy understood the craziness of both my business and my personal life. And reveled in conquering both!

Peggy had a great sense of responsibility and took mentorship very seriously. She informally mentored me since 2005, sharing her great perspective and wisdom. I felt honored for this great gift and will always be grateful. She also took the time in her busy schedule to talk to Arden apprentices, young professionals who gained a great deal from her sharing of her professional path.

But ultimately what I will remember most about Peggy is her dynamic personality, her style (boy could she dress), her sparkling energy that was always ready for a challenge and to try something new, and her great love of her family and friends.

Her obituary can be found at:

I am thankful for the gift that was her friendship.

By Matt Ocks, Manager of Institutional Giving

“Write what you know” is an old adage in the theatre, and it’s probably the reason so many of our country’s worthy playwrights excel at writing stories about their family. Tennessee Williams gave us the Wingfields in The Glass Menagerie; Eugene O’Neill the Tyrones in Long Days Journey Into Night; and our own Bruce Graham the Burks in his first great play, Burkie. I’ve never met Tanya Barfield, the acclaimed author of Blue Door, currently in rehearsals for a January opening here at the Arden, but if I do get the chance, the first think I’ll ask her is how she wrote such a darn good play about people she doesn’t know.

The main character’s dilemma in Blue Door, you see, is that he has no real understanding of the history of his own family. And his lack of understanding may cost him his wife and his integrity, not to mention a good night’s sleep. Yet Lewis’ problem – and Barfield’s by extension – is a common one for African Americans. Whereas Williams, O’Neil and Graham would have had enough information to write not only about themselves but about their parents, grandparents, and even great-great-grandparents, Barfield may have been hard-pressed to find actual historical information about her own ancestors to draw upon in creating Simon and Jesse, the ghosts of Lewis’ lineage who visit him in this play.

Alex Haley believed he was descended from the slave Kunta Kinte, but in spite of years of copious research and travel, he still had to posit Roots, the ostensible history of his own family, as a work of imagination. Today’s scientists have made giant leaps forward in the study of genealogy that might have helped Haley with his research. But anyone looking to DNA testing for answers still needs historical evidence to help pinpoint the origins of their family tree. (For more on the challenges – and successes – African Americans are now having in combining science and history in the search for their lineage, check out this link to African American Lives, a program that aired on PBS in 2006 and was hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)

My family is Jewish, and I am only three generations removed from life in Teplick, a shtetl (or small village) in the Ukraine. My great-aunt had the foresight to record the histories of her older sisters before they passed away, and I now have a written document chronicling their immigration to Brooklyn and later Philadelphia (reading it is kind of like watching Fiddler on the Roof without songs). It’s a great thing to have, but it still only takes me back as far as 1900. My roommate’s mother (of English descent) once told me she had papers documenting her family’s arrival in Virginia when it was still a colony. She can trace her roots back past the 1700s.

As much as any of us may know about our family, there will always be things we can’t know. Yet the desire to seek out one’s roots appears to be universal, and it’s a driving force behind Blue Door. It’s also a testament to Barfield’s prowess as a playwright that she could write what she knows by writing what she doesn’t know.

Which kind of makes me wonder – if you’ll excuse the digression – how did the other Arden playwright of the moment, J. M. Barrie, write the geography of Neverland if he didn’t really know it? Hmmm…

The Arden’s Production Manager, Courtney Riggar, filmed this video backstage during a tech rehearsal of Peter Pan. Follow her along and meet members of the Arden’s production team, learn new theatrical terms, and get the actor’s view from the Peter Pan set. And, of course, there’s a few appearances from Arden dogs!

You can go backstage yourself at an upcoming Arden Family Salon. Click here to learn how to bring the whole family!

Behind the Scenes with Peter Pan Puppet Designer Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews
Interview by APA Kristyn Hegner

What is the most challenging part of designing puppets for Peter Pan?
The puppets in this production of
Peter Pan are all made from found objects – kitchen gadgets, >ailment gardening tools, beauty supplies, cleaning products, and assorted bits of junk. It’s always a puzzle building puppets this way, looking at a hairbrush and wondering if it can be a hand or a shin or a mohawk or maybe all three. The objects that we used were each made for one purpose and one purpose alone – a watering can was originally meant to water houseplants, not to be someone’s head! As a result there’s a lot of testing out the puppets to see how they move and if they get injured. We have to constantly take them back and forth between the rehearsal stage and the workshop, taking them apart and rebuilding them to meet the actors’ needs until we come up with the puppets that you finally see on stage.

What puppet did you have the most fun creating?
All of them were really fun because each one is different. Slightly and Nibs came first and were built to be lanky and loose and full of bits and pieces of junk.
The Twins and Tootles came next and are stouter, sturdier puppets with fewer elements in their makeup. Somewhere in there came Tink, envisioned as a light-up bug made from plastic bottles and bubble wrap. There are also shadow puppets which are some of the most ancient and universal sorts of puppets that appear in puppet plays all over the world. There’s never a dull moment in puppet making!

How long does it take to create a puppet?
A puppet can be made over the course of one minute, one day,
one week or one year depending on the complexity of its design. My favorite puppets are just flat characters cut out of cardboard, or taking utensils from the kitchen drawer and using them to put on plays. It’s fun to make things like Tinkerbell or the Lost Boys that you see in this production of Peter Pan, but it doesn’t need to be that complicated to achieve the same effect of using everyday object to tell stories.

What made you decide to become a puppet designer?
My love for making these sorts of puppets comes from my passion for recycling. The recycling symbol – the three arrows that point to each other in a triangle – means “Reduce” and “Re-use” as well as “Recycle.” By making puppets out of used bits of junk we’re not just re-using these items, but also reducing the amount of new things that need to manufactured – we don’t have to go to the store and buy things when our recycling bins and basements are full of old things that are just waiting to be given new life! Yesterday an old teapot, a washboard and a garden hose each served a
certain purpose and today they are puppets. It makes me wonder: What will these things become tomorrow?

Get a sneak peak into the Arden’s Peter Pan with this video trailer. You’ll see fairies, pirates and lost boys, but you’ll have to come to the theatre to see even more magic and excitement on stage!

Learn more about our production by visiting the Get Familiar section of the Peter Pan page on our website.

Kids attending Arden Children’s Theatre know how to get into the spirit of the show!

Every child that attends Peter Pan will have an opportunity to ask questions after the performance, meet the actors in the lobby, and take home a show poster. However, some kids come to the theatre prepared.
Here’s a picture of Kyler in his pirate paraphernalia with Frank X who plays Captain Hook in our production.

If you’d like to share a picture of your child at Peter Pan, please email us or post the photo on Facebook.

This spring, Arden Children’s Theatre will present If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, based on the beloved children’s book by Laura Numeroff.

We had dinner with the play’s director, Whit McLaughlin, as he talked with his daughters Jane and Emory about the book and what they hope to see once the story hits the stage.

In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, staff writer Dianna Marder learns all about how we create the baked goods consumed onstage during Rabbit Hole.

Exactly how much are the actors eating? Courtney Riggar, the Arden’s Production Manager, did the math:

44 cakes, 80 creme caramels, five zucchini breads, 160 beers and 40 gallons of milk.

Click here to read the whole article in the food section.

If you are in the baking mood yourself, here’s the recipe Grace Gonglewski uses for her lemon squares.

Ultimate Lemon Squares
Makes 24 squares

One 9x13x2-inch pan, buttered and lined with buttered parchment or foil

For cookie base:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour

For the lemon topping:
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons strained lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

Confectioners’ sugar for finishing

1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

2. For the base, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and continue beating a minute or two, until light. Lower the speed and beat in the flour.

3. Spread the dough over the bottom of the prepared pan, using a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth it. Bake the base about 20 to 25 minutes, until golden and baked through.

4. While the base is baking, prepare the topping. Be careful not to overmix the topping or it will have a coarse-textured foam on the top when baked. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs just to break them up. Whisk in the sugar, then the lemon juice and zest.

5. As soon as the base is baked, remove it from the oven and pour on the topping. Immediately return the pan to the oven and continue baking the squares for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, or until the topping is set and firm.

6. Cool on a rack until completely cooled.

7. To cut the cake, use the paper to transfer it to a cutting board; slide a long knife or spatula between the cake and the paper or foil, then pull it away. Trim the edges, use a ruler to mark, then cut the cake into 2-inch squares.

8. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving. For up to several days, store the squares in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.

Per square: 196 calories, 2 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates, 19 grams sugar, 9 grams fat, 57 milligrams cholesterol, 13 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Happy Baking!

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