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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 Steve Pacek, >physician Mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

Well the show is under way and we are having a blast!

Photo by Mark Garvin

Photo by Mark Garvin

We are in the second week of the run and we’ve just found out we’ve been extended…AGAIN! Now, the show will be running until June 27th! Plenty of time for everyone to come and find out what happens if you give a mouse a cookie…

The audiences have been great! I think even though everyone asks why I make such a big mess on-stage, they all have a lot of fun watching me do it. All the kids seem to feel for Davy, who plays the Boy, also. I think they understand a little bit of how their parents must feel when the mess gets a little out of control at their own houses.

I’m very excited for the ASL shadow interpreted shows! That’s where interpreters will act out the whole show with us on-stage in sign language. Those shows will be on two very important days…May 22nd (my mom’s birthday) and June 10th (MY birthday)!!! It should be a lot of fun…there will be two mice making twice the mess!!!

More to come…

By Bill, Elizabeth and Christina
Mouse Cookie Opening 031
My family and I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to go to opening night of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie at the Arden!  There were crafts for the kids and a kid-approved dinner buffet and tasty ice cream treat from The Franklin Fountain following the show.

Of course, the best part really was when the lights went down.   Both the Boy and the Mouse became endearing to us within the first five minutes of the show.  The Boy’s first move toward being an independent “big kid” and a Mouse that just won’t stop chattering became the catalyst for all the laughs that follow.

The actors’ energy was contagious and had kids sitting at the edge of their seats waiting for the next prank.   The Mouse’s and Boy’s timing were absolutely perfect – a finely tuned slapstick routine reminiscent of the Three Stooges. The company’s use of stage technology in the first half held everyone’s attention – even the Mouse seemed amazed.  And just when you thought that the actors couldn’t possibly keep up the pace, they come back from intermission refreshed and ready for even more hilarity.

The Arden ‘s smaller upstairs theater was a great venue for this performance; it brought the actors closer and they became more real.  The set design used a perspective that made it seem very kid oriented.   As adults, it’s so easy to forget that kids live in a world where everything is so much bigger than they are.  Mouse reminded us that even a milk glass can be a challenge for little hands – and faces.

The staff was incredibly friendly, eliciting giggles and smiles from my very shy child.  When the Arden does children’s productions, they certainly do them well.  If You Give a Mouse a Cookie ranks right up there with some of our other Arden favorites like A Year with Frog and Toad and Go, Dog. Go!

By Matt Ocks, Manager of Institutional Giving

The Arden was founded by artists with a penchant for literary adaptation, >cheap and though our evening subscription series has diversified considerably since the late 1980s (read: Sondheim musicals, works from the canon by Arthur Miller and Thornton Wilder, new American plays by Michael Hollinger, David Davalos et al), our devotion to the printed word can still be seen most consistently in our Children’s Theatre programming.

Think of your favorite Arden Children’s Theatre show of the past 5 years. Chances are it shares a title with a book you read when you were a kid (important exceptions to this rule include the original show The Dinosaur Musical, as well as Sleeping Beauty, which is of course based on a beloved fairy tale). My favorite is The BFG. Not only was it a great show with exemplary performances and eye-popping staging, it was based on a book I had the great pleasure of reading when I was 9.

The act of producing Children’s Theatre is very much akin to the act of reading a bed-time story to your favorite kid or grand-kid, niece, nephew, cousin, etc. Don’t you often have the desire to choose a book you loved when you were their age, even if said kid doesn’t ask for it? I’m pretty sure my mom always got more out of reading The Little Engine That Could then I did. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a very inspiring story, and I found it very encouraging. But Mom had more life experience, more memories of the book than I did, and it resonated with her more deeply. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get choked up in the same way when I read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (a book whose passages resound in my mind to this day) with my own kid.

The reason I bring this up is: If Children’s Theatre offers grown ups the chance to introduce kids to the books they loved in a new and exciting format…what great books haven’t we done yet?

To put it another way: If you had the chance to read a bed-time story to 12,500 kids (the number who very well may see our If You Give a Mouse a Cookie), what old book from your childhood would you take off the shelf and adapt for them?

In my case, in addition to the aforementioned Chekhovian masterpiece of futility by Judith Viorst, I would pick The Wizard, the Fairy and the Magic Chicken, a purposefully stupid tale I made my mother read to me constantly when I was little and which, according to amazon.com, is now – most distressingly – out of print.

Let us know the kids’ book you would want to adapt, and we’ll try and let you know if someone’s beaten you to it, or if the chance to bring it to the stage still abounds.

For If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, we’ve asked families to write reviews. We’ll be posting them here on the blog throughout the run.

Our first review comes from James Landman and Carole Ozeroff. Check out what they had to say and then take a look at the pictures from our Opening Night party!

We loved Give a Mouse A Cookie. It was one of the best plays we have ever seen.
The second half was our favorite part because it was funnier.
We also liked the technology of the mirror.
I have read the book but the play was better.
I loved the arts and crafts before the show and enjoyed the ice cream party afterwards too.
We think kids of all ages would really enjoy this play too!

By Ed Sobel, Associate Artistic Director

As you likely have seen, we announced our season for 2010-11.  Some of you may be disappointed to see your recommended plays not make the final cut.  A number of the suggestions you contributed are truly excellent ones, and it is entirely possible, even if they did not find their way onto the season this year, they will pop up some time in the future.

That is another facet of season planning.  It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking only a show or a year ahead.  One of the advantages we have at the Arden, given the relative stability and support of the company, is to think in longer-term strategic ways about our work and our mission.  Two of the plays on our season for 2010-11 are the result of several years of planning.  It took that long to move them from projects we wanted to do, to getting the right artists in place or securing the performance rights.

Sometimes, a play will stay on a “maybe” list for a number of years, until the right convergence of factors —  be it personnel, balance of “actor weeks” or other costs, or most importantly, passion to tell this particular story at this particular moment.  This last is actually critical.  It moves us from the consideration of “here’s a play I like” to “here’s a play that is important for us to do”.  We often debate the degree to which a play compels performance at this particular moment.  We see our obligation as members of our community not merely to entertain, though we want to do that too, but to tell stories that are deeply and immediately connected to the forces shaping our lives right now.  If we are asking you to invest your time and money and attention (not to mention our own efforts), we’d better make sure we are enjoining you in a conversation that can have vital impact.

I want to thank all of you who contributed suggestions, comments and ideas.  We were sufficiently overwhelmed by your interest that it became impossible to respond to each individually, but in previous posts I have tried to give some sense of the basic foundations upon which the season is eventually built.

Below, in alphabetical order, are abbreviated reactions to some of the ideas you suggested:

Arcadia – Mr. Stoppard’s strong relationship with our cross-town colleagues at the Wilma has tended to make this play their purview (as noted, they produced it in 96-97).  But the wit, deft language, and challenging storytelling certainly make it a contender.  Arcadia in the Arcadia.  Hmm.

Anything new from Michael Hollinger” – apparently, we agreed.  Ghost-Writer coming soon.

Brighton Beach Trilogy – The Walnut produced these consecutively in 03-05, seems a little soon to take them up again.

Dancing at Lughnasa – actually produced by the Arden in 2005-6.  So, good taste.  But we are not likely to revisit it any time soon.

Doubt – without a lengthy discussion of the merits of the script,  I’d note that sometimes a play seems to be past its most exciting moment of “freshness” (usually just shortly before Hollywood catches on it would be a good idea to make the movie), and yet is not quite ready for “re-discovery”.  This play may fall into that “in-between” category.

Desire Under the Elms (actually by O’Neill, not Williams) – the tug of a work from the American classic cannon is hard to resist, especially one from a master story teller speaking of betrayal, family, and the battle for the American Dream in difficult economic times.  The question:  what, or who, would spark a visceral production of the piece to speak to our audience today?

Machinal – requires at least 10-12 actors (the original Broadway cast from 1928 lists 22).  See my earlier post about “actor weeks”.

Fetch Clay Make Man – debuted at the McCarter in January 2010.  Playwright/slam poet Will Power is absolutely an exciting and unusual voice. We will have to look into this further.

The Glass Menagerie – The Walnut has snapped this up for next year.  Maybe they are reading our blog.

Noises Off – a personal favorite of mine (hardest I’ve ever laughed in a theater), but didn’t quite meet the “important to do now” test this year.

Parade – one of our perennial “maybe’s”, and pending the right circumstances and personnel, might well turn up on a future season.

The Pain and the Itch — Bruce Norris’ penchant for pricking at the conscience of well-intended but flawed liberalism makes this play a contender.  As the dramaturg on the original production in Chicago, I am also keenly aware of some of its challenges, including the controversy surrounding the character of a five-year-old girl suffering from a sexually transmitted disease.  Bruce’s latest play, Clybourne Park, which recently ran at Playwrights Horizons in NY and Wooly Mammoth in DC, is also worth examining.

If you have further questions (or comments) about our process this year, feel free to post them.  I will do my best to answer.

And lastly, as the heading of this post suggests, in season planning you never know when, just as you think things are set, something changes…

By Maureen Mullin Fowler, Education Director

For many in the theatre industry, Monday is the day of rest.  No one would think that 8AM on a Monday would be a high traffic time at the Arden.  But last Monday it was, and it will be for the next two months.  Three caravans of cars being driven by Arden Professional Apprentices, actors and teaching artists all headed out for their first day of teaching the Arden’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie residencies. Third, fourth and fifth graders in Philadelphia, Camden and Ridley Park were eagerly anticipating the return of the Arden teaching artists with whom they had so much fun during the Peter Pan residencies.

Excitement was thick in the air.  Not only was it the first day back from spring break, (translation = kids still think they are on spring break) they also had a double dose of energy upon learning their favorite theatre teachers were in the building.  They were ready to play their favorite improv games, learn about the next Arden production, and get to act out scenes of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

This residency concentrates on some common Language Arts themes.  Cause and Effect.  Simple vs. Complex sentences.  Writing narratives and dialogue. And at the end of each residency not only will each student have traveled to see If You Give a Mouse a Cookie here at the Arden; they will also have written their very own children’s book to share with their young brothers, sisters, cousins, and neighbors.

It’s exciting to know over 2,000 students throughout the region will be taking their first steps at become authors over the next few week.  Check back here for more updates on our budding children’s book authors!

chairs and tapeBy Mark Kennedy, Arden Professional Apprentice

Whit MacLaughlin, view director of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, used a metaphor I loved one day in rehearsal as he was working with Steve Pacek, our Mouse, on the physicality of his character.

He described leaning out over the edge of a cliff, and how in that position, your body is one hundred percent ready for anything. He said that an actor, especially in physical comedy, always has to be in that state of high-octane readiness, but also has to translate that kind of energy into simple, every-day motions, like drinking tea.

As Mouse Cookie‘s ASM, or assistant stage manager, I’ve latched onto the idea of drinking tea at the precipice. My main responsibility is tracking all the props used in our Mousey mayhem. At any moment during the rehearsal process Stephanie Cook, my stage manager, could ask me to run down to our props master Meredith McEwen to ask questions about a prop or come up with a green screensubstitute prop for rehearsal. I’ve helped transform the rehearsal hall into a green screen studio for Jorge Cousineau, our video and sound designer, to film footage.

I’ve also had to be ready to reset the stage as we go back and work moments again and again (in one rehearsal we worked one sequence 78 times in a row!), refining the light and sound cues, the way the actors interact with the set, the props, and each other. That could mean putting a mop backstage in the place where it’s easiest for Davey Raphaely, our Boy, to grab. Or it could mean taking ten minutes to clean up rice flour, stuffed animals, streamers of tape, and hula hoops, among many other things.

As an apprentice, for me cleaning is now second nature. Those of you applying to the program for next year, take note: a lot of the time you are just shoeslike the Boy, fighting with the physics of mops and trash bags and cleaning products. But, much like drinking tea, although these tasks and skills are simple, you are asked to do them consistently at the precipice.

And what does it all add up to? An hour of absolute chaos and certain hilarity. I have never laughed more, nor watched with more admiration as Steve, Davey, Whit, Stephanie, Meredith, Jorge, and everyone else work to make this Mouse as effortlessly joyful as possible.

By Matt Ocks, Manager of Institutional Giving

Today may be the start of baseball season here at home, but last Sunday was the end of an era for all of us at Arden Theatre Company.  Snow White Diner, a greasy spooned fixture of our Old City neighborhood, shut down for good after serving countless cheap and well-buttered meals to our casts, crews and staff.

And while the Arden’s Blog exists mainly to communicate with you – our readers – about the more nitty gritty details of running a non-profit theatre, from season planning with Ed to rehearsals with Evan, it seems only fitting that one of us should write about the lunch place that is no more.

I had a meal at Snow White on my first day of work at the Arden in 2006.  The plays, comics and books I have read there during the solitude of many a 3 PM lunch break include The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Don Quixote,, The Satanic Verses, The Good German, The Boys of Summer, and, yes, Bruce Graham’s Something Intangible (There may be no better place to read a Bruce Graham play than at a joint like Snow White, over a cup of pasty spit pea soup with croutons and a greasy, grilled tuna melt sandwich).  My own first play, Cheesesteak Latkes, is even set in a diner like Snow White, that doesn’t stay open past 7, and hardly has any specials.

I’ve talked over a basket of fries with Arden stars like Michael Doherty, ordered fountain sodas with the Caroline, or Change strike crew, and inhaled greasy, toasted bread with other folks on our staff – the ultimate rejuvenating cure for an Arden opening night hangover.

Over the years I’ve voiced many complaints about Snow White.  “They oughtta stay open later!”  “They oughtta have liverwurst more!”  “What’s with those Styrofoam cups, hanh?!!”

But it was never the kvetching of a cranky curmudgeon who wanted the place to close.  It was the gentle critique of an attentive baseball coach who wants his team to do better.

Now that Snow White really is closed, and another trendy bar is about to open, I cannot help but wonder:  When things are looking grim on a 10-out-of-12 day, or the Inquirer review was bad, or the grant we sent in got rejected, where can we get puffy French toast, or a cup of some thick minestrone, or the honest-to-God world’s best coffee at a time when we really need it?

Because everyone who knows may go to Melrose, but everyone who works here went there.

So long, then, Snow White Diner.  I’ll be smelling greasy spoons in my dreams…

By David P. Gordon, Scenic Designer for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

Having designed 23 previous productions at the Arden (some of them quite complex) I thought creating the set for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie would be a simple and fun project. Fun it has been, but simple? Not in the least!

Though this is my first design for Arden Children’s Theatre, I have taken my five year old son, Avery, to a number of past productions, and what has always impressed me is that the Arden treats its kid’s shows with no less care, support and attention to detail than it lavishes on its main stage productions. This is particularly important in the case of Mouse because Director Whit MacLaughlin made it clear from the very first design meeting that he wanted to emphasize the inherent theatrical qualities of the play, rather than trying to imitate the simple storybook world of the Laura Numeroff/ Felicia Bond book  on which it is based.

In Whit’s conception, the fun of the story comes from the chaos created by the introduction of the hyperactive mouse into the ordered world of the young boy who must suddenly accept the responsibility of caring for him as a parent would care for a young, energetic child, all the while trying to contain the mess created by the mouse before mom gets home. For Whit, the play bears many similarities to Sam Shepard’s True West (a decidedly adult play which some older readers of this blog might be familiar with) that, like Mouse, takes place in a kitchen which is largely destroyed by two feuding characters over the course of the action.

The idea, then, for our production was to create a realistic and recognizable suburban kitchen, presented as seen from the perspective of the child (and rodent) characters. In order to do that, we’ve enlarged all of the elements (counters, appliances, doors, furniture) about 140%, so the adult actor playing the boy will appear to be the size of a nine year old in relation to the set. In addition, we wanted to give the audience the sense of looking up at the kitchen from below, like the mouse, so all the scenery is built in forced perspective, diminishing in size as it reaches the ceiling.

All of this, of course, makes the set a very complicated structure to build (and to design) with no right angles or simple dimensions of any kind, and every element, down to the last cabinet knob, having to be manufactured from scratch. Fortunately for me, the set is being built by Technical Director Glenn Perlman, a man who has consistently met every construction challenge I’ve ever thrown at him on previous Arden productions with artistry and aplomb, so I’m confident that all the craziness will look just right.  We hope you enjoy it!

Glenn Perlman at work on the set for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Technical Director Glenn Perlman at work on the set for If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

By Steve Pacek, Mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

My advice to you – in case you ever play a mouse, you should start going to the gym now!!  I knew the show was going to be fun to rehearse, but I didn’t quite know how tiring it would be…  I probably should have been able to guess.  The only times I’ve ever seen mice, I could hardly follow them, they were moving so fast.  The mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is no different.  We were joking today (or maybe we weren’t joking?) that I should put one of those fitness sensors on during the show to see how many calories I burn on-stage.  Yikes!  Yet another reason to promote physical fitness…

We move into the theater tomorrow.  Hooray!
Keep checking the blog for more updates from Steve and his adventures in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

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