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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, discount Manager of Institutional Giving

June 30th is the end of the fiscal year here at Arden Theatre Company, and the development department is in the midst of a mini-phone campaign to encourage former supporters to renew their contributions in time for us to make goal for the season.  As an added incentive, any increase they make over last year’s gift counts towards the Hamilton Family Foundation Challenge (audiences who have seen Sunday in the Park are already familiar with this challenge, as it’s mentioned nightly in a post-show speech by Jeff Coon).  If we raise $50,000 in new or increased gifts by June 30th, the Foundation will match that with an additional $50,000 for Children’s Theatre and our outreach program, Arden for All.

One of the questions I get asked the most by audience members when I talk about donations is why, after they already spent money on tickets, they need to contribute to the theatre as well?  And of course, the answer is – they don’t.  But if they can, by gum, they should!  Right?  As a theatre-maker reared mainly on Broadway shows, I struggle with this issue a lot.  After all, on Broadway, when a show doesn’t sell, it closes.  And if we think of the theatre as a business, than the idea that we should have to buy tickets and be asked to make donations does seem silly.

But perhaps the theatre is something else.  True.  It has many of the same qualities as a business – it employs a variety of highly trained craftsmen; those craftsmen create a product; that product is sold to the community.  And yet, by virtue of the transformative potential of what we produce – transformative for us and our audiences – we theatre-makers are by and large not in it for the profits.  But if theatre’s not just a business, what else is it?

When William Penn wrote his plan for the layout of Philadelphia, he insisted upon five public squares that would be open to everyone.   As far as he was concerned, we all had a right to spend time in these “havens of respite in a busy world.”  And if we’re all allowed to sit on a bench in Rittenhouse Square, throw pennies in the fountain at Logan Circle, or cut through the City Hall courtyard on our way to Market or Broad – shouldn’t we all be able to see Sunday in the Park at the Arden?  Is that show not also a haven of respite in our busy world – a world even busier, I might add, than the one Billy Penn was talking about?

Theatre is a commodity, but it is also every citizen’s right.  And until more people in our field start to position it that way, the argument that those who can afford to ought to both buy their tickets and contribute will not hold very much water.  At least, that’s what I think.

We did boffo business this season at the Arden.  We’re humbled by the thought that 100,000 ticket-holders passed through our doors.   If one third of those people contributed $10 on top of admission, we would already be above our individual giving goal for the season.

I put this argument forth not to be contrary or to make anyone who might have bought but not contributed feel guilty.  I’m merely a professional fundraiser who constantly calls in to question the need for my services.   Because, you see, a part of me still thinks theatre is just a business.  Even when I know it’s as essential to my life as relaxing in a park on…er…Sunday.

This is a complicated issue.  And I’m only talking about individuals.  I could write a whole treatise on whether or not the country’s government ought to be supporting the work of its artists.  But if summer is a time for reflection, I can’t think of a better topic theatre-wise to reflect upon.  So by all means, tell us what you think.  I’m sure there is more to be said here.

Arden Theatre Company presents Philly’s First Bike to Theatre Night!

On July 2, ride your bike to the Arden, enjoy valet bike parking, and see Sunday in the Park with George at a discount!

For bicyclers only, we’re offering a Tandem Discount! Tickets are 2 for 1! And if your bicycle is just for one, tickets are ½ priced!

Please call 215.922.1122 to reserve tickets! Valet parking stub must be shown at the Arden box office to redeem tickets on the night of the performance. Performance begins at 8pm.

And remember, July 2 is First Friday in Old City so there will be fun festivities at the Arden and throughout the neighborhood.

Arden Theatre Company is located in Old City at 40 North 2nd Street

About the play: Inspired by Georges Seurat’s impressionist masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Sunday in the Park with George celebrates the power of artistic creation and the journey through a changing landscape. It’s also about:  bumbling adulterers, demanding bosses, competitive colleagues, nagging mothers, and catty shop girls all enjoying a pleasant Sunday in the park. And that’s just the first act! As for the second, there are 9 video projectors creating stunning visual effects.

About our Event Sponsor: Valet bike parking is provided by event sponsor Neighborhood Bike Works. Neighborhood Bike Works is a nonprofit educational organization in Philadelphia that seeks to increase opportunities for urban youth through bicycling, and promotes cycling as an environmentally-friendly means of transportation. In 1996, the organization began as Youth Cycle & Recycle, a program of The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. They organized as a separate non-profit in July 1999. Today, they hold classes at three permanent shops, satellite locations in Chester and Norristown, PA, and in several public schools and community centers.

Neighborhood Bike Works

By Sarah Ollove, Dramaturg for Sunday in the Park with George

Here are five illuminating facts about Sunday in the Park with George and the painting that inspired it.

1)      George Seurat hated the term ‘pointillism.’ He felt it was reductionist and missed the point of what he was trying to accomplish. He referred to his technique of using tiny dots of color to create a picture in the eye as chromoluminarism. Chromo meaning color, > lumen meaning light. Color and light. Lapine and Sondheim adopted the term for George’s Act II artwork.

2)      Since its acquisition by the Chicago Art Institute, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte has only been loaned out once: in 1958 to the MOMA. While there, a fire broke out. Hundreds of masterpieces were in peril, not only from the fire, but from smoke which is just as perilous to paintings as flames.  Fortunately, Sunday made it out of the building without damage, but, unsurprisingly, has not left Chicago since. So if you’re interest in the painting has been piqued, you’ll have to plan a trip to Chicago.

3)      For someone so obsessed with technique, Seurat left in a number of ‘mistakes’ in Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte. Several characters are completely out of proportion: people whose legs would be ¾ of their bodies if they stood up, or who have torsos that somewhat resemble an alien’s. One tree casts two shadows. And there is an unusual brown triangle sticking into the painting on the right side. The best guess is that it is a tree trunk root, but doesn’t look like any of the other trees in the painting and casts no shadow. No one has positively identified the square shape that Marie claims is a waffle stove, though the conventional guess is that it is a baby carriage.

4)      When writing the book for Sunday, James Lapine tried to simulate the speech patterns of late 19th century France by avoiding contractions and Latin root words.

5)      Initially, Sondheim was interested in structuring the musical as ‘theme and variation.’ The first act would focus on the creation of the painting (as it does now).  The second act would be a series of scenes written almost like a revue that would comment on the painting or art in general. Eventually, Lapine convinced Sondheim to winnow the themes and variations down to two: one an imaginative look at what it is like for the figures to be trapped in the painting and the other a satiric look at the contemporary art world. However, the idea of theme and variation was not let go so easily—countless themes, characters, music, and even words are repeated and re-invented throughout the musical.

By Mark Cristofaro, Drummer-Percussionist-Noisemaker, orchestra member for Sunday in the Park with George

Preparing for a new show is always challenging.  I get the score, look over the music, see what instruments I will need to bring, etc.   Any Sondheim show though always makes this process harder.  For the percussionist, it usually involves a lot of instruments, which you just don’t have sitting around in your living room.  When I received the score for Sunday In The Park with George, I expected the worst.  The usual Sondheim stuff which includes a multitude of tuned percussion, like timpani, vibraphone, orchestra bells and even tuned concert toms, tuned wood blocks called Temple blocks, and tuned cymbals called Crotales.  Then just for fun, he usually throws the percussionist a curve ball by writing in an unconventional sound.  When I played Sweeney Todd here, it was the “metal bucket”.  Pacific Overtures had the “bell plate”.  Even Caroline, or Change had me trying to make music by playing on a cardboard box…

So I had heard from some other players in the business that Sunday would require more of the same insanity: pots and pans.  OK, no problem.  I can handle this.  Just another day at the office.  From what the score reads, looks like 4 different pots…or pans…or both.  However, when I started to listen to the original soundtrack, the pots…or pans…sounded like they were specific pitches. (long pause………)

What do I have to do now?  Go into my kitchen, take out our cookware, and listen for pitches?  This was never going to happen(mostly because if I EVER took cookware out of my kitchen to use as a drum or something, the front door locks would be changed by my wife Suzanne when I returned home that night). So with a little help from another percussionist colleague, we brainstormed and came up with a great idea to find the specific pitches needed for this show:  Thrift shops.  So, we start going into second hand stores…with a pitch pipe and a mallet… You can only imagine the looks we would get.

I learned a lot about cookware construction during this quest.  The thinner the pot/pan, the lower the pitch.  If I found as cast iron pan, it usually had a very high pitch.  These were the easier ones to find: the higher pitches.  I determined the pitches I need were(form low to high), C#, F#, A natural, and C natural.  These were the distinct pitches I hear on the recording that doubled the bass line for the song “The Day Off”.  So we found the highest pitch, C natural rather quickly.  A small skillet (iron) pan.  Also the A natural initially, but I decided to replace that one because it was a thinner metal, and sounded too “clangy”(is that a word?).  So then I found a real nice replacement A natural…another skillet(iron pan).  Real defined “A”.  AAAHHHH….. Sounded like a bell of some sort.  I was getting hopeful, but then hit a dry spell.  Couldn’t find the 2 lowest pitches.  After a few attempts at various places, I did come across this sauce pan, thin metal though, that produced a fairly convincing low F#.  Chances of finding that last pitch, the lowest C# was looking almost impossible.  I came up short so many times.  Then I just got lucky and found this beautiful larger iron skillet pan(looks like something form the 70’s w/ a red paint bottom) that produced a very convincing low C#.  OK…had them all.

Now that I had the “instruments” (aka..the skillet pans), now I had to figure out how to set these things up so I could some how make music with them.  There are no stands, mounts, or gizmos you can find to hold pots and pans in place so that a drummer can play them with sticks or mallets.  My idea was to find some kind of suspended contraption to hang the pans from…but where was I gonna find something like that?  Lucky for me, technical director Glenn at the Arden had some ideas, and he designed and fabricated an aluminum structure that we fastened the pans to.  It is a great piece of hardware, and I don’t believe I could have played the show smoothly without Glenn’s help and input.  It even looks cool…makes me look like I know what I’m doing too.

I’ve done 14 musicals at the Arden, and the production people and artists know I go to all extremes to make the music and percussion 100% accurate.  Sometimes it’s not easy to do.  But when you “get it right” and never compromise the integrity of the music, it feels so good…

By Maureen Torsney-Weir, cast member of Sunday in the Park with George

Well here we are in the middle of our run of Sunday in the Park with George212 We’ve been through an exhausting (though completely worth it) tech and previews, > seen an exhilarating opening night and now are doing eight shows a week of this fabulous show.

I play the Old Lady and the critic Blair Daniels in Sunday.  It’s fun to hear the audience murmuring when I come out to the “Blair Bling” in Act 2: “Is that the same woman who was the old lady?”. Thanks to Terry Nolen and our wonderful costume designer, Rosemarie McKelvey – I do look different! Its a funny thing, but as a painfully shy person in my private life, I am completely comfortable on stage.

Through the lives of the characters I get to play, I am most fully myself onstage.  Terry Nolen, who I’ve been lucky to have done 5 plays directed by him, says he wants to see our souls onstage.  Come see to see the souls of a most extraordinary company of people!

The Arden’s biennial gala, clinic the Granfalloon, took place on Friday, June 11. Over 300 guests gathered at the Comcast Center, the tallest building in Philadelphia, for a rousing evening of cocktails, dinner and dancing.  The event was held in honor of N. Peter Hamilton, a longtime Arden board members and supporter of Arden Children’s Theatre and Arden for All.

The evening began on the 43rd floor in Ralph’s Café where guests enjoyed the exquisite view, as well as small plate dining, cocktails, and a silent auction.

Guests then moved down to the Winter Garden lobby, where special guests Joilet Harris, Steve Pacek and Alex Keiper performed with rhythm and blues band, LeRoy Hawkes and the Hipnotics.  Guests enjoyed the music and sumptuous desserts, bid on the live and silent auctions and danced the night away.

Granfalloon 2010 grossed $186,000 for Arden Theatre Company! Enjoy these photos from the event!

Thanks to all those that supported Granfalloon 2010!

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

We’ve got just under two weeks left of our run of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, so you still have time to come back and see the show again! Or if you haven’t seen it yet, make sure you get your ticket so you don’t miss it!

I have to say that if you suffer from lower back pain, like I do on occasion, you really should look into doing the mouse workout. I never would have thought that running and jumping around so much on stage would help my back. I was actually afraid it would hurt it more, but it hasn’t! Exercise enthusiasts talk about the benefits of strengthening your core and I am now a firm believer. I have to start devising my workout plan for after the show is over…

People have been asking if we are going to do any of the other stories in the series. I know Davy and I would both LOVE that, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

And since this is my last post during the run of the show, I want to thank everyone who has been to the theatre and shared your laughter and applause and feedback with us! It’s been such a great run! And I look forward to seeing you at the Arden next season because I just found out yesterday that I’ve been cast as Spiller in The Borrowers! Till then…

Have a great summer!

Arden Professional Apprentice Class 17 completes our 2009-2010 season with our APA Showcase Falling Into Place, featuring five short plays by Christopher Durang, David Ives, >decease Shel Silverstein, and Sean Michael Welch, directed by Steve Pacek, our Mouse in If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. The APA Showcase serves as the culminating project of a year-long professional training program and provides a unique opportunity for us apprentices to put our varied skills into practice and to the test.

Unexpected surprise parties. Unusual interventions. Sordid love affairs. Maddening alternate universes. Everybody has to be someplace!

An evening hell-bent on slapstick insanity, Falling Into Place features the APAs falling in and out of ridiculous predicaments to finally chucking all sense out the window and celebrating the madness of theatre and life and everything in between.

Check out our video promo giving you a taste of APA life, set to the song we all can’t get out of our heads, the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling (Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night)”!

To reserve your seats call the Arden Box Office at 215.922.1122

by Mark Kennedy, Arden Professional Apprentices

Every day, except for Mondays, I hum the song “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George in the Arcadia green room while I sew in a fake hair piece to the Mouse’s hat. Later onstage he will cut it all up and after the show I will take out the hair piece, spot clean the hat, and let it dry so I can sew in a new piece the next day. It is one of the many little tasks I complete daily (and in many cases, twice a day) to keep If You Give A Mouse A Cookie running.

I have many tasks like this that involve constant upkeep; I am definitely never really finishing anything. I put every prop in its proper place only to be brought out and thrown around each day and I spend about an hour and fifteen minutes cleaning up each mess. I have to be painstakingly careful cleaning up each and every time because I have to be sure to clean up all the rice flour that the Mouse pours onstage at a particularly delightful moment in Act I. The rice flour gets into the cracks on the floor, into the tiny ledges in you are my sunshinethe cabinets, even into corners backstage. I have to be sure to get rid of it all because if any rice is left out it will attract real pests like ants and moths. If it’s left out with water under the stage lights it will actually bake into unleavened bread. We definitely do not want our own version of If You Give A Bug A Biscuit.

As I write this we’ve done 45 shows and you can imagine after five weeks of constant cleaning I might be feeling a little weary of the tedium. But it’s funny, I’ve been less weary than I thought I’d be.

I find a lot of little things that keep me happy. The Mouse draws a picture of a large sun and a house as he sings “You Are My Sunshine” each show, and I’ve hung up each picture backstage as a visual representation of the number of times we’ve told this story. 45 so far. Only 53 to go!life is good

On the inside of the Mouse’s hat is a little inscription that reads “Do what you like. Like what you do.” I like to think our costumer Richard St. Clair chose the hats not only because our Mouse is ever the optimist, but that the hat’s message would provide me a daily reminder of just how lucky I am to be here, working, doing what I like. So I choose to think that way, and marvel at my luck to be doing it.

On the front of the hat is another inscription: “Life is good.”

For First Friday on June 4, >physician we staged a living version of Georges Seurat’s painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte right on Filbert Street! A group of volunteers, under the direction of Arden Professional Apprentice Brittany Howard, wore modern clothes and struck the poses from the iconic Seurat painting that inspired Stephen Sondheim to write Sunday in the Park with George, currently on stage at the Arden.

Here are some pictures of the process, the result and all the people that stopped to watch the painting!

After the living painting was complete, we had our final Young Friends event of the season! Young professionals and tableau participants gathered for a pre-show party sponsored by Triumph Brewing Company. Then, everyone watched Sunday in the Park with George on the Arden’s stage!

Here are some pictures from our Young Friends party!

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