The Arden kicked off our 23rd season with the world premiere of Michael Hollinger’s Ghost-Writer, which opened on September 15th. The opening night celebration began at 5:30pm with a Sylvan Society cocktail party at Serrano, one of Old City’s first restaurants, located at 2nd and Market Sts. 200 guests attended the opening night performance and were greeted during the curtain speech by Tom Petro, President and CEO of Fox Chase Bank (Production Sponsor for Ghost-Writer) and Fred Anton (Honorary Producer of Ghost-Writer.) Everyone celebrated after the show with sumptuous bites by Starr Events Catering and libations by Hatboro Beverages. Special thanks to Harmelin Media, the Arden’s Opening Night sponsor!
Philadelphia actors Scott Greer and Mary Martello have performed in more than 30 Arden productions, and they were last seen on the Arden stage together in the 2008/09 season’s Candide. This season, they will be playing Mr. and Mrs. Peachum in The Threepenny Opera. Despite so much shared theatrical history, when Gigi Lamm, the Arden’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations, invited them to participate in an interview, they each claimed not to know the other. The interview that follows occurred after Lamm introduced the pair.
Gigi Lamm: In total, how many shows have you two done together?
Scott Greer: It feels like 1,000.
Mary Martello: If we’ve done five at the Arden, we’ve probably done five Walnut shows, and some 1812 shows.
SG: 11 shows, I think.
GL: Are you sick of each other yet?
SG: What? Oh, no!
MM: How could we be sick of each other?!
SG: We don’t have to share a dressing room, so that might be the saving grace.
MM: That’s why we still like each other.
GL: Have you ever played husband and wife before?
SG: Every time, right?
MM: The most recent show we did together was Oliver! and we did play husband and wife. But I think [Threepenny] might just be our second time.
SG: Oliver! was really long, I guess.
GL: Do either of you have a preference for performing in musicals?
SG: Me either. It’s all about the material. A good show is a good show. And an interesting role is an interesting role.
MM: I agree completely.
GL: Do you two always agree?
MM: That was the correctly husbandly answer!
GL: How familiar with The Threepenny Opera were you before being cast?
MM: I was actually cast in it many, many years ago at the Boarshead Theater in Michigan, but when it came time, I was too pregnant to do it.
SG: When I was in college, we did Brecht on Brecht and we added some material from [Threepenny] and I sang the Tango with a classmate. That was my first exposure to Brecht and this piece.
GL: This is such an iconic work in the history of musical theatre, how do you feel about performing it?
MM: I try never to think about things like that. I’m just going to take Mrs. Peachum one line at a time and try to figure her out.
SG: I agree with Mary! I think there’s a big pitfall when you do Brecht because you’re supposed to do a style, a special thing when you play Brecht and you have to really avoid that and find the truth that these characters are in. Brecht writes about social problems and it’s like playing Shaw in that you really have to invest in the ideas and these ideas are a part of the fabric of the character. It’s a human being that wants things and fears things and that’s what you start with.
GL: What are your thoughts on the show’s message about morality and humanity?
SG: My seven year old daughter is very interested in whatever plays I’m working on, so I was trying to tell her about this and playing the music for her and as I described everybody in the play, she said, “oh, so he’s a bad guy,” and I said “yeah, he’s a bad guy” and then I described Tiger Brown, and then MacHeath, and then Peachum, and they’re all basically bad guys. But I was trying to explain Peachum’s world view and it was very hard to do, not because my daughter isn’t bright, but because it’s a very bleak way of looking at humanity.
MM: I think that it’s a fine time to be doing this show because all of the characters are in it for what they can get. They’re trying to survive or trying to save their own asses, or trying to get ahead, and everyone is using everyone. However, I like that nobody really pretends that they’re not doing that. As opposed to society today where we all pretend like we’re altruistic.
SG: And there is an interesting hypocrisy in that the Peachums don’t want Polly [their daughter] to marry MacHeath because he’s a criminal and they’re really not any better. But they, of course, believe that they are.
MM: We’re just holding a mirror up to society.
GL: Speaking of Polly, are there any skills and experiences you’re bringing to playing Polly’s parents?
SG: The Peachums feel about their child the way any parents feel about their children. They want the best for her. You know, there’s the practical thing that’s true: “Look, you say you love him, honey, but he’s in his third band since college and he delivers pizza and you’re going to be paying his rent! Don’t marry him!” They’re doing the exact same thing that any concerned parent does. They’re great parents! Or certainly, identifiable parents that care about education and a good job—I’m firmly in their camp! I’m a little more optimistic and less coldly practical but who doesn’t want that for their children?
MM: Mrs. Peachum wants the best for her child, but she also wants to make sure that Polly gives them the best that they deserve as her parents.
GL: What are you most looking forward to about the show and your roles?
MM: Doing them! I love the music. I love Kurt Weill and I’ve sung him plenty before and I can’t wait to get in that world.
SG: That music is so down and dirty. It doesn’t sound like anything else. It’s really fun. It reminds me of a street version of Sweeney Todd. It’s so tawdry, it’s great. And the role is irresistible.
MM: And the opportunity for learning is going to be great because even though I may have sung some of these songs before in a cabaret, when you’re doing a role in a show, it gets in your bones in a way that is much more grounded and then you have that at your disposal for the rest of your life.
SG: I also look forward to working with this Marty Minello person. She sounds interesting.
MM: I heard there was a Scott Beer in this show and I can’t wait to meet somebody with that name.
SG: Me either!
Our summer intern Natalia had the chance to ask playwright Michael Hollinger some questions about Ghost-Writer. Here’s part the second part of the two-part interview. Click here for part one.
Is the ending meant to be ambivalent? Would you care to share some light on what Myra is so furiously typing? Are we to believe the novel has been finished? (Confession: these are really things I happen to be very curious about!)
The play is designed to make the audience question Myra’s relationship to Woolsey and the work they produce together, and this perspective changes throughout the play. I’d rather not comment specifically on the ending, so as not to reveal too much.
What do you want the relationship between Myra and Woolsey, both pre- and posthumously, to indicate, if anything? What are your thoughts on what passes between them?
Clearly, Myra and Woolsey have shared not only space and time but also a deeply intimate relationship. Like an artist’s model, Myra has been present for and integral to the process of creation, and, as we see in the play, she comes to impact the outcome of Woolsey’s work in a many ways, both large and small.
Why do you think the Arden is a good fit for this play?
The Arden’s mission focuses on the telling of stories — something I strive to do well in all my plays, and particularly in this one, which reflects storytelling on a variety of levels. In my experience, the Arden’s audience is intelligent, cultivated, and adventurous, and I trust they’ll enter this play with openness and curiosity.
Ghost-Writer is on stage at the Arden through November 7.
Our summer intern Natalia had the chance to ask playwright Michael Hollinger some questions about Ghost-Writer. Here’s part one of a two-part interview.
What made you to decide to start writing plays? Had you always wanted to do so, or did the inclination come after your prowess as a musician?
I identified myself as a writer from a rather young age, writing poetry primarily at first. (“Fewer words,” as Mrs. Woolsey says in the play.) But I was attracted to the play form early on, as my family was heavily involved in a community theatre in my home town — acting, building sets, etc. I “ran lines” with my mother as she learned roles (something my own son is doing with my wife Megan downstairs as I write this), which acquainted me with the conventions of dramatic writing so that it was a very familiar form by the time I started writing short plays as a teenager.
How does being a musician inform your writing?
I think my sense of plays as an interplay of voices is enhanced by my experiences playing chamber music; I believe plays should be aurally satisfying even if you don’t understand the language. Musicians also study form more rigorously than theatre artists do: What’s a concerto? What’s a symphony? What’s a tone poem? What’s a sonata? What’s a cantata? What’s a song cycle? There are models for all of these forms across the centuries, and, in my experience, musicians — composers in particular — tend to be more aware of the constraints and possibilities inherent in each. Consequently, I’m very interested in the form of each play, its structure, sequence of “movements,” how the various characters, like instruments in an ensemble, are brought in or out to produce a certain effect. Studying viola seriously also helped me acquire greater detachment in the revision process. When you practice a difficult passage over and over, you can’t waste time beating yourself up about a clumsy shift or flat note. You just have to observe carefully and do it again and again, striving to get closer each time. This taught me a certain discipline with regard to revision — a combination of rigor and patience.
What was the inspiration for Ghost-Writer?
A few years ago I ran across an anecdote about Henry James and his secretary, who typed as he dictated his novels and stories over the course of years. According to the anecdote, when James died the secretary claimed to continue receiving dictation from her late employer. My mother had died shortly before I encountered this story, and, through conversations with my father, I began thinking about “the presence of absence” — that is, the power that a departed loved one holds over us, and how we negotiate the space left by that person. As the play continued to develop, I also found myself looking at the nature of creative process itself, that mysterious combination of craft and what most people would call inspiration.
By Bobby Bangert, Development Assistant and APA Class 16
At the Arden, nothing heralds the beginning of another season like the arrival of the new class of Arden Professional Apprentices. As a proud member of APA Class 16 (2008-09), seeing the new crop of apprentices (Class 18!) start on Monday brought back lots of memories, but it also reminded me of the tremendous affect this program has, not only on the individual apprentices it produces, but on our entire community.
The Arden has truly outstanding education programs, including our apprentice program. It is completely unique in that its participants work in every aspect of the company, and after ten months they can work in every department with proficiency in a variety of tasks. It is appropriate that the beginning of each new apprentice class coincides with the Live Arts and Philly Fringe, a time when our city is literally bursting with theatre in every possible space. Former apprentices are now theatre professionals working in Philadelphia and all over the country applying the skills they learned at the Arden to create, produce, market, and manage their own shows, and at no time is that more apparent than during Fringe time.
The list of former APAs producing in the Fringe is impressive, and below is a sampling of the former APAs whose work you can see in the festival this year:
Cecily and Gwendolyn’s Fantastical Paranormal and Quantum Entanglement is being produced by the Philadelphia Joke Initiative, which is headed by Class 15’s Alexis Simpson. Alexis is also featured in The Real Housewives of Philadelphia’s Main Line-O-Mania.
Fugue State stars Class 17’s Meredith Sonnen.
How to Solve a Bear is directed by Class 13’s Meg Walsh, and stars Class 15’s Scott Sheppard.
Kid Out of Nowhere is a new play, and the inaugural production of the newly formed Act Normal Theatre Company, which is directed by yours truly, Class 16’s Bobby Bangert, starring fellow Class 16 alums Hillary Rea and Richard Sonne, as well as the costumes of Class 16’s Katherine Fritz.
In addition to producing for the Fringe, former APAs are working with more established companies with Live Arts shows. Mark Kennedy of Class 17 is the Sound Operator for Pig Iron’s Live Arts show, Cankerblossom. New Paradise Laboratories’ Freedom Club stars Class 5’s McKenna Kerrigan, and is Assistant Stage Managed by Class 16’s Katherine Fritz.
While we’re out getting ready for the Fringe to begin this weekend, Class 18 is just getting oriented. The next time you’re at the Arden, keep an eye out for the apprentices (they will probably be Assistant Stage Managing the show you’re seeing, printing your tickets in the box office, or cleaning the lobby you’re standing in). Right now they’re learning the ropes here, but this time next year I can’t wait to see what Class 18 will be doing out there in the community.