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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 Andrew Wojtek, Arden Professional Apprentice and Assistant Stage Manager for The Borrowers

As part of the Arden Professional Apprenticeship, each apprentice serves as the Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) for one of the productions in the season’s lineup.  It just worked out this year that two apprentices had to double-up on one production because of the timing of Ghost-Writer and The Threepenny Opera opening so closely together.  I was one of the lucky two APAs who were assigned to ASM The Borrowers.

Going into what the rest of the company likes to call “ASM Land” is very different from your day-to-day duties as an apprentice.  While the production is in the rehearsal process, prescription you pull rehearsal props, take notes, and help work through scenes.  In tech rehearsals, we run sequences over and over again, re-set the stage, and learn what parts of the show we will eventually “crew” for every performance.  But once the show opens, your life is tied to the performance schedule.

I thought it would be interesting to share with you a day in the life of the ASM.  This not only gives you a glimpse into what happens to prepare for a performance, but what it’s like to work just one morning at the Arden.

6:50 am: Wake up; hit snooze button.

7:00 am: Wake up; get out of bed.  Get ready for the day.

8:02 am: Leave the house, catch the 17 bus.

8:27 am: Arrive at the Arden.

8:28 am: Drop off bags, start a pot of coffee (the cast and crew all pitched in and bought coffee and fixings – it’s cheaper than buying it every morning), and eat a little breakfast.

8:45 am: Crew call – this is when the whole crew is “called” to the theatre to prepare for the student matinee performance.  To get the show ready, I set my props, boil noodles for Crampfurl’s “worm” and make sure that everything I need for the show (like the giant screwdriver, the trap door, and pieces of “doll house” furniture) are all set to make their appearances.

9:35 am: The Haas is now open to patrons!  All three crew members take turns swinging the pendulum that you see shadowed on stage.

Andrew operates the giant screwdriver!

10:07 am: Make my way to center stage to give the curtain speech.  I finally have all the Arden’s media partners memorized!

10:08 am: The show is up and running.  During the first act, you’ll find me backstage running my crew track: stomping my feet for shadows, changing the puppet’s costumes, handing off props, and operating the screwdriver.

10:47 am: First act is over, now it’s time to set the scene for the second act.  My partner, Ashley, and I do the shift on the stage left side of the theatre.  You’ll see us moving out the apartment and –if you look carefully– getting the boot prepped to go on stage.

11:02 am: Act Two has started and I’m back to work making more shadows, operating puppets, and paging the curtain on the Gypsy Caravan.

11:44 am: The show is over!  As soon as the cast is finished with their curtain call, I bring the big spool of thread table on stage and answer questions that the audience has for the crew.

Noon: The crew goes about resetting the stage for act one as soon as the theatre empties out.  As a part of ending the day, we do the laundry for the next show, reset the wigs, clean up props, and close down the backstage side of the theatre.

After the show, we jump back into our regular APA duties, doing Facilities Maintenance (FacMan), processing gifts in Development, prepping bins for Arden Drama School, and so much more.

If you have any questions about what happens backstage to prepare for The Borrowers, I hope that you won’t be too shy to ask.  Email askarrietty@ardentheatre.org and we’ll be back in touch.  And I feel obligated to end this blog entry the same way I end my curtain speech… “Remember that The Borrowers is here on stage at the Arden through January 30th, so if you like what you see, tell your friends and family!”

By Grace Gonglewski, Josie in A Moon for the Misbegotten

Costume fitting today. Had talked earlier with Alison [Roberts, the costume designer] about the possibility of little pouches of bird seed to pad me with to sort of naturally add weight and size to my hips while having motility. I like the idea of Josie being bottom heavy, sort of grounded in the earth.

Grace in costume during a rehearsal

Alison did a marvelous job – it is subtle but definitely enlarges me. I feel like Jilline. We have cut from the script several of the size references, focusing more on the ugliness she feels. Alison’s exquisite work has helped me feel …ugly enough to lose my confidence. I am growing every bit of body hair back – eyebrows, legs, underarms… makes me feel… well, ugly, raw, farmgirl.

And I think we are going to dye my hair black to match my little brothers. It says in the script black and coarse – thinking of how we can do that… maybe a perm? Megan in Ghost-Writer did a sort of crimp style that we can try. Fun.

By Glenn Perlman, >help Technical Director

Children’s theatre often means spectacle — and special effects.  Our kids’ shows need to be exciting and visually interesting, since we’ve learned that children are a very honest audience — they’ll yell right out if they don’t get something; or start squirming in their seats if they get bored.  We get to be very creative sometimes, like building little dog cars for Go, Dog. Go! Or building a giant draw-bridge stage that turns into a crocodile to eat Captain Hook in Peter Pan. Or make slimy green snot to throw at the wall in The Stinky Cheese Man.

The Borrowers has plenty of cool, fun stuff too.  Like a ten-foot-long boot and a spool of thread big enough to use as a table.  Our small but dedicated team of artisans and technicians take on these challenges with a smile…  its about as great as a job gets.  But this show brought a new challenge for us:  An almost full-stage change of scenery from Act I to Act II.

Before I came to the Arden, I was the Master Carpenter at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.  That is a very large, very well-staffed company that produces over 18 shows a year in “Rep.”  That’s short for “Repertory Theatre” meaning theatre that repeats shows, in rotation, from one night to the next.  In other words, you could see Hamlet on Friday night, and then come back Saturday night for Romeo and Juliet and on Sunday afternoon catch King Lear.  All in the same theatre, on the same stage, but with completely different sets.  Opera companies often work in the same way.  After each performance, a whole crew of technicians comes in and switches the sets from one show to the next.  Its called a “change-over” and often takes a crew of ten or more an hour or more, depending on the complexity.

In a rep set-up, all of the sets are designed together, with each other in mind.  Sometimes they share elements, like a floor surface or a backdrop.  Other times they are completely different.  Often they have dual-purpose components, such as pieces that are double-sided and simply spin around from one show to the next.

Borrowers Act I Set

The Borrowers set during Act I

In The Borrowers, Act I takes place in the house and under the floorboards.  The backdrop is used as a projection surface to create giant shadows, to show how small the borrowers are.  But in Act II, Arriety and her family go out into the great wide world, experiencing the vastness of nature for the first time ever.  If you stay in your seat at intermission, you can watch as the small but mighty stage crew, led by Arden Apprentice assistant stage managers Andrew and Tara, change-over the set from the Clock family’s home to the grassy fields.  Only the main portion of the stage and the backdrop and frames appear in both acts.

Borrowers Act II Set

The Borrowers set during Act II

The secret is casters (small wheels that help big, heavy scenery move easily) and hinges with loose pins.  All of the sets are built up on these wheels, and they lock together by lining up two parts of a hinge and then sliding the pin in to hold it.  There are also lots of electrical connections that have to be connected or disconnected, for the lights that are on the set, and fog machines, and other things.  And lights that are on the floor that have to be shifted and re-focused from act to act.  There are five different little steps that have to be moved around so the actors can get on and off the stage depending on which act it is.  And when the Act I set is on stage, all the Act II stuff is tucked in backstage, out of view — and vice-versa.  In fact, during Act II, the actors and crew need to step up and walk through the Clock’s apartment set to get to their places backstage.

Everything has to be done in a specific order.  Everything has to be done exactly the same way each time.  Some of the pieces of scenery have only two inches of clearance while moving past other pieces.  During rehearsals the first time we changed from Act I to Act II it took an hour.  By the time of our first preview, it was down to about twenty minutes (still too long for a fifteen minute intermission!)  By Opening Night, Andrew and Tara got it down to about eight minutes.  And now, I bet they can do it in six-and-a-half, without even looking at their notes.

There’s science to it, like a surgical operation.  But there’s also art to it, like a well-choreographed ballet.  Intermission is actually my favorite part of the show…  but that’s just me.

So, if you haven’t seen The Borrowers yet, you might want to stay in the theatre at intermission and watch the secret ballet.  And if you already saw it and wondered how it all changed while you were in the bathroom, then you should come back again and this time wait until after the show to have that cup of coffee!

The Borrowers runs through January 30.

By Allen Radway, T. Stedman Harder in A Moon for the Misbegotten

What is it about a ‘stache that elicits such a polarizing reaction? What it seems to imply, what it reveals, what it conceals? I dunno. I’ve never been the best moustache farmer in my career nor have I ever worn one without any accompanying facial hair longer than five minutes. Why? Because I look downright creepy. Or sleazy. Or goofy. It’s open to interpretation. My wife will vouch for this. She’s rolling her eyes right now, and bracing herself for life with a swarthy push-broom on my upper lip for the next few months. Not what she had in mind when she said “I do” last June. Sorry, love. But…

I strongly believe that T. Stedman Harder’s moustache is the emotional core of the character, the source of his power and entitlement, and ultimately the center of his Standard Oil philosophy on life. James Lipton was quoted as saying “The moustache. It seems to be the very puissance of the antagonist in modern drama.” I have to agree, exalted one.

I’ve decided to document the rehearsal process of my moustache for all of you Arden true believers out there. For a laugh, for a lark, for your liking or loathing. Theatre is a many faceted thing. This picture catalogs a ten-day beard and my slacker mop-top just prior to hitting the East End Salon for Harder’s first haircut and trim.

By Sarah Sexton, Manager of Institutional Giving

‘Tis the Season!

In my family, we have a tradition. When we’re all piled into the car around the holidays, we make up alternate lyrics to “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Yup. We’re just that weird.

Most often, the alternate lyrics are focused around one of our favorite Christmas movies, A Very Brady Christmas. (If you haven’t seen it you should. There’s a “gift of the magi” moment when Carol and Mike are planning surprise trips to Japan and Greece for each other, Bobby’s secretly racing cars but pretending he’s at college, and Marsha’s husband is a disgruntled toy salesman named Wally. It’s worth several watches.)

So in honor of that tradition, I humbly offer…The 12 Days of The Borrowers.

On the twelfth day of The Borrowers, the Arden gave to me…

12 GIANT screwdrivers

11 Local school groups (many more than that- they’re here every Tues-Fri!)

10 Light and sound cues

9 Volunteer ushers (through our Family Usher Network!)

8 Spillers spilling (Just dreadful.)

7 Boots a’stomping

6 Worms a’squirming

5 A P A’s….! (actually, there are 6 and we LOVE them! Arden Professional Apprentices )

4 costume changes (It’s a boy? It’s a girl?)

3 Borrowers under the floorboards

2 puppeteers

and the actor from Mouse and Cookie…!

Happy Children’s Theatre!

If you think you can do better–and I know you can–post your “12 Days” below! (Or just one or two.)

By Jenn Peck, sick General Manager

There are several indicators around here that Arden Children’s Theatre has begun.  Staff members in brightly color t-shirts, bleary-eyed actors showing up before 10am with large cups of coffee or tea in their hands, the smell of popcorn waning through the lobby and Arden APAs happy to have their nights free – unless they’re scheduled past 6PM to help with a mailing, read a new play or  clean the lobby (or assist with A Moon for the Misbegotten rehearsals …which just started).  The main indicator that The Borrowers is running?  While you might think it’s the hundreds of school children in our lobby or the line of buses outside our door each morning, Arden staff members know that it’s poster rolling that means kids are in the audience!

See, it’s part of Arden Children’s Theatre that after every performance, there is a post show discussion where kids can ask the cast and crew questions and then, each child gets a free souvenir poster as they leave the show.  And while you might be most used to seeing The Borrowers Poster hung flat on the community board at your nearest Starbucks or in the window of your favorite independent bookstore*, when you and your child are at the theatre (or your child is there on a school trip**),  they will receive a rolled poster on their way out.  Who rolls these posters, you ask?  While we often joke about poster rolling elves, there (sadly) is no such thing.  (The elves already have jobs up at the North Pole around this time of year.)

Posters are rolled by the Arden Staff.  They’re rolled in the box office.  They’re rolled in the green room.  They’re rolled backstage.  They’re rolled at meetings.  They’re rolled during interviews.  They’re rolled during lunch.  At this time of year, we’re always rolling.  In fact, the Arden has coined the annual tradition called “Posterpalooza” where staff members get together one night before the show starts and eat pizza and candy and play games and … of course… roll posters.

Let’s do the math:

There are 79 performances of The Borrowers.  There are 369 seats in the Haas where the Borrowers is performed.  (And our shows do sell out quickly so if you haven’t bought your tickets yet, please do!  We wouldn’t want you to miss it!)  That’s potentially 29,151 people who come see the show during its run.  That’s a lot of poster rolling!

So, if you happen to be by the Arden through January 30th, the last day of The Borrowers, my guess is that you’ll see many a poster and many a staff member rolling said poster.  My guess is that you’ll even be coerced into rolling some yourself.  We’ll be rolling until the show is over.  And then, we’ll start rolling again because The Flea and the Professor, our first ever commissioned children theatre piece, starts up in May.

*  Not seeing The Borrowers poster in a place where you think it should be?  Coffee shops, schools, book stores, community centers and senior homes are all good places to get the word out.  You might even know of somewhere that we didn’t think of that would be great to hang a poster.  Let us know (in the comments here!) and we’ll either head out there ourselves or send some posters and tape your way and you can hang them up.  Don’t worry – we won’t make you roll it before you hang it!

**  Your child not seeing The Borrowers with his or her school group?  Do you think it would be a great field trip?  Let us know and we’ll be sure to get information out to teachers and schools we might have missed.

A Moon for the Misbegotten began rehearsals yesterday. Here’s how actress Grace Gonglewski spent her weeks before joining fellow actors and director in the rehearsal hall.

Today I am re-recording Acts 3 and 4 on audio tape. I have been listening to lines when I drive so they will go into my head quicker but I spoke too fast and need to hear them slower.

I learned this trick back in the 90’s when I was doing A Little Night Music (for which I won a Barrymore for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical) at the Arden. I would do the show at night and then drive 2 hours to Cape May, >treatment spend the night and in the morning I would rehearse (with Eric Hissom actually) for The Owl and The Pussycat for Cape May Stage. Then I would drive back to Philly to do Little Night Music that night.

My only free time to learn lines was in the car on that two hour drive back and forth to the shore. So I recorded my lines on tape and discovered they actually got memorized much faster that way.

I record my cue line and then leave space to actually say my line out loud and then I record the actual line so I can sort of correct myself and hear it exactly. This technique has shortened the amount of time I use to get my lines down. I do need to look at them but in doing both techniques I get them in my brain quicker.

Pfeif [Director Matt Pfeiffer] has not yet given us the cuts for Acts I and II so I am not working on that yet- don’t want to memorize stuff he will x out. He says there won’t be much cut from Acts III and IV.

Beautiful lyrical language. A rainy day is the perfect time to listen to them – in between teaching at Arcadia and picking my kid up from After Care.

Bi Jean Ngo, the actress who plays Arietty in The Borrowers, >pharm is also a Teaching Artist for the Arden’s educational program – Arden For All.  Here Bi recounts her first few days at McCall Elementary. The lesson challenged the students to “borrow” classroom objects to make Homily a spoon and Arietty a hairbrush.  But just when they figured out how to do this – an obstacle came their way – they ran into a giant puddle on their way home.  How will these tiny Borrowers cross the puddle with all the new items they have “borrowed”?

By Bi Jean Ngo, Arrietty in The Borrowers

All of Dr. Geller’s class had a strong understanding of the scale of The Borrowers. They had all visited the Arden and seen James and the Giant Peach, Peter Pan, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and were incredibly excited for their next visit to the theatre. The whole class has been reading the book, and they have completed seventeen chapters so far. When asked to name their favorite moments, there were plenty of hands raised, and I’m happy to report that all the students seem to retain much of the detailed descriptions in the book.

All of the groups had ideas for crossing the puddle as Borrowers. At first, the students formed lists of objects that they’d use to cross a puddle as borrowers. I then asked them to create a how-to instructional together with me, using the peanut butter & jelly exercise. Having done that, they re-visited their list of objects and wrote their how-to instructional guides for crossing the puddle as borrowers.

Actress and teacher, Bi Jean Ngo, with students from McCall Elementary after they saw The Borrowers at Arden Theatre Company.

They all had found objects in the classroom with which to construct boats and paddles. There was a bunch of rubber ducks lined up on a shelf, and most of the students latched onto the idea of using those. One group thought to use a pencil caddy for a boat, pencils and popsicle sticks as oars, and paper products as sails. I was really impressed that several students were adamant that they create anchors for their boats, so the Borrowers wouldn’t lose the boats. All the groups enjoyed sharing their solutions to crossing the puddle, especially when I held up objects they described.

After my first visit, the class had a science lesson about magnets. When I returned, the kids were really excited to tell me about new solutions for crossing the puddle based on their science class. I was so happy to see them have an interdisciplinary stroke of inspiration. That’s what we hope for, isn’t it?  The students suggested using multiple magnets to attract the borrowers’ flotation devices across the water.

Ms. Hantman’s third grade class is full of incredibly enthusiastic, awesome kids. Her students have all read the book, and they could all name the characters and their favorite parts. Most of the students have a strong understanding of the scale of the Borrowers. There’s a lot of academic support in this class, and the students are intelligent and unafraid to volunteer their thoughts and opinions. Ms. Hantman, for one, is a veteran teacher, and she has a student teacher and an ESOL teacher in class with her. There are three ESOL students in class, and they were eager to participate in the Arden lessons. While some of the language may be difficult for them right now, those students were just as enthusiastic in trying to do the warm-ups and the independent/group exercises as the rest.

I think Ms. Hantman’s class might produce at least two future engineers. When coming up with ideas for crossing the puddle, there were a few physics-minded students who dreamed up possible catapult devices, bridges, and flying mechanisms. One clever idea was to hitch a ride from an animal that might carry the Borrowers around on its back. I had them brainstorm character ideas for each of their families, and because they are a set of really bold, independent thinkers, I let them come up with their own Borrowing family names. We all created a dialogue together as a group, as a framework for how to write one.

One a side note, I was just reading the article in Philadelphia Magazine about why this generation of young people will not be as smart as generations preceding it. However, my two classes at McCall show me that there are wonderful teachers and wonderful children who are eager to learn and have fun while doing it. Both 3rd grade classes are near completion or have completed reading The Borrowers. They completely invest in the Arden sessions, and they ask questions when they are confused so they proceed with an exercise with clarity. It’s a great group of kids.

By Courtney Riggar, Production Manager

Hopefully this will be the first in a series of blog entries to keep you up to date on what some of our visiting artists are up to when they are not working here at the Arden.  We work with many talented designers, find who quickly become part of our family, so it is nice to keep up with them when they’re out and about.

You may have first seen Justin Townsend’s work on Caroline, Or Change where he was the lighting designer.  Caroline provided me with many goose bump moments, but my favorite moment by far was when the Radio started to sing Salty Teardrops and the stage was bathed in a beautiful blue with the moon glowing overhead and slowly rain started to fall upstage.  This counts among my top ten best theatre moments of all time, and I still get goose bumps just thinking of that song.  That was my first season at the Arden, and it was at that very moment that I knew I had finally found a home.

Justin has gone on to design the lights for several more shows here for us.  He created a wonderfully simple beauty in Our Town, his Auto Da Fe was electric in Candide, and he brought order to chaos in Sunday in the Park with George.  He has also collaborated with Terry in New York for the Primary Stages production of Opus.

So what is Justin up to these days?  He is the lighting designer of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson currently running on Broadway in the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.  Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson is a wild and crazy take on the life of; you guessed it, Andrew Jackson.  It is a little bit history and a little bit rock ‘n roll.  Check out the New York Times review of the show. It includes photos that showcase Justin’s work.

This is Justin’s first Broadway design, and here at the Arden we couldn’t be more thrilled that our friend is finding great success.  We are also looking forward to his return to us here at the Arden.  We don’t know when that will be just yet, but rest assured you haven’t heard the last of Justin Townsend.

By Angela DuRoss, Development Director

Over 200 kids and their families filled the Arden’s lobby on Saturday evening, greeted by friendly Arden staff  members donning blue Borrowers t-shirts. It must be opening night of Arden Children’s Theatre!

The Borrowers opening night party included kid-friendly fare (hot dogs and chicken nuggets, of course!) courtesy of Catering By Design and a fabulous cake shaped like a boot created especially for the party by the Whipped Bake Shop.  The Arden welcomed community partners including our neighbors, The Clay Studio, providing a potting wheel demonstration, and Eagles Youth Partnership, who sent their Storybook Man to read select scene from The Borrowers novel by Mary Norton.

Our Education department helped kids to make their own Borrowers puppets and facilitated a fun scavenger hunt where families searched the Arden’s lobby for “borrowed items.”  Following the performance, The Franklin Fountain provided an ice cream treat for everyone – homemade vanilla ice cream with tiny gingerbread “Borrowers” to go on top!  It was a fun-filled evening to kick of Children’s Theatre season at the Arden and reminded us just how fun our theatre can be when it’s filled with hundreds of kids.

Here are photos of the festivities!

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