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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 Shanna Tedeschi, Arden Professional Apprentice

Greetings friends! Shanna here–an Arden Professional Apprentice and Teaching Artist.

Did you know that every year over 2, >pharmacy 500 excited kids in Philadelphia, Ridley Park and Camden get free books, free classes and free show tickets to our Children’s Theatre productions? All this magic is possible through a program called Arden for All.

As a Teaching Artist, I was sent to bring some enchantment to the 3rd and 4th graders of Eddystone Elementary. What ensued were moments of imagination, hilarity and discovery–watch this slideshow to see for yourself!

By Jenn Peck, General Manager

“I’m shooting myself in the foot.  I’m directing a comedy and it’s not in proscenium.”

This was a comment from Ed Sobel, >remedy the Arden’s Associate Artistic Director, at a meeting about our upcoming production of Superior Donuts, the supposed follow up (although, as Ed explained to us, not really a follow up because parts of it were written before) to Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize winning August: Osage County.

I’m excited for Superior Donuts for several reasons.  One is that I’m a fan of several of the production’s actors (Pete Pryor, James Ijames, Brian Anthony Wilson), a follower of Letts’ writing and an ardent believer that art should raise questions, the most interesting ones, to me,  are about class and community.  Another reason?  For the run of Superior Donuts, the Haas will be reconfigured from its current proscenium configuration to a thrust configuration.

If you’re an Arden subscriber or if you ordered your tickets to Superior Donuts prior to 2011, you  were told that you wouldn’t get your tickets to Superior Donuts until the start of the new year.

The set model for Superior Donuts

And if you’ve seen more than one show at the Arden, you’ve noticed by now that our stages may look, well, different than when you’ve seen shows in them before.  You might not be able to figure out just what it is.  Yes, there’s a different set for each show, different lights, different costumes, different actors, different choreography.  But have you ever noticed that your seat was in a different spot?

Both stages at the Arden have flexible seating.  This means that depending on the show, the director, the set designer and a few other key factors (like time and labor), each production can have a completely different seating

configuration.  We’ve done Proscenium (where the audience directly faces the stage) for shows like The Piano Lesson.  Or the current production of The Borrowers.  We did thrust seating (the stage is thrust out into the audience, what you’ll see for Superior Donuts) for The Seafarer or (both productions of) A Year with Frog and Toad. Pacific Overtures was completely in the round but you might recall Candide as the last production in a round configuration – remember the chalk?  For both Sweeney Todd and Assassins, we moved the playing area to completely different sides of the room.  (For Assassins, director Terry Nolen wanted the audience to have to actually walk through the play to get to their seats, to have these characters trap you in the room to speak to you.  For Sweeney Todd, he wanted to use the brick wall on the south side of our building as part of the set.)  My favorite Haas configuration?  Lookingglass Alice’s fashion runway set (or, depending on your interests, the football field set), placing both sides of the audience directly opposite each other.

I’ll be honest with you.  My background is in theatre administration.  (When I tell people I work at the Arden and they ask, are you an actress?  I cringe.) And more specifically, I focus on customer service.

Mary Martello in Sweeney Todd. With a meat pie.

As the Arden’s Box Office Manager in 2005, I hated the Sweeney Todd set because people would sit down in Section C and assume their seats were terrible.  (A fair assumption.  They were, of course, facing a brick wall.)  Once the play started and the action started and the scenery moved, ticket buyers realized that their seats were fantastic.  And they had a great view of the meat pies during “God, that’s Good!”.

But my job is to make sure you have the best possible experience in coming to the Arden, from the moment you walk in the door, and if you don’t, I try to fix that.  With various seating configurations, I can’t guarantee you, as a subscriber, the same seats year after year.  (Chances are, the seat you are sitting in for A Moon for the Misbegotten this week is not even going to be there next fall when you return to see Clybourne Park).  Sometimes I can’t even tell you where you will be seating.  I can’t send tickets to the last show of the season out with the first show.  And, if you absolutely love your seats, I can’t guarantee you’ll get them next time.

Since working at the Arden and watching seats change along with stories and sets, I’ve come to love a good change in seating.  I watched A Moon for the Misbegotten last night on the left side of the house and I can’t wait to see it again on the right, or in the center.  There’s so much to take in from the play and our production from Grace’s facial expressions to the chemistry between her and Eric’s characters that I want to be able to see it from every angle and with the way the Arcadia is set up now (a bit different from Ghost-Writer in the beginning of the season), I want to take advantage of that.

“Most spaces aren’t as flexible as the Arcadia so configuration is a unique thing to have to deal with”, says Matt Pfeiffer, director of Moon. “Both (set designer) Matt Saunders and I wanted to bring the audience even closer to the action as the whole drive behind the production was to have great actors attack the script in an intimate setting.”

What’s the best thing about flex seating?  There are no bad seats in the house.  No, really.  There are no bad seats in the house.  That’s not just something an Arden box officer tells you when trying to sell you the last pair of seats in the house.  But, at the Arden, we’re serious.  There really are no bad seats in the house.  When the director and the set designer choose the seating configuration for each show at the Arden, they have you in mind.  We don’t price our tickets by where you’re sitting because we recognize every seat is worth the same price.  And I’ll be honest with you (again), it’s sometimes tricky, especially with brand new configurations.  During Café Puttanesca, we couldn’t sell a seat because we felt it wasn’t good enough for our audience.  (A ticket holder would have been staring at a wall.  And that time, there were no meat pies and the wall never moved.)  So, sometimes we decide we can’t sell a seat because when you sit in it, you can’t see the action, sometimes even after the seat is sold.  (Consider this an advance apology for when we call you and tell you we have to move your ticket to a better seat.  Yes, we actually do that.  No, it doesn’t happen often.)

I don’t think Ed will have a problem directing a comedy that’s not in proscenium.  Comedies are often in proscenium because people like to laugh together and because a lot of that laughter comes from your reaction to an actor’s facial expressions.  Our production of Superior Donuts is in a thrust configuration so not all the audience members will see an actor’s facial expressions at the same time  I’ll be interested to hear about what you think of what we’ve done with the show, the space and how you feel about your seat when you come see the show.

By the way, if you, like me, enjoy art that makes us ask questions, we’re opening our 2011-2012 season with Bruce Norris’s comedy, Clybourne Park.  I saw it at Playwrights Horizons last year and it was the best new play I’ve seen in years. It also tackles issues about class and community and I’ve never laughed so hard.  I’m thrilled that the Arden is producing Clybourne Park next season.    Purchase a Leap of Faith subscription and you’re guaranteed tickets.  Just don’t ask me, at least not yet, where you’re sitting.  I’ll let you know as soon as I find out.

Just joining us? Read Philly in Photos, Part 1 and Part 2

By Harry Watermeier, Arden Professional Apprentice

This is another cool coffee place in Philadelphia.

I’m not sure if it’s a Philly thing or not, but there seems to be a lot of them in the city. What’s great about this Starbucks place is that they have other stuff too, not just coffee. They have like, cookies and coffee-like drinks and stuff. Check ’em out!

This is where I ate my very first meal in Philadelphia.
I had a tongue sandwich with onion and spicy mustard and an embarrassingly huge slice of chocolate cake. I’ve really taken a shine to Jewish Deli’s here in Philly, and this one may be my favorite. The waitresses call me “sweetheart”–I think I’m in love with all of them.

This church is right across the street from my apartment.
Every once in a while I’ll be home when a service is beginning. The choir is beautiful, the church bells are stirring. I haven’t been to church in over seven years–I’m thinking about going to this one.

This is the charming little park in Rittenhouse Square. In the fall I would sit on one of the benches and read in the afternoon sunlight. Now, during the winter, I make a point of walking through it on my way home.

I took this picture just to show that I’m sensitive.

My home away from home! I think I’m more familiar with this building than I am with my studio apartment. I spend a huge chunk of time here, but I’m happy to do so. The Arden is an incredible theatre—it’s a defining element of Philadelphia’s cultural landscape, and I’m beyond lucky to work here.

So, I’ve realized a couple of things after working on this blog: 1.) I really need to exercise more. All I do is sit and read and eat. 2.) I need to explore the city. Philadelphia’s made a great first impression—now I’d like to get to know it a little better.

By Angela DuRoss, >mind Development Director

Following the wintery snowfall early last week, the Arden kicked off our production of A Moon for the Misbegotten on January 12th.  200 guests gathered for the opening of the first Eugene O’Neill play ever produced at the Arden.  Members of the Sylvan Society sampled the tastings of the microbrewery, Triumph Brewing Company, at a pre-show cocktail reception.  Guests celebrated in the Arden lobby following the performance, sharing light bites and wine with cast members, designers and Arden friends.  Board members of the Charlotte Cushman Foundation were also in attendance, as the foundation provided support for Grace Gonglewski in her role as Josie in the production.

To read the introduction and first installment of Philly in Photos, sick click here

By Harry Watermeier, >pharmacy Arden Professional Apprentice

This is “Creamy, ” the other Vespa I pass on my way to work. “Creamy” lives a few blocks down from “Captain” on Spruce. They used to live together, but they had a bit of a falling out, and now things are kind of weird. Yeah, I’ll nod to “Creamy,” but only if he sees me and nods first. I know that’s immature, but, I’m friends with “Captain,” and…I don’t know. These things get so complicated.

Best cup of coffee in all of Philadelphia. It’s a pretty cozy set up, too. Bring a book, grab a coffee, and sit in a corner booth for hours.

When I sit and have a coffee at Red Hook, I feel like I’m on a date with a girl who’s way too pretty for me. I’m nowhere near cool enough to drink coffee at Red Hook. All the employees are tatted and pierced–and I’m sure they’re all former musicians. I’m a bit of a square, so I stand out a little when I’m there. I’m hoping that the hepcats at Red Hook think I’m wearing Eddie Bauer khaki ironically. My esteem hang-ups aside, they make a solid cup of coffee, they’re always friendly (friendlier than they should be, considering my clothes), and great music is always pumping out of a fuzzy stereo.

I could waste days in this place. This small, dimly lit store, that smells of old paper and glue, contains some of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen. Pristine, first edition prints of pulp classics like Jim Thompson’s Pop 1280 and Dashell Hammit’s The Maltese Falcon sit quietly on bare wood shelves. Paperbacks from the sixties and seventies are wrapped safely in plastic pockets, and copies of rare Silver Surfer comic books are shelved between leather-bound works by Tolstoy, and massive tomes of Warhol photographs. The organization of Brickbat seems to be scattershot and random at first, but, after a few laps around the store, it makes perfect sense.

This is the greatest album cover of all time.You can find it upstairs at Philadelphia Record Exchange. As soon as I have twelve bucks to throw away, I’m going to buy it and frame it. Look, there’s Dave Brubeck, and those other guys. Wearing suits and eating ice cream. ‘Cause the album’s called “a la Mode.”

Just the right amount of creepy and cool can make a great record store.

Yeah so I like to stop in a comic book store every once in a while, so what?

Harry’s Philly in Photos series will conclude on Friday!

By Charles Dabezies, stuff Assistant Lighting Designer on A Moon for the Misbegotten

The lighting of a play is an often-overlooked element of design that is more complicated than most people might think. As an aspiring lighting designer, people often ask me what it is that lighting designers do. Lighting designers meticulously change the lighting over the arc of a show. It’s not just a matter of lights up, lights down. In the case of A Moon for the Misbegotten the lights will change over 60 times, while a big musical may have over 300 lighting changes.

Set and Lights for A Moon for the Misbegotten

There’s a lot of information that goes into creating the lighting for a show. As Assistant Lighting Designer (ALD) to Lighting Designer Thom Weaver, one of my primary responsibilities is to help keep track of all of the lighting data. Thom Weaver’s design for A Moon for the Misbegotten on the relatively small Arcadia Stage includes over 200 lights. Each of these lights has many different parameters: Dimmer, Channel, Color, Purpose, Position, Unit Number, Template, and the list goes on. Managing this much information is a complicated task that boils down to one thing: paperwork. Without accurate and up-to-date information the lighting grinds to a halt.

In order to keep track of everything we use two pieces of specialized industry software. The first is sort of like a customized and enhanced Excel spreadsheet called Lightwright. The second program we use is called Vectorworks Spotlight, a CAD program that allows us to make precise technical drawings, like an architect’s blueprints. With these two
programs we can create and manage the immense amount of paperwork necessary to accurately record the lighting of the show: Channel Hookups, Instrument Schedules, Light Plots, Gobo Schedules, Color Schedules, Cheat Sheets, Magic Sheets, and the like. However, I’m lucky: it wasn’t long ago that all of this information was recorded with a pencil and not a laptop.

Assisting an established lighting designer is a part of the professional progression for young designers. Working with Thom Weaver has been a really rewarding experience. In exchange for my help and the obligatory coffee runs (actually, it’s a Grande Earl Gray tea from the Starbucks on 3rd Street), I get the chance to work with professionals and learn from their experience. It is a great opportunity to see Thom’s design process in the
theatre, and to hear the conversations the entire creative team is having about the show. I will take the techniques and approaches I have learned from Thom, and the entire team behind A Moon for the Misbegotten, back to Pittsburgh with me, where I study theatre design at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama.

I have been working with the Arden Theatre Company during academic breaks for the last three years in various capacities. The training I’ve had at the Arden has enabled me to synthesize real world experience and my classroom training. I’ve been able to develop concrete skill sets. My time here, and my work on A Moon for the Misbegotten, has been invaluable to my personal and professional growth.

By Harry Watermeier, Arden Professional Apprentice

It seems like my fellow apprentices have already written some fascinating and articulate blog posts on children’s theatre, research conferences, and assistant stage management. Unfortunately, I’m not particularly fascinating or articulate. But, I do eat food, drink coffee, read books, and live in Philadelphia. So, for my blog post, I thought I could offer a “photo essay” of sorts that will evoke the impression Philly has made on me since I moved here last August. With the following photos and the passages that accompany them, I’ll attempt to describe the tastes, textures, sights, and sounds of my Philadelphia.

Tremendous tuna melt. Tremendous. I visited Little Pete’s for the first time with fellow APA Rob Heller. We sat at the bar, ate artery destroying sandwiches–Rob introduced me to scrapple–and had a great talk about theatre–what it means, what it should be, what kind of theatre we want to make. Little Pete’s is a great place to have that kind of talk. A passionate talk, a talk without hesitation. The clanging and clacking of plates and cookware, the hiss of scrapple patties on a griddle, the shouting and belly laughter emanating from the regulars who sit in booths that have molded into the shapes of their bodies–all that noise surrounds you like a cloud. You have complete privacy at Little Pete’s because no one, save the person sitting right next to you at the bar–can hear a word you’re saying.

An “eccentric” hair salon that seems to be run out of Barnum’s abandoned attic. It’s a strange place populated by really interesting people. Go for the decent haircut–stay for the most bizarre (if only partially true) stories you’ve ever heard.

Do you like organic mayo, but only when it’s sold to you by preposterously happy employees? Then Trader Joe’s is the place for you! They’ve got everything I love. Hawaiian shirts? Check. Bells to ring? Check. Pirate themes? Check. Little tiny cookies that look like Oreos but aren’t Oreos? Check. Hip chicks with non-prescription Elvis Costello glasses working at the check- out counter? Check. Bag boys that hug their managers when they say hello? Check. Seriously, it’s the greatest grocery store of all time, and I’m pretty sure the company was founded by a cloud made of giggles and Polly Pocket.

This is where I go to exchange my stocks. Stock exchanging is pretty complicated–I wouldn’t expect you to understand it, and I certainly can’t explain it in just a short blog post. I can tell you this–you have to have a pair of wingtips if you want to exchange stock. If you don’t have a pair of wingtips, don’t bother coming in. No, you can’t borrow mine.

This is “Captain,” the navy blue Vespa I pass every morning on my way to work. I’d like to have a Vespa some day. Clearly,  I’ve grown quite fond of “Captain.” Lately, I find myself nodding to him as I pass–that’s right, I’m beginning to acknowledge inanimate objects. Maybe I should take a few days off…

This is an apartment building on the corner of 16th and Spruce. I think it’s gorgeous. Its design is heavy, and haunted–somehow ornate yet humble. It’s clearly been eroded by decades of Philadelphia winters, but it wears its history beautifully. I hope to save enough money (through my enormously successful practice of stock exchanging) to one day live in this apartment building. My favorite part of the building? The beam of light that is constantly shooting across it. Look at that beam.  Mmmm….beam of light…

Harry’s Philly in Photos series will continue shortly!

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

Opening Night has arrived and with it comes the final push of tiny tweaks and minute modifications. The design is immaculate, the direction impeccable and the acting is soaring higher and higher in humor and heartache with each preview and pick-up rehearsal. Man, are Grace, Eric and Mike just dynamite. Do NOT miss this one. Oh yes, and the Lally’s fantastic as well…and offstage he’s getting better and better at FreeCell every day. The stage is nearly set. Only the ‘stache remains.

I’m gearing up for the final trim as I type this, armed only with a straight razor, mini-shears, a tiny comb and a pair of tweezers. Yes…”Only”. Wow. I’ve quickly realized how much maintenance a swarthy moustache requires. Ooh, and then there’s the additional pleasure of living in fear of screwing it up every time I’m due for a touch-up…which is every other day. What have I done?! The drawbacks in moustache-dom as I’ve discovered are as follows…

  1. Children and animals are afraid of me.
  2. I wake to the sound of my wife’s laughter every morning, which would normally be a wonderful sound were it not for the “Ew, gross!” tone it seems to have.
  3. My Robert Goulet impression is getting pretty darn accurate!
  4. I NEVER USED TO HAVE A GOULET IMPRESSION!!

As for the advantages…

  1. It’s perfect for the character that we’ve discovered, so it effectively serves the play and our production to a tee.
  2. It’s actually a lot of fun, and makes for a great conversation piece. “Hey, nice ‘stache, man.”
  3. It’ll only last for two months. Like theatre, beautiful and poignant albeit fleeting.
  4. It’s a great reminder that I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to reinvent myself so often. It’s kinda magical that way. I get to tell crazy stories to strangers in the dark and hopefully inspire a better sense of community. This time around, it’s just an entitled, oblivious, moustachioed stick-in-the-mud who’s doing it.

Moon runs through February 27th. Don’t miss your chance to see the ‘stache! I mean, the play!

Read the beginning of Allen’s moustache journey here and here

By Erin Read, Artistic Assistant

Nearly everyone has called out of work or left the office early at least once. Maybe you weren’t feeling well, or there was a doctor’s appointment that couldn’t be scheduled at a more convenient time, or maybe you just needed a mental health day. What happens though, if your office is a theatre? What happens if you have to call out of work and you’re an actor?

What happens is…you call the understudy.

At the Arden, local actors cover every role in each show of our season. There is an entire group of hard-working actors that you may never see, painstakingly taking notes and learning lines.

Being an understudy is not an easy task. They have to learn a show predominantly through observation and their blocking and choices are then finessed during five rehearsals with the Assistant Director.  They have to be on call for the entire run of a production and must be secure in the knowledge that they may never get to perform for an audience. If you are lucky enough to get to go on, you may have to fight to win the audience over as there are often vocal reactions to understudy announcements. And after your big turn in the spotlight, you need to be humble enough to quietly step back in the shadows once your actor has returned to the show. Though it’s a tough gig, being an understudy can have its rewards—just ask the former actors on staff that still indulge their creative side with the occasional understudy turn! (In case you were wondering, our Business Manager makes a beautiful Juliet!)

Our rehearsal process is always open and understudies get the benefit of being in the room with and learning from some of the city’s greatest artists. It is also a great way for the Arden to get to know an actor that may not have worked with us before. Case in point-actor Sean Lally, currently in rehearsal for A Moon for the Misbegotten. We met him last season as an understudy for The History Boys. We had such a good experience with him that he was cast as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, where he also understudied Romeo. You may have been lucky enough to catch him for a few performances when he stepped in for the star-crossed lover. He was also in our production of The Threepenny Opera and now Moon. Three Arden shows in two seasons and he first came through our doors as an understudy.

There a few things that can amp up the energy level of a show than when an understudy goes on. The cast is excited to see what someone new will bring to the show and the crew is on point to make sure that everything runs extra smooth so no one is thrown off. I must admit, it is also a great deal of fun to call an understudy and break the news that they will get to perform (For last minute calls, there are plenty of reminders to breathe). Ideally, we would know ahead of time when an actor will be unavailable (jury duty has been a culprit as of late) and we would we have time to hold a full cast rehearsal with the understudy and answer any questions they might have. More often than not however, we have just a few days notice if we think someone is falling ill, or even as little as a few hours. In fact, an understudy for The Borrowers went on the week after Christmas with less than three hours notice. Understudies have been called at intermission, they’ve been tracked down at work, and once we even sent someone to track an understudy down at a gym where we suspected he was working out. We managed to find him and rush him to the theatre to practice a fight sequence, get fitted for a costume and two hours later he was onstage!

Arden apprentices will often serve as understudies and there has been more than one occasion during the winter holiday show that an apprentice has been pulled from the box office to be onstage just a few minutes later. (I speak the latter from experience. As an apprentice here and an understudy for The BFG I was handing out tickets for a noon performance that I ended up performing in. It was by far the most amazing and most terrifying two hours I’d ever experienced.)

So next time you head to the theatre and see a notice that an understudy is going on, don’t be disappointed. Many greats started out as a standby for someone else: Shirley MacLaine was discovered after going on as an understudy for Carol Hainey in The Pajama Game. Lou Gehrig entered baseball with the Yankees as a pinch hitter and on his second day with the team replaced Wally Pipp before going on to play 2,130 consecutive games. You may have been hoping to see your favorite Philly actor but know that an understudy performance may just be the most pure and ensemble filled show you’ll see. You’ll be witness to the most terrifying/awe-inspiring/nerve-wracking/fantastic few hours that understudy will have. And who knows, you could be watching the next Shirley MacLaine!

[Interested in being an understudy? Contact Associate Producer Matt Decker at mdecker@ardentheatre.org]

By Grace Gonglewski, >stuff Josie in A Moon for the Misbegotten

1/3/11
Well I don’t even know if anyone reads this, but I am enjoying writing it the little I have.

A day off. Up at 6:30 for the first time in weeks b/c school is back on. Poor kid – we were all a bit shocked but she with her late nights – since dad is on duty, as I am rehearsing late and home about midnight – is shell shocked. Yikes, dinner might be ugly. But at least I will be home for once to cook a good healthy meal and wash her hair and put her to bed. I will just have to let go of a few things like piano practice… oh how I miss her!!

First day off since x-mas eve which was spent madly becoming an instant santa, mother, sister and auntie with my beloved family in DC. My relaxing thoughts of being driven back to Philly on boxing day were cut short by the snow storm. I grabbed a 9am metro to Union Station, nabbed a cab in Philly and got to the Arden on time. Alec [Ferrell, Stage Manager] let us out early so I could catch a train but with no boots, a thin coat and 5 inches already I opted to be housed at actor housing nearby. Everyone bustled to set me up (thank you [Arden staff members] Andrew and Liz!!) and before I knew it I was having a charming meal at the Plough with Eric [Hissom who plays Jamie in Moon], his wife Angel who is a dear friend, and Pfeif [Matt Pfeiffer, director].

Arden acting housing is charming! Gorgeous marble fireplaces, tasteful comfortable furniture, my room was spacious and elegant – I really enjoyed it. Angel made pancakes in the morning:) I have stayed at many actor housing and I think it was one of the nicest.

Anyway, thanks for listening, whoever you are.

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