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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!

In our latest installment of the full story, >pharm H. Michael Walls talks about his history with the Arden (as well as one of his fellow castmates), what it means to him to have fun on stage, and how he thinks this production is growing. Watch the video!

For more of the full story, click here!

By Megan Staples, >diagnosis Development Assistant

Click Here to Email Your Representative

We at the Arden believe in the power of the arts to strengthen communities, and we are not alone.  The nonprofit arts industry in the U.S. generates over $166 billion annually in economic activity, employs over 5 million people, and returns over $12 billion in federal income taxes.  Arden Theatre Company prides itself on creating more than just great theatre, and moved to Old City in 1995.  Two decades later, Old City is a thriving hub of activity, with enough foot traffic to support an array of local businesses.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will bring to the floor a Continuing Resolution appropriations package that proposes to cut dozens of federal agencies, among them National Endowment for the Arts (“NEA”), the National Endowment for the Humanities (“NEH”), Community Development Block Grants, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  It is also possible that additional amendments to further cut or completely eliminate these programs will be introduced on the floor this week.

NEA and NEH dollars are the critical lifeline helping state and local budgets survive. Drastic reductions in funding will not only affect arts programs nationwide, but will decrease the incredible return on investment these funds yield for federal, state and local treasuries.  As Americans for the Arts President & CEO Robert Lynch noted in a press statement, “The administration request of $146 million for the National Endowment for the Arts is a decrease of $21 million from the $167.5 million that Congress appropriated last year. The arts community recognizes the shared sacrifice being asked of all federal agencies to help reduce our national debt and is willing to do its part.  President Obama had acknowledged in his State of the Union that it was time to prioritize and identify the programs and agencies that work and invest in them to ‘win the future.’ The NEA is one of those agencies. It helps create jobs and drive economic activity … and is part of the solution to returning our economic vitality.”

NEA grants support a wide range of projects, which include invaluable educational programming.   Many Philadelphia-based arts education programs are currently at risk due to the economic downturn; on the other hand, the NEA’s recent grants have made it possible for these organizations to continue to support the region’s students.  The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance received $250,000 from NEA in 2009 to distribute to eligible arts groups impacted by the economy.  The funds redistributed by NEA directly benefited individual arts education programs, and allowed underserved students the possibility to experience the joy of the arts in Philadelphia.

It is our hope that you will help us communicate to Congress and President Obama’s Administration the vital benefits that the creative sector has on both our communities and our economy.  The arts stimulate our economy; NEA and NEH grants ensure access to the arts for underserved population.

Please use the following link to tell Congress that you support the arts and arts education: Click Here to Email Your Representative.

Here’s more of the full story for our Arden subscribers!
Sean and Allen spend a lot of time backstage at A Moon for the Misbegotten. A lot. In this video, they cover their two hours of downtime for you in 90 seconds.

Want more of the full story? Click here?

By Harry Watermeier, >illness Arden Professional Apprentice

Okay, listen, I don’t actually know how to manage a stage—it’s only day one. But, I’ve learned a few basic things about stage management, and I’ve been prepping for my Assistant Stage Management gig for about a week. My fellow apprentices have already written some pretty nifty blogs about Assistant Stage Managing (check them out!), and now it’s my turn to give you my initial impressions of this exciting process.

Predictably, I’m a little worried about my A.S.M. gig. My worries come from…well, the chemical imbalance in my brain, and the fact that “stage management” doesn’t really come naturally to me. It seems that a good stage manager possesses skills that are a little foreign to me like: organization, multitasking, a rich understanding of literary text, general responsibility, and basic motor skills. But! I’m doing my very best, and I’m thrilled to be so intimately involved with the rehearsal and production of an Arden show.

Already, after only one day of rehearsal, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of respect for stage managers. Before this gig, I’ve only stepped on stage as an actor, director, or playwright. I’ve never been involved with (or concerned with, really) with the nuts, bolts, gears, and other machine metaphors of a production. I’ve always approached plays artistically, and worked with broad stokes that focused on ideas, feelings, meanings, and atmospheres. Things like prop placement and lighting cues have always been taken care of for me—by (I now realize) remarkable stage managers.

To me, it seems that while actors, directors, technical designers, etc. must be concerned with the microcosms of their respective departments, a stage manager must always keep the macrocosm of a production in mind. From rehearsal schedules to blocking notes, a stage manager must organize, track, record, and communicate a tremendous amount of information for multiple departments to ensure a smooth rehearsal process and production.

I’ll be assistant stage managing Arden’s next main-stage production, Superior Donuts—a complex, subtle character study that is often viciously funny, and always casually profound. I adore this play and I’m a huge admirer of its author: Tracy Letts. I feel like I’ve won the lottery with this assignment. I can’t imagine another play with which I’d like to spend more time.

To prepare for assistant stage managing (…actually, you should know that in the official Superior Donuts contact sheet, I’m listed as “Assistant to the Stage Manager.” Also, someone’s been putting my office supplies in Jell-O.) I’ve completed two major projects. I’ve made a prompt book and taped out the floor. Okay, that sentence sounds pretty nonsensical, but I’m going to explain everything.

What’s a prompt book? I’m glad you asked! A prompt book is a

Clearly made by someone who knows what he's doing.

tool with which I will keep track of all props—their placement, their movements—for the show. A prompt book contains a copy of the play’s text set opposite a diagram of the set. I will mark where and how props move on the diagram, and mark the same movements on the corresponding lines of dialogue or stage directions on the text. This allows me to have both a visual/spatial note as to where and how props move, set alongside a verbal cue. I’ll make these notes during rehearsal—this requires tremendous focus because prop movements change constantly. Props tracking will be one of my main responsibilities with Superior Donuts which, judging by the play’s title is pretty sweet news. Sweet. Get it. ‘Cause of the donuts. It’s a joke because donuts are sweet. I’m going to eat a bunch of donuts backstage that’s all I’m saying.

I’ve also helped “tape out” the rehearsal hall floor.

This is the rehearsal set--complete with furniture, set dressings, and props that simulate the real set.

Essentially, the Stage Manager and A.S.M. create a simulation of the borders of the stage using multi-colored rolls of tape. The image “taped out” is based on an architectural schematic of the set. These taped borders give the actors and director an idea of their blocking choices and limitations when the actual set for the show is not yet available.

So, prep week and Day One of Assistant Stage Managing went well. Today I kept my brow furrowed for about six hours, took copious notes, and paid really close attention to everything. I just have to keep that up for like two months. I think I’m off to a pretty solid start. I absolutely love the show; I’ll be working with a terrific Stage Manager, and I’ll gain knowledge and skills that will be invaluable to me in my future as a theatre practitioner.

Here a little snippet of Superior Donuts:

Arthur: It’s easy to underrate that now, but there’s nothing wrong with comfort, you know? You’re lying in a bed in the city of Chicago and you have your arms wrapped around a person who’s made the decision to move through the world with you. That may be comfort and not much more, but it may be love, too…

Isn’t that something?

Welcome to our Arden subscribers!
Whether you’re joining us for the first season, or you’ve been with us since the beginning, we want to share the full story with you!

In this video, treatment Grace Gonglewski and Eric Hissom from A Moon for the Misbegotten share backstage insights on the production and their relationship, along with a special message for you.

Thank you to all of our loyal subscribers! Check back regularly for more of the full story!

By Rob Heller, Arden Professional Apprentice

I am currently Assistant Stage Managing the Arden’s Production of A Moon for the Misbegotten. I have done a little bit of stage managing in the past and have been at least mildly experienced at most of the duties. However, one day during tech week it came time for the “quick-change.”

The leading (and only) lady in the show Josie (played by Grace Gonglewski) has a transition in Act I where the time of day changes from day to night and time has to have elapsed. The transition needs to show her father Phil Hogan (Michael H. Walls) and their landlord Jim Tyrone (Eric Hissom) going to the bar at the inn and Josie setting the scene for a moonlight date with Jim. The transition has 4 sections.

First, the men exit stage and Josie takes down the laundry line, the clothes on it, and moves the table from the porch onto the front lawn.

Next, the men return to stage and exit en route to the inn while Josie brings the struck items into the house and takes off the working dress leaving her in just her slip while the Assistant Stage Manager (that’s me) strikes the dress and turns on the lantern.

She returns to stage with flowers for the table and goes to the well to wash.

Finally, she returns to the house and with the help of her Assistant Stage Manager (that’s me again) dives into her evening dress, gets zipped, velcroed and snapped, peeks out the window, puts on stockings and shoes and exits the house with lantern in hand to start the next scene.

The kicker is that anything we do inside the house (ie. the quick-change itself) occurs while there is NO action on stage. So, it is crucial that do the change as quickly as possible.

We experimented with a lot of approaches to the change and I became more and more adept at helping Grace. Eventually, with a collaboration between myself, Grace and Alison Roberts (costume designer) we found a method that works for all of us and can be done in the allotted time.

My history is as a director and I never thought so much about quick-changes as I have in the past week. So, in the spirit of connecting with the theater as a whole, I did a little research into quick-change as it exists in the theater today:

First, I wondered how long a quick-change generally takes. I quickly found a recent example from the popular musical Wicked:

In an interview with Wicked Wardrobe Supervisor Gillian Kadish on SHNSF.com, she says that “the fastest change we have in the show is when Elphaba goes from her Shiz costume into the Defying Gravity dress, which is 19 seconds.”

Wow, 19 seconds! Perhaps I am not yet in the elite company of quick-change professionals. I wanted to see if this was particularly quick or if other shows were different. I had to venture no further than another staple of the musical theater realm; Hairspray.

Megan Bowers (Tracy Turnblatt’s dresser) in an article on Playbill.com explains the quick change for both Tracy and Edna (her mother) in the opening number: For Edna, the process takes about 45 seconds. Tracy’s change is quicker than Edna’s, taking only 25 to 30 seconds(she doesn’t have to change her wig like Edna does).

Alright, so generally a change takes under a minute and there seems to be a very clear craft and technique. Now, I wanted to hear about the “funny” mishaps as I (knock on wood) pray will not happen with us. I read a variety on Broadwayspace.com called “Crazy Costume Stories” that involve cutting people out of $30,000 dresses, returning to stage half-dressed, and wearing boots instead of crystal-covered heels for a kick-line. Give them a read yourself for some entertainment!

After examining a bit of the professional world of quick-change I feel very much at ease that the skill is learned and practiced and that it is maybe essential to earning one’s stripes to partake of the quick-change.

By Paul Arebalo, Jr., Production Fellow

The Arden has recently opened up a new seasonal staff opportunity called the Production Fellowship. And I am the guy who fills those shoes this season. I am overjoyed with this experience, which has informed my career path and my passion for theatre.

Throughout this program, I work as the second-hand to the different departments within production – scenery, running crew, properties, wardrobe, electrics/sound and paints – fulfilling a necessary role during all stages in mounting a seven-production season. So far, the Production Staff works with me in achieving my personal goals as a young professional, pursuing a career in stagecraft. They are an open-ear to my queries and concerns about this ever-changing field and provide much very valuable feedback. Their individual perspectives on the creative process enliven the collaboration that fundamentally guides theatre and give promise to my work as a craftsman and technician. Through the Fellowship and through active attendance at production and staff meetings, technical rehearsals, previews and opening nights, I have been a firsthand witness to how a company pulls together as a team.

As the Production Fellow, I have had the opportunity to work alongside some of the most dedicated, hardworking and proficient people in their disciplines, both in and out of production. Just being in the presence of established field professionals, including designers, directors, and technicians, has given me the chance to network and receive their institutional knowledge.

Moreover, this program has cultivated my skills and my portfolio, whose new works alone any potential employers would deem worthy of consideration. As of yet, I have been introduced to new practices in rigging, the safe use of foam, adhesives and other props-building materials, scenic painting techniques, wardrobe maintenance, and lighting programming on the Express 250 and ION boards. Additionally, the Fellowship allows me independent chances to provide technical support to some of Arden’s special events and to better its technical shops/storage, including props, set, electrics and costumes. The Fellowship provides a greater footing in this industry, being able to appraise my skills, develop greater work ethic, and to have the referential support of co-workers who know my process as well as my product.

Undoubtedly, at the end of my stay (sadly, ending May 13), I will owe much more to the Arden. In my journey, I hope to do good on repaying this debt and to reflect well upon this company’s good name. The Production Fellowship has the admirable capacity to train future leaders in the performing arts community; in this, I hope that this program will continue for seasons to come.

[Interested in seeing some of the projects the Production Fellowship has offered? Please feel free to visit my online portfolio at www.parebalodesigns.com or email me with further questions at parebalo@ardentheatre.org]

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