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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 this installment of the full story, actor Brian Anthony Wilson chats with us backstage during a performance. He talks about the Arden audience, what he likes about the writing of this show, >remedy and his backstage Ping Pong strategy.

Click play to watch the video!

We’ll be back with the full story from Wanamaker’s Pursuit!

 By: Jessica West, ambulance Associate Production Manager & Alison Roberts, Costume Supervisor

 After I figured out my “Arden Top 10”, I started to wonder how my list would differ from other long time staff members.  Would we have some of the same favorites?  I asked the Arden’s Costume Supervisor, Alison Roberts, to choose her “Arden Top 10”.  Alison and I both started the 2000-2001 Season.  I started as an Arden Professional Apprentice (Class 8 for all you alums out there) and Alison has held the Costume Supervisor position since 2000.  While my involvement with Arden productions has been in many different capacities over the years, she has built costumes for 70 Arden productions to date.  That’s a lot of clothing!  In her 10 ½ years at the Arden, she has only missed 2 productions (Loot and Winesburg, Ohio).  Those 2 absences must be excused though because they brought us Max Perlman, the intelligent and well spoken 5½ year old son of Alison and our Technical Director, Glenn Perlman.  A burgeoning artist in his own right, Max is one of our children’s theatre test audience members and his opinion is highly regarded here at the Arden as a young connoisseur of theatre.  Ask him about Go, Dog.  Go!.  I think it may be his benchmark for quality theatre and you won’t be disappointed with the engaging conversation you have with him.

 So without further ado, I give you…

 Alison’s Arden Top 10  (in date order, not in order of preference) 

 1. Superior Donuts (2010-2011 Season)

 I just finished designing costumes for this, so it’s hard not to put it on the list.  The first time I read it, I was so impressed with the writing I couldn’t wait to start working on it. The cast that Ed Sobel and the artistic department put together is a really wonderful cast and they brought all the characters to life so well.  They made my job easy.  I enjoyed watching this from rehearsals to opening night.

 2. A Moon for the Misbegotten (2010-2011 Season)

 This show was really special to me because of the collaboration I had with Grace Gongleski and Matt Pfeiffer. We met far in advance to discuss how the show wanted to look and it was truly a group effort.  I felt very proud of the work we did.

 3. Blue Door (2009-2010 Season) 

 This story is so important for everyone to hear.  It was so specific to a time, but at the same time completely universal.  Brilliant writing and gorgeous lighting and amazing acting.

 4. Go Dog, Go. (2007-2008 Season)

 When we first announced we were doing this show I really had no idea how a book that short was going to be an hour long show.  It was so cute and so imaginative and funny-I loved it! Plus, it was my son’s first Arden Children’s Theatre show so seeing it through his eyes made it more special.

 5. A Prayer for Owen Meany (2006 -2007 Season)

 I love John Irving, so I knew I was going to like this show.  The actors were excellent and it was a pleasure to bring that story to the stage.

 6. A Year with Frog and Toad (2004-2005 Season & 2008-2009 Season)

This is probably my all time favorite show.  The music was wonderful and the costumes, designed by Richard St Clair, were so creative and charming.  It was also heartwarming and fun. I am a self-proclaimed Frog and Toad groupie. We traveled to another theatre to see their production and we still listen to the soundtrack in the car (even without the kids).

 7. Sweeney Todd (2004 – 2005 Season)

 The set, designed by David Gordon, was incredible.  I loved how the whole set was turned to the side of theatre space and incorporated multiple levels of the space.  The singers and music were outstanding and I learned lessons about using fake blood on costumes that I have carried through to this day.

 8.  Picasso at the Lapin Agile (2000-2001 Season)

 Hilarious script and gorgeous set by Bob Phillips. The costumes, by Marla Jurglanis were beautiful and I still use the corset pattern that I developed during that show. 

 9. Jungle Book (2000-2001 Season)

 This was my first experience with Arden Children’s theatre and I was blown away at how much it was produced just like the other shows. The music, by Michael Ogborn, was so charming and the set was like a huge jungle gym! It was also my first production with Jilline Ringle who played Baloo and so that also makes the memory of the show special.

 10. Opus (2005-2006 Season)

 A beautifully written story. I enjoyed how much I cared about the characters and was engrossed in their struggles.

As you may know the Arden has premiered 31 performances with number 32 starting this week: Wanamaker’s Pursuit. But what happens to some of the works after they premiere at the here? As we keep with our mission, great stories by great storytellers, we are very proud that some of our shows get picked up by other theatres.

Here are two recent productions:

Photo by Sam Hough

Wittenberg by David Davalos

  • Premiered at the Arden in January 2008
  • Currently playing at The Pearl Theatre Co in NYC
  • The New York Times says “The nimble ensemle is nearly as comfortable with the theological heavy lifiting as it is with the lowbrow yucks with Mr. Greer taking top honors on both fronts… Hilarity, the name is ‘Wittenberg’.”  Read more at the New York Times.
  • Check out the review from Backstage.
  • Fun fact: Arden favorite Scott Greer reprises his role of Faustus

 

Photo by Ken Jacques

Ghost-Writer by Michael Hollinger

 

Congratulations to both of these new productions!

Stay tuned for more exciting premieres and learning more about their lives after the Arden!

In our latest installment of the full story, >and Pete Pryor who plays Luther in Superior Donuts talks about audience reaction and his favorite part of the show.

Make sure you watch until the end so you catch Pete’s challenge to a fellow Arden actor!

By Dan Plehal, Assistant Director, Wanamaker’s Pursuit

 Think back to grade school. Remember how much excitement there was surrounding those much-anticipated field trips? Or how fun it was to get out of the building and experience something so cool and different that you almost forgot you were learning? Well that isn’t just for kids – – sometimes actors get to take field trips too!

 By the way, I’m Dan, the Assistant Director of Wanamaker’s Pursuit.  Wanamaker’s (as we call it for short) is a wonderful fictitious story built around a lot of facts. It follows the journey of Nathan Wanamaker, a made-up heir of the Wanamaker’s Department Store, as he visits Paris in 1911. His goal is to bring back the latest fashions for the store and ends up befriending the likes of Gertrude and Leo Stein, Paul Poiret and his wife Denise and even Pablo Picasso.

 Art plays a major role in the play, which discusses several specific paintings by turn-of-the-century artists. Luckily for us, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has an impressive collection of similar paintings.  Naturally, in the name of research, a trip to the museum was in order!

 Last Thursday we had the pleasure of spending an entire rehearsal day at the museum! We started our tour in the north wing of the museum, which contained European art beginning in 1850. We were surrounded by timeless works by Monet, Manet and Cezanne.

 As we walked farther down the hall and closer to the twentieth century, we passed several Renoir and Matisse Portraits, both of which make appearances in the play.  We reached a large atrium, which housed a giant Cezanne called “The Large Bathers.” It was fascinating to see such a colossal work and be able to clearly identify techniques that are discussed in the Wanamaker’s script.  Catharine Slusar and David Bardeen (who plays Gertrude and Leo Stein) could occasionally be heard discussing which paintings their characters may have had in their collection.

 The hallway turned and so did the century, leading us into the 1900s and the reign of Picasso.  Suddenly we could see and feel a drastic change in the state of art. We saw first hand how artists moved away from the techniques and styles of the previous centuries, choosing instead to explore the abstract and create the modern.

 This shift to modernism in painting is representative of a larger evolution in art, fashion, and society that took place at the same time, and conveniently is a central theme in Wanamaker’s.

 Next we were in for a real treat: the museum staff had set up a small private display just for us! We donned researcher badges and entered the Hamilton Center for Costumes and Textiles.   Kristina Haughland, the supervising curator had brought out a few pieces that could not have been more relevant to our production.

 A central part of Nathan Wanamaker’s journey is his attempt to purchase the latest clothing from revolutionary fashion designer Paul Poiret.  As we sat at a long conference table, Kristina unveiled three dresses from the time period; one of them had been based off of Poiret’s style, while the other two were authentic dresses designed by Poiret himself!

 The cast poured over the dresses inspecting every ribbon-formed rose and beaded pattern. Particularly interested were Wilbur Henry who plays Poiret and Genevieve Perrier who plays Poiret’s wife and model, Denise.

 Saturated with first-hand experiences and a new appreciation for the art (both paintings and fashion) that is so integral to our play, we retired to the house of actress Catharine Slusar who plays Gertrude Stein. In true style of the salons Stein was famous for hosting, we sipped wine, ate French cheese, and discussed the amazing art we had witnessed that day. It had been a full day of research and fun – a field trip that has already brought new appreciation and life to our rehearsal process!

If you’re interested in art, fashion or Paris, you are sure to love Wanamaker’s Pursuit!  You could even make a field trip out of it!  Wanamaker’s is on stage at the Arden from March 31 through May 22.

By: Jessica West, Associate Production Manager

I recently remarked to a friend that Superior Donuts just might make it into my “Arden Top 10” list.  He replied, “Well if YOU say Donuts is in the top 10 that means something to me.”  That one small comment got me thinking.  How many Arden productions have I seen over my 10½ years with the company? Could I distill those 73 productions into a tidy list of ten shows?

Jessi’s Arden Top 10 List in no particular order

1. Opus (2005-2006 Season)

Words.  Words.  Words.  This play is all about the words for me.  The dialogue and language are lovely and markedly relatable.  You really care about the quartet members and their relationships as you follow their story.

2. History Boys (2009-2010 Season)

It’s an amazing story with engrossing characters and some truly fantastic dialogue.  In addition to those top notch elements, I loved the elegance of the scene transitions in this piece. Jorge Cousineu’s musical selections coupled with the dance-like choreography and the wheeled desks gave the scene changes that feeling of in between class hustle and bustle that I remember so vividly from my own experiences in private school.

3. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (2009-2010 Season)

The kids in preview performances were so excited that they were quite literally quivering in their seats as the Mouse wrecked havoc on the Boy’s kitchen.  In a world where everything was 1.42 times bigger than real life, big props and furniture translate into big fun for actors and audiences alike.

4. Superior Donuts (2010-2011 Season)

It isn’t the amazing set, the super talented cast or the fantastic script that puts Donuts on my list.  It is the collective and commanding reaction of the audiences to the piece.  There are moments during the play when the entire audience laughs, sighs and gasps together.  Now that shows some personal investment in the characters you’re watching.

5. Sweeney Todd (2004-2005 Season)

Epic is the word that comes to mind when I think of our production of Sweeney Todd.  The entire room was integrated.  Lines between audience member and participant were blurred.  Oh and there is also the sweeping score and the astounding amount of blood to consider.  Bloody great show!

6. Go, Dog. Go! (2007 – 2008 Season)

This show exudes joy and enthusiasm from start to finish.  The feeling you get from an audience of energized, engaged kids makes producing children’s theatre profoundly rewarding.  This candy colored tour de force had them tittering from the time MC Dog rolled onstage in skates until the Big Dog party at the end.  Silliness was celebrated and my heart was won many times over by MC Dog, Blue Dog, Yellow Dog, Green Dog, Spotted Dog, Backstage Dog and Red Dog (or as I like to call him Tall Dog).

7. Stinky Cheeseman (2005-2006 Season)

If Go, Dog. Go! was pure joy realized on stage than Stinky Cheeseman was pure chaos.  Well executed and highly choreographed chaos, mind you, but chaos nonetheless.  Jack never stopped running around and neither did the crew!

8.  Sideway Stories From the Wayside School (2003-2004 Season)

Gym teachers that scale buildings, evil teachers who turn students into apples and dancing pigtails…what’s not to love?  I still have one of the pictures from Mrs. Gorp’s classroom hanging in my office.

9. A Year with Frog and Toad (2004-2005 Season & 2008-2009 Season)

There are 3 things you can’t dispute.  Both Frog and Toad shows were beyond cute, the design teams were really quite astute and Toad looks funny in a bathing suit.  The second iteration of this show holds special meaning for me.  I took friend Stephen and his kids (Evan, Age 6 ½ and Aliyah, Age 3 ½) to the show.  I was skeptical that Aliyah would be able to make it until the end but she sat in her dad’s lap transfixed by the actors.  They now have what their father calls “a strong love for anything theatre”.  That is exactly the kind of effect we hope to have on our young audience members and it’s humbling to know that we can and do just that.

10. Caroline, or Change (2006-2007 Season)

The set, lights, costumes, music, voices, acting…everything was beautifully executed and made me stand in awe of the group who collaborated to create the production.  There is a moment when the radio girls descend the stairs during “Salty Teardrops “; their dresses seeming to emanate sparks of light from within.  The backlight is practically electrifying the air while illuminating the rain drops falling to the stage floor.  As their voices swelled, that moment made my breath catch in my chest and I realized that…this is why I do theatre.

Honorable Mentions: Baby Case (2001-2002 Season), Assassins (2007-2008 Season), Peter Pan (2009-2010 Season), All My Sons (2002-2003 Season), The Dinosaur Musical (2005-2006 Season), and The BFG(2006-2007 Season)

***I know the challenge was to limit the list to only 10 shows but since these were all strong contenders, I’ve included some honorable mentions.

Stay tuned for “Arden Top 10” lists from other staff members that have been working at the Arden more than 10 years.

Actors from Superior Donuts have joined in to give our Arden subscribers the full story! In this installment, >physician James Ijames talks about his past experience at the Arden, >illness keeping is energy up for the role, and his best backstage sport.

Click the image below or this link to watch the video!

Are you an Arden subscriber and you want these videos and other fun tidbits delivered directly to your email inbox? Call our box office at 215.922.1122 and make sure we have your email address!

By Rob Kaplowitz, sound designer for Superior Donuts

When figuring out the soundscape that would fuel my part of this production it became apparent to me that the world we would hear is a world heard through Arthur’s focus.  Just as Kevin’s set gives us resonant pieces of the shop and the neighborhood above and beyond, I realized that we needed to hear the world of the play through the pieces – the pieces that Arthur knows so well that they almost disappear from his consciousness.  So everything we hear such as all of the scoring I created inside the play comes out of the real.  The hissing steam pipe or the hum of a fridge rise up out of their sources and transform into the music beneath his soliloquies. 

In the same way, the El train was very important.  The sound was so important that I wasn’t willing to fake it. 

Uptown is served by the Red Line and every train line in Chicago sounds distinctive.  When the Red Line passes every Chicago resident knows it.  It’s not just some elevated train I could pull out of a stock library. It sounds different from A, L or M running out through Brooklyn and Queens, the Market-Frankfort running down the road from me here in West Philly or even the Blue Line that runs out to Jefferson Park, where Arthur lives.  It sings its own song.

Luckily for me (and for the Arden’s budget), our set designer lives in Chicago.  So, instead of me having to travel out there (or ask a Chicago colleague to go out and record), I was able to give a portable recorder to Kevin at a design meeting and he did a bunch of walk-around recordings for me.  This gave me a sense of the rhythms and paces of the street. It also gave me a great recording of the Red Line passing overhead.

First time I played it in the theatre, our Chicago natives (Craig, Ed, Kevin) just looked up and said “Red Line!”

Sometimes the only way to make it sound like something is to find the something, record the something and then play back the something.  I guess it’s a pretty simple lesson…

By: Tara Demmy, Arden Professional Apprentice

You may have attended A Moon for the Misbegotten and found a survey stuck to the back of your chair with blue tape. You may have attended and asked to stay after the show for a 30 minute interview. These two elements are both part of the Arden’s participation in a national study of theatre audiences aiming to understand more about the intrinsic impacts of live theatre. We are one of 18 theatres involved in The Intrinsic Impact project, which was commissioned from WolfBrown by Theatre Bay Area and underwritten by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

What does intrinsic impact mean exactly? It took me some time to figure it all out. Basically it’s easy to look at charts and quantify how many people come to see a show and how much money a show makes…but it’s a lot more difficult to try to study how those people felt about a theatrical experience.  Companies have been keen to focus on the financial, but money does not necessarily dictate a theatre’s success.

Theatre Bay responds: “But financial data tells only a fraction of the story.  A theatre company may be financially sound, but is it really moving and exciting its audience?  Is it connecting to its audience in a fundamental (i.e., intrinsic) way? And can that connection be deepened? How can artistic staff understand the impact of their programming decisions, and what, if anything, can they do about it?  We have come to see that the theatre field lacks a generally accepted and widely used metric or “outcome rubric” for what matters most: the intrinsic value of the theatre experience.”

How do we measure the immeasurable? Have you ever had an indescribable emotional response to a moment in a production?  Live theatre has the power to move us in unexpected ways. Yes, we are entertained, but how are we affected?  The Arden received the opportunity to select the questions in our take-home surveys. These questions reflect what we want answered by our audiences. Questions that ask our patrons to assess the artistic style of the production, to evaluate if they were emotionally moved, to see if they felt connected to their fellow audience members and to find out if they are more/less likely in the future to follow the work of the playwright. This information will help us to understand not how many tickets we sold but how patrons are responding to the art.  This will help the Arden to continue to provide great stories and be on the forefront of artistic progress in the country. To always connect to the Philadelphia community and continue to challenge our patrons with new ideas and stories.

Post-Performance Interviews: Our in-person interviews cover the same topics mentioned above, just in a discussion based format. Engaging in these interviews with Leigh Goldenberg, Arden Theatre Company’s Marketing and Public Relations Manager has been amazing. To hear how people connected to A Moon for the Misbegotten in different ways has been a truly unique experience.  Many have a quite a bit of knowledge of O’Neill, and give much historical information with their reactions, while others who are less familiar focus on intense production moments.  Intense bonds were formed between audience members and the character of Josie, in her strength, compassion and heartache. Even now it is difficult for me to summarize the feelings expressed by those individuals in the interviews, which emphasizes the main difficulty in trying to gather information on unquantifiable, personal reactions.  This difficulty is what makes theatre a strong artistic form; its ever-fleeting, ephemeral nature gives it the power to present unforgettable, poignant moments that stay with us.

I admire the Arden’s participation in this survey and Theatre Bay’s dedication in attempting to get a better idea of how theatre can have a lasting, emotive impact on society.  We are continuing interviews and surveys for Superior Donuts and Wanamaker’s Pursuit. Thank you for your support!

For more information, please visit Theatre Bay Area.

With the smell of fresh doughnuts filling the Arden’s lobby, we kicked off the opening night performance of Superior Donuts on Wednesday, March 9th. Members of the Sylvan Society enjoyed cocktails and a buffet dinner courtesy of Gigi Restaurant, and had the opportunity to mingle with Rogelio Martinez, playwright of Wanamaker’s Pursuit, Donuts director Ed Sobel, and other members of the Donuts design team.

Following the 7pm opening performance, audience members leapt to their feet during the curtain call. After the show, guests enjoyed a rousing post-show reception with members of the cast and devoured doughnuts delivered fresh from Frangelli’s Bakery, our doughnut sponsor for the production.

Here are some photos from the evening!

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