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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!

We’ve asked the Arden’s Associate Artistic Director Edward Sobel, who will be directing Endgame this season, to document some of his process. Here is his first entry.

Preparing to direct Endgame is walking a long way to find the shortest possible path.

Having read and loved this play since I was nineteen, I feel I’ve been working toward this production for more than 20 years. Beckett himself directed the play twice. Once in Germany (in his own German translation) in 1967, and again in England (in English) in 1980. He kept notebooks during preparation and rehearsal for both productions, and I’ve spent the last few months studying them, seeking out clues they offer. Why did he change “hash of the crotch” to “botch of the crotch” or “but you can walk” to “but you can move”. Why did he cut one of my favorite lines from the original printed version? (For those keeping score at home, its Clov’s line, having turned a telescope to look out at the audience, “I see a multitude in transports of joy. That’s what I call a magnifier.”)

Two pages of Beckett's notes on Endgame, in his own handwriting

Two important ideas have come clear, which if I’m lucky and good, will inform our production. First, Beckett, while a giant in the library, was also a deeply savvy practitioner in the theater. His refinements of the play over more than 20 years seem most motivated by making the play more playable — a more effective piece of stage-craft, giving vitality and responsiveness to aural and visual rhythms and patterns, promoting the immediacy of the live actor occupying the same time and space as the audience, and providing the actors with a stronger template upon which to base their work. I know our production, to do the play well, will need to be visceral, funny and as far from an arid academic exercise as Beckett might have wished.

Second, in initial drafts of the play Beckett was explicit about the time and place in which it is set. He gradually removed these details, but they are the foundation of the relationships, the setting, and ultimately the work’s meaning. The relative obscurity of the play on its surface is not Beckett being deliberately abstruse (though he may well have taken a rueful pleasure when that was the result) but instead his attempt to be as concise as possible. One of my favorite drawings by Picasso may, literally, illustrate.

Shown above in its entirety, it is entitled “Femme”. With four succinct lines, Picasso captures what he saw as essential, just as Beckett distills both the action of his own play and his vision of our lives with two succinct lines “What is happening?” “Something is taking its course.”

As we move into the design process, I am using these two combined principles as my compass: vital economy.

Have you wondered what the actors do backstage at the Arden? How do they get through a show as grueling as Next to Normal for 8 shows a week? Here’s an exclusive visit backstage created by the cast, filmed and edited by castmember Brian Hissong:

By Katherine Fritz, >medical Costume Designer for Freud’s Last Session

Let’s start off with a confession: I heard the plot synopsis for Freud’s Last Session and I thought “…. meh.”

Don’t get me wrong. When the Arden called to ask if I was interested in designing the costumes, I walked around with a giant grin on my face for a week and couldn’t stop hugging everyone who works there, because I’m just so excited to be back. I was an APA during the 2008/09 season, and the Arden was my first introduction to Philly. To design a show at the Arden was a pipe dream of mine that entire year; I still do a little happy dance before every design meeting. But the show itself? Two dudes sitting in a room talking philosophy and religion? ….. Meh.

But then I read the script.

It’s… not boring. It’s fascinating. I had somehow forgotten that the two dudes in question, Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, are arguably two of the people you would most want to hear grapple with the meaning of life, God, sex, mortality, and humanity. It’s heavy stuff, but heartfelt, deeply touching, and at times incredibly funny.

As fate would have it, I was already scheduled to be in London for a few days this September. What I didn’t realize before booking those plane tickets was that the entire Freud house – right down to the study where our play takes place, including that infamous couch – is completely preserved as a museum and open to the public. If I thought I had come around to the play while I was still in Philadelphia, that was nothing compared to getting off the Tube, hiking up a steep hill through a quiet residential neighborhood, and suddenly finding myself at the robin’s-egg-blue front door through which such visitors as Salvador Dali, Virginia Woolf, and H.G. Wells had passed.

Katherine's picture of Freud's infamous couch

In our first design meeting, David Gordon, our set designer, flipped through photo after photo of the house interior, the large collection of antiquities, his large bookshelves, the oriental rugs, the curiosities and leather chairs. It’s nothing compared to walking through the door, turning a slight right, and staring down the famous couch where psychoanalysis was born. It’s a large room, but so filled with comfortable rugs and soft lighting that you feel immediately warm and cozy. It’s almost possible to forget that you are in a museum – despite the velvet rope cordoning off the main area of the study, you are free to wander about the house, discovering Dali sketches of Freud framed on the stair landing; peeking through the bedroom of his daughter Anna; sitting in the room that Freud once slept in, which now is host to a video projector showing some rare home movie footage of the Freuds at leisure. French doors open onto a beautiful garden, with nearly all of the plants the same ones, meticulously cared for, that Sigmund and Anna planted when they arrived at the house in 1938, fleeing from Naxi annexation of Vienna with all their personal effects in tow.

Katherine at Freud's house. Her aunt took this photo, as she was sure some marketing person would use it. She was right!

I spent about two hours there, soaking in everything, taking the occasional picture to bring back to the team who is working on recreating it in the Arcadia Theatre. I wish I could have stayed longer. Although I had spent days wandering through Kensington Palace and the Tower of London, this tiny house tucked on a quiet side street was the place I will remember most. I’m sure it’s just a product of me feeling incredibly fortunate – that I was able to step into a beautifully preserved historical site and then come back to work later that week, helping to recreate it for a Philadelphia audience.

I hope you get the chance to come around to Freud, like I did, and I hope you only have to travel as far as the Arden to do so. (Although if you ever are in London, I highly recommend taking the time to visit – the staff is super nice and helpful, and there are great restaurants and bookshops just a brief walk away). Taking that trip made me feel like I have the coolest job in the world. Nothing at all “meh” about that.

 

 

 

By Ed Sobel, Associate Artistic Director

The Arden is pleased to announce the addition of a new writer to our family of artists.  Following on Wendy MacLeod’s introduction through our Writers’ Room program, we have recently commissioned Stephen Belber to craft a new play for the Arden.

Stephen is a New York based playwright, >capsule screenwriter and director.  He is the author of Tape, which received its premiere at the Actors Theater of Louisville’s Humana Festival and was subsequently made into a film starring Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, directed by Richard Linklater.  He was one of the writers, with Tectonic Theater Project, of The Laramie Project, and its sequel, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.  His play Match ran on Broadway with Frank Langella.   He also wrote and directed the film Management with Jennifer Anniston and Steve Zahn.

Stephen’s most recent play, Don’t Go Gentle opens October 15th at Off-Broadways’ MCC Theater.  Click here for a recent interview with him. 

I have been a fan and follower of Stephen’s work since I first read a draft of Drifting Elegant back in 1999.  His plays, though varied in subject, demonstrate a unique gift for muscular, theatrical dialogue and an affinity for using the stage to explore complex moral issues through visceral events and suspenseful storytelling.   We could not be more pleased to have him as a new member of our artistic community.

At the Arden, commissioning is an expression of support and interest in developing an ongoing relationship with a writer.  Stephen will spend some time over the coming months getting to know more deeply the Arden, our work, and artists with whom we frequently collaborate.  He will then write a play which we hope to program in a future season.

On Wednesday, October 3, we kicked off our 25th anniversary season with the opening night of Next to Normal! Sylvan Society members enjoyed a cocktail party just across the street at LG Tripp Gallery, with delicious bites from Race Street Café. Board member John McCawley presented us with a framed photo of the PECO Crown Lights displaying the message, “Arden Theatre Company celebrating 25 years.” Nearly 400 guests gathered at the Arden for the 7pm performance, including Arden supporters, members of the press, artists, former staff and friends. Everyone enjoyed a post-show reception hosted by 12th Street Catering and Hatboro Beverages.

By Sarah Sexton, Manager of Institutional Giving

25 years of the Arden. We can tell the age of children’s theatre by how tall the Nolen kids have grown. Our New Home in Old City has been around long enough to need a sprucing itself. A former Arden Professional Apprentice is now the President of our Board.

Like counting rings in a tree, there are many ways we mark the progress of 25 years. We’ve moved from a scrappy mom and pop start up, unhealthy to become a thriving cultural institution, with a seat at the table in Philadelphia. As we begin to celebrate this anniversary season, I’ve had so many conversations with people about their fond Arden memories—they usually begin with “I remember when you were at St. Stephen’s!” or, “You know, I remember the first time you did Frog & Toad…my kids loved it, and still sing ‘Snail with the Mail.’” It’s moving and humbling to hear how memories formed at our theatre are fondly cherished by the people we serve.

To encourage the sharing of these stories, I’d like to humbly proffer my own first Arden experience. In 2003, my high school sweetheart took me to a performance of Pacific Overtures. A typically daring Sondheim musical, it featured an entirely male cast (including Philly favorites Scott Greer and Steve Pacek) and was directed by Terry Nolen. The moment from that show I will always remember was when a Japanese official’s wife, anticipating certain failure for her husband’s diplomatic mission, commits honor suicide. He rushes back in to tell her the impossible—he has succeeded, and they needn’t endure the shame. As he kneels beside her prone figure to wake her, she slumps to the side and a single red ribbon rolls out across the floor, beautifully and simply representing her spilled blood. Witnessing that heart-wrenching loss elicited a collective gasp from the audience, and at that moment any shreds of farcical moments from a man playing a woman fell away. Who would have ever thought a musical about the Westernization of Japan could be so poignant.

Ten years later, I am delighted and honored to find myself behind-the-scenes at the theatre that enchanted me so much as a younger person. As we look to the future, let’s celebrate the past together—what was your first experience with the Arden?

You can share your memories of 25 Seasons of the Arden by emailing memories@ardentheatre.org. We’ll post your responses here on the blog, on our Facebook page, and in our stagebill.  

As our season began, we hosted a party with our Leap of Faith subscribers. This group “takes the leap” each year, see signing up for another season with the Arden before we even announce the plays! We wanted to give them a first look at what we have planned for the coming year.

The Leap of Faith subscribers got a chance to learn about our Arden for All education program, our plans for expansion with the Hamilton Family Arts Center, and then a special look at Next to Normal. After viewing a model of the set, they took tours up to the stage manager’s booth and looked onto a tech rehearsal.

Of course there was also food and drink to enjoy, from many of our Old City Dining Partners including Pinot Wine Boutique, Triumph Brewing Company, Shane’s Confectionery, Campo’s, Cuba Libre, Fork, Positano Coast, and Wedge + Fig.

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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