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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 Jenna Stelmok, Arden Professional Apprentice

Love the taste of homemade pies on Thanksgiving but hate the fuss of making them? Know other people who do? Buying a pie from MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance) is a perfect way to save time preparing for your holidays, while providing two days’ worth of meals to someone in our community!

For those who don’t know, MANNA is a wonderful local non-profit organization that provides nourishing meals, counseling, and support to people in our community at acute nutritional risk from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. MANNA was founded in 1990 by seven members of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia to comfort men dying of AIDS. Since then, their mission has expanded to serve any individuals who are currently battling or in care for a life-threatening illness and are at severe nutritional risk due to this sickness.

Every day, full weeks’ worth of meals are cooked in MANNA’s kitchen by over 1,500 volunteers, frozen, and delivered to families in need. Additionally, through what is known as Medical Nutrition Therapy, MANNA provides nutrition counseling free of charge to those with life-threatening illnesses. Dieticians work individually with their clients, creating sensible food plans to help them stay as healthy as possible. In truth, MANNA cares for the entire person.

Arden Theatre Company is a strong supporter of MANNA and its mission. We began the celebration of our 25th Anniversary Season with a Pay What You Can performance of our first show, Next to Normal, from which all ticket proceeds went directly to the non-profit. With the help of almost 200 patrons, we raised over $600 for MANNA. (We’ve partnered with MANNA for three other Pay What You Can performances in recent years, raising nearly $4,000 additional for their work.)

Now, I’m thrilled to share with you our next goal for the season: selling pies! Every Thanksgiving, MANNA hosts a fundraiser called Pie in the Sky, through which it offers five types of traditional holiday pies for purchase, such as the Holiday Pumpkin Pie and Traditional Apple Pie. All proceeds from the pies go directly to caring for those with acute life-threatening illnesses.

The Arden has been participating as a pie-selling team for the last several years. In 2012, we sold 17 pies and raised $450 for MANNA. This year, through the organization of our 20th Arden Professional Apprentice class, we hope to raise our goals and sell DOUBLE what we sold last year – that’s 34 pies and $900! Currently, we’ve sold 31 pies and are SO CLOSE to our goal!

We ask you to join our support of this fantastic non-profit by purchasing a MANNA pie for your Thanksgiving table, or donating one to a family in need, through the Arden Theatre Company’s pie-selling team. It’s incredibly easy – just CLICK HERE to buy, and make sure you find our Pie Time (Arden Theatre Company) when you’re ordering!! TheArden will also be serving as a pie pick-up location, so you can visit us and get your pie at the same time! Please share our goal with family and friends and encourage them to buy, too. And remember – supporting MANNA means you can enjoy your pie guilt-free this year! Happy Holidays!

By Edward Sobel, Associate Artistic Director

In my previous post I mentioned Beckett’s early drafts of Endgame contained specific information about time and place which he subsequently edited out. In the design process, we have tracked along a similar path.

The world of this play is fundamentally different from what many people expect walking into the theater. If you step into our production of Freud’s Last Session, you will see a striking facsimile of Sigmund Freud’s office – there are doors and walls and windows, and a radio and knick-knacks and books and glasses with drinking water and… you get the picture.

Beckett called for a reconfiguration of how we see theatrical space, and the theatrical event. He was not writing “realism”. He wrote, well, something else. Some have called it absurdism, though Beckett never took that title. Others call it minimalism. Whatever the label, the demands of this play are different.

The challenge we have been confronting is how specific we need to be, and what is the right level of abstraction. Given Beckett’s economy, and our attempt to match it visually, every choice we make becomes that much more magnified. The opening stage directions are “Bare Interior. Grey light.” But what is the nature of this bare interior? Is it, as some have suggested, antiseptic, like a hospital or nursing home? Something more domestic? Is it even a self-contained room? Is “bare” meant physically, metaphysically, or both?

The play is an examination of what happens after cataclysm. To Beckett, the cataclysm is being born. While I don’t fully subscribe to that philosophy, we nevertheless have used as a starting point the specifics of American cataclysm, both of its founding and of our own time. We have now begun the process of removing the inessential to arrive at… well, time will tell.

Below are few of the images set designer Kevin Depinet and I have been using as inspiration.


By Angela DuRoss, Development Director

Freud’s Last Session opened on Thursday, November 1 to a packed house.  Members of the Sylvan Society joined together for a cocktail party at Gigi Restaurant prior to the performance.  Nearly 200 audience members enjoyed the opening night performance, which marked the directorial debut for Philadelphia artist Ian Merrill Peakes.  Guests enjoyed a reception following the show catered by JPM Catering with beer courtesy of Hatboro Beverages.

Thanks to Plate3Photography for photos of our post-show party!

By Chris Haig, Properties Master

In 1885, as a young researcher, Freud attended a dinner at the house of the illustrious Charcot in Paris.  A letter described the scene to his fiancée – the furniture, carpets, tapestries, Indian and Chinese antiques. It was ‘in short – a museum’. Here was a model the penniless student could only admire and envy. But by 1896 his earnings were increasing and in that year he mentioned decorating his study with plaster casts. In 1898 he wrote of buying a Roman figure, which his three-year-old daughter Anna called an “old child”. In August 1899, while writing The Interpretation of Dreams, he wrote of ‘old and grubby gods’ that took part in the work as paperweights. Two years later, he wrote that ‘a fragment of Pompeian wall with a centaur and a faun transports me to my longed-forItaly’. By 1909 a collection existed, but it was still in its initial stages. By 1939, however, Freud had amassed over 2000 objects and the collection encompassed items from the ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece, Rome and China, together with a sprinkling of objects which might be described as ethnographic.
– An excerpt from 20 Maresfield Gardens: A Guide to the Freud Museum London

Director Ian Merrill Peakes and set designer David P. Gordon decided very early on in the design process for Freud’s Last Session that they wanted to recreate Freud’s London study, where the play takes place, as accurately and as detailed as possible. So it was crucial for the props and set dressing to match the items found in photographs of the actual location.

Luckily, Freud’s office in London is now The Freud Museum. It remains in exactly the same arrangement as when Freud worked there. There are two wonderful books (one of which is quoted above) describing in great detail the artifacts, artwork, furniture and décor inside Freud’s home and office. These were critical to our work. We also contacted the curator of The Freud Museum for more detailed information and our Costume Designer, Katherine Fritz, actually had the chance to visit the museum in September and returned with wonderfully detailed and close-up photos from the room. We had a plethora of reference materials to work from while creating our set.

Having the play set in a place and time that actually existed had its benefits and challenges. A benefit was that from day one we knew exactly what we were looking for to recreate the study. We knew we needed a certain desk, couch, chairs, books, artifacts, rugs and curtains. The challenge was the same thing: finding exact replicas of all those things! We knew what we were looking for, just needed to find it. The carpet, for example, that lays over the infamous analysts couch is so specific that we couldn’t settle for one that wasn’t just right. We took a few liberties with the arrangement of furniture to accommodate the playing space, but for the most part, the audience enters into an almost exact replica of Freud’s office.

Freud had over 2000 antiquities in his collection at the time of our play, much kept in storage, but many in display cases and shelves in his study. During an Arden staff meeting in August, I let everyone know that I was on the hunt for artifacts for the set.Leigh Goldenberg, the Arden’s Marketing and PR Manager, is friends with the PR director at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology,Pam Kosty, and thought they might be willing to loan us some things for the show. We were very lucky as the Penn Museum hosted a traveling exhibition of some of Freud’s artifacts several years ago and the museum staff had a working knowledge of what was in his collection. When we arrived for our initial meeting, Chrisso Boulis and Anne Brancati from the museum’s Registrar’s office had already pulled a number of items from their collection that were appropriate to the type of artifacts Freud collected. We took them all! A few weeks before opening we picked up the donated items from the museum and added them to the set.

There are over 200 “artifacts” on the stage of Freud’s Last Session at the Arden. Of those, 18 are from the Penn Museum. The largest bulk of the remaining artifacts were donated by members of the Arden’s Sylvan Society. During that August staff meeting when I asked for help, our Development Director, Angela DuRoss, suggested asking our donors if they would be interested in loaning items to Freud’s collection. We got an amazing response and eventually five Sylvan members loaned over 100 items from their personal collections. We could not have filled the set up without their generosity and faith in the company. The remaining artifacts were bought at flea markets, online and created in the prop shop by myself, our talented production interns, Alyssa Velazquez and Liz Nugent, and several Arden Professional Apprentices.

The Arden’s production of Freud’s Last Session is breathtaking in its detail, from Jorge Cousineau’s authentic 1939 recordings playing on the radio to the wood grain on the display cases recreated in exacting detail by scenic artist Kristina Chadwick. Our intention was never to impress the audience with the artistry it took to recreate this place and time in history so accurately, but to allow them to step inside the inner sanctum of Sigmund Freud and breath the air (however, cigar-smoke-filled it may have been) that he did; to take a seat on his couch and share in the brilliant (however fictional) conversation between himself and C.S. Lewis.

The psychoanalyst like the archaeologist in his excavations must uncover layer after layer of the patient’s psyche before coming to the deepest most valuable treasures.
–Sigmund Freud

Photos from The Freud Museum of Freud’s actual study:

Set Design sketch by David Gordon:

The Arcadia Stage before any set dressing, lighting, or final painting was complete:

The final set with complete stage lighting and dressing. (Photo by Mark Garvin):

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