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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 Sophie Kruip, >view Arden Professional Apprentice Class 20

First Friday programming is very officially underway at the Arden  with incredible acts from local musical, >shop dance, and theatre companies The past few months have seen inspiring and impressive acts from Headlong Dance Theatre and the Dali Quartet, as well as the wildly entertaining circus group Olde City Sideshow. You never know what you’re in for when you walk in: the lobby may become an art gallery, or perhaps an improvisational movement group will take over: come check it out and have a beer from our keg (Philadelphia Pale Ale, anyone?) on the house!

Photo by Plate 3 Photography

The John S. and James L. Knight foundation made this programming possible through a generous donation—with one stipulation. We have to MATCH their donation, or we simply don’t get those funds! So please show your support of the Arden’s mission to bring you incredible local art, and help us reach this goal!

This First Friday, prepare for Tiny Dynamite’s “A Play, A Pie, and A Pint,” a casual, short, and comedic theatre piece enjoyed with a slice of pizza and a glass of beer. What more could you ask for? If you can’t make that, March 1st we will be hosting Applied Mechanics, a collaborative theatre experience that will roving scenes all around the lobby so that patrons may wander through to watch the scenes, and enjoy food and drink as they go. Stay tuned for more performances from The Berserker Residents, subcircle, and Johnny Showcase and the Lefty Lucy Cabaret!

First Fridays are FREE and open to the public, but please do bring $1, $5, $20—anything you can donate so that we can continue bringing you the quality programming you expect from the Arden.

So bring a valid I.D. to claim your complimentary beer, and we’ll see you on First Friday!

Arden friends and artists gathered Wednesday evening to celebrate opening night of Endgame, directed by Edward Sobel and our first foray into the world of playwright Samuel Beckett, a writer that transformed the way stories are told on stage.

Members of the Sylvan Society joined together for a pre-show cocktail party at Revolution House.  Nearly 200 audience members enjoyed the opening night performance on the Arcadia Stage, which was followed by a post-show discussion led by Endgame Assistant Director Suzana Berger and Arden Associate Artistic Director Matthew Decker.  Guests enjoyed a reception following the show catered by JPM Catering with beer and refreshments courtesy of Hatboro Beverages.

Thanks to Plate 3 Photography for photos of our post-show discussion and party!

By Suzanna Berger, medicine Assistant Director for Endgame

For a play about life after apocalyptic tragedy, Endgame is packed with comedy, and Endgame rehearsals have often proved hilarious.

The choreography of the play itself leads to amusing guidance from director Ed Sobel such as, “I think you’ll have to hit your head again there.” Nagg and Nell pop up from inside their trashcans, an image that may or may not have been the inspiration for Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch. Then there is the not uncommon occurrence of an actor halting mid-scene to turn out and ask, “Wait, why am I saying that?” In particularly daunting moments, the comforting refrain has become, “You know, it’s not too late to do Pippin instead.”

Nancy Boykin as Nell and Dan Kern as Nagg. Photo by Mark Garvin

But all joking aside, these daunting, questioning moments have led to some of the most fruitful, discovery-filled exchanges of the process. They return us always to the relationships between the characters, what they want from each other, and how they go about their clumsy, cruel, or beautiful attempts to get it.

After a few marathon days onstage, the technical elements are all in place and the actors have learned to navigate their new terrain so that their movements are only funny when they – and Beckett – intend them to be. Runaway props have been tamed; the mechanics of pushing a chair on wheels around a raked stage have been conquered.

Now that these pieces are under control, the focus can shift to a fuller realization of the life of the play. One of the items on Ed’s work list this week is finessing the frequent shifts between comedy and despair. Beckett constantly positions these two conditions next to each other. As Nell declares from her trashcan living quarters, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.” The juxtaposition can be hard on audience members: responding to the destroyed isolation of the world of the play, how easy is it to laugh at Clov’s tribulations as he maneuvers an unweildy ladder? Then again, how can we not laugh at the zingers Hamm and Clov use against each other?

The characters also deliberately use humor in their relationships. In an attempt to cheer up Nell, Nagg offers to tell her a joke he loves. After Clov’s barb, “If I could kill him, I’d die happy,” Hamm tries to lighten the mood with a return to routine, buoyantly asking, “What’s the weather like?” Each character’s response to these comedic attempts may go along with the upbeat turn, or may be the very thing that sends them – and us – tumbling back into the despair that things will never change. But perhaps these swings also give us hope that we can do better in our own interactions, that we are banging our heads against metaphorical walls that are as much of our own creation as the set on which the play unfolds.

After all, Endgame is a play that each person experiences differently. Its meaning comes from what you, as an audience member, see in it – how it affects you emotionally, what connections you find to your own life, or to the state of the country. As we prepare for our opening night, I’m looking forward to listening for the laughter, sighs, startles, and silences of each audience, sounds that bring a vital harmony to the music of the play.

Endgame runs on the Arden’s Arcadia stage through March 10, 2013. After each performance, audience members are invited to join in a discussion of the play with a member of the artistic team.  

From Terry Nolen, Producing Artistic Director

One of the things that I love about choosing plays for the Arden is that our mission allows us to produce a great variety of work. Contemporary musicals such as Next to Normal; classic stories such as Cyrano; new plays such as Clybourne Park and the American classic that inspired it, A Raisin in the Sun. In our 24-plus years, we’ve produced an extraordinary group of writers, some to whom we’ve returned more than once: seven plays by Michael Hollinger; three by Michael Ogborn; two each by Arthur Miller, Tom Stoppard, and August Wilson; nine Shakespeares; ten Sondheims. With this production of Endgame, I am thrilled to bring the work of Samuel Beckett to our stage.

Samuel Beckett was a remarkable figure in world drama: an Irishman who lived in Paris, often writing in French and then translating his plays into English; a friend and confidant of James Joyce who also served as part of the French Resistance during World War II. As a dramatist, Beckett was a visionary and a revolutionary, transforming how stories could be told onstage. He was also famously private, determined to let his work speak for itself. In response to the persistent question, “What does it mean?, Mr. Beckett provided no answers, save, “I cannot explain my plays. Each must find out for himself what is meant.” He left us the words, images and rhythms. It is up to us to make sense of them.

Scott Greer and James Ijames. Photo by Ja?hien Sasno? for Philadelphia Magazine

Beckett was one of the most – if not the most – influential playwrights of the twentieth century (as detailed in Assistant Director Suzana Berger’s article). Beckett’s work also influenced generations of writers of fiction, film and even television (Tony Soprano and Al Swearengen in Deadwood have always struck me as characters inspired by Beckett’s anti-heros); and his plays have attracted some of the great actors of our time. When Associate Artistic Director Ed Sobel, who has a deep and abiding passion for Beckett’s work, suggested Endgame with Scott Greer as Hamm and James Ijames as Clov, I felt the thrill of possibility. Here are two actors who bring tremendous humanity, intelligence and humor to their work. They could have careers anywhere, but they have chosen to make Philadelphia their home. When we started the Arden in 1988, we wanted to help foster a vibrant Philadelphia theater community, one that could attract such extraordinary theatre artists as Scott and James. Who better to lead us into the world of Samuel Beckett?

A version of this letter appears in the stagebill for the Arden’s production of Endgame 

 

Samuel Beckett’s writing was a response not only to the world around him, but to those that influenced him, from James Joyce to Charlie Chaplin. Now it’s your turn to respond to Beckett.

 

Enter our Creative Response Contest!  Here’s how:

  • See the Arden’s production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, on stage from January 17-March 10, 2013
  • Create your response to the play. It can be a video, a song, a play, an essay, a poem – use your imagination! Email your entry to endgame@ardentheatre.org by Monday, February 25. Videos should be sent as a link on YouTube or video. Written entries should be sent as an attachment (Word or PDF). 
  • The Arden will select 10 Finalists to post on the Arden Blog, and linked to Facebook. From February 27-March 4, entries will collect votes on Facebook. Three winners will be named on March 4 and notified via email.
  • 1 Grand Prize – $300 and an invitation for two to opening night of A Raisin in the Sun at the Arden
  • 2 runners-up – $100  and two tickets to A Raisin in the Sun at the Arden
  • All 10 Finalists – Two tickets to A Raisin in the Sun at the Arden 

Cash prizes are generously contributed by New City Writing in the English Department of Temple University.
The Arden reserves the right to post, share, and publicize all entries with proper credit to the creator.

 

By Suzana Berger, Assistant Director for Endgame

 

“After Godot, plots could be minimal; exposition, expendable; characters, contradictory; settings, unlocalized, and dialogue, unpredictable. Blatant farce could jostle tragedy.” – Ruby Cohn, Samuel Beckett’s friend and author of numerous books about his work

Beckett’s legacy is not only Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and his other fascinating, puzzling plays, but opening the door for theatremakers to imagine stage worlds that defy naturalistic expression. The style he created out of a struggle to understand and represent life after the horrors of World War II has given us theatrical conventions that have continued to influence other artists’ explorations for over 50 years.

Beckett’s British contemporary, Harold Pinter, said he admired Beckett’s style, “so much that something of its texture may appear in my own.” That texture is noticeable in the clipped rhythms of speech and silence in gripping Pinter plays like The Birthday Party and The Homecoming. These plays also share Beckett’s structural technique of building characters’ actions around someone or something that is very palpably absent.

Scott Greer in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, 2003

Tom Stoppard also has some Beckettian fun in his Hamlet-inspired comedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (produced at the Arden in 2003, featuring Endgame’s Scott Greer in one of the title roles). Stoppard opens the play with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern “in a place without any visible character,” tossing coins and carrying on a cyclical, philosophical, though always active conversation that echoes Waiting for Godot’s Estragon and Vladimir. Stoppard draws on Beckett’s structural innovation to spin his story about two lost souls trying to understand the forces that determine their actions.

In the 1960s, Sam Shepard and Edward Albee became some of the first American writers to draw on Beckett’s avant-garde style. Shepard’s characters struggle with suburbanization, family breakdown, and mechanization within barren stage landscapes, cyclical time, and plots that resist easy description in plays like Cowboy Mouth and Buried Child. Albee has been a steadfast fan and supporter of Beckett, repeatedly praising his work and even directing productions of his plays. In regards to his own writing, Albee was greatly influenced by Beckett. “From him, I’ve learned economy, precision and specificity. [In my work] I embraced his notion that we must stay fully alive knowing perfectly well that we are not going to stay alive forever. And we can stay alive with far less than we think we need to. Consciousness is all.”

Although David Mamet’s characters live in extremely realistic settings, he builds on Beckett’s musical dialogue full of repetitions and terse phrases that could be interpreted as either straightforward or laden with meaning to give fire-breathing life to Lakeboat’s rough and tumble steamboat crew, Glengarry Glen Ross’ crooked real estate agents, and Speed-the-Plow’s slick Hollywood producers.

Suzan-Lori Parks’ signature style of repetition and revision or “rep and rev,” which pervades plot and dialogue in many of her plays, certainly has echoes of Beckett. Her thought-provoking content, often dealing with the omissions of African American experiences from history and exploding the stereotypes that surround them, flows naturally from this form. She is intrigued by what Beckett and his mentor James Joyce, “could get away with,” and places her adventurous writing in, “that tradition of doing whatever you
want and saying, ‘Here it is!’”

Each of these writers’ creations is unique, different from each other’s and from Beckett’s in significant ways. Yet his particular brand of theatricality so permeates the air theatre artists breathe that they have all used it to fuel their theatrical tangles with the questions of their times. We have the excitement of experiencing Beckett’s stagecraft for ourselves, as well as seeing how today’s young writers will draw on their theatrical heritage to interrogate this moment in history and help us to understand it.

 

By Edward Sobel, Associate Artistic Director

I first fell in love with the work of Samuel Beckett when I was in college. At eighteen, what I perceived as aridly funny nihilism held irresistible appeal. In the intervening years I’ve strayed promiscuously, but have often returned, and never fully left. Now, as I sit squarely in the advancing shadow of middle age, I know this lover differently.

I chose to direct Endgame this season while I was reading a number of new plays from American writers that seemed to be confronting loss. Not personal psychological grief, although that was present, but loss as it has an impact on a wider community. It seemed to be in our zeitgeist. Perhaps we are now distant enough from one of our latest national tragedies that we are trying to process the impact.

Beckett (at right) in the French Resistance

Beckett’s own world view, as many artists of his time, was informed by experiences during World War II; in Beckett’s case including direct participation in the French Resistance under German occupation. As I write this, one American community and by extension all of us, has suffered a tremendous, heartbreaking loss. Each time such a thing happens, I find myself thinking, well surely this is the last. We can’t be punished anymore. Then I remember World War I, which Beckett also lived through, was called the “War to End All Wars”. Until it didn’t.

It seems I must accept that personal and communal calamity, destruction, cruelty and inhumanity are inevitable. As Beckett has Didi say in Waiting for Godot, “Astride of a grave and a difficult birth … Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps.”

Beckett also wrote a phrase in his notebook: “Do not despair, one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume, one of the thieves was damned. ” He said he was not so much interested in the theology of the saying, but in its shape. That in his drama, every darkness contains the “perhaps” of light.

If it is true, if things like slavery, oppression, violence and war will always happen, if the thief is damned, then so do we also always have opportunity to respond. The possibility remains of being wiser, more forgiving, more compassionate, of laughing and loving more than we did the last time. One of the thieves was saved. What we do with our perpetual calamity, as individuals or as a country, is up to us. Such is the nature of hope in this world.

Making plays is an act of optimism. While you may never be sure that what you are saying has any value and that you haven’t just messed up your own life for nothing, you live in the faith that the creative act animates possibility, even if only for an hour and a quarter, in the dark.

Making a play is also a communal act, and I have been given the gift of an exceptional family of actors and designers, all of whom have dedicated their considerable talents to this production with a fervor that has been inspiring. I am grateful to them, and to you our audiences, for being willing to enter Beckett’s unique theater with us.

So here we are. I am stuck with Beckett, and apparently for this production anyway, him with me. And you with us. And all of us with each other. What are we going to do now?



A version of these notes appear in the stagebill for the Arden’s production of
Endgame

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