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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!

Jon Ward, Properties Master at the Arden, discusses the tricky prop of Something Intangible.

When a play opens at the Arden, the Production Department is the first to kick back and celebrate. We’re the ones who have been putting in 10, 12, even 14 hour days during technical rehearsals and previews, after all. When a show is finally “locked”, we’re more than happy to hand over the day-to-day running of it to the trusty stage manager, her crew, and the cast.

But a Prop Master’s work is never done, as it turns out. Not really. Take Tony Wiston’s tennis racquet in Something Intangible. Bruce Graham’s script calls for Tony, the world renowned Hollywood cartoon mogul, to smash his racquet in half night after night as he puts the fear of God into rebellious whiz kid animator Leo Baxter.

Something Intangible runs for 7 weeks. That means 67 separate smashings, not including what happened during rehearsals and previews. Now, in a perfect world, we could purchase enough tennis racquets for the actor to smash a new one every night. But the world’s not perfect, and my budget’s not limitless.

Solving the – ahem – “Tennis Racquet Problem” has been one of my greatest challenges all year. Preview after preview, I’d gather in the house for notes with the director, the set designer, and the rest of the production team. What could we do? How could we design a racquet that could be broken and put back together again night after night? And not just any tennis racquet, mind you. A period specific tennis racquet. Something Intangible is set in the early 1940s, during the golden age of Hollywood animation, you see. The racquets they had then look very little like the ones we use today.

Wooden racquets chip and give actors splinters. Could we stain a modern-day metallic one? Or should we try building our own, specially rigged, “trick” racquet? It’s four weeks into the run, and I’m still trying to answer these questions. To date, we’ve gone through 10 separate racquets.

Are we closer to a solution?

All I can say is…thank goodness Conor McPherson never got it in his head to have those lovable louts in The Seafarer start tearing up their playing cards.

Thanks a lot, Bruce Graham!

Think you know more than our beloved Props Master? Feel free to post your own solutions to the “Tennis Racquet Problem” right here in the comments section of the Arden Blog.

Tickets to this world premiere are now just $10 for all performances through June 7!

A 10-minute interview with Philadelphia-based playwright Bruce Graham by theatre students from his alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

By Matt Ocks: Assistant Director for Something Intangible

My role on this show pretty much ends in a few weeks. I’ll come watch the play as much as I can. As someone who was there for the rehearsal process, I’ll notice nuances in the performances that other people just can’t, and I’m fascinated to see how the actors delve even deeper into their roles. So many memories will stay with me: Snarky comments, March Madness, the hailstorm. And of course, there’s the story we’ve been telling every day. As befits an Arden show, Something Intangible is a great story, not just about Hollywood but about two brothers, often at odds. I think it is to Bruce Graham’s credit that the conflict between these brothers is not resolved in a tidy fashion.

Watching Dale go on the journey of learning to accept his brother Tony, in spite of the pain he has caused, every day for the past five weeks has been my honor. I take a small degree of ownership over the production that opens April 15th, but as I hope you can see, Something Intangible is very much a group effort. We started with a pile of pages (Great pages! Hilarious pages! But pages, nonetheless). We’re ending with a play. It’s a great play. It’s a hilarious play. Every now and then it’s a quietly devastating play. And I got to see it happen. “In-crowd” or “out-crowd,” I am tickled pink to be part of this crowd.

See you at the show.

By Matt Ocks: Assistant Director for Something Intangible

And then there’s that cast. In the roles of Tony and Dale Wiston, the Arden was smart enough to nab Scott Greer and Ian Peakes. Scott and Ian already are “brothers, ” even if they don’t have the same parents or the same last name, so we could skip the difficult step of having to construct that relationship between two strangers during rehearsals. The Wiston boys have been with us, and with each other, from day one.

Supporting Ian and Scott we have Sally Mercer as Dale’s trailblazing psychoanalyst, Sonia Feldman. Sally’s persevered through several different rehearsal chairs of varying comfort levels in our makeshift set. She’s also persevered through several different rehearsal candies (her character is a bit of a sweet tooth, even though she is not).Fortunately for Sally, Scott has generously stepped in to consume the candies she herself isn’t fond of. It’s saved us all a lot of heartache. No one wants to see Jolly Ranchers go to waste.

Rounding out the cast are Doug Hara and Walter Charles. I’ve seen Doug in several plays at the Arden, and have marveled at his physical prowess along with everyone else here. It’s been remarkable to watch him find not only the physicality but the emotional core of whiz kid animator Leo Baxter. Just the other night, sitting atop rehearsal cubes with a “do-for” whiskey bottle, he made a breakthrough in his big scene in Act 2, and I will not soon forget it.

One of my favorite rehearsal experiences to date was watching Walter Charles work with a dialect coach in preparation for his portrayal of the flamboyant – if a bit nefarious – German conductor Gustav Von Meyerhoff. Walter walked into the Arden conference room with a mental sketch for this character. He came back out an hour later with a fully fleshed out portrayal of a truly Teutonic tyrant.I cannot wait for our audiences to hear how he pronounces the word “quibbles.”

And as for our director – the captain of the ship, the leader of the pack – what makes Terry Nolen so brilliant is…well…Something Intangible. I’m not sure what to say about him, but I’ll give it a try. He is by turns loud and quiet, public and private, spontaneous and prepared. He is a drill sergeant and a cheerleader. And he is Yoda. “Do or do not. There is no try” in Terry Nolen rehearsals. I remain in awe.

And finally, I will write on this blog about Stage Management, because no one ever does. As much as everyone else I’ve just written about does, Stephanie Cook and Gary Thayer do ten times more. They record the blocking, they keep track of all the props, they make haircut appointments and schedule tanning sessions. They are the first to arrive and the last to depart, and that’ll be true every day for the next 9 weeks of performances. Fortunately for all of us, Stephanie and Gary were both born on Planet Krypton. They have x-ray vision and are impervious to physical pain, not to mention ribbing from knucklehead actors.

Check back tomorrow for Matt’s final post before previews begin on Thursday!

Matt Ocks is the Manager of Institutional Giving at the Arden. Currently, he is doubling as the Assistant Director of Something Intangible.

Dear Arden Insiders, >help

When I was in high school, I never got invited to parties with the “in-crowd”, but Something Intangible rehearsals have been nothing if not that. We have the cream of the Arden crop breathing life into this brand new play, and it has been my pleasure and great privilege as Assistant Director to serve as Fly on the Wall (with the occasional stint as Leader of the Line-Through, and slightly more frequent stints as Fetcher of the Coffee.).

I asked to work on this play because, as a young writer, I was eager to see how a playwright with more experience handles the rehearsal process. The mint on my pillow has been the chance to watch so many other brilliant artists – not just Bruce Graham, he of the shiny head and sharp wit – – but the director, actors, and designers, working at the top of their game. On those rare occasions when I get up the nerve, I actually get to engage with them as a colleague and fellow storyteller. It’s spine-tingling.

We’ve been lucky to have a phenomenal dramaturg join us from time to time in rehearsals, and for a discussion that often continues over late night e-mails among the rehearsal staff. Michele Volansky has helped us all hone in on exactly what story we are telling, and she gives the playwright a good kick in the pants when he needs it (and sometimes when he doesn’t, according to him).

And then there are the designers. We’ve got Jorge Cousineau doing sound. Even if you don’t know Jorge personally, you’ve seen his name in countless Arden programs, and I can vouch for his status as a master craftsman (or handwerksmeister, as they say in his native land). We’ve also got Jim Kronzer designing our set. The first year I worked at the Arden – a shy, sheepish apprentice – Kronzer decided it should rain in the Haas during Caroline, or Change, and our genius/miracle worker technical director Glenn Perlman made it happen.

We have just entered technical rehearsals for Something Intangible, where the designers and technicians come to the forefront of the creative process. I cannot wait to see what Cousineau, Kronzer, Perlman, and the other designers and technicians have cooked up for Graham’s play. To quote Something Intangible (sorry, I live and breathe it 6 days a week now), it is sure to be a “veritable feast for the senses.”

Check back on Monday for a new post from Matt about the cast.

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