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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: 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.

By Erin Read, Artistic Assistant

Nearly everyone has called out of work or left the office early at least once. Maybe you weren’t feeling well, or there was a doctor’s appointment that couldn’t be scheduled at a more convenient time, or maybe you just needed a mental health day. What happens though, if your office is a theatre? What happens if you have to call out of work and you’re an actor?

What happens is…you call the understudy.

At the Arden, local actors cover every role in each show of our season. There is an entire group of hard-working actors that you may never see, painstakingly taking notes and learning lines.

Being an understudy is not an easy task. They have to learn a show predominantly through observation and their blocking and choices are then finessed during five rehearsals with the Assistant Director.  They have to be on call for the entire run of a production and must be secure in the knowledge that they may never get to perform for an audience. If you are lucky enough to get to go on, you may have to fight to win the audience over as there are often vocal reactions to understudy announcements. And after your big turn in the spotlight, you need to be humble enough to quietly step back in the shadows once your actor has returned to the show. Though it’s a tough gig, being an understudy can have its rewards—just ask the former actors on staff that still indulge their creative side with the occasional understudy turn! (In case you were wondering, our Business Manager makes a beautiful Juliet!)

Our rehearsal process is always open and understudies get the benefit of being in the room with and learning from some of the city’s greatest artists. It is also a great way for the Arden to get to know an actor that may not have worked with us before. Case in point-actor Sean Lally, currently in rehearsal for A Moon for the Misbegotten. We met him last season as an understudy for The History Boys. We had such a good experience with him that he was cast as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, where he also understudied Romeo. You may have been lucky enough to catch him for a few performances when he stepped in for the star-crossed lover. He was also in our production of The Threepenny Opera and now Moon. Three Arden shows in two seasons and he first came through our doors as an understudy.

There a few things that can amp up the energy level of a show than when an understudy goes on. The cast is excited to see what someone new will bring to the show and the crew is on point to make sure that everything runs extra smooth so no one is thrown off. I must admit, it is also a great deal of fun to call an understudy and break the news that they will get to perform (For last minute calls, there are plenty of reminders to breathe). Ideally, we would know ahead of time when an actor will be unavailable (jury duty has been a culprit as of late) and we would we have time to hold a full cast rehearsal with the understudy and answer any questions they might have. More often than not however, we have just a few days notice if we think someone is falling ill, or even as little as a few hours. In fact, an understudy for The Borrowers went on the week after Christmas with less than three hours notice. Understudies have been called at intermission, they’ve been tracked down at work, and once we even sent someone to track an understudy down at a gym where we suspected he was working out. We managed to find him and rush him to the theatre to practice a fight sequence, get fitted for a costume and two hours later he was onstage!

Arden apprentices will often serve as understudies and there has been more than one occasion during the winter holiday show that an apprentice has been pulled from the box office to be onstage just a few minutes later. (I speak the latter from experience. As an apprentice here and an understudy for The BFG I was handing out tickets for a noon performance that I ended up performing in. It was by far the most amazing and most terrifying two hours I’d ever experienced.)

So next time you head to the theatre and see a notice that an understudy is going on, don’t be disappointed. Many greats started out as a standby for someone else: Shirley MacLaine was discovered after going on as an understudy for Carol Hainey in The Pajama Game. Lou Gehrig entered baseball with the Yankees as a pinch hitter and on his second day with the team replaced Wally Pipp before going on to play 2,130 consecutive games. You may have been hoping to see your favorite Philly actor but know that an understudy performance may just be the most pure and ensemble filled show you’ll see. You’ll be witness to the most terrifying/awe-inspiring/nerve-wracking/fantastic few hours that understudy will have. And who knows, you could be watching the next Shirley MacLaine!

[Interested in being an understudy? Contact Associate Producer Matt Decker at]

Yesterday, the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia announced the nominations for Barrymores, our area’s awards for excellence in theatre. We were thrilled to receive 16 nominations, covering the full range of the Arden’s work!

Here is the full list of our nominations:
• Outstanding Overall Production of a Play – The History Boys
• Outstanding Overall Production of a Play – If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
• Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical – Sunday in the Park with George
• Outstanding Direction of a Play – James J. Christy Rabbit Hole
• Outstanding Direction of a Play – Walter DallasBlue Door
• Outstanding Music Direction – Eric Ebbenga Sunday in the Park with George
• Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play – Steve Pacek as Mouse – If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
• Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play – Grace Gonglewski as Becca – Rabbit Hole
• Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play – Kes Khemnu as Simon, Rex, Jesse – Blue Door
• Outstanding Set Design – David P. GordonIf You Give a Mouse a Cookie
• Outstanding Lighting Design – Thom WeaverBlue Door
• Outstanding Costume Design – Rosemarie E. McKelveySunday in the Park with George
• Outstanding Sound Design – Jorge CousineauThe History Boys
• Outstanding Original Music – Christopher ColucciRabbit Hole
• Outstanding Original Music – Robert KaplowitzBlue Door
• Outstanding Ensemble in a Play – The History Boys

Congratulations to all the artists that made our 2009-10 Season such a success!

Who do you think will take home a Barrymore Award on October 4?

Arden Drama School hosted the first week of Summer Camp for our Kids’ Crew in June. We had 44 campers ranging from Kindergarten through 5th grade who had classes each day in acting, improvisation, playwriting, set and costume design, dance and music. The week culminated with a show on Friday afternoon for parents!

Here’s a video with highlights from the camp show and photos from throughout the week.

There are three more weeks of summer camp for both Kids’ Crew and Teen Company, and spaces are filling fast! Check back for more photos, blogs and videos from these upcoming sessions!

The Arden was proud to host our city’s first ever Bike to Theatre Night on Friday, >ambulance July 2.  On this sunny summer night, we had a nice turnout of cyclists from all parts of Philadelphia. They received discounted tickets to Sunday in the Park with George, complimentary valet bike parking from Neighborhood Bike Works, and a free bike bell from Pabst Blue Ribbon!

Here are some photos of our fabulous bikers!

We hope to schedule Bike to Theatre Nights for future productions, so stay tuned for more information!

On Friday, July 2 we had beautiful weather for a First Friday in Old City!

We invited anyone to come into the Arden’s lobby to “Create Your Own Sunday, ” inspired by Georges Seurats’ Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Using paint, chalk and pencils, over 200 visitors drew depictions of their own Sunday afternoons.

Guests also enjoyed complimentary desserts from Sugar Philly, a scrumptious dessert truck who parked on Filbert Street to sell their treats, and beer from Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Here are some pictures from the evening!

We hope you’ll visit us for a future First Friday!

On Tuesday,   June 29, recipe we hosted a special Arts Administrators Night at a performance of Sunday in the Park with George. Inspired by the subject matter of the play (and in particular, the characters in Act 2), we thought this was the perfect play to get together with our fellow colleagues that are “Putting it Together” in all facets of the Arts in the Philadelphia area. We were thrilled to have over 50 Arts Administrators join us for a casual dinner and then to watch the play.

Here are some pictures from the pre-show reception.

Be on the lookout for future Arts Administrator nights in the 2010/11 Season!

By Matt Ocks, discount Manager of Institutional Giving

June 30th is the end of the fiscal year here at Arden Theatre Company, and the development department is in the midst of a mini-phone campaign to encourage former supporters to renew their contributions in time for us to make goal for the season.  As an added incentive, any increase they make over last year’s gift counts towards the Hamilton Family Foundation Challenge (audiences who have seen Sunday in the Park are already familiar with this challenge, as it’s mentioned nightly in a post-show speech by Jeff Coon).  If we raise $50,000 in new or increased gifts by June 30th, the Foundation will match that with an additional $50,000 for Children’s Theatre and our outreach program, Arden for All.

One of the questions I get asked the most by audience members when I talk about donations is why, after they already spent money on tickets, they need to contribute to the theatre as well?  And of course, the answer is – they don’t.  But if they can, by gum, they should!  Right?  As a theatre-maker reared mainly on Broadway shows, I struggle with this issue a lot.  After all, on Broadway, when a show doesn’t sell, it closes.  And if we think of the theatre as a business, than the idea that we should have to buy tickets and be asked to make donations does seem silly.

But perhaps the theatre is something else.  True.  It has many of the same qualities as a business – it employs a variety of highly trained craftsmen; those craftsmen create a product; that product is sold to the community.  And yet, by virtue of the transformative potential of what we produce – transformative for us and our audiences – we theatre-makers are by and large not in it for the profits.  But if theatre’s not just a business, what else is it?

When William Penn wrote his plan for the layout of Philadelphia, he insisted upon five public squares that would be open to everyone.   As far as he was concerned, we all had a right to spend time in these “havens of respite in a busy world.”  And if we’re all allowed to sit on a bench in Rittenhouse Square, throw pennies in the fountain at Logan Circle, or cut through the City Hall courtyard on our way to Market or Broad – shouldn’t we all be able to see Sunday in the Park at the Arden?  Is that show not also a haven of respite in our busy world – a world even busier, I might add, than the one Billy Penn was talking about?

Theatre is a commodity, but it is also every citizen’s right.  And until more people in our field start to position it that way, the argument that those who can afford to ought to both buy their tickets and contribute will not hold very much water.  At least, that’s what I think.

We did boffo business this season at the Arden.  We’re humbled by the thought that 100,000 ticket-holders passed through our doors.   If one third of those people contributed $10 on top of admission, we would already be above our individual giving goal for the season.

I put this argument forth not to be contrary or to make anyone who might have bought but not contributed feel guilty.  I’m merely a professional fundraiser who constantly calls in to question the need for my services.   Because, you see, a part of me still thinks theatre is just a business.  Even when I know it’s as essential to my life as relaxing in a park on…er…Sunday.

This is a complicated issue.  And I’m only talking about individuals.  I could write a whole treatise on whether or not the country’s government ought to be supporting the work of its artists.  But if summer is a time for reflection, I can’t think of a better topic theatre-wise to reflect upon.  So by all means, tell us what you think.  I’m sure there is more to be said here.

Arden Theatre Company presents Philly’s First Bike to Theatre Night!

On July 2, ride your bike to the Arden, enjoy valet bike parking, and see Sunday in the Park with George at a discount!

For bicyclers only, we’re offering a Tandem Discount! Tickets are 2 for 1! And if your bicycle is just for one, tickets are ½ priced!

Please call 215.922.1122 to reserve tickets! Valet parking stub must be shown at the Arden box office to redeem tickets on the night of the performance. Performance begins at 8pm.

And remember, July 2 is First Friday in Old City so there will be fun festivities at the Arden and throughout the neighborhood.

Arden Theatre Company is located in Old City at 40 North 2nd Street

About the play: Inspired by Georges Seurat’s impressionist masterpiece, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Sunday in the Park with George celebrates the power of artistic creation and the journey through a changing landscape. It’s also about:  bumbling adulterers, demanding bosses, competitive colleagues, nagging mothers, and catty shop girls all enjoying a pleasant Sunday in the park. And that’s just the first act! As for the second, there are 9 video projectors creating stunning visual effects.

About our Event Sponsor: Valet bike parking is provided by event sponsor Neighborhood Bike Works. Neighborhood Bike Works is a nonprofit educational organization in Philadelphia that seeks to increase opportunities for urban youth through bicycling, and promotes cycling as an environmentally-friendly means of transportation. In 1996, the organization began as Youth Cycle & Recycle, a program of The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. They organized as a separate non-profit in July 1999. Today, they hold classes at three permanent shops, satellite locations in Chester and Norristown, PA, and in several public schools and community centers.

Neighborhood Bike Works

By Sarah Ollove, Dramaturg for Sunday in the Park with George

Here are five illuminating facts about Sunday in the Park with George and the painting that inspired it.

1)      George Seurat hated the term ‘pointillism.’ He felt it was reductionist and missed the point of what he was trying to accomplish. He referred to his technique of using tiny dots of color to create a picture in the eye as chromoluminarism. Chromo meaning color, > lumen meaning light. Color and light. Lapine and Sondheim adopted the term for George’s Act II artwork.

2)      Since its acquisition by the Chicago Art Institute, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte has only been loaned out once: in 1958 to the MOMA. While there, a fire broke out. Hundreds of masterpieces were in peril, not only from the fire, but from smoke which is just as perilous to paintings as flames.  Fortunately, Sunday made it out of the building without damage, but, unsurprisingly, has not left Chicago since. So if you’re interest in the painting has been piqued, you’ll have to plan a trip to Chicago.

3)      For someone so obsessed with technique, Seurat left in a number of ‘mistakes’ in Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte. Several characters are completely out of proportion: people whose legs would be ¾ of their bodies if they stood up, or who have torsos that somewhat resemble an alien’s. One tree casts two shadows. And there is an unusual brown triangle sticking into the painting on the right side. The best guess is that it is a tree trunk root, but doesn’t look like any of the other trees in the painting and casts no shadow. No one has positively identified the square shape that Marie claims is a waffle stove, though the conventional guess is that it is a baby carriage.

4)      When writing the book for Sunday, James Lapine tried to simulate the speech patterns of late 19th century France by avoiding contractions and Latin root words.

5)      Initially, Sondheim was interested in structuring the musical as ‘theme and variation.’ The first act would focus on the creation of the painting (as it does now).  The second act would be a series of scenes written almost like a revue that would comment on the painting or art in general. Eventually, Lapine convinced Sondheim to winnow the themes and variations down to two: one an imaginative look at what it is like for the figures to be trapped in the painting and the other a satiric look at the contemporary art world. However, the idea of theme and variation was not let go so easily—countless themes, characters, music, and even words are repeated and re-invented throughout the musical.

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