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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: Tara Demmy, Arden Professional Apprentice

You may have attended A Moon for the Misbegotten and found a survey stuck to the back of your chair with blue tape. You may have attended and asked to stay after the show for a 30 minute interview. These two elements are both part of the Arden’s participation in a national study of theatre audiences aiming to understand more about the intrinsic impacts of live theatre. We are one of 18 theatres involved in The Intrinsic Impact project, which was commissioned from WolfBrown by Theatre Bay Area and underwritten by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

What does intrinsic impact mean exactly? It took me some time to figure it all out. Basically it’s easy to look at charts and quantify how many people come to see a show and how much money a show makes…but it’s a lot more difficult to try to study how those people felt about a theatrical experience.  Companies have been keen to focus on the financial, but money does not necessarily dictate a theatre’s success.

Theatre Bay responds: “But financial data tells only a fraction of the story.  A theatre company may be financially sound, but is it really moving and exciting its audience?  Is it connecting to its audience in a fundamental (i.e., intrinsic) way? And can that connection be deepened? How can artistic staff understand the impact of their programming decisions, and what, if anything, can they do about it?  We have come to see that the theatre field lacks a generally accepted and widely used metric or “outcome rubric” for what matters most: the intrinsic value of the theatre experience.”

How do we measure the immeasurable? Have you ever had an indescribable emotional response to a moment in a production?  Live theatre has the power to move us in unexpected ways. Yes, we are entertained, but how are we affected?  The Arden received the opportunity to select the questions in our take-home surveys. These questions reflect what we want answered by our audiences. Questions that ask our patrons to assess the artistic style of the production, to evaluate if they were emotionally moved, to see if they felt connected to their fellow audience members and to find out if they are more/less likely in the future to follow the work of the playwright. This information will help us to understand not how many tickets we sold but how patrons are responding to the art.  This will help the Arden to continue to provide great stories and be on the forefront of artistic progress in the country. To always connect to the Philadelphia community and continue to challenge our patrons with new ideas and stories.

Post-Performance Interviews: Our in-person interviews cover the same topics mentioned above, just in a discussion based format. Engaging in these interviews with Leigh Goldenberg, Arden Theatre Company’s Marketing and Public Relations Manager has been amazing. To hear how people connected to A Moon for the Misbegotten in different ways has been a truly unique experience.  Many have a quite a bit of knowledge of O’Neill, and give much historical information with their reactions, while others who are less familiar focus on intense production moments.  Intense bonds were formed between audience members and the character of Josie, in her strength, compassion and heartache. Even now it is difficult for me to summarize the feelings expressed by those individuals in the interviews, which emphasizes the main difficulty in trying to gather information on unquantifiable, personal reactions.  This difficulty is what makes theatre a strong artistic form; its ever-fleeting, ephemeral nature gives it the power to present unforgettable, poignant moments that stay with us.

I admire the Arden’s participation in this survey and Theatre Bay’s dedication in attempting to get a better idea of how theatre can have a lasting, emotive impact on society.  We are continuing interviews and surveys for Superior Donuts and Wanamaker’s Pursuit. Thank you for your support!

For more information, please visit Theatre Bay Area.

By Grace Gonglewski, Josie in A Moon for the Misbegotten

We are coming to the end of it all now. I am exhausted, ailment bruised and overjoyed. An ear infection left me with fluid behind my ear so I could not hear out of it for several weeks however it is much better now.

When it first happened, I came off stage during my quick change and said to Rob, “What is the matter with the music?” because it sounds distorted. I arrived to the ENT, received a round of antibiotics for the infection and also had my hearing tested. They said it could be a year until I could hear fully out of that ear. Crazy! I was very sick that for the first time in my life, I had to miss performances where my understudy had to go on. Fortunately, Jennifer Summerfield was absolutely prepared and wonderful in the role. She even sent me flowers when I returned, what a generous and kind person she is!

The run has been sublime. The cast is such a down to earth group, very supportive and good natured even backstage. We’ve had a couple of pot lucks together between shows, so I know they are awesome cooks too!

The O'Neill family on set with cast members.

Today some of O’Neill’s descendants came to see the performance. This was simply thrilling. It meant so much to me saying the words with them there because it made the words echo all the more.

I will say this is going to be hard to say goodbye. Shows like this do not come along often.

People say, “How can you do it night after night or two in one day?” and “You must be exhausted.” It is exhausting but also exhilarating at the same time.

To be able to execute this epic with such a fine ensemble and firm sure direction is deeply satisfying as an artist. And to tell the truth, there are some boundaries that have been crossed such as some ghosts that have come to visit that I am finding it hard to say goodbye to. But they will live with me always. Just like O’Neill’s words.

Tonight I feel “As if I gave a damn [about] what happened after! I’ll have had tonight and your love for the rest of my days!”

Like those words, I will have this play and this experience for the rest of my life. Thank you Arden and O’Neill. I love you both.

In our latest installment of the full story, >pharm H. Michael Walls talks about his history with the Arden (as well as one of his fellow castmates), what it means to him to have fun on stage, and how he thinks this production is growing. Watch the video!

For more of the full story, click here!

Here’s more of the full story for our Arden subscribers!
Sean and Allen spend a lot of time backstage at A Moon for the Misbegotten. A lot. In this video, they cover their two hours of downtime for you in 90 seconds.

Want more of the full story? Click here?

Welcome to our Arden subscribers!
Whether you’re joining us for the first season, or you’ve been with us since the beginning, we want to share the full story with you!

In this video, treatment Grace Gonglewski and Eric Hissom from A Moon for the Misbegotten share backstage insights on the production and their relationship, along with a special message for you.

Thank you to all of our loyal subscribers! Check back regularly for more of the full story!

By Rob Heller, Arden Professional Apprentice

I am currently Assistant Stage Managing the Arden’s Production of A Moon for the Misbegotten. I have done a little bit of stage managing in the past and have been at least mildly experienced at most of the duties. However, one day during tech week it came time for the “quick-change.”

The leading (and only) lady in the show Josie (played by Grace Gonglewski) has a transition in Act I where the time of day changes from day to night and time has to have elapsed. The transition needs to show her father Phil Hogan (Michael H. Walls) and their landlord Jim Tyrone (Eric Hissom) going to the bar at the inn and Josie setting the scene for a moonlight date with Jim. The transition has 4 sections.

First, the men exit stage and Josie takes down the laundry line, the clothes on it, and moves the table from the porch onto the front lawn.

Next, the men return to stage and exit en route to the inn while Josie brings the struck items into the house and takes off the working dress leaving her in just her slip while the Assistant Stage Manager (that’s me) strikes the dress and turns on the lantern.

She returns to stage with flowers for the table and goes to the well to wash.

Finally, she returns to the house and with the help of her Assistant Stage Manager (that’s me again) dives into her evening dress, gets zipped, velcroed and snapped, peeks out the window, puts on stockings and shoes and exits the house with lantern in hand to start the next scene.

The kicker is that anything we do inside the house (ie. the quick-change itself) occurs while there is NO action on stage. So, it is crucial that do the change as quickly as possible.

We experimented with a lot of approaches to the change and I became more and more adept at helping Grace. Eventually, with a collaboration between myself, Grace and Alison Roberts (costume designer) we found a method that works for all of us and can be done in the allotted time.

My history is as a director and I never thought so much about quick-changes as I have in the past week. So, in the spirit of connecting with the theater as a whole, I did a little research into quick-change as it exists in the theater today:

First, I wondered how long a quick-change generally takes. I quickly found a recent example from the popular musical Wicked:

In an interview with Wicked Wardrobe Supervisor Gillian Kadish on SHNSF.com, she says that “the fastest change we have in the show is when Elphaba goes from her Shiz costume into the Defying Gravity dress, which is 19 seconds.”

Wow, 19 seconds! Perhaps I am not yet in the elite company of quick-change professionals. I wanted to see if this was particularly quick or if other shows were different. I had to venture no further than another staple of the musical theater realm; Hairspray.

Megan Bowers (Tracy Turnblatt’s dresser) in an article on Playbill.com explains the quick change for both Tracy and Edna (her mother) in the opening number: For Edna, the process takes about 45 seconds. Tracy’s change is quicker than Edna’s, taking only 25 to 30 seconds(she doesn’t have to change her wig like Edna does).

Alright, so generally a change takes under a minute and there seems to be a very clear craft and technique. Now, I wanted to hear about the “funny” mishaps as I (knock on wood) pray will not happen with us. I read a variety on Broadwayspace.com called “Crazy Costume Stories” that involve cutting people out of $30,000 dresses, returning to stage half-dressed, and wearing boots instead of crystal-covered heels for a kick-line. Give them a read yourself for some entertainment!

After examining a bit of the professional world of quick-change I feel very much at ease that the skill is learned and practiced and that it is maybe essential to earning one’s stripes to partake of the quick-change.

By Jenn Peck, General Manager

“I’m shooting myself in the foot.  I’m directing a comedy and it’s not in proscenium.”

This was a comment from Ed Sobel, >remedy the Arden’s Associate Artistic Director, at a meeting about our upcoming production of Superior Donuts, the supposed follow up (although, as Ed explained to us, not really a follow up because parts of it were written before) to Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize winning August: Osage County.

I’m excited for Superior Donuts for several reasons.  One is that I’m a fan of several of the production’s actors (Pete Pryor, James Ijames, Brian Anthony Wilson), a follower of Letts’ writing and an ardent believer that art should raise questions, the most interesting ones, to me,  are about class and community.  Another reason?  For the run of Superior Donuts, the Haas will be reconfigured from its current proscenium configuration to a thrust configuration.

If you’re an Arden subscriber or if you ordered your tickets to Superior Donuts prior to 2011, you  were told that you wouldn’t get your tickets to Superior Donuts until the start of the new year.

The set model for Superior Donuts

And if you’ve seen more than one show at the Arden, you’ve noticed by now that our stages may look, well, different than when you’ve seen shows in them before.  You might not be able to figure out just what it is.  Yes, there’s a different set for each show, different lights, different costumes, different actors, different choreography.  But have you ever noticed that your seat was in a different spot?

Both stages at the Arden have flexible seating.  This means that depending on the show, the director, the set designer and a few other key factors (like time and labor), each production can have a completely different seating

configuration.  We’ve done Proscenium (where the audience directly faces the stage) for shows like The Piano Lesson.  Or the current production of The Borrowers.  We did thrust seating (the stage is thrust out into the audience, what you’ll see for Superior Donuts) for The Seafarer or (both productions of) A Year with Frog and Toad. Pacific Overtures was completely in the round but you might recall Candide as the last production in a round configuration – remember the chalk?  For both Sweeney Todd and Assassins, we moved the playing area to completely different sides of the room.  (For Assassins, director Terry Nolen wanted the audience to have to actually walk through the play to get to their seats, to have these characters trap you in the room to speak to you.  For Sweeney Todd, he wanted to use the brick wall on the south side of our building as part of the set.)  My favorite Haas configuration?  Lookingglass Alice’s fashion runway set (or, depending on your interests, the football field set), placing both sides of the audience directly opposite each other.

I’ll be honest with you.  My background is in theatre administration.  (When I tell people I work at the Arden and they ask, are you an actress?  I cringe.) And more specifically, I focus on customer service.

Mary Martello in Sweeney Todd. With a meat pie.

As the Arden’s Box Office Manager in 2005, I hated the Sweeney Todd set because people would sit down in Section C and assume their seats were terrible.  (A fair assumption.  They were, of course, facing a brick wall.)  Once the play started and the action started and the scenery moved, ticket buyers realized that their seats were fantastic.  And they had a great view of the meat pies during “God, that’s Good!”.

But my job is to make sure you have the best possible experience in coming to the Arden, from the moment you walk in the door, and if you don’t, I try to fix that.  With various seating configurations, I can’t guarantee you, as a subscriber, the same seats year after year.  (Chances are, the seat you are sitting in for A Moon for the Misbegotten this week is not even going to be there next fall when you return to see Clybourne Park).  Sometimes I can’t even tell you where you will be seating.  I can’t send tickets to the last show of the season out with the first show.  And, if you absolutely love your seats, I can’t guarantee you’ll get them next time.

Since working at the Arden and watching seats change along with stories and sets, I’ve come to love a good change in seating.  I watched A Moon for the Misbegotten last night on the left side of the house and I can’t wait to see it again on the right, or in the center.  There’s so much to take in from the play and our production from Grace’s facial expressions to the chemistry between her and Eric’s characters that I want to be able to see it from every angle and with the way the Arcadia is set up now (a bit different from Ghost-Writer in the beginning of the season), I want to take advantage of that.

“Most spaces aren’t as flexible as the Arcadia so configuration is a unique thing to have to deal with”, says Matt Pfeiffer, director of Moon. “Both (set designer) Matt Saunders and I wanted to bring the audience even closer to the action as the whole drive behind the production was to have great actors attack the script in an intimate setting.”

What’s the best thing about flex seating?  There are no bad seats in the house.  No, really.  There are no bad seats in the house.  That’s not just something an Arden box officer tells you when trying to sell you the last pair of seats in the house.  But, at the Arden, we’re serious.  There really are no bad seats in the house.  When the director and the set designer choose the seating configuration for each show at the Arden, they have you in mind.  We don’t price our tickets by where you’re sitting because we recognize every seat is worth the same price.  And I’ll be honest with you (again), it’s sometimes tricky, especially with brand new configurations.  During Café Puttanesca, we couldn’t sell a seat because we felt it wasn’t good enough for our audience.  (A ticket holder would have been staring at a wall.  And that time, there were no meat pies and the wall never moved.)  So, sometimes we decide we can’t sell a seat because when you sit in it, you can’t see the action, sometimes even after the seat is sold.  (Consider this an advance apology for when we call you and tell you we have to move your ticket to a better seat.  Yes, we actually do that.  No, it doesn’t happen often.)

I don’t think Ed will have a problem directing a comedy that’s not in proscenium.  Comedies are often in proscenium because people like to laugh together and because a lot of that laughter comes from your reaction to an actor’s facial expressions.  Our production of Superior Donuts is in a thrust configuration so not all the audience members will see an actor’s facial expressions at the same time  I’ll be interested to hear about what you think of what we’ve done with the show, the space and how you feel about your seat when you come see the show.

By the way, if you, like me, enjoy art that makes us ask questions, we’re opening our 2011-2012 season with Bruce Norris’s comedy, Clybourne Park.  I saw it at Playwrights Horizons last year and it was the best new play I’ve seen in years. It also tackles issues about class and community and I’ve never laughed so hard.  I’m thrilled that the Arden is producing Clybourne Park next season.    Purchase a Leap of Faith subscription and you’re guaranteed tickets.  Just don’t ask me, at least not yet, where you’re sitting.  I’ll let you know as soon as I find out.

By Angela DuRoss, >mind Development Director

Following the wintery snowfall early last week, the Arden kicked off our production of A Moon for the Misbegotten on January 12th.  200 guests gathered for the opening of the first Eugene O’Neill play ever produced at the Arden.  Members of the Sylvan Society sampled the tastings of the microbrewery, Triumph Brewing Company, at a pre-show cocktail reception.  Guests celebrated in the Arden lobby following the performance, sharing light bites and wine with cast members, designers and Arden friends.  Board members of the Charlotte Cushman Foundation were also in attendance, as the foundation provided support for Grace Gonglewski in her role as Josie in the production.

By Charles Dabezies, stuff Assistant Lighting Designer on A Moon for the Misbegotten

The lighting of a play is an often-overlooked element of design that is more complicated than most people might think. As an aspiring lighting designer, people often ask me what it is that lighting designers do. Lighting designers meticulously change the lighting over the arc of a show. It’s not just a matter of lights up, lights down. In the case of A Moon for the Misbegotten the lights will change over 60 times, while a big musical may have over 300 lighting changes.

Set and Lights for A Moon for the Misbegotten

There’s a lot of information that goes into creating the lighting for a show. As Assistant Lighting Designer (ALD) to Lighting Designer Thom Weaver, one of my primary responsibilities is to help keep track of all of the lighting data. Thom Weaver’s design for A Moon for the Misbegotten on the relatively small Arcadia Stage includes over 200 lights. Each of these lights has many different parameters: Dimmer, Channel, Color, Purpose, Position, Unit Number, Template, and the list goes on. Managing this much information is a complicated task that boils down to one thing: paperwork. Without accurate and up-to-date information the lighting grinds to a halt.

In order to keep track of everything we use two pieces of specialized industry software. The first is sort of like a customized and enhanced Excel spreadsheet called Lightwright. The second program we use is called Vectorworks Spotlight, a CAD program that allows us to make precise technical drawings, like an architect’s blueprints. With these two
programs we can create and manage the immense amount of paperwork necessary to accurately record the lighting of the show: Channel Hookups, Instrument Schedules, Light Plots, Gobo Schedules, Color Schedules, Cheat Sheets, Magic Sheets, and the like. However, I’m lucky: it wasn’t long ago that all of this information was recorded with a pencil and not a laptop.

Assisting an established lighting designer is a part of the professional progression for young designers. Working with Thom Weaver has been a really rewarding experience. In exchange for my help and the obligatory coffee runs (actually, it’s a Grande Earl Gray tea from the Starbucks on 3rd Street), I get the chance to work with professionals and learn from their experience. It is a great opportunity to see Thom’s design process in the
theatre, and to hear the conversations the entire creative team is having about the show. I will take the techniques and approaches I have learned from Thom, and the entire team behind A Moon for the Misbegotten, back to Pittsburgh with me, where I study theatre design at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama.

I have been working with the Arden Theatre Company during academic breaks for the last three years in various capacities. The training I’ve had at the Arden has enabled me to synthesize real world experience and my classroom training. I’ve been able to develop concrete skill sets. My time here, and my work on A Moon for the Misbegotten, has been invaluable to my personal and professional growth.

By Allen Radway, T. Stedman Harder in A Moon for the Misbegotten

Opening Night has arrived and with it comes the final push of tiny tweaks and minute modifications. The design is immaculate, the direction impeccable and the acting is soaring higher and higher in humor and heartache with each preview and pick-up rehearsal. Man, are Grace, Eric and Mike just dynamite. Do NOT miss this one. Oh yes, and the Lally’s fantastic as well…and offstage he’s getting better and better at FreeCell every day. The stage is nearly set. Only the ‘stache remains.

I’m gearing up for the final trim as I type this, armed only with a straight razor, mini-shears, a tiny comb and a pair of tweezers. Yes…”Only”. Wow. I’ve quickly realized how much maintenance a swarthy moustache requires. Ooh, and then there’s the additional pleasure of living in fear of screwing it up every time I’m due for a touch-up…which is every other day. What have I done?! The drawbacks in moustache-dom as I’ve discovered are as follows…

  1. Children and animals are afraid of me.
  2. I wake to the sound of my wife’s laughter every morning, which would normally be a wonderful sound were it not for the “Ew, gross!” tone it seems to have.
  3. My Robert Goulet impression is getting pretty darn accurate!
  4. I NEVER USED TO HAVE A GOULET IMPRESSION!!

As for the advantages…

  1. It’s perfect for the character that we’ve discovered, so it effectively serves the play and our production to a tee.
  2. It’s actually a lot of fun, and makes for a great conversation piece. “Hey, nice ‘stache, man.”
  3. It’ll only last for two months. Like theatre, beautiful and poignant albeit fleeting.
  4. It’s a great reminder that I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to reinvent myself so often. It’s kinda magical that way. I get to tell crazy stories to strangers in the dark and hopefully inspire a better sense of community. This time around, it’s just an entitled, oblivious, moustachioed stick-in-the-mud who’s doing it.

Moon runs through February 27th. Don’t miss your chance to see the ‘stache! I mean, the play!

Read the beginning of Allen’s moustache journey here and here

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