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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!

In our last visit to the donut shop, Craig Spidle sits down to talk about his experience coming to Philadelphia from Chicago. And hear the secret to his ping pong game that his fellow actors have been talking about.

Click play or watch the video on YouTube.

Thank you all for making the run of Superior Donuts such a success!

In this installment of the full story, actor Brian Anthony Wilson chats with us backstage during a performance. He talks about the Arden audience, what he likes about the writing of this show, >remedy and his backstage Ping Pong strategy.

Click play to watch the video!

We’ll be back with the full story from Wanamaker’s Pursuit!

In our latest installment of the full story, >and Pete Pryor who plays Luther in Superior Donuts talks about audience reaction and his favorite part of the show.

Make sure you watch until the end so you catch Pete’s challenge to a fellow Arden actor!

Actors from Superior Donuts have joined in to give our Arden subscribers the full story! In this installment, >physician James Ijames talks about his past experience at the Arden, >illness keeping is energy up for the role, and his best backstage sport.

Click the image below or this link to watch the video!

Are you an Arden subscriber and you want these videos and other fun tidbits delivered directly to your email inbox? Call our box office at 215.922.1122 and make sure we have your email address!

By Rob Kaplowitz, sound designer for Superior Donuts

When figuring out the soundscape that would fuel my part of this production it became apparent to me that the world we would hear is a world heard through Arthur’s focus.  Just as Kevin’s set gives us resonant pieces of the shop and the neighborhood above and beyond, I realized that we needed to hear the world of the play through the pieces – the pieces that Arthur knows so well that they almost disappear from his consciousness.  So everything we hear such as all of the scoring I created inside the play comes out of the real.  The hissing steam pipe or the hum of a fridge rise up out of their sources and transform into the music beneath his soliloquies. 

In the same way, the El train was very important.  The sound was so important that I wasn’t willing to fake it. 

Uptown is served by the Red Line and every train line in Chicago sounds distinctive.  When the Red Line passes every Chicago resident knows it.  It’s not just some elevated train I could pull out of a stock library. It sounds different from A, L or M running out through Brooklyn and Queens, the Market-Frankfort running down the road from me here in West Philly or even the Blue Line that runs out to Jefferson Park, where Arthur lives.  It sings its own song.

Luckily for me (and for the Arden’s budget), our set designer lives in Chicago.  So, instead of me having to travel out there (or ask a Chicago colleague to go out and record), I was able to give a portable recorder to Kevin at a design meeting and he did a bunch of walk-around recordings for me.  This gave me a sense of the rhythms and paces of the street. It also gave me a great recording of the Red Line passing overhead.

First time I played it in the theatre, our Chicago natives (Craig, Ed, Kevin) just looked up and said “Red Line!”

Sometimes the only way to make it sound like something is to find the something, record the something and then play back the something.  I guess it’s a pretty simple lesson…

With the smell of fresh doughnuts filling the Arden’s lobby, we kicked off the opening night performance of Superior Donuts on Wednesday, March 9th. Members of the Sylvan Society enjoyed cocktails and a buffet dinner courtesy of Gigi Restaurant, and had the opportunity to mingle with Rogelio Martinez, playwright of Wanamaker’s Pursuit, Donuts director Ed Sobel, and other members of the Donuts design team.

Following the 7pm opening performance, audience members leapt to their feet during the curtain call. After the show, guests enjoyed a rousing post-show reception with members of the cast and devoured doughnuts delivered fresh from Frangelli’s Bakery, our doughnut sponsor for the production.

Here are some photos from the evening!

By Harry Watermeier, >illness Arden Professional Apprentice

Okay, listen, I don’t actually know how to manage a stage—it’s only day one. But, I’ve learned a few basic things about stage management, and I’ve been prepping for my Assistant Stage Management gig for about a week. My fellow apprentices have already written some pretty nifty blogs about Assistant Stage Managing (check them out!), and now it’s my turn to give you my initial impressions of this exciting process.

Predictably, I’m a little worried about my A.S.M. gig. My worries come from…well, the chemical imbalance in my brain, and the fact that “stage management” doesn’t really come naturally to me. It seems that a good stage manager possesses skills that are a little foreign to me like: organization, multitasking, a rich understanding of literary text, general responsibility, and basic motor skills. But! I’m doing my very best, and I’m thrilled to be so intimately involved with the rehearsal and production of an Arden show.

Already, after only one day of rehearsal, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of respect for stage managers. Before this gig, I’ve only stepped on stage as an actor, director, or playwright. I’ve never been involved with (or concerned with, really) with the nuts, bolts, gears, and other machine metaphors of a production. I’ve always approached plays artistically, and worked with broad stokes that focused on ideas, feelings, meanings, and atmospheres. Things like prop placement and lighting cues have always been taken care of for me—by (I now realize) remarkable stage managers.

To me, it seems that while actors, directors, technical designers, etc. must be concerned with the microcosms of their respective departments, a stage manager must always keep the macrocosm of a production in mind. From rehearsal schedules to blocking notes, a stage manager must organize, track, record, and communicate a tremendous amount of information for multiple departments to ensure a smooth rehearsal process and production.

I’ll be assistant stage managing Arden’s next main-stage production, Superior Donuts—a complex, subtle character study that is often viciously funny, and always casually profound. I adore this play and I’m a huge admirer of its author: Tracy Letts. I feel like I’ve won the lottery with this assignment. I can’t imagine another play with which I’d like to spend more time.

To prepare for assistant stage managing (…actually, you should know that in the official Superior Donuts contact sheet, I’m listed as “Assistant to the Stage Manager.” Also, someone’s been putting my office supplies in Jell-O.) I’ve completed two major projects. I’ve made a prompt book and taped out the floor. Okay, that sentence sounds pretty nonsensical, but I’m going to explain everything.

What’s a prompt book? I’m glad you asked! A prompt book is a

Clearly made by someone who knows what he's doing.

tool with which I will keep track of all props—their placement, their movements—for the show. A prompt book contains a copy of the play’s text set opposite a diagram of the set. I will mark where and how props move on the diagram, and mark the same movements on the corresponding lines of dialogue or stage directions on the text. This allows me to have both a visual/spatial note as to where and how props move, set alongside a verbal cue. I’ll make these notes during rehearsal—this requires tremendous focus because prop movements change constantly. Props tracking will be one of my main responsibilities with Superior Donuts which, judging by the play’s title is pretty sweet news. Sweet. Get it. ‘Cause of the donuts. It’s a joke because donuts are sweet. I’m going to eat a bunch of donuts backstage that’s all I’m saying.

I’ve also helped “tape out” the rehearsal hall floor.

This is the rehearsal set--complete with furniture, set dressings, and props that simulate the real set.

Essentially, the Stage Manager and A.S.M. create a simulation of the borders of the stage using multi-colored rolls of tape. The image “taped out” is based on an architectural schematic of the set. These taped borders give the actors and director an idea of their blocking choices and limitations when the actual set for the show is not yet available.

So, prep week and Day One of Assistant Stage Managing went well. Today I kept my brow furrowed for about six hours, took copious notes, and paid really close attention to everything. I just have to keep that up for like two months. I think I’m off to a pretty solid start. I absolutely love the show; I’ll be working with a terrific Stage Manager, and I’ll gain knowledge and skills that will be invaluable to me in my future as a theatre practitioner.

Here a little snippet of Superior Donuts:

Arthur: It’s easy to underrate that now, but there’s nothing wrong with comfort, you know? You’re lying in a bed in the city of Chicago and you have your arms wrapped around a person who’s made the decision to move through the world with you. That may be comfort and not much more, but it may be love, too…

Isn’t that something?

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.

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