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 Ed Sobel, Arden’s Associate Artistic Director and Director of Clybourne Park
When Bruce Norris was a young boy growing up in Texas, he saw a production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and it had a deep impact on him. He notes that, as a white child, he was provoked to see himself in the role of “oppressor”. Some 40 years later, in response to those feelings, he wrote Clybourne Park, now running on our Arcadia stage. We thought it might be valuable to return to Norris’ inspiration, and so last night the Arden hosted a free reading of Hansberry’s play, performed by group of Philadelphia and New York actors and led by director Lee Kenneth Richardson.
The reading, which coincided with the 53rd anniversary of A Raisin in the Sun opening on Broadway, was attended by many who have seen Clybourne Park. Even in this simple form, with actors at music stands and minimal rehearsal, the power of Hansberry’s storytelling and her ability to capture the complex relationships between her family of characters resonated with rich vibrancy. Like Norris, Hansberry drew on personal experience when writing the play (her father moved their family into an all-white neighborhood when she was young, and the resulting court case went on to be adjudicated by the U.S. Supreme Court.) Hearing Raisin juxtaposed with Norris’ rendering of another side of the story literally just upstairs, added an additional charge.
The Arden will present a full production of A Raisin in the Sun, under the guidance of long-time Arden collaborator Walter Dallas as part of our subscription season next Spring. If last night’s reading is any indication, it promises to be a moving and rewarding experience.
Steve Pacek and Julia Gibson in Arden Theatre Company's Production of "Clybourne Park"
Everday we receive extremely interesting audience feedback from our current production of Clybourne Park! Here is what some of our audiences have to say about this thought-provoking show:
My theater group LOVED Clybourne Park!-Mimi, Wallingford, PA
My wife and I really enjoyed Clybourne Park. We laughed very hard, loved the quick and intense dialog, thought the acting was terrific (this cast should open it on Broadway!), and gave it a standing ovation. Ian Merrill Peakes is fast becoming one of our favorite Philly actors, we think he almost stole the show.-Thomas, Wayne, PA
Clybourne Park is a terrific play. However, the 4 of us who saw it together felt that the ending was awkward and not necessary. Just something to consider…-Ilene, Philadelphia, PA
My wife and I attended Clybourne Park and were very disappointed. We have never done this before but we left at internission. Hopefully, the second act was better. -Dennis, Haverton, PA
Once again the Arden proves what a superior theater company it is. Clybourne Park was provocative, superbly acted and produced. We took the “leap of faith“, and have renewed our subscription for next year. We thank YOU!!!!-Herbert, Philadelphia, PA
The play was wonderful. There were some very funny moments, yes. But there were also many sad and touching moments. Given the way the play ends I would not refer to this play as “hilarious”. It was well written, well acted, thought provoking, touching and probably one of the best plays I have ever seen. But to call the play “hilarious” is misleading. -Cindy, Philadelphia, PA
I saw Clybourne Park on Sat. It was beyond WONDERFUL….even the changing of the set in between acts was amazing…I loved loved the show and have already passed the word along…it’s a don’t miss show, for sure.- Judy, Camden, NJ
We saw the play a year ago in London; if anything, your performance was even better than that one.- Gabriel, Lawrenceville, NJ
So after seeing the play this past Saturday afternoon, we both left the theatre shocked, speachless, and not sure of what he had seen. Yes this play does start conversations; and we are still talking about it not sure if we liked it but we are still talking about it. Great Cast! Again all we are still saying is WOW. -Venita, Waldorf, MD
Thank you to our supportive audiences for your fantastic feedback and conversation starters. Please add any comments below!
What do you do when you’re confronted with the task of converting a home from its 1950s splendor to its state in 2009 – derelict after numerous decades of disrepair – in less than fifteen minutes? Do you, quite literally, attack it with a sledgehammer, spray paint, and just vandalize the hell out of it? Albeit an über-exciting means of achieving this goal, the problem rests in the fact that this change – adding nearly five decades of wear and tear – must be reproducible. In fact, it needs to be accomplished over eighty times.
Of course, I’m not talking about a real house out on the streets of Philadelphia, but 406 Clybourne Street – the home erected from James Kronzer’s designs on our Arcadia stage as the set for Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park.
For the uninitiated, the first act of Clybourne Park is set in Bev and Russ Stoller’s home in the Clybourne neighborhood of Chicago in 1959. The Stoller’s are moving out of their home (due to some dramatic and traumatic reasons that you’ll just have to see the play to learn about…), and the Younger family from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun have purchased their home. This first act pre-empts the White Flight out of this Chicago area and the influx of black families. Now, fast-forward 50 years for Act Two. Set in the same house (though its been unoccupied for several decades), a white couple has now purchased this same home and is met with bitter resistance when their proposed renovations are publicized to the community, perceived as an unwanted move toward gentrification. Tensions of race, class, and gender are ubiquitous; they pervade both acts and, ostensibly, both eras.
So, back to crux: the passage of time utterly necessitates a radical change to the same set. And unlike the Metropolitan Opera, our Arcadia stage is not equipped with full stage elevators that would permit us to simply insert a new set for Act Two. Thus, the primary challenge of this piece – well, speaking merely technically as Norris’s superbly written (it’s almost too realistic, I daresay) dialogue poses its own set of challenges to the actors – is accomplishing this intermission changeover with as little impact and damage to the existing set and scenic dressings as possible. Here’s a quick tally of everything that needs to be removed from the stage (feel free to skip down if you’re not a fan of long lists): all the furniture [dining room table, four chairs, china cabinet, shelves, side table, telephone table, arm chair, a bench, and love seat], three rugs, moldings, the door frames, the window frames, seven columns, thirty-four moving boxes, the kitchen door, and the stair railing. Then, we need to bring out work lights, two sawhorses, a toilet, a lawn chair, a sink, a milk crate, a paint bucket, and a whole lot of trash. Yes, all of that. In less than fifteen minutes.
No doubt a daunting challenge, but one I’m proud to say (as evidenced in the video below) we’ve managed to deftly accomplish. Just watch the video below to see us at work. You might think the video is sped up, but I swear we’re really THAT fast.
How did we do that, you might ask? Well, a crew of three of us set about devising tactics to accomplish this – strategizing as though we were simultaneously running a relay, playing Tetris, and entering battle. This crew consists of Kate Hanley (stage manager extraordinaire), Austen Brown (John Cage has nothing on this sound operator), and I (assistant stage manager). Ultimately though, our scheming and planning proved to be in vain, for the second we actually set foot on stage to attempt the changeover, we abandoned our pragmatic planning and followed our get-it-done instincts. Certainly, we’ve now assumed routine duties, but the first few times it was a free-for-all.
In our first attempt, guided by the inimitable Glenn Perlman, it took us nearly forty minutes, yet somehow our second attempt took only seventeen. After that, we’ve continuously decreased our time (our lowest was nine minutes and twenty seconds, though we average around ten and a half minutes). It was simply amazing for me to watch how the three of us worked; there was some real synergism happening on that stage. We all sensed each other’s movements, stayed out of each other’s ways, and knew what needed to get done. As though we had the same thought process, Austen and I always turn to each other to carry out the two-man tasks at the same time. I imagine with a less adroit and proprioceptive team, every step of this intermission change would’ve needed to be planned, choreographed, and rehearsed, but, miraculously, ours just fell into place.
However, I’d most assuredly be doing an injustice if I didn’t mention that the rather ingenious technical innovations of Glenn (the Arden’s technical director) facilitated the facile removal of every piece of molding, every door casing, and every column. Simple and elegant solutions prevailed here. Some simple solutions to create the second act’s shabby appearance include a crack in the wall (obscured by the china cabinet), floor sections sans the hardwood everywhere else (covered by rugs) and lighter paint beneath the columns and moldings, making the paint on the walls (that looked resplendent in Act One) look dirty and stained by comparison. I must say, though, that the cleverest invention of Glenn’s is for the removal of the stair railing. The entire stage-left (that’s the right side if you’re looking at the from the audience) edge of the stair unit is removable, attached by two hinges and seated in a recess in the floor. Another unit, the same shape but without the banister and railing, fits into this gap and attaches using these same hinges. Watch for this moment in the video (it happens around 22 seconds in). Oh, and then there’s the kitchen door too (and the kitchen wall!)… Suffice it to say, they’re quite clever solutions as well.
So, hey, if you ever need a crew to move you out of your house at hyper-speed, give us a call; we’ve got some serious credentials now. I promise we won’t charge too much.