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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!
Arden Theatre staff,           teens and artists at the Gift of Life Family House.

Arden Theatre staff, >treat teens and artists at the Gift of Life Family House

In the case of real-life organ donation, the lights don’t come up. There is no audience to applaud actors and designers. And for the transplant patients waiting for vital organs, life goes on. Patients and their families must wait and endure, with total tolerance of the system in place; the capital “L” List.

For the duration of the run of Under The Skin, the Arden Theatre teamed up with neighboring Old City organization, Gift of Life to raise awareness about organ donation. Gift of Life organizes real-life organ donation, here in Philly. And at Gift of Life’s Family House (a hop-skip away from their main building on 3rd street) families come together to live away from home long term, while receiving treatment or waiting for a vital organ. To facilitate this closely-knit living situation, Gift of Life uniquely operates a program called Home Cook Heroes.

Home Cook Heroes happens every night at Gift of Life. Groups from all over Philadelphia gather at the family house to cook dinner for the residents. Volunteers cook for an average of about 50 people per night, and the meal is provided free of charge, served with a lot of love and good intention. This is what happened on the day the Arden became Home Cook Heroes.

*                                                          *                                                          *

The day arrived swiftly. Fellow apprentice Gil Vega and I set out to buy the ingredients for the meal, (supplemented by a generous donation of produce by Iovine Brothers in Reading Terminal Market). Equipped with backpacks and two large rolling suitcases, kindly provided to us by Arden props master Chris Haig, we trudged through the slush and slick ice to the Super Fresh on 5th and Pine.   We were tasked with carrying back 50 people’s-worth of ingredients, and we chatted happily in the sunshine, convinced we were up to the challenge.

And it turns out that we were, although the bumps in the snow and ice turned out to be the least of our concerns that morning. It soon became extremely evident that shopping for 50 mouths is heavy. We whipped out a smart phone and frantically did measurement conversions all up and down the fluorescent-lit aisles, determined to get the most out of buying the least. However the real trouble hit us when shopping for sweet potato mash, as according to the recipe, one serving required one sweet potato. How were the two of us going to manage 50 potatoes all the way back to the Arden, that is, if we could fit it in our luggage at all?

With time already cutting into Gil’s allotted lunch hour, we settled on 35 potatoes and hoped that the rest of the meal would disguise a shortage of sweet potato mash. Moving at a much slower pace, but satisfied that we had been the ultimate shoppers, we struggled our way back to the theatre to sort the food and make final preparations.

The next 5 hours flew by, and with all that needed to be done just coming together, as often happens in world of theatre, it was time to walk over to the family house.

Donning the provided aprons, we swept through the 2-stove, 3-island kitchen at the house feeling like contestants on a cooking show.  But as the feverish preparation commenced, punctuated by my announcements of remaining time as self-appointed timekeeper, roadblocks popped up. We didn’t have the physical manpower to peel even the compromised number of potatoes. Also, the centerpiece of the meal, the chili, seemed all at once to be too little and too bland. Thankfully, Under The Skin actress Alice M. Gatling, formerly a caterer herself, knew just what to do save the dish. With just about 3 minutes to dinner service, we were dishing food into serving bowls and smell of southwestern comfort had people gathering in the attached dining room.

Teen Arden Council members Kieran and Maria chop and season the salad

Teen Arden Council members Kieran and Maria chop and season the salad

Dinner turned out well. The sweet potato mash came out late, but if that was all we had to regret after hours of fitting the day’s jigsaw pieces together, I was a happy planner.   What’s more, Home Cook Heroes was such a fun experience; cast members, staff and Teen Arden alike were challenged as a team to perform what seemed a near-impossible task.

As dinner started, one resident approached us to share his story. His family had been in Philly for several months but hailed from Virginia. Another family had come to see Under the Skin, and expressed how personally touching they found the play. As they shared their family’s experiences with us, we were reminded in the sober reality of needing an organ donation. It’s safe to say we ended the night, a really grateful bunch of volunteer cooks. And I went home convinced of one thing: Home Cook Heroes is a misleading title, as those that make the food are barely heroes in comparison to those who eat the food.

If you’d like to learn more about Gift of Life or the Home Cook Heroes program please visit: http://www.giftoflifefamilyhouse.org/volunteer/homecookheroes/


Arden Apprentice at Home Cook Heroes

Eliana Fabiyi is an Arden Professional Apprentice who hails from  Baltimore, Maryland. Her interests include bluegrass music, community nutrition, Shakespeare and improv comedy.  

By Jonathan Silver, Assistant Director for Under the Skin

Jonathan Silver (left) as Timms with Michael Doherty (right) as Posner in the Arden's production of The History Boys

Jonathan Silver (left) as Timms with Michael Doherty (right) as Posner in the Arden’s production of “The History Boys”

“This blog post is not about kidneys.”

The last time I was involved in a creative rehearsal process with Terry Nolen was 5 years ago during Arden Theatre Company’s 2009/2010 season opener The History Boys.  During those rehearsals a half-decade ago, I had the privilege to focus my attention on my portrayal of Timms, the role I was cast in (and my first professional acting experience post-college!). This time around, I have the honor of serving as Assistant Director for this world-premiere piece.  But that’s not what this blog post is about – nor is it about kidneys.

Like a human being, every production of a play or musical is its own unique, individual entity that requires natural evolutionary growth and exploration.  For the actors, director, and design team, the seeds of this growth happen during the first few days of rehearsals sitting around a table reading the text, discussing the text, rereading the text, discussing more of the text, rereading the text again, discussing the … well, you get the picture.

For Under the Skin, Terry Nolen (director) and Michael Hollinger (playwright) led the cast through 5 days of table work (5 days x 6 hour rehearsals = 30 hours of sitting, reading, and discussing).  Under the proper leadership (which we are), these rehearsals can be the most exhilarating – it’s the point in the process where the cast is getting to know one another and seeds of ideas are being planted and the themes and motifs begin to take shape.  The repetition of the above stated reading, discussing, etc., is a chance for the actors to familiarize themselves with the text and for Terry to encourage the actors to “feel free to explore the wrong choices,” and “Find your footing in the text,” and “MORE READING, LESS ACTING!”  For Michael, these rehearsals are to experience his words spoken aloud and alter words, sentences, or punctuation.  It also provides him with an opportunity to hear different versions of scenes he has written so he may discover a multitude of possibilities then narrow in on orchestrating the story he wants to tell (As of the writing of this post, we received five interpretations of one particular scene and six rewritten scenes).

Because Under the Skin focuses on a family crisis and the figurative walls they need to overcome, while at the table, the cast was also invited to share (or not) personal stories that related to those said walls.  Since the rehearsal room is a sacred place, I’m not at liberty to delve into what was shared (or not) but I can say that Terry, Michael and the cast opened their hearts to one another and instantly created an environment of safety and sincerity. You won’t hear their personal stories, but you will sense a depth of connection between the performers that is a result of this kind of sharing.

When a playwright brings in new pages to replace the original ones, they are printed in color. Each of these colors represents a new set of pages!

When a playwright brings in new pages to replace the original ones, they are printed in color. Each of these colors represents a new set of pages!

After these revealing 5 days were over, the work from the table was implemented when we started staging the show on our feet.  Without the table work – the intellectual exploration of every punctuation mark, word, sentence, plot point, etc. – it would prove rather challenging to dive into the physical and emotional journey that takes place during staging.

For me, table work is the most electrifying process of rehearsals.  It’s the point in a production’s development where the show only exists in my mind’s eye – it remains on the page and is not yet tactile.  As these sessions at the table progress, preconceived notions of what I thought the show might be slowly disappear and the real nature of the play takes shape.  What you saw when you came to the Arden and witnessed Under the Skin is the product of Michael Hollinger’s imagination, Terry Nolen’s orchestration, and the ensemble’s passionate dedication to executing a great story…

not about kidneys.


 

Jonathan Silver is a director and actor. Arden: Cabaret of Duets (Director), Incorruptible (Assistant Director), The History Boys (Timms). Regional: Old Jews Telling Jokes (Penn’s Landing Playhouse); Max in Lend Me A Tenor, and Professor in South Pacific (Delaware Theatre Company); Elliot in Completeness (Round Table Theatre Company); Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady (Act II Playhouse); Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts). Television: Alain on Pokemon (Cartoon Network). Education: BFA in Dramatic Performance from University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. 

The Arden’s upcoming production of the world premiere of Michael Hollinger’s Under the Skin has sparked some interesting conversations about kidney donation within the Arden community. Would you give up your kidney for a parent? For your child? For a sibling? For all of your siblings? For a stranger? Below are three stories of people who answered yes to someone. If you have a story about how you or a loved one has been affected by organ donation, >medical please use the comment section to share!

Joan Saltzman:

I found John, my Mr. Right, when I was forty-six. He had end-stage kidney disease. John’s nephrologist suggested I become a living donor. No way, I thought, this medical malpractice lawyer was not volunteering for unnecessary surgery. John became more ill; he was ashen. I changed my mind. I saw John just after my kidney was implanted; his skin was, miraculously, already pink. Giving John my kidney was the best thing I have ever done. I had given new life to someone I already loved.

Joan has written a book about her experience entitled Mr. Right and My Left Kidney

Marie Manley:

My husband, Bob and I have four children and we were very involved in our parish and neighborhood while the children were younger. We moved a few years ago and it was while sitting in our new church one Sunday that I thought about how little we were doing for our new community. The following Sunday I read a plea for help in our parish bulletin, a request from a young woman, Christine for a kidney. After reading the letter and finding that I met the initial criteria, I leaned over to my husband and said, “I can do this”. That morning, every hymn, reading and the sermon itself were all about giving. We were both touched by the ‘sharing’ message and after Mass Bob said, we should go for it. So hand in hand, as we approach all things, Bob and I began the process. We decided that we would research the logistics before presenting it to the children. My concern was that our decision would further burden us financially, which turned out not to be the case. Bob was beginning a new job and we were tuition-poor with our girls away in college and our boys attending Cardinal O’Hara high school. My first search on the computer was for “the financial risk to a kidney donor”. Without my knowing it, our drama queen, who was home for the weekend, began reading over my shoulder and shrieked, “Are things so bad now, that you’re selling your organs?”…so much for not involving the kids! I explained to her what we were considering and told our other children, knowing it was too big a secret for Sarah to keep. The girls were a little more anxious about the plan while the boys were more like yeah, well, that is a little weird Mom even for you!

Once we met with the transplant coordinator and began the testing, our daughters went to some of the appointments so that they could hear first-hand, the risks and benefits of organ donation. Our nurse was terrific explaining in full detail the entire process. She was a wealth of information and made us all feel confident that we were making an informed decision. After those meetings, the children gave us their blessing and supported Bob and I throughout the process. It was a family gift to a person in need. At this point I still had not met my recipient. I decided to remain anonymous for a few reasons; one of which is that I wanted our children to have the last say and if they were not comfortable with the surgery, I would have had to back out.

Another reason was that I did not want Christine to worry about me. I was sure she would be concerned about the ‘donor’ but if she did not know me personally, I hoped she could concentrate more on her own healing. The last reason to remain anonymous was that I did not want to be interviewed by Oprah. You laugh but right after our surgery, it was all over the news about the Starbucks barista who gave to a customer, a Minister who donated to a Rabbi and the first simultaneous six-way transplant at John Hopkins in Baltimore. Everywhere I turned there was a public kidney-thing going on! This publicity was not for me. My kidney was a personal gift to Christine and it would feel boastful telling anyone else about it. Besides, this gift was not about me. My prayer every morning before I even get out of bed is “Lead Me Lord”. …and He did.

My prayer for direction intersected with Christine’s prayer for help…it was as simple as that. The surgery went very well and a month later I was asked to talk to a potential donor. After listening to the woman talk about donating to her friend, I felt something missing in our experience and I e-mailed Christine. We met on Mother’s day, 2 months after our surgery. We developed an immediate and very close relationship, one that defies explanation. We are closer than friends are, different from family. I thought I had everything I needed, that my life was complete until I met this young woman and her family. Yes, I am her donor but more importantly, I am a recipient. It was through my giving to Christine that I received– renewed faith, enhanced compassion and empathy for others, gratitude for all of God’s blessings. I continue to learn courage and determination, witnessing the daily challenges of the chronically ill. My life was transformed by this awesome experience. I thank God for the direction and I thank Christine for her request.
On March 11th it will be 5 years since the transplant. As Bob and I volunteer with Gift of Life, I am slowly ‘coming out’ of the anonymous closet. I understand now that the importance of promoting donor awareness supersedes my need for obscurity.…and again, just when I thought life could not get any better…my journey took another turn…This kidney is the gift that keeps on giving.

When our oldest daughter Kristin became engaged, I felt it was time to go back to work fulltime. For twenty-four years, I was able to work part time and be home with our children. Then all of a sudden I was home and they were not! My friend suggested looking at area hospitals for openings. This did not make a bit of sense to me since I had been a retail vendor most of my life. Nevertheless…again… I followed direction and the first hospital and the first position that came up in my search was Transplant Assistant in the Lankenau Kidney Transplant Program.
I know this was not a coincidence. I have loved my job for more than 5 years now. I witness first hand how the frail and needy among us receive hope and healing through selfless acts of others. The look on their faces the morning after transplant is priceless and humbling.

I understand that living donation is not for everyone…but I ask you for two things: One: please consider donating your organs and tissue after you no longer need them. One person can save or enhance the lives of 50 people. What a legacy you can leave behind…what an ultimate gift…offering someone a second chance!
Secondly, please share your decision with your families. When the time comes, if your loved ones do not know what you want, they are asked to decide for you which may add more anguish to an already very difficult situation. Thank you and God bless you.

Marie Manley (left) and Christine, her recipient (right)

Marie Manley (left) and Christine, her recipient (right)

Marie is now a Transplant Assistant at Lankenau Hospital, a job she took a year after her own donation. This is excerpted from a talk she gives about donation.

Patsy Semple: 

In 2010, I was going to donate my kidney to my husband, and my antibodies weren’t quite a match, but they were a perfect match for a young man on the registry. A doctor at Georgetown in DC presented an idea of doing a huge swap. 32 of us would participate. The doctor’s name was Keith Melancon, he is no longer at Georgetown in DC. It was his idea to do the share. There were going to be 40, but when the time came 16 of us went through—16 donors and 16 recipients. He sought them out from three hospitals. Some recipients came from out of town and certainly donors came from out of town. He presented this idea of sharing. It was like: “My niece wants to do it but she’s not a match for me, but she’s a match for so-and-so.” Well when you have a family member, you’ll do anything. And you have trust in your doctors, and if you can helps someone live a little better life, why not?

My kidney went to a young black man who had been born with just one kidney. We didn’t know who was getting it until after the surgery when they had us all meet. And that’s when I met Jonathon. The poor guy when he found out I was his donor, his eyes bugged out because I was older than his mom and I was this Caucasian lady with white hair. He’s a great kid, a young man. His mother took part in the share and her kidney went to a sixty-nine-year old engineer of Indian descent. A couple of people involved just did it altruistically. To see the diversity of ages and nationalities participating in this share was a moving experience; it was made possible because of a group of people determined to donate the gift of life to help a loved one, a friend, or someone in need. If you can help someone live a little better life, why not?

Patsy is a Kidney Donor and Advocate. Excerpted from an interview with Patsy.

 During rehearsals for Under the Skin, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about kidney donation from the recipient perspective, which you can read here.

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