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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 Brittany Brewer

What would you do with all the money in the world?

What a question.

I know what I’d do. [Pause]. Do you want to know what I’d do?


I’d never do laundry again.

That’s it. That’s the big dream?

Towel Models

Once upon a time at a company called Arden, there was a show, >sick a show with lots of water. It was called Metamorphoses. Those who worked at the company knew that producing the show would bring many challenges: heating the pool, keeping the pool clean, making costumes that could withstand weeks of sogginess, and – of course – towels. Many, many towels. And no matter how hard they tried, this Arden just couldn’t keep up with the mountains of towels that piled up in the laundry.

And just when it seemed that all laundry hope was lost – Wash Cycle Laundry came to the rescue!   Wash Cycle Laundry – a company who helps individuals and businesses surmount their mountains of laundry – agreed to help the Arden meet the challenge.

This is the story of that partnership – and of the one little towel who wanted more than anything to make a difference!

The little towel

Once upon a time, there was a towel. And on one crisp fall morning – clean, fresh, fluffy – this little towel found himself bumping along the back of a bicycle! The bicycle was helmed by Wash Cycle Cyclist Route Manager, Jason. As Jason wove in and through Philadelphia city streets, the towel felt the cool breeze in his fibers.

Jason and the towels

Suddenly, the bike veered to a stop and Jason was lifting the little towel and his neatly folded friends off of the bike and into a building. As the little towel and his friends whipped through the doors of the building, he noticed the large sign on the front: “The Arden Theatre Company.” The little towel began quivering with excitement. Helping out behind the scenes at the Arden was his favorite post! What purpose would he have today? Would he embark alone or share in the journey of toil with other towels?

Jason soon was backstage, and the little towel could hear the actors as they rushed between dressing rooms, stretching for their performance, and warming up their voices in preparation. Jason handed the little towel and his friends off to Rebecca, the Arden’s wardrobe supervisor.

The towel catches dripsSome of the little towel’s friends were being placed by Rebecca on the ground to catch water from dripping costumes. Others were brought into the dressing rooms to assist actors. The little towel wondered what his job would be! Before he knew it, the assistant to the stage manager was ending his speech, the lights were dimming, music was filling the space, and the show was in motion.

IMG_3911The little towel’s day at work was a blur, but beautifully transformative. He felt joy in the many ways he contributed in moving the show forward. From the moment the show began, everyone and everything was in constant movement.

Sometimes, the little towel lined the floor of “the hotbox” – a heated space backstage where the actors changed costumes.

At another point, the little towel served as a personal assistant to the actors. The little towel assisted an actor in drying his hair. Then, he was immediately wrapped around the actor’s waist and the little towel assisted him in relocating to a dressing room for a longer costume change. In moments of movement like this, the little towel spotted some other of his towel friends at work: draped across different actors’ heads and bodies as they lounged for a quick breather backstage or hustled to make a quick entrance. Many more lined the floors. The little towel was happy; it felt nice to be needed.

The towel is a 'personal assistant'

When the show finally came to an end, the little towel found himself back in “the hotbox”, tossed quickly into a pile as his actor returned to stage. Though the show was over, the little towel had more work to do! After audience members sifted out, crew members grabbed the little towel (and some of his friends) and began to wipe down the wet stage.


Then, when that was done, the little towel was returned to a large yellow bag. The little towel was now damp, rumpled, and dirty – a far cry from the fluffiness he had felt just 2 hours ago!

The rumpled towel

Days passed and the little towel waited. He waited, and waited, damp and dirty, for Jason to return and transform him back to his fluffy old self.  Days passed, and more shows were performed, and more towels joined the little towel in his dirty bag – but still no Jason. And just when the little towel was about to give up hope – he heard the familiar shuffling of Jason’s shoes coming through the backstage door. And suddenly, the little towel and his friends were being lifted into Jason’s bike!

As the little towel sighed a breath of relief, he and his soggy compatriots were bumping along the old city cobblestone once again. In and out of the historic side streets of Old City they weaved until they arrived at 16th and South, where Tracey and the Wash Cycle laundry team were waiting. Tracey and her team scooped up the little towel and his friends, dropped them into the washers, and the little towel’s second transformation had begun. In the care of Tracey and the Wash Cycle team, the little towel was tumbled, soaked, soaped, dried, fluffed, and folded. He was placed into a pile that was soon to be loaded onto a bike, and just as if he had never been dirty before, the little towel set off on his next big adventure.

Partners in Transformation: Arden and Wash Cycle Laundry

The Arden is very grateful for the support of Wash Cycle Laundry as a partner in our production of Metamorphoses. Metamorphoses requires the use of 75 towels per performance, which is about 600 towels a week. We needed to find assistance in laundering our daunting number of backstage towels so that each performance, our actors can truly take our audience through the transformation that is Metamorphoses. Fortunately, we did not need all of the money in the world and Wash Cycle Laundry is not intimated by our massive loads of laundry.

Transformation is a theme that is very important to the Arden. We always transform of spaces: our seating is flexible and the audience area can change from show to show, depending on the needs of the story we are telling. The Arden is also committed to the transformation of the environment, and as such, through our partnerships with Revolution Recovery and The Resource Exchange, we diverted 78% of our trash from landfills last season. But, the theme of transformation extends even further for us this year. It is a pivotal component to storytelling that can be seen in the selection of our 2015/2016 season: Shagspeare’s belief in his purpose as a playwright transforms in Equivocation, Chick Sherman seeks to transform his legacy in Funnyman, the cultural landscape of America is transforming in Two Trains Running, and the garden undergoes a lively transformation in The Secret Garden.

Transformation is a theme that also really speaks to the mission of Wash Cycle Laundry. Nearly 50% of Wash Cycle employees have a history of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, or welfare dependence. Over 80% of their employees in management/leadership positions began on the front lines and they double Philadelphia’s average for employee retention with welfare to work recipients. They are transforming people’s lives by creating stable jobs with upward mobility and providing people with opportunity. They are showing that being sustainable can actually save money and improve our cities. They are cutting down on the number of trucks blocking traffic or polluting the air and getting places faster and more often because of their use of bikes.

The Arden is proud to partner with a company as dedicated to sustainability and community as Wash Cycle to help tell our stories onstage. Thank you to Jason, Tracey, and all those who work behind the scenes at Wash Cycle Laundry who have helped to make Metamorphoses possible.


By Krista Apple-Hodge (Aphrodite and others)

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as Psyche, >physician takes the plunge” width=”254″ height=”300″ /> Krista, as Psyche, takes the plunge

I know what you’re wondering. And yes, the water is warm. Delightfully, wonderfully warm.

As the audience takes their seats in the Haas theatre, the heating pumps have just been turned off and the water is at a balmy 104 degrees. By curtain call, it’s usually cooled to about 100. Not too bad for a night’s work, eh?

We had a week of rehearsal on dry land before we got in the pool; and when we did, we were given a detailed and often cheeky list of “Pool Rules” by the stage management team. It included the temperature info I gave you above. It also outlined personal requirements. Little sacrifices. No lotions, hair products, or makeup (they’ll stay in the water and make it…. well, gross). And, yes, no peeing in the pool.

As I’m sure you can imagine (and probably sympathize), it’s not every day you’re given pool rules at work! Maybe a few of you out there are few water-workers, but the majority of us just aren’t. So this feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us all.

Actress Leigha Kato tries to keep warm backstage during rehearsals

Actress Leigha Kato tries to keep warm backstage during rehearsals

There were plenty of pool-related things we were prepared for. Dry skin; water up the nose. There were also a lot of things that we weren’t prepared for. EVERYTHING in our lives is sopping wet, basically, all the time. We spend eight hours a day in towels and bathing suits. Our ears are waterlogged. Our lips are chapped two months before winter has even arrived.

We also weren’t prepared for the water’s power onstage. We’d been properly warned; Doug Hara, our director, kept describing the pool to us as “another cast member.” But there’s simply no way to prepare yourself for its beauty, its power, and its demands.

One of our biggest jobs as actors is to stay ‘in the moment’ onstage. To stay completely alive to the story we’re telling and not check out at all, even when we’ve said the same words a hundred times before. This show is a great exercise in that. We truly have no idea what’s going to happen next. The water is completely unpredictable, and it keeps us perpetually on our toes.

Metamorphoses pays great homage to all the elements: water, fire, earth, sky. These elements are thrillingly beautiful. Essential for our survival, and our evolution. They deserve our complete reverence, admiration, and respect.

Actress Leigha Kato waits in the pool during a moment of rehearsal

Actress Leigha Kato waits in the pool during a moment of rehearsal

It’s a great reminder of why the stories of these gods were told in the first place. The story of Poseidon, the god of water and the sea; the story of Apollo, the god of fire and the sun; or Ceres, the goddess of the harvest and the earth. The gods who, as the stories go, used these elements to reward us when we obeyed, and punished us when we didn’t.

So of course, you try and follow all the rules and maintain your respect. But even when you follow all the rules (no running backstage; no horseplay in the pool), accidents still happen. People still slip on the pool deck, get water up their nose, get singed by a candle or two. Just as in the real world, hurricanes and forest fires and elemental events completely out of our control are still visited upon us. Unpredictable.

Lindsay Smiling as Erysicthon and Leigha Kato as hunger

Lindsay Smiling as Erysicthon and Leigha Kato as hunger

But unpredictability is also where transformation takes place. It’s no accident that the water is where change always happens in our play. Where true love transforms grieving lovers into birds, where lust gets the better of a father and daughter, where greed gets the best of a disrespectful man, and where lovers lose and find and lose each other again and again.

It’s always our hope, as storytellers, that the stories we tell will change something in you. Offer a new perspective, or maybe just a little bit of entertainment, comfort, hope. The stories found in Metamorphoses have all of these things to offer; and the act of telling them has changed us, too. For all its unpredictability, and all its Rules and demands, the water has been a transformative place for us. We think it will be for you, too.

See you poolside!


The Cast of Metamorphsoes in the pool for the first time

The Cast of Metamorphsoes in the pool for the first time

Krista Apple-Hodge

& the cast of METAMORPHOSES

By Glenn Perlman, Technical Director

Over the last couple of years, during season planning discussions each spring, I’d heard rumblings about us doing Metamorphoses — or as theatre technicians commonly refer to it: the pool show. It would come up, then go away. And each time it didn’t make our season schedule, I felt like we dodged a bullet.

Then it didn’t go away.

Learning that we were to produce Metamorphoses must be a little like expectant parents learning they’re going to have twins:  you knew it was going to be hard, but it just got a whole lot harder.

Fortunately, we were as prepared as possible. Courtney Riggar, our production manager, had worked on a prior production at Hartford Stage when she was there. She ran the crew and remembered all the challenges. And she knew some guys that built it and we could ask them questions.

The technicians that created the original and subsequent Lookingglass productions had created a “pool bible:” a document with many important details about the design and construction of the pool and equipment.

Director Doug Hara works on stage with actress Leigha Kato

Director Doug Hara works on stage with actress Leigha Kato

Our director, Doug Hara, had been in several productions, including the original and the Tony-nominated Broadway run.

But the single biggest resource we had was time. We reserved the Haas stage for the entire summer for the build. Master Carpenter Justin Romeo and I had what seemed like all the time in the world to create this tricky little set.

Technical Drawings by Scenic Designer Brian Sidney Bembridge

Technical Drawings by Scenic Designer Brian Sidney Bembridge


We started right after Independence Day; first moving the seats into our thrust configuration, and then we started building the pool. Working from detailed designs by set designer (and Lookingglass Theatre alum) Brian Sydney Bembridge, we began construction of the pool container itself. I had done my homework:  calculating water volume (2600 gallons) and weight (around 10 tons), figuring the load per square foot on the stage floor (54 lbs/sq ft.) and engineered a construction method robust enough to contain the water. Scenery is usually pretty light weight, but this thing is beefy — 2×6 framing on 16″ centers, double top-plate and covered in 3/4″ plywood. The sidewalls are braced every four feet to prevent collapse. The entire bottom and sides are also covered in 1″ thick blue styrofoam, for heat insulation and actor comfort on their feet, and then the thick black rubber pond liner, which is in one giant seemless piece.

Metamorphoses pool framing 2

The framing of the pool

Installing the liner was like gift-wrapping a present, but opposite — like trying to neatly wrap the inside of a box. But the pool isn’t just a rectangular box:  the top (upstage) is the shallow end:  just 2″ of water. Through the middle of the stage the bottom slopes down and then downstage there’s the deep end, at 22″. The downstage corners also have 45° angles. This is no ordinary gift wrapping project. We roughed it in then started adding water to help push the liner into the corners as we worked it out smooth and flat. This was our first fill up, and it took about 7 hours running a hose from the nearest utility sink backstage.


The first filling of the pool, with black plastic lining in progress

Well it worked, and it held the water, it didn’t leak, the sidewalls didn’t collapse, and everything looked good. But you wouldn’t want to swim in it yet. The water was cold and full of floating sawdust. So the next step was pool equipment and plumbing.

Working with a pool and spa contractor I found in Lancaster (after being rejected by a few places that didn’t want anything to do with this crazy scheme of a temporary indoor hot tub) we assembled all the necessary gear and started the install.

We had drained the pool after our initial pressure-test, and went to work. Using industry-specific equipment, we spent a magical day, now early August, cutting the holes in the sides of the box for suction and return water, running all the pvc plumbing, and installing the pump, filter, two 11 kilowatt heaters, and automatic chlorinator. All of this gear lives under the deck just behind the pool. Our Master Electrician, Martin Stutzman, built the temporary power distribution for the gear, requiring two 240v 60 amp GFCI breakers for the heaters. This is serious business.

It’s actually more like a hot tub, technically. We need the water temperature to be at 104° at the beginning of the show, when the audience enters, because that’s when we shut the pump off. This lets the water settle and be still and flat; which along with the black liner underneath and use of Thom Weaver’s beautiful lighting makes the pool like a mirror. Or infinite. Or both. It’s art. But as soon as the heaters and pump go off, the water temperature starts falling. Actors spend 90 minutes in and out of the water, often in full costumes, so it needs to be warm so they don’t get sick. They need to do this 9 times a week, after all. In fact, on both sides of the stage we built small, heated, insulated dressing rooms called “hot boxes” for them to retreat to after exiting the stage. Actor safety and comfort is always primary.

The actors inside one of the backstage "hot box"

The actors inside one of the backstage “hot box”

As soon as a performance ends, the pool gets cleaned of floating debris from the performance, covered with an insulating pool cover, and the pump and heaters get switched back on to bring it up to temperature for the next show. Pool chemical levels are monitored daily. And every two weeks we will completely drain, clean, and refill the pool.

Glenn checks chlorine and chemical levels of the pool

Glenn checks chlorine and chemical levels

Oh, and there’s also an entire set around the pool as well, including the amazing sky which was painted by our incredible Charge Scenic Artist, Kristina Chadwick, using a technique involving sawdust and fine misty layers of paint sprays to create those beautiful clouds.

image15 image16image21

In all, Justin and I worked on this set for about ten weeks. And there are four weeks of performances. It has been one of my most challenging yet rewarding sets ever, and I am really proud of how it turned out. And I personally think the show is beautiful and really worthwhile, so that’s nice too.

I’ll never forget the time I spent the entire summer by the pool.

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