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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.  

opening apasGreetings from Arden Professional Apprentice (APA) Laurel Hostak! Last September, >mind I took my first tour of the Arden buildings, tried out my new set of keys, and—most importantly—met six people who would become my best friends and support system as we embarked on this adventure. Today, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say we own the place. All seven apprentices work in every department, from fund development to production. On any given day we may be selling you a ticket, pouring you a glass of wine, or fixing a faulty snowblower. We know all the nooks and crannies of the building, where to hide your snacks from hungry actors, and, of course, the best places for a quick nap!

One of the most rewarding aspects of the apprentice program is the opportunity to serve as assistant stage manager for one of the Arden’s productions. I’ve been lucky to snag the coveted last-show-of-the-season slot with Michael Hollinger’s Incorruptible, finishing off a whirlwind 10 months in the company of brilliant actors, directors, designers, and technicians. I watched my fellow APA’s go through the rehearsal and performance process, anxiously awaiting my own assignment, and I can’t imagine a more fun show to go out on than Incorruptible. This medieval farce about the mystery of faith has proven itself deeply thought-provoking and uplifting in the final weeks of my season here.

opening incorrStage management is a strange and fluid world. We hover between the artistic and production sides, often serving as liaisons between the show and the rest of the company, caring for the actors, props, and costumes, and facilitating all kinds of unexpected situations. During a recent performance, an actor—Michael Doherty in the role of Jack—cut himself onstage. It was a minor injury, but the actors’ safety is my first priority. Knowing he wouldn’t be offstage until the end of the act, the stage manager, Alec, and I began a madcap scramble to help Mike without stopping the show. We managed to send Josh Carpenter (in the role of Brother Felix) into the fray with a scarf—which he cleverly used as a sweat rag for himself before slyly slipping into the hands of the injured party, who was able to wrap up his cut hand. Meanwhile, I prepared a first aid cocktail just backstage, with Band-Aids, gauze, alcohol swabs, and more, ready to shower Mike with healing gifts upon his exit. The audience was none the wiser. Most days run smoother, without blood or backstage panic, but when crisis strikes, the best person to have on hand is an APA—a trained problem-solver.

As an aspiring playwright, director, and sound designer (you know, the classic triple threat), this experience has been invaluable. Incorruptible not only brought in local playwright Michael Hollinger—who compares playwriting to archaeology (“I know it’s down there somewhere… I just have to dig to find it”)—but gave me the chance to watch master sound designer Jorge Cousineau—who can pull together scraps of wood and wire to create the live sound effect of a guitar breaking—in action, and fostered friendships with Philadelphia actors I’ve been watching onstage for years (I’m still a little starstruck). Such generous artists, under the thoughtful direction of Matt Decker, energized the rehearsal process and the long hours of tech. But the beautiful thing is the realization that I am essential to this process. I have been entrusted with this essential role, and I feel capable.

If you’d like to know more about what we do as Arden apprentices (through a funny, theatrical, sometimes musical lens), join us for the 21st Annual Arden Apprentice Showcase, Fix Your Face, on Sunday, June 22nd at 8pm and Monday, June 23 at 7pm on the Arcadia Stage at the Arden!

– Laurel Hostak, 2013/2014 Arden Apprentice

Arden Apprentice Class 20 (Laura Barati, Wendy Blackburn, Angela Coleman, Sophie Kruip, Katie Sink, and Jenna Stelmok) created this video for the Arden Professional Apprentice Showcase, which ran June 16 & 17, 2013. Special thanks to Class 14 for the poster language. Photos by Steve Pacek and video edits by Sophie Kruip. Song credit: “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson.

Thank you to Class 20 on a wonderful year and best wishes on your next steps!

On June 1st, the Arden celebrated the 20th year of the Arden Professional Apprentice program with a reunion of the nearly 100 graduates of the program.  Apprentices from all over the country returned home to the Arden to toast this prestigious program, share memories of their time in the Arden’s history, and invest in the future of education at the Arden.

The day included the matinee of A Little Night Music followed by acknowledgements from Amy, Terry, and Brian Abernathy (APA Class 8 and current Arden Board President), an Arden and Old City-themed Scavenger Hunt, and ended with a cocktail party in the new Hamilton Family Arts Center.

Here are some photos from the day! 

By Sophie Kruip, Arden Professional Apprentice

The Arden Apprentice Showcase is quickly approaching, and we would love for you to come and see what we have come up with!

Our showcase is completely created by the apprentices along with our director, Steve Pacek, and it reflects on the apprentice experience of the last 20 years – with artistic license, of course. We collected stories from past apprentices and weaved in some of our own to create the piece we have entitled: “APPRENTICE ARCHIVE: THE GREAT UNTOLD!” Performances run June 16th at 8:00pm and June 17th at 7:00pm, with a reception after the show on the 16th.

We invite you to enjoy our stories and see what the apprenticeship is truly like (with a little more singing and dancing). Call into the Box Office 215.922.1122 to reserve seats to this FREE event!

By Sophie Kruip, >for sale Arden Professional Apprentice Class 20

We’re just over halfway through the program (four shows down, three to go!) and the final three apprentices who have not yet Assistant Stage Managed received our assignments: I am on for A Raisin in the Sun in the Haas, Jenna is on Pinocchio in the Arcadia, and Wendy will ASM A Little Night Music in the Haas. Well cast, I’d say!

Our preparation for Raisin started today. The SM, Alec Ferrell, had me do a thorough sweep of the rehearsal hall upstairs, remove the spike tape from Endgame’s rehearsal process, and clear the furniture to make room for taping out the floor tomorrow. For those who haven’t done this, ‘taping out the floor’ means using fluorescent ‘spike’ tape to draw out the boundaries of the stage on the rehearsal floor, along with any doors, big set pieces, etc. so that actors can practice the staging before they can work on the set.

The scenery load-in for A Raisin in the Sun officially began on the Haas stage. First, we struck (completely broke down and removed) the entire set and platforms of our Cinderella (minor cuts and sore shoulders, but very proud of our work!) and cleared the way for Raisin’s doors, windows, and walls to make their way over from the scene shop. We currently rent the space for our scene shop from two long-time Arden supporters, Ted Newbold and Helen Cunningham, in a warehouse down the street, and we carry everything to the theatre by hand or haul it with a rented Penske truck. How fabulous it will be to move the whole operation to the Hamilton Family Arts Center this year, just three doors down!

The timeline is short for rehearsal, just about three weeks, before the Pay What You Can performance on March 6. In that time, the Haas stage will be transformed, by the expert skill of our production team, into the 1950’s Chicago home of the Younger family. The playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, describes the room in the production notes with this recommendation: “Ideally, the set should also suggest, if possible, the outer world of blighted tenements, clotheslines, fire escapes, etc.” and our designer, Daniel Conway, is integrating the outer world of the play in quite a lovely way. Our Scenic Charge, Kristina Chadwick, has already been turning out lovely “brick” painted walls that have started transforming our theatre into Chicago’s Southside.

Tomorrow begins the rehearsal process! I am excited to meet Walter Dallas, the director, and the cast! To “ASM land” I go…

 

Oh, one more thing:

Perhaps you’ve wondered what the title of the play means. Langston Hughes wrote this poem in 1926, at the height of the Harlem Renaissance:

 Harlem (A Dream Deferred)

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

Like a syrupy sweet?

 

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

 

Or does it explode?

 

 

See you here March 7th – April 21st!

 

By Sophie Kruip, >view Arden Professional Apprentice Class 20

First Friday programming is very officially underway at the Arden  with incredible acts from local musical, >shop dance, and theatre companies The past few months have seen inspiring and impressive acts from Headlong Dance Theatre and the Dali Quartet, as well as the wildly entertaining circus group Olde City Sideshow. You never know what you’re in for when you walk in: the lobby may become an art gallery, or perhaps an improvisational movement group will take over: come check it out and have a beer from our keg (Philadelphia Pale Ale, anyone?) on the house!

Photo by Plate 3 Photography

The John S. and James L. Knight foundation made this programming possible through a generous donation—with one stipulation. We have to MATCH their donation, or we simply don’t get those funds! So please show your support of the Arden’s mission to bring you incredible local art, and help us reach this goal!

This First Friday, prepare for Tiny Dynamite’s “A Play, A Pie, and A Pint,” a casual, short, and comedic theatre piece enjoyed with a slice of pizza and a glass of beer. What more could you ask for? If you can’t make that, March 1st we will be hosting Applied Mechanics, a collaborative theatre experience that will roving scenes all around the lobby so that patrons may wander through to watch the scenes, and enjoy food and drink as they go. Stay tuned for more performances from The Berserker Residents, subcircle, and Johnny Showcase and the Lefty Lucy Cabaret!

First Fridays are FREE and open to the public, but please do bring $1, $5, $20—anything you can donate so that we can continue bringing you the quality programming you expect from the Arden.

So bring a valid I.D. to claim your complimentary beer, and we’ll see you on First Friday!

By Jenna Stelmok, Arden Professional Apprentice

Love the taste of homemade pies on Thanksgiving but hate the fuss of making them? Know other people who do? Buying a pie from MANNA (Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance) is a perfect way to save time preparing for your holidays, while providing two days’ worth of meals to someone in our community!

For those who don’t know, MANNA is a wonderful local non-profit organization that provides nourishing meals, counseling, and support to people in our community at acute nutritional risk from life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and HIV/AIDS. MANNA was founded in 1990 by seven members of the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia to comfort men dying of AIDS. Since then, their mission has expanded to serve any individuals who are currently battling or in care for a life-threatening illness and are at severe nutritional risk due to this sickness.

Every day, full weeks’ worth of meals are cooked in MANNA’s kitchen by over 1,500 volunteers, frozen, and delivered to families in need. Additionally, through what is known as Medical Nutrition Therapy, MANNA provides nutrition counseling free of charge to those with life-threatening illnesses. Dieticians work individually with their clients, creating sensible food plans to help them stay as healthy as possible. In truth, MANNA cares for the entire person.

Arden Theatre Company is a strong supporter of MANNA and its mission. We began the celebration of our 25th Anniversary Season with a Pay What You Can performance of our first show, Next to Normal, from which all ticket proceeds went directly to the non-profit. With the help of almost 200 patrons, we raised over $600 for MANNA. (We’ve partnered with MANNA for three other Pay What You Can performances in recent years, raising nearly $4,000 additional for their work.)

Now, I’m thrilled to share with you our next goal for the season: selling pies! Every Thanksgiving, MANNA hosts a fundraiser called Pie in the Sky, through which it offers five types of traditional holiday pies for purchase, such as the Holiday Pumpkin Pie and Traditional Apple Pie. All proceeds from the pies go directly to caring for those with acute life-threatening illnesses.

The Arden has been participating as a pie-selling team for the last several years. In 2012, we sold 17 pies and raised $450 for MANNA. This year, through the organization of our 20th Arden Professional Apprentice class, we hope to raise our goals and sell DOUBLE what we sold last year – that’s 34 pies and $900! Currently, we’ve sold 31 pies and are SO CLOSE to our goal!

We ask you to join our support of this fantastic non-profit by purchasing a MANNA pie for your Thanksgiving table, or donating one to a family in need, through the Arden Theatre Company’s pie-selling team. It’s incredibly easy – just CLICK HERE to buy, and make sure you find our Pie Time (Arden Theatre Company) when you’re ordering!! TheArden will also be serving as a pie pick-up location, so you can visit us and get your pie at the same time! Please share our goal with family and friends and encourage them to buy, too. And remember – supporting MANNA means you can enjoy your pie guilt-free this year! Happy Holidays!

By Zach Trebino, Arden Professional Apprentice

 

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, >diagnosis 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.

By Ryan Prendergast, Arden Professional Apprentice

In the second act of The Whipping Man as Caleb and John prepare for their Passover seder, the elder slave Simon (Johnnie Hobbs, Jr.) announces that Abraham Lincoln is dead, the victim of an assassin’s bullet. He recalls the experience of meeting Lincoln only a few days before on the streets Richmond after the Union army occupied the city on April 4: “I walked out to him. And I stopped right in front of him. And he stopped. And we looked at each other… I bowed… Only thing I could think to do… [and] he bowed back… Only thing he could think to do I guess.”

Hearing these words in the play took me back to a sunny September morning when I stood on the sidewalk outside Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. It was the culmination of whole summer’s Lincoln pilgrimage. My mother is a huge fan of the Doris Kearns Goodwin bestseller Team of Rivals and that summer my family did it all: the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, the solemn Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Standing in the burial room with Lincoln’s body just below our feet was a surreal experience, only equaled by a visit to the colossus Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Ford’s Theatre was now the only stop left.

Ford’s Theatre is still an active venue, restored to its 19th century splendor. (The Lincoln box forever remains unoccupied out of respect.) The theatre was closed for rehearsals the day of my visit but the basement museum beckoned. Here the displays meticulously recreate Lincoln’s activities that day and offer an impressive array of artifacts, from the suit he wore to Ford’s Theater that fateful evening (his famous top hat rests a few blocks away at the Smithsonian) to the Derringer pistol used by John Wilkes Booth, and most ominously, a pillow stained with Lincoln’s blood.

Every single piece was important and significant, but something seemed to be missing. Here were the real things he wore and touched, but Lincoln still seemed a phantom of the past, close but somehow just beyond reach. Where was the conduit for this Lincoln of the past for us today? Hearing Johnnie Hobbs was the final spark. I saw Lincoln in his famous stovepipe hat bow to Simon on the charred streets of Richmond. He was real for me because he was real for Simon. None of the faded burial curtains or plaster masks seemed significant until that moment.

It’s really easy for a “history play” to become a “history lecture.” It’s a rarity when a figure from history steps out from the dusty pages and becomes something tangible, worthy of the apostrophe: “Father Abraham… there’s your Moses…”

 

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