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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.  

Chris Mullen as the Porter

Chris Mullen as the Porter

Many scholars agree that one of the chief purposes of the Porter’s speech in Macbeth is to give a much-needed comedic breath to a very dark story. Whether this scene is meant to decrease tension (by injecting some lightness and pausing the story) or increase tension (by the insistent knocking and delaying the discovery of Duncan’s body) is up for debate, >medicine but that it is meant to be humorous is impossible to deny. In the Arden’s production of Macbeth, we wanted to honor this intention, which, for us, meant updating some of the language.

As Bruce Graham, playwright of our upcoming production of Funnyman has said—nothing goes stale faster than comedy. Even Shakespeare is not immune. Much of the Bard’s work is universally comedic—gross-out jokes always kill. But some of his comedy is specific to the time and place for which it was written, and many of the topical references fall flat for contemporary audiences. One of the best examples of this is the Porter’s reference to equivocators: “here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale.” Shakespeare here alludes to the infamous trial of Henry Garnet, recently hung as a traitor. While Shakespeare experts might know that this trial was likely on the minds of the Jacobean public, for most contemporary audiences, the word is unfamiliar and the reference impenetrable. Thus humor is lost.

When director Alex Burns and Chris Mullen, who plays the Porter, started working on this scene, they began with the text. After a few times through, Chris asked if he could try to change the text a little bit to make it more his own, and Alex enthusiastically agreed. They wanted to honor the spirit of the Porter scene while ensuring that the jokes weren’t obscured by the language or the distance between our world and Shakespeare’s. Together, Alex and Chris played around with language, letting Chris improvise using contemporary equivalents for some of the characters the Porter mentions. He went very far in some cases—at one point, a stock-broker awaited admittance to hell. Shakespeare’s equivocator became a lawyer, because, in the words of Chris Mullen “lawyers are always funny.” After a few rounds of improvisation, Alex and Chris set the text, using the cast as a test audience to see what was funny and what fell flat (see below for an example). They continued to refine over previews before landing upon what you saw in the performance. In the end, the essential beats of the Porter’s speech remain, as does the subject matter, and even some of the words.

Often in Shakespeare’s day, characters like the Porter were the specialty of clowns, who were allowed freedom to play with the audience—to go off script and improvise. Here was the audience’s much relished chance to interact directly with the performers. How much those performers talked back is still debated. Many scholars believe the role of the Porter to have originated with Robert Armin, the prolific clown of Shakespeare’s company, who was known for his intelligent humor, and is often credited with the complex philosopher-fool characters of some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, including the Fool in King Lear and Feste in Twelfth Night. Armin’s portrayal of the Porter—filled with topical references and perhaps even imitations of public figures—would have had audiences rolling in the aisles. He had the advantage of speaking the same language as his audience. We wanted to give Chris and our audiences the same opportunity by honoring the spirit of Shakespeare’s text and his favorite clown.

A comparison between the original text and the Arden's update

A comparison between the original text and the Arden’s update

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

Our all around Intern Fen is back with Part II of this exciting Backstage Access of Robin Hood!

 

by Kristina Chadwick, Charge Scenic Artist

 

Have you ever sat in math class wondering, “When am I ever going to use this?” Well, if you’re a Scenic Artist painting the set for a show like Robin Hood at the Arden, you’re going to have to do your math.

The painted tubes ready to go on the set.

The set for Robin Hood, which takes place in the Arcadia Theatre, is surrounded by an abstract forest comprised of many cardboard tubes, metal poles and pieces of lumber of varying diameters and widths. These tubes and boards line the walls of the Arcadia – all at a height of 14 feet from floor to ceiling – and also hang horizontally from the ceiling in a canopy of abstract branches. Additionally, the structure at the center of the set is made of steel poles. All of these tubes, poles, and boards are painted various shades of green from a bright lime color to an almost-black forest green.

(If you were to take every section of steel pole, every cardboard tube and every piece of painted lumber that decorates the stage, and then line them up end to end, they would stretch over a mile in length!)

Our Technical Director Glenn Perlman.

When preparing for a show like this one, you must know how much paint you will need to use. A good starting point is to figure the amount of square footage that needs to be covered by each type/color of paint that you need. Our Technical Director, Glenn Perlman, ordered a total of 300 cardboard tubes of varying diameters from 2 inches to 8 inches, all 14 feet in length. To find the square footage of each tube’s surface you must first find the circumference then multiply it by the length. The equation 2 x Radius x Pi (approx. 3.14) gives you the circumference. A 6-inch diameter tube would have the circumference of approximately 18.84 inches, or 1.57 feet. At a length of 14 feet with a circumference of 1.57 feet, each 6-inch diameter tube would have 21.98 square feet of surface area. There are 19 tubes of 6-inch diameter in the set for Robin Hood, meaning the total square footage of the 6-inch tubes was 417.62. One gallon of paint covers roughly 400 square feet; therefore you would need a little more than 1 gallon of paint for those 19 tubes. Similar calculations were made for the other diameters of cardboard tubes (2, 3, 4 and 8 inches), and for the various pieces of lumber and the steel pipes. 

That's Me! Starting to paint the one of many trees.

Overall, we used nearly 10 gallons of paint for the set of Robin Hood, filling the Arcadia space with almost 4,000 square feet of green!  That’s 1,000 square feet larger than a regulation Little League infield.

When you see the show, we hope you will feel inspired by the atmosphere and math all around you!!!

Playwright Rogelio Martinez on the set of our 2011 Season Production of “Wanamaker’s Pursuit”

In conjunction with the March 27th international celebration of World Theatre Day, Rogelio Martinez, playwright of last season’s Wanamaker’s Pursuit, weighs in on the state of theatre today:

THE CRY OF AN ANGRY CHILD

It’s 3:00 in the morning and I can hear my four month old crying in her room. She’s hungry. Never mind that she ate two hours ago, she’s hungry now. She’s hungry and she’s letting us know. Afterwards I lie awake wondering what it must be like to have such strong needs. Surprisingly enough, this leads me to thinking about theatre today, and its struggle to survive.

Many believe that it’s long past the dawn of theatre. Some would argue that we’ve reached night and it’s lights out for everyone involved. However, the optimist in me believes we may be nearing another dawn. There’s no doubt that theater today is fighting for relevance. Today the cries our profession makes have never been sharper, louder. Like a child awake in the middle of the night, theatre can’t exist on its own. Secretary of State Clinton made famous an African proverb in her book, It Takes A Village. In today’s world, it is going to take more than a village to give theatre a new dawn. In fact, it is going to take a new attitude.

The new attitude I speak of has to do with understanding and embracing the basics of theatre. Theatre happens when the ideas of a few clash with the beliefs and sentiments of many. It is in that magical space between creator and audience where theatre happens. Unlike any other art form, theater needs an audience to come alive. Good theater unifies an audience early on. In other words, an audience of 5, 50, 250 suddenly finds that they are one. For two hours (shorter, longer) good theatre makes an audience whole. The power an audience feels when they’re united is exhilarating. It is inspiring. Theatre reminds audiences that at heart we are all social creatures.

Theatre’s uniqueness is what will guarantee it a new dawn. Technology is constantly helping us find new ways to be entertained, to engage the world around us. Alone. The price we pay for all this great technology is our relationship with others. Good theater continues to remind us that we are part of a larger whole. For theater to exist there must be at least two people in the audience collectively working as one.

What is theatre’s angry cry but the cry for us not to distance ourselves from others.

Rogelio

This morning CBS Philly’s Lindsey Lewis named the Top Upcoming Local Philadelphia Actors to look for this season. Among them were Arden Theatre Company alum Steve Pacek, Alex Keiper and Krista Apple!

Steve Pacek as Reverend Jim with Julia Gibson in our 2012 Production of "Clybourne Park".

Steve Pacek has been seen in many wonderful Arden productions such as James Joyce’s The Dead, Pacific Overtures, Franklin’s Apprentice, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie (Barrymore nomination), The Borrowers, and most recently Clybourne Park. We are so excited to have him back in the spring where he will be playing multiple roles in our next Children’s Theatre production of Robin Hood.

Alex Keiper as the Cannibal Princess in the 2011 Children's Theatre Production of "Flea and the Professor".

Alex Keiper was last seen on our stage  in the 2011 Children’s Theatre production of The Flea and the Professor. Her feisty portrayal of the Cannibal Princess earned her a Barrymore Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical. She will back this May for Arden’s upcoming new musical Tulipomania with Jeffrey Coon, Ben Dibble, and Joliet F. Harris. Alex is also a member of the Arden Theatre Drama School Faculty, and she will be teaching our Acting and Musical Theatre classes on Saturdays now until May 15!

Krista Apple as Lady Montague with Frank X as Lord Montague in our 2010 Production of "Romeo and Juliet

Krista Apple first made her Arden debut in the 2008 production of Our Town In Old City. She was later in seen as Lady Montague/Balthasar in our recent production of Romeo and Juliet. When she is not busy acting, Krista is a writer for both American Theatre magazine and The Phiadelphia Theatre Initiative. Krista is also a fantastic teaching artist and will be teaching our Arden Drama School Teens this spring for an One Day Acting Worksop.

Eric Hissom as the title character in "Cyrano" running now through April 15, 2012.

by Catherine Logan, Marketing Assistant

It is no secret here at Arden Theatre Company how much I love the story of Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. I knew that once I heard the announcement of our 2011-12 Season, Cyrano Translated and Adaptated by Michel Hollinger and Aaron Posner would be my favorite production this year. This classic story of unrequited love, beautiful daring poetry, and exciting swordplay captured my heart at a very young age when I read Rostand’s famous work in Mr. Leventhal’s Honors English class in Middle School.

We have received an overwhelming amount of feedback for this production. Here is what some of our audiences have to say:

 
We loved Cyrano. What a great adaptation and what great acting. You know what they say about a great show. Make them laugh, Make them cry and send them home happy. –Dennis, Havertown, PA
 
I was very very pleased with the play. Each character was wonderful and unique. The actor portraying Cyrano was magnificent.  Kudos to him. –Gail, Cherry Hill, NJ 
 
Wow! I attended with my husband and my daughter who is 9. Cyrano is a favorite story with all of us. We really, really enjoyed the show which prefectly captured the comedy and tragedy of the story. –Lhianna, Philadelphia, PA
 

Roxane (Jessica Cummings) falling in love with Christian (Luigi Sottille). Little Does she know it is Cyrano (Eric Hissom) who is teaching Christian how to woo her.

This is the third or fourth production of the play that I’ve seen, not counting reading Rostand in French and the various films.  They are all different.  Yours was probably the funniest. This is not a put-down of Eric Hissom, who did a terrific job in the lead, but usually the actor who plays Cyrano is a really good-looking fellow who just has a large nose, whereas in your production, Hissom looks more like an ordinary guy, proboscis or no, so he is more believable in the role. –Joan, Blackwood, NJ

 

I had come home for spring break from my college (University of Southern California) really craving a good night of theatre…and Cyrano was that and much more.…my only complaint about Cyrano was that it ended. –Zach, Philadelphia, PA
 

 

By: Jessica West, Associate Production Manager

I recently remarked to a friend that Superior Donuts just might make it into my “Arden Top 10” list.  He replied, “Well if YOU say Donuts is in the top 10 that means something to me.”  That one small comment got me thinking.  How many Arden productions have I seen over my 10½ years with the company? Could I distill those 73 productions into a tidy list of ten shows?

Jessi’s Arden Top 10 List in no particular order

1. Opus (2005-2006 Season)

Words.  Words.  Words.  This play is all about the words for me.  The dialogue and language are lovely and markedly relatable.  You really care about the quartet members and their relationships as you follow their story.

2. History Boys (2009-2010 Season)

It’s an amazing story with engrossing characters and some truly fantastic dialogue.  In addition to those top notch elements, I loved the elegance of the scene transitions in this piece. Jorge Cousineu’s musical selections coupled with the dance-like choreography and the wheeled desks gave the scene changes that feeling of in between class hustle and bustle that I remember so vividly from my own experiences in private school.

3. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (2009-2010 Season)

The kids in preview performances were so excited that they were quite literally quivering in their seats as the Mouse wrecked havoc on the Boy’s kitchen.  In a world where everything was 1.42 times bigger than real life, big props and furniture translate into big fun for actors and audiences alike.

4. Superior Donuts (2010-2011 Season)

It isn’t the amazing set, the super talented cast or the fantastic script that puts Donuts on my list.  It is the collective and commanding reaction of the audiences to the piece.  There are moments during the play when the entire audience laughs, sighs and gasps together.  Now that shows some personal investment in the characters you’re watching.

5. Sweeney Todd (2004-2005 Season)

Epic is the word that comes to mind when I think of our production of Sweeney Todd.  The entire room was integrated.  Lines between audience member and participant were blurred.  Oh and there is also the sweeping score and the astounding amount of blood to consider.  Bloody great show!

6. Go, Dog. Go! (2007 – 2008 Season)

This show exudes joy and enthusiasm from start to finish.  The feeling you get from an audience of energized, engaged kids makes producing children’s theatre profoundly rewarding.  This candy colored tour de force had them tittering from the time MC Dog rolled onstage in skates until the Big Dog party at the end.  Silliness was celebrated and my heart was won many times over by MC Dog, Blue Dog, Yellow Dog, Green Dog, Spotted Dog, Backstage Dog and Red Dog (or as I like to call him Tall Dog).

7. Stinky Cheeseman (2005-2006 Season)

If Go, Dog. Go! was pure joy realized on stage than Stinky Cheeseman was pure chaos.  Well executed and highly choreographed chaos, mind you, but chaos nonetheless.  Jack never stopped running around and neither did the crew!

8.  Sideway Stories From the Wayside School (2003-2004 Season)

Gym teachers that scale buildings, evil teachers who turn students into apples and dancing pigtails…what’s not to love?  I still have one of the pictures from Mrs. Gorp’s classroom hanging in my office.

9. A Year with Frog and Toad (2004-2005 Season & 2008-2009 Season)

There are 3 things you can’t dispute.  Both Frog and Toad shows were beyond cute, the design teams were really quite astute and Toad looks funny in a bathing suit.  The second iteration of this show holds special meaning for me.  I took friend Stephen and his kids (Evan, Age 6 ½ and Aliyah, Age 3 ½) to the show.  I was skeptical that Aliyah would be able to make it until the end but she sat in her dad’s lap transfixed by the actors.  They now have what their father calls “a strong love for anything theatre”.  That is exactly the kind of effect we hope to have on our young audience members and it’s humbling to know that we can and do just that.

10. Caroline, or Change (2006-2007 Season)

The set, lights, costumes, music, voices, acting…everything was beautifully executed and made me stand in awe of the group who collaborated to create the production.  There is a moment when the radio girls descend the stairs during “Salty Teardrops “; their dresses seeming to emanate sparks of light from within.  The backlight is practically electrifying the air while illuminating the rain drops falling to the stage floor.  As their voices swelled, that moment made my breath catch in my chest and I realized that…this is why I do theatre.

Honorable Mentions: Baby Case (2001-2002 Season), Assassins (2007-2008 Season), Peter Pan (2009-2010 Season), All My Sons (2002-2003 Season), The Dinosaur Musical (2005-2006 Season), and The BFG(2006-2007 Season)

***I know the challenge was to limit the list to only 10 shows but since these were all strong contenders, I’ve included some honorable mentions.

Stay tuned for “Arden Top 10” lists from other staff members that have been working at the Arden more than 10 years.

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