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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. 

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