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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!

A View from the Trenches: Class 16 reflects on their year as apprentices.

The six members of APA Class 16 are in their final days of the apprenticeship. For the last four weeks, Bobby, Katherine, Hillary, Maura, Richard and Gary have been knee deep in producing, designing, building, and acting in Slightly Irregular – an evening of four ten-minute plays with comic interludes.

Performances take place Saturday June 13 at 8pm and Sunday June 14 at 7pm on the Arcadia Stage. Tickets are free but reservations are strongly encouraged. To reserve your tickets please call the Arden Box Office 215.922.1222.

Bobby

When ever people ask me what I’ve learned this year, I’ve found myself at a loss for words. It’s not that I haven’t learned anything, but that I’ve experienced so much that it’s hard to articulate exactly what. I settle for telling them that I don’t think I’ll realize what I’ve learned until the apprenticeship is over, when everything sinks in. I was surprised to find through working on this showcase that it has already sunk in, it has just become such an inextricable part of the way I operate and think about my life in theatre that I didn’t realize the change had occurred. I have the confidence to know that I can create and produce theatre, in my newfound Philadelphia community and elsewhere, because of who this program has shaped me to be. I love the creative process of making this show, and it is exhilarating to use my administrative skills to make it a reality, but the most satisfying thing about it is seeing the person I have become as a result.

Katherine

While I consciously know that my days at the Arden can be counted on one hand, it’s not a thought I really can process at the moment! Our last few days have been filled with preparations for the showcase – and in my case, it feels really, really nice to be back in the costume shop after a year of trying out everything else. And although a large part of me is so happy to be back designing costumes again, I have to say that the additional challenges of the showcase duties (in my case, learning how to use graphic design softwares such as Photoshop and Quark to produce the postcard and additional printed materials) have been incredibly useful and wonderful. How lucky to end my tenure at the Arden by both returning to a long-loved passion as well as being challenged to try new things!

Hillary

All season long I have been dreaming up the perfect apprentice survival kit. It started out as tiny jokes during Facilities Maintenance or an Opening Night party. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a door stopper that could shoot out of our sneakers?” I exclaimed on several occasions. As the season went on, more and more ideas popped up for imaginative ways to go “above and beyond” during the apprenticeship. Maura came up with the “Hydration Station” – a contraption that would fit on our heads and allow us to have both coffee and water at all times. All six members of Class 16 have come up with perfect solutions for solving Arden problems with the little help of an extra arm, leg, zip cord, utility belt, etc. During our last couple of weeks working on the showcase we have collaborated on every aspect of building our own production, Slightly Irregular, from start to finish. In addition we have created the ultimate APA survival tool which we have coined The Apprendage. (Katherine created a mock-up of our genius invention for the Slightly Irregular program.) I truly believe that The Apprendage is a culmination of our great success of working as a team and that even though we are all truly different, we somehow meld together to create something great…yet slightly irregular.

Maura

On Monday night the six apprentices had a meeting at the end of another long day. We were all at the end of a shift that had lasted anywhere between 12 and 16 hours (even for those who had the day off). Our muscles ached, our brains were frazzled, and our stomachs were empty. As we inhaled pizza from Soho and sipped on the case of beer that was given to us earlier in the year (listed on our budget under assets: “a case of beer”), we began to chip away at the long list of things that still need to be figured out and finished before opening this Saturday. As I looked around the table, I could hardly believe that we are here in the week that every apprentice is warned about: the deadly final week before the showcase. This week is infamous for sleepless nights, stress, tears, fights, and even trips to the hospital. This is the week that we have been preparing for all year: the last lap of our marathon, the consummate workweek, the final countdown. Yet, sitting in the meeting, I realized that if we put aside all of the painting, sewing, building, marketing, and fundraising that we’ve been so consumed with in order to prove what we’ve learned this year, we are still left with something unique and special: each other. It is corny, I know, but as we teased and laughed and loopily attempted to have a serious meeting, I realized that coming out of this year I am now blessed with five people who I would never have met otherwise, who now know me better than most people, and who I will truly consider to be great friends. Maybe we’ll fight this week, maybe we’ll cry…but in the end I know we’ll be there for each other. And in that realization, I suddenly knew that this isn’t all about the show…it is also about us.

Richard

Wow! It’s the last week of our apprenticeship! A funny thing about this week is how I seem to be taking note of our final apprenticeship duties as we complete them. For example, I was scheduled for Facilities Maintenance this week, something I’ve done many times before, and it was kind of relieving and satisfying to realize that this is the last time I would have to replace toilet paper in the bathrooms or change the liners of coffee soaked garbage bins while spilling it all over my shoes. It also made me want to do an extra good job while doing it. I’ve found myself taking an unusual amount of pride in these little things. I’m realizing that they all add up to make the whole of what the Arden is: one large group project. Everybody in this building contributes something every day. It all amasses into a largely successful theatre company. It’s cool to be a part of that. A slightly smaller (but still big!) group project is the APA Class 16 Showcase, Slightly Irregular, which will be happening this weekend. I’m taking an especially large amount of pride in that. I think the pride I’m feeling has swelled from knowing that it’s bundled with something else. Knowing that everything I’ve done here has contributed both to me as an individual and to the company. Everything I do here helps us both to grow. Thank you to everyone at Arden Theatre Company for a wonderful experience!

Gary

For the showcase, I am acting as technical director and lighting designer. Over the course of the year I have spent much time working with the production department on various projects, however what makes the showcase special is how I will able to work on a project from start to finish. The demanding nature of the apprentice schedule does not allow working in the same place too long. We work in several different departments daily. One may see step 1 and step 3, but never have the opportunity to see step 2. Fortunately, the production staff has been a great help over the last month. This whole process I have found very empowering. Now that I have spent the last year learning how the Arden operates, it is a wonderful feeling to implement everything I have learned.

By Sarah Ollove, Assistant Director/Dramaturg/Amateur Cultural Anthropologist.

The goal of poker is win all the money in the room by playing as many >hands, or rounds, as it takes to either go bust (broke) or win it all. The game in The Seafarer is a variation on the standard poker game 5 Card Draw. The rules of 5 Card Draw are as follows:

Players organize themselves in a circle. Before the game begins, everyone wishing to play must ante up, which one accomplishes by putting a small designated amount, such as two euros, into the pot, a term for in the middle of the circle. Once one has put money into the pot, the only way to get it back is to win the hand.

One person is designated as the dealer. After the cards have been properly and exhaustively shuffled, the dealer deals 5 cards clockwise around the table. Each player may look at his own cards (his hand), but not those of the other players. Starting with the person left of the dealer and proceeding clockwise, each player can either fold, check, or bet. Folding means quitting, checking means passing to the next person. If everyone checks, then play is moved to the next stage. If someone bets, then those wishing to stay in the game must match the amount of money he puts into the pot or they can raise (bet higher than the initial bet). Once all bets have been seen, or met, play continues to the next stage.

Now each player has the chance to trade in unsatisfactory cards. Typically, a player will trade in no more than three cards – if he needs to trade in more, he probably should have folded in the first hand. Again, play starts left of the dealer and proceeds clockwise. Once all players have their new cards, a second round of betting takes place where players again choose to fold, check, or bet. Sometimes if a player reaches this stage and realizes that he cannot win, he will choose to bluff rather than fold. Players bluff by pretending he has a higher hand than he does, and betting accordingly. The goal here is to raise the stakes (or bets) so high that all the other players will fold. Otherwise, he will lose in the end.

After this round, players show their hands. The order of victory goes as follows, twos being the lowest numbers and aces the highest.

Type of Received Hand (Odds That You Get This Hand)

One Pair or Higher (1 in 2)
Pair of Jacks or Higher (1 in 5)
Pair Aces or Higher (1 in 9)
Two Pair or Higher (1 in 13)
Three of a Kind or Higher (1 in 35)
Straight or Higher (1 in 275)
Full House or Higher (1 in 600)
Four of a Kind or Higher (1 in 4,000)
Straight Flush (1 in 65,000)

The Seafarer Variation

The gentlemen in The Seafarer play a game very similar to 5 card draw, with a few variations. The most notable is the order of betting. Rather than the traditional clockwise rotation, the order is determined entirely by the dealer. When determining betting order, the dealer should aim for that which yields the highest dramatic or comedic effect. As much tension as possible should be maintained at all times. The other most important variation on traditional five card draw is that once someone is out of money, they can bet with anything they like such as a boat or the truth. So next time you have your friends over for poker night, consider making it more interesting by trying out the Seafarer Variation – you’ll soon find old secrets aired and friendships tested. If you play your cards right, you may even end the night with a year’s supply of beer, courtesy of all the losers.

Jon Ward, Properties Master at the Arden, discusses the tricky prop of Something Intangible.

When a play opens at the Arden, the Production Department is the first to kick back and celebrate. We’re the ones who have been putting in 10, 12, even 14 hour days during technical rehearsals and previews, after all. When a show is finally “locked”, we’re more than happy to hand over the day-to-day running of it to the trusty stage manager, her crew, and the cast.

But a Prop Master’s work is never done, as it turns out. Not really. Take Tony Wiston’s tennis racquet in Something Intangible. Bruce Graham’s script calls for Tony, the world renowned Hollywood cartoon mogul, to smash his racquet in half night after night as he puts the fear of God into rebellious whiz kid animator Leo Baxter.

Something Intangible runs for 7 weeks. That means 67 separate smashings, not including what happened during rehearsals and previews. Now, in a perfect world, we could purchase enough tennis racquets for the actor to smash a new one every night. But the world’s not perfect, and my budget’s not limitless.

Solving the – ahem – “Tennis Racquet Problem” has been one of my greatest challenges all year. Preview after preview, I’d gather in the house for notes with the director, the set designer, and the rest of the production team. What could we do? How could we design a racquet that could be broken and put back together again night after night? And not just any tennis racquet, mind you. A period specific tennis racquet. Something Intangible is set in the early 1940s, during the golden age of Hollywood animation, you see. The racquets they had then look very little like the ones we use today.

Wooden racquets chip and give actors splinters. Could we stain a modern-day metallic one? Or should we try building our own, specially rigged, “trick” racquet? It’s four weeks into the run, and I’m still trying to answer these questions. To date, we’ve gone through 10 separate racquets.

Are we closer to a solution?

All I can say is…thank goodness Conor McPherson never got it in his head to have those lovable louts in The Seafarer start tearing up their playing cards.

Thanks a lot, Bruce Graham!

Think you know more than our beloved Props Master? Feel free to post your own solutions to the “Tennis Racquet Problem” right here in the comments section of the Arden Blog.

Tickets to this world premiere are now just $10 for all performances through June 7!

By Sarah Ollove: Assistant Director/Dramaturg for The Seafarer, and Amateur Cultural Anthropologist.

Please note that while many North Dubliners can kiss their mothers with their mouths, the gentlemen of The Seafarer should not. The following contains an R rated word.

The Eskimos have 40 words for snow. The men in The Seafarer have around the same amount for drinking. If one is “jarred” or “bollixed, ” one is inebriated. To reach this state they might have imbibed “poteen,” an Irish cousin of moonshine or “meths,” methylated spirits. Neither of these can be bought at the “off-license,” which allows the customer to buy alcohol and take it off premises from “your man” (“this guy” in American slang). In order to pay for such goods, one can visit the “hole-in-the wall,” also called an ATM. Upon consuming the liquids, one will probably find the need to locate a “jacks” (restroom) because they will be “bursting for a slash” (possessed of an intense need to urinate).

If one frequently finds oneself jarred, then one is “on the lash.” This can occasionally result in some unfortunate behavior. One can be termed a “Head-the-Ball,” a “berk,” an “eejit,” or a “dozy fucking eejit,” all of which are different ways of calling one a scoundrel. One might be told to “go on out of that,” or, in other words, to cease. One faces the potential of being “reefed out of it,” which means suffering a severe dressing down.

After a wild night of being on the lash, a North Dubliner might embrace sobriety. If so, they have the option of having a Kaliber, a non-alcoholic beer, following the example set by Irish recovering alcoholic Matt Talbot in the 19th century.

So before you attend a performance of The Seafarer, make sure you’ve visited the jacks and maybe the hole-in-the-wall, and please, don’t come jarred or you’ll be reefed out of it, you berk.

Glenn Perlman, Technical Director at the Arden, discusses the challenging set of The Seafarer.

The setting for The Seafarer is a lower-level living room in Ireland, with actors entering from the second floor above. Veteran scenic designer David Gordon has cracked this design challenge by very cleverly integrating a suggested ceiling that comes out over the thrust playing space, indicated by a broken away section of floor boards and ceiling panels above and below large wooden beams. These beams run the entire length of the stage at about 14 feet above the floor, approximately half the height of the cavernous Haas stage.

Lighting designer John Hoey then called for the creation of a gridwork of steel pipes – affectionately named the “Mega-Grid” – to be installed a few feet above these beams, so as to be able to shoot lights between the beams without casting large, unnatural shadows on the stage.

So the Arden’s production staff engineered, created, and installed this new grid two feet above the set, about seven feet below the existing catwalks, in order to light this uniquely designed set. This visual compression of the height of the Haas should create the feeling of the dank, underground environment where the play takes place.

The Seafarer is on stage at the Arden May 14 – June 14.

A 10-minute interview with Philadelphia-based playwright Bruce Graham by theatre students from his alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

A View from the Trenches: APA Hillary discusses her experience as a teaching artist for Arden Drama School Spring Break Camp.

When I was 12 years old I learned how to tap dance. Once a week I would walk with my mom to St. Stephen’s Alley and meet up with my teacher, Juliana Schaurman and the four other students in class (they were all adults). And when the two hour class came to close I would immediately anticipate coming to next week’s lesson. On the days I didn’t have tap class, I tapped. If I was sitting at a desk at school, ask I was tapping under the table. If I was walking around Center City with my parents I was tapping every step of the way. I remember learning choreography to “Lazy River” and my favorite step was the Cincinnati. I have a clearer picture of what I learned in that tap class than the tap classes I took in college or even a year ago. Did I mention that this tap class was at the Arden?

Fourteen years later I am back at the Arden as an APA. It is because of my experience in that tap class that I get excited to see Arden Drama School listed on my weekly apprentice schedule. And, when I discovered I would be teaching dance classes all week during the Kids’ Crew Spring Break Camp, my excitement level quadrupled. I immediately began planning out a week’s worth of lessons. I flipped through all of my music, and surfed YouTube for some choreography ideas. I re-imagined the dance in my one-bedroom apartment and wrote down the structure, the steps and how I was going to teach this. I was so absorbed by it all that I even made some of my friends practice the dance with me.

The first dance class was off to a lukewarm start when the kids made fun of me for putting on the first High School Musical as their warm-up music. High School Musical 2 is the only cool one, I was informed. Oddly enough Pippin was acceptable and we carried on with our jazz hands and grape vines. As the week went on we learned the choreography for the dance that the students were going to perform in their Camp Show. I explained to them that even though they had to remember certain dance steps and certain positions on the stage, dance was actually story-telling through movement. By far their favorite section of the routine was the “free dance” where each student could dance however they wanted for eight counts of music. On Friday I managed to stop giving them hints by flailing my arms and legs in the back of the theater just in time to see the individual free dances. I could not stop smiling. They were fantastic.

I now have one more dance class that I will always remember. I hope that the boys and girls who came to Spring Break Camp will feel the same way. I look forward to continuing work as a teaching artist upon completion of the apprenticeship program and have a sneaking suspicion that there will be many more unforgettable students and classes to come.

By Matt Ocks: Assistant Director for Something Intangible

My role on this show pretty much ends in a few weeks. I’ll come watch the play as much as I can. As someone who was there for the rehearsal process, I’ll notice nuances in the performances that other people just can’t, and I’m fascinated to see how the actors delve even deeper into their roles. So many memories will stay with me: Snarky comments, March Madness, the hailstorm. And of course, there’s the story we’ve been telling every day. As befits an Arden show, Something Intangible is a great story, not just about Hollywood but about two brothers, often at odds. I think it is to Bruce Graham’s credit that the conflict between these brothers is not resolved in a tidy fashion.

Watching Dale go on the journey of learning to accept his brother Tony, in spite of the pain he has caused, every day for the past five weeks has been my honor. I take a small degree of ownership over the production that opens April 15th, but as I hope you can see, Something Intangible is very much a group effort. We started with a pile of pages (Great pages! Hilarious pages! But pages, nonetheless). We’re ending with a play. It’s a great play. It’s a hilarious play. Every now and then it’s a quietly devastating play. And I got to see it happen. “In-crowd” or “out-crowd,” I am tickled pink to be part of this crowd.

See you at the show.

By Matt Ocks: Assistant Director for Something Intangible

And then there’s that cast. In the roles of Tony and Dale Wiston, the Arden was smart enough to nab Scott Greer and Ian Peakes. Scott and Ian already are “brothers, ” even if they don’t have the same parents or the same last name, so we could skip the difficult step of having to construct that relationship between two strangers during rehearsals. The Wiston boys have been with us, and with each other, from day one.

Supporting Ian and Scott we have Sally Mercer as Dale’s trailblazing psychoanalyst, Sonia Feldman. Sally’s persevered through several different rehearsal chairs of varying comfort levels in our makeshift set. She’s also persevered through several different rehearsal candies (her character is a bit of a sweet tooth, even though she is not).Fortunately for Sally, Scott has generously stepped in to consume the candies she herself isn’t fond of. It’s saved us all a lot of heartache. No one wants to see Jolly Ranchers go to waste.

Rounding out the cast are Doug Hara and Walter Charles. I’ve seen Doug in several plays at the Arden, and have marveled at his physical prowess along with everyone else here. It’s been remarkable to watch him find not only the physicality but the emotional core of whiz kid animator Leo Baxter. Just the other night, sitting atop rehearsal cubes with a “do-for” whiskey bottle, he made a breakthrough in his big scene in Act 2, and I will not soon forget it.

One of my favorite rehearsal experiences to date was watching Walter Charles work with a dialect coach in preparation for his portrayal of the flamboyant – if a bit nefarious – German conductor Gustav Von Meyerhoff. Walter walked into the Arden conference room with a mental sketch for this character. He came back out an hour later with a fully fleshed out portrayal of a truly Teutonic tyrant.I cannot wait for our audiences to hear how he pronounces the word “quibbles.”

And as for our director – the captain of the ship, the leader of the pack – what makes Terry Nolen so brilliant is…well…Something Intangible. I’m not sure what to say about him, but I’ll give it a try. He is by turns loud and quiet, public and private, spontaneous and prepared. He is a drill sergeant and a cheerleader. And he is Yoda. “Do or do not. There is no try” in Terry Nolen rehearsals. I remain in awe.

And finally, I will write on this blog about Stage Management, because no one ever does. As much as everyone else I’ve just written about does, Stephanie Cook and Gary Thayer do ten times more. They record the blocking, they keep track of all the props, they make haircut appointments and schedule tanning sessions. They are the first to arrive and the last to depart, and that’ll be true every day for the next 9 weeks of performances. Fortunately for all of us, Stephanie and Gary were both born on Planet Krypton. They have x-ray vision and are impervious to physical pain, not to mention ribbing from knucklehead actors.

Check back tomorrow for Matt’s final post before previews begin on Thursday!

Matt Ocks is the Manager of Institutional Giving at the Arden. Currently, he is doubling as the Assistant Director of Something Intangible.

Dear Arden Insiders, >help

When I was in high school, I never got invited to parties with the “in-crowd”, but Something Intangible rehearsals have been nothing if not that. We have the cream of the Arden crop breathing life into this brand new play, and it has been my pleasure and great privilege as Assistant Director to serve as Fly on the Wall (with the occasional stint as Leader of the Line-Through, and slightly more frequent stints as Fetcher of the Coffee.).

I asked to work on this play because, as a young writer, I was eager to see how a playwright with more experience handles the rehearsal process. The mint on my pillow has been the chance to watch so many other brilliant artists – not just Bruce Graham, he of the shiny head and sharp wit – – but the director, actors, and designers, working at the top of their game. On those rare occasions when I get up the nerve, I actually get to engage with them as a colleague and fellow storyteller. It’s spine-tingling.

We’ve been lucky to have a phenomenal dramaturg join us from time to time in rehearsals, and for a discussion that often continues over late night e-mails among the rehearsal staff. Michele Volansky has helped us all hone in on exactly what story we are telling, and she gives the playwright a good kick in the pants when he needs it (and sometimes when he doesn’t, according to him).

And then there are the designers. We’ve got Jorge Cousineau doing sound. Even if you don’t know Jorge personally, you’ve seen his name in countless Arden programs, and I can vouch for his status as a master craftsman (or handwerksmeister, as they say in his native land). We’ve also got Jim Kronzer designing our set. The first year I worked at the Arden – a shy, sheepish apprentice – Kronzer decided it should rain in the Haas during Caroline, or Change, and our genius/miracle worker technical director Glenn Perlman made it happen.

We have just entered technical rehearsals for Something Intangible, where the designers and technicians come to the forefront of the creative process. I cannot wait to see what Cousineau, Kronzer, Perlman, and the other designers and technicians have cooked up for Graham’s play. To quote Something Intangible (sorry, I live and breathe it 6 days a week now), it is sure to be a “veritable feast for the senses.”

Check back on Monday for a new post from Matt about the cast.

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