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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!

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 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…”

 

By Mark Kennedy, Arden Professional Apprentice Class 17

110% 

That’s what the Arden teaches its Professional Apprentices, the six young professionals entering the Philadelphia theatre community with a 10-month job at the Arden working in every department all day every day, to give of themselves. 110%.

Philly theatre artists are no strangers to giving more than it all, especially during the Live Arts/Fringe season every September. The Arden has started catching up with a few of its graduated APAs to see what they’re up to during Fringe time, which is usually a lot.

I have been fortunate enough to produce, write, and perform a solo performance piece at the Fleisher Art Memorial Sanctuary about a lovelorn little servant named Checkers, which I adapted from an absurdist play called Ivona, Princess of Burgundia. To meet dear Checkers in a few short and silly video trailers, click here and here.
I was an APA during the Arden’s 2009/2010 season (Class 17) and if I hadn’t had the job I would be nowhere near producing, writing, or performing anything that came from my own brain today. Confidence in my abilities aside, the apprenticeship gave me the hands-on knowledge about, well, everything you need to make the project actually happen. Specifically it taught me, amongst an infinite amount of other things, how to fundraise. Funnily enough, we ended up with 110% of our goal after two weeks. There’s that 110% again.

After the apprenticeship, many former APAs choose to stay in Philly and work in theatre here. You’ll see them pop up everywhere, if you look closely. Here’s just a taste of what some of my fellow former APAs are up to in and around the Fringe:

Katherine Fritz (Class 16), is costume designer for The Speed of Surprise! by the Groundswell Players, along with actor/creator Scott Shepard (Class 15), light designer Dominic Chacon (Class 10), and stage manager Bryan Kerr (recently graduated Class 18). She’s also costume advisor for the Philadelphia Artist Collective’s The Oresteia Project. When she’s not doing THAT, she’s working on her costume designs for 1812 Productions’ Mistakes Were Made and Flashpoint Theatre Company’s Fat Cat Killers, coming soon after the Fringe.
Meredith Sonnen (Class 17) is assistant stage manager for New Paradise Laboratories’ Extremely Public Displays of Privacy (I’m also helping coordinate the interactive walking tours for their Act II: Displays, and working on NPL’s new website, Frame). Meredith is also involved in the production management of Applied Mechanics’ Overseers, which includes Thomas Choinacky (Class 15) as a performer/creator.

Maura Roche (Class 16) is scenic designer for 11th Hour Theatre Company’s The Bomb-itty of Errors, with sound designer Mark Valenzuela (Class 12) and lighting designer Dominic Chacon (Class 10), and she’s production manager and scenic designer for Theatre Horizon’s Kimberly Akimbo, with technical director Jefferson Haynes (Class 10).

Hillary Rea (Class 16) is performing in Philly Improv Theatre’s Dark ComedyTara Demmy (Class 18) is performing in Philly Improv Thaetre’s Fresh Laughs, working on marketing for OMBELICO Mask Ensemble’s Run, Grunt, Sing: An Open-Air Theatric, and working as Volunteer Coordinator for the Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival. Check in to volunteer if you’d like to help out! Anneliese Van Arsdale (Class 13) works for the Festival as Development Manager.

Georgia Schlessman (Class 12) is Master Electrician at the Lantern Theatre Company and Temple University, and is on tech staff for the Live Arts Festival and overhire for many companies, recently including Pig Iron Theatre Company, the Wilma Theater, Rude Mechanicals, and Swim Pony, to name a few.
Erin Read (Class 14), former Artistic Assistant at the Arden, is working in the Live Arts/Fringe Box Office and is rehearsing for her role in Simpatico Theatre Project’s Dead Man’s Cell PhoneSteve Gravelle (Class 14) is working as Second Lead Dresser for Aspects of Love at the Walnut Street Theatre.

Courtney Spiker Martin (Class 11), the Arden’s Business Manager, and Andrew Wojtek (Class 18), working in Development at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, promised me they’d be avid supporters of their APA friends.
Join them, and check out these shows!

110%.

That’s what the Arden teaches its Professional Apprentices, the six young professionals entering the Philadelphia theatre community with a 10-month job at the Arden working in every department all day every day, to give of themselves. 110%.
Philly theatre artists are no strangers to giving more than it all, especially during the Live Arts/Fringe season every September. The Arden has started catching up with a few of its graduated APAs to see what they’re up to during Fringe time, which is usually a lot.
I have been fortunate enough to produce, write, and perform a solo performance piece at the Fleisher Art Memorial Sanctuary about a lovelorn little servant named Checkers, which I adapted from an absurdist play called Ivona, Princess of Burgundia. To meet dear Checkers in a few short and silly video trailers, click here and here.
I was an APA during the Arden’s 2009/2010 season (Class 17) and if I hadn’t had the job I would be nowhere near producing, writing, or performing anything that came from my own brain today. Confidence in my abilities aside, the apprenticeship gave me the hands-on knowledge about, well, everything you need to make the project actually happen. Specifically it taught me, amongst an infinite amount of other things, how to fundraise. Funnily enough, we ended up with 110% of our goal after two weeks. There’s that 110% again.
After the apprenticeship, many former APAs choose to stay in Philly and work in theatre here. You’ll see them pop up everywhere, if you look closely. Here’s just a taste of what some of my fellow former APAs are up to in and around the Fringe:
Katherine Fritz (Class 16), is costume designer for The Speed of Surprise! by the Groundswell Players, along with actor/creator Scott Shepard (Class 15), light designer Dominic Chacon (Class 10), and stage manager Bryan Kerr (recently graduated Class 18). She’s also costume advisor for the Philadelphia Artist Collective’s The Oresteia Project. When she’s not doing THAT, she’s working on her costume designs for 1812 Productions’ Mistakes Were Made and Flashpoint Theatre Company’s Fat Cat Killers, coming soon after the Fringe.
Meredith Sonnen (Class 17) is assistant stage manager for New Paradise Laboratories’ Extremely Public Displays of Privacy (I’m also helping coordinate the interactive walking tours for their Act II: Displays, and working on NPL’s new website, Frame). Meredith is also involved in the production management of Applied Mechanics’ Overseers, which includes Thomas Choinacky (Class 15) as a performer/creator.
Maura Roche (Class 16) is scenic designer for 11th Hour Theatre Company’s The Bomb-itty of Errors, with sound designer Mark Valenzuela (Class 12) and lighting designer Dominic Chacon (Class 10), and she’s production manager and scenic designer for Theatre Horizon’s Kimberly Akimbo, with technical director Jefferson Haynes (Class 10).
Hillary Rea (Class 16) is performing in Philly Improv Theatre’s Dark ComedyTara Demmy (Class 18) is performing in Philly Improv Thaetre’s Fresh Laughs, working on marketing for OMBELICO Mask Ensemble’s Run, Grunt, Sing: An Open-Air Theatric, and working as Volunteer Coordinator for the Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival. Check in to volunteer if you’d like to help out! Anneliese Van Arsdale (Class 13) works for the Festival as Development Manager.
Georgia Schlessman (Class 12) is Master Electrician at the Lantern Theatre Company and Temple University, and is on tech staff for the Live Arts Festival and overhire for many companies, recently including Pig Iron Theatre Company, the Wilma Theater, Rude Mechanicals, and Swim Pony, to name a few.
Erin Read (Class 14), former Artistic Assistant at the Arden, is working in the Live Arts/Fringe Box Office and is rehearsing for her role in Simpatico Theatre Project’s Dead Man’s Cell PhoneSteve Gravelle (Class 14) is working as Second Lead Dresser for Aspects of Love at the Walnut Street Theatre.
Courtney Spiker Martin (Class 11), the Arden’s Business Manager, and Andrew Wojtek (Class 18), working in Development at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, promised me they’d be avid supporters of their APA friends.

Join them, and check out these shows!


By Harry Watermeier

Arden Professional Apprentice

 My time at The Arden as a Professional Apprentice is hurtling to a close. My contract is up on June 19th, and, in these closing weeks, I’ve begun to reflect upon the lessons I’ve learned, the choices I’ve made, and any other pop song lyrics that come to mind. These “reflection sessions” morph into “uncontrollable wincing sessions” pretty quickly. Which isn’t to say that I’ve had an unpleasant time at The Arden, not at all—just that, well, this apprenticeship has been a real (and ultimately rewarding) challenge. Over the past nine months I’ve learned: I’m not particularly good with a copier, I’m kind of dangerous when driving in a city, basic Microsoft Office programs like Word and Excel are extremely challenging, I might have a dog allergy, sometimes I simultaneously “talk too fast” and “stammer”—which, I guess makes me hard to understand, find multitasking a touch difficult because I think each individual task will get jealous of the others, and, when I’m nervous, get the neck sweats. However, every so often a seemingly insurmountable problem was laid in front of me, and I was able to conquer it. Last week, such a problem was presented to me.

 Around lunch time, I was sitting in the green room (that’s showbiz talk for “break room”) eating my daily ration of Ramen when Bryan— fellow APA and Assistant Stage Manager for The Flea and the Professor—burst through the door.

 “Harry, welcome to the exciting world of theatre,” Bryan said as he quickly unwrapped the cords of a microphone headset.

 “What do you mean?” I asked as little bits of Ramen fell from my mouth onto the table.

 “Keighty’s sick, and you have to operate the follow spot right now.”

 “That’s really funny, Bryan.”

 “Nope. I mean it. You really have to go up to the catwalks and get on the follow spot. Let’s go,” he said sternly as he handed me the mic pack.  

 “That’s super funny?”

 This exchange went on for a while until Bryan got kind of upset. I then dashed up to the catwalks, high above the audience, sat down behind the light, and proceeded to get the neck sweats.

 The Flea and the Professor is the last show that will grace the Otto Haas stage this season. It’s a kinetic musical comedy, reminiscent of the most madcap and sophisticated Warner Brother’s cartoons. I really adore the show, and feel like it’s a joyous way to end the season. Technically, the show is extremely complicated, and requires a large crew of sound technicians, stage assistants, and spot light operators (or follow spots.) These professional stage crew members are essential to the show—so essential in fact, that during the run of the show, apprentices shadow them multiple times. Basically, we have a number of training sessions with crew members to learn what functions they perform so that we can fill in if they were to become unavailable. I was assigned to shadow both of the follow spot operators— far more capable and intelligent people than I named Keighty and Ashley. As a follow spot (I’m italicizing it so you know that it’s an important vocabulary word that will totally show up on the exam. Totally won’t be on the exam.), it’s their job to operate a spot light. Keighty and Ashley light and follow various actors throughout the show, and execute several complex movements to achieve special lighting effects. It’s a difficult job—hats off to Keighty and Ashley, guys. Before the aforementioned episode, I had a couple of training sessions with the two of them—they showed me some basic elements of the lighting instruments, and took me through their responsibilities, light cue by light cue.

 These preliminary training sessions were interesting, and certainly helpful. They did not, however, make me feel as though I were a skilled spot light operator. 

 Bryan asked me to jump on the follow spot a few days after my training sessions with Keighty and Ashley. Of course I didn’t feel ready or capable to operate a spot light—a crucial instrument in the creation of Flea and the Professor’s aesthetic.

 I perched behind Keighty’s spotlight (see scary photo–this was my P.O.V from Keighty’s spotlight. Isn’t it a strange angle?), desperately tried to read her cue list, and listen to commands given to me by the stage manager over headset—all in an effort to execute Keighty’s lighting effects. And I, much to my and I’m sure the entire crew’s surprise, was able to execute said effects pretty gracefully. Now Keighty, being the trooper that she is, was able to complete the bulk of her duties as follow spot that day. I only had to fill in for a terrifying moment or two. Still, I will remember my follow spot adventure as a critical moment that encapsulated my experience as an apprentice. After crouching in the darkness of the catwalks, behind a searing hot light encased in a metal cocoon, executing lighting effects (an act which was totally foreign to me a matter of days before), and staying relatively calm while doing so, I felt pretty proud. I don’t often have that feeling (I usually confuse it with nausea) so when I do, I know something exceptional has just happened. I saw operating the spot light as an insurmountable task; I saw the lighting instrument as a machine with which I would be wholly incompetent. And yet, (with the help of a fantastic team of very smart people) I was able to execute all necessary lighting cues. The light didn’t fall from the ceiling, I didn’t fall from the ceiling, and the show didn’t fall apart. Therein lies the heart of the APA Program’s potential: at its very best, the program has the ability to endow the apprentices with a confidence and skill set that they would never dream of having.

I ran a real live spot light during a real live show. Who’d of thought?

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