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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!

By Megan Staples, >diagnosis Development Assistant

Click Here to Email Your Representative

We at the Arden believe in the power of the arts to strengthen communities, and we are not alone.  The nonprofit arts industry in the U.S. generates over $166 billion annually in economic activity, employs over 5 million people, and returns over $12 billion in federal income taxes.  Arden Theatre Company prides itself on creating more than just great theatre, and moved to Old City in 1995.  Two decades later, Old City is a thriving hub of activity, with enough foot traffic to support an array of local businesses.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will bring to the floor a Continuing Resolution appropriations package that proposes to cut dozens of federal agencies, among them National Endowment for the Arts (“NEA”), the National Endowment for the Humanities (“NEH”), Community Development Block Grants, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  It is also possible that additional amendments to further cut or completely eliminate these programs will be introduced on the floor this week.

NEA and NEH dollars are the critical lifeline helping state and local budgets survive. Drastic reductions in funding will not only affect arts programs nationwide, but will decrease the incredible return on investment these funds yield for federal, state and local treasuries.  As Americans for the Arts President & CEO Robert Lynch noted in a press statement, “The administration request of $146 million for the National Endowment for the Arts is a decrease of $21 million from the $167.5 million that Congress appropriated last year. The arts community recognizes the shared sacrifice being asked of all federal agencies to help reduce our national debt and is willing to do its part.  President Obama had acknowledged in his State of the Union that it was time to prioritize and identify the programs and agencies that work and invest in them to ‘win the future.’ The NEA is one of those agencies. It helps create jobs and drive economic activity … and is part of the solution to returning our economic vitality.”

NEA grants support a wide range of projects, which include invaluable educational programming.   Many Philadelphia-based arts education programs are currently at risk due to the economic downturn; on the other hand, the NEA’s recent grants have made it possible for these organizations to continue to support the region’s students.  The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance received $250,000 from NEA in 2009 to distribute to eligible arts groups impacted by the economy.  The funds redistributed by NEA directly benefited individual arts education programs, and allowed underserved students the possibility to experience the joy of the arts in Philadelphia.

It is our hope that you will help us communicate to Congress and President Obama’s Administration the vital benefits that the creative sector has on both our communities and our economy.  The arts stimulate our economy; NEA and NEH grants ensure access to the arts for underserved population.

Please use the following link to tell Congress that you support the arts and arts education: Click Here to Email Your Representative.

By Courtney Riggar, Production Manager

Hopefully this will be the first in a series of blog entries to keep you up to date on what some of our visiting artists are up to when they are not working here at the Arden.  We work with many talented designers, find who quickly become part of our family, so it is nice to keep up with them when they’re out and about.

You may have first seen Justin Townsend’s work on Caroline, Or Change where he was the lighting designer.  Caroline provided me with many goose bump moments, but my favorite moment by far was when the Radio started to sing Salty Teardrops and the stage was bathed in a beautiful blue with the moon glowing overhead and slowly rain started to fall upstage.  This counts among my top ten best theatre moments of all time, and I still get goose bumps just thinking of that song.  That was my first season at the Arden, and it was at that very moment that I knew I had finally found a home.

Justin has gone on to design the lights for several more shows here for us.  He created a wonderfully simple beauty in Our Town, his Auto Da Fe was electric in Candide, and he brought order to chaos in Sunday in the Park with George.  He has also collaborated with Terry in New York for the Primary Stages production of Opus.

So what is Justin up to these days?  He is the lighting designer of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson currently running on Broadway in the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.  Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson is a wild and crazy take on the life of; you guessed it, Andrew Jackson.  It is a little bit history and a little bit rock ‘n roll.  Check out the New York Times review of the show. It includes photos that showcase Justin’s work.

This is Justin’s first Broadway design, and here at the Arden we couldn’t be more thrilled that our friend is finding great success.  We are also looking forward to his return to us here at the Arden.  We don’t know when that will be just yet, but rest assured you haven’t heard the last of Justin Townsend.

Now that spring is in the air, we are planning our “summer projects”. In the short time we have between productions and rehearsals, every department has things we want to catch up on. One of the biggest projects upcoming for our 2010 summer break is the renovation of our rehearsal hall and backstage areas.

These renovations will be overseen by Kieran Timberlake, nurse the architects that renovated the Arden when we first moved to N. 2nd Street in 1995, including the design of our F. Otto Haas Stage. Our relationship with the firm has definitely grown since then! Richard Maimon, a principal at Kieran Timberlake is an Arden board member and James Timberlake, a partner at the firm, is a member of the Arden’s Sylvan Society.

While the Arden’s rehearsal hall renovation is certainly a large undertakingLondon Embassy for us, Kieran Timberlake has something even bigger on the horizon. They were recently selected to design the new US Embassy in London. You can read about their embassy design and see photos from The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post.  The Arden is proud to have such prestigious collaborators!

We’ll be sure to post updates on our summer projects, including these renovations, so keep checking the blog!

By Ed Sobel, Associate Artistic Director

If you are reading this, chances are you have at least a passing interest in the Arden and our programming. Maybe you are even loyal audiences or supporters. In any case, I’m willing to bet you have at times wondered, “How does the Arden decide what plays to do in its season?”

Most theaters won’t honestly respond to that question, for many reasons. Sometimes they won’t answer because choosing a season can be an ugly, cumbersome process, like sausage making and getting health care bills through Congress. Theater companies don’t want to seem venal or self-interested or capricious or insensitive to artists under consideration, so they don’t risk full exposure. Or sometimes they can’t answer, because they don’t know the answer themselves. They lose their mission, somewhere along the way, and don’t want to be reminded of it.

And I’m not going to answer the question for Arden. Yet.

First, I have to tell you it is a long, difficult and often challenging process. One learns to live with joy (as in, “Ah, this is a play so perfect for us and our audiences, and it’s fantastic, and we are going to do it!”) and much more often disappointment (as in, “Ahhhh, we can’t get the rights to produce this play because a Broadway producer has exclusively optioned them from now until summer 2014.”). We consider many, many, many plays before finally selecting the five you will see in the subscription season and the two for our children’s theater program.

I like risk. And I am now going to do a risky thing. (Don’t tell anyone.) I’d like to ask for your participation. And in return, I promise to be honest and transparent about our season planning process.

Send a comment to this post, with the one play you suggest we consider for the 2010-11 season, and in two or three sentences make the compelling case for why we ought to produce it. Remember, our mission is to tell great stories by great storytellers.

In subsequent posts, I will respond to some of your suggestions, and describe the process those plays go through in our season planning process.

To start off, and to up the ante, I will give you the full disclosure that we are close to “finalizing” (why I’ve put that in quotation marks will become clearer as we go through the coming weeks together) three of the plays for the 2010-11 subscription season, meaning there are likely only two slots left.

The only other thing I ask is that you read my 4th paragraph again. Understand the overwhelming odds are none of the plays suggested here will end up in the season. But then, one might. So if you are willing to risk a little disappointment, give us your best shot. At the very least, I promise we are all going to learn some things.

By Amy L. Murphy, Managing Director

We have been blessed in Philadelphia to have had leadership from an extraordinary woman, Peggy Amsterdam. As head of the Cultural Alliance, Peggy took a small and somewhat successful service organization and turned it into a power house in advocacy for the arts. Her intelligent and perseverant defense of the arts played a huge role in thwarting efforts this fall to eliminate funding for the arts in Pennsylvania.

Peggy died on Saturday. Throughout this fall’s intense campaign to save the arts in Pennsylvania, Peggy was being treated for an aggressive and rare cancer. And yet she was still at the head of this fight, refusing to give in to the effects of her treatment and making sure that her presence and her passionate views were known.

While I had known Peggy since she moved back to Philadelphia from Delaware, where she headed up Delaware‘s State Arts Fund, I became friends with her in 2005. She and I attended a program at Stanford that was professionally transformative for us both. In that time we shared our views (and love) for the city in which we lived and gained perspective on the impact that we could have on the arts landscape and the organizations we served. We also shared a personal bond. As the mother of two sons, Peggy understood the craziness of both my business and my personal life. And reveled in conquering both!

Peggy had a great sense of responsibility and took mentorship very seriously. She informally mentored me since 2005, sharing her great perspective and wisdom. I felt honored for this great gift and will always be grateful. She also took the time in her busy schedule to talk to Arden apprentices, young professionals who gained a great deal from her sharing of her professional path.

But ultimately what I will remember most about Peggy is her dynamic personality, her style (boy could she dress), her sparkling energy that was always ready for a challenge and to try something new, and her great love of her family and friends.

Her obituary can be found at: http://www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/80190042.html

I am thankful for the gift that was her friendship.

We are thrilled to report some great news for James Kronzer, the Barrymore-Award winning Set Designer for Something Intangible.

This Halloween, Jim decorated the North side of the White House! It’s quite an interesting leap to go from 1940s Hollywood to 2009 Washington D.C.

In addition to his work in Philadelphia, Jim designs extensively in Washington D.C. He is the recipient of mulitple Helen Hayes Awards (Washington D.C.’s version of the Barrymore Awards), which is how he received the honor of decorating the first family’s house for Halloween.

Jim said of his walk through at the White House “What an amazing place! I was totally overwhelmed by the history, paintings, sculpture and how friendly everyone was (even the secret service guys!). And how great to hang out on the North Portico for an hour!”

Jim decorated the White House with lots of pumpkins, hay bales and corn stalks, as well as large eyes in the windows. He even colored the fountain orange!

The First Lady, who dressed as Cat Woman, invited over 2000 kids from the DC area to come by and trick or treat.

You can see more pictures and read about Halloween at the White House in this article.

You can learn more about James Kronzer and his designs on his website jameskronzer.com. Who knows what he’ll be up to next!

Check out this article that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday, February 24: Philadelphia fine arts scene goes where youth are.

And while you’re at it, become a fan of our Facebook page and see what all the buzz is about!

Arden Theatre Company has a strong commitment to developing and producing new work, in 21 seasons we have produced 30 world premieres including My Name Is Asher Lev and Something Intangible this season. Plays that premiered at the Arden have gone on to be performed at more than 60 other theatres in cities such as New York, London, Chicago, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Past premieres include Opus, Incorruptible, Baby Case, The Chosen, and Red Herring, among others.

When a show goes on to be produced at another theatre in this country (and occasionally even internationally!) it helps build the reputation of both the Arden and the playwright. It is also incredibly gratifying when people in our local community are inspired by a show at the Arden and go on to produce it themselves.

Most recently, the students at Penncrest High School performed Red Herring, a play by Michael Hollinger that debuted at the Arden in 2000. One of the performers in the show shared her thoughts with us:

This year at Penncrest High School in Media, Pennsylvania, we performed RED HERRING, a Michael Hollinger play that debuted at the Arden. Our director saw this play and saw an opportunity for a great production that has contemporary humor and an eccentric cast of characters. The production was a challenging and rewarding one that gave us, as actors, plenty of space to experiment in a way that other more traditional plays would not have. We owe Arden Theatre Company deep thanks for presenting this play so that it was available to us – RED HERRING was a huge success! Thanks, Gwyn

Red Herring has been produced at over 25 theatres across the country since its premiere at the Arden nine years ago. Other community performances of Red Herring include past productions at Abington Friends School, St. Joseph’s Prep (directed by Tony Braithwaite) and, later this spring, at Drexel University.

Have you ever seen an Arden world premiere here and again at another theatre? Tell us about it!

Sally Wojcik, the Arden’s Education and Group Services Manager, chats about her and Will Lambrakos, the Arden’s Master Carpenter, wedding plans for August.

Following in a long line of Arden couples, Will (the Arden’s Master Carpenter) and I (the Arden’s Education and Group Services Manager – yes the company’s longest title) are getting married! We met in April of 2004 while I was finishing my final semester at Albright College in Reading. I was cast in Much Ado about Nothing with Will’s friend’s sister. When this friend needed a last minute theatre buddy, Will took the extra ticket. A few short months later, we were dating. That fall, I started the Arden Professional Apprentice Program. For those of you who have read Hilary’s blog entry, you know it’s a pretty grueling experience. Will was always there after those long days with a ready ear and very often a hot meal (a sure way straight to my heart!). I’m not sure I could have weathered those ten months without him. These days, we’re lucky enough to work together. Will joined the Arden staff in 2007 and works in the production department. Regardless of how busy things get, we at least have those few minutes on the way to and from work to spend together. Our little family is rounded out by our feisty miniature doxie, Petey (some of you may remember him from his staring role on last season’s Go, Dog. Go! poster). If ever you stop by the Arden office, Petey will be sure to greet you.

We’ll be getting hitched this August in an outdoor extravaganza in Spring City, PA.. Will and I are both transplants to Philadelphia – Will is originally from Toronto and I grew up in Massachusetts. We’ll have a lot of relatives descending from the north. The entire Arden staff is also on the invite list. We’re anticipating quite a party. And let’s not forget all our colleagues who we have roped into helping us out: Jenn Peck (our General Manager) is a bridesmaid extraordinaire, Alison Roberts (our Costume Supervisor) is altering my dress and sound guru Larry Fowler will be the DJ. The wedding is still six months away. Who knows what other fun jobs we’ll come up with before then…We’ll be sure to post a follow up entry (and some pictures!) in late August. And for those of you who are wondering…Petey will not be making an appearance on the wedding day. We can’t trust him not to eat the rings!

Dennis Smeal, literary manager for the Arden, discusses the workshop of his new play, Meticulous Gentlemen.

So the name of the play is Meticulous Gentlemen and I wrote the first draft exactly two years ago. When it wasn’t immediately greeted with unanimous praise, submitted for the Pulitzer Prize for best unproduced play and placed on the Arden production schedule, Terry told me, “Smeal, if you wanted to write an easily producible play, you would have. But you didn’t. You wrote a play that needs a workshop first, and you want a 68 year old British actor and a 45 year old American actor with very specific looks and sexual orientations which you probably shouldn’t reveal if you ever actually get that workshop and find yourself blogging about it.” Terry actually said some of that – the first part. Anyway, the workshop is finally happening and what is unspoken and unpromised and TOTALLY the elephant in the room is that if all goes well and I do my job and turn this rough draft into something that will amuse and inform and transport Arden audiences to another world through the miracle of storytelling, it might (finances, designers and actors availability pending) make it onto the production schedule next year!

The first day of the workshop consisted of the actors, Russell Leib (Caroline, or Change) and Ian Merrill Peakes (All My Sons, etc.) reading the play once straight through, and then reading through the first act and talking about it. This was the absolutely first time I’d ever heard the play out loud per Terry’s request. I had never been able to hold out before but now that Terry is the director of an Obie Award nominated play and an Emmy nominated short film, I guess we all should maybe pay a little more attention to what he says, right?

The actors read the play. The actors are awesome. The play has its moment. (Oops that was a typo. I meant to say “moments” but think I should leave it that way now. Maybe it’s a Freudian slip. Well, not exactly Freudian because it’s not sexual, so more of a non-Freudian slip. I guess that would be just a slip.) But you know what IS sexual? This play. It’s actually got sex stuff I can’t describe on a website your children might read. And it’s gay. The Arden is going to try to tell you that you don’t have to be gay to like this play, and while that’s true enough, trust me, you’ll like it best if you’re gay or you know someone who’s gay or you wish you were gay or you wish you knew someone who’s gay. ‘Cause there’s a lot of gay in this play. For example, the word “gay” is used 72 times in the play. To be fair, 9 of those times is in rapid succession and in reference to a beloved American composer who isn’t Sondheim. That’s actually a good test of whether you would like this play. If you know who that probably is, you would like this play. If you don’t know who that is or might be, you ought to see this play anyway because while you might not like it, it will be good for you.

Anyway, bottom line at the end of day one – the first act has some problems and apparently it’s the playwright’s job to fix them. So I take my script to Fork where the lovely Ellen is leaving to go to a holiday party in a lovely black frock and after a hug from her I get to work. Hugs from Ellen are one of my playwriting secrets. Ssshh. I don’t need Michael Hollinger or Bruce Graham hearing about this. They already have the advantage of having been born with a lot more words than I was. Terry seems to think they just make better use of their time and talents but I know it’s all in the number of words you were born with. By the way, at Fork, I have the Chef’s Selection of tapas which includes the most amazing calamari ever, delicious albondigas, and a pretty terrific crab cake in a spicy but not too spicy aioli. I sit at the bar for four hours and rewrite the first 30 pages of the play, trying to make it “flow” better and hopefully making it less “bumpy”. Here’s what I try to do. I try to NOT be smart, ’cause I like to be smart but being smart is easy. I try instead to be honest, which is hard. That’s one of the interesting things about storytelling.

You’re making something up, which is inherently a lie, but then you have to make it honest if you really want anyone to connect with it. So basically the rule is “Lie honestly.” So this is what I try to do. Then back to the Artist’s House to type the pages, call home and get some sleep.

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