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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 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. 

The Arden’s upcoming production of the world premiere of Michael Hollinger’s Under the Skin has sparked some interesting conversations about kidney donation within the Arden community. Would you give up your kidney for a parent? For your child? For a sibling? For all of your siblings? For a stranger? Below are three stories of people who answered yes to someone. If you have a story about how you or a loved one has been affected by organ donation, >medical please use the comment section to share!

Joan Saltzman:

I found John, my Mr. Right, when I was forty-six. He had end-stage kidney disease. John’s nephrologist suggested I become a living donor. No way, I thought, this medical malpractice lawyer was not volunteering for unnecessary surgery. John became more ill; he was ashen. I changed my mind. I saw John just after my kidney was implanted; his skin was, miraculously, already pink. Giving John my kidney was the best thing I have ever done. I had given new life to someone I already loved.

Joan has written a book about her experience entitled Mr. Right and My Left Kidney

Marie Manley:

My husband, Bob and I have four children and we were very involved in our parish and neighborhood while the children were younger. We moved a few years ago and it was while sitting in our new church one Sunday that I thought about how little we were doing for our new community. The following Sunday I read a plea for help in our parish bulletin, a request from a young woman, Christine for a kidney. After reading the letter and finding that I met the initial criteria, I leaned over to my husband and said, “I can do this”. That morning, every hymn, reading and the sermon itself were all about giving. We were both touched by the ‘sharing’ message and after Mass Bob said, we should go for it. So hand in hand, as we approach all things, Bob and I began the process. We decided that we would research the logistics before presenting it to the children. My concern was that our decision would further burden us financially, which turned out not to be the case. Bob was beginning a new job and we were tuition-poor with our girls away in college and our boys attending Cardinal O’Hara high school. My first search on the computer was for “the financial risk to a kidney donor”. Without my knowing it, our drama queen, who was home for the weekend, began reading over my shoulder and shrieked, “Are things so bad now, that you’re selling your organs?”…so much for not involving the kids! I explained to her what we were considering and told our other children, knowing it was too big a secret for Sarah to keep. The girls were a little more anxious about the plan while the boys were more like yeah, well, that is a little weird Mom even for you!

Once we met with the transplant coordinator and began the testing, our daughters went to some of the appointments so that they could hear first-hand, the risks and benefits of organ donation. Our nurse was terrific explaining in full detail the entire process. She was a wealth of information and made us all feel confident that we were making an informed decision. After those meetings, the children gave us their blessing and supported Bob and I throughout the process. It was a family gift to a person in need. At this point I still had not met my recipient. I decided to remain anonymous for a few reasons; one of which is that I wanted our children to have the last say and if they were not comfortable with the surgery, I would have had to back out.

Another reason was that I did not want Christine to worry about me. I was sure she would be concerned about the ‘donor’ but if she did not know me personally, I hoped she could concentrate more on her own healing. The last reason to remain anonymous was that I did not want to be interviewed by Oprah. You laugh but right after our surgery, it was all over the news about the Starbucks barista who gave to a customer, a Minister who donated to a Rabbi and the first simultaneous six-way transplant at John Hopkins in Baltimore. Everywhere I turned there was a public kidney-thing going on! This publicity was not for me. My kidney was a personal gift to Christine and it would feel boastful telling anyone else about it. Besides, this gift was not about me. My prayer every morning before I even get out of bed is “Lead Me Lord”. …and He did.

My prayer for direction intersected with Christine’s prayer for help…it was as simple as that. The surgery went very well and a month later I was asked to talk to a potential donor. After listening to the woman talk about donating to her friend, I felt something missing in our experience and I e-mailed Christine. We met on Mother’s day, 2 months after our surgery. We developed an immediate and very close relationship, one that defies explanation. We are closer than friends are, different from family. I thought I had everything I needed, that my life was complete until I met this young woman and her family. Yes, I am her donor but more importantly, I am a recipient. It was through my giving to Christine that I received– renewed faith, enhanced compassion and empathy for others, gratitude for all of God’s blessings. I continue to learn courage and determination, witnessing the daily challenges of the chronically ill. My life was transformed by this awesome experience. I thank God for the direction and I thank Christine for her request.
On March 11th it will be 5 years since the transplant. As Bob and I volunteer with Gift of Life, I am slowly ‘coming out’ of the anonymous closet. I understand now that the importance of promoting donor awareness supersedes my need for obscurity.…and again, just when I thought life could not get any better…my journey took another turn…This kidney is the gift that keeps on giving.

When our oldest daughter Kristin became engaged, I felt it was time to go back to work fulltime. For twenty-four years, I was able to work part time and be home with our children. Then all of a sudden I was home and they were not! My friend suggested looking at area hospitals for openings. This did not make a bit of sense to me since I had been a retail vendor most of my life. Nevertheless…again… I followed direction and the first hospital and the first position that came up in my search was Transplant Assistant in the Lankenau Kidney Transplant Program.
I know this was not a coincidence. I have loved my job for more than 5 years now. I witness first hand how the frail and needy among us receive hope and healing through selfless acts of others. The look on their faces the morning after transplant is priceless and humbling.

I understand that living donation is not for everyone…but I ask you for two things: One: please consider donating your organs and tissue after you no longer need them. One person can save or enhance the lives of 50 people. What a legacy you can leave behind…what an ultimate gift…offering someone a second chance!
Secondly, please share your decision with your families. When the time comes, if your loved ones do not know what you want, they are asked to decide for you which may add more anguish to an already very difficult situation. Thank you and God bless you.

Marie Manley (left) and Christine, her recipient (right)

Marie Manley (left) and Christine, her recipient (right)

Marie is now a Transplant Assistant at Lankenau Hospital, a job she took a year after her own donation. This is excerpted from a talk she gives about donation.

Patsy Semple: 

In 2010, I was going to donate my kidney to my husband, and my antibodies weren’t quite a match, but they were a perfect match for a young man on the registry. A doctor at Georgetown in DC presented an idea of doing a huge swap. 32 of us would participate. The doctor’s name was Keith Melancon, he is no longer at Georgetown in DC. It was his idea to do the share. There were going to be 40, but when the time came 16 of us went through—16 donors and 16 recipients. He sought them out from three hospitals. Some recipients came from out of town and certainly donors came from out of town. He presented this idea of sharing. It was like: “My niece wants to do it but she’s not a match for me, but she’s a match for so-and-so.” Well when you have a family member, you’ll do anything. And you have trust in your doctors, and if you can helps someone live a little better life, why not?

My kidney went to a young black man who had been born with just one kidney. We didn’t know who was getting it until after the surgery when they had us all meet. And that’s when I met Jonathon. The poor guy when he found out I was his donor, his eyes bugged out because I was older than his mom and I was this Caucasian lady with white hair. He’s a great kid, a young man. His mother took part in the share and her kidney went to a sixty-nine-year old engineer of Indian descent. A couple of people involved just did it altruistically. To see the diversity of ages and nationalities participating in this share was a moving experience; it was made possible because of a group of people determined to donate the gift of life to help a loved one, a friend, or someone in need. If you can help someone live a little better life, why not?

Patsy is a Kidney Donor and Advocate. Excerpted from an interview with Patsy.

 During rehearsals for Under the Skin, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about kidney donation from the recipient perspective, which you can read here.

From Terry Nolen, Producing Artistic Director

One of the things that I love about choosing plays for the Arden is that our mission allows us to produce a great variety of work. Contemporary musicals such as Next to Normal; classic stories such as Cyrano; new plays such as Clybourne Park and the American classic that inspired it, A Raisin in the Sun. In our 24-plus years, we’ve produced an extraordinary group of writers, some to whom we’ve returned more than once: seven plays by Michael Hollinger; three by Michael Ogborn; two each by Arthur Miller, Tom Stoppard, and August Wilson; nine Shakespeares; ten Sondheims. With this production of Endgame, I am thrilled to bring the work of Samuel Beckett to our stage.

Samuel Beckett was a remarkable figure in world drama: an Irishman who lived in Paris, often writing in French and then translating his plays into English; a friend and confidant of James Joyce who also served as part of the French Resistance during World War II. As a dramatist, Beckett was a visionary and a revolutionary, transforming how stories could be told onstage. He was also famously private, determined to let his work speak for itself. In response to the persistent question, “What does it mean?, Mr. Beckett provided no answers, save, “I cannot explain my plays. Each must find out for himself what is meant.” He left us the words, images and rhythms. It is up to us to make sense of them.

Scott Greer and James Ijames. Photo by Ja?hien Sasno? for Philadelphia Magazine

Beckett was one of the most – if not the most – influential playwrights of the twentieth century (as detailed in Assistant Director Suzana Berger’s article). Beckett’s work also influenced generations of writers of fiction, film and even television (Tony Soprano and Al Swearengen in Deadwood have always struck me as characters inspired by Beckett’s anti-heros); and his plays have attracted some of the great actors of our time. When Associate Artistic Director Ed Sobel, who has a deep and abiding passion for Beckett’s work, suggested Endgame with Scott Greer as Hamm and James Ijames as Clov, I felt the thrill of possibility. Here are two actors who bring tremendous humanity, intelligence and humor to their work. They could have careers anywhere, but they have chosen to make Philadelphia their home. When we started the Arden in 1988, we wanted to help foster a vibrant Philadelphia theater community, one that could attract such extraordinary theatre artists as Scott and James. Who better to lead us into the world of Samuel Beckett?

A version of this letter appears in the stagebill for the Arden’s production of Endgame 

 

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