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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 Shanna Tedeschi, Arden Professional Apprentice

Greetings friends! Shanna here–an Arden Professional Apprentice and Teaching Artist.

Did you know that every year over 2, >pharmacy 500 excited kids in Philadelphia, Ridley Park and Camden get free books, free classes and free show tickets to our Children’s Theatre productions? All this magic is possible through a program called Arden for All.

As a Teaching Artist, I was sent to bring some enchantment to the 3rd and 4th graders of Eddystone Elementary. What ensued were moments of imagination, hilarity and discovery–watch this slideshow to see for yourself!

By Erin Read, Artistic Assistant

Nearly everyone has called out of work or left the office early at least once. Maybe you weren’t feeling well, or there was a doctor’s appointment that couldn’t be scheduled at a more convenient time, or maybe you just needed a mental health day. What happens though, if your office is a theatre? What happens if you have to call out of work and you’re an actor?

What happens is…you call the understudy.

At the Arden, local actors cover every role in each show of our season. There is an entire group of hard-working actors that you may never see, painstakingly taking notes and learning lines.

Being an understudy is not an easy task. They have to learn a show predominantly through observation and their blocking and choices are then finessed during five rehearsals with the Assistant Director.  They have to be on call for the entire run of a production and must be secure in the knowledge that they may never get to perform for an audience. If you are lucky enough to get to go on, you may have to fight to win the audience over as there are often vocal reactions to understudy announcements. And after your big turn in the spotlight, you need to be humble enough to quietly step back in the shadows once your actor has returned to the show. Though it’s a tough gig, being an understudy can have its rewards—just ask the former actors on staff that still indulge their creative side with the occasional understudy turn! (In case you were wondering, our Business Manager makes a beautiful Juliet!)

Our rehearsal process is always open and understudies get the benefit of being in the room with and learning from some of the city’s greatest artists. It is also a great way for the Arden to get to know an actor that may not have worked with us before. Case in point-actor Sean Lally, currently in rehearsal for A Moon for the Misbegotten. We met him last season as an understudy for The History Boys. We had such a good experience with him that he was cast as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, where he also understudied Romeo. You may have been lucky enough to catch him for a few performances when he stepped in for the star-crossed lover. He was also in our production of The Threepenny Opera and now Moon. Three Arden shows in two seasons and he first came through our doors as an understudy.

There a few things that can amp up the energy level of a show than when an understudy goes on. The cast is excited to see what someone new will bring to the show and the crew is on point to make sure that everything runs extra smooth so no one is thrown off. I must admit, it is also a great deal of fun to call an understudy and break the news that they will get to perform (For last minute calls, there are plenty of reminders to breathe). Ideally, we would know ahead of time when an actor will be unavailable (jury duty has been a culprit as of late) and we would we have time to hold a full cast rehearsal with the understudy and answer any questions they might have. More often than not however, we have just a few days notice if we think someone is falling ill, or even as little as a few hours. In fact, an understudy for The Borrowers went on the week after Christmas with less than three hours notice. Understudies have been called at intermission, they’ve been tracked down at work, and once we even sent someone to track an understudy down at a gym where we suspected he was working out. We managed to find him and rush him to the theatre to practice a fight sequence, get fitted for a costume and two hours later he was onstage!

Arden apprentices will often serve as understudies and there has been more than one occasion during the winter holiday show that an apprentice has been pulled from the box office to be onstage just a few minutes later. (I speak the latter from experience. As an apprentice here and an understudy for The BFG I was handing out tickets for a noon performance that I ended up performing in. It was by far the most amazing and most terrifying two hours I’d ever experienced.)

So next time you head to the theatre and see a notice that an understudy is going on, don’t be disappointed. Many greats started out as a standby for someone else: Shirley MacLaine was discovered after going on as an understudy for Carol Hainey in The Pajama Game. Lou Gehrig entered baseball with the Yankees as a pinch hitter and on his second day with the team replaced Wally Pipp before going on to play 2,130 consecutive games. You may have been hoping to see your favorite Philly actor but know that an understudy performance may just be the most pure and ensemble filled show you’ll see. You’ll be witness to the most terrifying/awe-inspiring/nerve-wracking/fantastic few hours that understudy will have. And who knows, you could be watching the next Shirley MacLaine!

[Interested in being an understudy? Contact Associate Producer Matt Decker at mdecker@ardentheatre.org]

By Andrew Wojtek, Arden Professional Apprentice and Assistant Stage Manager for The Borrowers

As part of the Arden Professional Apprenticeship, each apprentice serves as the Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) for one of the productions in the season’s lineup.  It just worked out this year that two apprentices had to double-up on one production because of the timing of Ghost-Writer and The Threepenny Opera opening so closely together.  I was one of the lucky two APAs who were assigned to ASM The Borrowers.

Going into what the rest of the company likes to call “ASM Land” is very different from your day-to-day duties as an apprentice.  While the production is in the rehearsal process, prescription you pull rehearsal props, take notes, and help work through scenes.  In tech rehearsals, we run sequences over and over again, re-set the stage, and learn what parts of the show we will eventually “crew” for every performance.  But once the show opens, your life is tied to the performance schedule.

I thought it would be interesting to share with you a day in the life of the ASM.  This not only gives you a glimpse into what happens to prepare for a performance, but what it’s like to work just one morning at the Arden.

6:50 am: Wake up; hit snooze button.

7:00 am: Wake up; get out of bed.  Get ready for the day.

8:02 am: Leave the house, catch the 17 bus.

8:27 am: Arrive at the Arden.

8:28 am: Drop off bags, start a pot of coffee (the cast and crew all pitched in and bought coffee and fixings – it’s cheaper than buying it every morning), and eat a little breakfast.

8:45 am: Crew call – this is when the whole crew is “called” to the theatre to prepare for the student matinee performance.  To get the show ready, I set my props, boil noodles for Crampfurl’s “worm” and make sure that everything I need for the show (like the giant screwdriver, the trap door, and pieces of “doll house” furniture) are all set to make their appearances.

9:35 am: The Haas is now open to patrons!  All three crew members take turns swinging the pendulum that you see shadowed on stage.

Andrew operates the giant screwdriver!

10:07 am: Make my way to center stage to give the curtain speech.  I finally have all the Arden’s media partners memorized!

10:08 am: The show is up and running.  During the first act, you’ll find me backstage running my crew track: stomping my feet for shadows, changing the puppet’s costumes, handing off props, and operating the screwdriver.

10:47 am: First act is over, now it’s time to set the scene for the second act.  My partner, Ashley, and I do the shift on the stage left side of the theatre.  You’ll see us moving out the apartment and –if you look carefully– getting the boot prepped to go on stage.

11:02 am: Act Two has started and I’m back to work making more shadows, operating puppets, and paging the curtain on the Gypsy Caravan.

11:44 am: The show is over!  As soon as the cast is finished with their curtain call, I bring the big spool of thread table on stage and answer questions that the audience has for the crew.

Noon: The crew goes about resetting the stage for act one as soon as the theatre empties out.  As a part of ending the day, we do the laundry for the next show, reset the wigs, clean up props, and close down the backstage side of the theatre.

After the show, we jump back into our regular APA duties, doing Facilities Maintenance (FacMan), processing gifts in Development, prepping bins for Arden Drama School, and so much more.

If you have any questions about what happens backstage to prepare for The Borrowers, I hope that you won’t be too shy to ask.  Email askarrietty@ardentheatre.org and we’ll be back in touch.  And I feel obligated to end this blog entry the same way I end my curtain speech… “Remember that The Borrowers is here on stage at the Arden through January 30th, so if you like what you see, tell your friends and family!”

By Glenn Perlman, >help Technical Director

Children’s theatre often means spectacle — and special effects.  Our kids’ shows need to be exciting and visually interesting, since we’ve learned that children are a very honest audience — they’ll yell right out if they don’t get something; or start squirming in their seats if they get bored.  We get to be very creative sometimes, like building little dog cars for Go, Dog. Go! Or building a giant draw-bridge stage that turns into a crocodile to eat Captain Hook in Peter Pan. Or make slimy green snot to throw at the wall in The Stinky Cheese Man.

The Borrowers has plenty of cool, fun stuff too.  Like a ten-foot-long boot and a spool of thread big enough to use as a table.  Our small but dedicated team of artisans and technicians take on these challenges with a smile…  its about as great as a job gets.  But this show brought a new challenge for us:  An almost full-stage change of scenery from Act I to Act II.

Before I came to the Arden, I was the Master Carpenter at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.  That is a very large, very well-staffed company that produces over 18 shows a year in “Rep.”  That’s short for “Repertory Theatre” meaning theatre that repeats shows, in rotation, from one night to the next.  In other words, you could see Hamlet on Friday night, and then come back Saturday night for Romeo and Juliet and on Sunday afternoon catch King Lear.  All in the same theatre, on the same stage, but with completely different sets.  Opera companies often work in the same way.  After each performance, a whole crew of technicians comes in and switches the sets from one show to the next.  Its called a “change-over” and often takes a crew of ten or more an hour or more, depending on the complexity.

In a rep set-up, all of the sets are designed together, with each other in mind.  Sometimes they share elements, like a floor surface or a backdrop.  Other times they are completely different.  Often they have dual-purpose components, such as pieces that are double-sided and simply spin around from one show to the next.

Borrowers Act I Set

The Borrowers set during Act I

In The Borrowers, Act I takes place in the house and under the floorboards.  The backdrop is used as a projection surface to create giant shadows, to show how small the borrowers are.  But in Act II, Arriety and her family go out into the great wide world, experiencing the vastness of nature for the first time ever.  If you stay in your seat at intermission, you can watch as the small but mighty stage crew, led by Arden Apprentice assistant stage managers Andrew and Tara, change-over the set from the Clock family’s home to the grassy fields.  Only the main portion of the stage and the backdrop and frames appear in both acts.

Borrowers Act II Set

The Borrowers set during Act II

The secret is casters (small wheels that help big, heavy scenery move easily) and hinges with loose pins.  All of the sets are built up on these wheels, and they lock together by lining up two parts of a hinge and then sliding the pin in to hold it.  There are also lots of electrical connections that have to be connected or disconnected, for the lights that are on the set, and fog machines, and other things.  And lights that are on the floor that have to be shifted and re-focused from act to act.  There are five different little steps that have to be moved around so the actors can get on and off the stage depending on which act it is.  And when the Act I set is on stage, all the Act II stuff is tucked in backstage, out of view — and vice-versa.  In fact, during Act II, the actors and crew need to step up and walk through the Clock’s apartment set to get to their places backstage.

Everything has to be done in a specific order.  Everything has to be done exactly the same way each time.  Some of the pieces of scenery have only two inches of clearance while moving past other pieces.  During rehearsals the first time we changed from Act I to Act II it took an hour.  By the time of our first preview, it was down to about twenty minutes (still too long for a fifteen minute intermission!)  By Opening Night, Andrew and Tara got it down to about eight minutes.  And now, I bet they can do it in six-and-a-half, without even looking at their notes.

There’s science to it, like a surgical operation.  But there’s also art to it, like a well-choreographed ballet.  Intermission is actually my favorite part of the show…  but that’s just me.

So, if you haven’t seen The Borrowers yet, you might want to stay in the theatre at intermission and watch the secret ballet.  And if you already saw it and wondered how it all changed while you were in the bathroom, then you should come back again and this time wait until after the show to have that cup of coffee!

The Borrowers runs through January 30.

By Sarah Sexton, Manager of Institutional Giving

‘Tis the Season!

In my family, we have a tradition. When we’re all piled into the car around the holidays, we make up alternate lyrics to “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Yup. We’re just that weird.

Most often, the alternate lyrics are focused around one of our favorite Christmas movies, A Very Brady Christmas. (If you haven’t seen it you should. There’s a “gift of the magi” moment when Carol and Mike are planning surprise trips to Japan and Greece for each other, Bobby’s secretly racing cars but pretending he’s at college, and Marsha’s husband is a disgruntled toy salesman named Wally. It’s worth several watches.)

So in honor of that tradition, I humbly offer…The 12 Days of The Borrowers.

On the twelfth day of The Borrowers, the Arden gave to me…

12 GIANT screwdrivers

11 Local school groups (many more than that- they’re here every Tues-Fri!)

10 Light and sound cues

9 Volunteer ushers (through our Family Usher Network!)

8 Spillers spilling (Just dreadful.)

7 Boots a’stomping

6 Worms a’squirming

5 A P A’s….! (actually, there are 6 and we LOVE them! Arden Professional Apprentices )

4 costume changes (It’s a boy? It’s a girl?)

3 Borrowers under the floorboards

2 puppeteers

and the actor from Mouse and Cookie…!

Happy Children’s Theatre!

If you think you can do better–and I know you can–post your “12 Days” below! (Or just one or two.)

Bi Jean Ngo, the actress who plays Arietty in The Borrowers, >pharm is also a Teaching Artist for the Arden’s educational program – Arden For All.  Here Bi recounts her first few days at McCall Elementary. The lesson challenged the students to “borrow” classroom objects to make Homily a spoon and Arietty a hairbrush.  But just when they figured out how to do this – an obstacle came their way – they ran into a giant puddle on their way home.  How will these tiny Borrowers cross the puddle with all the new items they have “borrowed”?

By Bi Jean Ngo, Arrietty in The Borrowers

All of Dr. Geller’s class had a strong understanding of the scale of The Borrowers. They had all visited the Arden and seen James and the Giant Peach, Peter Pan, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and were incredibly excited for their next visit to the theatre. The whole class has been reading the book, and they have completed seventeen chapters so far. When asked to name their favorite moments, there were plenty of hands raised, and I’m happy to report that all the students seem to retain much of the detailed descriptions in the book.

All of the groups had ideas for crossing the puddle as Borrowers. At first, the students formed lists of objects that they’d use to cross a puddle as borrowers. I then asked them to create a how-to instructional together with me, using the peanut butter & jelly exercise. Having done that, they re-visited their list of objects and wrote their how-to instructional guides for crossing the puddle as borrowers.

Actress and teacher, Bi Jean Ngo, with students from McCall Elementary after they saw The Borrowers at Arden Theatre Company.

They all had found objects in the classroom with which to construct boats and paddles. There was a bunch of rubber ducks lined up on a shelf, and most of the students latched onto the idea of using those. One group thought to use a pencil caddy for a boat, pencils and popsicle sticks as oars, and paper products as sails. I was really impressed that several students were adamant that they create anchors for their boats, so the Borrowers wouldn’t lose the boats. All the groups enjoyed sharing their solutions to crossing the puddle, especially when I held up objects they described.

After my first visit, the class had a science lesson about magnets. When I returned, the kids were really excited to tell me about new solutions for crossing the puddle based on their science class. I was so happy to see them have an interdisciplinary stroke of inspiration. That’s what we hope for, isn’t it?  The students suggested using multiple magnets to attract the borrowers’ flotation devices across the water.

Ms. Hantman’s third grade class is full of incredibly enthusiastic, awesome kids. Her students have all read the book, and they could all name the characters and their favorite parts. Most of the students have a strong understanding of the scale of the Borrowers. There’s a lot of academic support in this class, and the students are intelligent and unafraid to volunteer their thoughts and opinions. Ms. Hantman, for one, is a veteran teacher, and she has a student teacher and an ESOL teacher in class with her. There are three ESOL students in class, and they were eager to participate in the Arden lessons. While some of the language may be difficult for them right now, those students were just as enthusiastic in trying to do the warm-ups and the independent/group exercises as the rest.

I think Ms. Hantman’s class might produce at least two future engineers. When coming up with ideas for crossing the puddle, there were a few physics-minded students who dreamed up possible catapult devices, bridges, and flying mechanisms. One clever idea was to hitch a ride from an animal that might carry the Borrowers around on its back. I had them brainstorm character ideas for each of their families, and because they are a set of really bold, independent thinkers, I let them come up with their own Borrowing family names. We all created a dialogue together as a group, as a framework for how to write one.

One a side note, I was just reading the article in Philadelphia Magazine about why this generation of young people will not be as smart as generations preceding it. However, my two classes at McCall show me that there are wonderful teachers and wonderful children who are eager to learn and have fun while doing it. Both 3rd grade classes are near completion or have completed reading The Borrowers. They completely invest in the Arden sessions, and they ask questions when they are confused so they proceed with an exercise with clarity. It’s a great group of kids.

By Angela DuRoss, Development Director

Over 200 kids and their families filled the Arden’s lobby on Saturday evening, greeted by friendly Arden staff  members donning blue Borrowers t-shirts. It must be opening night of Arden Children’s Theatre!

The Borrowers opening night party included kid-friendly fare (hot dogs and chicken nuggets, of course!) courtesy of Catering By Design and a fabulous cake shaped like a boot created especially for the party by the Whipped Bake Shop.  The Arden welcomed community partners including our neighbors, The Clay Studio, providing a potting wheel demonstration, and Eagles Youth Partnership, who sent their Storybook Man to read select scene from The Borrowers novel by Mary Norton.

Our Education department helped kids to make their own Borrowers puppets and facilitated a fun scavenger hunt where families searched the Arden’s lobby for “borrowed items.”  Following the performance, The Franklin Fountain provided an ice cream treat for everyone – homemade vanilla ice cream with tiny gingerbread “Borrowers” to go on top!  It was a fun-filled evening to kick of Children’s Theatre season at the Arden and reminded us just how fun our theatre can be when it’s filled with hundreds of kids.

Here are photos of the festivities!

By Bryan Kerr, >medicine Arden Professional Apprentice

With less than 24 hours between now and our first preview performance of The Borrowers, excitement is running rampant here at The Arden. Shouts and Nathan A. Roberts’ original music echo through the offices as the cast and crew iron out those final bumps. Foam scraps and glue litter backstage dressing rooms as Aaron Cromie, the show’s puppet designer, puts the final touches on the various puppets used throughout the show. With so much happening in the coming week, this apprentice is finding it hard to keep his nose to the grindstone at times. But when I think about what–and who–it’s all for, I jump back in with renewed energy and that passion that seems contagious here at The Arden. And part of what I want to do for all our patrons this children’s season is leave no question unanswered!

As part of a project I am working on, I will be gathering all those questions you have about our production and getting the answers you want and deserve. With only 10-15 minutes after each show to answer questions, we here thought that we would encourage you to keep questioning beyond the show. We’ve set up a special email to send questions to (askarrietty@ardentheatre.org) and encourage you to comment on the blogs posted with anything you want to know. No question is too small or to silly. After all, this show is about being small and silly! I’ll be posting something new every few days and checking for those questions every day so that we can get back to you quickly. So don’t hesitate, get excited for the show, and as always…keep the questions coming!

In The Borrowers, the tiny Clock family re-uses everyday  items from the “human beans” that live above their tiny home. Ever wonder what you could make out of things around your house that could be thrown away?

Well, we’re teaming up with Keep Philadelphia Beautiful for a special community event promoting reuse and resourcefulness. After a discussion about recycling and minimizing waste, there will be a series of guided activities where participants can make their own action-figure hat hooks, CD ornaments, or T-Shirt tote bags. Some of these items will be displayed in the lobby of our theatre during the run of the show!

Here are the dates and locations for the upcoming Become a Borrower events!

Thursday 12/2/10 • 6:00pm-8:00pm
Narberth Community Library

80 Windsor Avenue
Narberth, PA 19072

Saturday 12/4/10 10:00am-Noon
Cherry Hill Public Library

1100 Kings Highway North
Cherry Hill, NJ 08034

Sunday 12/5/10 1:00pm-3:00pm
Arden Theatre Company

40 N. 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Please bring any or all of the following items: T-shirts, CD/DVD’s, Books, Water Bottles, Coffee Cans, Small Loose Hardware (Nails/Screws/etc.), Tennis Balls, Ice-Cube Trays, Cardboard Drink Carriers, Old Action Figures, Cassette Tapes and Wine Corks.

For questions regarding “Become a Borrower” please contact Byran Kerr: bkerr@ardentheatre.org.

We hope to see you there!

Creating the big world for the 5 inch tall Clock family in The Borrowers takes a whole team!

We’re collecting video and photos of our behind the scenes action to share with you.

For part of the play, the Clocks live in a boot. How many people would it take to carry something that big? Find out in this short video of our amazing production team had to carrying the boot across 2nd Street in Old City, from our scene shop to our Haas Stage.

Here’s the boot inside the theatre. Can you see Kate and Thomas inside?

Here is The Borrowers costume designer Rosemarie with Scott, Delanté and Bi from the cast. They are looking at the costume sketches, which are colorful drawings of each outfit worn by everyone in the play.

This is a photo of the set model by Lewis, the scenic designer. This miniature version of the set has moving pieces, so you can see what will change on stage during different scenes.

We’ll update this blog post when we have other fun pictures and videos to share! Do you have questions about the play, set, costumes and more?

Leave a question in the comments here and we’ll post the answer!

Would you like up-to-the-minute information? Like our page on Facebook.

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