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!
Every night, I have the privilege of watching The Secret Garden up close. Very close. With a video camera, I capture the world beneath the stage—a 360 degree turntable filled with miniature sets made of paper and other finely crafted materials. Throughout the show, we see Mary’s imagination flourish in a world of paper dolls and pop-up books. This conceit led co-conceivers Jorge Cousineau and Terry Nolen to the idea of filming miniature sets live and projecting the images onto a large screen onstage. As the turntable spins, the audience travels with Mary on her journey from India to England and, finally, the Secret Garden.
In “The Secret Garden”, a large screen projects live video from the camera filming a turntable below the stage. (Photo: Mark Garvin)
From behind the camera, I think of myself as a storyteller filming the world as Mary remembers it. The world of miniature sets is childlike and playful. At times, the audience can see someone’s fingers in the shot, opening a gate or closing windows. Like a doll’s house, each detail has been carefully crafted to look realistic—down to miniature sconces that light the hallway. A large team of people worked to build the tiny sets, including Scenic & Video Designer Jorge Cousineau, Model Assistant Alicia Crosby, Props Master Chris Haig, and Props Intern Scott McMaster. Every second of video represents the hard work of the set, props and lighting departments.
The camera captures a shot of India, one of many miniature sets on the turntable below the stage.
My favorite moment of video storytelling is our first arrival in Colin’s room. During a storm, the camera travels down a sconce-lit hallway to a foreboding door. As the chorus swells, we see a hand open the door to reveal a bedroom with lightning flashing in the window. Onstage, Mary sees Colin for the first time. In these moments the video becomes a dramatic presence, adding suspense to the onstage action.
On the right, live video of miniature sets is captured beneath the stage. Pictured: Elisa Matthews as Lily Craven and Bailey Ryon as Mary Lennox. (Photo: Mark Garvin)
A lot of thought and energy goes into every moment of live video. For each movement of the camera, I’ve memorized specifics of how I’m moving the camera unit, panning the camera, zooming, focusing and the speed/duration of all these functions. I’m also thinking about specific moments in the music where my movement will begin and where it will end. With more and more performances under my belt, the specifics of this choreographed “dance” have become fun and familiar.
I’m grateful to be a part of the large team of people who put hard work into each moment of The Secret Garden. When it was time for our first preview performances, I was struck with just how personal and intimate it felt to invite an audience to this show. It felt like we were inviting people to come into our home and explore every room. The orchestra, crew, cast and creative team poured their energy and passion into this project—and for me, it has made The Secret Garden a much more relatable human story. From my seat, I watch Mary find belonging and empowerment every night and lend a hand to create her world. In The Secret Garden, magic is close enough to touch.
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.
Arden Drama School hosted the first week of Summer Camp for our Kids’ Crew in June. We had 44 campers ranging from Kindergarten through 5th grade who had classes each day in acting, improvisation, playwriting, set and costume design, dance and music. The week culminated with a show on Friday afternoon for parents!
Here’s a video with highlights from the camp show and photos from throughout the week.
There are three more weeks of summer camp for both Kids’ Crew and Teen Company, and spaces are filling fast! Check back for more photos, blogs and videos from these upcoming sessions!
Arden Professional Apprentice Class 17 completes our 2009-2010 season with our APA Showcase Falling Into Place, featuring five short plays by Christopher Durang, David Ives, >decease Shel Silverstein, and Sean Michael Welch, directed by Steve Pacek, our Mouse in If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. The APA Showcase serves as the culminating project of a year-long professional training program and provides a unique opportunity for us apprentices to put our varied skills into practice and to the test.
Unexpected surprise parties. Unusual interventions. Sordid love affairs. Maddening alternate universes. Everybody has to be someplace!
An evening hell-bent on slapstick insanity, Falling Into Place features the APAs falling in and out of ridiculous predicaments to finally chucking all sense out the window and celebrating the madness of theatre and life and everything in between.
Check out our video promo giving you a taste of APA life, set to the song we all can’t get out of our heads, the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling (Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night)”!
To reserve your seats call the Arden Box Office at 215.922.1122
Last week, as rehearsals began forSunday in the Park with George, >sick members of the Arden’s Sylvan Society gathered for the first sing-thru of the play. We asked for people to share a favorite Sondheim memory – a show, a song or a story. View this video to see what people had to say!
We hope to see you at Sunday in the Park with George, starting May 27!
On Tuesday, March 9, members of the Arden’s board and Sylvan Society were invited to learn stage combat from members of the Romeo and Juliet cast. Watch this video to see how our supporters learned to slap, punch and choke just like professional actors. We finished the evening with a backstage tour to share secrets behind Romeo and Juliet. Thanks to all those that participated!
Here’s a brief video teaser of Blue Door, featuring actors Johnnie Hobbs, >pharm Jr. and Kes Khemnu.The play is now on stage through March 21, so come on down to the theatre and see the whole play for yourself!
Earlier this season, >capsule we started a video series to chronicle the experience of our Arden Professional Apprentices. (View Episode One here). Our second installment has former APA Alexis Simpson finding the Apprentices all over the building, doing a variety of jobs in a variety of outfits!
If there’s something you want to know about our Apprentices and their time at the Arden, leave us a comment and we’ll be sure to ask them on the next episode!
The Arden’s Production Manager, Courtney Riggar, filmed this video backstage during a tech rehearsal of Peter Pan. Follow her along and meet members of the Arden’s production team, learn new theatrical terms, and get the actor’s view from the Peter Pan set. And, of course, there’s a few appearances from Arden dogs!
You can go backstage yourself at an upcoming Arden Family Salon. Click here to learn how to bring the whole family!