Tuesday, September 30, 2008

News from Busytown's Huckle Cat

Hi everyone. My name is Matthew A. Anderson, and I am currently
playing ‘Huckle’ in Imagination Stage’s production of Busytown. At
the time of writing, it is late on Sunday night, September 28th. I
waited until tonight to add my entry because I wanted to be able to tell
you all about our opening weekend of shows! 5 shows total! We did 3
shows on Saturday and another 2 shows today! It was an exciting
weekend, as we had the chance to see how audiences will react to what we are doing on stage.

All last week, we were in previews. Preview performances are shows
with actual audiences…but they are still part of the rehearsal process.
After every preview, we have another 4 or 5 hours of rehearsal, so we
could change and fix and adjust things that didn’t work that day. Then
the next day, we’d have a preview performance, and then another set of
rehearsals. This process is helpful to the actors and the designers,
so they can all learn what works for the show and then adjust before the official opening night – when the press comes and the reviews are written.

Previews for Busytown were especially intense because of all of the
elements that had to come together. The show has 6 actors playing over
40 characters…so there are an insane number of costume changes to work
out! (I’m lucky because out of everyone, I only have 3 characters. A
couple of the other actors…MJ and maybe Sara, have like 8 or 9 different characters! Can you IMAGINE their costume changes!?!) Also, if you’ve ever read or looked at Richard Scarry’s books, you will know that there
is a lot of STUFF in ‘Busytown’…and our show is no different. We spent
our preview week figuring out how all of the many, MANY props would work into the show. How many? 258 props, to be exact. Cars and food and mail and plants and crayons and mailboxes and the list goes on and on
and on. Everything has its place, and we spent the week figuring out
where those places were.

By the time we made it to Saturday, we were ready to stop making changes and really start performing the show. Our first 2 shows on Saturday (the 27th) were both previews – and then at 7pm, we had our official
‘opening night’ performance. And it was a fantastic night! So now
the show is up and running and we are busy finding the joy of Busytown with different audiences every day.
I think the greatest thing about being involved with Busytown is the
audiences we are playing to.

For all of the stress or frustration that
any of us felt at different points during the rehearsal process, we have learned during this opening weekend that we are being rewarded ten-fold with the joy and excitement and attention of our audience members…who are ranging from ages 2 to 92. They are coming with us on this journey
that Huckle takes through a day in Busytown. From the moment the sun
rises and Sergeant Murphy wheels his tricycle out on stage, there is an endless stream of gasps, giggles and whispers coming from the audience that sends out an excited energy to us as performers on stage.
Audiences are clapping and laughing and shouting and smiling and waving – and through it all, discovering or re-discovering the wonder of Richard Scarry’s world. I grew up with the characters in these books…and now I have the incredible opportunity to bring them to life every day for the next 5 weeks.

It is an honor to be a part of this new frontier with Imagination
Stage…putting their first pre-school show on the main stage. And what
a show it is! From the beautifully cartoon-ish sets to the wonderfully inventive costumes, from the fun music being performed by a top-notch cast of performers I have come to love and respect, it is safe to say that Busytown has come to Bethesda in style - and is waiting for all of you to come experience it first hand!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lighting Design and Technical Fun in BUSYTOWN

Hi – I’m Jason Arnold, the lighting designer for BUSYTOWN at Imagination Stage. We’re in tech right now – the beginning of the first 10 out of 12 rehearsal. A 10 out of 12 rehearsal is one where the actors are called for a 10 hours – 5 hours onstage, then a 2 hour dinner break, then 5 more hours onstage. We use this time to build the light cues, test the mics, practice the costume changes, and generally put the show together.

It’s been a hectic week for me – Monday and Tuesday, we focused the lights. When I say “we” I mean I stood onstage and told the electrics crew at Imagination Stage (Robert Brown – the Master Electrician – Cory Frank and Nikki Cammack) where to point the lights, as they scurried up scaffolding and ladders and drove the genie lift around. That went pretty smoothly, until we got upstage, where the majority of Tom Donahoe’s cool set resides – then we spent hours moving the set around so that “we” could reach the lights, hanging 20 feet in the air above.

Wednesday – The actors hit the stage for the first time. They spent the first couple of hours in Costume Parade – where the Director (Krissie Marty), the Costume Designer (Yvette Ryan), and Costume Shop Manager (Marietta Hambrick) watch the actors play runway models with Yvette’s crazy fun costumes. They check all the different changes and combinations and make sure that it all fits (both fits the actors properly and fits the characters properly).

After Costume Parade – Krissie begins working through the show, and I start writing light cues. But really, I sit and watch. I absorb the show through osmosis. And I give notes to Robert, a lot of notes. Normally – on the first day of tech, you start writing light cues and plowing through the show. They run a slightly different schedule here at Imagination Stage. A day of spacing, getting the actors used to the size of the stage and giving the director time to work. And giving me time to watch and tinker with the lights without any pressure to create anything specific.

But it also gives me time to think. And change things. And give Robert work to do. Lots of work because I’m antsy and bored and coming up with new ideas and why is the downstage front light so much dimmer than the upstage (Robert – relamp those units, please).

So we spend a day and a half spacing and looking and thinking and then tech actually starts at 5:30p on Thursday. And we spend 2.5 hours working the first 4 pages of the script.

And now it is 12:30p on Friday – we have now teched for approximately 4.5 hours and are on page 8. And I have written about 50 light cues. The show starts with 2 big musical numbers back to back. And then the parade of cars starts. That’s where we are now, working a parade of cars – Richard Scarry loves to draw crazy cars and we’ve got them – but that’s not my job, phew – that’s the purview of Dre Moore, our Props Mistress, Tom Donahoe, our set designer, and George DeShetler, our Technical Director.

And that’s only half of my crazy life – I also teach at American University twice a week. And I’ve got three other theatres clamoring for the paperwork for the shows I’m doing for them, so I’ve been up late every night putting those together (coming soon – Intelligence at Rep Stage and Honey Brown Eyes at Theatre J). And I actually have to leave before this show opens, to go to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival on Monday to tech 3 Mo’ Divas (a show that was at Arena Stage in 2006).

So that’s life in BUSYTWON.


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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Emily Levey -- Cast Member of BUSYTOWN

One of the most wonderful things about Richard Scarry's books is the wide variety of characters he depicts in his illustrations, and so one of the most exciting things about getting to do BUSYTOWN is that each of the actors gets to play so many of them. Not only do the characters have a wide variety of jobs, they are all different animals, and a bunny rabbit moves and sounds very different from a pig or a lion!

At the beginning of our rehearsal process for BUSYTOWN we explored the different animal characters we would be playing. Our director/choreographer Krissie Marty asked us to think about what sort of joints each animal has and the way that effects how they move. There are times in the show when we are all different animals, and then there are times when we're all playing the same kind of animal. In those scenes we all worked together to come up with uniform postures and movements, for example as mice we scurry and as pigs we have a pretty hilarious waddle. One of my characters, Betsy Bear, is 5 years old. I have to be on top of thinking about how a bear moves and sounds, and I also want to work on how a 5 year old moves and sounds. It is great fun. 

Now after learning lines and blocking and working on defining each of our many characters, we've reached a really exciting point. It's hard for me to believe we've already come to the end of our second week of BUSYTOWN rehearsals. Last week we were learning music and reading from scripts. Now we've blocked the entire show and we're gearing up to move on to the stage. I can't wait to start working in costume and on the set.

I'm so excited to be a part of BUSYTOWN. Hope to see you there!

Emily Levey

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Music wafts up from the rehearsal studio, talk of pickle cars and banana cars circulates among the technical staff, and a full-fledged main street is taking shape on our stage. Our Washington area premiere of the new musical romp, BUSYTOWN, is in rehearsal, set to begin performances next week: September 23. The show is based on the book WHAT DO PEOPLE DO ALL DAY? by the incredibly creative Richard Scarry. It is the first children's theatre production at Imagination Stage that embraces children as young as two years old to our mainstage. We're ready for giggles, wiggles, and the occasional squeal.

The show is FULL of music, dance, audience participation and colorful and charming costumes and props (remember the banana car!). Six very talented actors will play over 40 characters (Huckle Cat, Betsy Bear, Lowly Worm, Able Charlie Baker, Captain Salty, Stitches the Tailor, Jason the Mason, Doctor Lion and SO many more). Our director Krissie Marty love the "old time-y" feel of the music and has taken inspiration from vaudville. Don't be surprised if some of the characters remind you a little of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Shirley Temple and Keystone Cops. Even more cool, Keith Tittermary, the show's musical director, will be onstage playing piano for every performance.

If you can come on Saturday, September 27th, the preview day, ALL seats at the 12:30 and 3:30 sows are just $10. Hope to see you at BUSYTOWN!

Laurie Levy Page

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Looking for Roberto Clemente Scores “Audience Choice Award!”

Imagination Stage’s spring ’08 musical hit Looking for Roberto Clemente was voted "Favorite Family Production" by the readers of DCTheatreScene.com. It’s great to have our tremendous artistic and production staff’s hard work be acknowledged and appreciated! Besides Clemente, three other Imagination Stage shows were nominated for this honor—that’s twice as many nominations as any other children’s theatre. The other Imagination Stage nominees were: The Neverending Story, Twice Upon a Time: Dr. Seuss’ the Lorax and The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Araboolies of Liberty Street. It’s worth noting that three out of those four shows were World Premiere productions of scripts that were commissioned and developed at Imagination Stage by Artistic Director Janet Stanford and Associate Artistic Director Kate Bryer. Quick props to the talented artists behind Clemente: Karen Zacarias, Deborah Wicks La Puma, Kate Bryer, Krissie Marty, Dan Villar, Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden, Harold Burgess, Yvette Ryan, Kristen Bishel. Ditto to the awesome cast: Zack Colonna, JP Illaramendi, Derek Manson, Don Mason, Erika Rose, Matthew Schleigh and Chris Wilson.

Laurie Levy-Page

Director, Marketing & PR

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Imagination Stage Annual Free Open House

Our Open House was last Friday night and Saturday.  This was my second year managing the event. I was happy (okay, ecstatic) with the success of the additions to our annual event, including preview performances consisting of a compilation of scenes and songs from our next season of professional shows performed by actors to be featured and a dance party in our second dance studio on Del Ray Avenue. Most impressive, however, was the amazing turnout by the resilient parents of the greater Washington, DC region.  We had over 800 family members visit our facility during a weather event that typically freezes all activity in DC and its environs.  

The many who braved Hurrican Hanna got to watch shows (Beatrice Pickles from our StoryTheatre series cheers on one spectator is pictured right),
make puppets, take sample classes, get their faces painted, 

and meet our mascot, Nick Bottom   
(of Shakespearean fame!).

It's a long time until next year, but I suspect there WON'T  be a hurricane. However, I KNOW that there will be a lot more people and a lot more SERIOUS FUN.


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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Imagination Quest

In addition to its professional theatre and education programs, Imagination Stage offers an outreach program called Imagination Quest. An arts integration program (using the arts as a means to learn other subjects), Imagination Quest serves three populations: teachers, students, and parents.

The Director of Imagination Quest, Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian, explains

IMAGINATION QUEST is a teaching /learning model that speaks to a” quest” born of a conviction that all children have a right to a full and rich education and a belief that there exists a process of education that can empower teachers and encourage parents/caregivers to fulfill that right. The “quest” is a journey that compels teachers to do what they must to seek out potential in all children – to examine the essence of what they do; explore new and different vantage points in their classroom methodologies; and have the courage to attempt new pedagogies to enhance their effectiveness in reaching all children. The quest compels parents to consider multiple ways of sharing in learning experiences in the home.

Imagination Quest (IQ) is based on the premise that arts-based teaching can help to generate a fair system of education, accommodating different ways of learning and acknowledging and respecting different cultures and backgrounds. It incorporates voices that have been suppressed in the curriculum, in pursuit of educational equity striving to ensure access to knowledge for all students. It also attempts to manifest a democratic pedagogy that “supports freedom of expression, inclusion of multiple perspectives, opportunities to evaluate ideas and make choices, and opportunities to take on responsibility and contribute to the greater good…furthering democratic classrooms that encourage the broad participation of students, parents, teachers, and communities members.” (Hammond, 1996, p. 144) By fostering learning through the arts, IQ tries to engender a balance of the “often competing agendas of care and rigor” (Ibid, p. 193), without sacrificing either attribute. It also attempts to provide teachers and students with opportunities for ownership and invention. IQ's 3 initiatives...are TEACH TO REACH...for professional development, workshops and courses for teachers...LEARNING TO READ, READING TO LEARN...in-class residencies for students...and PARTNERS FOR LEARNING...workshops with parents/caregivers and students.

Over the past 12 years, IQ has reached over 1,888 teachers, 485 parents and caregivers, 3,532 students, and 80 school principals in the District of Columbia, California, Maryland, New Hampshire and Virginia. IQ has received grants from multiple agencies and foundations including the U.S. Department of Education, the Brimstone Fund, Freddie Mac Foundation, Gilbert and Jaylee Mead Family Foundation, Lockheed-Martin, Maryland State Arts Council, PEPCO, the University of New Hampshire, the Virginia Commission for the Arts and The Webber Family Foundation.

Imagination Quest has an impact according to students, parents and teachers:


  • IQ and drama puts more stuff in my brain
  • The reading was different. You became the book.
  • I worked really, really hard with IQ and I learned more than I ever thought I could.
  • IQ is a great way to teach Shakespeare. I liked it now--it was interesting and I thought it would be boring."
  • This is the way you should always teach kids.
  • IQ is something that makes me feel good. You move, sing, and act out stories. I love that.
  • It is something beautiful because you get to do art…you dress up in costumes and
  • it teaches you new words, new songs, new dances.
  • IQ lets you do things that you never did before.
  • IQ teaches you how to read.
  • IQ makes you feel good inside.
  • IQ is performing and that is great.
  • IQ is being in a play. I have never been in a play—I was shy, shocked, surprised
  • and then really, really happy when we did our book on stage and I got applause.
  • IQ is what the 2nd graders wish they had. They really wanted to do this!
  • IQ encourages us to read other books. I like reading now and then acting out the book.
  • IQ encourages us to think about reading books for next year-for 4th grade.


  • This is great . . . a way to work together . . mom and you, dad and you . . . not in front of the television.


  • The workshop strengthened my perception, encouraged me to take more risks.
  • It has given me a new challenge. It's been a wake up call.
  • I believe programs like IQ are essential for educators; though we know applying the arts is important, many of us don't know how to implement more multipel intelligences in the curriculum.


IQ truly practices the mantra of the DC public Schools...Children first...their future is now.

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