Monday, November 16, 2009

Janet reports on rehearsals of DISNEY'S MULAN

We’re past the halfway mark in the rehearsal process for Disney’s Mulan which opens at Imagination Stage on Wednesday, November 25 –- less than two weeks from today. This is our biggest musical extravaganza since Seussical in ’05 and I am grateful every day to the terrific team of artists I’m collaborating with. A musical of this scale really requires the skill sets of many specialists. Beside me in the rehearsal hall are Scott Rink, a choreographer with Broadway, regional and national credits, and longtime friends of mine, musical director Keith Tittermary and fight choreographer Linden Tailor.

You could say that my job as Director is to make sure that Mulan’s story is told in the clearest and most compelling way. And that it’s Scott’s job to create beauty through movement; Keith’s job to make the actors sound glorious; and Linden’s job to add excitement. (Or maybe I should call it “fight-citement”! Disney’s Mulan is a story about a girl who goes to war, after all.) But as we work on this music-filled script, we find that there are no hard delineations between what each of the specialists does. Scott, whose genius for creating stage pictures and exciting movement astounds me, will turn to Linden for advice on Tai Chi moves, or a punch that occurs in the midst of a movement section. I turn to Scott for help with how the masks of Mulan’s ancestors float through a scene. Keith will have the guys sing a musical line in falsetto and ask us, “Is that too silly?” Several times it has happened that when we finish a scene, all four director “specialists” descend on the cast with acting, movement, fight and music notes. And, magically, we all seem to be seeing the same vision of where the scene should go. I’ll say something to an actor and he’ll reply, “Oh, Scott just told me that.” “Linden just made that change.” “Keith fixed it.”

This is one of the mysteries of the rehearsal room that I have experienced before and been humbled by: a cast of 11, and four directors all with a passion to tell a particular tale, somehow communicating through intuition rather than words. I am not superstitious but I do believe in a sixth sense that artists inhabit when we create. To quote Mulan, “Sometimes, what can’t be achieved with one’s muscles can be achieved by one’s mind.” In the best theatre, it’s not so much the intellect as the spirit and “one mind” is what the whole artistic team—from designers to performers to deck captains must share in order to move and amaze our audience.

--Janet Stanford

Friday, November 13, 2009

Inclusion Program Testimonial

Imagination Stage has long had a commitment to inclusion and access for children with physical and/or cognitive disabilities. In summer 2009, supported in part by a grant from the National Inclusion Project (, we provided inclusion support for 86 children so they could participate in our popular summer camps. These supports consisted of the following:
--Conducting intake meetings with students and their parent/caregiver
--Devising strategies for success
--Creating individualized inclusion summaries
--Working with staff and faculty to make adaptations to lessons and classroom environments
--Follow-up and observation of students in classes
--Modification and adjustments to inclusion supports

Below is a letter to Diane Nutting, Imagination Stage's Director of Access and Outreach, from the mother of a 14 year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome:

“Social interactions and group activities are very difficult for my son. Although enormously interested in a variety of topics…he has little opportunity to share his interests with others. He doesn’t really have friends. At Imagination Stage he got a taste of something different. At your suggestion, he took a class on a topic he know a lot about (Shakespeare), which gave him a sense of security. You provided him with a wonderful dedicated aide, who quietly guided him through any difficult situations that arose, coaching him toward more appropriate interactions…To see him play Feste in the final scene of Twelfth Night on the last day of camp, singing a song with half a dozen children dancing around him, was a dream come true. He breaks out in a grin whenever I remind him of the experience.

Saying people with disabilities are welcome is one thing, but making that commitment meaningful by putting substance behind it is another. What sets Imagination Stage apart, in my experience, is that you and your staff put so much intelligence, enthusiasm, creativity and STAFFING behind your words. From the first conversations I had with you, the questions I asked and the suggestions that were made reflected a real understanding of autism spectrum disorders and the strategies that work to support a student.”

We’ll post another parent letter next week.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Actress Meets the Extraordinary Woman She Portrayed

On October 21, percussionist Evelyn Glennie played in concert at Strathmore. The photo to the right was sent to us by actress Erica Siegel (photographed with Evelyn Glennie), who portrayed Evelyn as a young woman in Imagination Stage’s American premiere of Charles Way’s Playing from the Heart last November. Erica said it was “awesome to meet her!” Evelyn recognized Erica from the DVD that was made of the critically acclaimed performance.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the Playing from the Heart DVD, you can come to Just Imagine: the Shop at Imagination Stage at 4908 Auburn Avenue, Bethesda, or call 301-280-1680.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Another trip to Kids Euro Festival

On Friday Nov. 6th, I had the pleasure of attending A Stitch in Time Saves Nine! by the Das Papiertheatre of Germany as presented at the French Embassy as part of Kids Eurofest. The show, performed by textile artist Suzanne Winter and sculptor Johannes Volkmann, started with a large blank sheet of paper stretched across the stage. The performers used shadow play and simple hand play to enact various stories through the images of sewing and creating patterns, cutting through the paper, stitching it up and actually creating a paper shirt that one of the actors donned at the end. I was fascinated to see how such everyday items as scissors, a sewing machine, a needle and thread could be used to stretch our imagination to see these mundane items in a new and refreshing way.

This kind of theatre is often offered up for children from countries other than the United States, where art is supported thru government funding, but I rarely see this type of performance in the US: art for art’s sake enacted on stage. The US government does very little to support the sort of work that gives artists opportunities to just explore a theme. A Stitch in Time was a lovely opportunity to sit back and see the world in a fresh new way; small moments that become delightful when we take the time to highlight them in such a theatrical atmosphere.
--Kate Bryer, Associate Artistic Director, Imagination Stage

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