Monday, February 23, 2009

"Bethesda Business Cares" consortium puts together fabulous event at Imagination Stage for underserved kids!

Nine Bethesda businesses presented a pre-Valentine’s gift to 400 underserved Montgomery County children in the form of a special performance of Imagination Stage’s hit show Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth on Friday evening, February 13 at 6:30 PM. In addition to the show, the nine businesses, calling their partnership “Bethesda Business Cares,” provided bus transportation to and from the theatre, dinner, plus a chance to meet the actors and receive a souvenir of the big night out. On this wonderful evening of high spirits, the business leaders also brought their own employees and family to the performance and served dinner to the attendees.

The participating businesses were: The Jane Fairweather Team; The Gazette; Gifford’s Ice Cream & Candy Co.; Hair Cuttery; The Hollingsworth Group; Honest Tea; Lerch Early & Brewer Chartered; Maggiano’s Little Italy and Monument Bank. The children who attended came from Montgomery Department of Recreation (five different sites), the Silver Spring Boys and Girls Club, the Germantown Boys and Girls Club, The Children’s Inn at NIH and the National Center for Children and Families . One child was overheard telling a friend the show was “Zomotastic!”

Cliff Chiet, Publisher of The Gazette, Montgomery County and The Gazette of Politics & Business, said that “The Gazette decided to get involved with the Bethesda Business Cares event because The Gazette really does care about our local community and supports the positive impact that the arts can make in the life of a child. Zomo the Rabbit was the perfect story about the importance of “doing the right thing” and the value of “friendship.” Imagination Stage is a jewel in the crown of Montgomery County. One of the most important values of any community is the relationship that businesses have with helping to enhance the “culture” of the community where their employees reside.”

Jane Fairweather, one of the organizers, says that “Imagination Stage is a special gift to the Bethesda community that we want to be able to share with children everywhere.” Phil Andrews, Montgomery County Council President joined in the evening’s festivities—and was so impressed by what he saw, that he returned the next day with his family to catch a performance!

Bonnie Fogel, Imagination Stage’s Founder and Executive Director, was delighted by the partnership. “These generous business people have come together to give the gift of theatre to children who might not otherwise have the chance to experience live theatre. They are a shining example of people creatively collaborating to make a big difference in the lives of children.”

Concluded Chiet: “it sends a powerful message to the community when local businesses show they care and continue to invest in their own backyard despite an economic downturn. When the economy is strong, most businesses thrive and some take it for granted. However, when times get tough, it humbles us to appreciate what we have and causes many to look inside themselves and re-evaluate the significance of their own existence and the impact that they are making in the world around them. It is extremely rewarding to be able to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate and to create new experiences for underserved communities.”

The good cheer at Imagination Stage on February 13 was palpable, and it's hard to say who had more fun, the children or the sponsors!

--Laurie Levy-Page

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Zomo Promo

Greetings, Imagination Stage blog community! With the run of Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth in full swing, I'm hoping most of you have had a chance to view our preview/promotion video. If not, here's your chance!

As a part of the promotional video production team, it has been an absolute joy and honor to speak with such special, talented actors/directors/choreographers/stars! Creating this promotional video was no different.

Unlike past promotional videos, however, we were able to capture a number of different scenes live on stage - the energy from the cast, crew, and most importantly, the audience, gave me goosebumps...even from behind the camera!

Don't miss out on this special Winter World Premiere - there are just a couple weeks left!

Happy February,

Andrew Gordon
Marketing Associate

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Friday, October 31, 2008

"Nobody really knows what it's like to be someone else"

There’s a beautiful moment in Imagination Stage’s newest play, Playing from the Heart, when a father is talking to his despairing teenage daughter. He’s doing his best to comfort and support her through high school where she’s struggling to fit in and succeed in orchestra class. Little wonder since despite being diagnosed as profoundly deaf, young Evelyn is intent upon a career in music! “Nobody,” he tells her, “really knows what it’s like to be someone else.” It’s a moment of honesty, of a harsh truth. The words comfort Evelyn because they are offered out of love. But the statement is big. It speaks to one of the tragedies of the human condition. We are ultimately alone. With all the diligence in the world, our parents cannot always protect us from harm, from accidents of birth, from fate. With all the will in the world, our parents cannot always give us what we most desire from life. We must each find our own way and wherewithal to pursue our dreams. Understanding this fact, accepting it, persevering anyway, is part of growing up.

That said, the paradox that delights me is that a play like Playing from the Heart does much to mitigate the isolation we may sometimes feel as individuals trapped in our singular consciousnesses. The journey on which playwright Charles Way leads us through the young life of internationally renowned solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie allows every audience member to imagine what it’s like not just to be someone else, but someone else who is extraordinary. We share her young life on a farm in Scotland, we feel her fear as she loses her hearing, we applaud her determination to pursue music, we share her frustration with the naysayers, and laugh and cry at her ultimate success.

To my mind this kind of children’s theatre is true entertainment. It allows a child in the audience to “entertain” a life experience that she has never had. It allows her, from the safety of her seat, to imagine how devastating it would be to feel one of her senses slipping away. It sensitizes her to the perspective of people with hearing loss, or indeed to anyone else whom she might previously have been tempted to underestimate due to their class, their color or their country of origin.

Yes, Evelyn’s Dad is ultimately right that nobody really knows what it’s like to be someone else. But a well written play can take us pretty darn close!

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Parents as Gatekeepers

“Well, I thought the show was pretty awful but little Jeremy LOVED it!”

This is the review of entertainment for children that I hear countless times from Moms or Dads when they tell me about performances they have taken their youngsters to see outside Imagination Stage. Let’s look at the implications underlying this statement because I find them all disturbing.

It might mean:
Although I’m an adult, I doubt my taste in theatre is as good little Jeremy’s.
Or worse:
Little Jeremy isn’t smart enough to judge good theatre from bad.
Or worse still:
Anything that amuses Jeremy for 60 minutes is fine by me!

Now I know parents in the Washington area to be a highly sophisticated group, well-educated, conscientious and devoted to doing the very best by their children. And yet the same parents who ration meals at McDonalds, who limit screen time, and insist on a sensible bed-time are also spending good money to drag innocent and developing minds to Disney on Ice, 102 Dalmatians or The Wiggles Live in Concert! Of course, most children will enjoy such things. After all, it’s a special treat. It’s an outing, an occasion. An excuse for buttery popcorn or a box of Milk Duds. And, most importantly, Mom and/or Dad has endorsed this show simply by choosing the excursion. Only a really ungrateful little Jeremy would complain.

Now, we all make mistakes. But we don’t need to repeat them ad nauseum. Let me encourage parents to trust their own taste in theatre and become more effective gatekeepers. You should expect more from a visit to the theatre than from most TV shows, video games or other forms of escapist entertainment. There should be beauty, wit, imagination, artistry and meaning on stage. It’s no accident that at Imagination Stage we specialize in “serious fun.”

Next time you suffer through an endless hour at a mediocre children’s entertainment, ask yourself if you are not doing more harm than good. If we are what we eat, we also grow to love whatever kind of theatre we see.

By Janet Stanford

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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 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 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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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Creativity = Success

Imagination Stage has long known that the arts work with the body, voice, mind and imagination in such a way that students benefit at home, in school, or on the stage. In fact, students find success long term no matter what career choices they make.

Whether you're reading Richard Florida's RISE OF THE CREATIVE CLASS or Daniel Pink's A WHOLE NEW MIND, the writing is on the wall -- creativity will drive the future of our economy, society, and personal lives.

For example, this morning I was reading an article about a Washington DC-based researcher working across the country to explore how creativity will affect the economy. "Forty percent of new jobs in the next 15 years will require skills that our current work force does not have . . . We need workers with basic skills and the ability to be creative . . ." (read full article at:

Those of us who have worked for years in arts management know that creative thinking solves problems much faster than old, industrial age models. And, creative thinking is fueled through arts training and exposure from an early age (more articles and data support this, available through Champions of Change published by the Department of Education or Americans for the Arts -

Change may be hard, but at least the change to the 'conceptual age' promises to be creative and fun.


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Monday, August 18, 2008

Casting and our 2008-2009 Season

I am often asked where the actors come from who perform at Imagination Stage. Many people assume that because we are a theatre for young audiences that our company is made up of children. And while we do have a thriving education program that teaches acting, dance, singing and film to more than 3,000 children (ages 1-18) each year, our professional theatre is just that—a regional theatre that hires university trained, professional actors who are based in the Washington, DC area. Each year an organization called The League of Washington Theatres (LOWT) sponsors five full days of auditions for union and non-union actors. Artistic leaders and casting directors from more than 80 local theatres and agencies gather at the Round House Theatre to watch hundreds of actors perform for 2 minutes each. We sit there in the dark making notes on each resume, grading each performer, and making a special pile of the people who seem right for the shows in our upcoming season. LOWT tries to keep all the auditors in a good mood by providing delicious snacks throughout the day!

Casting for each new season then starts in early spring. We create a list of actors we know who seem right for a particular show and then add in anyone we found from the LOWT auditions. If the show is a musical, we ask each candidate to prepare “16 bars” for the Musical Director. This is the first cut. If an actor cannot sing the part for a musical role, it would not matter how well they read for the role. Singing is a talent and a skill that cannot be taught during a short 3-week rehearsal period! Once the capable singers are identified, the director calls this group in to read “sides.” These are short scenes from the play. The actors perform them in a variety of combinations. Sometimes an actor is asked to read for more than one role or to read the same scene with many different partners. How do the directors make the decision about whom to cast? That’s the million dollar question and not easy to answer. Washington is blessed with a wealth of talent. After each audition, I talk with my colleague Kate Bryer about which of the people we’ve seen could play a role. We are keen to make our casts inclusive and diverse but at the same time want to cast the best person for each role. Me, I never make any offers until I sleep on it. When I wake up in the morning I have generally made a decision. This is my dream cast! Or, wait a minute, I still haven’t seen the right person for a particular role. And we go back to the files, talk to people in the office about what we’re looking for and get a new list to audition.

At this point I’m happy to say that the first 5 shows for the 08-09 season are cast. Veteran local actress Helen Hedman (Olney Theatre Center) will be playing Miss Nelson in Miss Nelson is Missing, during the holiday season; Tara Giordano and Terrence Currier (Arena Stage) will star as Heidi and Alp in our new adaptation of Heidi in spring 09; Paige and Nick Hernandez will both participate in our hip hop show Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth—Paige as an actress/dancer and her brother as the DJ/Composer. We’re also proud to welcome Tami Lee Santimyer, a graduate of Gallaudet and most recently seen at the Kennedy Center in Marlee Matlin’s Nobody’s Perfect, for Playing from the Heart in November.

We’re are excited about bringing these artists and many others to our stage and audience. And we extend a loving embrace to all the extraordinary talent in the Washington, DC area. There are never enough roles to go around for all the actors who deserve them.


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Friday, August 8, 2008

Andrew Sonntag's Experience Playing Atreyu in THE NEVERENDING STORY


After reading the novel, I approached this work first as a storyteller. What makes this adventure special is that it is really about every adventure, and the conflict becomes not one of "life and death" as is quoted so often in the script, but really one of being and nonbeing. It is about the future of stories and the nature of reality. So in the weeks before rehearsals began I went back to the mono-myth, studied again "The Hero With A Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell, and became determined to find out why the play needed a hero at all, and why the play needed to be created and produced in the first place. It's a book every storyteller, in any aspect, should read. Here's a bit from the beginning that deserves to be quoted at length:

"There are of course differences between the numerous mythologies and religions of mankind, but this is a book about similarities; and once they are understood the differences will be found to be much less great than is popularly (and politically) supposed. My hope is that a comparative elucidation may contribute to the perhaps not-quite disparate causes of those forces that are working in the present world for unification, not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the sense of human mutual understanding"

Atreyu is, as heroes so often are, incredibly naïve and overconfident at the start. Even after failing again and again, it isn't until he loses Artax (who acts as not just a companion or friend, but as Atreyu's superego) that he is forced to come into being. In the book he considers letting himself die, but carries on. It is this decision that truly is his "manhood test," which he waited for his whole life before being called to the Great Quest.

He is called to this adventure to find a cure for the Childlike Empress. In the book she is said to be "the beginning of all things," and if she dies, the boundless universe in which Atreyu exists ('imagination' if you like), will cease to exist. And still, with this burden, Atreyu, as the archetypal hero, deals with his own great quest, as we all do: one of purpose. In the play, this comes to a peak at the Sphinx Gate, whose riddle is manifest in the question, "What is the Great Quest when I look out at all those stars?" This is a test of will and perspective, and boils down to "why do I exist?" He doesn't find an answer, but rather a state of mind, which serves as a solution. Like Sisyphus (as understood by Camus), it isn't that he finds a purpose, but a will. He thumbs his nose at the gods and keeps pushing, in spite of everything telling him that his existence is worthless, and hinting that he may not even exist at all.

So that's a very small bit of background about how I approach things (I also recommend doing your etymology work, but I will pass to try and keep this short).

THE PROCESS: "It is fun to play a hero."

As for the actual acting process, Janet helped me find a way to let all of the above serve me in a real way. I had done so much work figuring out who Atreyu is that I had lost something in translating it to the stage. Janet's best piece of advice was this, "Ultimately, Atreyu is stuck with you. Not the other way around." I stopped worrying about every last detail and let myself grow into the role (or let the role grow into me I guess).

It is fun to play a hero. I didn't get to create fantastic voices and creatures like my fellow actors, but I learned a lot from them. Eventually I found a solution to my own Sphinx Gate within the process. We're coming up on 60 shows—ten just this week, but it doesn't get old (I hear Carl laughing at me somewhere in the back of my head). We do get tired, but we keep it fresh, and even better, the audience keeps it fresh (gasps, screams, laughs, and even one time a young boy declaring "AAFFRIICCAA!" at the top of the show). You never know what to expect.

I want to express thanks to my fellow actors. I learned from them every day, on and off the stage, and I still am. They are all phenomenal people in some very surprising and beautiful ways. The show will close this week, but we won't start saying goodbye until the story is told one final time.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Behind the Scenes of AS YOU LIKE IT

The Midsummer Shakespeare Company performed As You Like It in July. The teen company had lots of fun on stage and back stage. The Director, Madeleine Burke, set the play in 1930s Louisiana and has this to say about it:

Directors notes
by Madeleine Burke (pictured to the right with Katie Le Dain).

Every summer I am delighted by the journey that these student-actors and I take exploring one of Shakespeare's great plays. I am always thrilled by the discoveries and choices made and how perceptive the students are and how invested they become in the text and in the world of the play. This year, I decided we would visit Arden and delve into As You Like It. When choosing a concept for one of Shakespeare's plays, I think it is important to not impose on the text, but to find an environment and time that will speak to the themes and will allow the play to be flexible. I chose to set the play in the deep South in the 1930s, partly because I felt a resonance of Southern Gothic in the tangled relationships of Duke Senior and Duke Frederick (Duchess Francesca and Duchess Frederica in our production) as well as in that of the troubled brothers Orlando and Oliver. Two pairs of brothers in conflict and both pairs redeemed by the end of the play. I also wanted to find a green world that was beautiful, mysterious, idyllic and also dangerous -- and I thought the bayous of Louisiana would stand in perfectly for my vision of Arden. Music was also very important to creating the world of our play -- from the frenetic Dixieland jazz of the court to the traditional American folk songs of the pastoral world.
At its heart, As You Like It is about the discovery of love -- and love in many forms. Duchess Frederica has a twisted love for her daughter; Celia is the model of selfless love for a friend (and yet is very suspicious of romantic love); Silvius suffers unrequited love for his Phebe and Rosalind and Orland fall in love at first sight. But, what is remarkable about the play is that Rosalind is not content with love at first sight and she tests Orland to see if he can move beyond his picture of idealized love into a more truthful comprehension of what marriage and love entails. In this production, the student-actors were in agreement that Orlando's journey is as complex as Rosalind's and that he has a real choice to make, once he realizes that Ganymede is Rosalind. Is Rosalind's disguise and her testing of his love a deal-breaker for him? We decided that Orlando makes that realization well before the last scene of the play -- giving him the opportunity to decide whether this Rosalind should be 'his Rosalind.' Rosalind, Celia, Orlando and Oliver go through profound changes by their travels into Arden -- as are all of us who took this 5 week journey with them.

Backstage with the cast (left: the women of As You Like It; right: Celia and Orlando )

On stage in performance: (left to right & below) Orlando with the Duchess, Orlando at Court meeting Rosalind and Celia, Rosalind as Ganymede in the Bayou.

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Friday, July 18, 2008


Photos by Scott Schuchman
Eribo arrives on the scene, angry at the overly large visitors

Artax and Atreyu struggling in the swamp

Atreyu receives his mission from the Childlike Empress

Atreyu being followed by Gmork

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Developing New Plays for Imagination Stage

New plays are the life blood of live theatre. Our culture and priorities change so quickly nowadays that even versions of classic stories written two decades ago feel out-dated. The female characters are too passive, or the action too violent, or the messages too pat to speak meaningfully to today’s young people and families. That’s why at Imagination Stage we are always working on four or five new plays at a time. Each new commission is different. Sometimes we have an idea and go to a particular playwright with it and other times a playwright comes to us with an idea. That was the case with THE NEVERENDING STORY. Toronto-based playwright David S. Craig obtained the English-speaking theatrical rights to Michael Ende’s novel while working on another project in Germany. Because the Ende estate commands considerable respect internationally, David needed to promise its agent two productions at leading American Theatres for Young Audiences. I called up my counterpart at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, Linda Hartzell, and suggested that we share the premiere of the play and open it on both coasts in the same season. The fantasy novel turned out to be a favorite of Linda’s only son. She was not hard to convince!

And, as a seasoned playwright, David was not hard to work with. Once the commission was negotiated, he holed himself up on a beach in some South American country for a month to write the first draft. I then met with David and the Linda in Seattle to talk about how to maximize the dramatic elements of the story. The threat of the evil Gmork and The Nothing needed to be established early in the play and build to a climax. David’s second draft was not as faithful to the book but it was a much improved vehicle for the stage. Then when Seattle opened the first production last holiday season, I met David out there again, we talked at length about the production choices there which were, of necessity, very different from what Imagination Stage was planning. The Seattle Children’s Theatre has 600 seats (as opposed to the 380 we have) and the stage is a traditional proscenium, or picture frame stage (as opposed to the thrust that we have). David and I also talked about some possible adjustments to the script that would work better in Bethesda. David arrived about midway through our June 08 rehearsal process and jumped in immediately to make several cuts since the show was running long, and to make line adjustments that helped our particular production. David was ultimately very pleased with Imagination Stage’s production of his show. At his encouragement the artistic directors of two other TYA theatres have traveled from Milwaukee and Tempe to check out how we have solved some tricky staging problems. It is above all gratifying to know that a play that Imagination Stage helped to give birth to is already scheduled to have at least one more year of life at numerous other theatres across the USA next season.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Julie Garner, actor, on 4 characters and even more puppets

I officially play four characters in the show, but it adds up to NINE if you count all the ones for which I make a contribution (aka, Ygramul, Vooshvazool, the Nothing, etc.). I'd have to say the most challenging and rewarding characters for me throughout this process are Morla and Urgl, even though I am hidden behind the puppet and the mask, respectively. There was an intense amount of experimentation that went into fine-tuning these characters -- their movements and characterization. I'm virtually blind while "operating" these characters, but they always illicit squeals and giggles from the audience, and that is very gratifying.

I think the best reason to act in a show is to try something totally different from yourself and to expand the variety of your craft as a performer. The Neverending Story let me accomplish both. Never before have I had to incorporate so many different skills in the same show. Character variety, puppetry, masks, movement, quick changes and ensemble work are not foreign to me, but layering them on top of one another was an exhilarating challenge. Then to layer the expertise of Janet (director), Leslie (movement) and Eric (puppeteer) on top of my own experience was to create a new perspective for each moment on stage.

The technical ambition of this show was enough to alter any actor's typical "process." For example, when I should have been contemplating "what is the bully's super-objective?" I was thinking, instead, "What are the changes I'll fall down if I try to zip my pants and put both arms through a book bag while going down a spiral staircase?" Once the show opened (and I had successfully flirted with this quick-change disaster), I finally began to relax into the natural rhythms of that particular character.

Making this experience even more memorable is the ensemble of actors, directors, designers, and technical crew at Imagination Stage. There is a sense of trust that makes this magic possible. I trust Janet's artistic vision; I trust that the trap doors will open and close safely; I trust that every actor in the show will play each moment to its fullest potential; and, of course, I trust that every person of every age sitting in the audience will leave our theatre entertained and inspired by The Neverending Story.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Opening a show is sort of like cramming for an exam. It’s a high stress deadline that the company psyches itself for but which ultimately is fairly meaningless. After all, you can get an "A" on a history test but instantly forget most of the dates and details the minute you leave the classroom. It’s your deeper and abiding comprehension of the material that matters and which can help to inform your decisions in the present. Though we tend to think of our VIP opening night audience, newspaper critics and Helen Hayes judges as the examiners in AMERICAN THEATRE who mete out our grades, it’s interesting to note that this is not the only way of working. Last summer when Robert Dion from DynamO Theatre in Montreal was co-directing THE ARABOOLIES OF LIBERTY STREET with me, he was delighted with the possibilities he saw for the show during our public previews. And he was shocked and horrified when I told him that it was too late in our process to make major changes to the set, costumes or action of the piece. With his own company in Quebec, Robert may keep a show in repertory for several years. Over that time, he attends every performance, many different actors cycle through the production, and Robert adjusts the text, the action, and the significant moments as he sees what suits the players. Always, he is striving to make the work deeper. As he understands the play at a more profound level over time from watching and living with it, he has the freedom to make the adjustments that will reveal these discoveries to his audience.

Even as we launch THE NEVERENDING STORY on its 7 week run at Imagination Stage, I know that this talented company is gaining new insights about the story and their characters with every performance they do. It is the response and engagement of the audience that takes them deeper into the hearts of their characters and the magical world of Fantastica. While they have a clear direction, there are still innumerable nuances to be found. I remember when I was an actor discovering something new about a line which I’d said a hundred times in rehearsal and performance but suddenly discovered its true meaning. “How could I have missed that” you ask yourself, “why didn’t I see it before”? Every production possesses an organic life that belongs to the company. Good actors bring new material from their daily lives, the news, a book they just read, a painting or movie they saw to the theatre each day. They challenge themselves to reveal more about their unique knowledge of life through the mouth of their characters in each successive performance. The production grows like a person into its maturity over the run. While I don’t have the option, like Robert, of watching every performance and tweaking the moments over the next seven weeks, I know that I’ll be dropping into the back of the theatre most days to catch my favorite scenes and see how different audiences are responding to the show. What makes live theatre so vital to me in our technological age is that is cannot be canned, graded or dismissed as a finished product until the lights dim on the final performance. Actors and audience are sharing real time, breathing the same air, and connecting in a magical and mightily meaningful way.


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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Michael John Casey (actor) on Tech Week

I'm Michael John Casey and I am playing the role of Falkor among others in The Neverending Story. I have been acting professionally in the DC area for about a decade, and I am very happy to be back at Imagination Stage. This entry is just to touch on the experience of technical rehearsals and provide an inside scoop to the character of Falkor, the luck dragon.

Now truth be told, many actors don't care for technical rehearsals, mainly because they are long days and sometimes amount to a good deal of waiting. But I have to admit that I love technical rehearsals. Having worked my way through college and graduate school in scene shops and occasionally as a theatrical electrician, I got to see both sides. When tech rehearsals come around, I see it as the time when all the different elements and artisans of the theatre come together for the one goal of creating a successful theatrical experience. Getting to really experience the set as the world of the play opens the doors of discovery like very few things do. One gets to see not only how the lights will actually light the play but provide focus and tension to a particular scene. This goes the same for sound. The added level of puppetry with this production makes the experience in my opinion, all the more exciting.

For the role of Falkor, I started with the book and what playwright David Craig has adapted. Falkor has a mischievous quality that makes him charming. He's a bit of a trickster, but has a good moral compass. When Falkor is aware that Atreyu is responsible for the helping in saving his life, Falkor chooses to devote himself to a bond of friendship with Atreyu which becomesan adventure aiding Atreyu on his quest regardless of what dangers that might mean for the both of them. We all have "pals" but it those people who will stand by us in good times and bad that are the ones truly bonded to us as friends. For the physicality of the character, (as the design had gone away from the "flying dog" image of the 1984 movie) I looked to images of dragons and watched a few movies where dragons and their movement was featured prominently. It has been a great deal of fun in the rehearsing and I hope that reads to the audience.

Please come and I hope you enjoy it!

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Inside peak to the decisions after "Design Run"

The Neverending Story
June 15, 2008

Towards the end of the second week of rehearsal, we reach a point where Designers and other Imagination Stage staff are invited in to see a full run of the show in the rehearsal hall. It is an important milestone for everybody in the production process. A day that the company works towards; a day when the actors try to be completely off-book and that the company works towards, a day when the actors try o be completely off-book and get the blocking and stage business as true to what has been rehearsed. For the first time, we have a small audience. We can feel the flow of the whole play, the journeys of the characters, catch a glimpse of what the show will look like in performance and discover what parts will be the highlights for our audience. It is also an important day for our designers -- lighting, sound, and set -- as well as the builders of costumes, props, and puppets. From the design run, they learn where lights will have to be focused. They spot potential problems: does one actor need a pocket in her costume for a prop? Will the furniture as designed work with the movement performed? They hope is that we can make adjustments before tech week when we move into the theatre and pull all the production elements together into a pretty package.

Here are some changes we made during the process that followed the design run:
  • Artax's (Max Lawrence) horse's behind, as designed, could not work with Atreyu (Andrew Sontag) riding piggy back. Costume designer Kathleen Geldard and I talked. Sadly, the behind had already been built by props designer Dre Moore. It seemed criminal to lose her beautiful work. Suddenly Kathleen recalled that Cairon (Carl Randolph) is a centaur in the book! Thus Artax's behind was moved to Cairon.
  • Initial plans for the set included an elaborate pulley system for Bastian to ride down from his perch in the attic in order to enter Fantastica at the climactic moment of the play. During the "cost-out" for the set, we discovered that this structure was going to put us $1500 over budget. I asked Choreographer Leslie Felbain if she thought the company could "catch" Bastian (Michael Nguyen) if he was brave enough to jump onto the stage from his 8-foot platform. Leslie, who includes circus work in her long list of movement credentials, said "sure." I also took precaution of calling Michael (a sophomore at Walt Whitman High School) and asked him about it. He chimed in "sure," too. Rehearsals have therefore included several sessions of Michael jumping off an 8-foot ladder so he won't be surprised by the height of the platform once we're in the theatre June 18th.
  • Puppeteer Eric Van Wyk has been working on the build of several puppets for the show and training the actors to tuse them. We discovered during design run that Eribo's hot air balloon was not reading quite right, the Sassafranian Father was too short for easy operation by puppeteer/actors MJ Casey and Julie Garner, and that the shields that make up the shell of Morla the Turtle were heavy and reading more like a wall than a turtle's humped back.
  • Eric made some modifications and returned to rehearsal the following Friday to help us make the most of the puppets. It is hard to describe the difference between a puppet that comes to life and one that doesn't. The slightest adjustment can make a tremendous difference. I'll be watching the scene and suddenly this paper mache and wire construction becomes a complete being with thoughts, feelings and designers! True theatre magic.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Neverending Story: The conflicts between good & evil


Pinch-punch-first-of-the-month of June at Imagination Stage means turning a page on our Production Calendar and starting to build the world of this summer’s ambitious extravaganza, THE NEVERENDING STORY. Best known to American audiences from the 1984 movie adaptation, this brilliant fantasy mystery and adventure was written by German author, Michael Ende, in the years following World War II and published in 1953. Like its British counterpart, C. S. Lewis’s better known CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, Ende’s book deals with bold conflicts between good and evil, an imaginary world full of eccentric characters, and the journey of some youngsters against enormous odds to ensure that the positive forces prevail over the bad. That’s where the parallels end, however, because in Ende’s world view, there is no Aslan willing to sacrifice himself for a flawed humanity. Instead, Ende repeatedly shows his leading characters faced with profound difficulties—the death of loved ones, lack of faith in the abilities of the young, adult apathy, self-interest and outright vengefulness. Yet the author draws us through the perils and pain of dark characters and events as a way, in the end, of affirming the light. He affirms each person’s ability, and indeed his responsibility, to choose peace over violence; bravery over cowardice; generosity over meanness; and action over inaction.

This is a fantasy with a great contemporary feel with many great lessons the children of today.

These are the ideas that we began with on Monday in our first rehearsal. A company of 9 actors has been assembled in order to populate both the real world and the world of Fantastica. As you can imagine, there has to be a great of deal of doubling and fast costume changes in order to realize the 37 characters in the script. (And even this represents some fraction of those in the novel.) During the Design Presentation to the company, Set Designer Dan Conway showed a model of the set. This involves a circular playing space with four trap doors, a metal bridge with a spiral staircase and a huge projection screen that is decorated to look like a printed page from the book, THE NEVERENDING STORY. Dan showed the group several images on his Mac laptop that are being photoshop-ed in order to create the lush and varied backdrops for the scenes in Fantastica. Puppeteer and Puppet-maker Eric Van Wyk showed the cast his sketches of puppets that he will build for the show: hand puppets that are The Good Fairy and Eribo; Bun Raku puppets for the Sassafranians (who grow young instead of old) and the Night Hob, VoshVazool, who brings news of The Nothing to the Magnolia Palace, home of the childlike Empress. Eric demonstrated his work-in-progress, Vooshvazool’s bat whose wings are crafted from half of a black umbrella! Costume and props presentations were made by Kathleen Geldard and Dre Moore respectively. Because the cast will be onstage most of the time playing everything from pedestrians on the street to aspects of the landscape in Fantastica, Kathleen has chosen to put most everyone in a base costume that matches the sepia tones of the big page of the book on the set. To this many different pieces will be added or changed throughout the show in order to create all 37 characters.

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