Friday, February 5, 2010

A Duck’s Eye View of PETER & THE WOLF Tech Week

Actress Gia Mora shares thoughts on tech week for Peter & The Wolf:

An actor’s definition of technical rehearsals:

When the safety of the well lit, costume-free rehearsal hall atmosphere disappears, and the process of bringing a show to life leaves the actor’s grasp and is hurled forward in giant leaps by the seasoned hands of the artistic and technical staff of the theatre.

No wonder so many of us find this time terrifying!

Luckily for me this process of letting the other elements of Peter blossom offered ample opportunity for me to endow my puppet, Duck, with a soul.

Patty, as I call her, started as a cardboard mockup--light weight, footless, and blind as a... well, duck with no eyes. Thanks to our incredible puppets/prop mistress Dre, this creature morphed into a much heavier styrofoam and papier mache version of herself. Dre added waddling little legs, wings to help Patty fly, and wiggling feathers for Patty’s shakes and shimmies. Day by day she grew into the amazing hen we see today--eyelashes and all!

Having never worked with large puppets like this (I did a bit of puppeteering in The Araboolies of Liberty Street at Imagination Stage a couple of years ago), I had no idea what a work out I was in for! My shoulders, my hands, my knees. I was sore from top to bottom. This became especially true when Patty’s lighted pond appeared downstage left, hovering between the lip of the thrust... and the three steps leading into the house. After this show I think I will have quadriceps of steel!

It is always a pleasure to come play at Imagination Stage because the production values here are so high. The artistic, technical, and administrative staff, helmed by stage manager Kristen, ensure that every show exceeds the standard expectations of theatre for young audiences, from lights to sound to costumes. I’m sure the kids and parents will enjoy the show as much as I do!

--Gia Mora

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Imagination Stage Receives 4 Helen Hayes Award Nominations!

On Monday, January 25 the nominees for the 26th Annual Helen Hayes Awards were announced. For those of you not familiar with the Awards, they are given in recognition of excellence in professional theatre in the Washington DC area (think the Tony Awards in DC).

While this is always an exciting event and many outstanding artists and productions are recognized, this year was just a little more exciting for us here at Imagination Stage. There is a brand new award: Outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences. Productions in this category must be geared for children age 12 and under. Out of the five nominations, three of them were Imagination Stage shows!

· Zomo the Rabbit: A Hip-Hop Creation Myth (Written and Directed by Psalmayene 24)
· Heidi (Written by Martha King De Silva and Joan Cushing, Directed by Janet Stanford)
· Lyle the Crocodile (Written by Kevin Kling, Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer)

Our three nominations are joined by The Kennedy Center’s production of Barrio Grrrl! and Synetic Theatre’s The Tale of the Fisherman and the Golden Fish.

Our fourth nomination was for the awesome Tara Giordano for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Resident Musical for her portrayal of Heidi!

These nominations are the result of the passion and hard work of a lot of talented and creative people over the past year. We couldn’t be more excited to have this hard work acknowledged.

The winners are announced at a ceremony on April 5. To read a full list of the nominees and to learn more about the great work that the Helen Hayes Awards organization does for the DC community, visit:

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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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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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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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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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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 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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