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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