Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A New Audience: Performing for the Next Generation

Theatre has stood the test of time as being one of the most universal forms of entertainment. In our current climate, theatre continues to be important for entertainment, education, and the spreading of cultural elements.
The cast of Chicken Story Time rehearsing with their puppets. 
It is important for us as adults to be exposed to arts and theatre, but it may be even more important for the children in our community. Chicken Story Time, the summer presentation for EMU Theatre, is aimed at audiences aged 3-6. We were able to talk with director, Patricia Moore Zimmer, about the importance of Drama and Theatre for the Young. She said "Theatre is an antidote to the cultural pressures that say 'Quit fooling around and act your age.' Fooling around is essential to adult creativity! Every age needs play!" Dramatic play and imagination are nature's most powerful tools for teaching children. Chicken Story Time, "supports developing literacy through its focus on the pleasure of books and story time. It exposes the children to language and engages them in language...through its silliness and playfulness, it invites them to imagine and explore along with the actors." The ultimate appeal of theatre for young audiences is the joy that it brings, along with it's educational value. Zimmer says, "It never ceases to give me joy...children are the true experts at make-believe. They can enter imaginary worlds with a level of focus, commitment, and intense belief that equals that of the best actors...in the realm of 'what if' children are our peers; they are our mentors to be respected. They can also be the most wonderful of companions in the play that happens between actors and audience."

Patricia Moore Zimmer (director) and Alex Duncan (asst. director)  
It is not only by academics that the benefit of DTFY can be observed. EMU Theatre alum, and Associate Artistic Director at Spinning Dot Theatre Company, Tyler Calhoun was able to give us some insight into how theatre for the young benefits our community. "The plays we produce are all international, so for our young artists and audiences we are cultivating an interest in other countries and other coultures." says Calhoun. "This is very important because of what our country is going through with so much fear and hatred being directed toward people who are different than we are...the parents that come to see our shows really appreciate the work we do because it opens up a space for dialogue between them and their children to discuss these topics."

The performing artists involved in theatre for the young are also experiencing benefits of this unique form of art. "It always keeps me on my toes...kids are the most honest audience members. So when you are performing for them, you have to be honest, truthful, and absolutely in character...They will let you know when they don't believe, so you have to completely believe in yourself."
Drama and theatre for the young is a necessary part for the healthy development of young minds. We are so proud to be a part of a program, and a community, that is part of creating this movement.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Bridging the Gap: How Ancient Theatre Relates to the 21st Century

The Trojan Women may be a cetnuries old story, but it still resonates with a modern audience. Jennifer Graham-Felts has the opportunity to direct this production this year. She has been wanted to put this show on stage for six years, and we got the opportunity to talk to her about this project.

Ellen McLaughlin adapted this piece from a tragedy written over 2000 years ago. Eurpides tells the story of the women left to their own devices after the fall of the great city, Troy. We sat down with the director to talk about why this piece still hits home.

What makes you so passionate about this project? 
The Trojan Women first read through on November 11, 2017

"I have always found the universal, timeless messages in Greek theatre to be very moving. It is doubly exciting to see so many women represented on stage in this piece." 

What makes this play so special and important? 

"History is always told by the winners, but this play may be the first in history that was written with a sympathetic view of the loser in conflict." 

How do you think this play remains relevant in 2018? 

"There are many conflicts all over the world, in which we see women and children as refuges. They are forced out of their homes by their conquerors, because of the choices men have made. Although women have more rights than when this play was first produced in the 5th century BCE in Athens, we still see today that women, in the home, in the workplace and within society, tend to be at the mercy of men and the choices that are made for them." 

What do you want the audience to get out of this prodction?

Well, in true Greek fashion, I would like to see the audience experience a catharsis. I want them to think about the character's experiences, have some conversation, and ask some questions. I want the audience to be challenged by the material." 

Jennifer Graham-Felts is also our movement specialist for EMU Theatre. We also were able to talk to her about how movement factors into a piece such as this. 

How does being a movement specialist influence your directing style? 

" I tend to look at a piece from physical dynamics, rhythm of the body, and the language, balance, or being off balance. In this piece in particular, we are using elemental movement, such as fire, water, and air."

Jennifer Graham-Felts directs the cast of The Trojan Women. 

Do you think being a movement specialist gives you any advantages in directing? 

"I don't know if its an advantage, but I think I can handle moving large groups on people on stage quickly." 

Do you think this piece lends itself to doing unique things with movement? 

Certainly, because Greek Tragedy is larger than life and movement practic helps to heighten the acting. 

Getting this chance to sit and talk with Jen has allowed us to see how theatre touches us all, no matter what time we are in. There is a universality to theatre that is unmatched, and we are eagerly awaiting the presentation of this piece. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Theatrical Legacy of "A Raisin in the Sun"

   Lorraine Hansberry's literary classic A Raisin in the Sun debuted on Broadway nearly 58 years ago on March 11, 1959. Raisin was the first play written by a black woman to appear on Broadway and it paved the way for future work by black playwrights, directors and theatre artists to be seen on the Great White Way. This play garnered its name from Langston Hughes' poem Harlem and like the poem it focuses on African American life in the United States during the 1950's. Raisin specifically focuses on the Younger family living in a small two-bedroom apartment in Chicago's south side. In Raisin the primary struggle exists between the central character, Walter Lee and the rest of his family. Although they all have a similar goal of wanting a better life for themselves and their family, the means by which they believe this goal will be realized is very different. The theme of rising out of one's situation is pervasive and still a common struggle for many, but this theme is not the only reason why Hansberry's play has had such a lasting legacy.
   The impact of Hansberry's story was so powerful that two playwrights wrote plays of their own that offer more insight into the life of the Younger family following the events of A Raisin in the Sun. These plays are Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris and Beneatha's Place by Kwame Kwei-Armah.
   Clybourne Park premiered in 2010 at Playwrights Horizon in New York City and went on to win the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama and the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play. Act one of this play takes place shortly after the events in A Raisin in the Sun. It begins with Raisin's supporting character, Karl Linder pleading to his neighbor not to sell his home - the home that the Younger family intends to move into. Linder is afraid that property values will decline if a black family moves into their neighborhood. The second act is set in 2009 and Clybourne Park has become a predominantly black neighborhood facing gentrification. This act focuses on a white couple, one of which is the daughter of Karl Linder, who are attempting to buy and rebuild the home at larger scale and for a larger profit. Throughout the act they are negotiating housing regulations with a black couple, one of which is a descendant of Younger family. Conversation over housing codes soon erupts into racial issues after this 50 year struggle is revisited in Norris' modern drama.
   Kwei-Armah extends the legacy of Raisin and the conversations ignited by Clybourne Park in his play Beneatha's Place. This play premiered as part of Center Stage Theatre's 50th season in Baltimore, Maryland. Beneatha's Place was performed alongside Clybourne Park in the season to put the work in context and further the discussions raised by Clybourne Park. With the pairing of these two plays and their relations to Lorraine Hansberry's original script they've respectively been called The Raisin Cycle.
   Like Norris' play Beneatha's Place begins in 1959, but instead of being set in Chicago this play takes place in Lagos, Nigeria. Beneatha has married Joseph Asagai and they've moved to Nigeria where she plans to pursue her medical career and Asagai is serving as a leader in the fight for Nigerian independence. The second act is closer to present day, Beneatha is much older and we learn that she is the Dean of Social Sciences at California University. Her department is considering dropping African American Studies for Whiteness Studies which examines the place of White Privilege in society. Three white professors including the head of African American Studies and a black assistant professor join Beneatha in her old Nigerian home to hold this important discussion. Formalities are dropped and true feelings emerge over a heated first world discussion happening in a third world country.
   A Raisin in the Sun is considered to be one of the hallmarks of American Theatre. Its story and themes have proven to be timeless and inspirational to countless audience members over the years. With the creation of The Raisin Cycle it has allowed Hansberry's original play to be introduced to a new generation of audiences, while also bringing new conversations into community dialogue over issues that did not exist or were not as relevant during the 1950's.
   In 2017, where political leaders threaten to erect barriers to keep others and their differences out, when a movement known as 'Black Lives Matter' is no longer new, but an established force and where hate crimes targeted specifically to the black community have occurred on our very own campus, we are PROUD to be producing this play. This play and its central message are timeless and even concerning in terms of how truly relevant they still are today. Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun takes the stage Feb. 8-12, we truly hope to see you at the show.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

5 Ways to Purge the MACBETH Curse With EMU Theatre

If you're a theatre person you know what the one word is that you should never, ever, EVER say in a theater. And if you're not a theatre person and stumbled upon this blog post because you are an English Literature student, or a practicing witch looking for new curses to try - the name you should never say in a theater is Macbeth! 

Our first show of the season is William Shakespeare's MACBETH, so going into the show we did a little investigating amongst #EMUTheatre to find out how one might get rid of the dreaded curse...just in case.

Naturally we first went to the stage manager of MACBETH, Becca Bedell.

Then we decided it might be wise to ask someone with a lot of Shakespeare chops, so we stopped by Terry Heck Seibert's office.

After getting some great prank ideas to use on the MACBETH cast from Terry, she suggested we talk to the man directing the Scottish play, Lee Stille!

Not having found a specific cure for the curse yet - Terry said we should ask the person who knows all the things, our Supervising Stage Manager, Brittney Gillespie! 

After talking to Brittney we realized we forgot to talk to the person in charge of everything, the person with all the answers, the person who made twizzlers a necessity in Quirk, PAM CARDELL!  

There you have it, Give My Regards To Broadway the Pam Cardell-endorsed fix to the curse of Macbeth! But don't let the curse scare you away come see the savage, Shakespearean tragedy of MACBETH running Oct. 21 - Oct. 30 at Eastern Michigan University.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Nick Whittaker Discusses Life at the Barn

   If you saw a show in our 2015-2016 season then you are probably familiar with Nick Whittaker. Nick transferred to Eastern last year to pursue a degree in Theatre Arts and Musical Theatre. He made a splash on the Quirk stage last season by appearing as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables and Stanley Stubbers in One Man, Two Guvnors! After a successful year at EMU Nick decided to tackle the all too familiar experience for anyone pursuing a career in musical theatre...summer stock.
   After attending a cattle call audition for numerous summer stock theatre companies Nick went to a callback, filled out an application and after two months found out that he would be spending his summer in beautiful Augusta Michigan at the historic Barn Theatre. 
   The Barn Theatre is one of the oldest and most recognized summer stock theatre companies in Michigan. Summer stock theaters hire a group of actors to form a company for the summer and that company of actors rehearses numerous shows and performs them in rep that summer. The Barn also has an apprenticeship program where summer stock actors learn various other skills such as set building, props, lighting and more on shows that they aren't performing in. While at The Barn actors can earn points toward membership into the Actors' Equity Association and work alongside Equity actors in various productions. 
   Now that you know a little bit about The Barn here's the inside scoop from someone who's worked there! 

Q. How did you get hired at The Barn? 
A. "I was hired at the Barn through auditions, callbacks, and an application. I personally auditioned at the North Central Regional auditions, a type of unified auditions that brings together actors with professional theatre companies hiring for summer, year-round, or both. As I am in school still, I only auditioned for summer. Although I had callbacks with other companies as well, I was most intrigued by the Barn because of their fantastic season as well as the history and legacy that it holds. After my auditions, I filled out the rather lengthy application and was offered a contract in about two months." 

Q. What shows are in their season this summer? 
A. "The shows this season are Avenue Q, Buyer and Cellar, Guys and Dolls, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Little Mermaid, The Rocky Horror Show, Singin' in the Rain, and Red, White, and Tuna."

Q. What shows are you performing in? 
A. "I will be performing in five shows total this summer. I was/will be involved in the others on the props team but will not be performing because those shows utilize only Equity performers. In Guys and Dolls, I was Society Max/Con Man/ Havana Bartender. In Jesus Christ Superstar, I was Peter. In The Little Mermaid, I am playing Jetsam. In The Rocky Horror Show, I am a Transylvanian. I will be performing in Singin' in the Rain, but do not know my role yet. The last show of the season I will be doing my props duties but not performing, as it is a two man show." 

Q. What is your favorite show that you've done this summer?
A. "So far, Jesus Christ Superstar was my favorite to perform. I enjoyed the show so much because of course, I've loved the rock opera for many years but it was also a very fulfilling role to play. A show discussing such a ubiquitous and well-known figure like Jesus Christ was a thrill and a challenge because the audience already comes in knowing most of the story so the actor must find ways to bring new facets of the story and the characters to life."

Q. How would you describe a typical work day at The Barn?
A. "Working at the Barn is no small feat, to say the least. Despite lunch and dinner breaks (that are often spent rehearsing the cabaret show that follows each main stage show), the work day every day is typically from 9:30 am to about 12:30 am. The work is intense, the hours are long, and days off are not plentiful. The days can vary but a typical day would start with our meeting, we then break to work areas which is props for me, then get called to rehearsal for the next show throughout the day, lunch/bar show rehearsal next, then back to work areas/rehearsal, dinner, then show assignment which rotates (I've done bar, parking, and ushering), and then get ready and perform the current show at night. After the show is the bar show which features the apprentice company. The bar show changes with each show and is comprised of all genres of music from pop/rock to standard Musical Theatre. After the bar show is done, then you are released to go home."

Q. What do you like most about working at The Barn?
A.  "As I've said, the schedule is very unforgiving and many times I get exhausted and frustrated. However, at the end of the day I feel very fulfilled by being a working actor that gets to perform constantly; it really is a ton of fun. My favorite part is actually the bar show because I get to perform many different styles of music performance which always proves to be thrilling."

Q. What has been your least favorite part about working there?  
A. "My least favorite part is the hours/every other Monday off (for the most part) schedule. It is utterly exhausting but proves to be pretty necessary for how many shows are being put up in this short summer season."

Q. What are some of the differences between doing shows at The Barn and doing shows at EMU? 
A. "There are many many differences between here and EMU, the most significant difference being the rehearsal process. The process is much quicker with the entire rehearsal and tech being within two weeks or less. Another difference is that for EMU, there are auditions for each show with callbacks whereas here, we auditioned to get in and at the beginning of the summer when we got here and then everything was cast (for the most part). As is typical of professional theatre, the expectations are very high, like the expectation that once something is learned musically or blocked, it will be memorized completely the next time it is ran. There are many more but those are the ones that come to the mind at the moment."

Q. What are some skills that you will take away from your experience performing at The Barn?
A.  I hoped to learn what it's like in the professional theatre world and although there are some things here that may differ from other professional theatres, I have really gotten a grasp of it. I came into it not knowing how I was going to be able to digest all of this information so quickly and perform it. I didn't think it would be possible to be performing two different shows (main stage and bar) while rehearsing two others at the same time. However, I acclimated fairly quickly because I focused intently and also had no choice not to. A lot of my experience here has given me proof that, despite whether I get frequent work as an actor or not, I have it in me to work hard and make it in this crazy business.

Thank you for the interview Nick!! We're so glad you had a great time this summer and we can't wait to have you back in the fall! For more information on The Barn Theatre visit: http://barntheatreschool.org/

For more information on our upcoming season visit: www.emich.edu/emutheatre 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Welcome to EMU Theatre Jackie Marlett!

Meet one of our newest EMU Theatre students
Jackie Marlett!

   Jackie Marlett is a new graduate of Woodhaven High School in Flat Rock, Michigan who is headed to EMU next month! Just like so many others, the last show she binged on Netflix was New Girl, "I love it!" she said with a smile. (We love Zooey Deschanel too Jackie.)

  She is planning on being involved in EMU Theatre, but she's taking her first year to get acclimated to college life. So far Jackie is undecided on a major, "I wanted to go through my first year and take the classes that everyone has to take (general education) and discover what interests I have in things outside of what I did in high school." When asked what she was most looking forward to when it comes to starting college she said, "Meeting the different people in the community and working with new people. You get so used to working with the same people and the same director from high school and I think it will be good to work with new people."

    Jackie had a lot of first-hand experience that informed her decision to attend EMU "When we were applying for classes I knew EMU had a good theatre program and educational program because I was interested in being a teacher. I also knew a lot of people here, alumni from Woodhaven, which was really cool!," she said. 

   She is excited to start experiencing the Arts Management side of theatre by working alongside our House Managers as an Usher in the Fall. She is looking forward to working in college theatre because "I'll be getting to do shows that aren't just PG. You get a better variety of shows in college." She's also very interested in the role that theatre plays in community dialogue, "I like the messages theatre can bring tot a community. You can tell a variety of different things to the community and there are so many aspects of theatre that people don't even know about! There's so much that goes into a show, it's very intricate."

   Jackie's favorite show is Hamilton by Lin Manuel Miranda. "I like how they mix hip hop and rap elements to bring more people into the story. It's history too so that's cool!," she said with a laugh. Her favorite shows that she has worked on are Once on this Island and The Insanity of Mary Girard. She explained, "I liked them both because it was an ensemble and we all worked together. I thought they both really exemplified strong ensemble work."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Welcome to EMU Theatre Shelby Seeley!

  Meet one of our newest EMU Theatre students
Shelby Seeley!
   Shelby Seeley is an 18 year old who just graduated from Woodhaven High School in Flat Rock, Michigan. Just to let you know how cool she is, the last show she binge watched on Netflix was Stranger Things. (Who hasn't?! Come on Stranger Things was fantastic!) An interesting fact about her is that she absolutely loves her job, to which she added, "I'm a barista now and it's the best job in the entire world. I wish I was there all the time I love it."

  She'll be attending EMU this fall and majoring in theatre arts, but she is still deciding on a minor.  When asked what she was most looking forward to when it comes to starting college she said, "Theatre, I miss it so much. I needed to do it this summer and I didn't which created this hole in my heart."

    Shelby gives credit to her high school drama teacher Michael Clemons for helping her choose Eastern for college, "I chose Eastern mainly because of how much Clem talked it up and then there's the people that already go there and it's close to home, but mostly Clem," she said with certainty. She has also gotten experience with EMU Theatre by attending our Drama Day while she was in high school, "...the show was my favorite part. I love seeing theatre and seeing the people behind the scenes earlier in the day at the workshops was really cool too. My favorite workshop was the movement one, it was the best." At Drama Day, high school students attend workshops led by our students and faculty members with other high school students from all over the state. After lunch the students are then led into Quirk Theatre where they get to see an exclusive performance of our first Mainstage production of the season just for them! For more info on Drama Day email pam.cardell@emich.edu

   Shelby is excited to be studying theatre at Eastern because of the environment that comes with it, "I'm most looking forward to working with people who have the same level of dedication that I do. Having every there honestly wanting to be there and working as hard as possible to make the show the best it can be." She is pursing theatre because, "...it gives me a purpose and a goal and something to work for that is bigger than myself." (We know exactly what you mean Shelby!)

   Shelby's favorite show is Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl. Her favorite show that she's worked on was The Insanity of Mary Girard which she co-directed at Woodhaven. Their show was entered into the MIFA Theatre Competition and made it to the State Finals "I was very proud," she said with a smile.