Theater as a Community

As many of you might know, Saturday was World Theatre Day. In Chicago, there was a party at the Chopin Theatre, which I attended after seeing BackStage Theatre Company’s production of Orange Flower Water.

What was incredible for me to observe was the literal community in the Chopin Theatre. People were literally crammed into the theater. I would walk around and see someone that I knew, people I had interviewed, people I knew through Twitter. Through those people, I met other people and had great conversations with them. My friend Zev arrived there later than I did and he instantly saw people he knew and saw more people as he wandered around the Chopin.

It was amazing to see so many people socializing with people that had never worked with their respective theater companies. It brought a whole new idea to me as to what the Chicago Theater Community is. It was also interesting to see another critic be treated so well and received warmly. Although, that theater critic reviews tiny storefront theaters and the big established Equity companies without ever saying, “This would be great in New York.”

I realized that a real sense of community in the theater is lacking in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. You either support the Waterloo Community Playhouse or Cedar Falls Community Theatre. And with one of those theaters, you sure as hell better think it’s great theater and not support theater in Cedar Rapids. Rarely do you witness artists doing plays about both theaters. There are a few, but it’s not widespread.

Because theater artists can learn a lot from each other and from working with different theaters and different directors, shouldn’t there be more work between the different theaters? I have grown as an artist by working with different directors, even by auditioning for different directors because an audition is run differently. We can learn about how to approach an artistic process differently by working together, exchanging directors, actors, designers, in my opinion. It might be a bit Pollyanna-ish, but I would like to think that is the case.

If theaters don’t work together and they just have the same pool of artists that are always there to design, direct and act, why not ask them what type of art they want to create. It might not be something that can be pursued, but if there will be a reliable group of people to work on a show, their input should be given in the theater. You can’t have dilettante donors running a theater; people that actually invest time into the theater should help run the theater.

Why not collaborate, like theaters in the Corridor have done? Has theater become so stuck up in this area that you can’t collaborate and exchange ideas? Theater should seem fresh, not just “business as usual.” How do you keep your audience and artists engaged if what they experience and observe is stale? By working together and investing in projects as a community and in the community, you can get an idea of what audiences and artists want.

Otherwise, you will eventually lose your audience and artists.

The Roundabout is Probably Screwed

Well, it’s been quite a weekend for Todd Haimes and the Roundabout Theatre Company.

First, Megan Mullally quits the revival of Lips Together, Teeth Apart after apparently being upset with her co-star, Patton Oswalt, who was making his Broadway debut. Then, All About Me, which is currently playing in the Roundabout-owned Henry Miller’s Theatre, posts its closing notice for Sunday. All About Me which was about dueling acts of Dame Edna and Michael Feinstein, received mixed reviews and was not making enough money at the box office.

I would like to know why the Roundabout had to cancel Lips Together, Teeth Apart because Megan Mullally quit. Didn’t she have an understudy? Or was that understudy not enough of a star?

Then there’s what is happening with the Henry Miller Theatre. The Roundabout only booked one show for that theater and that was Bye Bye Birdie, and we know what critics thought of that. It closed in January and the Roundabout had an empty space, so they decided to rent it out. Did they think that Bye Bye Birdie was going to run forever? What non-profit plans their season and only books one show for one theater? (Unless you want to count The Coast of Utopia as one play)

So they go and rent out their theater and that play doesn’t prove profitable. The Roundabout will end the Broadway season with two dark theaters unless they find something to put in their theaters that opens by April 29. Which is probably not going to happen. Not that they won’t find a play, but I don’t think that it will open by the Tony Award cutoff. (Which reminds me, what ever happened to Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape?)

There have been rumors that the Roundabout has been in trouble, but this might be the last hit that they can take. However, their off-Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie has been extended. But having darkened Broadway theaters loses a lot of money.

But I do think that Can You Run the Roundabout Better Than Todd Haimes? would be a great idea for a reality show.

And Now, A Sports Related Post That I Can’t Tie Into Theater

TC, the UNI mascot

Normally I would keep all sports related posts out of this blog, but this caused me to yell after a basketball game and my voice is now hoarse. And I normally don’t care about basketball.

The University of Northern Iowa happens to be located in my hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa. UNI happens to be the former state teacher’s college and is the home of the nation’s oldest literary magazine, The North American Review.

UNI also has a new thing to boast; they beat number one ranked Kansas University today at the Men’s NCAA game, which means that UNI gets to go onto the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament.

This is the first time that they have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and a lot of people have their bracket’s messed up.

And from this point on, sports commentators will know how to pronounce Ali Farokhmanesh’s name.

Proof That I Don’t Have That Much Power Over Theater

A couple of years ago, I reviewed a production of Pippin and said something along the lines of that the actor playing Pippin couldn’t sing in tune and thought that yelling his lines was the equivalent of acting. (Although, I later said that actor did a good job in Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s Kiss Me, Kate.)

I found out that the actor that I said didn’t do that great of a job in that production got into Juilliard.

So, could everyone please stop acting like I have that much power over theater in Iowa? I’m just a blogger.

A Lesson on Sequels of Musicals

Charles Strouse wrote Bye Bye Birdie and Annie, among other musicals. Both of the mentioned musicals were hits.

Strouse also wrote Bring Back Birdie, a sequel for Bye Bye Birdie, Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge and Annie Warbucks. All three of those musicals flopped.

Therefore, Charles Strouse should probably not write anymore sequels of musicals he’s written.

This has been a lesson on sequels of musicals.

Red Door Ensemble’s “Red Door Shorts”

Last night, I went to Red Door Shorts at Public Space One and had a rose thrown at me while my sister had a mint thrown at her.

The mint has a more interesting story as to why it was thrown. During a prologue, the character of a British reporter informs us of the night the theater died at PS 1. After the rest of the ensemble comes on stage with signs reading, “The theater is ded [sic],” the reporter is spotted, panics and tells the audience to turn off their cellphones.

“No, keep your phones on,” one of the actors yells. “We hope it rings through the entire show.”

Another actor tossed a mint at the audience, landing in my sister’s lap, while they encouraged us to unwrap our mints throughout the entire show.

In the first five minutes of Red Door Shorts it becomes very clear that this is not your grandmother from Iowa’s theater.

Which is certainly a good thing since it will bring something new to theater in the Corridor and further diversify the theater scene. While what is being done by Red Door Ensemble is similar to theater elsewhere in the nation, it is new and different for Eastern Iowa.

The show is an hour long, has no intermission, and features previews of works that are a part of their 2010 season, including Blood on the Canvas, Postcards from the Post-Apocalypse, How to Heal the Hurt by Hating and Germans!. In addition to the short previews, there were also skits ranging from imaginary conversations with an imaginary boyfriend, observations of Newton’s Laws of Motions and a pilot episode of a TV show about a heist among others. Each of the pieces has a smooth transition and none of them cause the evening to drag.

The entire ensemble of Red Door, in addition to their “honorary ensemble members,” manages to pull the audience into each of the pieces and make each of them unique. The evening shows the promise of a new theater company in the Corridor and made me interested to see what else they bring to the area.

“Red Door Shorts” runs through March 21 at Public Space 1 (129 E Washington St, Iowa City) with performances Friday – Sunday at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminates against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I did pay for my ticket for this play.

Steppenwolf Theatre’s 2010-11 Season

I’ve missed writing about other season announcements, but I’ll write about Steppenwolf’s because I’m remembering to do so (I’ve been busy unpacking and dealing with angry mothers) and I was outrageously ebullient at 9 p.m.. (I didn’t read it when the Tribune posted it at 8:57, three minutes before the embargo was up.)

The theme for Steppenwolf’s 2010-11 season is the public/private self, which is a relevant thing to examine in the day of social networking. For more info, visit Steppenwolf’s website and/or the post on Time Out Chicago’s blog.

Steppenwolf has planned an interesting season that will, at the very least, make me visit Chicago regularly. A new play by Lisa D’Amour that Steppenwolf commissioned, a play by Lanford Wilson (their production of his play Blam in Gillead in 1980 was, er, landmark.), the transfer of a play from their First Look Repertory and a new Will Eno play. (I like Thom Pain (based on nothing). I’m not sorry.)

Oh, and Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? FTW! (See, Steppenwolf can get me to use FTW.)

Here’s the word from the Steppenwolf folks.

September 9 – November 7, 2010
A new play by Lisa D’Amour
Featuring ensemble members Kate Arrington and Robert Breuler
In the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre

Picture-perfect couple Ben and Mary fire up the grill to welcome the new neighbors who’ve moved into the long-empty house next door. Three barbeques later, the fledgling friendship veers out of control, shattering Ben and Mary’s carefully maintained semblance of success—with comic, unexpected consequences. Detroit is a fresh, off-beat look at what happens when we dare to open ourselves up to something new.

December 2, 2010 – February 6, 2011
Edward Albee’s
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Featuring ensemble members Tracy Letts and Amy Morton
In the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre

On the campus of a small New England college, George and Martha invite a new professor and his wife home for a nightcap. As the cocktails flow, the young couple finds themselves caught in the crossfire of a savage marital war where the combatants attack the self deceptions they forged for their own survival. Ensemble members Tracy Letts and Amy Morton face off as one of theatre’s most notoriously dysfunctional couples in Albee’s hilarious and harrowing masterpiece.

January 20 – May 15, 2011
Sex with Strangers
By Laura Eason
Directed by associate artist Jessica Thebus
Featuring ensemble member Sally Murphy with Stephen Louis Grush
In the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre

Ethan is a hot young writer whose online journals of “sexcapades” are the buzz of the blogosphere. Olivia is an attractive 30-something whose own writing career is fizzling. They hook up, sex turns into dating and dating into something more complicated. A break-out hit at Steppenwolf’s 2009 First Look Repertory, Sex with Strangers explores how we invent our identity – online and off – and what happens when our private lives become public domain.

March 24 – May 29, 2011
The Hot L Baltimore
By Lanford Wilson
Directed by ensemble member Tina Landau
Featuring ensemble members Alana Arenas, K. Todd Freeman and Yasen Peyankov
In the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre

The Hotel Baltimore used to be the swankiest place in town—now it has a date with the wrecking ball. Eviction notices just went out to its residents, who live on the fringes of society and call the seedy hotel home. This acclaimed play from the author of Balm in Gilead is filled with everyday humanity—unexpectedly intimate and moving. Helmed by visionary director Tina Landau, Hot L Baltimore reveals the private lives of an unconventional community about to be turned inside out.

June 16 – August 14, 2011
A new play by Will Eno
Directed by Les Waters
Featuring ensemble member Alana Arenas
In the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre

Mary Swanson just moved to Middletown. About to have her first child, she is eager to enjoy the neighborly bonds a small town promises. But life in Middletown is complicated: neighbors are near strangers and moments of connection are fleeting. Middletown is a playful, poignant portrait of a town with two lives, one ordinary and visible, the other epic and mysterious.

“Hobbit”-gate is Over


That was fun.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But normally people don’t throw personal attacks at me when they’re upset over my review.

In less than 24 hours, I received 18 comments, two of them weren’t attacks of me or my review, two of them were from members of the theater’s board of directors. I had to finally close the comments because it was getting out of hand.

And since no one has sent me an angry message on Facebook, I’m declaring it over.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to working on Hot Box of Crazy.

Review: “The Hobbit” — Black Hawk Children’s Theatre

Upon entering the Hope Martin Theatre for the Black Hawk Children’s Theatre’s production of The Hobbit, you instantly see Geoff Ehrendreich’s magnificently designed set, which features a hobbit hole, complete with round door, some mountains, some holes with bars for holding prisoners, and a backdrop that happens to be an detailed map of Middle Earth, complete with Elven runes. It manages to be stunning, realistic and efficient for this production; it works well.

That statement can’t be said about the rest of Anita Ross’s production, which has the main problem of having actors that really come off a bit too much as a bunch of kids running around on stage in fake beards. Never for once do we really believe that this is J.R.R. Tolkein’s classic tale coming alive before our eyes, which isn’t aided by the fact that Edward Mast’s script comes off as being a Middle Earth-themed episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood due to Bilbo’s (Zack Thune) asides and narration. It makes a lot of the play seem all warm and fuzzy and sweet. Except for Gollum (Whitney Molln).

What the play primarily suffers from is a lack of emotion in the actors’ performances, which leaves many of the performances unmemorable. But there are also some actors that simply speak too quickly, like Thune. Smaug is reduced to a unintimidating cartoon thanks to Linnea Nicol’s voiceover, which is unfortunate since Smaug is supposed to be a fearsome dragon. Wesley Word’s fight choreography is inconsistent due to some scenes seeming too fake. However, Molln’s performance as Gollum is delightfully creepy and pathetic, making it a performance that you wish would go on for longer. The scene also features a terrific lighting effect that makes it appear as though there is a stream reflecting on the cavern walls. (The lights are designed by Brad Brist.)

For young children with no previous exposure to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, this might be the right introduction for them; there’s nothing too scary about this production. But for those that are fans of Tolkein’s book, this will be a disappointment.

“The Hobbit” continues through March 7 with performances at 2 p.m. at the Hope Martin Theatre in the Waterloo Center for the Arts (225 Commercial St., Waterloo). Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling (319) 291-4494.

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminates against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I did not pay for my ticket for this play. I received a press ticket.