Saturday, February 22, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Our Lady of the Elms

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Monday, February 22, 2010

This tour is really wearing me out. We have performed seven performances in seven days and I have not been engaging in any other extra-social business. I try to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. But waking up I feel like I have been hit by a bus.

Driving home from Akron today was a real grind, I kept nodding off at stoplights. Okay, not really. I don't want to worry anyone. So really, I didn't. Not more than once.

Now, is it the load-in, load-out thing, the lifting of heavy objects? Or is it the show itself? No idea. The heavy lifting thing isn't really a big deal, the set for Seeing Red two years ago was much more strenuous, much heavier, much more awkward.

But we need to set up and tear down:
  • A curtain
  • The set facade
  • Racks for 18 costumes
  • A tub loaded with props
  • Fog machine
  • Plenty of odd make-up extras and wigs
  • The sound system
And then there's the show itself. Not much time to stop and breathe.


We have been blessed to have assistance at many locations. Clague ended with a lot of good friends helping us tear down. And today the students of Our Lady of the Elms were extremely helpful in helping us pack it all together and load it out.

And today's performance? Man. I love that venue. These girls really surprised me last year, which was our first visit to the school. We were performing Two By Chekhov, a set of the Russian playwright's hilarious one-acts. How well they would go over for a modern high school audience was a mystery.

Well. The girls were prepared. They had actually read the Chekhov plays prior to our arrival. They knew what to look for in the performances, and I swear they laughed at absolutely everything.

This year, however ... a vampire play? It actually made me nervous, some of the questionable discussions about faith and God, there are some charged phrases in the production, which have really popped with the high school audiences.

As Elaine mentioned yesterday, the satire settles down a bit in the third arc, and what is at stake becomes quite serious. I think this is good, there's actually something to be afraid of, eternal damnation perhaps, that people take seriously in a way they may not all the vampire stuff.

But oh, that final arc. I was concerned the teenage audiences wouldn't like it, that it might feel condescending. I tried very hard for the conversation to be realistic, only Emily and Dusten take it to such a level it is impossible not to laugh. And it did really seem like the girls today were laughing at every single word the actors said.

That was a good day. Well worth all the effort.

Friday, February 21, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Clague Playhouse

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Good News: We had a full house at Clague! A long-time venue for the GLTF outreach tour, and always very supportive, they were forced to turn away a large number of people. This was no doubt due to the fact that 1) they always have a great showing for our tour 2) a positive write-up the the PD and 3) it's got vampires in it.

The Bad News: We were forced to turn away a large number of people! I hope folks who were not able to get a seat show up at one of our future venues.

Today's audience was outstanding. They got everything. I just love the reaction during the Nosferatu sequence. During the discussion Elaine made note of arc three, when the satire abruptly stops, and things get kind of serious for a little bit. I am glad she saw that.

Everyone at Clague was super, it's always a challenge figuring out how to get our set to work there. It is an intimate space and we always arrive during a run or just before one and often there is a realistic set on the stage we need to work around.

Not only were we (with the help of the always fabulous Ron Newell) able to get the set up, and the sides well-masked, but the weird configuration backstage kept the three of us in the cast on our toes. I think that, and the full house, really pumped up our performance.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Jennings Center for Older Adults

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I wasn't sure about turn-out for an early afternoon performance at the Jennings Center. Who goes to a 1:30 show on a Saturday? But we had a really great mix of residents and visitors, not only children and grandchildren of folks who live there, but also some really good friends, too.

Brian, who read my roles in the first reading of the script back in November, brought his eleven year-old daughter. She loves vampires (real vampires, not ones that sparkle) and she said she enjoyed the show. Win!

Got a new fog machine, but this one makes a terrible sputtering noise when it is doing it's work. Sometimes that doesn't matter but it is an unhelpful distraction. Our company of three has been working together very well unloading and loading the set, it's really getting down to a science. Instead of showing up two hours early, we may soon only need a ninety minute appearance before shows.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: East Park Retirement Community

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Successful evening at East Park Retirement Community Center. But first:
HYSTERICAL CAMPY FUN! 
- Tony Brown, The Plain Dealer
Also, I am "beady-eyed" and at my "perverse best." Thank you. Tonight some of the ladies remarked at what startling and creepy eyes I have.

And what a night! The folks at East Park were really up for a vampire show this evening. Just before the show started, one of the audience members got up on the stage and lay down on the chaise lounge, inviting women to come up and suck his blood.

Blew a fuse on the fog machine right before the show ended, so we lost the Edwyn Collins tune, which was a bummer, but at least that was all they missed.

Lisa ran her first talkback for this production this evening. Point: When asked, teenagers admit they want to live forever, even or especially if it means being a vampire. Senior citizens to do not want immortality under any circumstances. Discuss.

Source: "Vampire play 'On the Dark Side of Twilight,' performed by Great Lakes Theater Festival, is campy fun" by Tony Brown, The Plain Dealer, 1/19/2010

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Admiral King High School

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The tour came to Lorain Admiral King High School today. Loading in we had the assistance of maybe a dozen volunteers who were pressed into service to help us move large bits of the set and help us get everything up and ready. The three of us have yet to put the whole thing together or tear it down by ourselves.

This was our first high school audience. True, there were students at LCCC last night, but it was a mix of old and young. We had a larger than usual Admiral King audience today, it was reported that there were some 8th graders with us. LAK doesn't send the entire student body to witness the outreach tour, but I am always mystified as to exactly which students have the privilege of attending the performance and why.

As for the performance itself, it went over very well. I believe this will be a trend, the high school students will watch patiently through the first two arcs and then bust out in surprise at the final two. Daniel warned me about the arcane nature of Arc One: The Giaour, and how it might go right over the heads of the high school audiences.

It doesn't go over their heads exactly, but I am worried they think the entire show is going to sound like that and check out. He prepped them during the pre-show speech to let them know what the play was about, and how it eventually reaches more contemporary material.

Something else ... teenagers can read something dirty into almost anything. And today was the first time an audience really got creeped out by the old, bald Count coming onto the Maria in arc two.

It is going to be very, very hard to get out of these high school shows within 90 minutes of the end of the talkback. So many kids want to talk to us, to sign autographs, to talk about the play!

And the girls keep hitting on Dusten. Pity poor Dusten.

Monday, February 17, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Lorain County Community College

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Very good second night, at Lorain County Community College. We did have one drunk guy who answered his cellphone and took the call during one of my narrations, so I told him I would wait until he was done. What is this, TV?

However, the rest of the evening was just fabulous, and a real education. There were a number of folks, younger ones, who showed up because of the Morning Journal article on Sunday, and were out to see some vampires.

During the first arc, I was worried we may have lost them, but apparently the opposite was true. What do you expect, when you came for something Twilight related and instead we begin with a pithy riposte like "my intentions are all one might expect on such an occasion" (that's original Polidori)? You might be turned off.

However, the teens in attendance were rapt, thinking, "okay, this is new, but I'm with you." By the middle of the Dracula sequence, they were loosening up, and I think they understood there was some comedy involved.

So, by the fourth arc, we had them. Lots of positive feedback following the performance. One guy really liked the fight scenes (yay, Dusten!) and a girl asked ... well, I can't really say what she asked, without giving away some secrets. But Emily and I had an interestingly cryptic back-and-forth during the discussion. Honestly, Emily, you can say absolutely anything you want.
Özen Yula's Facebook status update, 2/17/2010: "On the Dark Side of Twilight" ı seyrettim. Çok basit bir dekoru vardı. Ama David Hansen'in teksti çok güzeldi. Polidori, Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Stephenie Meyer'in vampir hikâyeleri bir parodi çerçevesinde birbirine eklenmiş. Postmodern kan içmeyen vampirlerle son buluyor ama o da ilk hikâyeye,200 yıl öncesine bağlanıyor. Bildik film sahneleri art arda dizilmiş. Aynı sözler ama bu defa gerçekten komik!
Translation:  I watched "On the Dark Side of Twilight". It had a very simple décor, but David Hansen's text was very beautiful. The vampire stories of Polidori, Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, and Stephenie Meyer are intertwined into a parody. 

It ends with postmodern, blood-free vampires, but it also ties into the first story from 200 years ago. Familiar movie scenes are represented; the same words, but this time it's really funny!

Thank you, Google Translate! Thank you, Özen! Komik!

Source: A Vampire stars in Lorain County: Great Lakes tours famous tales of (bloody) romance to Workshop, LCCC, elsewhere by Laura Kennelly, Morning Journal, 2/14/2010

Sunday, February 16, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: The Alcazar

Ten years ago, Great Lakes Theater produced my first outreach tour "On the Dark Side of Twilight."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Well. I think that went all right.

Very good turn out at the Alcazar tonight, a nice mix of residents, friends and family, theater people and vampire freaks. Does the show work? I think it does. The nicest thing an audience member said following the performance was, "I was surprised more people didn't come out for curtain call."

My little girl, age seven, was in attendance. I am looking forward to talking to her about it. During the performance I had enough self-awareness to think, "Ew. Is that line going to bend her mind?"

with Özen Yula
Most of the time, however, there was not, in fact, time for such reflection. I think there was a brief moment during the first arc where I stood still for a few seconds backstage thinking, "Really? Shouldn't I be putting something on/taking something off/hitting a sound cue/wiping something up?" Other than that I was mostly doing at least one of those things, at all times, and so was everyone else.

It took five of us forty minutes to get everything out of the space, with assistance. What the hell will three of us do tomorrow? But it does pack up nicely.

And holy crap! Turkish playwright Özen Yula was in attendance to see the opening night of my show! Yeah. I think that went all right.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

On the Dark Side of Twilight: Ten Years On

Dusten Welch & Emily Pucell
Ten years ago Great Lakes Theater first produced one of my plays for their annual outreach tour, On the Dark Side of Twilight. It was a major step for me in a highly productive decade of playwriting, which included (among many other projects) six outreach tour scripts for GLT. But my memories of the rehearsal process and performing as a company member in this tour are particularly sweet.

It was the first time I would work with Emily Pucell Czarnota, for whom I would later write the part of Beatrice in Double Heart, and the last time (to date) to be directed in a production by Andrew May.

The script itself, while a representation, almost a parody of vampire literature through the ages, through it I had the opportunity to touch on many themes and conflicts which are very personal to me.

Costume design by Esther Montgomery Haberlen 
Then there was the fact that three of us were to play over a dozen characters, with crazy, fast costume changes taking us through two entire centuries. And there was the music, the choreography, and the blood.

From my journal:
Sunday, February 14, 2010

I do not know if a record has been kept of all of the design elements for previous Great Lakes outreach tours. However, I am guessing we are setting a few records. No less than eighteen distinctive costume looks. We added most of those on Thursday night, and we rocked them.

Then last night Richard added sound. I have not counted the sound cues, but they will be executed, in their entirety, by the three of us. We do not have a stage manager.

And I wrote this monstrosity. This is all my fault.

On Monday we will have a much clearer idea of how long it is going to take to set up and tear down this set. Until then, I am just tossing in my sleep over it. I was happy to have the opportunity to spend a brief, casual, social moment on Friday night following our extended rehearsal. I am very happy with this company.
Costume design by Esther Montgomery Haberlen 
Andrew appears to have been having fun with this production. There is a terrible amount of cracking up going on during scene work.
I blogged extensively about the performances as the tour progressed, but not here. It was on a different, discontinued blog. In the interest of nostalgia and celebration, I am going to re-post those entries here over the next three weeks. I hope that you enjoy them.

Director Andrew May (left)
Here’s a bonus feature, a sound cue used in the production. Read the context, and see if you can guess the voices!
Saturday, February 6, 2010

… as in the novel Dracula, the story is made up entirely of "source" materials: diaries, letters, newspaper articles, all first-person accounts. Our narrator seeks to uncover the mystery by sharing these antique documents with the audience, and explain just where and when we are.

Speaking of those "source materials," we had a great surprise this week. As the story winds on, the media become more technologically advanced, from hand-written letters and journals to newspapers and cassette-tape recordings to blogs ... and one radio broadcast. I am not at liberty to say who is featured in the broadcast. But it will sound very professional.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Bully of Baker Street: Week One

Oliver Hazard Perry Elementary
The tour has been on the road for one week. Today the acting company had an entire day off, and like true Millennials they spent it working double shifts at their designated restaurants and ride sharing.

In the past week they had three public performances and six schools. This week they will have three public performances and eight schools. It’s a big job, load-in and putting up the set, performing the show, tearing it down and heading to a second site to do it all again. They are professionals, and they’re each doing such excellent work.

Response has been very positive. We provide evaluations to teachers at school and each of our adult audience members at public venues.

In response to the question, what did you like most about the production, many teachers responded along these lines:
  • The way the characters connected with the students during the Q & A following the play.
  • The interactive aspect of the play and the period costumes and sets.
  • The message and the way it was delivered through theater!
And the message is getting through. Following the post-show discussion led by the acting company at our first performance at a Cleveland Metropolitan School, the Curriculum Instruction Specialist took a moment to address the students. She asked specific questions about the choices the characters in the play made, which communicated to me how closely she had followed the story.

She summed up by reminding the students, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

Talespinner Children's Theatre
Photo by Liz Steward
When asked what they liked least about the production, I did hear this comment more than once:
  • May have been a bit over the head of some of our K and 1st
I admit, this may be true. However, when the student audience includes higher grades, the response from the older kids appears to clue the younger ones in on developments they might otherwise miss.

Most remarkable was the teacher who reported that they took materials found in the teacher resource guide -- the Arthur Conan Doyle biography, the “biography” of Sherlock Holmes, and my own playwright’s notes about my youthful experiences with the detective -- to create her own “Cliff’s Notes” chronology tracing the artistic synthesis from the Victorian era to that day’s performance of our production.

She made this for third graders! I want to get a copy of that. Public reaction has also been very good, with audience members praising the, “excellent actors,” and the period costumes and music. They like the “audience interaction” and “the ‘choose your own adventure’ aspect” of the play script.

Also, kids are surprised to learn that the woman playing Miss Barnaby is also the artist lady!

My favorite comment so far was from the guy at the Heights Library whose favorite part was Vicky “calling out Sherlock on his BS.”

To be continued.

Great Lakes Theater's next FREE public performance of the “Classics On Tour” production of “Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street” will be Saturday, February 15, 2020 at 2:00 PM at the Domonkas Branch of the Lorain Library System, 4125 E. Lake Road, Sheffield Lake.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Bully of Baker Street: Costume Design

Design by Zack Hickle
One month ago, a week prior to the first rehearsal of Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street, I wrote a post about revision. One of the major, last-minute changes to the script involved changing Miss Barnaby from a glowering headmistress, someone along the line of Mathilda’s Miss Trunchbull, into the young Miss Barnaby, left the run the orphanage while the headmaster is off “on holiday.”

Still aggressive and domineering, making the main “bully” of the tale a peer of the protagonist Vicky (hopefully) makes the conflict more accessible to young audiences. But, it also meant that our costume designer, Zack Hickle, needed to come up with a quick fix.

As you can see from his original rendering (right) Miss Barnaby looks quite severe in her red work smock, and her big poofy shoulders. But it wouldn’t exactly be appropriate for a “head girl,” an underling who has been put in charge of her peers.

So Zack removed the sleeves and skirting from her jacket, still providing Miss Barnaby with a smart, blood red vest, and Khaki, the actress, has been provided with a fine red wig instead of a gray one. Her exposed, white shirtsleeves still feature the big shoulders of the original design.

Nick Chokan, Annie
& Khaki Hermann
Pictured right, Miss Barnaby menaces little Annie. Zack also designed the dress and built the puppet (voiced and operated by Nick Chokan.)

This is why I do theater. The collaborative process, the give and take. The openness of one artist to accommodate a suggested change in direction from another artist. I reimagined a character based on suggestion, a designer reimagined a design to accommodate that.

Today we open, this morning for a crowd of fifth graders in Elyria, this evening for a public audience comprised, I imagine, largely of adults. There is a lot of audience interaction in this one, and I am very excited to see how the actors work with the audience!

You should join us.

To be continued.

Great Lakes Theater presents the “Classics On Tour” production of “Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street” opening tonight, Tuesday, February 4, 2020 at 7:00 PM at Talespinner Children’s Theatre, 5209 Detroit Avenue in Cleveland.