Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Seattle provides a friendly place to experiment

Lauren Hlubny doesn’t believe in the famed “Seattle chill.” From her experience, the dance and theater scene is more than warm when it comes to welcoming new works. She had a great time at The Pocket Theater in 2014 where she created “This is Not a Table for Three.” She was invited to return this year.

It was a welcome chance to collaborate again with dancer Christin Call, actor Daniel Christensen, and cellist Joshua Dent. Although Hlubny is based on the East Coast, where she is the New York artistic director of Danse Theatre Surreality, she loved working with these artists.

This time, she challenged her performers to shed their inhibitions and their clothing. Neither Call or Dent had performed in the nude before. Christensen was willing “only if it was for a reason, and not for shock,” said Hlubny.

The resulting “sans” was subtitled “an exposed dance-theatre experiment.” Potential puns aside, the resulting work created feedback that Hlubny wanted during performances at the Pocket Theater, the Slate Theater, and the Seattle Demo Project. “What was interesting was how soon the audience forgot about the nudity,” Hlubny said. “Even with the performers just a few feet away from them.”

As she hoped, the post-performance discussions centered on the issues raised in the work rather than the lack of clothing.

The final performance of “sans” was tonight at Seattle Demo Project. In January, Hlubny will restage the work in New York.

The Seattle performers of "sans" more fully clothed.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Tutus galore tonight but not the rest of the season

Pacific Northwest Ballet reserved the program cover for a classic tutu shot, principal dancer Carrie Imler exquisitely posed with a glittering tiara on top. For those who think ballet is all about the tutu, then they will want to catch “Symphony in C” (1947/48) in the last half of tonight's program at McCaw Hall. The third color in “Tricolore,” a collection of ballets first performed at the Paris Opera Ballet,  it emphasizes technique, toe shoes, and tutus. It’s also the only George Balachine piece of the evening. That too draws those who believe modern choreography begins with Balanchine.

"Symphony in C" at Pacific Northwest Ballet. Photo: copyright Angela Sterling 2016

Imler, who joined PNB as an apprentice in 1995, moved steadily through the ranks, achieving her position as principal in 2002. Watching her with Steven Loch, who entered the corps in 2012, is an interesting contrast of veteran and relative newbie. As always with Balanchine, the emphasis was on the lady, with her taking the most time front and center. The only drawback with the piece is that it doesn’t really let Imler cut loose the way that she can, and has, in a character role.

Angelica Generosa, promoted last weekend to soloist, also uses her high wattage stage charm to great effect in “Symphony in C.”

Other promotions announced last week were Ben Griffiths to principal dancer and Matthew Renko to soloist. Both gentlemen were slightly sweaty from the hardcore workout of Benjamin Millepied’s “3 Movements” (2008), which sends the dancers hurtling through every inch of the stage. They are barely given time to breathe, much less catch their breath, in a work set to the hard-driving sound of Steve Riech’s “Three Movements for Orchestra.” The live music was nicely performed, as always, by PNB Orchestra under the direction of Emil de Cou.

Equally charming musically was the second Millepied piece “Appassionata” (2016). Set to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, it was performed by Allan Dameron on piano. On stage, three couples moved through the dreamlike movements in costumes reminiscent of silky sleepwear. When the work first premiered at the Paris Opera Ballet, it was known as “The night ends.” The mood does give off that feel of a good party winding down and maybe even intruding upon the lovers’ final pairing off.

With two-thirds of the pieces created in the 21st century and one-third in the 20th, it heralds a season at PNB that is devoted more to where ballet is going than where it came from. The tutus are largely retired after this weekend (save for the iconic “Nutcracker”). Instead, the rest of the season emphasizes new works, iconic Broadway ballets, and fresh takes on old tales such as Cinderella.

"Tricolore" continues through October 3. To learn more, check www.pnb.org.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Book-It season opener touches on the lives of Japanese women

“A Tale for Time Being” connects a Japanese teenager and a Japanese-American novelist in Book-It’s adaptation of Ruth Ozeki’s novel about a mysterious diary that washes onto a Pacific Northwest beach. “I have several personal connections to the book, being Japanese, with the sense of the experience of a young person being in Japan and in the United States,” said Mariko Kita, who plays Ruth, the writer who finds the diary in a "Hello Kitty" lunchbox and puzzles through the story of Nao within. “I also have teenage daughters and it’s interesting how those experiences are shown.”

In Book-It fashion, the actors play both the dialogue and the prose of a book. “I love the Book-It style. I feel comfortable in it. I sort of wonder how you do it in another way. I don’t have any discomfort in flipping from an internal to external dialogue,” said Kita. “I think what is challenging for adaptations in general is staying true to the story. The way that these stories are intermingling is very fantastical and accomplishing that is challenging.”

For Kita, part of the challenge is making her character more of a participant and less of a watcher comes out in this adaptation. “Watching Nao’s story is the flashy stuff. Ruth has kind of lost her mojo and watching it being ignited through these experiences is important for me to convey.”

Another challenge for some the actors was the language, something that was carefully rehearsed to provide a seamlessly switching from Japanese to English. “There’s quite a bit of Japanese in the play,” said Kita. “That’s wonderful but that’s challenge. I speak it fluently but you wouldn’t know that some of the others don’t.”

While the Japanese background of the story as well as its ecological themes will draw many to the Book-It production, Kita also thinks that the emphasis on the female characters is appealing. “I’m always a fan of plays about women. We have to be there for each other,” she said. “I think it hits a lot of those elements that we look for: drama, comedy, pain, and there’s a happy ending.”

“A Tale For Time Being” continues through October 9 at the Center House, 305 Harrison Street, under the Armory at the Seattle Center. There will be a talkback after the October 2 performance. For more information, see Book-It’s website.

Mariko Kita (Ruth). Photo by John Ulman

Mariko Kita as Ruth. Photo: John Ulman, 2016

Mariko Kita (Ruth). Photo by John Ulman

Mariko Kita (Ruth). Photo by John Ulman

Friday, August 12, 2016

Studio 18 arrives with a gangster musical

Studio 18's  Bonnie & Clyde
Studio 18 is Seattle’s newest theater group. For their inaugural production this month, they are presenting Bonnie & Clyde, the Frank Wildhorn musical about the Depression’s most notorious pair of gangster lovebirds. Produced by Alia Collins-Friedrichs, with direction and choreography by Matthew Lang and music direction by Travis Frank, the musical ends its run this weekend at 12th Avenue Arts.

The company is interested in bringing lesser performed musicals to the local stage. Their mission is to create theatre that conscientiously questions the human condition, while making musical theatre accessible for a broader audience.

Founders Alia Collins-Friedrichs, producing artistic director, and Matt Lang, managing artistic director, provided a bit more background on their plans during an online interview. They collaborated on the “Studio 18” answers and then gave their individual takes on this first production.

Tell us a little about why you decided to start a company in Seattle, please.

Studio 18: Both of us grew up in Seattle Theatre through programs at Village Theatre KIDSTAGE, 5th Avenue Theatre, Taproot Theatre, and Twelfth Night Productions to name a few. It’s a vibrant and nurturing community and we decided this year to take a more active part within it. We see a place in the Seattle theatre scene for a company that explores the human experience through musical theatre with a basis in reality, asking questions that are relevant to the issues facing us today.

Now that you've had a weekend of performances at 12th Avenue Arts, what do you think of the space?

Studio 18: 12th Ave Arts has been amazing to collaborate with. Greg Carter, the administrative director has been in collaboration with us every step of the way in how best to utilize the space. Their tech team has been helpful throughout the process, and supportive of working with us as a new company. Of course, the space has beautiful facilities. However, it’s definitely a place that you need your own support team in place to be successful; a do-it-yourself kind of space.

How important are places like 12th Avenue Arts for companies like yours?

Studio 18: With the development of Capitol Hill in recent years, we have seen performance spaces get demolished in favor of mixed use space that does not include a venue for performance. It is wonderful that 12th Ave Arts was built with performance in mind. For new companies without a space where they are resident, spaces like 12th Ave Arts are the lifeblood for their productions.

Bonnie & Clyde seems like a great choice for this year, with the recent media debates about gun violence and fame seeking. What drew you to this musical?

Alia: I’ve loved this musical since I first listened to it four years ago, and I saw the opportunity to bring it to Seattle. What I noticed when I began to seriously consider producing it is how politically relevant it is. The story of Bonnie and Clyde is ultimately so tragic, not because they were young and in love, but because they had so much potential. They were just like any other kids growing up poor, with dreams but no way to achieve them.

Matt: This story is so poignant today especially, whether we are talking about systemic incarceration and how that acts to drive a criminal culture, abuse of power by the law, the debates on gun control, or the role of religion in the lives of Americans; it’s all relevant to us almost a century later. Often we only get to see or experience the history that the winners write, the status quo. Through Bonnie and Clyde, we wish to explore all of these topics, see where the line blurs between “good” and “evil”, and find the true humanity in the characters that make up this story that has found itself to be a fixture of American folklore.

What do you plan to do next?

Studio 18: In the future, we are interested in producing Dogfight, Violet, Urinetown, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and Songs For A New World.

A shorter version of this article previously appeared at a different site. It is reproduced with permission here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tickets going fast for Taproot’s Big Fish

The catch of the week may be finding tickets for Taproot’s Big Fish. The show closes on Saturday. Tomorrow’s show is sold out and there’s limited availability for Thursday.

The musical is based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, and the 2003 film Big Fish. This tale of tall tales and father/son relationships hits a tender spot for most audiences, said Tyler Todd Kimmel, who plays Will Bloom in the show. And, unlike bigger theaters, the intimate seating of Taproot puts the actors right with the audience when the waterworks start.

“You’re three feet away from somebody weeping with you. It’s not 12 feet away over an orchestra pit in the dark,” said Kimmel.

During the course of the musical, Will must come to terms with his father, Edward, a man fond of embroidering the past. “I had seen the film when it came out. I thought it was fun. Tim Burton is a brilliant director,” said Kimmel. “But I didn’t actually like the way that Will was portrayed in the film. It left me feeling a bit dark. I chose not revisit it. When we read through the script, I saw it painting the characters in a different light.” After reading the book, which tells the story from Will’s perspective, Kimmel formed a light-hearted approach to his character.

Kimmel teaches fulltime, acting in musicals during the summer. “I grew up in Burien and started music lessons when I was five, singing at church and then school musicals,” he said. Last year, a friend called him about Taproot’s Godspell and he’s enjoyed having the opportunity to return to the theater this year.

“The majority of people I teach don’t go on to do music or theater professionally,” he said. “But they come to understand that it is just another area that we study to learn more about life. Choir is a team sport, minus the game aspect. It teaches how to balance with us how to get along with people. Same with theater, it teaches you how to listen. For kids, it opens their mind.”

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Theater Schmeater’s chamber musical draws new crowd

Getting audiences indoors takes effort in the summer months, which is why many theaters go dark in July and August or head to free outdoor festivals. At Theater Schmeater, they’re offering their second “chamber musical” to lure a new crowd to their space. To further combat Friday night traffic blues, they’re offering reduced ticket prices as an excuse to hang around downtown and head home a little later. Use ticket code “gridlock” at Brown Paper Tickets for their Friday only special deal.

The 2016 musical The Crossing documents a historic Amelia Earhart flight, but like all good Schmee productions, it’s not about the flight that you expect.

The brand-new, original musical documents Amelia’s successful crossing of the Atlantic, not her later fatal flight and disappearance in the Pacific. With music and lyrics by Paul Lewis, and a book by Paul Lewis and Carissa  Meisner Smit, the show is directed by Schmee’s artistic director Doug Staley.

“Her last flight has been told so many times before,” said Lewis. “I didn’t want to do a biopic musical. I kept running into stories of her weather man and decided to follow that character.” Lewis reimagined the character of the weather man, the person who helped Amelia plan and chart a flight into the unknown.

“I’ve worked with Paul several times. When we decided to do the chamber musical series at Theater Schmeater, Paul originally came to mind. To great extent it was Paul’s giant epic story but because our space was so small, I was very much focused on paring things down,” said Smit.

Staley explained “royalties for most musicals are more than what we can afford. But I still had the urge to do new musicals…with the proviso that they were going to be small. We could be a seedbed for new musicals.” Thus Staley coined the term “chamber musical” as “a good way to encapsulate that concept.”

The Crossing is Theater Schmeater’s second attempt at mounting a summer musical. “While last summer’s show was a little slow to start off, we generated good word of mouth and, by the end of the run, I was seeing new people coming into the theater–which is the goal,” said Staley. “I think there is a desire there to have that kind of experience that you’re not going to get at the 5th or the Paramount. You’re maybe 14 feet away from the actors at Theater Schmeater.”

That type of intimacy “is what we as writers write for,” said Lewis. “I‘ve known about the Schmee forever. To have one of my pieces to go up at the Schmee is a great honor and a thrill. It is a validation that someone has believed in this story.

The Crossing continues through August 13. For tickets and more information go to http://www.schmeater.org or go straight to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2494718


The article previously appeared elsewhere and is reproduced here with permission.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mary VanArsdel returns to Seattle with a murderous gentleman

Mary VanArsdel
Following Mary VanArsdel’s rousing rendition of “You’re a D’Ysquith” on opening night at the 5th Avenue Theater, a definite friends and family cheer goes up from the audience. Currently in the national tour of “Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” her performances at the 5th will be her first time on a Seattle stage since 1987.

“But I visit Seattle regularly,” she said in a phone interview earlier this month. “I have a huge network of friends here.”

VanArsdel grew up in Seattle, attending the Bush School, and she returned here after college to star in the original cast of “Angry Housewives,” Seattle’s longest running musical hit. In it, VanArsdel played a punk rock cornflakes-throwing mama whose rendition “Eat Your F#@*ing Cornflakes!” became an instant classic. Locals also remember her wide-eyed Nancy Reagan in Gary Trudeau’s “Rap Master Ronnie” at the Group Theater.

More recently, she has been touring the company in large Broadway musicals like “Gentleman’s Guide.”

“I was in ‘Mary Poppins’ for two years. My tour didn’t play Seattle so I’m really excited to be here now,” she said.

As the slightly mysterious Miss Shingle, whose motives are never fully explained, VanArsdel lets the hero Monty know that he’s only eight relatives away from inheriting a title and a fortune. “I give the back story and serve as the catalyst,” she said about her opening number.

One of VanArsdel’s favorite parts of the musical is how the director Darko Tresnjak manages to create eight very different deaths during the course of the evening. “Our director is an aficionado of classic movies, as am I, and one early murder takes its inspiration from ‘Vertigo.’ That one impressed me the most because I knew the source material,” she said.

This is not VanArsdel’s only brush with celluloid homicide. Her very first movie role required her to be to be offed by John Malkovich in “Line of Fire.”

“It was shot on the old MGM lot and I got to work with Clint Eastwood’s longtime fight director,” she said. “When I arrived on the set, I didn’t know how the murder would happen. I found that my stage training was really helpful with the stunt work.” While in Hollywood, VanArsdel also played Corbin Bernsen’s secretary on the final season of “LA Law.” She also guested on “Boardwalk Empire,” “Miracles,” “Gilmore Girls,” and “Melrose Place,” among others.

But in 2008, she moved to New York. “With television there’s so much time spending time waiting for camera setups. And you’re generally performing scenes out of sequence. In theater, you perform a show from beginning to middle to end,” said VanArsdel. “For me, theater is so much more gratifying. You get to hear audience’s reaction.”
Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro
and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D'Ysquith Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

And the reaction she hears most often in “Gentleman’s Guide” is laughter. “It’s very, very funny show. The lyrics are incredible and matched with really wonderful music. I was such a fan of a show before I was cast. I saw it four times on Broadway and heard something new every time,” VanArsdel said.

While she’s been successful in regional theater and is enjoying her current tour with “Gentleman’s Guide,” VanArsdel still wants to hit new heights in her career. “My primary goal these days is to be cast in a new show on Broadway. To be the first person to do a role is always the actors’ dream,” she said.


“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” continues through July 31 at the 5th Avenue Theater. For more on tickets and times, check the 5th’s website.