Living Legends Blind Boys of Alabama in Lone Tree

By Katie Konishi, Marketing Specialist

We throw around the title “living legends” a lot but the Blind Boys of Alabama truly deserve the moniker. Formed in 1939, this group has lived through some of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history and come out singing on the other side – literally. The group’s soulful gospel music has matured over the years, but their mission has never changed. As a track on their new album states, they “Stay on the Gospel Side” in their work.

The founding members of the group met at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega, Alabama. The original group consisted of Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter, George Scott, Johnny Fields, and Tommy Gilmore. Of the original members, Jimmy is the only one still touring with the group. Clarence appears on their latest album, but rarely travels with the group. The group just released a new album titled Almost Home, their 68th album, if Wikipedia is to be believed. 68!

Currently, the line-up of the group consists of founding member Jimmy Carter, Ben Moore, Eric “Ricky” McKinnie, Joey Williams, Trae Pierce, Peter Levin, and Paul Beasley. Clarence Fountain still appears with the group when his health allows. The group has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards and have won six, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. They’ve been invited to the White House by three different administrations: President Clinton in ’94, President Bush in ’02, and President Obama in ‘10.

And while the awards they’ve racked up are certainly impressive, their music really speaks for itself. They practically created the gospel sound of the 21st century and continue to define the genre today. Just see for yourself in the video below of “Singing Brings Us Closer.”

We’re so excited to bring this slice of music history to Lone Tree and hope that you can join us for this uplifting night of music on September 15th at 8pm. Tickets and more information are available here: http://www.lonetreeartscenter.org/blindboys

Fun fact: “Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time,” a Grammy-nominated track from the compilation album God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson was recorded at FAME Recording Studio, which should sound familiar if you saw Muscle Shoals: I’ll Take You There – it’s one of the studios in Muscle Shoals! They also recorded a track from their latest album in Muscle Shoals as well.

“You Must Want!”

EVITA Director’s Notes
by Gina Rattan

Researching and assembling this production of EVITA has been a joy. The deeper and more entrenched in the research I became, the more I was aware of certain key moments in Eva’s early life that influenced her decision-making as an adult.

Eva Perón was known for her tenacity, ambition, perseverance, generosity toward women and children, and her unlikely rise to power from very poor origins. Born in 1919 in the rural outskirts of Buenos Aires, her mother was a poor seamstress who became the mistress to a married man. They had five children together before he left to return to his first family. For Eva’s entire childhood she was beset with gossip and rumors from everyone in her town. She was not legitimate, not to be taken seriously. Her family was a threat to the very values of those who lived in her village.

Gina Rattan

Gina in front of her research

Eva’s world was a harsh one, since her family was very poor, ostracized, and marginalized. Her country was one of an entrenched, stratified class system. Upward mobility or advancement was not an option, particularly not for young women. In Eva’s world, a woman’s purpose was to find a husband and start a family.

She and her sisters were deep fanatics of movies, which they saved and scraped to see when they came to town once a month.  Many films were American, but a few were Argentine, set in the big city. As they do for many of us, movies provided an escape and a romanticized version of a better life, just beyond Eva’s reach in Buenos Aires.

In 1934, at the age of fifteen, she became one of many Argentines to be ferried by the newly minted railway system to Buenos Aires. (Contrary to how it is portrayed in the musical, Eva travelled alone, not in the company of Augustin Magaldi, although he did perform in her hometown.) She became a stage actress quite quickly and started where many young performers do, in the ensemble. As was standard practice for young actresses in the ensemble at this time, she was not paid, nor were her costumes provided by the theater company. Instead, young actresses were expected to find an older gentleman; a punto fijo (steady man) or calballero blanco (sugar daddy) to pay their wage and provide costumes for the show. Eva was once propositioned by the director of a show she was starring in (the Argentine premiere of Lillian Helman’s The Children’s Hour); she turned him down and quit the show.

Her success as a stage actress lead to success as a radio star (her brother also moved to Buenos Aires and owned a soap company which owned a radio station). She was the best paid radio actress of her time. The Argentine radio network was the second largest in the world, next to the United States. Her success there led to her becoming a movie star. She was incredibly successful between ages 15 to 25. She also struggled immensely to make enough money to live. For those ten years, she never lived anywhere that had hot water. In 1944, at the age 25, she met Juan Perón, a man whose ambitions and drive matched her own. Since 1944 and Perón’s rise to power, she has been characterized as the driving force behind his politics, policy, and corruption.

Evita has always been a fascinating musical to me, not only for its lush score, complicated characters, and thrilling dramatization of an historical narrative, but also as it’s one of the first modern musicals (written in 1976) to feature a narrator.

Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber present us Eva’s story through the lens which women in power are viewed – the perspective of a man. What you’re about to see is an examination of Eva’s story as told and as perceived through the eyes of Che, an erstwhile admirer turned ardent opponent. One who is obsessed and consumed with her public image, accomplishments, failures, and motives. As Eva herself said, “You must want! You have the right to ask! You must desire.”

EVITA opens April 13 and runs through April 29, with a preview on April 12.

EVITA: Visiting Argentina

by Katie Konishi, Marketing Specialist

In April, LTAC is taking on a challenge like nothing we’ve quite tackled before–we’re producting a fully-staged, big name musical. EVITA, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, is the story of Eva Perón, one of Argentina’s most controversial First Ladies. It’s our biggest endeavor to date, and we’ve put together an all-star team to make it happen.Evita_Logo-1

EVITA opened in London’s West End in 1978 and the show follows Eva Perón throughout her life, from her humble beginnings to her rise to power and through the upper echelons of society. Just recently, there were revivals of the show in both London and New York. There was also a film version of the musical, starring Madonna, Jonathan Pryce, and Antonio Banderas in 1996.

The film version is how our director, Gina Rattan, came to know the musical. But her interest in the story of EVITA wasn’t just a passing fancy–it ignited a passion for the story of Argentina’s former First Lady. So much so, that Gina traveled to Buenos Aires to immerse herself in Eva’s world. Gina heard about our production of the show from her friend Ben Klein, an associate director on Broadway and the keynote speaker of our 2015 Sensory Friendly Summit, who put her in touch with our executive director, Lisa Rigsby Peterson. The rest, as they say, is history!

Gina has directed the second national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and been the associate director of the same show on Broadway, as well as being the associate director of Matilda the Musical on Broadway and NBC’s Peter Pan Live! and The Sound of Music Live! Most recently, she directed Pace University’s production of another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. Something that she enjoys about Webber’s musicals is that they’re complete stories–there isn’t a lot of exposition and you get to see everything play out on stage. The challenge that this presents for the creative team, of course, is how to make sure that they’re telling the fullest, clearest, most exciting version of the story as possible.

Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan

EVITA is one of Gina’s favorite shows and she’s excited to tackle the challenges of directing a show that she knows and loves. “First of all, it’s such a great show as a piece of musical theater. The complicated protagonist is female…she’s not oversimplified, she presents a real person,” Gina says of the show. “It’s a very political show, but it doesn’t play out like a history lesson. All the characters are so passionate and involved in the politics of the show. And that’s not exaggerated — the people of Argentina are really like that!”

One of the characters that Gina is most excited about is the city of Buenos Aires itself. The show is imbued with the vibrancy of the city and it becomes like a character of its own. Every bit of the creative team is responsible for creating the city–from the scenic and sound designers, to the costumes and choreography, we’ll be bringing Buenos Aires to life on stage, as well as the characters themselves.

EVITA is a show that is political and personal, entertaining but thought-provoking. It’s substantive and escapist. It will be a beautiful piece of theater that’s unlike anything that we’ve ever done at the Arts Center, and everyone involved in the production, including Gina, can’t wait to share it with you!

EVITA runs at the Lone Tree Arts Center April 13-29, 2017.

Muscle Shoals: I’ll Take You There

by Leigh Chandler, Marketing Director

ds7_4021I know a place. Or at least I thought I knew a place. Like me, many people are aware of the incredible music that’s come out of the recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. I also know that it was a tricky place for African-American artists to record in the ‘60s, at a time when racial tensions ran high in the country. But I didn’t know the depth of importance of those studios in helping race relations, or in popularizing “black music,” until I saw Muscle Shoals: I’ll Take You There.

_ds85681Myk Watford and Charlton James, both from that region of Alabama, take on the stories of session musicians, first at FAME studio and then at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. They explain how they just fell into playing for artists that would come to record at both, but they also talk about what it was like to work with the artists recording there. Interspersed with this history lesson is an incredible band, featuring vocalists Felicia Fields, Kenita Miller, and Lannie Counts, playing the hit songs that pair with the stories.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that many artists who headed to Muscle Shoals to record “black music” weren’t aware that the session musicians were white. Given the difficult race relations in the country at the time, many artists were nervous about heading to Muscle Shoals to record, and many felt out of their element. Interestingly, session musicians got to experience that same feeling. Aretha Franklin_ds85658 famously left Muscle Shoals after recording just one song – “I Never Loved A Man” – but she loved the musicians so much that they went to New York to finish recording her album, which included “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” along with other famous hits. They were like fish out of water.

Throughout the show other tidbits come out as well, such as Percy Sledge, an orderly from a local hospital, making his first recording ever and being nervous as all get-out. That song he recorded turned out to be the hit “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Not only did artists sometimes feel out of their element, but people in the small community sometimes were also out of their element in dealing with visiting artists. When Lynyrd Skynyrd came to record “What’s Your Name,” the town wanted to the long-haired hippies to leave. And when The Rolling Stones came to town, Mick Jagger had a fantastic response to a waitress ds7_4091questioning who they were, which I won’t give away.

So much of the music recorded at Muscle Shoals is timeless. You’ll hardly be able to stay in your seat during Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances.” You’ll smile during Paul Simon’s “Love Me Like A Rock.” And you’ll hear more current music coming from the area, like Jason Isbell’s “Alabama Pines.” You’ll marvel at all of the 25+ songs during the performance. The thing to take away, though, is when Kenita Miller, speaking Candi Staton’s words, says that she wasn’t sure about recording with white musicians, but after spending time with them, they were her friends. They were people that she cared about, that she talked about her life with and that talked about their lives with her. It’s an important lesson that rings as true now as it did back then.

Muscle Shoals: I’ll Take You There runs at the Lone Tree Arts Center February 2-12. For more information, visit www.lonetreeartscenter.org.

Here’s a preview:

Once the Audience Enters the Theater

By Heather Beasley, dramaturg

DSC_5739f2

Stephen Weitz as Cyrano, photo by Michael Ensminger

After the work-packed exhaustion of tech week comes the thrill of opening night, and Cyrano‘s first time before a live audience. The many hours of rehearsal, choral practices, fight calls, set-building, light-hanging, drop-painting, music recording…they all boil down to the chance to tell this glorious, swashbuckling tale to the people who come through the Lone Tree Arts Center doors.

But long before anyone bought a ticket for our show, a few unsung heroes of nonprofit theatre already thought about how to get you to join our audience. The marketing team came up with graphics that caught your eye, and story capsules that captured the essence of a play in just a few sentences. They made sure the word about Cyrano spread high and low–from print ads, to postcards in your mailbox, to your Facebook feed, to preview stories in your local newspaper.  At the most basic level, it only takes two things to create theatre, really–an actor and an audience–and we couldn’t draw an audience without the help of our marketing team.

Once they’ve attracted your attention, the box office staff has the front-line customer service job of making you glad you’ve decided to buy a ticket to see our show. The concessions staff and ushers may help you toward your seat, with a tasty beverage in hand, as you find your spot and wait for the show to begin.

Meanwhile, backstage, the stage manager is counting down:  “Half-hour!”  “Ten minutes to curtain.”  “Places, please.”  Set pieces are placed, volume levels verified, comestible props prepared, and stage weapons checked for safety. Some last-minute emergency always creates a bit of heightened drama: a shoe heel breaks, a button pops, a prop light breaks…there’s always one more problem to solve. But ready or not, the time does inevitably come, and the overture begins.

Once that magical opening night performance gets rolling, our focus turns back to you, the audience.  We wonder: Will you laugh? Will you cry?  Will you be touched by this sweet, brashly romantic, heroic comedy?  The production team members lucky enough to sit in the house on opening night often watch the audience members–friends, family members, theatre critics, strangers. Our satisfaction comes from watching you experience our work and get caught up in the story. For a few hours, you can leave your real-world cares behind and enjoy a story that’s larger than life.

A Stage Manager’s Perspective of Cyrano

By Jonathan Allsup, Stage Manager

Most of the rehearsal time on a play is not spent onstage. Nearly 120 hours of rehearsal on Cyrano were spent in the rehearsal hall, a room approximately the same size as the stage, with a table on one side for the director and stage management, and tables on the other end to hold props. The edge of the stage, curtains in the wings, and the design of the set are taped out on the floor to indicate to the actors and others where the set pieces will be. There are some rehearsal version of props and only a few costume pieces.

Last Wednesday, Cyrano rehearsals moved to the Lone Tree Mainstage. This began what is often referred to as “tech week.” Throughout the week, each day, new elements were added, starting with the set, props, lighting and sound cues, and finally, just a few days before we open, costumes, wigs, hair, and makeup. All of these elements continue to be polished and refined throughout the week. In addition, Cyrano has longer daily rehearsals during tech, sometimes working what are called “10 of 12’s”: rehearsals that last from 10AM – 10PM with a 2-hour break.

“Tech” is the culmination of weeks of work by those in the rehearsal hall, departmental shops (scenic, props, electric, sound, costumes), and administration. As a stage manager, I love being a part of the team that coordinates all of the elements, keeping shops informed on what is happening in rehearsal and how it could affect their designs, and making sure that those in the hall are prepared for what we know about the design elements. That way, no one is surprised or unprepared during tech week, and we’re all ready for the public by opening night!

The days of tech week are full of problem-solving. It’s a fun kind of problem-solving. We make good art, tell a good story, and find ways to integrate the design elements with each other so they act as supportive, collaborative elements in storytelling. Stage Managers coordinate all of that. In fact, we call all the cues that execute the design elements together for every performance. That’s what stage managers do.

That’s what I do. And I love what I do!


Cyrano opens this week! Get tickets here or call (720)509-1000.

The Understudy’s Journey

By Kevin Lowry, understudy for all male roles except Cyrano

A typically unnoticed, behind-the-scenes role of the theatrical process is the understudy. For this production of Cyrano, I have the privilege of being the understudy for the roles of Christian, Le Bret, De Guiche, Ragueneau, De Valvert, Ligniere and Desiree. (Basically, all of the male roles except for the lead.) A mammoth task by any measure, to not only memorize all the lines, the blocking, a song, and swordplay, but also to be able to bring each character to life in its own unique way.

I began this assignment by reading the play over and over, to try and get a handle on each character track and how they fit into the overall story of Cyrano.  Then I started working on the lines: a job I can equate to drinking from a fire hose.  Pacing myself and focusing on one character at a time was the only way I could manage it. I spent hours recording the lines and cues to be able to hear them aloud and help me get them into my head. I consider myself a very kinesthetic person, so walking through the blocking with the lines really helps solidify them for me and helps me get the character into my body.

Learning the sword-fighting choreography has been a challenge. Working fight choreography by oneself is difficult.  The dance of a sword fight is different with each partner, and since I’m playing multiple fighting roles, I can’t practice swinging a sword against myself! The lack of a combat partner to practice with makes it a unique test of my skills.

I have had the opportunity to “walk” a few characters through the course of the rehearsal process, and that has helped immensely with learning those scenes.

All in all, I am excited to be climbing this mountain of an acting challenge, and I will be ready to jump in should the opportunity present itself. That being said, I ask the cast to stay healthy, take your B12 and vitamin C, and get plenty of rest.

Comedy for the Modern Theatergoer

By Michael Bouchard, cast member of Cyrano 

Comedy from centuries past tends not to fare well today. This is due to the fact that it isn’t funny anymore. For instance, Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night: FABIAN: Sowter will cry upon’t for all this, though it be as rank as a fox.

I’ll let you pause to catch your breath from the laughter.

I know what you’re thinking: “That line makes no sense.” Even if you knew that the context was about Sowter’s opinion of bad poetry, you’d still be hard-pressed to imagine how it could be funny. If you don’t know all the context, syntax, and vernacular language of the day, it looks like drivel.

But if you knew that “out upon it” can mean a positive/surprised “No Way!” and can be contracted to “upon’t”, and that “rank as a fox” means “smells like crap”, you can begin to imagine what Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner would do if they got their hands on it. The line might read:

FABIAN: Sowter would yell “Incredible!” Even though it’s crap.

Now we know what’s being said! It also fits our current vernacular without losing the playwright’s intention for the line, or the style. Most importantly, it’s funny again.

All this is what Hollinger and Posner have achieved with the humor in this adaptation of the tale of Cyrano de Bergerac. Their script is funnier than Rostand’s original would be to our ears, yet it loses none of the point, and less of the poetry than you might think, without feeling pretentious. If you are a lover of poetry and wordplay, this modern adaptation will give you much to feast on.

And when it comes to the comedy, this production of Cyrano has an ace up its sleeve: The entire cast.

When you ask an ensemble to play multiple roles, you’re going to want flexible actors who can jump from fully realized character to fully realized character, rapidly. Almost as a rule, people who are elastic with their physicality, the pace of their speech, and the tone of their voice are good at comedy. Comedy often relies on understanding rhythms of speech (we call this “timing”) or outrageous physical gags (Jim Carrey comes to mind). When it comes to comedy, this cast knows its stuff.

Every single cast member gets their moment to tickle your funny bone, and not a one fails to deliver. It may be hammy, or it may be subtle. Be it Sammie Joe Kinnett giving you characters you’ll be laughing at for days, or Brian Shea breaking his handsome resolve to deliver a scene of unexpected hilarity, you will find jokes of all kinds to make you laugh, no matter your tastes in comedy. We do it all, even puns (the very lowest form of comedy).

 

Despite all the humor, this is no fluff piece of cream pies and banana peels. Comedy is best when it’s connected to real situations and powerful desires. When the stakes are highest, you have the possibility of great humor and great drama. In Cyrano, every member of the ensemble plays their desires to their fullest. This grounds the humor, and in fact, makes it all funnier, because the situation matters so much to every character onstage.

Stephen Weitz as Cyrano is pretty good too. He might have a career in this if he keeps at it. We’re all rooting for him.

We’re all also rooting for you to come and have a brilliant night at the theater, enjoying the humor in this classic tale well worth sharing with your friends.

 

From Cyrano de Bergerac to Cyrano

by Heather A. Beasley, Cyrano dramaturg

NOTE: This is the first in a series of blog posts about the making of Cyrano, to be performed at Lone Tree Arts Center April 21-30. For tickets, visit www.lonetreeartscenter.org.

You may be familiar with the romantic hero with the big nose, Cyrano de Bergerac? BETC’s contemporary stage version of this beloved story has its roots in the 1640s, when the French siege of Arras created the backdrop for this swashbuckling romance.

Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac
Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac

In the final decade of the Thirty Years’ War, King Louis XIII himself was involved in the siege of the Spanish town of Arras. Although the French were besieging the city, the French troops were starving because the Spanish had cut their supply lines. The siege dragged on through the summer. On August 2 the supply lines were finally restored, leading to a successful French attack and the surrender of the city on August 9, 1640. French playwright and philosopher Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac was a soldier in the final battles against the city, and was seriously although not mortally wounded in the fighting. He lived on to write several plays, volumes of poetry, and two science fiction novels.

Edmond Rostand
Edmond Rostand

More than two centuries later, tired of the gritty realism popular on French stages in the late 1890s, Edmond Rostand sought a great romantic hero for his newest play. He embroidered the tale of the siege of Arras, and of Cyrano de Bergerac, into a play that became one of France’s greatest stage successes. He researched the Gascony Guard, their role in the siege, and the Parisian theatre companies that Cyrano wrote for, and created a larger-than-life love story based on real history. From Captain le Bret to Comte de Guiche, and including the lovely Roxane, the characters in the play are based on living people, although the love story itself is a fiction.

Contemporary playwrights Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner collaborated on this adaptation of Cyrano. They turned a thirty-character play into a version with just nine actors, but kept the story in the historical time period in which it was set.  In a new century, in this new translation, we bring Cyrano to audiences still hungry for a great love story. This tale may inspire a new generation to believe that a courageous, idealistic poet can win the heart and soul of a beautiful, intellectual woman.