Thursday, May 16, 2013
by Ensemble Member Kathy Logelin
One of the most important elements in The Electric Baby is the stories that Bimbo and Natalia tell together. When we first started rehearsal, I thought "Easy. Storytelling. Back to basics. I've got this!"
It wasn't until I jumped in and started working on the stories that I realized how hard telling a good story can be! We, as theatre artists, are storytellers. Every play we do is about telling a story. But sitting down and just simply communicating a story to someone with no bells and whistles is a lot harder than I anticipated. We spent a lot of time talking about what makes a good storyteller: personal investment, moment to moment discoveries, the elemnt of surprise, pace...
We talked about people we knew who told great stories. Many of the people I thought of weren't in theatre. It's the guy at the dinner party who somehow gets everybody to listen to his story about his junior high antics in Oklahoma. Everybody knows that guy. He's blessed with being a natural storyteller. He uses humor, tells the story with his whole body, and revels in the details. Thinking about people we knw who were great storytellers and dissecting what makes them great really helped.
We also talked about what makes for a bad storyteller and tried to stay away from some of those traps. Even with all of this, getting the stories to where they needed to be took a lot of time - especially the shared stories - they are like doing a dance with words.
It has been a really wonderful journey re-learning one of the cores of what we do. And the next time you're at a dinner party with "that guy," appreciate him! It's not easy what he's doing there!
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
by Joanna Iwanicka
People become props designers for many reasons. Most of them cannot be explained without making
the designers look a little… well…nutty. I am deeply convinced; however, that there is an ancient skill
dating back to our hunting and gathering past, which props designers manage to preserve and to hone. When given a task their senses sharpen, eyes open wider and adrenaline rushes through their veins. Fight or flight? The hunt begins. When the object is finally found, the world stops for a minute and their heart skips a beat or two. They think they are the only people in the world who see the real beauty in this particular discarded and rusty thing. Unfortunately, tossed away and undervalued, it is still way outside their budget. Fight or flight? They calculate the likelihood of finding something equally fitting in time for tech. Flight is not an option. They foot the bill and drive 50 miles to Waukegan to take the furniture home – didn’t I tell you these are not reasonable folks? But after the furniture is painted, after they finally find an affordable glass top, after seeing it all under stage lights and accompanied by wonderful play - all that matters is that the vision is realized and the furniture, once again, looks glorious. They will worry about selling it after the show closes…
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Rivendell Theatre Ensemble on Ridge in Edgewater
American Wee Pie rehearsals
Mark Ulrich reporting
We're a few weeks in by now. And some interesting, and, in some cases, unnerving patterns and traits have emerged.
Kurt. For days I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. Then I realized it was only happening when Kurt was on stage. A low, difficult to pinpoint hum. Not quite a drone, but not musical either. The strange thing is, Kurt is able to maintain that almost imperceptible hum even while he's speaking. How does he do that? I didn't know it was humanly possible. Am I the only one who notices it? Will the audience be able to hear it?
Jane. She pulled me aside to admit something to me last night. Like it was a big secret. She told me the only reason she agreed to do this show was that a former boyfriend once applied the endearment, "cupcake" in reference to her. So, for her, the play has deep, personal meaning. She even teared up when she was telling me this. I hope she doesn't decide to go off her mood stabilizing medication during the run.
Keith and I don't talk. I mean, not even a word. Whenever I cross his path backstage, he looks around as if he's searching for something. Something with which to bludgeon me perhaps? I don't know, but this is a play about baked goods, and so there is cutlery everywhere. It's weird. He's so sweet with his adorable little daughter. Then, around me, he gets those Mr. Hyde eyebrows. Has me worried.
All right. What would you make of this? I've been told that I'm just being paranoid. But I'm pretty sure that Megan, our director, doesn't know my name. Either that, or she just can't bring herself to say my name. Everyone else has a name. And, everyone else gets notes. She comes close to giving me a note, but then she'll think better of it and say, Um, you know what? Never mind. Once, I swear, she mumbled, almost inaudibly but not quite, What's the use? What's the use. That's where I am with the director one week before opening. How can I turn this around?
Jennifer, who plays my wife in the show, is constantly on her iPhone. Constantly. She'll deny it, but I swear she even checked it during our scene the other day. Checking it, tapping at it, scrolling. Exclaiming, Oh my god! Checking it, and exclaiming, Yes! I can't be sure, but I think it's a gambling thing. Twice now she's asked me for loans in excess of five grand.
The Stage Manager is very nice.
We rehearse at four tonight. I think. I'm no longer being told when rehearsals are, and just two days ago I found out that they did a run-through with my understudy earlier in the day. I'm pretty sure I've been removed from any e-mails and communiqués, and that replacing me altogether might be in the works. Now, as a precaution, I arrive about six hours early and wait for their cars to show up.
This is the home stretch. We'll see what happens. I'll keep you posted.
-Mark Ulrich for American Wee Pie.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Have you ever experienced a moment (either realized at the time, or recognized looking back) when you heard, saw, smelled, touched, or tasted something that would cause you
to make a change that greatly improved your life?
Hearing Lisa Dillman’s American Wee-Pie read out loud by Rivendell Theatre Ensemble members was my moment. And I knew it while it was happening. Many lines from the
play resonated with me and made me say to myself, “Yeah…yeah!” (And if those aren’t life-altering words, I don’t know what are.)
While I am not as old or socially inept as the character Zed, I had much in common with
him. At the time of RTE’s reading, I was working at a job (not as high-paying as Zed’s)
that was not challenging and was far beneath my level of expertise. But I didn’t want to
quit without having something else lined up.
The journey Zed goes on, and where he finds himself in the end, inspired me to take hold
of my life and future, even as that meant embracing some occupational uncertainty. And
to date, taking that leap of faith has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. The
curtain is not quite ready to rise on my second act, but the rest of my first act is already
looking much better.
And all that life-changing mumbo-jumbo aside, who wouldn’t love working on a play
that is all about cupcakes?
Friday, December 14, 2012
Seeds of the Wee-Pie
By Lisa Dillman
(Written while working on American Wee-Pie in the Goodman Playwrights Unit in 2011)
Playwrights are often asked to describe where a new work came from, its so-called seed idea. I’ve been asked this recently with regard to American Wee-Pie, the piece I am developing this season as part of the Goodman’s inaugural Playwrights Unit.
The answer is complicated. For me, there is almost never a single seed idea. Instead, a play begins to grow when several disparate ideas bump into each other and begin a conversation inside my head. Eventually, out of that linkage, a narrative starts to take shape.
With American Wee-Pie the bumping seed ideas went something like this:
Idea #1: In late 2009, as the economy was flailing, two of my friends were downsized out of their longtime careers. In telling me their stories, they both used the same expression; they said they needed to figure out their “second act.” It occurred to me that in this era of whole career categories disappearing never to return, a person’s “second act” might be almost anything. Poised in a kind of career intermission, one could view the second act as either terrifying or freeing. Or both.
Idea #2: Around that same time, I noticed that, despite the struggling economy, the number of high-end cupcake shops in Chicago seemed to be on the rise. The cupcake was thriving in hard times. I began to “research” this informally, sampling cupcakes all over the city. Though they varied a bit in style and presentation from place to place, all were pricey. In an online conversation with a friend, I mentioned my new interest in unaffordable small cakes, and she responded with some heated anti-cupcake rhetoric, assuring me that the cupcake bubble was unsustainable and about to burst.
Idea #3: The third part of the Wee-Pie seed equation was a moment that has actually been living in me for many years. Just before I left home to go away to college, I took an Amtrak trip from Chicago to Los Angeles to visit friends and relatives. I’d had some problematic teenage years leading up to this departure, and I was desperate to put the uglier bits of my past behind me and find out who I might yet become in the world up ahead. I got to Chicago very late and had to race to Union Station to make my train. I arrived with only minutes to spare; a loudspeaker was blaring that my train was in final boarding. I sprinted through the station and onto the platform. I noticed a balding middle-aged man in a rumpled gray suit running up ahead of me, head down, puffing. When he had nearly reached the boarding car he suddenly staggered to a stop and spun around toward me. His eyes brushed over mine as he went down to his knees and then fell straight over onto the concrete. A conductor rushed over and shooed people back. Paramedics came within minutes. The conductor shoved me onto my train, and I watched out the window as the EMTs tried—and failed—to revive the man in the gray suit. And then my train pulled out.
That man’s face—his eyes passing over mine for just an instant—has stayed with me. Bearing accidental witness to such an intimate part of a stranger’s life story—its end—seemed to carry with it a sort of cosmic responsibility. I have thought of that moment repeatedly, always at those times when something important in my life is either beginning or ending. Or both.
So. These three seeds converged in my mind and began a conversation that eventually evolved into American Wee-Pie—a comedy about a career second act, set in a cupcake bakery, and focused on a character who, haunted by two recent deaths, challenges himself to turn an ending into a beginning.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
by Artistic Director Tara Mallen
Not quite two weeks ago, I was blessed with one of the most magical moments I have ever experienced on stage. On Sunday, October 14th, Rivendell hosted a “reunion” of our 1996 cast of Anne McGravie’s play WRENS. All seven actresses were there to perform the roles they originated – including a few who have not acted in several years and one who now lives in Los Angeles.
Following two unbearably brief rehearsals, we walked out to a house filled with friends, family, long-time patrons and perhaps the most special of all guests, the seven ridiculously generous actresses from Rivendell’s current revival of WRENS. As we began, I looked into the faces of my cast-mates and those sixteen years that have transpired simply melted away. We were right back in that tiny space on Clark Street and here was Jenny, Dawn-Dawn, Meg, Cynthia, Doris, and yes, even Chelsea.
I was stunned by how much came flooding back and even more, how suddenly I didn’t feel quite so middle-aged and burdened. I will admit that during that insane rehearsal two hours prior to the reading I voiced, “Whose dumb idea WAS this anyway?” loudly to the room at large. Now that it is all said and done, I am actually pretty tickled to say that it was indeed my idea, and a pretty darn amazing idea at that.
But it would have remained just “a good idea” without director Scott Verissimo putting it all together, our gorgeous event hosts Consuelo Allan and Jane Baxter Miller, the amazingly gifted actors Mary Cross, Andrea Stark, Linda Waste, Meighan Gerachis, Karen Hammer and Toy DeIorio, and of course, playwright Anne McGravie, whose personal story of her time during WWII serving in the Women’s Royal Naval Service never ceases to move and inspire me. What a wonderful play… what a fantastic revival production… and what a profound experience… redux.