Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7, 2010

Anne Keefe
Playhouse Artistic Advisor

I’m sitting in my office looking out the window at the garden, which at this time of year is not at its most colorful, but that doesn’t matter today.  It’s full of kids and parents all dressed up and leaving the afternoon production of Ballet Etudes’ The Nutcracker, which is becoming an annual favorite.  I have a soft spot in my heart for this production.  Back in 2000, I stage managed this sweet Nutcracker in the pre-renovation Playhouse.  There wasn’t anything going on in the winter then, because the theater wasn’t winterized. When Ballet Etudes wanted to use the space for their production, it meant a couple of things.  First we had to turn on the heat!  Ballet dancers require a much warmer environment than actors (who in the summer are always complaining about the heat!) and this was a major challenge since the Playhouse was basically a sieve.  We would start a week in advance to try to bring the building up to something approaching warm, and never quite succeeded.  With no staff at all except the few people in the office, a lot of the technical stuff fell to me and I spent cold days in the theater with the lighting designer and a couple of our union crew doing things I couldn’t do now, like laying the dance floor.  The marley (the rubber floor that the dancers require) would arrive on a truck about a week in advance – just as we’d start heating up the place – rolled tight.  We’d unroll it and hope that the lumps would ease out before we had to tape it with gaffer’s tape to the stage floor.  The aim was a smooth, cushioned floor for the dancers.  We usually managed to do that, but not the first time.  I don’t think I could do that much crawling around on my knees anymore.  And we had such a limited dressing room space then!  You could hardly get through the Greenroom for huge tulle costumes and tiny ballerinas. Still, it was great fun to see it come together and to watch bus loads of kids sit with mouths agape watching the dancers move in ways they had never imagined.  I actually heard one little girl ask her teacher if they were real!  I confess, I always feel that way when I watch ballet myself.
With Nutcracker behind us, this will be a busy and exciting week as we prepare for the rest of the Holiday Special Events at the Playhouse.  One of the things we learned as we renovated the building was that it is a great music venue – great acoustics (even Joshua Bell told us this after a benefit).  And it has the added benefit of being an intimate space for performers.  I can’t wait to see what Tracie Thoms  thinks of it when she makes her debut on our stage this Friday.  She and her trio will be doing an evening of show tunes (she was in Rent), jazz and some holiday music and we are so thrilled to have this multi- talented woman on our stage. 
One of the most fun parts of my job this month has been being in correspondence with Bill Irwin.  I first had the privilege of working with Bill at a gala at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.  Watching him clown around with the campers for three days was such a moving experience.  Then to see him in his Tony Award-winning role as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff?, it was hard to believe this was the same man.  And then again to see him on the big screen in Rachel Getting Married.  Talk about multi- talented! And you will be pleased to know that this McArthur Genius Grant winner is as nice as he is talented.  I literally can’t wait to see what he and his collaborator in all things Clown, Doug Skinner, have put together for our Playhouse audience.  I’ve been looking at YouTube videos of past performances and howling all week!  So far the most provocative request so far has been a podium, covered with a drape, and a diminutive person to aid with props.  Hmmmmm. Can’t wait to see what use he will make of the ‘diminutive person’!
Season’s Greetings  will be one of our popular “presented events.  This means we aren’t producing it ourselves, but that it comes in all put together, with sets, costumes and props.  It has practically sold out its two performances on Sunday, December 12th – BUT...if you are looking for something you can share with the whole family, might I suggest The Greatest Gift  at 7 p.m. on the next evening?
David Wiltse, the Playwright in Residence at the Playhouse for the 2006 – 2009 seasons, has teamed up with British composer Denis King and created a charming holiday play with music and we are producing it as part of the Script in Hand play reading series.  For those of you unfamiliar with the series, we have been doing play readings of classic plays all year.  A group of actors comes in, rehearses for 5 hours and reads the play at music stands for a truly enthusiastic audience.  There are no sets, costumes, or lights - just good actors, a good play, and a great audience who sit in the dark and use their imaginations.  This time we are going to do a never-before produced play with music.  To be in at the beginning of a play is always thrilling.  To witness an audience experience something new is so informative.  Don’t you want to be one of the 500 or so people to be the first to see this new work?  We will rehearse for 4 days instead of 5 hours this time.  Hard to have even the best actors learn 8 songs in any less time than that.  And what a cast we have assembled.  Jeremy Peter Johnson, who was Georg the male love interest in our 2010 season opener She Loves Me, is returning along with newcomers to the Playhouse, Stacie Morgain Lewis (Broadway’s Wicked), and Howard McGillin (Broadway’s Phantom).  Also in the cast are local child actors, nine-year-old Orly Safir and Luke Sauer (Tiny Tim in our 2006 and 2007 productions of A Christmas Carol. Usually I would direct the Script in Hand play readings, but this special project will be in the hands of another Playhouse favorite, actor/director Mark Shanahan (most recently seen in the reading series, and the director of Butterflies Are Free).  I can’t wait to see how this all comes together.  I hope you’ll join me at the Playhouse for this ‘world premiere’!
And finally…The Broadway Boys!  The energy of this group of young and oh-so-talented Broadway performers – many of whom have their roots right here in Westport – will rock the Playhouse stage for two performances on December 18th and 19th.  If you haven’t experienced this group before, or even if you have – join us for Broadway standards and holiday music that won’t disappoint.
Last but not least, all of us at the Playhouse wish you and yours a joyous holiday season.  We APPLAUD you for continuing to support live theater in your community and thank you for sharing some of your holiday with us.

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