C2: Cabaret’s First Sing Read-Through

“There was a Cabaret and there was a Master of Ceremonies and there was a city called Berlin in a country called Germany and it was the end of the world.”

Clifford Bradshaw, Cabaret

On November 5, the cast of Arizona’s Theatre Company’s production of Cabaret performed a full sing and read-through for a small audience of maybe thirty people that included the directors, designers, managers, ATC employees, and cohorts. My first impression is that I want to participate with this show as much as I possibly can, especially now that the Hebrew month of Tishrei had completed. With my health issues (i.e. my epilepsy), I am unable to drive to rehearsals and I can’t spend many hours without getting physically too exhausted. Madison Micucci who plays Sally Bowles and Sean Patrick Doyle who plays the Emcee will inevitably steal the show with their impeccable talents and entrancing performances.

I need to write to the AZ Jewish post. Cabaret takes place in pre-World War II in Germany with an emerging Nazi political society, which is so relevant to our Jewish community. In Act II, German Jewry identity is so problematic. As a Jew, I am so afraid, because Jews couldn’t love passionately, live simply, protect others in Berlin. As Cliff says to Sally, “If you’re not against all this, then you’re for it. Or you might as well be,” and Sally replies, “You mean – politics? But what has that to do with us?” As Doyle noticed during the cast check-in with the director Sara Bruner, each character experiences different stages of denial, and this will be an “opportunity [to see how] humans process the same information” whether it’s with collective apathy or individual self-destruction. Sally perceives “life [as] a cabaret”; she lives in an ignorance, optimism, and a comfort outside from the Nazi-inflicted society, and as Cliff says, “It can’t be anymore!” It was fun, but now the party is over.

As director Sara Bruner beautifully said to her cast, “We have life and we have art. What came first? They reflect each other.” Wow, you got to see Cabaret!

Tucson: 12/6 – 12/29

C1: “Don’t Tell Mama”

“It takes a team to bring collective art to life by working together on the same creativity and the same narrative.”

Brian Jerome Peterson ztz”l, previous sound designer at Arizona Theatre Company

You ever walk into a room, were hit with overwhelming energy, and you instantly wanted to be a part of it?

That was the room I walked into – ATC’s rehearsal room with a huge cast and excited artists! The director Sara Bruner impresses me with her energy and her vision. She is simultaneously a leader and a collaborator as she said, “I am open to questions and I don’t want there to be a hierarchy”. She is a BOSS!

I am so excited for this show! The Jewish month of Tishrei just completed, and I am so thankful for this opportunity to be more involved. Every artist and designer that has been collectively working on this project for months now is focused on their vision and their role in this production. They want to be consumed with the project and be absorbed by it. Everyone – choreographer, musical director, stage manager, etc. – are all energetic, full of passion, and open to suggestions.

This musical is more than just itself, more than just a statement. It is meant to evolve. The evolution will be observed by its team and felt by the artists through each individual flavor.

Willkommen! And bienvenue! Welcome!

SS4: The Importance of Perspective

“Religion and science are Truth on opposite sides of the same coin.”

Yosef Lopez

I just recently watched a TED talk by a Certified Psychopath Finder who met with scientologist Tony at Broadmoor, a psychiatric clinic in Berkshire, England. Tony had faked madness to prevent a 5-year prison sentence, but had been stuck in Broadmoor for 12 years by then. Speaker and journalist Jon Ronson realized that humans have this need to put people in boxes: “you shouldn’t define people by their maddest edges. [Tony] is a gray area in a world that doesn’t like gray areas where you [actually] find the complexity, the humanity, [and] the truth [in humanity].” In Act 1, Silent Sky shows an obvious divide between science versus religion, homebound versus unconfined realities, and the coldness of a computer versus the heat of emotion. In Act 2, playwright Lauren Gunderson then pushes her characters to enter the gray areas instead of staying in their defined boxes and starts to find TRUTH in BOTH science and religion, computer and emotion, home and leaving your comfort zone. The show even quotes the “German physicist” Albert Einstein who “says that mass and energy are just different forms of the same thing”!

My husband and I had a great conversation after the show about meaning. We discussed the concepts of souls, finding truth, and being okay with peoples’ different perceptions of meaning. Henrietta’s struggle is “where do we fit in the universe.” Henrietta Leavitt starts with a set frame of reference to which she looks at the universe; unfortunately, an introduction of doubt shakes her very foundation (i.e. axiom) that questions if anything actually matters, challenges her, and helps her to find new truths. After viewing the show in its entirety twice, I have learned that ‘legacy’ is not an ending but is the beginning of an idea’s journey whether through scientific discovery or living life.

During my final view of Silent Sky, I have to appreciate the finesse of the professional actors. Firstly, sitting on the right side of the house, viewing stage left, I had the great opportunity to see Veronika’s facial expressions, to watch her excellent acting, and to appreciate Henrietta’s character development. During the preview, I commented on her robotic movements and line-giving, and I voiced my disappointment on her lack of leadership as the LEAD of an un-harmonious ensemble. This time, she showed me that professional actors only get better with time, their research of their narrative, and the advancement of their character. It took the importance of changing my perspective. A job well done, Veronika!

B’hatzlacha, Silent Sky!!

SS3: Window to What?

“We can know exactly where we are.”

Henrietta Leavitt, Silent Sky

Tonight, I had the opportunity to see the third preview of ATC’s Silent Sky, and Friday night is the production’s Opening Night! I haven’t been able to any recent rehearsals, because of all of Jewish holidays this month. I was so thrilled to see Thursday night’s preview and to see how the show has evolved since I last saw it a couple of weeks ago. The show will be in Tucson from 10/25-11/9 and in Phoenix from 11/14-12/1.

ATC’s crew did an excellent job! The costumes were beautiful, historic, and feminine. The lighting used chandeliers in the work room place and warm spotlight in the home on stage right. The scene changes were quiet and great! The music is a swelling and emotive symphony. The projections are inventive and a window to the sky and to our universe. Before I went back to my seat after intermission, I ran into the composer and the projection designer! Wow, you have to, at least, see the final scene’s projections of the stars and our universe…I can’t even start to describe…breath-taking. The composer said that, “it is a team effort!”

Each actor uses a different acting style. I knew that Veronika Duerr who plays main character Henrietta Leavitt acted as a assistant director during rehearsals and I can see the director Casey Stangl in Duerr’s blocking and character development; robotic and disappointing. Her eyes, expression, and movement were lifeless but not like the “computer” that she was supposed to be. Victoria “Tori” Grace who played sister Margaret Leavitt was delightful and reminds me of author Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women‘s Beth. She has a beautiful, lyrical singing voice. Henrietta’s colleagues Williamina Fleming and Annie Cannon are played by Amelia White and Inger Tudor, and they worked as a comedic team like Timon and Pumbaa. White was all energy and perfect comedic timing. Tudor’s performance made my hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Unfortunately, the entire ensemble were so different from each other and worked as an independent actor that they didn’t know how to work as a harmonious ensemble.

I learned new things about the show’s meaning. It’s a feminine statement. That space and time are are close but far apart. That we are all a picture of the universe, of the future, of the human’s legacy.

Finally, everything is connected: the stars, music, poetry, love, and relationships. How special!

P.S. I am showcased in the program!! On the Cohort Club page, it says, “Here is what some of our Cycle 1 cohorts are saying about the rehearsal process for our production of The Royale“, and then my blog is quoted. See it below!

SS2: “Just A Cohort”

“How do we know that any of this matters?”

Henrietta Leavitt, Silent Sky

“Music is a voice, a language, a dramaturgical element.”

Paul James, composer

I haven’t been able to be in rehearsal since the first one, because of my family’s preparations for 22 guests for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It was so nice to return to the Arizona Theatre Company’s stage and artistic process.

This time, I had my worst experience, and as “I am just a cohort”, my opinions here do not have to be taken professionally.

I love observing actors in their element, but this current director Casey Stangl doesn’t seem to know how to give them the space or time to make their process natural. At first, she stayed behind the table without involvement or leadership. She then upped the ante by being too involved in the blocking and the actor’s space. I would say that her directorial style is focused on the character’s background, motivation, and movement, as if she only has a history in being an actor and not a director. She would stop a scene in the middle which distracted the actors from living in the moment, practicing their lines, being real. The movements and the lines and the relationships (that I adored from the first read-through) became robotic. She would get through the scenes so slowly, that she would disrespect the other actors that were waiting to get onstage. For example, Ms. Hines was waiting for over an hour from when she was asked to come for rehearsals. I feel like the director’s constant involvement really stops the actors from being in their scene and outside of their characters. Unfortunately, this lessened the intensity of such beautiful scenes which had so much potential. It felt like the actors were not distracted but full of fear that the director might stop at any time. Obviously, I am very critical of her directorial style.

Positives: She focused on the script’s beats, just as The Royale‘s script focused on rhythm. She would be playful with the script by choosing different places downstage to have different perspectives of this more character-centered.

Thank you for reading. I apologize for my critiques; there aare really for my potential future as a theatre director myself 🙂

SS1: Stars In The Universe

“You’ve been the brightest object in my day and we work with stars.”

Peter Shaw, Silent Sky

Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky is a play about Henrietta Leavitt between the years of 1900-1920. Her work at the Harvard Observatory distances her from family, romance, a chance for a normal life, and she becomes a real “computer”. The playwright describes it as “a love story between sisters, friends, colleagues, and with the stars. Henrietta is a badass who learns about the stars even without a telescope!” Lauren Gunderson actually wants to use Arizona Theatre Company as a vehicle to share her arts, her talents, and her feminist statement, including an all-female cast of Hamlet!

This was the first read-through of script, and the actors really achieved and excelled in bringing life to the script. There was such an energy in the room, and it was all because of the actors. I got to meet with Veronika who plays the lead character Henrietta, and she was personally chosen by the playwright Lauren Gunderson and the Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) director Casey Stangl. I asked about her artistic preparation as an actor before the first read-through and to play this role, expecting a detailed answer. She responded that she just familiarized herself with the rhythm and the beats of the script.

This answer also surprised me because the relationships between the characters already felt so solid, the atmosphere so clear and inspired, that I thought the actors had definitely met before! I am so excited to meet all of the actors, to learn about their process, and to hopefully build relationships with them, just like I had the opportunity with the actors in The Royale. Interestingly, Silent Sky also has five characters, just like The Royale, except it is an opposite with 4 females and 1 male (another cohort mentioned this to me).

The audience will be looking at the sky and building a personal relationship with it throughout the play. It is a clear that the stars are another character with a language and a personality. The light designer and the other artists will have a responsibility to create this language for Gunderson’s narrative. ATC’s Artistic Director Sean Daniels introduced the Cohort club as 20 Tucsonian individuals who are educated about the artistic process and then share the energy with the community.

Silent Sky taught me that we are not a computers; that we need to be open to opportunities and to be awake for the moments that life presents us.

About “Silent Sky”

By LAUREN GUNDERSON
Directed by CASEY STANGL

A celebration of discovery, originality, and curiosity. For the last three seasons, playwright Lauren Gunderson has proudly sat on the list of most-produced playwrights in the country. Arizona Theatre Company proudly brings this brilliant and prolific author’s work to the professional stage in Arizona for the first time. Based on the true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, astonishing discoveries await as she maps distant stars in galaxies beyond our own. But this brilliant, headstrong pioneer must struggle for recognition in the man’s world of turn-of-the-century astronomy. During this time of immense scientific discoveries, women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them.  Like the recent film Hidden FiguresSilent Sky shines a bright light on women whose achievements have been too long overlooked by the telescope of history. In this exquisite blend of science, history, family ties, and fragile love, a passionate young woman must map her own passage through a society determined to keep a woman in her place.

Tucson : 10/22/19 – 11/09/19

Phoenix : 11/14/19 – 12/01/19

TR6: The Real Thing

“Go sharp, stay sharp.”

Wynton, The Royale

Edwin, Roberto, Peter, Erica, and Bechir. All of these incredible actors have turned into a cohesive family, and welcomed me as part part of the ATC team so respectfully and so lovingly. This has been such an amazing experience for me, and I am so sad that this has ended. From the first rehearsal to opening night, I have finally watched my last production of The Royale. Goodbye to those who move onto to bigger and better things in their artistic journeys, as they continue their time in Tucson until September 28 and when the play moves to Phoenix for October 5-20.

As Sean Daniels, ATC’s Artistic Director, says in the program, “Every time I hear it, I am always blown away by Marco’s play, which I think asks the question of what is the cost of progress on the individuals who push for it.” It’s a really great question. We ask this as an audience as we watch Jay’s transformation. We first see him as an ostentatious and selfish boxer who seems to just wants fame, but as the end of the play, we really see that he as a genuine maker of change. As Jay says, “I want to make it right.” But he didn’t know that he unleashed the dogs, the floodgates that were opened by his actions, but as his sister Nina says, “You might want to be a champion, but we might not be ready.”

My husband and I had great center-stage seats in the back of the front row. Every time that I have seen this show, I have always learned something new. In sports history, Jay and Jack Johnson resuscitated in the sport, “You have always been the heavyweight champion of the world. Tomorrow, we just make it official.” Jack Johnson made a massive change in the world, and especially in the negro community.

Late last night, I was watching an episode of the West Wing as Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborne was discussing the law “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” aka to be openly homosexual in the armed forces that has now been repealed. A black Navy admiral enters the room and tells the other soldiers in the army to stand easy. He asks them if they think that gays serving in the army poses a threat to unit discipline and cohesion. He then says, “That’s what I think too. I also think that the military wasn’t designed to be an instrument of social change. The problem with that is that’s what they were saying about me 50 years ago. Blacks shouldn’t serve with whites. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed. I’m an Admiral in the US Navy and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Beat that with a stick.” Things needed to change! The Royale is part of Wynton’s story where he would be rounded up and blindfolded with seven to eight other black men to fight each other as entertainment for white audiences, and he would fill his pockets with pennies and nickels and would find bloody teeth from other men.

I’ll be honest. I felt that the show wasn’t totally sharp. It made me nervous – the movements to the ring, the choreography, the props, the language, the script, the audibility – as I have seen the play so many times. These elements should be perfect so that the actors onstage can be authentic. On the other hand, I saw the The Royale preview exactly a week ago, and I am really impressed by the improvement and sharpness of the production, in general. The perfectly creative light and the sound designers have really enriched the play. The artists really listened to the previewers, the show’s “huge collaborators” as Sean Daniels said, before opening night on Friday night. It made such a difference to a “punching” and emotionally talented show. From first rehearsal to the opening night, my job was to observe this art!

Bravissimo!

TR5: Preview Two

“This ain’t about what side of town we grew up in, how we look, how we sound. It’s about how we fight.”

– Jay “The Sport” Jackson

Pow! “And now, the fight you came for.”  Jab!  “We’re making music, boy.”  Breathe!  “See the world changing around you.”  Punch!  Your Negro Heavyweight Champion, Jay “The Sport” Jackson, dreams of making change in a racially segregated Jim Crow reality through his boxing popularity.  Director Michael John Garcés appreciates the play’s layers from the “unbearable intimacy of violence” to the modernity that reaches out to movements that fight racism, inequality and divineness in a fractured world.

Welcome to Marco Ramirez’s The Royale. Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) is Arizona’s preeminent professional theatre, and I am so grateful to be part of the 2019-2020 season’s Cohort Club.  Twenty cohorts each from Tucson and from Phoenix read the season’s six scripts before first rehearsals and receive exclusive tickets to special events and preview performances.  Our job has been to observe rehearsals, meet one-on-one with directors and actors, and my motivation has been to connect the Tucson Jewish community with ATC’s artistic process. 

What a show! Definitely visionary, creative, and meaningful, the show was all and more than I expected. Bechir Selvian as Jay was interactive with the audience as they contributed throughout the play. Edwin Lee Gibson as Wynton was his paternal trainer and Jay’s unfortunate punching bag. Roberto Antonio Martin as Fish was energetic, naive, and humorous. Peter Howard as Max was protective and dedicated. Erica Chamblee as Nina was angry, secure, and intense: “What was all of this for?” I gave them a loving standing ovation for their wonderful performance and the perfection of the director’s vision coming to life.

Sean Daniels, ATC’s artistic director, invited the director and various designers onto the stage and asked the audience as huge collaborators with the fine-tuning with the story-telling process. You will laugh. Your heart will break. You will fight for our characters and for the relevant, thematic theatre.

The Curtain Rises.

TR4: “Make Your Mark”

“And now, the fight you came for…”

Max, The Royale

Purley “Fresh Fish” Hawkins aka Fish’s words really spoke to me. Make your mark. It makes us question: What often motivates us, and what are our goals as human beings?

Living with epilepsy, it can be so hard to live a normal life – to drive our car, to have a 9 to 5 job to help my family’s livelihood, and even to have more children. My health has kept me from true happiness, however opportunities have allowed me to live my dreams. Seeing my pessimism and depression, my husband has chosen time, effort, and even where we live to make my dreams come true – a campus rebbetzin, an ATC Cohort, an amateur visual artist, and a childhood book author. These are recent opportunities that can given me the possibility to “make [my] mark”.

Jack Johnson, the original African-American heavyweight champion of the world, made his mark the professional boxing world by making it more theatrical and interactive by having a comedic and fun relationship with his audience. My Uber driver Paul even knew Jack Johnson as a famous boxer! In the play The Royale, Jay “The Sport” Jackson speaks with the audience – flirts with the women, entertains the people, breaks the fourth wall (during round four), and has an internal dialogue about the “front row”. Jay’s trainer Wynton wanted to know why Jay was focusing on the audience over his career: “you won this audience, you forgot to fight”. Max says that Jay’s face can be seen in every newspaper every week, “a colored man once a week on page 5”. Of course, Jay wonders why he can’t be seen on the front page as he has had seventy-six boxing wins between San Diego and New York City.

Fish made his mark when he was in his first “professional” fight with Jay “The Sport” Jackson. He achieved his dreams without professionl boxing experience in a Mississippi naval yard as a “rope man” and without his own trainer. After the fight, Jay evaluated that Fish “ain’t half bad” since no one had “made Round Seven with The Sport”, and then he chose Fish to be his sparring partner!

Boxing promoter Max’s mark is his creating “the fight of the decade”, negro heavyweight champion Jay against the prior heavyweight champion of the (i.e. white) world Bernard “The Champ” Bixby. Furthermore, “I should remind you that I am…great at my job and that you will not anyone as dedicated to you, to the sport, or to the pursuit of sport in general.” This is his dream.

ATC’s production of The Royale Director Michael John Garcès is truly a visionary and he sees the “big picture” of the play. However, his unique directorial stylization makes his mark as he focuses on a positive and respectful relationship with his actors as a friend and leader. His own acting experience gives his cast a space for them to repeat and match him with intensity. With a committed and inspiring vision, he also clears pathways for ideas and uses confidence in his team for an ultimate reality. Secondly, two out of four rehearsals that I have observed, Garcès has worn a “Lifeisliving.org” shirt that supports http://youthspeaks.org/lifeisliving/, which is a nonprofit that promotes diverse and under-resourced communities, green action agencies, and the contemporary art world.

The assistant director job has a variety of tasks that is needed for the certain production. China in The Royale watches the essential details of the ensemble’s rhythm (i.e. HA and CLAP). Last season, Jasmine Roth worked for The Music Man, because of her experience with musicals. Anna Jennings was the assistant director for ATC last season’s American Mariachi as she was getting her Master’s degree in Dramaturgy. During the entire year before the show, she already worked on and researched the play.

I believe that ATC’s The Royale will make its “mark” with its team, including its ensemble, artists, and creators, and it will make a smashing hit (i.e. punch) in the world of professional theatre.

Arizona Theatre Company

Tucson: Sept. 13-28 Phoenix: Oct. 3-20

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