Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Expose Yourself to Live Theatre

The goal was 52 shows. The result was 68.

Want a look at the statistics for the year? Here they are:

# of shows seen: 68
# of theaters visited: 30
# of shows I saw that I didn't like: 13
# of actors I saw who deserve a Tony Award for his performance: 2
# of theaters for whom we now hold season tickets and/or membership: 5
# of theaters which we financially supported: 9
# of theaters where I volunteered my time and/or labor: 4

Please pay attention to the last 3 statistics. You see, I am not bragging. I am just making a point, which is, that exposing yourself to the wonders of live theatre will create a marvelous impact on your life. You will be changed, for the better. Even if your experience never goes beyond your time in the audience, it will still change YOU, in some small way.

So, expose yourself to theatre. You won't be sorry.

Thanks to my husband Randy for graciously posing for this photo.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Show #68 "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" at Lakewood Playhouse

No disrespect is intended to the Lakewood Playhouse, but when hearing that this show was on their season schedule, I would have called this play, "The Most Overdone Christmas Play Ever."
I mean, EVERYONE seems to do this show at one time or another. There are theaters who make this show an annual event. There are churches who perform this in place of an actual Christmas pageant. Imagine that.

The last time I saw this show, it was a youth production at a church where my then-teenaged son performed as the Dad, Mr. Bradley. Next to A Christmas Carol, this is probably the second most performed holiday show around. Can't prove that, but not too many folks will argue the point.

At first, it's hard to see why. The script is dated, with small town church references that come from a bygone era (say, about 40 years ago), and a view of childhood that sometimes strains credibility.

Barbara Robinson wrote the book her play is based on in 1972. Yep, it feels like it. Even with the child actors in Lakewood's production in 21st century dress, it can't disguise the fact that the story should have come from MY childhood days, not theirs.

But, wait. This play is not simply about a family of ruffians who come from a broken home and terrorize the other kids in their town. It's about a Christmas pageant. A re-telling of why we celebrate the season to begin with. A story about a young Jewish couple who travel far from home, can't get a room at the inn, and give birth to their baby son in a barn. It's about Jesus.

Jesus, the baby who changed the world. The savior who still changes the world, by changing people's hearts. Yeah, THAT Jesus.

I guess no matter the format, script, or staging, the story of the first Christmas still stirs our hearts. It should. It was a miracle.

Theatre has its own miracles. One of them is this: that Man (in this case, Woman) can take a "tired old script" that is used, over-used and used once again, and somehow, make it move the audience. It can still bring a tear to the eye of a burnt-out theatre goer who's already seen 67 shows before this one.

Is this miracle thanks to theatre, or thanks to God? I would guess that it's both. God and theatre, working together.

Sound implausible? sounds like the perfect partnership.

Praise God for His indescribable Gift.

Photography thanks to Dean Lapin Photography

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Show #67 "Tacoma's Best Holiday Show" with Ensemble 915

There is a term that strikes terror in the hearts of some actors (including me). That word is "improv."

For those who were big fans of the show "Whose Line is it Anyway?" improv (or the full word, improvisation) can be a barrel of laughs when put in the right hands. Unfortunately, my hands are the wrong ones for this genre of theatre.

Ensemble 915 is an adult actor's class that is offered through the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tacoma. Every Monday evening, a hardy troupe of actors meet to hone their theatrical skills and take artistic risks in a safe, encouraging environment. This showcase, which is their culminating project for the fall quarter, was an original one-act play written by local playwright Bryan Willis.

The characters were created from improvisations by the actor/students themselves. Stories from their own lives, or the lives of those they know (or totally made up) were put center stage and woven into the story by Mr. Willis. In this case, it was the story of a holiday talent show.

The ensemble of actors ranged from college-aged theatre students to seasoned professionals. It was an encouraging mix of age, gender and ethnicity, but that would explain why the story of a talent competition was conceived for this showcase. That is a story using every type of person imaginable.

The playwright and director (I assume) also hoped for a lot of audience participation. The "emcee" continually asked for volunteers from the audience to come on stage and perform in the talent show. There was one brave soul who came forward and recited poetry. Other than that, the rest of us remained silently glued to our seats. No impromptu performance for me!

All in all, it was an interesting evening. I especially enjoyed seeing a church friend, Paul, get on stage and perform the most moving monologue of the evening.

The best thing about Ensemble 915 is witnessing the fruits of an actor's "continuing ed." All professionals need continuing ed. In some cases (such as in my field: occupational therapy), it's the law. There are no real laws governing acting, but to see actors strive for the highest level of professionalism in their field, is admirable.

Photo courtesy of The Broadway Center for the Performing Arts

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Show #66 "A Child's Christmas in Wales" at Stone Soup Theatre

There must be something completely lovable about a "memory play." That, for those who aren't familiar with this term, refers to a play that is based on someone's memories from their past. "A Child's Christmas in Wales" is based on the poetry of Dylan Thomas, and captures his fond memories of childhood in Wales.

Audiences love this kind of reminiscence. It evokes thoughts of tradition, family and celebration. Stone Soup Theatre has found this particular story hits the target every holiday season. In fact, this is their 5th year in staging this same Christmas show. Tonight, it played to a more-than-capacity crowd.

The young actors involved were students from Stone Soup's Youth Theatre Conservatory. The adults in the cast were professional actors. This much I knew going into the evening. What I didn't know was how much the young actors (ranging in age from 7 years old and up) contributed to the show.

Even before the show began, two young boys in the cast were selling concessions. Not from a table or booth in the lobby, but from center stage. While audience members took their seats, these fine fellows very eloquently offered us cookies and hot cider. Then, three lovely young girls serenaded us with a string trio: 2 on violin and 1 on cello.

As the story opened, these young performers sat in rapt attention as their "mother and father" shared childhood memories of Christmas traditions, family gatherings, cherished gifts and holiday meals. The other adult actors played various roles, as assorted neighbors and relatives. Music was provided by a violin and guitar and from a melodic trio of singers.

But the most impressive part of the evening was watching the children perform in multiple roles, some playing both child and adult characters, and how they also doubled as stage crew, dancers and musicians.

So many times, when there is a play involving adult and child actors, the children are not much more than set dressing as the adults take the spotlight. Not so with "A Child's Christmas in Wales." All actors, both young and not-so-young, were part of a perfect ensemble, all contributing equally to the telling of the story.

I have seen another work by Dylan Thomas, "Under Milkwood," and found the play to be a marvelous actor's exercise, but a bore for an audience member. But "A Child's Christmas in Wales" was just right. Not too long, not too short. Its sentimentality was warm, not corny.

I can see why Stone Soup has made this a staple for their holiday season. And I love seeing a cast playing to a sold-out house.

Congratulations, Stone Soup! You did good. sure picked a great stage manager for your show, too.

Photo courtesy of Stone Soup Theatre

Friday, December 3, 2010

Show #65 "Annie" at Tacoma Little Theatre

Most people would find this very annoying, but I don't.

No, I'm NOT implying that the musical "Annie" is annoying, although some might say so. What I'm saying is that some folks would be driven crazy by the phenomenon that occurs after you see a musical with catchy songs. Yes, the songs keep playing over and over in your head for the rest of the evening. Argghhhhh.....

Luckily, I am one of those types that love the songs from this musical. I don't mind a bit. I might be driving my husband Randy bonkers right now with my "belting" of my favorite tunes from "Annie," but he can take it. He has to. It was part of our marriage vows, you know, for better or for worse.

I first heard the soundtrack for the original Broadway production back in 1977. That was the year I moved from my life-long home in Seattle down to Los Angeles to attend USC. I had a rough time adjusting. It was hard being away from my family and friends. I felt like an orphan.

On a plane ride home to visit family for Christmas, I listened to "Annie" on the airplane's music system. I fell in love instantly. This was the musical that spoke to the "orphaned" part of me. Annie's optimism and spunk was (okay, so this is really corny) actually inspiring.

Other people call the music from "Annie" schmaltzy. I call it toe-tapping fun.

Thankfully, I no longer feel like that orphan. I have my family around me, a wonderful husband by my side and two extraordinary sons nearby. Now "Annie" speaks to the little girl in me who dreamed of singing and dancing in a musical. The same little girl whose eyes were glued to the television as Shirley Temple tap danced and the Mouseketeers sang.

I'm middle-aged now, but still dream those same dreams. No, I haven't got the talent to actually pull off what these performers did tonight at Tacoma Little Theatre. I could never do that as well as they did. That's why I still dream. In my dreams, I can do all that....and more.

That's why Annie's optimism and dreams inspire me even today. That's why I can't help but drive my husband crazy by singing those schmaltzy songs. Try it. It really helps.

Everyone, sing! "The sun will come out tomorrow...."

Photo courtesy of Tacoma Little Theatre