April 20, 2009

"Letters from Pella" Set for Tulip Time Peformance

Letters from pella cast 041309 Several people have been asking about the current Union Street Players production on which Wendy and I are working. "Letters from Pella" is a one act play that I wrote and which will premiering at Pella's annual Tulip Time festival May 6-9. I play the part of Pella's founder, Dominie (that's Dutch for "pastor") H.P. Scholte and Wendy plays Scholte's wife, Mareah. The play is based on actual letters written between Pella's first residents and their families back in Holland. It tells a forgotten story of the intense conflict between some of the early settlers.

The play will be performed at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday May 6th and at 4:30 p.m. each day of Tulip Time (Thu, Fri, & Sat May 7-9). Prior to Tulip Time tickets for the play are sold at the Pella Historical Village. During Tulip Time tickets are available at the Ticket Booth on the SE corner of the square and can also be purchased at the door. Tickets are $7.00. Running time is about 50 minutes.

March 28, 2009

Tulip Time Production Starts

Dominieswife2006_lr When Wendy and I got back from London this week we started production on Union Street Players Tulip Time play, Letters from Pella. Our community theatre does a one act play for the tourists every other year at Tulip Time. Letters from Pella tells an interesting story about Pella's first immigrants. It uses actual letters between the first residents and their native Holland to reveal some of the conflict, hardship and division the fledgling community faced as they forged a new life for themselves on the Iowa prairie.

This is the fourth Tulip Time production for Wendy and me. We're reprising our roles as Dominie (Dutch for "pastor") H.P. Scholte and his young wife, Mareah. We played the Dominie and Mareah in USP's 2006 production of The Dominie's Wife.

Performances are 4:30 in the afternoon each day of Pella's annual Tulip Time festival. If anyone is coming down for Tulip Time, I hope you'll sneak over to the Community Center and see the show!

January 21, 2009

Spring Awakening

Des Moines Civic Center Wendy and I had a great date night last night. We ate at Noah's Ark in Des Moines before buzzing over to the Civic Center for opening night of the musical Spring Awakening. The show is definitely not for the easily offended or faint of heart. We found it to be a teenager's myopic perspective of life. Wendy put it well when she said that the show likely reflected her own high school journals.

The show is all dark angst. Every adult is an evil, repressive authoritarian and the church is to be blamed for everything that's wrong with the world. The teenagers are, like all teens, trying to make sense of life and sex. All the major political themes are addressed. There's a girl getting raped by her father. There's the couple losing their virginity (of course, the girl gets pregnant and is forced into a back alley abortion). Their's the tragic soul who commits suicide. And, of course, the boys disovering their homosexuality. None of these story lines are brought to much of any conclusion. They are thrown at us and left sitting there as the cast ends the show with a big broadway number about "purple summer," whatever that is supposed to be.

There were moments in the show that were absolutely true, and they were the best moments of the evening. The music was amazing. The lighting was spectacular. The choreography was breathtaking. The actors were top-notch. Each time one of the actors opened their mouth to sing I was enthralled with their talent.

The world-view overall, however, was skewed. Of course, as Wendy reminded me, the show is really a teen-ager's perspective. Which one of us didn't have a skewed view of reality when we were teenagers?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickrand turtlemoon

August 13, 2008

All the World's a Stage...for Another Year

The_odd_couple_cast_photo_lrMonday night was the annual meeting of our community theatre, Union Street Players. Wendy and I were elected to another term on the board. I believe this will be my fourth year as President and Wendy is going into her second year as Treasurer.

Don't be impressed. No one else wanted the jobs.

While I have shared my frustrations with community theatre as an organization (and had to apologize for it), the fact is that Wendy and I love the people and we love the creative process. Theatre people are generally wonderful, open, caring individuals - even if we are quirky, insecure and given to finding the drama in every life situation. Shows are great because it's a project that generally only lasts a matter of weeks and it does have an end. You work together to rehearse, build the set, perform, and then curtain closes and you're done.

The past president whispered to me as he handed me the results of the board election, showing the obvious results when you run unopposed. "Unfortunately, you're going to have to do it again unti you get it right."

Ha! Not that I'll ever "get it right." Somewhere along the way I accepted that I will always struggle with my shortcomings as a leader. At the same time, I've also chosen to keep struggling. I may never "get it right", but I may get a little closer.

And so, it will be another year waiting for Guffman.

April 17, 2008

"We're Gonna Make You A STAR!"

SlateLiving in Iowa isn't exactly a professional actor's nirvana. For us lowly, rank amateurs, however, who choose the quality of Iowa life over being a starving artist chasing stardom, the opportunity still comes along once in a while to catch a taste of the dream.

Hollywood is sending a crew to Iowa in May to shoot a film in the Des Moines area. They've been auditioning local actors for the bit parts. A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked Wendy and me to read for a couple of small speaking roles. Low and behold, we received word that the director would like a "call-back" with us. So, last night we were in Des Moines to get our five minute audition with the movie's director. We laughed afterward as we took the opportunity to grab a pizza and watch the Cubs trounce the Reds at one of our favorite old haunts.

Getting a role in a film is a bit like hitting the powerball. The odds are better that you'll get struck by lightning while you're standing in the shower. There are always so many others with more experience and better resumes who fit the role as well, if not better, than you do. You've got to keep your perspective. Nevertheless, last night we sort of felt like we had matched the first five balls and now we're just waiting to see if that last ball drops with our number on it. The odds are against us, but it's been fun playing along.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and mira mira on the wall.

February 25, 2008

The Curtain Falls on "The Odd Couple"

The_odd_couple_cast_photo_lrI was in the catwalk above the stage last night as we were cleaning up the lights from our production of "The Odd Couple." Sheryl Vander Linden, who did a wonderful job playing Renee, walked onto the bare stage beneath me. Olive's New York apartment was gone. The props were put away. The furniture was crammed to the front of the stage, ready to be returned.

"It's always so sad," Sheryl said mournfully, looking at the empty stage.

I know what she means. There is a grieving process to letting go of a fun production. And yet, the bare stage is just a metaphor for the possibilities. There are other productions to be staged. There are other experiences to be lived out under the lights and actors to get to know and with whom to work.

But not for a while, yet.

It was a long weekend for Wendy and me as we finished our four show run of "The Odd Couple". The show went really, really well. We had great crowds for Thursday and Friday night. Things tapered off for Saturday and Sunday - but those who saw the show really enjoyed it.

Now, it's time for a break from the stage. There is no Tulip Time show for USP this year, so the next production picks up in May - and we have typically stayed away from getting too involved in the summer show. We're looking forward to spending more time at the lake this summer - so that's motivating us.

That doesn't mean we don't have plenty to do. There are a ton of organizational things we'll be working on for the theatre this Spring, but that can be worked in along the way. Last night as we drove away from the theatre we felt the pressure of production lifted. It was a great show and I'm proud of what we put on stage, but I'm also glad that it's over.

February 22, 2008

Opening Night for "The Odd Couple"

Union_street_players_the_odd_coupleLast night was opening night for "The Odd Couple". It's been a bit of a trying production simply because of the lack of help. We're finding it harder and harder to get people to commit to volunteering. Which means, not only am I directing, but I'm producing, assisting with lights, assisting with the set, organizing refreshments and serving at intermission.

Ticket sales were slow, but I think that it's the weather. Last year we had to cancel a show and reschedule a reprise. Many people never made it out to see the show and ended up eating their tickets. With the incessant snow storms this winter, I believe that people are waiting to see if they even want to go out.

We had 85 in the audience last night and the median age was...well...about 85. My heart sank as I watched the stream of old folks comging through the door. I figured it would be a tough crowd for the cast and in my pre-show pep talk I came just short of telling them "consider this a final dress rehearsal" as I figured the audience would be deaf, sleeping or angry that someone said "dammit" on stage.

Well, me of little faith.

The audience laughed, and laughed, and laughed - then wouldn't stop laughing for the actors to complete their lines. The crowd munched on cheesecake during intermission until we had to pester them back into their seats. As the audience left, I stood to take programs from people who wanted to "recycle" them (another one of my duties). People were raving about the show and some said they wanted to save their program to give to friends and co-workers and tell them to come see the show. I'm anticipating some great word-of-mouth ticket sales over the weekend.

It couldn't have been a better opening night. After the show, Wendy and waited until everyone was gone to lock up (another one of my duties). We looked at each other and gave each other a knowing smile. This is when the hard work pays off.

This is when it's fun!

February 13, 2008

Production Week

Wendy_vanderwell_odd_couple_union_sIt's been a while since I've posted what we've been up to. January and February have been crazy months. Not only have I been busy closing out 2007 projects for work and getting 2008 projects off the ground, but the winter weather has been daunting. We've also been neck-deep in the spring production for Union Street Players.

It's now "production week". The female version of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" opens a week from tomorrow. It seems that Wendy and I have spent every spare moment working on the show and getting ready to open. Wendy is playing the slobby Olive Madison and is doing her usual masterful job on stage while keeping me and the behind-the-scenes aspects of the production on task.

I've enjoyed directing as I always do. We've got a small cast and crew, which is easier on one-hand. It's simpler to manage a smaller number of people, and this group has been a joy to work with. On the other hand, smaller cast and crew means that you have fewer volunteers. Usually, a large cast means more parents, spouses and friend on the periphery who are willing to pitch in to help with the show. So, everyone is doing more - helping with the set, helping with props, helping with lighting, etc. That means the level of time and involvement is even greater than usual.

It's always exciting to see a show come together. Production week is a heady mix of elation and anxiety. We have a lot to do before opening night, but the show is hilarious and I can't wait to hear the audience's laughter. One way that you can tell you've got a good script is when the cast still laughs at all the jokes they've said and heard a million times. Last night at the run-through the cast and crew were constantly laughing.

The show is Thu-Sat Feb 21-23 at 7 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday Feb 24th. Tickets are only $6 in advance and $8 at the door. For anyone who's a regular reader, I'd invite you to take an evening and scoot down to Pella for an evening of live entertainment! If you want to order tickets in advance, you can call in a credit card order to Wendy or me during the day (641-620-9107). I hope to see you there!

photo: Wendy plays Olive Madison to Suzi Jones' Florence Unger.

January 07, 2008

Here We Go Again...

Oddcouplelr_2 We started rehearsals tonight on the next Union Street Players production. This time it's Niel Simon's female version of The Odd Couple which will be performed February 21-24th. I'm directing and Wendy is playing Olive Madison (the slob). While it feels a bit daunting to look at the schedule and see that we have precious little time, I'm always amazed at the joy and energy I get when I get onto that stage and start working.

This show is really funny and there are six women who play friends in the show. I can already tell there is great chemistry between the ladies who were cast in the roles. At tonight's rehearsal (which went really, really well) the ladies were cracking each other (along with me) up.

There are still times I wonder why I do it, but the bottom line is that it's in my blood. I love it, and I love the people with whom I get to work.

November 20, 2007

My Love-Hate Relationship with Community Theater

XmaspostcastlrI'm in my second year (or is it third? - you lose track of time in purgatory) of being president of our local community theater. My wife, Wendy, is also on the organization's board. Thus, we're responsible.

So it was that I found myself at the Community Center last night as the current holiday production goes through the two-weeks-to-curtain-and-oh-my-Lord-I'm-not-sure-this-show-is-going-to-come-together angst.

The show will come together. It always does.

It was while I sat there in the auditorium last night that I pondered my love-hate relationship with community theater. Here is a non-profit organization made up of a wide variety of quirky people (I will include myself in that description) with extremely interesting and different personalities .

You've got the old guard who've seen it all and have "never done it that way before", along with new members who have expended every ounce of emotional courage to get out of their comfort zone and get on the stage. You've got strong personalities who want to tell everyone else how to do it, and fragile personalities who need constant encouragement or else they will have a breakdown at every rehearsal. You've got people with limited talent who think they deserve the lead and people with hidden talents who are afraid to step in the spotlight.

There are countless tasks to be done and everyone thinks someone else is supposed to do it. Eighty percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. There are those faithful individuals who give you more than you could ever ask, and never ask for so much as a "thank you". There are people who don't have time to pick up a paint brush, but have the time and energy to slave over an email or call all their friends to complain about everyone and everything in the production. There are personality conflicts and gossip. There are laughter and tears. There is everything imaginable that comes with getting a motley crew of fallible human beings together to accomplish this not-quite-monumental-but-it-feels-like-it task.

And, as they say, "the show goes on". The curtain rises. The cast and crew come together to give it their best effort. Audiences laugh at the jokes, applaud the effort, and generally forgive-and-forget the miscues. Final bows are taken, the curtain falls, and the set is torn apart to be stored in the rafters. All that is left of this experience are the pictures tucked away in a file folder at the costume shop...and the memories.

Some shows are better than others. But, seriously, no one really thinks too much about that.

At the cast party (and there is generally always a cast party), people will talk about all of the past shows they've done together. You can sit at the cast party, look around the room and watch it happen. A smile will light their faces as they laugh about experiences that, at the time, drove them to the edge of homicidal rage. It's the war stories of the stage. Old soldiers of the theater with the shared experience which forever ties them together and, despite any differences, they will always have this experience which links them. Conversation will drift to former cast and crew members. Comrades-in-costumes who may have fallen away but are never forgotten. "What ever happened to...?" you hear as memories are unpacked and laughter invariably follows. Keep looking around the room. You can see newer cast members jealous of all the productions and experiences they missed. You can see the old veterans quick to regale newer members with legendary stories and tall tales of the time this or that happened.

As much as I love being on stage in front of an audience, it's not really about the performance for me. It's about the people. It's about the process. It's about the shared experience with these silly, talented, maddening, capable, peculiar, lovable compatriots for whom you grow to care so deeply.

Tonight I will attend another run-through of the holiday production.

I will seriously want to kill several people before the night is over.

I love community theater! :)