Fiasco WorkshopPosted by Kristin Hall on 7/28/2017
Still trying to catch up with sharing my experiences from NYC. On the second workshop day I attended a workshop with two actor/directors from Fiasco Theatre Company. They approach rehearsals a little differently to the traditional routine. Their work is focused on re-discovering the text, and on ensemble.
Imagine about 60 drama teachers sitting on the floor of the black box theater in a circle. Yes, we all love circles (particularly when we are focusing on ensemble building) and, yes,Ms. Hall is far from the only drama teacher who sits on the floor!
We looked at a scene from Hamlet and a song from Into the Woods, reading each one as a whole group, in a variety of ways, to see what we discovered. I knew both of these extracts very well, but reading them together, breaking up the speech in different ways, led to me noticing new things about the mood and the tensions in the scenes. Of course, they were both extremely well written bits of text ... the Fiasco members did note that their techniques are designed to be used with masterfully written plays, for which the playwrights used language very artfully.
They explained that they don't cast their plays until a few weeks into rehearsals. Until that point they all play all the different parts, and it frees them to discover the unexpected.
Some of these techniques will definitely be appearing in LPS drama classes and show rehearsals this year. Never again will actors just sit quietly and listen through long sections of a read through in the first rehearsal! And maybe there will be a little Shakespeare coming in the next few years ...
A Massachusetts InterludePosted by Kristin Hall on 7/24/2017
We interrupt this report of theatre in New York to blog about some theatre in the Boston area! I just did the Romeo and Juliet double: West Side Story presented by the Weston Drama Workshop on Saturday, and Romeo and Juliet presented by the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company on Sunday.
Many of you will already know that West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet, and it was really fun to see them on consecutive days and to think about the parallels. WSS has such incredible music (written by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), the music sets the mood for the story - all the emotions of the story are heightened by the music. For R&J Shakespeare uses words and poetry to heighten the emotion. And of course, the performers bring it to life!
The Weston Drama Workshop performance featured a cast of teenagers, including recent Lincoln graduate Max Borden as one of the Jets! Their performance was wonderful, with outstanding singing, dancing and acting. They had a great set, with pieces that folded in or out to indicate different locations (that got me thinking ...), and it was really fun to see what can be done with a large number of theater lights. Weston Drama Workshop puts on a number of shows each summer, both plays and musicals, with actors from rising fifth grade and up. A number of Lincoln students have acted there, and it is a great place to see theatre in the summer.
The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company produces a Shakespeare play every summmer, and performs at a specially built stage on the Boston Common. The shows are free (though they do request donations), and audience members come with folding chairs, blankets and picnics. The cast is all professional actors. Most or all of the speaking roles are played by members of Actors' Equity Association (the union for stage actors and stage managers), but they also have ensemble members who are younger adult actors/college students. The ensemble played the citizens of Verona, and were much more integrated than in any production of R&J that I have seen in recent memory; it really brought home the idea that the fighting between these two families was affecting the whole city. Although I know the play well, this was also the first full-length version I have seen for a while, and it was wonderful to hear the full version of each speech and conversation. Shakespeare's words are witty, evocative, thought-provoking and lyrical, and these performers (with the guidance of their director, I'm sure!), really brought the words to life. The play runs through August 6th.
But I admit that as I was watching, a part of my brain was remembering the Lincoln School production of Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive!) at Last, and fondly remembering what a great job our middle school actors did with the same play!
Song Writing for the StagePosted by Kristin Hall on 7/18/2017
Back in Massachusetts, but my mind is still whirling! It will take me quite a few days to catch up with the Blogging, but I figure it is more fun to just do a bit each day rather than one huge, long entry. Right?
Back to the very beginning of the workshop: the first two days we were based at an arts complex called The Sheen Center, in a part of New York called The Bowery. The Sheen Center has two performance spaces, a small/mid-sized theatre (proscenium arch, one mezzanine), and a black box theatre (flexible seating and stage shape). There were about 350 theatre educators (and three more sessions, so 1400 of us over the summer). People came from all over the U.S. and Canada, but also from as far away as Korea! Everyone was their to learn and to be inspired!
Our first session was "Meet the Artist(s): Bobby and Kristen Lopez." They are the married couple who wrote the Oscar and Grammy-winning music and lyrics for Disney's Frozen. Bobby also was co-creator of Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon. He has won "all" the awards, EGOT, (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony), and is the youngest ever to do so. Kristen, in addition to having a really great first name, has been one of the team that conceived and created an a cappella musical, In Transit, which ran on Broadway last year. I can think of quite a few students for whom combining a cappella and theatre would be pretty much their ideal experience!
Kristen sang, Bobby played the piano, and together they told us the stories of how they got into songwriting, how they met, and the process of working on creating a show. Bobby got an early start, Kristen spent some time acting, and teaching!, before finding her true calling. But what they both said very clearly was that they both created, and still create, songs all the time. Not always full length songs, often just jingles or even one-line songs. They sang and played a few about very mundane things, like people they observe while waiting at an airport. But I found it fascinating that they flex their song-creating muscles constantly in this way, in the same way that an artist might sketch in a sketch book.
Both artists trained by attending a (or maybe I should say, "THE") musical theatre writing workshop, The BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. It has been running for over 50 years, and many Broadway writers and composers have taken the two (or more) year course. It is fully funded by BMI; yup, absolutely free ... if you apply and get accepted, that is. BMI, Broadcast Music, Inc., is a non-profit organization, and is the largest music rigths organization in the U.S.
If you are curious, you can read more about it here: History of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop
While they certainly couldn't convey everything they learned in a two year course to us in just one hour, I did learn some interesting things. They talked about a few different types of songs that appear in many/most musicals. The first is the "I Want Song." What does the character want? And what would they sing about it? Multiple characters can have "I Want Songs" and characters can have more than one in the course of a show. Anna in Frozen has three, because her wants change over the course of the story. They mentioned that the main character often gets what they want by the end of the show, though maybe not in the way they expected, or maybe their want has changed.
Another song type is "The Charm Song." It doesn't have to do much, just be sweet and charming. "Kiss the Girl" and "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid are examples.
Want to know more? Have a look at this: Musical Theatre Song Types Quizlet
Perhaps most fascinating was hearing how the story and characters of Frozen evolved. They said in the earlier versions Elsa was not nice, she was the villain. But they talked about her situation, and the kind of pressure she would be under, and what does that feel like, and what if she decided to ... "Let it Go" ... and the song was born. When they took the song to the screenwriters, everyone imediately realized that they had to re-write the story, because their whole take on Elsa's character had been altered by the song!
It really made me think about how theatre is a creative process, and the best theatre artists are constantly reflecting, and not afraid to keep making changes. They are always asking, "What do we want this to be?" and even more daringly "What does this want to be?"
The Lopez duo is currently working on Frozen 2 for the cinema, and Frozen, The Musical for the theatre. It was really interesting to hear them discuss the types of artistic choices that are made when moving from screen to stage ... but they said they have to sign all kinds of non-disclosure agreements when working with Disney ... and they were not allowed to give anything away! I'm sure I'll be seeing both the movie sequel and the Broadway show at some point, and I'm sure I'll be thinking about what changes they made, and why. They did say that adapting a movie for Broadway is about finding a balance of change and unchanged. For Frozen Disney gave them a directive: make it as emotional a journey as you can. They want it to appeal to adults too, so we can expect to see more from some of the other characters ... like the parents. Why did the parents choose to do what they did? Wow, that actuallly sounds like the kind of questions we explore in drama class! If any of you ever want to write a song instead of creating a scene or monologue in class, just let me know!
Sweet (Chocolate) Dreams on FridayPosted by Kristin Hall on 7/14/2017
Just enjoyed seeing the new version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They have updated some of the characters, added a lot more references to social media, and left some a bit closer to the original. As someone who has enjoyed the original movie (that's Gene Wilder, not the new one!), and the musical ... but for whom it has never been a real personal favorite, I think I was very open minded about the changes. I liked some of the new songs, and liked the way they developed some of the characters. Charlie actually was more spunky, and the emphasis on imagination spoke to my drama-teacher's-heart
It was the second show of two that relied heavily on projections to create the scenery. I'd love to discuss the pros and cons, and get the reactions of a bunch of students! I'll refrain from posting my opinion until after my Theatre Design extension in term two ...
The talk back after the show was really animated and interesting. There was a lot of discussion about the technical challenges. There was discussion of the choreography and their favorites - the dance styles varied from ballet (in squirrel costumes), to hip hop, to a spoof of traditional German (or Swiss?) dancing, like the figures on a cuckoo clock.
But that's not all ... the ensemble also played the Oompa Loompas, with puppets that attached a small puppet body but used the actor's face. The actors could use their own hands to move the puppet's arms/hands OR the puppet's legs/feet. Whichever limbs they were not operating they could stick in certain positions (hands on hips, hands behind head, feet on ground). This was done with magnets, and steel plates on the floor. The actors had lots of funny stories about mishaps with magnets sticking to the wrong things, or not sticking, sticking to things backstage ...
We also got to hear about how tthe script evolved during the rehearsals, workshops, and the tryout production (it was performed in London, but quite a few changes were made when it moved to the U.S.) They used some improvisation, but only in the early stages. Once the show is in its final rehearsals, and after it opens, it is supposed to stay essentially the same. Which is a great segue into the Stage Management session I went to this afternoon ... but I'll save that post for tomorrow.
Thursday, but only justPosted by Kristin Hall on 7/13/2017
It was a busy day! I've met other theatre educators from all over - Illinois, Georgia, Rhode Island, Toronto. I attended workshops that made me think, inspired me, taught me some things that I didn't know ... and, yes, I did learn a dance from Hamilton! I won't claim that I did it well, but I got better at it as I went. I just needed to run it a few more times. After that experience I will ALWAYS make sure that students get to practice the audition dance for the musical as many times as they need to do it!
I'll write more about the workshops later, becuse I need to get some sleep - but I will add that I really enjoyed Anastasia tonight. I knew the basics of the story, but have never seen the movie, so I didn't have any specific expectations. It was a charming story with some powerful moments, and the cast was great. But if I'm going to gush about this one, it is the costumes ... oh the costumes! The actors said in the talk back (after the show) that they had between 8 and 11 changes, and that some of them counted down during the show "Just 3 more ... Just 2 more ..." One, they said, was just 45 seconds long, and involved almost the full cast. Of course they had a cast of about 20, not the middle school standard of 50 plus! There was one scene, when the characters attend the ballet in Paris, that had more sequins than I have ever seen in one place at one time. I'm guessing it was a dream for the designer, but perhaps not for the crew that built the costumes. (It is not usually the designer of the sets, lights or costumes that does the actual creation of them ... at least at the Broadway level.)
So now, sleep, and ready for another full day tomorrow.
July 12 - Off to NYC!Posted by Kristin Hall on 7/12/2017
It's been a calm summer with some play reading, some planning, and some relaxing so far.
Today that all changes. I'm off to NYC for three intense days at the Broadway Teachers Workshop. We don't sign up for specific sessions until tomorrow morning, but I'm planning on a mix of acting, choreography, directing, design and stage management. Of course the session everyone will want is "Broadway Dance Workshop: Hamilton" ... fingers are crossed, and alarm clock is set for early.
I'm hoping to come away inspired and energized, with new ideas for the classroom and for shows, and having connected with lots of other drama and theatre teachers. I'll be blogging daily during the trip, so check in again to hear about my adventures! Many thanks to the Lincoln School Foundation for their support.