Dig Deeper - Laura Ingalls Wilder and the "Missing Years"

We just opened our Mainly for Kids holiday production of Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas this past Saturday to sold-out audiences.  The play is set during the infamous "Missing Link"  - when the Ingalls family left Walnut Grove, Minnesota and moved to Burr Oak, Iowa to help manage the Masters Hotel, owned by their friend, William Steadman.  The script was co-commissioned by Kansas City's Coterie Theatre and the Nashville Children’s Theatre in 2002.  The playwright, Laurie Brooks, based the script on both the Little House on the Prairie books series as wells as original source materials about the Ingalls family and pioneer life. 

Although many academics and fans speculated about what happened during these "missing years" and why Mrs. Wilder did not include her time in Burr Oak in her series, it was not until 2014 when the Little House Heritage Trust granted the South Dakota Historical Society Press exclusive rights to publish a comprehensive, annotated edition of the Laura Ingalls Wilder autobiography, Pioneer Girl, that more information about her life came to light.  In Pioneer Girl, Wilder details sixteen years of travels, unforgettable stories, and the everyday people who became immortal through her fiction.  Using additional manuscripts, diaries, and letters, editor Pamela Smith Hill adds valuable context and explores Wilder’s growth as a writer.  

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of  The Little House on the Prairie  book series

Laura Ingalls Wilder,
author of The Little House on the Prairie book series

Pioneer Girl includes stories that Wilder may have felt were inappropriate for children and she describes previously unknown sides of her father’s character.  According to the Pioneer Girl Project, “Wilder’s fiction, her autobiography, and her real childhood are all distinct things, but they are closely intertwined.”  This annotated edition explores the differences between the three, including incidents with conflicting or missing accounts.

The annotated autobiography also explores the history of the frontier that the Ingalls family traversed and the culture and life of the communities Wilder lived in. The book features over one hundred images, eight fully researched maps, and hundreds of annotations based on census data and records, newspapers of the period, and other primary documents.

Dig Deeper - How Real is Real?

How do the objects and set onstage help tell a story?  Why might a director and designer choose to use a real tree stump and why might they choose to build one out of carved foam?  How real is real in the upcoming production of The Spitfire Grill at Lyric Arts?

For the last 150 years or so the most common style of Western theater has been realism, a style that seeks to create a more realistic environment onstage.  Actors portray people as they appear in real life - with emotional reactions, everyday language, etc.  This was reflected in set design with the emergence of the unit set, where the entire play takes place in one location and the audience looks in through an imaginary "fourth wall."  Naturalism, an extreme form of realism in which characters were a direct product of their environment, generated sets with as few theatrical illusions as possible - real grass, dirt, flowers, etc used onstage.

The set design (by Gabriel Gomez) for The Spitfire Grill, uses a mixture of these two styles, commonly known as suggestive realism.  In this style, theatrical tools and conventions are used to suggest a setting.  A room might be indicated by only part of a wall, another by only a door, so that multiple locations can live together in the same stage space at the same time.  Lighting and staging primarily let the audience know the location for each scene and invite the audience to use their imagination to complete the image.  Gomez has combined the imaginative and representative qualities of this style with a choice inspired by naturalism - the use of real trees onstage. 

The spitfire grill, color rendering, by gabriel gomez

The spitfire grill, color rendering, by gabriel gomez

Just yesterday the Lyric Arts shop brought in 15 fully-grown, locally purchased cut aspen trees and installed them on the stage.  Check out set designer Gabriel Gomez's color rendering and come and see how this lovely, heartfelt story is brought to life.  See you soon at Lyric Arts!

 

Dig Deeper - The Healing Power of Beauty

Fall colors on the banks of Mirror Lake, WI

Fall colors on the banks of Mirror Lake, WI

During the opening scene of the upcoming Lyric Arts production of The Spitfire Grill, the local sheriff asks new arrival Percy (a recently released ex-convict) why she's come to the small town of Gilead.  She hesitantly reaches into her pocket and withdraws a carefully folded piece of paper.  It's a picture she cut from an old travel book that was donated to the prison library.  The caption reads "Autumn colors along Copper Creek."  It's beauty has inspired her to find a quiet place to start again.

Looking for a little peace and beauty this fall?  Click the photos to find the best fall colors in our neighbor to the east, Wisconsin (above) and for Minnesota (below).  Enjoy!

Dig Deeper - New Worlds to Explore

Darvaza Gas Crater, Turkmenistan

Darvaza Gas Crater, Turkmenistan

Turkmen farmers who invited the members of the expedition for a meal and to spend the night together on their roof.

Turkmen farmers who invited the members of the expedition for a meal and to spend the night together on their roof.

In the late 19th century (the setting for The Explorers Club) it seemed like there was still plenty of uncharted territory left to explore - or at least plenty of places left on Earth untouched by upper-class British adventurers.  Now, in the 21st century, outer space and the ocean depths are common goals for exploration.  However, one of the current expeditions sponsored by the modern-day Explorers Club is coming from a little bit different perspective.  The Nexus Expedition is Dimitri Kieffer’s human-powered journey to circumnavigate the world.  To this day, Kieffer has covered 11, 067 miles from Anchorage to Bukhara, Uzbekistan: trekking, swimming, skiing, rowing and cycling across Alaska, the Bering Strait, Far Eastern Russia, Mongolia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.  Summer and Fall of 2015 will be spent cycling towards the Western coast of Africa, where the row across the Atlantic Ocean will begin.  Kieffer seeks not to plant flags or draw lines, but to create connections between different societies, civilizations and landscapes.  Imagine, what will the future bring?

Dig Deeper—Gaily Breaking New Ground!

The Explorers Club headquarters, New York City, 2009

The Explorers Club headquarters, New York City, 2009

In just two weeks, Lyric Arts will kick off its 2015-2016 season with the ridiculously funny farce, The Explorers Club.  The play is set in London, 1876 and the prestigious Explorers Club is in crisis:  their acting president wants to admit a woman, and their bartender is terrible.  True, this female candidate is brilliant, but the decision to let in a woman could shake the very foundation of the British Empire, and how do you make such an important decision without a decent drink? 

Getrude Bell, British explorer, (image from Letters From Baghdad)

Getrude Bell, British explorer, (image from Letters From Baghdad)

To give you a sense of the historical context of this premise, the society that inspired this production, The Explorers Club, founded in New York City in 1904, accepted its first women in 1981. The Royal Society, perhaps the world’s most renowned fellowship of scientists, made its debut in 1660 and did not admit a woman until 1945.  Canada’s Royal Society barred women until 1938, and France’s Academy of Sciences would not elect a woman to full membership until 1979, blackballing Marie Curie along the way.  A recent study concluded that female playwrights are no more produced on Broadway than they were a century ago.  In developing Phyllida’s character, playwright Nell Benjamin drew from her own life experiences breaking ground in a male-dominated profession and from female adventurers like Nellie Bly, Isabella Bird and Gertrude Bell. 

The modern-day Explorers Club is a multi-disciplinary society dedicated to the advancement of field research and to preserving the instinct to explore.  The Club provides expedition resources and maintains Research Collections to assist those engaged in exploration and scientific research.  The Club actively encourages public interest in exploration and the sciences through its public lectures program and other events, such as their infamous Annual Dinner honoring accomplishments in exploration. 

Fried cockroach appetizer, The Explorers Club Annual Dinner in New York City, 2014

Fried cockroach appetizer, The Explorers Club Annual Dinner in New York City, 2014

The Dinner is regularly attended by notable names such as astronaut Buzz Aldrin,  documentary photographer and expedition leader Ally Alegra, and astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson.  The dress code is "black tie or exploration attire” and, although none of the animals eaten are endangered, the menu is absolutely wild.  Items have included deep-fried earthworms, python patties, roasted kangaroo, cockroaches with honey, and ice pops topped with crickets.

Although our production won't have such feral fare, there will be plenty of wild antics and outrageous characters lampooning the best and worst of the golden age of British exploration and imperialism.  See you at the theater!

Dig Deeper - Fabulous, Funny, and Very French!

Opening night for Boeing Boeing is this Friday at Lyric Arts and we're ready for a fun, fabulous and very French farce!  When Boeing-Boeing opened in Paris in 1960 it became French playwright Marc Camoletti's signature hit and ran for a record-breaking 19 years.  The original London production, in an adaptation by Beverley Cross, ran for seven years, racking up more than 2,000 performances.  The Guinness Book of World Records lists Boeing Boeing as the most performed French play worldwide.

It is interesting to note that the original Broadway production and Paramount film starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis didn't tickle quite as many American funny bones in 1965, but perhaps that reflects French and American cultural differences.  American playwrights may have appropriated French maids and French windows as farcical devices, but we are a bit reluctant to embrace the French attitude towards sex.  Adultery may play a part in an American farce, but it's usually viewed as ultimately unacceptable and must be resolved at the end of the play.  In a French farce, adultery is often simply problematic, complicated, or just too expensive.   There may be more slamming doors in Noises' Off than in Boeing Boeing, but they're put to a more innocent use.  However, in 1965 America was in the midst of a culture war that ended in a sexual revolution.  Perhaps a shift in attitude towards sex is reflected in the popularity of the 2008 Broadway revival starring Mark Rylance and Christine Baranski which ran for 279 performances, earned six Tony Award nominations and won for Best Actor and Best Revival.  Boeing Boeing now appears regularly at theaters across the U.S and we hope to see you in the seats for this fun and fabulous farce!

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Dig Deeper - Glamour Girls of the Jet Age

In a little over 2 weeks, Lyric Arts opens Boeing Boeing, a bedroom farce featuring three stunning stewardesses all unknowingly engaged to the same man. But soon the speedier jet age throws everything into confusion and hijinks ensue.  When Marc Camoletti wrote his play in 1960, American Airlines had already opened a new stewardess training facility, celebrated in Life Magazine with the article, “Glamor Girls of the Air: For Lucky Ones Being Hostess is the Mostest.”  This tribute perfectly captured the postwar vision of the air hostess as a gorgeous, cultured, cosmopolitan woman of the world.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many airlines began using this growing iconic image as part of their marketing schemes - touting the attractiveness and friendliness of their stewardesses.   National Airlines began a “Fly Me”; campaign using attractive female flight attendants with taglines such as “I’m Lorraine. Fly me to Orlando.”  Braniff International Airways, presented a campaign known as the “Air Strip” with a similarly attractive young female flight attendant changing uniforms mid-flight.  Click on the links above to watch examples of these T.V. ad campaigns and book your tickets now for the hip and hysterical Boeing Boeing!

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Dig Deeper - Q & A with James Howe

                                                  james howe

                                                  james howe

The Scholastic Books website has lots of wonderful information about their published books and authors, including James Howe.  Here are just a few questions for Mr. Howe from his readers and his answers...

Why did you become an author? I became an author because I love words. I enjoyed playing with them when I was a kid, writing stories and plays, and doing whatever I could think to do with words. I kept my love of them growing up and still love to see what they can do.

What inspired you to write the Bunnicula series? Debbie [the late Mrs. Howe] and I loved vampire movies. This was in the 1970s when there were a lot of vampire movies shown on late night TV and we stayed up late many a night. Some of them were a lot sillier than they were scary. I don't remember the moment when the character Bunnicula came into my head. I suspect it came from the asking the question, "What's the silliest, least likely vampire I can imagine?" It was never intended to be a series; it just grew out of the first book. I loved writing about those characters so much, particularly Harold, so I continued the story.

Is there anything that you really hoped people would notice or think about when they read this story? I would hope they laugh a lot. I did have a young reader write to me years ago that what she learned from the book was to accept other people's differences the way that Harold accepted Bunnicula into the home. And I liked that. That's become a theme in much of my work and it's interesting that it might have unintentionally been a theme in my first book.

        Cassandra Proball

        Cassandra Proball

What advice would you give a student that wants to be a writer? Two words: read . . . write. Reading is the best way to learn to write, but the way to get better and better as a writer, is to write, write, write. Write what matters to you, write what makes you laugh, write what makes you cry, write in order to get a reaction from the reader, write because you have to, and write because it is fun for you.

Dig Deeper - Bunnicula Opens Tomorrow!

_DSC0343 Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery opens tomorrow night and we're so excited to once again show off the talents of puppet designer Gabriel Gomez.  There are only 9 performances of this wonderful show, so make sure you get your tickets early!  Also, don't miss our family-friendly tradition of pre-show word games, puzzles, and coloring pages for the first weekend performances on this Saturday, April 25th.  See you at the show!