Dig Deeper - Swinging the Set

The Lyric Arts production of Good People closes this Saturday, April 4th and it's the last chance to check out the rotating set design by Eric Gustafson.  The construction is based on the periaktoi, one of the oldest theatrical devices used for multiple rapid scene changes.  A typical periaktoi - from the Greek word meaning "revolving" - consists of a revolving solid triangular prism made of wood.  A different scene is painted on each face, so that, by revolving the periaktoi, you can quickly change locations. Good People (Church Basement) 121514The set for Good People looks a bit like a square divided into four equal triangles centered around a doorway.  As the actors and crew rotate the set, the location changes from an alley to a doctor's office to a kitchen to a living room.  Check out this initial ground plan - a bird's eye view of the set - and see it in action this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Cassandra Proball NEW SQ

 

 

Dig Deeper - Class and Conscience in America

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Class is something I know about.  I’ve lived it every day of my life, and it shaped me in my identity.  --- David Lindsay-Abaire In 2005, The New York Times issued a special section entitled “Class Matters,” in which “a team of reporters spent more than a year exploring ways that class - defined as a combination of income, education, wealth and occupation - influences destiny in a society that likes to think of itself as a land of unbounded opportunity.”  You can find plenty more information at their website and Times Books has published the series in paperback, but here is an excerpt that speaks to the questions of class and conscience raised in David Lindsay-Abaire's Good People now on stage at Lyric Arts.

Day 11:  Up From the Projects - A Success Story That’s Hard to Duplicate

The case of a welfare mother of six pulling herself into the ranks of the middle class is rare enough to compel experts on class and poverty to zero in on a single question: What would it take to create more Angela Whitikers?  (Angela Whitiker, her oldest son, and their struggle towards the middle class were profiled in The Times in 1993. )

“It shows the importance of work and marriage,” said Sara S. McLanahan, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton who specializes in family and poverty. “She found a good man and a good job. The thinking now is, it takes both to move out of poverty.”...

The reason is that upward mobility requires what sociologists describe as the twin pillars of success: human capital and social capital. Human capital is a person’s education, job credentials and employability. Social capital usually means emotional support and encouragement from a reliable stakeholder in one’s life, an asset commonly associated with marriage that is itself a form of wealth...

Of the small number of poor single mothers who marry, 56 percent are lifted out of poverty, according to a 2002 study conducted by Signe-Mary McKernan and Caroline Ratcliffe for the Urban Institute. Getting a job is more common, and 39 percent of poor people who are hired rise out of poverty, as against 35 percent who get at least a two-year college degree...

                                                  Cassandra Proball

                                                  Cassandra Proball

Still, the ups and downs of Ms. Whitiker’s middle-class existence show that the transition out of poverty is not an easy one. “As well off as her economic situation is, her success is precarious,” Professor Allen said. “This is a reminder that you can be middle class but in a very unstable situation.”...

Dig Deeper - A Play for Our Time

Good People opens this Friday, March 20th at Lyric Arts and we're in good company.  The world premiere was staged by the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City and was nominated for two 2011 Tony Awards – Best Play and Best Leading Actress in a Play (Frances McDormand), with the latter winning.  It was almost immediately picked up by theaters such as The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, Houston’s Alley Theatre, Madison’s Forward Theater and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

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With 27 professional productions across the country in one year, Good People was named by American Theater Magazine as the Most Produced Play in the U.S. for the 2012-2013 season.  It was also quickly produced internationally at The English Theatre Frankfurt in Germany (2013) and, after playing at the Hampstead Theatre in London, transferred to the West End’s Noël Coward Theatre just last April.  Check out this insightful comedy of class and culture, a timely tale from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire.

Dig Deeper - The Mind Behind The Music

Stephen Sondheim (1930 - ), the American lyricist and composer, was born in New York City to Herbert, a dress manufacturer and Janet, a clothing designer.  After his parents’ divorce in 1942, Sondheim moved to Pennsylvania with his mother and began studying the piano and organ.  Already practicing songwriting as a student at the George School, Sondheim became friends with the son of Broadway lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein. As a teen, Sondheim worked as an assistant on several of Hammerstein’s collaborations with composer Richard Rodgers, gaining valuable encouragement, advice, and recoginition as a rising star of Broadway.  After graduating a music major from Williams College in 1950, Sondheim studied further with avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt and moved back to his birthplace, New York City.  Stage director Arthur Laurents brought Sondheim into contact with composer Leonard Bernstein and choreographer Jerome Robbins, who were looking for a lyricist for a contemporary musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  In writing the song lyrics for West Side Story, Sondheim became part of one of Broadway’s most successful productions of all time.

Sondheim won several Tony Awards in the 1970s for his collaborations with producer/director Harold Prince, including the musicals Company (1970), a meditation on contemporary marriage and commitment; Follies (1971), an homage to the Ziegfeld Follies and early Broadway; A Little Night Music (1973), a period comedy-drama that included the hit song “Send in the Clowns”; and Sweeney Todd (1979), a gory melodrama set in Victorian London.

Sondheim continued to combine various musical genres with sharp lyrical writing and unexpected subject matter in the 1990s and, although some of his later work re-ceived less critical and popular acclaim, he has been showered with awards, including: the Pulitizer Prize, an Academy Award, multiple Grammy Awards, multiple Tony Awards, the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, membership in the American Theatre Hall of Fame, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

                                                 Cassandra ProbalL

                                                 Cassandra ProbalL

Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim

Dig Deeper - A Musical with a Message

        Cassandra Proball

        Cassandra Proball

Musical theater often gets a bad rap for lacking the depth and complexity of other genres.  In her 1992 book, Art Isn't Easy: The Theater of Stephen Sondheim, Joanne Gordon describes how this attitude toward musical theater evolved and Sondheim sought to shake things up...

"The reasons for the musical’s disrepute are many.  In its infancy, in the early years of the 20th century, musical theatre was unsophisticated...The simplistic moralism, the naïve optimism, the noble hero and simpering heroine were adopted, unaltered, from the nineteenth century melodrama.  The commercial success of these pieces encouraged their fossilization into a predictable pattern... [and] the musical was viewed solely as a commercial commodity.

Joanne Gordon

Joanne Gordon

The evolutionary progression of the musical from Showboat to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is well documented in histories of the American musical.  The form changed and became increasingly complex.  Integration became the key word as Rodgers and Hammerstein wove the texture of song, dance, and plot closely together.  Yet despite the fact that such themes as racial prejudice (in South Pacific and Finian’s Rainbow, for example), marital disharmony and infidelity (in Carousel and The Most Happy Fella), and capitalist venality (in Allegro and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) were introduced, this kind of theater retained an essential naiveté.  The musicals of the forties and fifties were escapist in that they transported their audience into a larger-than-life world where emotions were expressed in melody and the evening capped with a reassuring reprise at the final curtain.  The climate of progress and promise that prevailed during the creative period of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s career no longer existed by the late 1960s.  From that point on, for an artist in the commercial theatre to comment on, or attempt to change, prevalent attitudes has been an invitation to financial disaster and obscurity.

Sondheim and his collaborators [instead] choose both complex subjects and consistently experimental techniques, and their musicals begin after the traditional happily-ever-after has run into trouble.  In an interview with Hubert Saal of Newsweek, Harold Prince explains his and Sondheim’s commitment to “truth” in the musical theatre:  “I work in the theatre, not in the musical theatre...Who says to be entertained means to be tickled?...I think it’s more stimulating to be upset.  I try to be part of what I want to see.  And I go to the theatre to see a little blood drawn.”

Sondheim has redefined the genre and, as a result, the gulf that separated “serious,” “legitimate” theatre from the musical theatre has effectively been bridged."

Dig Deeper - The Wit to Escape

Drinking-Tea-in-London-during-the-BlitzThe word “escapism”, defined as "the avoidance of reality by absorption of the mind in entertainment or in an imaginative situation, activity, etc. ," first appeared in common usage, somewhat unsurprisingly, during the Great Depression. Since then, entire industries have sprung up to enable people to remove themselves from the rigors of daily life. The word “escapism” often carries a negative connotation - suggestive of people who are unhappy and unable or unwilling to connect with others or take meaningful action to change their lives or the world around them. However, some artists have challenged the idea that escapism is fundamentally and exclusively negative. C. S. Lewis was fond of humorously remarking that the usual enemies of escape were jailers and a mind imprisoned by reality could refresh its imaginative powers through escape. Similarly J. R. R. Tolkien argued for escapism in fantasy literature as the creative expression of reality within a secondary (imaginative) world.  Neil Gaiman responded to a similar question about the value of "escapist" literature:

"[It] can actually be a real escape from places where you feel bad, and from bad places.  It can be a safe place you go, like going on holiday, and it can be somewhere that, while you've escaped, actually teaches you things you need to know when you go back, that gives you knowledge and armour and tools to change the bad place you were in."

For some time before 1941 Coward had been thinking of a comedy about ghosts.  After his London office and flat was destroyed in the Blitz, Coward wanted to distract the public from the horrors of World War II.  Despite air raid sirens screaming outside during performances, Blithe Spirit never once mentions the war and managed to keep audiences laughing (literally) as bombs were falling.

Dig Deeper - Steampunk Style and the Industrial Revolution

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“Steampunk” is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future or in a fantasy world that employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.

Time and the impact of industry on human lives are themes found in our production of A Christmas Carol:  A Ghost Story of Christmas and are reflected in the clockwork and steampunk elements of the costume and prop design.  Tickets are going fast so book now for this haunting and beautiful version of a classic holiday tale.

Dig Deeper - A View Into Victorian Life

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Next up on the stage for Lyric Arts is A Christmas Carol:  A Ghost Story of Christmas - adapted by Michael Wilson from the classic novel by Charles Dickens.  Raised as the second of eight children in a family struggling to survive the tremendous economic shifts taking place in Britain during the Victorian era (1837 - 1901), Dickens' own life experiences were reflected in his writing.  While his father was in debtor's prison, 12-yr old Dickens was forced to leave school to work at a boot-blacking factory earning six shillings a week.  At age 15 he had to drop out again and work as an office boy to contribute to his family’s income.  After he became a successful novelist, Dickens toured the world to promote his books, but also took advantage of his celebrity status to advocate for social and economic reforms and for an end to slavery. As part of the partnership between Lyric Arts Main Street Stage and the Anoka County Library, the resource librarians have provided a wonderful list of books available in their catalog about the everyday Victorian life experienced by the characters in A Christmas Carol.  Check out the titles below, find more in our Audience Guide, and we'll see you at the theater!

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How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life:  Ruth Goodman believes in getting her hands dirty. Drawing on her own adventures living in re-created Victorian conditions, Goodman serves as our bustling and fanciful guide to nineteenth-century life.

Inventing the Victorians:  Matthew Sweet provides a compact and mind-bending whirlwind tour through the soul of the nineteenth century, and a round debunking of our assumptions about it.

The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London:  From Judith Flanders, the critically acclaimed author of The Invention of Murder, comes an extraordinary, revelatory portrait of everyday life on the streets of Dickens’ London.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist--The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England:  Author Daniel Pool provides countless intriguing details on the Church of England, sex, Parliament, dinner parties, country house visiting, and a host of other aspects of nineteenth-century English life—both “upstairs” and “downstairs."

Dig Deeper - The Art of Parody

The Merriam-Webster’s definition of “parody” (also known sometimes as a send-up, a spoof or a lampoon) is “a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule.”  It comes from the Greek word “parōidía” which means “a song sung along side another.”  Examples of parody exist in literature, art, and music from all over the world and throughout human history. Sometimes the reputation of a parody outlasts the reputation of what is being parodied.  Don Quixote is much more well-known than the traditional knight-errant tales it mocks and Lewis Carroll’s parodies of Victorian verse are more famous than the original poems.  Mel Brooks, considered by many as a master of the genre, produced films parodying several different styles including Blazing Saddles (the Western), Spaceballs (science fiction adventure),  and High Anxiety (Hitchcock suspense).

   The Concise Encyclopedia describes how parody differs from other comedic styles such “travesty”, which, for example, specifically treats dignified subjects in a trivial manner in order to achieve a comic effect.  “Parody mercilessly exposes tricks of manner of its victim and therefore cannot be written without a thorough appreciation of the work it ridicules.”  In other words, the best kind of parodies come from a place of love.

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Dig Deeper - Inside Inspiration

Samantha Costumes - labcoatsThe cast and production team are hard at work bringing Young Frankenstein to life on the Lyric Arts Main Street Stage.  Opening night is less than 10 days away and a massive castle has arisen, angry villagers have their pitchforks, and the legendary lab table lowers from the ceiling every night in rehearsal.  Visit the Lyric Arts Young Frankenstein Pinterest page to get an inside look at the design team's inspirational images and get your tickets now to see imagination become reality!