Dig Deeper – Frankenstein’s Electrician

September 24th, 2014 No comments »

Still of Frankenstein’s lab from 1931 film

“It’s alive!  It’s alive!!”   Next up on the Lyric Arts stage is The New Mel Brooks Musical, Young Frankenstein.  Both his 1974 film and Brooks’ 2006 stage musical adaptation are an affectionate parody of the classical horror film genre.  Brooks shot his film entirely in black and white, used 1930’s style cinematography and score, and was able to use almost all the original lab equipment from the 1931 Universal Pictures film directed by James Whale.  Here is an excerpt from an excellent biography of Kenneth Strickfaden, the man behind Hollywood’s golden age of mad scientists…

StrickfadenKenneth Strickfaden, innovative genius of illusionary special effects from silent films to the age of television, set the standard for Hollywood’s mad scientists. Strickfaden created the science fiction apparatus in more than 100 motion picture films and television programs, from 1931’s Frankenstein to the Wizard of Oz and The Mask of Fu Manchu to television’s The Munsters.

The skilled technician, known around Hollywood’s back lots as “Mr. Electric,” once doubled for Boris Karloff in a dangerous scene and was nearly electrocuted. From his birth in 1896 to his death in 1984, Strickfaden’s life was filled with adventure. He spent his early years working the amusement parks on both coasts, served overseas as a Marine during World War I, took a 1919 cross-country trip in a dilapidated Model T, and favored risky pursuits like automobile and speedboat racing. He worked as an aeronautical mechanic, constructing airplanes for an historic around-the-world flight. A science teacher at heart, he gave 1,500 traveling science demonstration lectures across the U.S. and Canada.

“Kenneth Strickfaden:  Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician” by Harry Goldman covers Strickfaden’s entire personal and professional life and discusses his influence on later films. It reveals the fate of his collection of equipment, is richly illustrated with numerous rare and previously unpublished photographs and includes appendices with doodles from Strickfaden’s notebooks, correspondence, a complete chronology and more.

“The Glass Menagerie” Update: Meet Samantha Haeli

September 19th, 2014 1 comment »
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Samantha Haeli

The first thing you notice when you meet Samantha Haeli is her gorgeous red hair. The next thing you notice is that she has a lot to say. Her YouTube videos on hot-button topics like feminism have earned thousands of views, and one was even taken off YouTube by angry protesters. A graduate of the UW-Eau Claire and a study abroad veteran, Samantha comes across as incredibly intelligent and world-wise…and very funny. These traits have led her to develop her “Glass Menagerie character,” Laura Wingfield, very differently than Laura is typically portrayed. Read my interview with Samantha below to get a sense of how smart and witty she is, and to hear her talk about her unusual character interpretation. And make sure you see “The Glass Menagerie” before it closes on Sunday at Lyric Arts!

SH: I was born in Minneapolis and raised in Rogers. During the day I usually am working as a server at the Original Pancake House in Maple Grove. I don’t mind working as a server for now but want to either make a career out of acting or support myself with my Spanish portion of the degree. I’m fluent in Spanish and spent a summer in Costa Rica as well as half a year in England (I studied abroad twice). I travel whenever I can. It’s my favorite. I went to school at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and spent a semester at University of Winchester.

EP: You haven’t been at Lyric Arts since you were a kid at the Pocket Theatre. Where have you been all this time? What about this production made you audition?

SH: I stopped doing stuff at Lyric Arts once I hit high school and did all the school production and the Elk River Community Theatre stuff because it was closer to my house than Anoka. I definitely missed the quality of Lyric Arts though so I’m glad to be back. Then I went off to college in Wisconsin and did a lot of theatre there—I got to fulfill a dream by playing Juliet in Romeo & Juliet. I auditioned for The Glass Menagerie at UWEC—it was actually the first ever college thing I auditioned for. I didn’t even get a callback. I wasn’t ready for the challenges of playing Laura, but much like Juliet, this role has been on my Bucket List since I read the play in high school. I needed to see if I could get it and am so happy that I get to work with a director as talented as Scott.

EP: Let’s get right to it. Give me a three word summary of the production.

SH: Poetic. Tormented. Honest.

EP: Talk about how your interpretation of the character is different than the typical meek, “birdlike” Laura.

SH: Here’s the thing: I hate it when all Laura is is shy. It’s so one-dimensional. People aren’t like that; if they’re shy, there are so many reasons why. She isn’t confident, she has all sorts of anxieties about her crippled leg, and she has serious abandonment issues from her father walking out on them when she was a kid. She’s the oldest of the two and yet her brother takes care of them— there is enormous guilt there, because she loves her brother more than anyone else in the world and she’s part of the reason he can’t feel happy and free. Added to the predisposition she has for obsessive compulsion and depression, and you have someone far more than “shy” and “meek”. Amanda even says it herself: Still water runs deep.  There’s something everyone has to love about Laura, and it can’t be entirely out of pity. She’s not just shy—she is truly peculiar and troubled, yet she is so loving and sweet. She’s a beautiful character.

EP: An important part of your character is her “crippled” physicality. Tell me about developing that.

SH: It’s really hard to play a physical impediment. I started off by not bending my knee when I walked, but that didn’t read well. Now I’ve been sort of dragging my one foot. I was afraid of looking like Igor or some other hunchback but Scott says it’s working so I’m hoping he’s not just full of it. The other challenge is playing that handicap all the time and not just when I’m walking. A messed up leg doesn’t stop being messed up just because you’re sitting. Consistency is something I have to be constantly mindful of.

EP: You’re a very vocal feminist. Talk about the character of Laura as a woman with few options in the 1930s.

SH: YES ALL WOMEN. My feminism is one of my most treasured values. It pains me to the core that Laura has backed herself into a life where her only option is marriage, yet she doesn’t want marriage. She doesn’t want anything. She’s afraid of things changing, and yet not necessarily happy with how things are. It reminds me of Chekhov’s T” and how they always talk about how they’ll go to Moscow to be happy but they never do.  She has very little agency, which is strange because for all Amanda’s talk about being dainty or desirable to men, Amanda is actually rather empowered. She supported her children for some ten years before Tom was old enough to work, so why hasn’t Laura learned from this example? I think she’s too focused inwardly on her own defects and doesn’t see how she’d be desirable or capable for any job or any man.

EP: What’s your favorite thing about Laura?

SH: I love how imaginative Laura is. She’s frequently lost in a world of dreams playing with her records or menagerie. Even though she is too restricted by her imagination, she hangs on to the almost childlike innocence that we lose as we age. She creates her own world in her head, and prefers to be there than in reality. Haven’t we all been there?

EP: What’s your least favorite thing about her?

SH: I struggle with how angry she is, deep down. She has a hard time with forgiveness. She never forgives herself for anything, especially. She is angry about her father, angry at how her mother pressures Tom, angry that Tom behaves in a way that makes her feel like a burden.  Yet her anger very rarely presents itself in a manifestation that the outside can see. Having so much anger inside is self-destructive.

EP: Has anything surprised or challenged you about this experience?

SH: I’m surprised at how easy it is to feel everything so deeply as it happens onstage and in the script. Tennessee Williams has written the language in such a way that it’s impossible as an actor not to be impacted by the words and feel them.  Love, rage, despair, and hope all dance around on the pages and it’s so easy to play them because of his writing. The challenge is playing the emotions big enough for an audience to see and not just internalizing everything.

EP: What’s next for you, after The Glass Managerie?

SH: I’m back to more and more auditions. I just moved into Minneapolis with a few excellent roommates and am excited to see the adventures I can find in City Life. Perhaps I might even try to get a Big Girl job in the Spanish field whilst I search for more acting work.

EP: If you were an animal in Laura’s glass menagerie, what animal would you be?

SH: I’d be an otter. They’re smart and playful but will totally bite you for no apparent reason while you’re swimming in the lake and you’re like WHAT THE HECK BRO.

EP: Laura’s odd nickname is Blue Roses. Do you have any fun nicknames?

SH: I get a lot of people calling me Red or Ginge or Weasley. They are very creative names based on my hair. It’s brilliant.

EP: What’s your favorite line from the show?

SH: Amanda talking on the phone to a friend and saying “You can’t have a story without complications.” THANKS, TENNESSEE. WE KNOW.

EP:You have to fight one of your fellow glass menagerie cast members. Who are you going to fight?

SH: I can tell you who I’m NOT fighting: Patti Hynes-McCarthy (Amanda Wingfield). I’d lose that battle so hard.

EP: You have to switch roles in the show! What character are you going to play now, and why?

SH: Tom. I want to be Tom because I can relate to him on a really personal level.

EP: Let’s have some fun now. These aren’t related to the show, just help us get to know you. Cats or dogs?

SH: DOGS. I don’t like cats and I’m allergic.

EP: Favorite book?

SH: Series: Harry Potter by JK Rowling. Stand Alone: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

EP: Favorite movie?

SH: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

EP: Favorite music?

SH: Mumford and Sons

EP: Favorite TV show?

SH: Doctor Who

EP: Favorite play or playwright?

SH: Anton Chekhov, particularly The Seagull

EP: Favorite fictional character?

SH: Hermione Granger, GET IT GIRL.

EP: Favorite local theatre?

SH: The Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis

EP: Star Wars or Star Trek?

SH: Battlestar Galactica

EP: Favorite charity?

SH: I don’t have a favorite organized charity, but I have a box of food I keep in my car that I pass out to homeless people I see when I’m driving because I can’t handle seeing them and not doing anything to help.

EP: Horror or romance?

SH: Aren’t they the same thing?

EP: What are your dream roles?

SH: Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Nina in The Seagull, Stevie in The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia, The Next Companion to the Doctor on Doctor Who.

EP: You’re going to teach a college class on any subject of your choosing. What class would you teach?

SH: Spanish Phonetics: The Difference in Spanish Sonnets and English Sonnets and what is lost in translation.

EP: What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you onstage?

SH: I got hit in the face with a sword during a performance of The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe at Lyric Arts when I was 11. That was pretty weird—my eyebrow never really grew back.

EP: If you could prank call one celebrity, who would you call, and what would you say?

SH: I’d call Amy Poehler and then immediately forget my joke or prank and be like I LOVE YOU OH MY GOD I LOVE YOU

EP: If you wrote an autobiography what would the title be?

SH: More Than My Hair: The Autobiography of a Ginger.

EP: Into any sports?

SH: Sportsball confuses me but I like the collective energy of being at games. I played softball for 14 years—was a catcher. Stopped in college and focused on theatre.

EP: Movie that makes you laugh the hardest?

SH: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

EP: One that makes you cry?

SH: Twilight, because it’s just so bad. Or the recent film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars. Dear god.

EP: If you could star in any play or movie in history what would it be?

SH: I would say that I’d wanna be Audrey Hepburn’s character in Roman Holiday but that would mean that she wasn’t in Roman Holiday and I don’t want to live in that world.

EP: Play any instruments?

SH: I play some guitar. I’m considerably better than Taylor Swift but considerably worse than Eddie Van Halen.

EP: Best thing to do on a first date?

SH: Definitely eat food because I love food and then you can see if they chew with their mouth open.

EP: Favorite food?

SH: Potatoes in their infinite varieties

EP: Least favorite food?

SH: Mushrooms because NO ONE ASKED YOU HERE, FUNGUS.

EP: One person dead or alive you want to have dinner with?

SH: Jane Austen because feminism and questions.

EP: Favorite fashion trend of all time.

SH: The oversized sweater or T-Shirt with leggings. I basically want to look like I’m in Flashdance 24/7

EP: Favorite store/brand/designer?

SH: I’m not trying to be trendy when I say this but I could honestly not care less about designer brands and think it’s a huge waste of money. I don’t care about clothing designs or makeup brands or any of that stuff. The only thing I ever seem to be loyal to are Apple products because that’s what I grew up using and understand and technology confuses me.

EP: You can travel anywhere in the world. Where are you going?

SH: New Zealand first, everywhere else after.

EP: Best place you’ve ever been.

SH: Winchester, England will always feel like home.

EP: What are you bringing on a one-way trip to the moon?

SH: Oxygen, baby. And probably a Kindle loaded up with free books.

EP: Favorite superhero?

SH: Thor. I love me some Norse God goodness.

EP: Biggest learning experience of your life?

SH: Studying abroad made me brave and capable. In Costa Rica I realized that language is a barrier I can overcome and spiders can be crushed no matter how big. I can do anything in any language if I really need to. In England I was taught how to be self-sufficient with both finances and commuting. I learned how to be me and not apologize for it. I came back a bolder version of myself and can never express how much it did for me.

EP: Anything else you want to say to the people coming to see The Glass Menagerie?

SH: It’s hard to be vulnerable. Williams is asking us to be more vulnerable than I’ve been on a stage in a long time. I hope that you enjoy and can contemplate the meaning of being human after this play. You know, the easy philosophical stuff.

“The Glass Menagerie” Update: Meet Ty Hudson

September 11th, 2014 2 comments »
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Ty Hudson

When Glass Menagerie director Scott Ford and I were talking about lead actor Ty Hudson, Scott told me that Ty has a very rare gift. “He doesn’t get too attached to any line reading,” Scott said. “He’s willing to experiment until it feels right and then keep experimenting.” That kind of flexibility and fearlessness onstage, combined with Ty’s generous spirit and genuine talent, makes for an actor that artists love to work with, and audiences love to watch.

I could talk about how awesome Ty is all day, but I’ll let him speak for himself instead. Below you’ll find an email interview I conducted with Ty in which he discusses his character and allows the reader to peak into his personal life.

 

TH: My name is Ty Hudson.  I am originally from the northeast corner of Nebraska (go Huskers!).  A place called South Sioux City.  I went to the University of South Dakota for undergrad and grad school where I received a BFA in Acting and an MA in Secondary Education.

EP: What other shows have you done at Lyric Arts?

TH: I’ve been in such cool shows at Lyric.  I had the opportunity to tackle a dream role as Biff from Death of a Salesman which was the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had, and then I was a part of the extremely powerful Laramie Project which was maybe the best ensemble I’ve ever worked with (editor note: Ty and I were in this show together! Miss it every day).  Now I get to do another dream role and work with another great ensemble with The Glass Menagerie!

EP: Let’s get right to it. Give me a three word summary of the production.

TH: A Family’s Lament

EP: Talk about your interpretation of Tom. Where did you start with developing him?

TH: I started with Tennessee himself right off the bat.  Since the play is an autobiography of sorts, I went to the man behind Tom to find out as much about his life as possible.  After finding out how Tennessee’s life mirrored Tom’s and learning about William’s development of the play, I searched the text for any clues on characterization.  It’s amazing what Williams gives you in regards to details about Tom.  If you write it all down, Tennessee lets us know that Tom has bad posture, feels small in relation to the entire universe which affects how much space he physically takes up onstage, doesn’t have a place in this world, is yearning for change, feels trapped and isolated, and is begrudgingly forced to carry the entire burden of hope for the family.  That’s just a taste of the many things that William’s gives us through stage directions, has Tom directly say about himself, or other characters in the play reveal through dialogue.  After my text analysis, I began to watch interviews of Williams to study his own physicality and see if I could draw anything from his personal life and the way he speaks and moves.  I had to blend that with my own interpretations and director Scott Ford’s interpretations so that it can serve our production better and not be this autobiographical performance that doesn’t hit the audience right or give my fellow actors what they need.  It’s been an incredibly fun process of development and Scott’s persistent support has made all the difference.

EP: Tell us about the autobiographical nature of your character. How do you reconcile that with the theatricality of the piece? Are there any places where you deviate from the life of Tennessee?

TH: Absolutely.  Tennessee in interviews is pretty pompous and he delivers a lot of that through smiles and a satisfaction that he gets from being clever and outwitting interviewers.  I started to do that in the rehearsal process a lot.  Marveling in my own wit and attempting to make him play the comic moments throughout the whole piece.  It was effective in the sense that I found moments of comedy for Tom, which is something a lot of productions overall lack for this show, but I wasn’t giving my fellow actors what they needed in respect to driving scenes and continuing to add tension.  I had to find that inner hurt and pull that out even more if the audience was going to see that Tom is absolutely miserable in his life at this point.  Although, I’ve never seen an interview where Tennessee is miserable and feels like he is trapped in a box, I’m sure he’s felt that way his whole life based on this piece he wrote.  Looking more at Tennesee’s words helped me find what he is looking for in respect to the role Tom plays in the family and letting go of some of my Tennessee’isms.

EP: What’s your favorite thing about Tom?

TH: His inner strife is so interesting.  I really do think he loves his family, but he requires things himself that most people are content with.  I, like Tom, require a lot of “me” time where I sit around and think about the world and get a little philosophical.  Long drives to Anoka are perfect for this, by the way!  I love that Tom is so focused on “truth” as well.  He doesn’t always tell truth, he doesn’t even see everything in the play completely accurately and truthful when recollecting events, but he marvels at truth.  I also love the fact that Tom is a strong character who makes strong choices.  Does he do things that aren’t entirely likable? Of course, we all do.  Yet, he stays, he fights, and he loves for his family.

EP: What’s your least favorite thing about him?

TH: He has a lot of pompous attitudes and talks down about different types and groups of people.  He seems to have the attitude that the world has slighted him in some way, when really he hasn’t made as much of an attempt to reconcile with the world.  I would tell Tom to stop talking about all the things that make him unhappy and start making choices and attempts at improving his life.  Then again, I don’t suffer from all his entrapments either.

EP: Has anything surprised or challenged you about this experience?

The gravity of the piece sometimes is the biggest challenge for me.  Having read and worshipped this play for so long, stopping and thinking “I’m doing The Glass Menagerie right now playing Tom” can have a profound effect on my psyche.  I have to ground myself in the fact that I am continuously doing the work as we all are, and steady myself on Mr. Ford’s direction which serves as my anchor.

EP: What’s next for you, after The Glass Menagerie?

TH: My wife (editor’s note: Ty is married to Rachael Hudson, last seen by Lyric Arts audiences in The Laramie Project) and I just signed contracts to be in Carousel at the Minnesota Orchestra this Spring.  We are also directing down at Northfield Middle School; their fall musical.  I have a couple of other opportunities that are in the works, but I can’t announce them yet till they are finalized, but needless to say I am extremely excited about this coming year.

EP: If you were an animal in Laura’s glass menagerie, what animal would you be?

TH: I think a caged Hawk.  Full of aggression, can be a companion if you treat it right, needs a lot of space and autonomy to thrive.

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EP: What’s your favorite line from the show?

TH: “Attempting to find in motion what was lost in space.”  So poetic.

EP:  You have to fight one of your fellow glass menagerie cast members. Who are you going to fight?

TH: Randy.  Only because we both took a year of stage combat and could make it look real while fooling everyone.  We could even get really intense and throw quarterstaff’s, rapiers, or broadswords into the mix to get really crazy.

EP: You have to switch roles in the show! What character are you going to play now, and why?

TH: Laura.  She’s such a tragic character that steals the show in my opinion.  Her idiosyncrasies would be a blast to discover.

EP: Let’s have some fun now. These aren’t related to the show, just help us get to know you. Cats or dogs?

TH: DOGS!

EP: Favorite book?

TH: The Lord of the Rings or The Lord of the Flies (I like any books that begin with “The Lord of the”)

EP: Favorite movie?

TH: I have a three way tie:  The Count of Monte Cristo, Braveheart, and The Lord of the Rings.  Wait, that’s a five way tie!

EP: Favorite music?

TH: I’ll give you my non-show tunes.  Matt Nathanson, The Fray, The Early November, The Starting Line, Vampire Weekend.

EP: Favorite tv show?

TH: Hah!  Professional Wrestling (WWE).  I love it so much!  Others receiving votes: The OC, Lost,Friday Night Lights, and Fullmetal Alchemist.  (Nerdy collection)

EP: Favorite play or playwright?

TH: This is another three way tie.  Hamlet by Shakespeare, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee (Williams), and Shape of Things by Neil LaBute.  Those are my three favorite authors as well.

EP: Favorite local theatre?

TH: This will sound like sucking up but honestly, Lyric Arts.  If it wasn’t a 45-90 minute commute every day, I would do almost the entire season.

EP: Favorite charity? 

TH: Jester Independent.  It’s my two best friend’s film company.

EP: Horror or romance?  

TH: Friday the 13th movies have both.

EP: What are your dream roles?
TH: Hamlet, Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Leo Frank in Parade, Bobby Strong in Urinetown, Robbie in Wedding Singer, Robert (Bobby) in Company.

EP: You’re going to teach a college class on any subject of your choosing. What class would you teach?

TH: Acting Shakespeare

EP: What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you onstage?

TH: Embarrassing story but you learn from it.  I was the Jester in Madrigal in high school and I had this big rhyming couplet monologue to start the show that was written in Iambic Pentameter.  I had no experience with language like that and didn’t receive the proper training or rehearsals for it so I practiced for over a month on it.  Opening night this two page mono starts the show.  I get up there, the lights are dim besides candle light, it’s super cold in this big open church gym in December, and I forget everything.  I got like two lines in and was stranded and desperate.  I called out the director’s name knowing he would be in the audience and said, “I’m so sorry everyone.  I forgot everything.”  The director gave me the script and I read it off the page.  Now I practice my lines while I walk down the street and people have no idea what I’m doing but they are prepping me to be in front of an audience.

EP: If you could prank call one celebrity, who would you call, and what would you say?

TH: I’d call Obama and say “I agree”.

EP: If you wrote an autobiography what would the title be?

TH: Get Ready to Nerd Out for a While

EP: Into any sports?

TH: Crazy huge football fan, especially college.  I love college basketball as well.  I love playing basketball as well.

EP: Movie that makes you laugh the hardest?

TH: Anchorman is still my favorite comedy.  I also love Superbad.

EP: One that makes you cry?

TH: I’m not a big movie crier.  I cry at TV shows a lot more.  I get way more attached to characters over the course of a season.

EP: Last song you listened to?

TH: The Early November – Call off the Bells

EP: Favorite website?

TH: Huskermax.com for all your Husker Football news needs.

EP: Favorite food?

TH: Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo

EP: Least favorite food?

TH: Green Olives and onions

EP: One person dead or alive you want to have dinner with?

TH: Kenneth Branagh

EP: What are you bringing on a one-way trip to the moon?

TH: My Riverside Shakespeare Collection

EP: Favorite superhero?

TH: Nightwing

EP: Biggest learning experience of your life?

TH: Grad school and that has nothing to do with the scholarly stuff.  I learned to make choices and take chances because sometimes they pay off, and you get to share your life with the girl of your dreams.  Hear that nerds!  Sometimes you get the dream girl!

EP: Anything else you want to say to the people coming to see The Glass Menagerie?
TH: Don’t expect a dusty old play that isn’t relevant anymore.  Prepare for beautiful truth that will have you thinking for days.

 

“The Glass Menagerie” Update: Meet Patti J. Hynes-McCarthy

September 8th, 2014 No comments »
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Patti Hynes-McCarthy

At the end of our read through of The Glass Menagerie back in August, Patti McCarthy put her script down and shook her head. “These are a lot of lines!” she exclaimed. “Amanda never stops talking!” The high line count is just the beginning of the difficulties an actor faces when taking on Amanda Wingfield, Tennessee Williams’ domineering matriarch character. Based on his own mother, Tennessee wrote the character of Amanda with such depth and range of feeling that she joins characters like Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Maggie (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) as one of the plum female roles written by Williams that many actors dream of playing.

There is no one more suited to playing this complex character in the North Metro than Patti McCarthy. She and her husband, Tom, are the writers and producers of the material performed at the Seasons Dinner Theatre at Majestic Oaks Golf Club in Ham Lake, MN. Patti also makes time to perform at Lyric Arts, and has been cast in such juicy roles as Sister Aloysius Beauvier in Doubt: A Parable. A seasoned (pardon the pun) actor, Patti is well loved by Lyric Arts, and by her cast members. Here she talks about the challenges of playing Amanda, and lets us get to know her more personally.

PM: Hi! My name is Patti J. Hynes-McCarthy. I am originally from a small town near Brainerd, MN called Pillager… population 450! It was in my tiny high school, among a class of 36 students, that I grew a love for acting and went on to the University of Minnesota Morris and received a degree in Theatre/Speech, as well as a secondary education certificate. I then went on to North Dakota State University, where I received a Master’s Degree in Speech with an emphasis in Theatre. I met my husband at NDSU who was also getting his Master’s degree. We married and moved to Coon Rapids, MN and Tom began his teaching career at Anoka Ramsey Community College. I began a career in Human Resources, and we both became involved with community theatre.

In 1988, we had our first son, Christopher, and began performing and directing theatre at The Seasons at Bunker Hills where we soon became the owners/producers of The Seasons Dinner Theatre. Fast forward 26 years and we are still producing two shows a year at The Seasons Dinner Theatre at Majestic Oaks in Ham Lake, MN. We had a second son in 1992, Jonathon, and adopted a daughter from China in 2007, Josephine Mae McCarthy (Joie).

I enjoy family, great friendships, entertaining, gardening, travel, movies, pets and watching/supporting my children in their endeavors.

EP: What other shows have you been in at Lyric Arts?

PM: I had the good fortune of playing Sister Aloysious in Doubt, and Ethel Banks in Barefoot in the Park.

EP: What attracted you to this production?

PM: Glass Menagerie is classic, and I will try to perform in as many classics as I can! What actress wouldn’t want to say they have played Amanda Wingfield? Any Tennesee Williams play is worth the work. Other William’s works I’ve been fortunate enough to do in college/grad school: Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Mrs. Venerable in Suddenly Last Summer. It was so interesting to go from the sexy, restless, young Maggie, to the old, stroke ridden Mrs. Venerable! Ha! I loved it!

EP: You’ve got a lot of experience as both a director and an actor. What attracts you to each job? If you had to pick one to pursue for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?

PM: I am by nature an actor, but became a writer of scripts for our dinner theatre. It was baptism by fire, and I have learned to love it! Directing is not my preference, but have done it. It seems a bit overwhelming to me to be ‘in tune’ to all the working parts of a show as a director must. I much prefer to just concentrate on one aspect of it, such as developing a character. However, running a small dinner theatre has totally taken me out of my comfort zone, performing the roles of choreographer, props, set decorator, marketing, business leader, costumer, stage manager… you name it. This has been very good for me and stretched me to do things beyond what I ever thought I’d be able to do. I’d still prefer to be an actor, but I have to say that writing scripts ranks right up there!

EP: Let’s get right to it. Give me a three word summary of the production.

PM: Tragic. Dysfunctional. Sad.

EP: Talk to me about playing one of the legendary women of Tennessee Williams. What’s the hardest part about playing Amanda? What’s the best part?

PM: I have to be honest about this one… Amanda Wingfield talks… a lot! Just getting lines down for this show has been a bigger challenge for me than any other role I’ve played! But, beyond that, Amanda is not much of a sympathetic character, and my challenge has been first to find sympathy and compassion for her myself so the audience might be inclined to find some, too. In order to understand Amanda in the present of the show, one has to understand her past. In no way did her upbringing prepare her for the future. She was, after all, raised in the old South with plenty of servants around her, which in and of itself, makes her a less than sympathetic character to many people. She was fooled by a handsome stranger, which I gather she hardly knew who moved her far away from the home she loved, had two kids, and was then abandoned by a drunkard of a husband. In her day, her marriage was a mistake. She couldn’t atone for that embarrassment. Outside of Tom, her son, she’s had no help. Quite a leap from her childhood upbringing.

No matter what, Amanda loves her children. That is her most redeeming motivation. I simply try to use every opportunity I get to show that. She has her nice moments, and a bit of a sense of humor. She is very vulnerable, being a single mother, especially in her day and age with no hint of extended family around to help. I wonder who knows that her husband’s been gone that long. Since they keep his picture up in the house, she obviously still hopes and prays he’ll return home someday. I believe it must be kept on the wall for appearances sake. She’s had no divorce, therefore she can’t move on.

EP: How do you balance Amanda’s determination and hope and desire to make the future better with the part of her that’s stuck in the past? 

PM: The part of Amanda that is stuck in the past is her flaw because she cannot see any future for her children, except through the eyes of her own Southern upbringing, and her children simply do not conform to her norms. Out of complete fear, she cannot stop comparing her son to his father, which is driving him away… the thing she fears the most! Out of fear, she cannot accept her daughter as having anything wrong with her when it is so painfully obvious that she does, and yet, Laura is not a hopeless cause. Laura is challenging, but not a hopeless cause. She needs love and patience, not a mother who pushes her so hard. Amanda cannot make changes because she refuses to accept what is. She refuses to see what she doesn’t want to see. She wants her children to be successful, but on her terms of what she deems successful.

EP: Has anything surprised or challenged you about this experience?

PM: As I mentioned, the lines have kicked my butt. But previously, I’ve seen her played like a babbling idiot, and I’d like people to understand her motivations. Also, I think Amanda is an ‘entertainer’ in her style of conversation. So, I’m hoping I can make her entertaining, too, so the audience is not just wishing she’d shut up! Ha!

EP: What’s next for you, after The Glass Menagerie?

PM: I’ll be writing our Christmas show, Waiting for Mrs. Claus, for The Season’s Dinner Theatre at Majestic Oaks and then directing Forever Plaid for our Feb/Mar show!

EP: If you were an animal in Laura’s glass menagerie, what animal would you be?

PM: Mamma Kangaroo.

EP: What’s your favorite line from the show?

PM: “Little bird-like women, without a nest… forced to eat the crust of humility all their lives.”

EP: You have to switch roles in the show! What character are you going to play now, and why?

PM: I’d want to be Tom… that is a very challenging role and challenging roles are what we as actors should aspire to.

EP: Let’s have some fun now. These aren’t related to the show, just help us get to know you. Optimist or pessimist?

PM: I wish I could say optimist, but I’m far too pessimistic. I hate that about myself…

EP: Favorite book?

PM: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Because I have an adopted daughter from China and I learned so much from this book).

EP: Favorite music?

PM: Carol King/James Taylor/Melissa Manchester/ Simon and Garfunkel/Carlee Simon/Jim Croce

EP: Favorite play or playwright?

PM: Les Mis (musical) The Foreigner (comedy) Doubt (drama)

EP: Star wars or star trek?

PM: Star Trek.

EP: Pizza topping of choice?

PM: Veggie Pizza.

EP: Coffee or tea?

PM: Tea.

EP: Chocolate or vanilla?

PM: Chocolate.

EP: Favorite charity?

PM: Right now it’s the ALS Challenge as a good friend of ours died this summer of ALS at the age of 51… please donate to stop this horrifying fatal disease.

EP: Horror or romance?

PM: Romance. I hate horror movies!

EP: What are your dream roles?
PM: Anything Meryl Streep or Maggie Smith have ever done!

EP: You’re going to teach a college class on any subject of your choosing. What class would you teach?

PM: Playwrighting.

“The Glass Menagerie” Update: What is this Play About, Anyway?

September 2nd, 2014 No comments »
Emily Picardi

Emily Picardi

A companion to Cassandra Proball’s piece, “Art Reflects Life”

A lot of people have heard of The Glass Menagerie. Maybe you had to listen to tired tenth graders read it out loud “popcorn” style in a high school English class. Perhaps you’ve even seen a production. Or six productions. Maybe you’re a huge fan of Tennessee Williams and you’ve read everything he ever wrote and have this play and his biography memorized. If that last one is you, you’re probably not going to learn anything from this blog entry, but if you’re not Anoka’s resident Tennessee Williams specialist, stick around to learn about The Glass Menagerie and how Tennessee Williams’ life inspired it.

I can summarize the play in one brief sentence: Tom Wingfield darkly remembers his family and early life and examines the struggles that made him who he is today. It is so much more than that, though, especially when you think of Tom as a young Tennessee, and think of this play not as bland fiction, but, as Tom says “truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

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Ty Hudson (Tom Wingfield) and Samantha Haeli (Laura Wingfield)

 

The Glass Menagerie was the first play to bring Tennessee Williams real success, and it catapulted him to fame as a playwright. It’s pretty autobiographical, in that there are characters that represent Tennessee and his family members, and situations that reflect his life events. The narrator character, Tom Wingfield (played by Ty Hudson), is Tennessee’s theatrical manifestation of himself. Tom Wingfield and Tennessee Williams even share initials and the same given first name, Thomas. If you read Cassandra Proball’s post, “Art Reflects Life,” published last week you will see what Williams thought of himself, and how his early life mirrors the situation Tom Wingfield is in at the beginning of The Glass Menagerie.

Tom’s sister Laura (played by Samantha Haeli) is based on Tennessee’s sister, Rose. Both women battled mental illness, in fact, Rose was lobotomized shortly before The Glass Menagerie was written. Laura’s character is nicknamed “Blue Roses” by one of the characters in the play. Though Laura has the least number of lines of the lead characters, she steals the entire show. Tennessee had such obvious love for his sister, and was so clearly tortured by what happened to her that an audience member cannot help but love the character of Laura, Tennessee’s tribute to Rose. Just as Laura inspires and later haunts Tom, Rose is present everywhere in Tennessee’s writing. She was his muse and his undoing.

As Cassandra says in her piece, Tennessee’s mother and father were very similar to the characters of Amanda Wingfield (played by Patti Hynes-McCarthy) and the absent Wingfield father. A fading failed debutante and a traveling salesman round out the Wingfield family just as they influenced the Williams’ family.

The play is about these characters and how their very isolated worlds cross reality (a reality exemplified by the Gentleman Caller character, played by Randy Niles). Every character is flawed, every character is sympathetic. We know from the beginning that this play has no happy ending, but the events that occur within the play show the undoing of all the characters in heartbreaking detail. The characters destroy themselves, intentionally and unintentionally destroy each other, and are finally destroyed when meeting with the outside world. What makes this story extraordinary is the visceral pain just beneath the surface, dancing like light through glass; the passion and poetry of its writer struggling to make sense of his reality. Tennessee, and therefore Tom and his family, live in a world of romantic candlelight, a world made irrelevant by the lightning that brightens and electrified the rest of the world. We are so looking forward to showing this play to you, and hope that this interpretation inspires you to think more deeply about Tennessee Williams, and the issues that he presents in The Glass Menagerie.

Dig Deeper: Art Reflects Life

August 20th, 2014 No comments »
Brian - Production Director (tennessee williams)

Tennessee Williams
Playwright (1911 – 1983)

 

More clearly than with most playwrights, the facts of Williams’s life are found reflected in his best works.  As you watch the play, look for the following events or relationships from Williams’ past…

Birth Name:  Tomas Lanier Williams III

Father:  C.C. was a travelling salesman and heavy drinker.

Mother:  Edwina was a classic “Southern belle” and often prone to attacks of hysteria.

Sister:  Rose, an older sister, suffered from mental illness. While Williams was at the University of Iowa, Rose underwent a lobotomy, which left her institutionalized for the rest of her life.

Childhood:  The Williams family had produced several illustrious politicians in the state of Tennessee, but Williams’s grandfather had squandered the family fortune.  Until he was seven, he and his entire family lived with Edwina’s parents in Mississippi. After that, the family moved to St. Louis.

Young Adult:  C.C. forced Williams to withdraw from college and go to work at the same shoe company where C.C. himself had worked.  For three years, Williams found an imaginative release from this unpleasant reality in writing essays, stories, poems, and plays, but eventually suffered a minor nervous breakdown.

Williams saw himself as a shy, sensitive, gifted man trapped in a world where loneliness was, all too often, the standard human condition.  His contemporary, Arthur Miller, wrote in The Theatre Essays of Tennessee Williams that although Williams might not portray literal reality, “the intensity with which he feels whatever he does feel is so deep, is so great” that his audiences glimpse another kind of reality, “the reality in the spirit.”

Cassandra Proball NEW SQ

Cassandra Proball

 

“The Glass Menagerie” Update: We’re Onstage!

August 14th, 2014 No comments »
Emily Picardi

Emily Picardi

It’s been just over a week since Lyric Arts ended the 2013-14 season, and the cast of next season’s The Glass Menagerie is already rehearsing onstage. The space is still cluttered with detrius from the RENT set (see the “Alphabet City” scaffolding in the back of the picture?), and bits of our own set are floating around unfinished, but Karen Tait and her stage crew have done a great, speedy job with getting the stage ready for our actors.

It helps actors so much to be able to rehearse in the actual space they’ll be performing in. Platforms, locations of entrances and exits, and the general traffic pattern an actor has to follow can be difficult to visualize until they’re in the performance space. It’s interesting, then, to note that it’s actually relatively rare for rehearsals to be onstage so soon. Companies like the Guthrie and the Minnesota Opera have big, empty rehearsal rooms where shows are rehearsed until much later in the process when the stage is ready for the production about to be shown. Often actors won’t be able to rehearse onstage until tech week, which gives them only a couple of runs at the stage before performances begin. We can’t overstate the awesomeness of getting the stage to rehearse on almost three weeks before performances begin.

If you look at the picture below you’ll see the ghost of The Glass Menagerie‘s set onstage. The platforms upstage center separate the Wingfield’s dining room from the downstage living room. That fragmented brick and metal structure on the side of the stage is the door to the Wingfield’s apartment, as well as the fire escape that connects to it. Actor Ty Hudson was on the fire escape for less than ten minutes before accidentally dropping a prop into the floor grates.

As you can see, actors Samantha Haeli and Randy Niles are onstage right now, rehearsing my favorite scene from the show. Time for me to get back to watching them do their beautiful work!

Photo on 8-12-14 at 8.18 PM

 

“The Glass Menagerie”: Our Cast Members Match!

August 11th, 2014 No comments »

Glass Menagerie actors Ty Hudson and Randy Niles apparently decided this week was a week for matching clothes. Accidentally. Twice.

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Double Batman! Batmen? Batmans? …?

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Blue shirts, grey shorts. We promise rehearsals don’t have dress codes or theme days!

Fun fact: these two handsome actors have been buddies since they met in their college theater program at the University of South Dakota! We’re glad they both found their way to the Twin Cities.

Photo credit: Samantha Haeli

“The Glass Menagerie” Rehearsal Update: Week One is All About Blocking!

August 11th, 2014 No comments »
Emily Picardi

Directing Intern Emily Picardi

I realize we’ve just finished our second week of rehearsals for Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and I’m only posting an update on the first week now. Just… Pretend you didn’t notice the posting date.

On that note, proceeding cheerily onward as though this post weren’t late at all….

We’ve got the entire show blocked! Director Scott Ford is a master at fast blocking; at the beginning of week one he told the cast that he wanted to block the show quickly in order to get to the “real stuff”—the acting and exploration—sooner. With that goal, Scott and the actors got right to work, and the entire show was blocked in just three rehearsals- pretty amazing, for a process that can take weeks!

What is “blocking” you might ask? Blocking is planning the movements of the actors onstage. It can be accomplished in a variety of ways; some directors give actors very specific directions (“Now you’re going to move three steps downstage and raise your right arm six inches”), and some directors are very hands off (“Ok, my lovely blueberry muffins, do what feels right!”). Scott’s directorial approach is to plan crosses (an actor walking across the stage) and level changes (i.e. when an actor sits down), and let the actors have input on the smaller movement, or, as he likes to say, “Discover it as we go.”

Blocking is the most boring part of the process for many actors and directors. It’s where many actors feel most like “meat puppets,” just parading around the set saying lines. Blocking happens before any questions of “WHY would my character move here?” and is all about creating interesting stage pictures. Not only is Scott very fast at blocking the show, he’s also very good at creating interesting pictures that make sense. The very little directing experience I’ve had has taught me that blocking is difficult. How does one visualize interesting pictures without actually seeing them? How does one take each character’s motivation, relationships with others in the scene, and the power dynamics of the scene into account without actors in front of them? It’s a lot of advanced thinking, and having that skill is one of the things that makes Scott a good director.

Once the whole play was blocked we spent the rest of week one reviewing the blocking scene by scene. Scott was still adamant about not expecting great acting during these rehearsals. It’s still very early in the process and the actors need time to play. It’s hard to take things slowly, though, when your actors are so enthusiastic; actors Ty and Patti are already almost memorized, and all four actors are chomping at the bit to talk about their characters. Tennessee Williams creates such beautiful, complex characters that it’s hard not to dive into their psychology. Everyone has had to show a lot of restraint in these blocking and blocking review rehearsals!

Week two has exciting rehearsals in store, as blocking is mostly communicated, learned and reviewed, so we’ll be diving into the “Acting schmacting” that Scott is so obviously fond of. Stay tuned for an update on the rehearsals of week two, plus posts about the production design and the play’s esteemed author.

RENT Review: Julie Blaha

July 24th, 2014 1 comment »

Julia Blahaby Julie Blaha

When I was a kid, what is now Lyric Arts was the movie theater and center of my adolescent arts scene.  They played every cool popcorn movie–Jaws, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark–perfect for a fun night out for a middleschooler.

Once in a while, however, we fourteen-year-olds would be treated to something more substantial.  I remember the Friday night the theater showed The Outsiders. We’d settled in to our seats after a long walk catching up on the gossip of the week (the cool moms surreptitiously dropped us off five or six blocks away from the theater so we could walk in like adults).

We eleven, twelve, and thirteen year olds sat in the dark, laughing, crying and celebrating along with the hard luck kids on that screen. In the lobby, we discussed how cliques and class worked at our middle school. We wondered if our parents realized there was swearing and a couple adult themes in the film. Afterwards, we wandered looking for dad’s station wagon three streets over wiser and better people.

Today, I spend most of my entertainment dime in theaters in Minneapolis. I was happy that Lyric Arts opened in Anoka–mostly so I could say there are theaters in the suburbs to snobby hipsters in line at the Guthrie.  I assumed the shows would be the typical saccharine sweet, b-squad performances that make a joke of the term “community theater.” I bragged it up, while privately planning to never actually see a show.

A friend asked me to see RENT and I was intrigued.  The idea that a show with LGBT characters and challenging themes would play just blocks from one of the schools involved in the largest LGBT bullying lawsuit in U.S. history caught my attention.  I knew a couple of the actors from shows in the Cities. I’d heard the performances and staging were terrific.

Most of all, I was struck by how showing RENT was exactly what a “real” theater intent on serving our entire community would do. When mine was the third to the last ticket for a Thursday night show, I realized how hungry our community is for substantial productions.

I walked into the lobby and was immediately greeted by a group of fellow teachers from my district. I ran into more neighbors at the snack bar. Chatting with the people in the seats around me I realized I was part of a real community. Apart from the wine we were drinking and better seat layout, it felt much the same as it did when I was kid.

The lights went down and I was lost in the show. The music is terrific, the play beautifully written and the performances were as good as I’ve seen anywhere. Our Anoka crowd was moved to laughter, tears, and a standing ovation.

Filing out, the audience talked about how far we’ve come, and not come, since the AIDS epidemic first hit.  We wondered what hand wringing diatribes the usual suspects would write in the local paper. We appreciated the chance to see a show that mattered in our own community. We looked forward to using the show to buck the narrative that we are the backwards town portrayed in the press.

I walked back to my car, parked quite a ways away due to a sellout crowd, enjoying the afterglow of a great show, playing in just the right town at just the right time.

I’ll remember RENT as more than a wonderful play—it will always be the show that changed Lyric Arts from just a theater in my town to my town’s theater.

Julie Blaha is the former president of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota and teaches at Jackson Middle School. She lives in Ramsey and serves on the boards for Education Minnesota and the Minnesota AFL-CIO.

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