“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.

“The Glass Menagerie”: Introductions

July 23rd, 2014 No comments »
Picardi_Emily_005-Edit

Emily Picardi

If you’re a fan of Lyric Arts, you know that we’re in the middle of our summer musical’s run right now (make sure you see RENT before it closes on August 3rd!). While many of the theatre’s efforts are focused on finishing our 2013-14 season on a high note (a high, loud, passionate, multi-voiced, harmonized note), our attention has officially turned to the first show of the 2014-15 season, Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.

Production of The Glass Menagerie started with a production meeting and a read through last Monday night. Since then we’ve had several more rehearsals and the show’s designers have been hard at work. As of this writing we have the entire show blocked! Over the next month and a half I’ll be blogging about our process as we bring The Glass Menagerie to life from the ground up. We’re so excited to bring the work of Tennessee Williams to Anoka audiences.

Let’s quickly introduce everybody working on The Glass Menagerie, since you’ll be hearing about them in my blog postings. The director of this show is Scott Ford, one of Lyric Arts’ Resident Directors. You may have seen his work at Lyric Arts before in Picnic, The Hormel Girls, or Hairspray, among other productions. Bri Collins, our stage manager, has previously worked at Lyric Arts on The Laramie Project. Our four actors are Patti McCarthy (Doubt: A Parable and Barefoot in the Park) as Amanda Wingfield, Ty Hudson (The Laramie Project and Death of a Salesman) as Tom Wingfield, Samantha Haeli as Laura Wingfield, and Randy Niles (Picnic) as Jim O’Connor.

We’ve got a great team of technical designers and production staff members working behind the scenes as well. Todd Edwards is our scenic designer, Stacey Palmer is our costume designer and Heather McLaughlin is our costume assistant, Dan Dukich is the production’s sound designer, Marcie Anderson is the props master, and Courtney Schmitz is the lighting designer. All of these designers are Lyric Arts veterans. Of course we have all of the staff at Lyric Arts on board as well, and we’re so lucky to have their creativity and support.

So who’s writing these blog posts? Who’s driving this thing?? My name is Emily Picardi, and I’m the Directing Intern for The Glass Menagerie. I’ve worked at Lyric Arts as an actor for over ten years, most recently as Romaine Patterson in The Laramie Project, and in the ensemble of Hairspray. I recently graduated from Anoka Ramsey Community College with an AFA in Theatre, and I’m currently working on deciding what to do with the rest of my life (cue all manner of mental breakdowns). I’m a giant nerd. I love William Shakespeare and Netflix and coffee, and I’m so excited to work on this production because I love Tennessee Williams and working with Scott Ford more than all those other things combined.

As we go along I’ll try to get a hold of all the people who are working to make The Glass Menagerie happen and tell you their perspectives in greater detail. For now I’ve got to get back to rehearsal, where our actors are debating the semantics of “long distance” vs. “long distances” and looking for the nonexistent app store on the prop typewriter. Thanks for reading!

RENT Review: Seasons of Love—Lyric Arts’ Extraordinary Production of Rent

July 17th, 2014 No comments »

by Keith Roberts

Keith Roberts

Keith Roberts

One could easily dismiss Lyric Arts’ current production of RENT as just another community theatre attempting to contemporize their body of work.  This production moves beyond any of those ideas. This production leaps on the stage with incredible energy from the start and winds it way into your heart and your mind leaving a powerful imprint on both.

The set design for the show, while looking pretty utilitarian, is really a strong visual metaphor of the lives of the cast as well as our own.  The winding staircases, the lofting stage, the red and green lights creating a Christmas tree all help to remind us not only of the season but the starkness of the lives   The choice of the garage style lights show the “nakedness” of the light.  The use of bare tables again completes that idea that this cast really has nothing except each other.

The hallmarks of the production are not only the incredible cast, but also the nuance that director Matt McNabb brings to this production.  As mentioned above, he uses the stage as tool to carry the story as much as the cast and libretto.   The bare tables become so many pieces that propel the story.  They are a restaurant table, a hospital bed, and the only furniture in Mark and Roger’s apartment.  The most powerful scene in the production demonstrates this is during the song, “Without You.”  The tables, now separate like the characters on them, allow McNabb to create the starkness of empty lives either by loss to a horrible illness or just through the emotional loss of a torn relationship.  These are just a few of the simple but effective ways he turns ordinary into extraordinary.

The cast in the show is phenomenal.  The abilities presented by this diverse cast would suggest experience beyond their years and experience levels.  Kyler Chase carries Mark with the insecurity and the honest belief of human goodness that make Mark an everyman.  Kyler acts with his heart and his whole physical presence.  You see subtle character on his face, i.e.,  the way he carries himself, even how the camera becomes a physical part of him. He won me over from the onset.  He has to carry the show and does it with seemingly little effort.

Kendall Thompson, who has done some high profile roles locally, embodies Maureen, the raging anarchist bisexual who wants to change their world but gets wrapped up in the world around her, especially if anyone pays any notice to her. Having seen Menzel in the role originally, Thompson steals the show with the performance art number, “Over the Moon.”  You get the honest desire to elicit change but as well you see the need for constant attention that carries her role throughout the play.  She is gritty, nasty, loving, and compassionate all at the same time, so is Maureen. She is electric, passionate, and can really belt a tune.

Kate Beahen’s Joanne may not be the most glamorous role she has had, but she is so committed to this role that in the opening number, Joanne’s frustration, character and angst are obvious.  Joanne, always willing to take the backseat to Maureen’s whims, lets her have it with  “Take me As I Am.”  No longer willing to be Maureen’s convenience, she demands the love that she has given from the start of the show, Beahen, always the consummate actress, acts with every fiber of her being. The way she cocks her head, a warm, loving smile to greet Maureen, even the immediate disdain at having to work with Mark are told with her entire acting body. As for singing, she is one of the strongest in the show.  She is a veteran in this performance, and her talent and expertise are apparent.

The toughest role in the show is Mimi—Courtney Groves is there 100%. The biggest question of the show is, “How does she dance in those heels?”  Groves as Mimi brings the innocence of adolescence to the role of a street wise kid addicted who just wants love and security.  She moves through the set like the cat she sings about. Her vocal ability is perfect for the growling songs and as well as the introspection of ” Without You”.  She is able to maneuver the set, the songs, and the physicality with ease.

Don’t believe that those are the only strong things about the performances. If Patrick Jones’ reprise of “I’ll Cover You” doesn’t break your heart, you don’t have one. His range on that song is wide and his performance aching.    Mary Jo Hall’s ending of the signature song “ Seasons of Love “ will knock you out of your seats.  Kyle Szarzynski’s Angel comes off a little tentative, but once Jones arrives on the stage, you as well as Collins fall in love with Angel. She is the heart, the soul, the message of this story. The rest of the cast is vocally strong and incredibly talented. The band is incredible.  You will feel like you’re at a rock concert or in McNabb’s words, “It’s a freaking rock opera!”  It is and it’s the band that drives that energy.

RENT at Lyric Arts moves them from a community theater venue to the big leagues. This production rivals anything that Hennepin Trust and Theatre Latte Da have produced recently or anything locally at the McKnight or the other semi professional theaters in our community.  Matt McNabb gets it, the cast gets it, the band get it.  It’s your turn.  It’s difficult not to leave this show thinking, ”I’d die for a taste of what Angel had.”

Roberts is a local community theater director, coach and teacher with 35 years of experience in the theater.

RENT Review: Girl Meets Broadway

July 14th, 2014 No comments »

by Erin Nagel

GirlMeetsBroadwayTwenty years ago the world was first introduced to Jonathan Larson’s rock opera RENT. Now a new generation of theatre fans are being introduced to RENT’s themes of love, family, finding your voice and living for today. Lyric Arts took a risk when they decided to produce this show. The themes are universal, but the topics covered can be considered controversial. Especially for a suburban theatre known for producing family friendly theatre. Director Matt McNabb honored the late Jonathan Larson with his vision and direction of this piece. Staying true to the show, McNabb didn’t make any adjustments to the language or storylines. He stayed true to the vision Larson had for this show. 

Not only did McNabb cast actors that embrace the iconic roles, but ones who are able to mold the role into their own. Kendall Anne Thompson brings a raw energy to her Maureen. I saw her once before in History Theatre’s Baby Case last Fall and loved her voice. But as Maureen she is force to be reckon with. She tackles the role and makes it her own. She provides a hip, modern approach to a character in a cult hit musical which can be tricky. Her voice is flawless. Her best scene is Maureen’s protest “Over the Moon”. During this scene she shines and truly showcases her incredible acting range. As Roger, Blake Rhiner provides the role with a much needed jaded feel. You can feel the longing of the much bigger dreams he holds than the reality he is currently facing in “One Song Glory”. His chemistry with Mimi (Courtney Groves) is strained, but I feel this helps showcase the emotional relationship they have. Its not a typical relationship since they are both dealing with their AIDs diagnosis and drug use. 

Lyric Arts made the right choice when they decided to take a risk with this production. Sharing this show with a new generation of theatre fans and allowing those who have seen it before to experience it all over again. If you have ever had the desire to check out RENT or if you’re a RENThead and want to see the show again I highly suggest you make the drive to Anoka to see this production. You won’t regret it. I promise it.

Erin Nagel is an active member of the Minneapolis theatre community and creator and editor of theatre review blog Girl Meets Broadway

RENT Review: The Halloween Honey

July 14th, 2014 No comments »
roxypic

Roxy Orcutt

by Roxy Orcutt

Full-disclosure: I have never seen Rent, in fact, I wasn’t even all that familiar with the music.  Sure, I’ve heard Seasons of Love here and there, because, much like the Let It Go craze, you couldn’t really avoid the tune in the last 18 years it’s been around. The Rent experience was new to me, and I wasn’t disappointed. 

As usually, Lyric Arts made spectacular use of their stage space.  Since they lack the width of stage, they utilize the height.  Out of the nearly dozen shows I’ve seen at Lyric, I’ve never seen a bad set design, never a wasted space, never an unused corner.  Rent takes place in 1993 in New York City’s gritty West Village.  While a bohemian paradise filled with artists, the paradise is lacking one thing, money.  These characters embodied the term “starving artist.”  Our main characters find themselves living rent-free (by simply choosing to not pay it because they can’t) in an old, dilapidated loft that translates perfectly on stage.   

I’m glad I was able to see Rent for the first time with this cast so I wasn’t comparing them to the original Broadway cast or film version.  The filmmaker Mark and his casual cool scarf, the wannabe rock star Roger in tattered t-shirts and dangerously unkempt hair, the literal glitter bomb that is Mimi, the animalistic, artistic Maureen and the bossy, but well-meaning Joanne, just to name a few, were brought to life but such a talented cast, every last one who are in possession of some impressive pipes. And let’s not forget Angel, in all her candy-colored glory and sass, the literal heart of the show.  

Angel’s costumes looked like they came straight out of a 1990’s dance music video fever dream, and those weren’t the only costume pieces causing a little nostalgia.  Now a period piece, the costumers of Rent have their work cut out of them to dress these characters in clothes that look authentic to twenty years ago.  While I personally remember 1993 pretty well (I was ten) there are people now seeing the show for the first time that may not even have been alive during the entire decade of the ‘90’s and I think the costuming on this show showcases the fashion of decade very well, especially for those living a by circumstance shabby chic lifestyle. 

The themes of love, friendship and support, as well as dealing with issues such as illness and poverty are beautifully portrayed in the show and the actors took great care to do this amazing work justice, and they, along with the entire production crew and musicians should be proud of the amazing work they’ve done.  Rent lives up to the hype and I now see why it garners such devotion among fans.  This production at Lyric Arts is not to be missed.  

Roxy Orcutt, otherwise known as The Halloween Honey, is a local blogger and author.

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