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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: theatre, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 157
1. A New York Theatre Offers A Better Deal For Playwrights

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The company, Playwrights Horizons, announced on Tuesday that it has started covering roughly 50 percent of the health care premiums for its writers during the season in which their works are produced. The theater is also paying the writers for “preproduction activities,” like rehearsals and meetings with the directors, designers and producers.

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2. “Macbeth” Yanked From Turkish State Theater After Gov’t Officials Actually See The Play

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A group of officials from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism attended the production in Ankara last Tuesday and reportedly stalked out without applauding; the play was promptly replaced on the schedule. Last month the now-former director of Turkey’s State Theaters resigned, complaining of censorship by the Culture Ministry.

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3. Bradley Cooper Plays A Man Who’s Haunted Him For Decades

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Starring in The Elephant Man on Broadway “is serious business for the actor: a scoop of earth following his gradual but precipitous soar into the showbiz stratosphere, with its thinner, giddy-making air.” It’s also a role he’s been fixated on since age 12.

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4. Theaters Are (Finally?) Recovering From The Recession, Says Report

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“Earned income was up an impressive 40.8 percent (adjusted for inflation), although total attendance was up only 0.4 percent.”

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5. Australian Playwright Says It’s Time For The Return Of Radio Plays

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“The internet means a lot of people can listen to the [BBC] World Service online. No writer is going to turn up their nose at a potential 40 million listeners.”

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6. Last Ditch Efforts To Prevent Strikes In London’s West End

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“The union is seeking London living wage – £8.80 – for workers on three pay grades below that rate, and a 6% rise for all other members.”

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7. Philadelphia’s Prince Music Theater Calls It Quits

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“Having received no offers for a takeover, the organization that occupies the Prince Music Theater on Friday terminated its lease with the owners of the building on Chestnut Street just west of Broad Street. American Music Theater Festival, founded in 1984, also intends to dissolve. The future of the building is uncertain.”

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8. Why Would Harvey Fierstein, Of All People, Write A Show About The 1899 Newsboys’ Strike?

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“Kids love it” – his brother’s kids, specifically, loved the Disney movie – “so I had that affinity. I got stuck with the story, and there was little I could change, but, as the strike happened during the time of the women’s struggle to vote, I began thinking about my own recent turn of the century.”

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9. You Had A Better Chance Of Seeing The UK’s National Theatre In Detroit Than In Non-London Great Britain

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“It is crucial that the NT, with its £17.5m of annual public investment, is seen to be reaching all theatregoers in the UK, not merely those who live within easy reach of London’s South Bank. That means the NT needs to make available much larger parts of its repertoire to theatre lovers in all parts of the country.”

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10. Can An Overtly Religious Musical Make It On Broadway?

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“With its graphic depiction of the slave trade (black actors play characters suffering under the branding iron) as well as overt religious content (God rescues Newton’s soul), ‘Amazing Grace’ would be unlike any other recent Broadway production.”

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11. Some Wise Words from Kirk Lynn

One of the most thought-provoking plays I've seen this year was Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra, at Playwrights Horizons, by the playwright Kirk Lynn. The theatre distributed a printed Q&A with Mr. Lynn after the show, and I've kept it for several months because there's a lot in the following that really resonates with me about art and life:

Q: You recently started running the UT Austin Playwriting and Directing program. What’s your pedagogy? What’s required reading in your playwriting courses?
A: ... The most controversial thing about me as a teacher, which surprises me, is that I—trained by my wife, who’s a poet—have really come to believe in a catholic taste: you should like everything; you should read everything. And this ties back to the no-experts thing. If you see something and think it’s totally full of shit, then you probably haven’t studied it enough. And you should spend time in its presence. I say this sentence, which I borrow from this classical music scholar Charles Rosen, who’s now dead. He said, “Admirers are never wrong.” For example, I find Shaw to be really stuffy. But people who authentically like Shaw aren’t lying. They’re not idiots. They’re not wrong. And if I place myself in their proximity, I can learn to appreciate—you can learn to appreciate any kind of art. I say this to my students and, more than any other crazy shit I say, that’s the one where people just get outraged. They think the avant-garde is full of shit, or they think the Well-Made-Play is full of shit. They don’t want to task themselves with the possibility that they’re full of shit and they can learn something from all of these. 

When I was first dating my wife, I would wake up and she’d be sitting up in a chair, with a little light on, reading poetry constantly, every morning. I would always ask her, “What are you reading?” She would tell me, and I’d be like, “Do you like it? Is it good?” And she’d be like, “No.” And, just, the discipline of reading everything in the world because you’re an artist, and to be in conversation with it, seemed so radical to me. It has since become a practice of mine, to try and place myself—as much as I want to be in the company of plays that speak to me about my life—to put myself in the company of Shaw because I do not understand what he’s doing or why, and I need to stretch those muscles. 

If nothing else, it’s just a more interesting world to live in. 

I believe in this Wittgensteinian philosophy that words don’t correspond to meaning. There’s not a thing called “love” that actually corresponds to the word, there’s a kind of cloud of understanding that is different for each of us. So if I say I love you, you understand it as you understand love, but you don’t understand it as I understand it, and there’s a Venn diagram of how we sort of overlap in understanding. And if every word works like that, then making meaning together as humans is very complicated and we have to agree that there’s some leeway, that there’s not a right understanding of those things. That there’s not a right way to live, even. 

So you got a text from your wife last night after the preview, about how your daughter Olive has a crush—

—I don’t know if we should say his name! It’s Daniel.

We’ll just call him “D---.” And you were so excited about it. Can you talk about why?

Yeah, this’ll probably make me cry more than anything else. Some of it’s just longing, because I miss my daughter and it’s fun to know about her life. It’s also such a great mystery.  It’s interesting to have kids and realize that I’m not the central character in Olive’s life; Olive is the central character in her life. And [my son] Judah is the central character in his life. …I think there’s a little bit of fear in me that it will turn out that something like Christianity’s true, and I’ll become a crazy person who, like, wanders up and down the highway with a cross on my shoulder, shouting like, “Pleeeease repent.” Because if any of that is true, if what Christians believe is true, then everything you do is all wrong. There’s no sense in doing any of this. Making plays, being married. There’s just heaven and hell, and everyone’s fucking up really bad. I’m fucking up really bad. I don’t believe that’s true, thank goodness, but I do think placing yourself in service to people, there is a kind of—

You sort of make up for your narcissism by loving people. Does that make any sense? So knowing that my daughter is having this life, outside me, where she has her own friends at school, and she won’t tell me about any of them, and she has a crush at age three and a half, it just seems like a miracle. It seems like magic. And my job is to serve Olive so that she can have better and better crushes with crazier and crazier three-year-olds, and then four-year-olds, and then five-year-olds. That seems to me to be in the presence of the great mystery. It is insane that there’s a living being that I’m responsible for in some sense, and then that living being will jump ship and go off into the world and have the same experiences, both terribly traumatic and hard. And just the crushing sorrow and depression and, god forbid, addiction, anxiety, abuse, all those things. But then she’ll also have the experiences of friendship, and love—it’s insane. It’s a terrible system that we’re involved with! It seems poorly structured. My daughter’s life is this great thing that’s gonna unfold before me, and I get to watch it, and even participate a little bit. By recommending Daniel over, say, Ethan.


I think what I really appreciate and admire in this are Mr. Lynn's ideas that there is something to be learned from everything, even the things that don't resonate with you at all, about how art is made or how lives are lived. And how he decenters himself repeatedly, first from a universal absoluteness of meaning in language (meaning that all meanings would be dictated by him), and then from his daughter's life -- recognizing that she's her own person, doing her own thing, at age three, and finding that beautiful and sacred. To read the entire Q&A, click here.

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12. Good news update - progress at last!

People who drop by this blog regularly or from time-to-time are aware of my moaning, groaning and general kvetching about my play writing and all the hang-ups thereof. This includes unfinished plays that appear to have potential but end up stored in the to-be-examined-at-a-later-date file. Later could mean a month or years. Sometimes though,. things just seem to work.

I've been in a play submission mode of late and decided that my play, "Retribution" deserved to be seen and heard by the world. To this end and after submitting to the Sundog Theatre of Staten Island, I am pleased - nay - delighted to report that they have selected Retribution to be part of their Summer Reading Series to be held on Thursday, August 7, 7:30 p.m. at the St. George Theatre in Staten Island.  A one-act play, a drama, focuses on revenge  specifically (adapted from the synopsis) "after years of patiently waiting and planning for their paths to cross, a hairdresser has an opportunity to exact revenge for a horrific past crime that has gone unpunished." Drop by and see the drama play out in person if you live in the New York area since admission is free of charge.

Still more progress to report in other areas. Finally finished the first draft of "Neighbors" now called, "The Shrubs." It took me a year or more to complete but I'm very pleased with the end result. This is yet another play that started out as a short 10-minute writing exercise but over the years - yes years - evolved into a one act and then a full two-act play. There were a lot of twists and turns along the way and change of story lines but in the end, it wrote itself. All the good plays seem to write themselves. In any case, I'm going to put it away for a while before embarking upon the editing process.

"So tell us, Eleanor - what's on your agenda for your next project?"

I'm planning to take a serious read-through of "Dead Writes" and see where this story can go. It's a fun play with touches of the supernatural concerning an old, crusty newspaper reporter (Felicia) who lead a rough-and ready life that focused on getting a story at any cost. Having been relegated to a holding position where a decision will be made on her next step into either heaven or hell, she accepts the responsibility of training a newly hired, naïve reporter, but doesn't anticipate the moral issues and challenges that arise along the way. Only the newbie reporter is aware of the dead reporter's presence, which makes for some interesting and humorous proceedings. Her progress will be monitored by a heavenly spiritual adviser who is assigned to keep Felicia on the straight and narrow. Think this just may work...

More news will be forthcoming on the play reading and hopefully more positive news on other submissions.

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13. What kind of Lena Younger would Diahann Carroll have been?

By Ruth Feldstein


In February, fans learned that Diahann Carroll had withdrawn from A Raisin in the Sun. The most recent revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning 1959 drama opened in April, and is now nominated for five Tony awards. Carroll relinquished her role as Lena Younger, the widowed matriarch in an African-American family living on the South Side of Chicago, due to the “demands of the vigorous rehearsal schedule and the subsequent eight-performances-a-week playing schedule,” according to a spokesperson for Raisin. The 78-year-old Carroll’s choice is easy to understand, but it also invites the question — what kind of Lena Younger might Carroll have been? How would an actress long known for her elegance and haute couture wardrobe have shed the trappings of high fashion to take on the part of a working class black mother who wants to use her dead husband’s insurance money to buy a home and improve the life of her family?

Diahann Carroll in 1976. Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Diahann Carroll in 1976. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Last August, when the news broke that Carroll and Denzel Washington would have lead roles in this version of Raisin—with Carroll as mother to Washington’s Walter Lee Younger—much was made of their combined star power and the iconic Carroll’s return to Broadway for the first time in 30 years (as well as Washington’s age; the 59-year old portrays a much younger man, though the character has “aged” in this version). In some ways, though, it’s hard to know why the producers looked to Carroll in the first place. Carroll is older than most actresses who have played Lena Younger. Even more, ever since a still-teenage Carol Diahann Johnson changed her name to Diahann Carroll and left the home of her middle class parents, she has been known as a “chic chanteuse.” The link between Carroll and glamour became entrenched as her career ascended: when she sang at the Persian Room or the Plaza Hotel in the late 1950s, in her role as a high class and well-dressed model in the Broadway show No Strings in 1962 (for which she earned a Tony award), and when she portrayed a respectable, and well-dressed school teacher who travels to Paris with her white friend in the film Paris Blues in 1964 (alongside costars Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward). But the singer and actress soared to national prominence with Julia, a television series that ran from 1968-1971. Here Carroll was cast as the well-dressed middle class nurse and widowed mother of a young boy (her husband was killed in Vietnam). Julia was one of the first television series in which a black woman had a starring role and was not a maid or domestic. The show was an opportunity for Carroll to gain unprecedented exposure on a number-one ranking series — one that was “slightly controversial” she said, because it integrated the living rooms of white audiences through television, but was not controversial enough to “interfere with the ratings.”

If Julia cemented Carroll’s reputation as a barrier-breaking international celebrity, it also in some senses profoundly limited her career. Indeed, the first time Carroll played against type after Julia, her efforts had mixed results. In 1974, she starred in Claudine. The film was set in Harlem, and Carroll portrayed the 36-year-old single mother of six on welfare who struggles to combine motherhood and romance (with James Earl Jones, as garbage man Rupert Marshall). Claudine was notable for its critique of a welfare system that policed working class black women, and its portrayal of a single black mother who loves and cares for her children even if she also curses and beats her daughter in one scene. More remarkably, for the time, the film showed that a poor black unmarried woman could be sexually active and a good mother. With its largely African American cast and urban landscape, and with a contemporary soundtrack featuring Gladys Knight and the Pips, Claudine stood out as a rare alternative to the more violent and (mostly) male-centered blaxploitation films that were popular in the early 1970s. A critic in the Chicago Defender applauded it as a film that could “uplift” those who had “been ignored on film until now, the ADC mother” (ADC was the acronym for Aid to Dependent Children, and shorthand for welfare in that era). Carroll’s performance as Claudine earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress in a leading role—only the fourth time a black woman had ever been nominated in that category.

But fans and critics were divided in their response to Carroll, precisely because the role was such a departure. Some applauded her for being willing and able to take on the role of Claudine. (She inherited the part from actress Diana Sands, ill with cancer in the 1970s but who had starred in the original production of Raisin in 1959, another link between Claudine and Raisin.) A “deglamorized Diahann Carroll is surprisingly effective as a 36-year old city wise and world weary mother who battles welfare department bureaucracy,” wrote one reviewer. Many more came to the opposite conclusion, asserting that Carroll did not have the life experiences to represent working class black women and could not tell their stories with any degree of authenticity. “Even without makeup, she still looks and acts like Julia,” wrote one; Time attacked the star for a “slumming expedition by a woman best known for playing the upwardly mobile Julia on TV.” With her family’s middle class background and her long association with well-dressed and glamorous heroines, Carroll simply could not “presume to speak for all black women.” The Oscar nomination was a significant milestone, but it did not open many doors thereafter; Carroll later said that she felt that her career floundered after Claudine.

Certainly, the question of who gets to tell black women’s stories is no less fraught in 2014 than it was in 1974—as critiques of the film The Help (2011) for hijacking black women’s voices, protests that actress Zoe Saldana is not the right artist to portray singer Nina Simone in a forthcoming biopic, and more recent debates about Beyoncé all begin to suggest. For decades, Diahann Carroll has been at the center of these debates—from her role as a model in an interracial romance in the Broadway play No Strings, to her role as Dominque Deveraux on the nighttime soap opera Dynasty in the 1980s– the “first black bitch on television” as Carroll herself put it. Would Carroll have encountered the same resistance today that she did forty years earlier? Would she have been able to navigate that chasm between her off-stage aura of glamour and an on-stage role of a weary yet strong working class woman who dreams about owning a home more easily in 2014 than she did in 1974? And would media-savvy audiences today, tuned into the ways that any public person is always performing some version of him or herself, have been more open to Carroll and what she could have brought to Lena with her decades of stardom than they were to the former “Julia” when she transformed into the working class Claudine? I respect Carroll’s choice to withdraw from Raisin, and the splendid Latanya Richardson Jackson has infused the part of Lena Younger with a humanity and dignity. But with the Tony awards season underway and with Carroll’s under-rated but sensitive and subversive portrayal of a poor black woman in the film Claudine in mind, I also can’t help but regret what we’ve all missed out on.

Ruth Feldstein is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University, Newark. She is the author of How it Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement.

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14. Playright's update: yawn

Sometimes, too frequently, I bore myself.

"Why would you say (or write) a statement like that, Eleanor?"

On occasion when things are in a static state (like the sound of those two words together), I begin to question my playwriting ability. Thinking back, the impetus for taking up writing plays in the first place was my love for dialogue. It seemed only natural, at least for me, that playwriting, which consists of telling a story through the spoken word, was  a natural progression. However - it's always the 'howevers' in life that get you - there are times when one questions the quest (still more words when said repeatedly that have a pleasant sound) for recognition by theatres...producers...directors...or anybody, actually.

"So what has you bummed, Eleanor?"

Nothing new or momentous (I wish!) to report. As shared in previous blogs, I actually submitted some of my plays to theatres that seemed like a good fit in addition to entering a competition. As is frequently the case, I'm in a waiting state of being. Waiting and patience is not one of my strong points.

Rant time. Can't understand or maybe don't want to understand why theatres or playwriting competition organizers don't advise playwrights when their plays are rejected. As a playwright, hope is frequently the only thing we have to cling to and waiting is tortuous. Okay - I exaggerate. It's definitely nerve-wracking. All it would take is for somebody to write up a few sentences to indicate a rejection:

"Dear Blah-blah,

Sorry but your play doesn't cut it. We may not even have read it given the amount of submissions we receive. Or perhaps it didn't have enough potential to attract investors. Then again, it needs more editing. Go know.

Good luck.

The person who has been designated to send rejections to playwrights

Now, I mean, that seems simple enough to me. Anything is better than nothing and waiting and hoping for some news. Right playwrights?

Still in the finishing stages and last few pages of "Neighbors", which in itself is a personal achievement but it's only the first draft. It will be put into storage for a period of time and then brought out again for changes or - heaven forbid - an indefinite storage never to see the light of day. No new updates on my "Old Soldiers" submission or the play reading series in which "Retribution" will be introduced to actors - and the world - for the first time. As I've said many times, we live in hope. In the end, that's all we have.

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15. Review – Fallout by Sadie Jones

9780701188511I am a massive Sadie Jones fan. The Outcast was a debut from a writer of the highest calibre that could easily stand up to comparisons to Ian McEwan. Small Wars only confirmed this but The Uninvited Guests didn’t connect with me. So there was a little trepidation before I started reading her new book. Completely unnecessary trepidation because not only was this the Sadie Jones I loved, this was Sadie Jones at her absolute best.

The novel is set in and around the world of London theatre in the early 1970s. Luke Kanowski is a young playwright destined for big things. Big things not possible until he meets Paul Driscoll and Leigh Radley. Their friendship allows Luke to put his turbulent past behind him and introduces him to the fringes of the London theatre scene. Together they look set to change the world.

Interspersed with Luke, Paul and Leigh’s story is Nina Jacobs. The daughter of a failed actress she is bullied into the same career. Her marriage to a producer supplements her mother’s cruelty. When her life intersects with Luke their affair threatens to consume everything and everyone.  And the world Luke is set to change threatens to shatter completely

This is a wonderfully constructed novel that unfolds like a play. Each character is so vividly drawn especially Luke whose internal and external emotional confusion ricochets around everybody he meets. It is an intense novel of friendship and a deeply passionate love story. But it is also deceptively volatile keeping you enthralled until the very last words on the page.

Sadie Jones is an author like no other. The Outcast reminded me a mot of Ian McEwan but she is well beyond that now. I may not have liked her last book but that means nothing. Great writers should always strive to be different and take their craft where they see fit and The Uninvited Guestsresonated with many other readers. Her new novel though is simply sublime and I am over the moon that she has reaffirmed, for me, her immense talent.

Buy the book here…

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16. 7 Things You Don't Know About Me

Many thanks to everyone who participated in this month's blog series at readergirlz! I had a lot of fun gathering candid and heartfelt responses from authors. Lorie Ann asked me to post my own list, so here goes nothing:

7 Things You Don't Know About Me

1) I've been writing stories and songs since birth, practically.

2) I am capable of charming squirrels out of trees.

3) There is no television show I have loved more completely from start to finish than Leverage.

4) I love word play.

5) Synchronicity and causality are recurring themes in my life.

6) Chances are, I'm shorter than you.

7) I project. In more ways than one.

So there you have it! I hope March has been lovely for all of you. Don't forget to mark your calendars for Operation Teen Book Drop 2014, which will be happening in just a few weeks on April 17th. Stay tuned to the readergirlz blog, Facebook, and Twitter to learn how you can participate and #rockthedrop!


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17. The anti resume

Okay. I admit it. I've been lazy and unmotivated lately. My playwriting effort has been limited for the most part, to short plays/sketches because they come easy to me and they are also easy to submit to various short play festivals.

While in submission mode and providing an accompanying description as to my background, the thought occurs to me as to whether I should label myself "playwright", having never had a play produced. Is a professionally produced play necessary to give a person who writes plays, "playwright"? Is the mere act of completing a play alright to call ourselves playwrights? Just some thoughts. But I digress.

My playwriting achievements as I've frequently shared here in this blog, are two two-act plays, which have been submitted to perhaps two dozen theatres, a one-act play submitted to six sources, in addition to numerous short-shorts i.e. 10-20 minute and under play-ettes submitted to numerous competitions. They - the plays - are all still waiting for the theatre world to discover them, as is the playwright.

All of this is leading to a very interesting blog passed on by the Playwright's Competition Calendar, a blog to which I'm subscribed, focusing on rejection. Written by Monica Byrne, a writer and playwright, she shares a blog focusing on what she calls, her "anti resume, resume." In it, she lists her rejections and breaks it down further in percentages.

In my case and if a similar exercise was pursued, there would also be a section for started-but-not-completed plays, completed plays languishing in cyber space due to fear of rejection or plays with themes that don't seem to fit theatre's niche.

Excuses thy name is Eleanor but I found Monica's anti-resume somehow comforting. Perhaps playwrights or aspiring playwrights will feel the same way: http://monicacatherine.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/my-anti-resume/

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18. Adapting Henry V

By Gus Gallagher


In the Autumn of 2011 I found myself at something of a loose end in the beautiful city of Tbilisi, Georgia, working with the Marjanishvili Theatre there on a production of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Unsure of what my next project might be, my attention turned to an old love, Shakespeare’s Henry V. Having long been intrigued by both the story and the title character, I set about reading the text afresh. For perhaps the first time, I realised I no longer sought to play the lead role myself, but found myself still driven to have the story told in a fresh, vibrant, immediate fashion.

Prior to setting out for Georgia, I’d been involved with a five-man production of Doctor Faustus during which I had been struck by how well the classical verse seemed to lend itself to the more intimate company structure. In previous years I had also been a member of a small-cast version of Macbeth, which had likewise seemed to benefit from the experiment. These earlier experiences must have been in my mind when I started thinking about how I might stage Henry V.

Henry V

Morgan Philpott in Creation Theatre’s production of Henry V

At first, I was curious to see if it might be possible to tell the story using only five actors, and was interested to see that it was. However, as I took another swing at it, I began to distil the idea further. It became apparent to me that in most key scenes there were three distinct ‘voices’. These, I thought later, might more often than not be termed the petitioner, the advocate, and the judge. The petitioner often seemed to pose ‘The Question’ at the top of the scene (such as The Archbishop of Canterbury in I.2), whilst the advocate rallies either for or against his or her cause (such as Exeter in the same scene). Finally, each key scene seemed to have a singular figure who would judge the outcome and lead the way onwards (Henry).

Obviously, it was not possible to achieve a wholesale three-man cut of the text without considerable and audacious changes to the original — mostly in the form of character amalgamations, slight re-ordering or outright edits — but I believe the integrity of the piece as a whole, and crucially the story, remain intact.

Having gladly agreed to an application of performance rights from Creation Theatre in Oxford, I then stood back completely from the process of production. What I was intrigued to find was how well the three-man format seemed to bring out the comedy of the piece. The pace, also, seemed more in tune with what I believe was Shakespeare’s intent. Of course, both these factors are entirely to the credit of the director, cast and creative team, but I was pleased to see them both used so effectively in a production in which I played a modest role.

Gus Gallagher trained at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After ten years as an actor, playing such roles as Romeo, Coriolanus, Mercutio, Macduff, and Dr. Faustus, he turned his attention to writing. The Creation Theatre adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry V is Gus’s first produced work. He is currently working on a piece about the life and times of King William IV, as well as a play about The Jarrow March of 1936. Oxford World’s Classics are sponsoring the production, which is on at Oxford Castle Unlocked until September 14.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog.

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Image credit: Morgan Philpott in Henry V. Image copyright Creation Theatre Company. Photography by Richard Budd. Do not reproduce without permission.

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19. Wende Museum launches BREAKING STALIN'S NOSE

On October 21st, The Wende Museum and Archives of the Cold War in Los Angeles launched my middle grade novel Breaking Stalin’s Nose. The program included an opening of the exhibition of drawings I made for the book and a staged reading.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose is a middle grade novel about a young man’s unveiling of truth in Stalinist Russia, while the Wende Museum is dedicated to history of Cold War-era Eastern Europe, and as such I couldn’t have hoped for a more appropriate context for the book’s launch. At the museum, an enormous collection of the Cold War artifacts is displayed in the upstairs rooms and housed in a gigantic ground level vault. Some of the museum’s artifacts including the Soviet Pioneers memorabilia and a porcelain bust of Stalin were displayed along with the drawings exhibition.


However, the highlight of the evening was a staged reading by a cast of remarkable actors. Elya Baskin, who played every evil Russian in every Hollywood blockbuster from Transformers to Austin Powers, read for Stalin in one chapter and for Stalin’s Nose in another. Brenda Wehle, a renowned stage actress who began her career at the famous Guthrie Theatre Company in Minneapolis and went on to play many memorable roles on and off-Brodway read for the schoolteacher Nina Petrovna, and in the last chapter, for a woman waiting to visit her son in the Lubyanka prison. Young Bryce Robinson read for the hero of the book Sasha Zaichik. Bryce began his career at age six, impressing the viewers with his performance in television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Monk, October Road, Dexter, and movies -- Marley & Me, Valentine’s Day, and The Switch. And lastly, Timur Bekbosunov, a Kazakh-American opera tenor known for his solo appearances with the LA Philarmonic, American Repertory Theater, Opera Boston as well as performances with his band the Dime Museum sang Stalinist songs mentioned in the book.

We read six chapters from the book. This is how we began.

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20. tomb of the unknown craftsman, the final days

Yesterday I went to see the Grayson Perry show at the British Museum. FINALLY!!! I've been trying to go to this show for months, and I've tried many times, but it's like there's been an invisible force field around it, and everytime I tried to go, something would conspire against me. Even this time, the tickets had sold out. I stood there looking dejected at the desk, knowing the show was only running for two more days, and if I didn't see it then, I probably wouldn't. The ticket man said, 'Well, you could get British Museum membership... members don't need tickets to enter...' So I did it. I paid £44 frickin' pounds of hard-earned money to see the Grayson Perry show, because I think he's worth it.



I have a huge admiration for Perry's work, I see him almost as a bit of a role model, even though I don't know much about him personally and we work in different fields. We have a similar love of the kind of heavy lines and quirky expressions and patterning details that you find in old woodcut prints and folk art paintings. And I like how the guy thinks, he rides around on a wildly kitted out pink motorcycle with his teddy bear in a little shrine in the back because, let's face it, pottery doesn't usually get a lot of attention. But Perry's does, and it stands up to the scrutiny, because he's a genuine craftsman who has put a lot of time and care into making his work so good. It's not just bare-bones conceptual stuff that can be thrown together without much skill, the guy really knows how to draw and just as much, he's spent a lot of time looking at and studying and making studies of older artwork.

Many pieces in the show were things he'd selected from the British Museum's collection, such as these carved pipes. I made a couple little sketches; the guy in the top centre, with the moustache, made me laugh. I love his expression, and why is he sitting on the other guy's bum?



Here's a snapshot of the originals. They come from a place not far from where I grew up.




Here's a huge tapestry showing lots of modern-day places of pilgrimage, everywhere from Jerusalem to Hollywood to Westfield shopping centre. One of the things I like about Perry's work is how he takes traditional techniques and lets them illustrate things in modern-day society. I had a huge revelation about this about ten years ago when I first saw Maithil paintings by women in Nepal, who took traditional, very flat styles to illustrate things like people riding on buses and bicycles. Their pictures, with their strange lack of perspective, looked so odd, but so beautiful. Illustrator David McKee (Mr Benn, Elmer the Elephant) plays around with stuff like this in children's picture books.



Something cool happened while I was in the exhibition. I started looking at this elderly lady, in her lovely red coat and fabulous glasses, and thought, gosh, I wish I could look like that when I'm old. She's beautiful. And then I read the wall caption over her shoulder and, gosh, she could have been paid to sit there as part of the exhibition. Gave me goosebumps!



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21. Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Middle school has tons of drama. Tons. So you can imagine what it's like being involved in a middle school play: there's constant drama on and off the stage! Filled with life, energy, and color, the brand-new graphic novel Drama by Raina Telgemeier is a must-have for anyone who works backstage or on stage, and should be immediately placed in the hands of middle school students, drama teachers, and comic book collectors alike. But you don't have to know the theatre to appreciate the story - pretty much anyone who's suffered the mortification and triumphs of middle school, first crushes, and group projects can relate!

Callie, the book's spunky protagonist, is thrilled when Mr. Madera announces the selection for the school's spring musical: Moon Over Mississippi, a musical Callie l-o-v-e-s. When the the student stage crew is assembled with their director/supervisor, duties are quickly divvied up: Callie volunteers to be in charge of set design, while her friend Liz becomes the costume designer. Loren's set to be the stage manager; Delfina signs up for makeup; Matt will hit the lights; Mirko's doing sound; Sanjay will help with carpentry.

And just like that, the next fourteen weeks fly by, packed with breakups, shakeups, schoolwork, and rehearsals. Before they know it, the curtain's rising on opening night. Soon afterwards, the drama continues at a school dance.

Laid out in the customary graphic novel fashion, with clear panels and gorgeous colors by Gurihiru, the book also pulls in the feel of a play, with an overture that sets the scene, then act breaks - even an entr'acte! - all leading to The End. For those of you who like to read the scene breakdown in the program before the house lights dim, here you go: In Act I, we meet Callie's initial crush and the stage crew. Act II introduces us to Jesse and Justin, twin brothers who quickly befriend Callie. During the auditions in Act III, Justin shines, and Jesse joins the stage crew. Rehearsals continue in Act IV, tech in Act V, performances in Act VI, and the school dance in Act VII. The final act wraps up the storylines and the school year.

Callie gets an A+ for being such an awesome lead character. She speaks her mind a lot of the time, but still gets tongue-tied (or thumb-tied, when texting or sending IMs) sometimes. She's loyal to her buddies and extremely devoted to the show. She really wants her set to pop - truly! With the show set in the time of the Civil War, she's determined to figure out a way to make functioning, confetti-spewing cannons. Subtle lessons about responsibility are taught within these pages, as some students bite off more than they can chew while others really pay attention to detail and do their research. For example, Callie and Liz watch films like Gone With the Wind to get ideas for their designs, and Callie has many a sleepless night over the creation of her cannons...and what's going on with her friends.

The cast is extremely diverse, not only in heritage and appearance but also in personality and personal style and interests. From the moment the twins are introduced, you can hear Justin's bubbly voice and Jesse's slightly quieter one. There's something about these brothers that makes you want to hug them. Energetic Justin practically jumps off the page, squeeing (yes, he has a speech bubble which says, "Squee!") and telling Callie, "You are officially my new favorite person." (He also approves of her name: "Callie! What a happy-sounding name, very sunshiny.") By contrast, Callie's best friend Liz is very calm, and Jesse, who becomes Callie's new crush, is somewhere in-between.

The crushes keep crushing; Callie's not the only one confused about who she likes, and who likes her. In a wonderful scene, one of the teens confides in another, revealing that a character is gay. Someone confides in someone else, and it's simply the truth, no shame, no heaviness to it. If only all books (and films, and TV shows) handled all characters' lives in such a way, to be aware of what could be called sensitive subject matter but not shying away from it, and letting it be simply the truth rather than A Big Deal (or a ratings gimmick), then more readers/viewers would see themselves in those characters and thus respond more strongly and positively to the stories being told.

All of the characters who are working on Moon Over Mississippi have found a sanctuary in their school's theatre. Whether they are working on props, practicing lines, setting up lights, looking through old costumes, or waiting in the wings, they are safe - and excited, and nervous, and anxious.

This book also includes not one but two memorable trips to bookstores. Look at the reactions Callie has on pages 128-130: absolutely priceless, and completely felt by ANYONE who has ever entered a building, a museum, a store, any place that's all about something they love more than anything.

When the last curtain dropped, and I found I had reached the end of the book, I wanted to re-read the entire thing right away. I would have, too, if I hadn't had to go on stage. This is a true story. Just ask Raina: She received photographic evidence of me reading this book backstage!

You might be thinking, "Oh, she loved this book just because she loves the theatre." No, I loved this book because it's awesome. I loved this book because Raina Telgemeier's artwork is wonderful, and because she's a masterful storyteller, both in words and pictures. I loved the characters, the colors, the details, the dialogue. I wish my middle school productions had been this cool, and I wish I had friends like Callie's, and a friend like Callie. I can only hope that my work as an actress and as a writer inspires others like Raina's has inspired her fellow artists and readers.

If you loved Telgemeier's previous graphic novels, including Smile and the illustrated versions of The Baby-Sitters Club, then you're going to love this book.

Drama is available in both softcover AND hardcover, published by Scholastic Graphix.

Related Posts and Outside Links

Read my interview with Raina Telgemeier.

Consult my Middle School Must-Haves Booklist.

Watch the Drama trailer on YouTube.

Virtually flip through the book.

Check out the #DRAMADAY contest!

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22. Drama

by Raina Telgemeier Scholastic 2012 Romance and friendships are tried and tested during the production of a middle grade play where everything is one giant emotional... drama. Callie is crushing on Greg, and after he breaks up with his girlfriend Bonnie it looks like she might get a chance at him, but after one sweet kiss it goes south when Bonnie and Greg reunite. Good thing there's the

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23. Joe McKenna has run into a problem and the playwright is angsting

I'm in angst - again.

In spite of a concerted effort to finish my "Old Soldiers" play in the hope of entering it in the BBC International Playwriting Radio Competition, I've encountered a new and unexpected problem. Content is fine.

"Now what, Eleanor?" Joe is asking me. "How much longer are you going to keep us waiting?"

I know, Joe! I know!

Today for whatever reason, I decided to check the rules in as far as the number of pages and characters allowed.

"All scripts submitted must be a minimum of 45 pages of A4 paper (or equivalent) and a maximum of 65 pages (note, a rough guide is a minute per page; please read and time your play before you send it). The play should have a maximum of six central characters (there may be up to 3 small "doubling" characters too, who don’t have more than a few lines each). Your script must be accompanied by a short synopsis which outlines the complete story of the play. This must be no more than 400 words."

The way that I view it, there could be and then again, maybe not, more than six main characters. It's all in one's definition of "main characters." Do main characters re-occur throughout the play? How does one define a "minor character?" There are give or take a character, nine characters in total. The play opens with the four old army buddies, who definitely are main characters. Then there are other lesser characters who come-and-go but contribute to the over-all plot of the play, that add up to more than the three doubling characters. Eliminating one or two in my mind, would ruin the flow of the play. Everyone has a part to play - excuse the pun.

I've reached the 45 page mark, which is in itself an accomplishment. Really in a quandry as to how to proceed. Maybe the best thing to do is to finish the play, submit it and put it in the hands of fate. Do I have a choice?

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24. Playwright makes some progress

It's becoming somewhat of an obsession but one in which Joe McKenna and his friends would most likely approve.

Added some more dialogue to "Old Soldiers" play today, although the ending is still up in the air. Wondering if it will ever have any solid substance.

"Really, Eleanor - we deserve better than this," Joe would comment upon my somewhat limited progress. "How much longer do we have to wait. It's been almost four years, now."

It's not for lack of trying. During sleepless nights, Joe and his friends plus the other characters pop in to say hello. Too bad that can't offer advice.

I'm fortunate to be a visual writer and see my words actually come to life and play out in the various scenes. Problems arise when I re-read the existing story line and the realization that something is awry. For example, my dilemma today was whether or not it's logical for a young character to be a great grandson and how old should he be? Then there is the issue of which war Joe and his friends were in.

This is followed by the dreaded 2-R's - Re-write and a Re-thinking - after which ennui sets in accompanied by self-doubt as to whether it will ever be finished. The problem is that I can't let it go for whatever reason. In writing my two other full plays that took approximately a year and-a-half to two years to complete, they seemed to write themselves. The two are so familiar to me that I can quote lines and passages from both.

One of my biggest concerns as expressed on numerous occasions that may be a contributing factor to the delay, is using the format for radio. The issue of having sufficient sound effects is always there. The dialogue is strong and if it was performed on stage would offer an interesting piece of theatre. However, my main objective is, as it always has been, to finish the play once and for all. And therein lays the problem.

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25. Poetry Friday: B by Sara Kay

She's gonna learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry, so the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn't coming, I'll make sure she knows she doesn't have to wear the cape all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I've tried.

- an excerpt of B by Sarah Kay

I am only posting a piece of the piece here because you simply have to see and hear the entire thing as it was intended to be seen and heard, as performed by the poet herself: Watch Sarah Kay's TED Talk on YouTube.

Visit Sarah Kay's official website.

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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