Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Collaboration and the Gift of Time

by Steve Stettler

The glorious and frightening thing about theatre is that it is a deeply collaborative art.  I remember my early experience as a director, fresh out of grad school.  After a few days of rehearsal, one brave cast member asked, "Are you ever going to get out of my way and let me do my work?"  It was liberating to learn how to encourage the unique contributions of all the artists involved, resulting in a far richer production than anything I could have accomplished on my own.
Collaboration is even trickier when one is developing new work, particularly musicals which may have a separate book writer, lyricist and composer who must collaborate long before a show moves into production.  The creators usually have day jobs, many have families, and they often live in different locations.  One of the greatest gifts they can receive is the time and a place to get away and work together with nothing and no one to distract them.

That's where Weston's annual Artists Retreat comes into the picture.  For six years now we've been bringing writers, composers, directors and actors to Vermont for a week of uninterrupted creativity, providing transportation, lodging, work space, meals, and an occasional reading; and all we ask is that they acknowledge Weston's role in the development of their piece.  Valuable to any artist, the retreat is especially meaningful to the teams that create musicals, and this spring's group are all involved in that noble endeavor.  One project involves a new collaborative team, one is a new show for an existing team, and one brings a writer/composer/performer together with a director to help shape his work.
Of course the ultimate collaboration in theatre is between artist and audience.  The culminating event of the retreat week is what we call an Artists Salon in which the retreat participants share experiences and material with our community in a rare and meaningful dialogue.  Please join us on May 4 to be a part of the collaborative process and to celebrate the gift of time that we've been able to give another exceptional and generous group of artists here in Weston.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ambassador Program Offers Local Students a Summer Full of Quality Theatre and Behind-the-Scenes Perks

WESTON, VT.  Applications are now being accepted for Weston Playhouse Theatre Company’s 2013 Student Ambassador program. As a part of Weston’s active effort to connect passionate young adults with high quality live theatre, the Student Ambassador program will give up to 15 selected students the opportunity to attend six of Weston's summer shows free of charge. The program will also give students an insider’s look at the way professional productions evolve, with backstage tours, first read-throughs, tech rehearsals, actor/director talkbacks, and more.
Ambassadors Angelica Carroll and
Matthew Eckler  at a  dress rehearsal.
Student Ambassadors will be provided with a ticket to all six of Weston’s  MainStage and OtherStages productions. They may bring a guest to any and all shows for just $10. These students will not only be given the privilege of attending performances and insider events, they will also serve as emissaries who can help illuminate the value of theatre in their communities (in other words: post things on facebook.)
Student Ambassadors and their guests will attend the first Sunday matinee of every show run. Shows include the Vermont premiere of the Pulitzer and Tony-winning Next to Normal; the dazzling, ever-popular 42nd Street; and the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Students will be selected based on their interest in theatre (acting, writing, directing, lighting -- any aspect) as illustrated through an application and brief essay, which is available on the Playhouse website. The application deadline is May 8, 2013. Selected students will be notified of their acceptance into the program by May 30.

If a student has a passion for theatre but isn’t able to participate in the Ambassador program, fear not. In an effort to remove the price barrier to younger audiences, the student ticket rate is lower than ever this year -- at just ½ the cost of any regular ticket.
The Student Ambassador program is made possible in part by a generous grant from the Mountain Room Foundation and the theatre’s ever-growing family of supporters.
For more information about this and other education programs offered by the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company contact Jacki Brown, Education Director, at 802.824.8167 ext. 104 or visit http://www.westonplayhouse.org/high_school.php.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Educating Rita - Show Notes


A Comedy by Willy Russell.


“University lecturer Frank needs to earn some extra money, so he agrees to tutor an Open University student.  His student Rita is a brash, earthy hairdresser with a recently discovered passion for higher education, much to the dismay of her husband Denny.  In her attempts to appreciate literature, Rita challenges the attitudes of a traditional university, teaching Frank to question his own understanding of his work and himself.”
“ . . . Educating Rita is a small, intimate play, but it tells a story of big ideas, ideas close to Willy Russell’s heart.  There is a lot of humor in the writing, but it is also a serious play, about class and choice.” 

The play, which explores the relationship between student and tutor, takes place in Northern England, presumably Liverpool, with two characters and one set: Frank’s office.  

Production History

Mark Kingston
The Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned Willy Russell to write this show, which premiered in June 1980 at the Warehouse, a concert venue and recording studio on London’s south bank, and starred Mark Kingston and Julie Waters. Three months later the show transferred to the West End’s Piccadilly Theatre where it ran for 30 months and won the Society of West End Theatres award for Best Comedy.  Since then the show has been widely produced in the U. S. and around the world. The script was updated in 2003 to better reflect contemporary society.

Michael Caine and Julie Walters
In 1983, Educating Rita was made into a film which won Michael Caine and Julie Walters Golden Globe awards for Best Actor and Best Actress. Russell also adapted the play into a radio version for the BBC in 2009.  

About the Playwright

Playwright Willy Russell
Willy Russell was born in Liverpool, leaving school at 15 to become a hairdresser before returning to education and becoming a teacher.  While training to become a teacher he wrote his first play, When the Reds, which premiered at the Edinburgh Festival.  His first professional work was an adaptation of Alan Plater’s Tigers are Coming O.K., which appeared in Liverpool in 1973. His next work, John Paul George Ringo … and Bert, moved from Liverpool to the West End and received the Evening Standard and London Theatre Critics Awards for Best Musical.  He is also well known for Blood Brothers, which played in London and on Broadway, and for screenplays for the movie versions of Shirley Valentine and Dancing Thru the Dark based on his plays Stags and Hens.  (Taken from www.castproductions.com/willyrussell.html)

Russell began writing songs in the early 1960s.  He wrote the book, lyrics and score for Blood Brothers and provided the scores for the feature films, Shirley Valentine, Dancin' Thru the Dark and Mr. Love as well as for the TV series Connie and the television play Terrace.  His first novel, The Wrong Boy, published in 2000, has been translated into 15 languages.

“The play [Educating Rita] was inspired by Willy’s own experiences at evening classes.  Much of the comedy arises from Rita’s fresh, unschooled reaction to the classics of English literature, but she is never patronized by Willy, who recognizes from his own experience that education is a means of escape from one’s own circumstances.”  

All of Russell’s plays examine the working class and include strong women. Educating Rita examines the shortcomings of institutional education, marriage, and the nature of self-development and unreturned love.  Warm and witty, it demonstrates that anything is possible. It borrows from the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, which was the basis for the musical hit My Fair Lady.  A more contemporary version of this story of transformation was the film Pretty Woman

Said Russell: “I wanted to make a play which engaged and was relevant to those who considered themselves uneducated, those whose daily language is not the language of the university or the theatre. I wanted to write a play which would attract, and be as valid for, the Ritas in the audience as the Franks.” 

Suggested Links

Spring Classes Offered in Weston for Kids & Adults Who Love to Sing & Dance

The Weston Playhouse Theatre Company is offering two classes this spring which are sure to chase away the winter blues. On a series of five Tuesdays, from April 23 to May 21, students in grades 4-8 are invited to participate in “Broadway Bound”; and adults are encouraged to sign up for “Community Cabaret.” Both classes will be held in the theatre’s rehearsal space on Main Street in Weston and taught by Broadway performer and Weston favorite Susan Haefner.
Broadway Bound is designed for kids who love to perform. Time will be allocated to singing, dancing and acting – as all three skills are necessary if one is to journey from Vermont to the Great White Way.  Learning songs and dances from popular Broadway musicals, students will develop confidence, learn how to project, and get a taste of what it’s like to be a future Broadway star! Tuesdays from 4:00 – 5:30. $85.
Community Cabaret is designed for adults with a dose of post-winter cabin fever and at least a smidge of talent. Susan, who has directed cabarets for the Weston Playhouse, will lead class participants as they choose material, learn songs, develop skits, dig up props… and basically just have a lot of laughs. If the class so chooses, a sixth session can be added and friends can be invited to a performance not to be missed! Tuesdays from 7:00 – 8:45. $125.
Susan Haefner
About the Instructor: Susan Haefner has been a Weston Playhouse company member for over 20 years (BAD DATES, THE KING AND I, HAIRSPRAY.) She is a Broadway actress (BILLY ELLIOT, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, 42nd STREET.) As a teacher, Susan has taught at numerous Performing Arts Schools such as Studio New Canaan, and Shuffles Tap School. Susan holds a BFA degree in Musical Theatre (SUNY Fredonia) and an MFA in Acting (FSU). She is a member of Actors Equity Association.
Classes start April 23. Registration is requested by April 10. Class size is limited, so sign up today! Contact Education Director Jacki Brown: 802-297-7364 or jbrown@westonplayhouse.org.