LET THEM BE HEARD has actually been in development for almost a year now. It is an original adaptation of the Slave Narrative Project, interviews recorded during the Great Depression with the last surviving men and women who had lived as slaves before the Civil War.
The stories presented in this piece all come from North Carolina, mostly in the Raleigh area and Piedmont. Local actors will perform monologues crafted from the interviews at Historic Stagville, in an actual slave cabin and barn that date back to the mid-1800’s.
Bare Theatre is proud to collaborate with the amazing people at Stagville. The production will cap off their Juneteenth Festival, commemorating the date the last enslaved people were freed.
There will be much more to come. For now, we are looking for African-American actors to play the men and women of North Carolina’s plantations. Anyone interested should check out the auditions page on our website, or our Facebook auditions page.
With one week of rehearsal for DURANG/DURANG under our collective belt, we’re feeling good. We always manage to find great people, and Olivia has assembled a lethally funny crew for this show. There’s a lot of unique personalities, but with six short plays and 32 characters we need unique personalities.
When I tell people we’re doing DURANG/DURANG, the main question I get is, “What?” So I’d like to take this opportunity to break it down a little.
DURANG/DURANG is a collection of short one-act comedies written by Christopher Durang that was first produced in New York in 1994. The plays were not originally written together – in fact, “Wanda’s Visit” originated as a teleplay for PBS back in 1986. “Mrs. Sorken” and “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” had also been produced earlier in New York in one-act festivals.
Mrs. Sorken, the title character from the first play, lays the show out in her opening monologue. The first half is “Theatre,” and the second half is “Everything Else.” She then goes on to give a spontaneous lecture about drama after realizing she has forgotten her notes. Mrs. Sorken is one of those people that gives you the impression they like going to theatre, but don’t necessarily like it.
We included “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” in ONE NIGHT OF ABSOLUTE DISMAY back in February (check out photos on our Facebook page), and had so much fun doing it that it was a major reason why we decided to do the entire DURANG program. While it is a twisted tale of American dysfunction that is funny in its own right, it’s a spot on parody of Tennessee Williams’ THE GLASS MENAGERIE.
I gave MENAGERIE a re-read back in January when we were rehearsing for DISMAY. I have to say it not only helped me catch some of the more detailed jokes Durang included, but it reminded me why that play is such a classic. It truly is beautiful and sad, and Williams has some really interesting stage directions that I did not remember from reading in high school (film projections for a play that was written during WWII?).
So, if you’re looking for a quick read of great American literature, give MENAGERIE a go (or re-read) and then come laugh at “Belle.”
While Durang makes fun of MENAGERIE’s Laura (Lawrence in “Belle”), you can tell he loves Williams’ script. The same cannot be said for A LIE OF THE MIND, Sam Shepard’s saga of abuse and Americana that premiered in 1985. Durang turns this into “A Stye of the Eye,” and proceeds to skewer what he perceives as some pretty pretentious theatre.
A LIE OF THE MIND’s original cast included Harvey Keitel and Amanda Plummer, and featured music composed and played by North Carolina’s very own Red Clay Ramblers. It received critical acclaim, but according to Durang it ran 4 hours and he couldn’t understand why it got the praise it did.
With “A Stye of the Eye” Durang blasts away at heavy-handed symbolism and theatre that really wants to be “real.” While the parody mostly focuses on A LIE OF THE MIND, he works in references to AGNES OF GOD and GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. If you haven’t read or seen A LIE OF THE MIND, feel free to pick up a copy (you’ll likely have to order it because our local book stores and libraries don’t seem to carry it). This may help you get the more specific references to the Shepard play, but reading this one is not required to enjoy “Stye!” Just come prepared to see some craziness and laugh.
If you’re feeling especially in the mood for reading, you may want to go ahead and check out John Pielmeier’s AGNES OF GOD and David Mamet’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. If you’d rather watch the movie versions, they are both critically acclaimed and have great casts:
That concludes this portion of the Bare Theatre Book/AV Club.
The second half of DURANG/DURANG is pure fun. “Nina in the Morning” is an Edward Gorey-esque portrait of a woman who has everything, and all the neuroses that go with that. Nina reminds me of the Norma Desmond character in SUNSET BOULEVARD, played by Gloria Swanson in the Billy Wilder movie. Her looks are fading and her children are pathetic (similar theme to “Southern Belle”?), and this short is hilariously twisted.
“Wanda’s Visit” is a favorite of mine. It is a classic “dinner guest from hell” story and Wanda is a force of nature. The PBS teleplay Durang wrote it for was for a show called “Trying Times.” It featured works from various authors that centered around “difficult, trying events,” and the original version was just called “The Visit.” It was directed by Alan Arkin and featured Swoosie Kurtz, Jeff Daniels, and Julie Hagerty. Mr. Durang himself played the waiter.
The evening ends with “Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room,” a humorous take on the business end of art. The central character – a playwright named “Chris” – is being pushed by his agent and a Hollywood mogul to write a script for a movie he has no interest in working on. The on-stage depiction of what this script becomes is truly not to be missed, and is an excellent closer for the evening.
We are really excited about this show. It’s not one for people who offend easily, but if you have an open mind and like to laugh at absurdity, we think you’ll enjoy it.
More info on Bare Theatre’s DURANG/DURANG: http://baretheatre.org/upcoming.html
In the early days of Bare Theatre, we would just do shows out of the blue. Carmen would start asking people, “Hey, you want to do MACBETH?” and people would just say yes and it would happen. It would be crazy and hard work and a total blast and we would do it.
We’re sort of making a return to that now. With the close of ONE NIGHT OF ABSOLUTE DISMAY, our seventh season had been a short one since we were not able to do Rogue Company last summer. The next show on the docket was LET THEM BE HEARD (which I promise to write about soon because people are already emailing me about it) – which isn’t until June. We were going to have some time off.
I use the term “time off” loosely. It’s only time off for the actors and crew. Heather and I have been hard at work laying out our vision for the company and for the next five years, and working on our 501(c)(3) application so that we can begin a real development campaign (that is tax-deductible!). I’ve also been working on cutting LET THEM BE HEARD to a manageable length (and it is close!).
However, it just seemed like we had a really rollicking season, even if it was short, and we wanted to keep the party going. Not only that, but since DISMAY was a Durham-only show, and LET THEM BE HEARD and the TBA Rogue Company show will only be in Durham, this meant that we would not be back in Raleigh (where most of us live) until the Fall.
We decided to damn the torpedoes and do a show in Raleigh.
It wasn’t hard to talk Olivia into directing – in fact she was talking us into it! She was thinking about GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. I suggested Christopher Durang’s humbly-titled DURANG/DURANG because, well, we already know “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” (which is like a quarter of the evening) and, well…it’s hilarious.
Now I’m really stoked. I know that the next few months are going to be insane. I know my house is going to get a bit neglected during this period. I know there’s way to much to do…but we’re doing “Wanda’s Visit!”
So please, go ahead and put May 10 – 20 on your calendars. Make your phones beep at you before the shows start. I’m being really serious about this, because if you come you are in for one heck of a good time. The dysfunction in these six plays is just bombastic.
We are going to need to laugh before June. The stories from the real former slaves behind LET THEM BE HEARD are just heartbreaking. The very first one I ever read had me in tears. The pain they were subjected to is something that no one in America today really knows. That said, it’s not all sadness. Some of the tales told by Tempie Herndon – who was 101 years old when she was interviewed – are just beautiful.
I believe it will be a powerful experience and one that you will not forget. Please put June 9 on your calendar, because we will only be presenting four performances of LET THEM BE HEARD that day – inside a slave cabin and barn on Historic Stagville’s plantation site – and there will only be limited availability.
INFO FOR LET THEM BE HEARD AUDITIONS WILL BE POSTED IN APRIL.
There will be much more to come as we develop these projects. Thank you for those who commented on our last post – we value that feedback and we are considering those suggestions!
I want to take one last opportunity to thank everyone involved with ONE NIGHT OF ABSOLUTE DISMAY, from the playwrights to the actors to the crew (especially our wonderful Stage Manager Michelle!) to our audiences. Thank you for helping us make DISMAY our biggest one-act show yet! This annual series has steadily been growing over the last three years, and we appreciate your help in making that trend continue! This has been a short but fantastic season.
Now, we look forward to the next season…
Being that this is a blog, and blogs allow more direct communication with our community and audience, I want to hear from you. Actors, audience members – I’m going to keep this post short in order to hear what YOU think!
Ideas on the table so far:
- Let Them Be Heard (June) – an original adaptation of the Works Progress Administration’s Slave Narrative Project. This is a collection of monologues taken directly from the recorded narratives of former slaves of North Carolina. The script is being finalized, and this project is tentatively scheduled to go up in June – more details to come.
- Bare Theatre’s Rogue Company (July)– for those unfamiliar, Rogue Company is Bare Theatre’s annual free conservatory for Triangle students between the ages of 14 – 22. These shows are usually physically intense and bloody. Past shows have included: Titus Andronicus, The Crucible, King Lear, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Julius Caesar, and Henry V. We are looking for a new Rogue Company director, and we are open to suggestions as to what this next show should be.
- Fall Show (October-ish) – Bare Theatre usually presents a show in or around October. Heather is cooking up a production of her favorite Shakespeare play, As You Like It – that will be done with live original bluegrass music. This was slated for the Fall slot; however, we are pushing this production back to 2013, which leaves this opening for something equally wonderful.Possible ideas include an October/Halloween show (since we are one of the few companies in the area who don’t do a Christmas show!). This could be a night of Grand Guignol theatre of the macabre, a murder play such as Rope, or some other such horrible or bloody presentation. Maybe a ghost story?I plan on directing a Richard Wilbur translation of a Moliere comedy at some point (probably either The Misanthrope or Tartuffe, although The Bungleris another strong possibility) – this could be an option for the fall show as well.I’m also looking forward to creating an entirely original clown show in the future – field research will soon be under way…More on that, later!
So now I open up the floor.
To All Those Who Love Drama, what would you like to do/see at Bare?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
It’s a Sunday matinee of “Dismay.”
I am onstage in “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls” giving a long monologue at the end of the play (which is also the end of the show). The show has gone well, despite it being a matinee (Sunday matinees can be a little weird). The monologue goes while, and now I exit.
I get to the exit door, which goes directly into the dark lobby, and it does not open. It is somehow locked.
At this point I don’t know how it happened and I don’t care. I just need to get off the stage so my fellow actors can finish the play and the audience can go home. I quickly decide to aim for the middle exit, which only mildly means I will have to walk through an imaginary wall and traipse through the living room set.
What the audience doesn’t know and only I do know, is that the middle exit is filled with set pieces from the preceding shows. There is only about eight inches of space behind the black back wall that is not occupied.
Silently, I occupy that space.
As I hover in the darkness, I pray inwardly that my behind is not sticking out past the wall, because that would just be embarrassing. I do not hear anything that sounds like unintentional laughter, so I figure I am safe, and I just hang on until curtain call.
The thought occurs to me that my scene partner, who has already exited through that locked lobby door, needs to return for our curtain call. I send out telepathic messages from my perch behind the wall…
“PJ…check the door…”
The lights go dark and the audience begins to clap. I emerge and join the two actors who are already onstage for our curtain call.
PJ does not show up. It’s locked from both sides.
I’ve been producing live theatre for twelve years now, and I’ve gotten to the point where it takes a pretty big setback to rile me. I wrote about some of the more dramatic disasters in “Art Never Killed Anyone, But It Almost Did…” so I won’t rehash here. But needless to say, stuff that would have pushed me over the cliff even just two years ago doesn’t really get to me these days. Things always go wrong on every show, so I’ve come to accept that.
The other night I made the mistake of telling Olivia, our director, that I wasn’t “worried about the show.” I say this was a mistake because her answer was roughly this:
“I hate it when people say they’re not worried about the show. I’m worried about the show, and I feel like they’re just not as invested if they say they’re not worried about the show. You should be worried.”
I guess what I said was coming more from my role and experience as producer, feeling that things were moving along pretty well and that I wasn’t stressing. I wasn’t really speaking from how I felt about my role – which was of course what she was concerned with.
I will be honest and say my role has me feeling less than confident.
It’s not a big role – Tom is more or less the “straight man” (irony acknowledged) and Durang admits in his notes that Tom is the least developed character in the play. It’s not a long play either. So I come onstage and leave a few times, say a few things and have one big monologue. Easy right?
Yes. Easy. It should be. And to my colleagues who have bigger roles it is, or at least seems to be…because they are good actors! However, I do not consider myself an actor. I’m not being self-deprecating or trying to be humble here, I’m just making a statement. After high school I did not even attempt to act for 13 years. I’ve only been in four shows since that, and they were all clown roles.
Clowning I feel good about. Clowning is not acting, it’s different. Acting kind of makes me feel like an idiot.
I say that because clowns are supposed to be idiots. Non-clowns are supposed to be realistic, or at least believable. When I act, I am trying to be believable, and for me that is not easy. I think of myself as a very genuine person in real life, but when I act I tend to either overact or just come across as myself. It is hard for me personally to just “naturally” be someone else. I am usually thinking way too hard about some insignificant thing I think I should be doing and completely ignoring something else that is totally undermining my character.
Case in point: last night Olivia pointed out that all three of us in the Wingvalley family were now holding our arms weirdly. She pointed out that this does not happen in real life, but for some reason, when we were the Wingvalleys, we had all taken on an affectation that somewhat resembles T-Rex arms. I don’t know who started it, it doesn’t matter. I’m not here to point fingers. We were all playing off each other and somehow this crept into our collective psyche.
What matters – as Olivia correctly pointed out – is that it’s weird.
Non-actors may find this all ridiculous, and they would be correct. It is ridiculous. And yet, actors reading this will know exactly what I am referring to because everyone does this kind of stuff onstage, at least until you are told you’re doing it and then you work like hell to break yourself of the habit.
So holding my arms weirdly is just one of my problems. I am also terrible with lines. I am also not very good at remembering blocking that has changed. And I either overact or don’t act enough.
Last night I had what actors will all recognize as “a rough night.” I couldn’t get into the role, I was entering early, jumping other people’s lines, flubbing my lines, and forgetting to pick up my damn newspaper, which I have been forgetting consistently for the past two weeks. It’s painful to have those rehearsals because you just feel like a jackass and like you’re letting everyone down. It’s painful, and you start to get worried.
I think what Olivia was basically telling me was, “There’s always something that can be better, so keep pushing yourself.”
Or at least that’s how I’m going to take it.
I have to go work on my lines…
It’s funny how the themes of our one-act shows seem to establish themselves. Boys and Girls was about, well…boys and girls. Granted, it was a show for adults and all of the plays featured adult actors, but all three plays tied back in some way to childhood, or childhood memories.
One Night of Absolute Dismay turned out the same way:
We start off at 1 A.M. as a lawyer is being woken up by a series of ever more disturbing phone calls. His night gets worse as the people begging him for legal advice get more and more entangled in each other’s crimes. One night of absolute dismay.
Then we are introduced to a nice Christian couple. Only she is losing her faith. He is grasping at ways to maintain their wholesome family ideal, and so he brings home a weird homeless guy. To spend the night. See where this is going?
Finally, we have a nice southern family dinner in which a feminine caller is the guest of honor. There are high hopes she will some day marry the reclusive hypochondriac son who spends all his time playing with glass cocktail stirrers and take him off everyone’s hands. Needless to say, this evening doesn’t turn out as planned.
Peppered throughout our little evening of dismay and despair is Hot Greek Porn. Need I say more?
Once we had a theme, we needed a poster (because every show has a poster, of course). Someone blurted out “Awkward family photos!” and of course, we all went “Ohhh, yeah!”
Here’s that poster again:
Many of us have enjoyed the horrifying weirdness that is www.awkwardfamilyphotos.com. It is a celebration of ourselves in our most vulnerable, least attractive, and downright embarrassing moments. Usually with one or twelve of our most bizarre relatives.
Capitalizing on the various “families” in each of these works, we opted for staged awkward family photos as a poster theme, and let me tell you something. It is damn near impossible to stage a truly awkward family photo.
We can stage awkward – don’t get me wrong – but setting up a fake photo is just hard. It’s a fact. It’s hard to make it look natural, which is what makes AFP so beautiful. It may be ugly, but it’s honest.
So we would like to hear from you, Reader. What’s your favorite Awkward Family Photo? Do you have one of yourself? Does anyone in your family have one? Or, do you have a favorite from the AFP website?
I’m asking you, our readers and audience to post your favorite Awkward Family Photo on our Facebook page. Heck, you can post more than one if you want. Just make it awkward.