It came to me one night after a post-show hurrah during Durang/Durang.
The plan had been to do Shakespeare this fall – The Comedy of Errors at Raleigh Little Theatre’s amphitheater. Shakespeare and amphitheater go together like brie and bacon, and I was getting pretty fired up about the show. However, there was a problem.
The trouble was threefold:
- Hopscotch is at the beginning of September and SPARKcon is mid-September.
- Actor’s Comedy Lab is doing The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at RLT at the end of September, and there is not enough parking for two shows.
- It’s cold at night in October.
So September was not possible and RLT was only available during October. No sweat, right? Find another venue. We’ve made a firm commitment to performing in Raleigh from now on – it’s where most of us live, and there is a relatively large theatre crowd here.
The only problem is that finding performance space in Raleigh is one of the most difficult challenges I face as a managing director, especially after the closure of Raleigh Ensemble Players.
Being a vagabond theatre company is a lot of fun, but also at times like this a royal pain in the arse.
Theatres in Raleigh in the fall are busy with their own seasons, and most don’t really want to squeeze another show in when they’re trying to rehearse and get ready for their next opening. Trying to book consecutive weeks in Raleigh and Durham makes it even trickier.
So it was time to do something different. I had already been wrestling with the idea of using non-theatre spaces, and the next best thing I could come up with was art galleries. Sure, they don’t have raked floors or lighting plots, but they understand the challenges of finding spaces and getting work seen.
I figured if we weren’t going to go big with a grand amphitheater show, we should do exactly the opposite. It was time to think of an intimate, funky show that wouldn’t need a lot of space, but that would make an impact.
That’s what occurred to me that Saturday night after Durang. Then I realized we shouldn’t do Shakespeare this fall. There’s at least four other productions of Shakespeare plays going on in the Triangle, anyway.
I thought about a show I had seen 17 years ago, one that I still remember because it made such an impact. It was an original adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s “The Leader,” an absurdist comedy about people excitedly (and blindly) following a mysterious leader figure.
“The Leader” is only about 10 pages long, but the production I saw had sliced up the script and inserted several original sketches and movement pieces, making a full length play.
Immediately I knew we needed to do this piece in the fall – right in time for the 2012 election.
Expanding the play will be a challenge, and it’s not what we normally do, but I think it will be a great experience. I’ve already got some ideas for clown pieces and vignettes that we can try out. We’ll spend the next few weeks playing theater games and work-shopping, and the ensemble will devise the show together.
I went to two of the fine ladies at ground zero of SPARKcon – the two Sarahs at Visual Art Exchange – and they turned out to be as wonderfully supportive as I thought they’d be. We have ourselves a show.
The Leader goes up October 25-28 at Common Ground Theatre in Durham and November 3-11 at Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh.
See you then,
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!