There is already a certain electricity I can feel out at the Stephenson Amphitheatre at Raleigh Little Theatre. The place has atmosphere, and as more than one cast member has already remarked, it feels like a place in which someone should do Shakespeare. The stonework walls and benches, the raked wooden stage floor that feels like an old ship run aground…it feels like a set even with no actual set pieces in it.
The open air is inviting. Now that North Carolina Spring is (finally!) in effect, the warm air and cool breeze makes for perfect weather. There is a serenity to the place, and a strong sense of time. The amphitheatre has, after all, been there for over seven decades.
Raleigh Little Theatre is the granddaddy of this collaborative effort. As one of the oldest community theatres in the nation, they have a ton of history. Formed during the Great Depression, they’ve seen ups and downs – but they have lasted through good and bad and continued to entertain and educate the Raleigh community for a long time.
A long lifespan by no means indicates that RLT has grown tired. I have to say that this organization, especially with the new leadership of Executive Director Charles Phaneuf, is doing a great job of producing theatre that attracts and engages its audiences.
By contrast, with only eight full seasons under our belt, Bare Theatre is relatively new. We don’t have anywhere near the resources of RLT. We don’t even usually use scenery, much less have a scene shop. Heck, we don’t even have a theater. RLT has three!
However, the fact that we don’t have much if any overhead allows us some flexibility and agility. We can sometimes take some risks. As much as that can sometimes drive me bonkers, it also provides some freedom for us to dream.
Cirque de Vol is the newest entity in our little trifecta, and they’ve generated a lot of interest in their first year of operation. The high ceilings of the colorful and welcoming studios downtown have become a sort of home base to a community of circus performers in the Triangle. Not only does the physical space in the Hue building provide these talented artists with a space to congregate and practice, but they are now instructing a new generation of children and adults in trapeze, aerial silks, acrobatics, lyra, hooping, and yoga (just to name a few).
Sara Phoenix and her sister, Sheryl Howell, have created a strong atmosphere of positivity – it washes over you when you walk through the door. Sara’s sunny can-do attitude is so reassuring when we talk about things that make me somewhat nervous – aerial silk rigs, trapeze hanging from towers, and flamethrowers shooting fireballs off of said towers.
I’d also like to mention Greg Whitt of Drum for Change, who has agreed to head up our percussion ensemble that will accompany the madness. Sound has always been important to me in theatre (that’s how I got started with Bare), and drums provide energy and pulse to help keep driving the action.
So here we are. And we now have a complete cast! After auditioning via Skype from London, Brian Fisher will now be playing the part of Antipholus of Syracuse, and we are glad to have him.
The pace quickens. The show gets louder.
It has been over a year and half since I have directed or acted. The birth of my lovely baby girl took me off the stage for a little bit and I was glad to have the opportunity to delve back in slowly with this year’s Winter Acts.
I was also a little nervous. Becoming a mom changed the whole world for me — it became a lot more colorful, but also a lot scarier. I had no idea how this would come through in my art.
What I have come to realize over the past couple weeks of rehearsal is that experience only makes us better. It does not matter what kind of experience — as we layer on personal perspective, as our knowledge base grows, we only benefit from understanding a bit more about this beautiful, wonderful world and why it goes round.
And so I came to be the Director of Fun House with a whole new appreciation for everything around me and was thrilled with the challenge I found myself in.
The cast and I started the process figuring out what was going on. The world of this play did not have clear rules and so we set out to define them. What were the parameters for the science experiement that Larue and Atlas found themselves a part of? We picked out all the facts from the sciprt and built the experiment from there. We also had to make a few of our own choice about these characters. Where were they going before they found themselves in the fun house? What were the promises that were broken?
As we continued on this journey, we all came to realize that it was not the setting that we needed to focus on, but the relationships of these three characters. The interactions were defining the place, the Fun House, for us. Once the severity of responsibility to others was added, the play became much scarier and the motivation to figure out what was going on became more intense.
Mary, Jeff, and Loren have discovered incredibly rich characters with so much history to each of them. All of that experience, that knowledge base, is brought to this 15 minute window of their lives to tell a thrilling, moving story.
And for me personally, that brought it back to my new role as Mommy. My new base of understanding has absolutely created fear and uncertainty of the things that I cannot control, but I have never been more grateful for the experience of a new perspective than that of being mom to my stunning daughter.
-Heather J. Strickland, Bare Theatre Artistic Director
I was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. I went to Durham Academy in elementary school, and later moved and went to public school. I went to Bulls games as a kid, loved seeing movies at the Carolina Theatre, and I graduated from Northern High School. I thought I knew pretty much everything there is to know about Durham.
Two years ago I was shocked to learn that Durham has a plantation.
Not only does Durham have a plantation, but it was one of the largest plantations in the South. At its peak, Stagville had over 900 slaves living and working on site, and it stretched out for miles over most of the area that is now known as Treyburn.
I found out about Stagville because my father became a volunteer at the state historic site two years ago. When he told me about it, I couldn’t believe it. He told me about the structures that were still standing, and about the significance Stagville had in the 1800’s.
He gave me a tour of the place and I was amazed. Not only does the owner’s house remain (it was built in the late 1700’s, pre-Revolution, but there is a family cemetery plot, slave quarters, and a huge handmade barn. This is a remarkable piece of history that I had no idea existed.
I was surprised and troubled by that.
Here is this incredible cultural resource that can give us insight into what life was like before and during the Civil War, and no one knows about it. Every Durham native or long-time resident I have talked to about Stagville had the same reaction – no one knew the place existed.
What concerns me is that much of the land that used to be part of the plantation is now divided among many different owners. There are many cabins and buildings that would have supported such a huge slave population, and these structures are literally disintegrating. Without care and upkeep, these artifacts are being reclaimed by nature. They are collapsing and rotting.
I wanted to increase awareness. If the public knows about Stagville and recognizes its historical significance, we can generate more support and funding to preserve its history.
The obvious choice for me was to create a piece of theatre. With a live event, we could bring a new audience to Stagville.
I didn’t want to do a story on the slaveowners, however. While the Bennehans and Camerons who owned the place no doubt have interesting stories, I was more interested in the overwhelming majority of people who lived there – the enslaved community.
My father gave me the idea to create a piece based on the Slave Narrative Project, a collection of thousands of interviews the WPA conducted in the 1930’s with men and women who were old enough to remember what life was like under slavery. I began reading the interviews, and I realized this was a story about slavery and its aftermath that I had never seen or heard before.
Many of the stories are absolutely heartbreaking in their descriptions of cruelty and disregard for humanity. Some of the stories are touching in the optimism maintained by individuals who faced bleak circumstances. The Slave Narratives also raise interesting questions about race and the role of government in our lives.
Next Saturday (4/28/12) we hold auditions for this piece, LET THEM BE HEARD. We are looking for African-American actors who will tell these stories as monologues to be presented in the buildings of Stagville on a lantern-lit evening in June.
AUDITION INFO IS HERE: http://bit.ly/BeHeardAuditions
Please email me (email@example.com) if you or anyone you know is interested, and I will get you more information.
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!
We’ve gotten into a little tradition of winter one-acts in the last few years. Actually, with this being the third year, I think it will officially become tradition.
In the past, we’ve done lots of Shakespeare. We’ve even done seasons where we did nothing BUT Shakespeare. Don’t get me wrong – we love Shakespeare. But it’s not all we do. We’ve also done Pinter, Stoppard, Miller…great writers. However, the one-acts show came about because we wanted to do more than just modern playwrights’ works.
We wanted to do some stuff that no one had ever seen. At least, no one around here had ever seen.
I think Heather originally put the idea out there. I used to work with a company in Greensboro, American Distractions, that did nothing but original works. They were often short plays rolled into an evening with a theme of some sort: monologues about giving something up, a collection of plays that all took place in various storage units at a storage facility.
These were always popular shows over there. I personally think it can be really exciting as an audience member to walk into a theater and really have no idea what you are about to see. There’s an anything-can-happen sort of vibe that can be a very interesting energy to work with.
Bare Theatre’s first venture into the world of original one-acts was in 2010, with an innocently-titled show called Boys and Girls. The three plays that made up that program were so dark and disturbing, I remember looking around at the actors after our very first read-through and seeing the same look on everyone’s face. It was a horrified and yet excited expression that somehow asked “Are we really going to do this?”
In three short plays, Boys and Girls covered death, loss, grief, stalking, murder, abuse, drug use, rape…and then we let the audience decide whether to kill the main character in the last play (Carmen’s “Ask Him in the Morning”). Every other night, the audience passed judgement and decided he should die, in which case his scene partner shot him in the head with a pistol, leaving him face-down in his own blood. No curtain call. Sometimes the audience would clap, sometimes they would just get up and walk out in silence. All good reactions as far as we were concerned.
Last year’s collection was decidedly lighter, so we called it Oh Sh!t, It’s Another Evening of One-Act Plays. While there were some dark twists in the evening, most of the show was comedic.
This year, we are presenting another blend of twisted, hilarious and sad. It could only be called One Night of Absolute Dismay.
With this trajectory, I just want to call next year’s show Aaaggghhhhhhrrhrhhr!!!!!
Our main goal in choosing plays is that we want the directors and artists involved to really be passionate about what they are doing. We have found that trying to plug a season and hire directors to do plays they didn’t choose (and hence haven’t been thinking about) just doesn’t quite bring enough excitement to the project. This show is a lab of sorts, and we want to let the artists try some new stuff, push some boundaries, and go for it.
So, this time around we have three original works by playwrights who have more or less of a connection to the area, and a parody from a well-known author:
“Hot Greek Porn,” by Lucius Robinson and Rajeev Rajendran, is being created for this show and will be presented in installments throughout the evening. Drawing from material ranging from the pornographic films of Kostas Gousgouni to the dark agenda of the instigators of the European debt crisis, no one will be spared.
“Everything Seems So Plausible At 1 A.M.,” by Ben Ferber and Donnie McEwan, is a fast-paced short that, well, you really just need to see. Larry the Lawyer is awakened in the middle of the night by Bob the Banker, Sam the Surgeon, and Emily the Ex-Wife – all of whom need immediate legal advice and protection from a killer, who happens to be one of them.
“Letter From The Editor,” by Mora Harris, is a sometimes humorous, sometimes dark look into faith and belief. An affluent Christian married couple finds their faith in God and each other tested when the husband brings a homeless man into their house.
“For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls,” by Christopher Durang, is a demented twist on a famous play from his collection, Durang Durang. In this parody of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, fading southern belle Amanda desperately tries to prepare her hyper-sensitive, hypochondriacal son Lawrence for “the feminine caller,” who turns out to be a hard-of-hearing dinner guest invited by Amanda’s ambiguously gay son, Tom.
Rehearsals have been a blast so far. More details to come…