Posted on: January 31st, 2012 by Marken Greenwood No Comments
Free wine. Awesome club. Good cause.
Need I say more?!
Come party with the young, fun, & philanthropic of NYC-Thursday, February 9th.
Opening Act currently puts free after-school drama programs into ten New York City high schools. It was founded in 2000 out of a clear need for more empowering experiences in the city’s under-served public schools.
Opening Act’s founders were actors and educators who believed they could offer students opportunities to build self-esteem, develop leadership skills, and take pride in their accomplishments through the medium they loved the most: the theater.
Remember how awesome high school drama was? Come on, I know you do. I had about a tenth of the challenges facing the kids in these over-crowded, under-funded urban schools. Yet, I still remember the theatre at my high school as my safe place. There, I found my friends, my voice, and the strength to face the world with a smile.
Posted on: January 25th, 2012 by Marken Greenwood 2 Comments
I never understood the idea of alienating an audience. I thought, “Isn’t the point of theatre to experience something thoroughly, emotions and all?” That is what always drew me to the stage. I love catharsis as an audience member, and I love experiencing a life different from my own as a character. How can one experience a true life if they leave emotions out of the picture? That was how I looked at alienation: the absence of feeling. One of the most revered playwrights of the twentieth century, Bertolt Brecht built his whole philosophy of the stage on this concept. Alienate the audience so that they will understand. So that they will see the whole picture, unclouded by emotion. But, without emotion how can we see the whole picture?
These thoughts (with less big words) ran through my head as I watched the first few scenes of “Wit” playing on Broadway at the . This space is the home of Manhattan Theatre Club, a prolific New York production company that brings intellectual, word-driven plays to a subscriber-based audience.
“Wit” is the story of a brilliant Poetry professor diagnosed with terminal cancer. Two things make this production of “Wit” special: it stars Cynthia Nixon (best known as Miranda from “Sex and the City”) and it’s the first time the revered 10-year-old play has been on Broadway.
So, back to that whole alienation thing.
Taking a cue from Dr. Vivian Bearing, the star of show, I will look the word up for educational purposes:
To make unfriendly, hostile, or indifferent
especially where attachment formerly existed.
Who wants to feel unfriendly, hostile, or indifferent? I mean, really? Cynthia Nixon’s Vivian embodies all of these characteristics. She’s about as cuddly as a cactus and as warm as a block of ice. Despite having too much experience with her illness and seeing her standing there bald, eyebrow-less, and sweating, I found it very difficult to feel for her. I felt, in a word, alienated.
Now obviously, it is a very tricky thing, keeping an audience from feeling very bad for you when you are suffering through cancer and chemo (which is worse, is a real toss-up). Nixon has her work cut out for her. Every time we start to feel real affection for her or really sorry for her, she makes sure to snap that in the bud. She’ll harden into a brittle spinster, she’ll scream like a maniac, she’ll make you feel like an idiot for buying into the Hallmark moment.Until the bitter end, she’ll embody the first part of that definition, alternating between unfriendliness, hostility, and indifference.
As for the second part, we didn’t have any attachment to Dr. Vivian Bearing before walking into the theatre. So is the alienation incomplete? I don’t think so. In fact, we all walked in attached to our various ideas of what a cancer patient is like, what they should be like. We’ve watched our loved ones battle this insidious disease, and we’ve come up with an encyclopedia of the cancer experience in our heads. I feel like one thing that our society does at this point is to disassociate the person experiencing the cancer with their “former self”. They become not Debbie, not a scuba-diving instructor, but a cancer patient. As they loose their hair, the punctuation marks on their face, as they grow fatter from the steroids or thinner from the chemo, their individuality blurs into a _________.
Dr. Vivien Bearing will not fade away. She will not let us think that she is just another cancer patient. She will laughingly depict the farcical quality of the dreary life in the cancer ward so we get the full picture. She will ply us with her knowledge of 17th century poetry and make sure we understand her unique perspective on everything so we see the stark contrast of who she is to what she is experiencing. And most of all she will NOT let us feel bad for her. Because if we feel bad for her, we’ve categorized her. We’ve simplified her.
I never understood the theatre construct of alienation until I arrived in the final moments of Wit. For two hours I had been interested in the action playing out before me, but I had been profoundly uncomfortable.I think most of the time, my face must have looked like I had bitten into a lemon. Then those last moments came, when the whole puzzle of a play had been unraveled and it’s meaning was striking and so simple.
It hit me like a truck, all the staved-off emotion.
Posted on: January 15th, 2012 by Marken Greenwood No Comments
I returned to the city after Christmas heartsore. Literally, I think I have some sort of ulcer gnawing away at my insides from missing home so much. I never thought I would grow into a female version of Woody Allen, but it looks like a distinct possibility.
Upon arriving at my freezing apartment, the only thing that kept me from crying wee wee all the way home was knowing that my friend Brendan had gotten me a Christmas present: tickets to a showthe weekend after I returned.Not any show, but the impossible-to-get-tickets-to-because-it’s-totally-sold-out-and-in-an-off-Broadway-theater “Once”.
I have to admit, the first time I saw the movie “Once”, I was not distinctly moved.There are a few good reasons for this. Firstly, the two people who starred in the movie and wrote the unearthly songs are not trained actors.Many of the scenes in the movie fell flat and failed to achieve any sort of dramatic arc. Maybe I’m too actor-y, but this is the stuff I look for!I’m pretty sure the book wasn’t as strong in the movie either. The musical’s a lot funnier than the movie which in turn makes the gloomy parts sadder. Enda Walsh, the Irish playwright who’s rewritten “Once” for the stage, has crafted a smartly sweet script that the explores what it means to not only be human (which every good script should do anyway), but a human artist (so much harder).
Ultimately, this is the story of guy meets girl, girl brings guy back to life, and maybe guy does the same for her.The only way this show will work is if the two leads, the Guy and the Girl, are dynamite talents with charisma coming out of every pore of their beings.Not only do these two performers need to be a impressive actors and commercially soulful singers, they also have to be magnetically attractive and play an instrument.Luckily, the people behind Once got pretty darn close.
The Girl, played by Cristin Milioti, is simply luminous.Her eyes, big pools of curiosity, sympathy, and silent suffering are impossible to ignore whenever she is on stage.For you actors out there, Milioti is a master class in moment-to-moment. Every move she makes, every word that comes out of her diminutive mouth is filled with such clear intention it makes you alternatively ache and rejoice.
The Guy, played by a too-beautiful-to-be-real Steve Kazee(a distinct change from the rather rough-looking movie Guy), is a little more toned down. Honestly, I’m glad he is. His character is not the active one in this tale. Instead, he’s someone who’s allowing himself to be pushed along by the current of life, having long since given up on steering his vessel. (As a certain song will tell you about 4 times…). Kazee played this hurt, lost man with delicacy, never pushing. The only moments when he stole the stage from the Girl were when he let out Glen Hansard’s wounded animal roar at the height of his songs, when the walls have come down between his insecurity and his painfully brilliant genius.
I think the biggest difference between this show and the movie may have been a very personal change in me.When I saw the movie, I was somewhere between the end of high school and my first couple years in the Musical Theatre department at the University of Michigan. I believed in my talent, which meant I believed in myself. I had no reason to connect to this almost-broken-down man, and I couldn’t see the incredible value of this little woman walking into his life and nurturing in his genius. A good way into my second year out of college, believe me, I can see the value.
A month ago, I presented a reading of a show I had written about my first year in New York. It was the scariest thing I have ever done, the first notes sung in front of a group of my peers somewhat akin to jumping out of an airplane.After that night, I thought there was nothing I couldn’t do. It felt like I had finally stepped into my own version of New York, like it had really become what it wanted to be. Of course, now I have to face the real production, and I’m scared all over again.Somewhere in the last couple years, the girl who rolled her eyes at the movie “Once” learned to fear failure. As, the Guy says to the Girl, staring out over their city
Learning what it is to fear is the worst of all lessons.
“Once” does what I want all theatre to do. It told me a wonderful story that left me feeling changed. I feel inspired to stop protecting the stuff inside of me and let it out for the world to hear, even if it’s just for my own catharsis. As the song says,
Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice. You’ve made it known.
To get a different vantage point of “Once” check out the previous Watch Yo Mouth!? blog Brushing the Dust Off of the Everyday by Quinn, which covers the original movie. Though our initial opinions differ, it just goes to show how differently drama and music affect those who partake in its journey.
Posted on: November 18th, 2011 by Marken Greenwood No Comments
Who says God is dead?
With Book of Mormon and Godspell on the Great White Way and Jesus Christ Superstar looming on the horizon, Broadway’s Big Wigs certainly seem to have heaven on their minds. Pretty soon we’re gonna have a Holy Trinity on our hands. Oh, I could keep going…
A couple weeks ago, I sat in some free seats at a preview of Godspell. I thoroughly enjoyed the production, but a nice review is always so boring. I had to think of a hook. So, I mulled. And then I came up with a brilliant plan. I’ll compare Godspell and Book of Mormon with each other just for the hell…er…heck of it.
My friend who assisted on Godspell affectionately nicknamed the show “Theater Games The Musical”. It really does come across as a college production with the addition of some extraordinary voices and some well-developed comedic bits. Don’t pay full price for a ticket, or you’re bound to feel jipped – it’s really low in the budget category adding to that hokey college feel.However, I wasn’t disappointed. On the contrary, I had a blast.
The troupe had the youthful exuberance of a freshman improv team with the skill and slickness of young Broadway. Add to that the director’s obvious leanings toward the Leqoc school of clowning with cleverly thought out physical comedy and offbeat characterizations and you’ve got something extremely watchable. I couldn’t believe that they managed to wring so much quirk, character, and comedy from such dry source material as the Psalms. (If you didn’t know – all of the lyrics from the show are taken almost verbatim from this section of the Bible.)
Book of Mormon
And then there’s Mormon, literally on the next block. Beyond the religious subject matter, it couldn’t be farther from Godspell. From the splashy Broadway set and costumes that practically scream money (or mix it, if you want to be healthy about it) to the discernible plot, it’s definitely got a few advantages over Godspell. Check out Elder Price the song “I Believe” below:
I saw the show when it was brand new. At the time, I was grateful to have SRO seats so I could stagger backwards and pitch to and fro with laughter – my appreciation of humor can get very dangerous. The lead, Andrew Rannels, carries the show if you can believe that. You’d think no one would need to carry a show penned by such comedic greats as the South Park creators, but Rannels is so strong and his part so pivotal that he stands out in my mind above all others. In Godspell, the ensemble carries the show while the leading man, Hunter Parrish, looks really pretty and sings like the lead singer of a Christian band (could this be a choice as it is slightly appropriate?).
In the end, you need to see Book of Mormon because it’s so damn good. If you’re looking for show #2, check out Godspell – it’s a lot of fun.
GODSPELL vs. BOOK OF MORMON
Round vs. Proscenium
Small cast vs. Large cast
Poly-ethnic vs. Bi-ethnic
Respectful vs. Blasphemous
Clowning ala Jacques Leqoc vs. Clownish ala Eric Cartman