Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Review of Prisoner of Zenda

Rage - When you venture out to watch a full-length show put on by a stage combat troupe group self-named “Rage Theatrics,” you’re almost required to wonder if the production is going to focus on fighting to the detriment of story and acting. Well, maybe you aren’t, but I did. And I was pleasantly surprised.

The stage combat in Rage’s production of The Prisoner of Zenda does indeed take a backseat to the acting and story. As one would expect from the area’s premier and most-experienced group of stage combatants, the fights are fluid, mostly-organic moments of heightened interest that—if anything—are over too soon. Though relegated almost entirely to the second act, these are scenes worth waiting for.

And if the second act is about the payoff (the fights), then the first is about the build-up (the acting and the story). First and foremost, Rage founding member and Zenda star Jason Tipsword (yes that is his real name) does a fine job of separating and characterizing the twin roles of “Rassendyll” and “Rudolf,” two never-met cousins that get mistaken for one another. Nearly ever-present during the show, Tipsword carries the play through many of its slower scenes. Brittney Swenson, playing the main love interest “Flavia,” does an admirable job in her role—looking and acting every bit the part of a confused princess in costumes expertly designed by the second female lead, Nika Niehaus. Niehaus, too, performs commendably on stage amidst the likes of Tipsword, Swenson, and the visually and audibly redoubtable Nate Kula, himself inhabiting the role of the disreputable (if not overtly villainous) “Black Michael,” Rudolf’s brother and chief rival.

Rounding out the notable cast are Adam Turner and Robert Minder, who skillfully assist the plot as “Fritz” and “Sapt”; Rage Board Members Brad Carey and Aaron Hayworth, who humorously bumble and trundle their way through a handful of fight scenes as the henchmen “Bersonin” and Detchard”; and Derek Schmeling—deftly performing as various characters, alternatively outstanding or forgettable, depending on what the particular scene demands.

Of special note for Zenda is the actor K. Michael Moore. Moore, featured as “Rupert of Hentzau,” is the true villain of the play, and there can be little doubt of this fact from the moment he first takes the stage in an early scene with Nate Kula’s Black Michael. This reviewer has always been impressed when an actor is able to project an unmistakable visual mask of scum and villainy, and Moore is the face of evil throughout this performance of Zenda. I look forward to (hopefully) seeing him in other future local productions.

Whereas the pacing throughout the play (with the notable exception of the aforementioned fight scenes) could have been drastically sped up, the scene changes, blocking, and story are collectively engaging enough to allow most theatergoers the opportunity to forgive the show’s 150+ minute runtime. The experienced director Josh Sazon knows how to properly utilize a space, and the sound incorporation of Peter Birk is expert, as always.

So if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill this weekend and you’re in the mood to see a decent play with a little bit of action, a little bit of intrigue, and a lot of great characters, costumes, and removable facial hair, I recommend you swing by North Hall’s Space/Place Theatre for one of the final three performances of Rage Theatrics’ production of The Prisoner of Zenda.

--Andrew R. Juhl

Andrew R. Juhl is an area author and director. He has previously worked with the City Circle Acting Company of Coralville and Rage Theatrics.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Old Creamery Auditions

Old Creamery - The Old Creamery Theatre Company announces its annual audition for the upcoming 2009 Season on Saturday, January 31, 2009 at the Englert Theatre, Iowa City, Iowa, at 9 am for youth and 1 pm for adults. Auditions are open to everyone in the age range from 8 to 70+. It is not necessary to be a member of Actor¹s Equity Association to audition or perform, but members are welcome.

The highlight of the 2009 Season will be a co-production with the Englert Theatre of The Wizard of Oz, July 16 through July 19, 2009. The Wizard of Oz will combine the best of the region¹s talent with professional performers to create a special experience for the audience. In particular, The Old Creamery is hoping to discover a Dorothy to become part of the professional theatre company.

Other 2009 scheduled productions include The Odd Couple; I'm All Ears: Songs from Disney; Don't Hug Me; Shady Business; Trifles; The Totally True Completely Fictional Story of the Mother of Jesse James; and The Queen of Bingo.

Those auditioning are asked to prepare a pair of contrasting monologues, and if they sing, two short selections from contrasting songs. Also they should bring a picture and resume, if they have one. An accompanist or CD player will be provided.

If you have any questions about these auditions, please call 319-622-6034 or email.

Dinner Theatre in Amana

Old Creamery - ­The Old Creamery Theatre Company and the Ox Yoke Inn are joining together during February to feature an entertaining and delicious evening of dinner theater. Love Letters by A.R. Gurney opens Feb. 6 in Amana at the Ox Yoke Inn and runs through Feb. 21.

This bittersweet love story traces the lifelong correspondence between Andrew and Melissa. Their relationship is gradually revealed through what they have written in their letters, as well as what they have left unsaid.

David R. Kilpatrick, producing artistic director at The Old Creamery, said "Love Letters is something to be experienced. Through this story, everyone in our audience will experience the transition from infatuation to complete dedication along with the joy and sorrow that carries."

Featuring stars of the Old Creamery Theatre, Love Letters will be performed on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 6 & 7; Feb. 13 & 14; and Feb. 20 and 21. Dinner will be at 5:30 p.m. and the show at 7 p.m. There will be one special matinee performance on Saturday, Feb. 14 with lunch at 12:30 and the show at 2 p.m. Cost is $40 per person. Show only tickets are available for $25 per person.

The price includes a choice of a hearty Ox Yoke Inn entrée, beverage, dessert, gratuity and tax. The Ox Yoke Inn is located 2 blocks east of the intersection of Highway 151 and 22oth Trail in Amana.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Riverside's 2009 Shakespeare shows chosen

Riverside - Riverside Theatre is proud to announce the 2009 Riverside Theatre Shakespeare Festival. This summer’s 10th annual festival will feature Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Richard III. Both shows will run in rotation from June 12 through July 12. Tickets will be on sale in April.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Ron Clark, is one of Shakespeare's most magical comedies. This show is a magical romp through an enchanted forest as a quartet of mismatched lovers and a gang of hapless actors cross paths with the king and queen of the fairies. This is the second time Riverside has produced this show at part of their Shakespeare festival. A Daily Iowan reporter described the 2003 production like this:

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a play full of magic, and in Riverside's production, it also contains poodle skirts, nifty frocks, and other flashy clothing.

Attire from the '50s aside, the play tells the story of love on varying levels, complete with an ass-head and a bottle of special love juice in a world in which pink Mohawked punk-fairies (the immortals) mingle with Joan Clever-esque characters (the mortals).

(full article)

It will be interesting to see what Riverside does this time with the Shakespearean play that is most easily adapted to a director's vision. That 2003 production was paired with Macbeth, one of Shakespeare's darker plays. This time we get Richard III, an equally dark history play that has the title character waging his own private war as he murders, manipulates, and marries his way to the throne. Kristin Horton directs this story of a self-proclaimed villain battling to obtain and retain the crown.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Richard III will be performed at the Festival Stage in Lower City Park. The space, which seats over 400 people, is based on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre of 1600. Based on a concept by theatre designer Paul Sannerud, the space was designed by Neumann-Monson Architects.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Go Ice Fishing tonight!

Riverside - It’s back and colder than ever! Guys on Ice: An Ice Fishing Musical Comedy returns to Riverside Theatre, tonight through February 22. This delightful story about two ice fishing buddies from Wisconsin, with book and lyrics by Fred Alley and music by James Kaplan, is directed by Riverside Theatre Artistic Director Jody Hovland.

Set in an ice shanty in Northern Wisconsin, Lloyd and Marvin keep warm with a mutual appreciation for good bait, cold beer and the Green Bay Packers. As Marvin anxiously awaits his opportunity to appear on a cable TV fishing show, both pals scramble to protect their cold ones from fellow angler, Ernie the Moocher. They pass the time by swapping jokes and talking about their lives – and sometimes breaking into song and dance.

John Watkins and Ron Clark, playing Lloyd and Marvin respectively, were last seen together at Riverside Theatre during Clark’s Coffee and Hope. Their musical talents fit well with the upbeat musical numbers in Guys on Ice like “Ode to a Snowmobile Suit” and “Fish is de Miracle Food”. Kris Hartsgrove rounds out the cast as pain-in-the-neck Ernie the Moocher.

According to Jody Hovland, “Guys on Ice is just pure joy to direct. Ice fishermen singing and dancing? That’s great silly fun. But it’s also a play with real heart, finding plenty of truth in the simplicity of spending a day doing nothing but waiting for the fish to bite.”

Guys on Ice also features scenic design by Tony Zabka, lighting design by Brandin VerSteegh and Steven Hunt, and choreography by Erika Christiansen. Ernie the Moocher’s popular “Half-Time Show” will features audience quiz prizes from Fin and Feather.

In conjunction with Guys on Ice, Riverside Theatre is encouraging community members to bring in a new set of gloves/mittens, a hat or scarf (youth or adult sizes) to the box office. All donations will benefit Shelter House. As a thank you, all donors will be entered into a drawing for the chance to win a pair of tickets to a future Gilbert Street production. Donations will be accepted through February 22.

Tickets for Guys on Ice, January 23 – February 22, are $26 with discounts available for seniors and youth. Tickets are available by phone at (319) 338-7672, online here or in person at the Riverside Theatre box office, located at 213 N. Gilbert St., Iowa City, IA.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Backstage with Zenda

Rage - For the past two years, Rage Theatrics has presented a show that uniquely fits their niche of "action theatre." Love and Rage presented a number of short plays around the theme of love and last year's Hero Stories focused on, well, heroic stories. This year, they're doing something a little different. Rage will present The Prisoner of Zenda, a swashbuckling comedic epic. We recently had a chance to discuss the show with Jason Tipsword, one of the founders of Rage, and two actors in the show, Kevin Moore and Brittney Swensen.

Jason, The Prisoner of Zenda, a full length show, is a departure from the last two years when you did a number of short shows in one evening. Why the change for this year?

Jason: Rage Theatrics has always wanted to present full length shows as part of our program. The showcase style shows we’ve done during the last couple of years have allowed us to get more people involved in our projects. We have a lot of fun with those kind of shows as well, and I’m sure you’ll see more of them from us. With Zenda, we are branching out in order to include evening length stories.

Do you plan to do more full length shows in 2009? Or will it remain a once per year project?

Jason: When Rage incorporated in 2006, we decided not to try and get too big, too fast. Our touring company, the Shattock Schoole of Defence, has now been around for 10 years and dominates our summer. We do demonstrations year round, and practice as often as possible. Presenting theater of a physical/action-centered nature is a challenge since many of our actors come to us with little or no stage combat experience. Starting slow allows us to "grow" a stage combat community in the Iowa City area. Our involvement with the Society of American Fight Directors continues to develop, and we hope to be able to offer more in the way of instruction in this particular kind of acting and theater soon. As the community grows, so do our opportunities to present exciting action theater experiences.

Kevin, you play Rupert of Hentzau. Can you tell me a little bit about that character and how he fits into the plot?

Kevin: Rupert is, quite simply, a scoundrel. He is a villain’s villain – without remorse or any sense of fair play. In a story like Zenda, that makes him a great bad guy. He’s also charming...well, maybe smarmy... cunning and skilled with a sword. Rupert is the right-hand man to King Rudolph’s brother, Duke Michael, and they scheme together to take over the kingdom, trying to trick and bedevil Jason’s characters any way they can imagine.

What challenges did you have in portraying Rupert?

One major challenge to playing Rupert has been to slip into the persona of someone so clearly without conscience – it’s exciting and a little bit frightening to try to explore the darker portions of a truly wicked soul. Beyond that, with all the amazing stage combat talent in this show, I have spent a great deal of time learning and re-learning how to make amazing swordplay look easy. Jason is a marvelous choreographer, and so many members of the cast have been very helpful in making sure the show looks brilliant. I have been having a blast.

Now Kevin, if I'm not mistaken, you just finished a run in Dreamwell's production of Pillowman, a very dark show. What was it like moving on to this very different kind of show?

Kevin: Well, it has been a switch. The Pillowman is a brilliant play, and I loved doing it. But you’re right; it is very dark, even in its more humorous moments. Playing Rupert in The Prisoner of Zenda has been very different. First of all, and at the most basic level, fewer lines to memorize. The lighter tone of Zenda makes for a refreshing change, even though I play one of the more evil elements of the play. The tone of the script is much more adventure oriented, with even dangerous combats having a sort of "devil-may-care' feel. It’s more lively and fun, even when the characters’ lives might be at stake. The cast has been wonderful, and Josh’s direction is always easy and clever.

Jason, you play the lead characters: Rassendyll and Rudolf. Talk a little bit about the challenges of the dual role. How did you differentiate them?

Jason: Voice, posture and movement skills have been incredibly useful to me in this process, and have left me wishing I had more training in these areas. The central difficulty is in switching back and forth between the two of them. Act One is a challenge since I switch almost every scene. Never have I been more keenly aware that it is much easier to stay in character than to get into character.

Jason, I am guessing you did much, if not all of the fight choreography. Talk a little bit about the challenges in that for this particular show.

Jason: Fight choreography is much easier when you can see what’s happening. When I have to fight in the scene as well it can be harder to get the whole scene in my head. Most of the fighters in Zenda are actors who have done Rage shows in the past, and that helps. It goes back to building a community of stage combatants from which to cast. This particular show would be a far greater challenge without the skills and experience of these actors.

Last year's Three Musketeers battle was one of the most involved combat scenes I've ever seen on stage. Do we have something to compare to that this time around?

Kevin: I was not a part of last year’s show, and I will defer to Jason for details of the combat sequences, except to say that the variety that will be witnessed is outstanding.

Jason: Act Two is pretty much one fight scene after another. The combat in the show is a blend of grit and old-Hollywood swashbuckling, building to the final conflict at Zenda, where loyalties are tested and scores settled.

Brittney, tell us a little bit about your character, Flavia, and how she fits into the story.

Brittney: Flavia is the Princess who is intended to marry the crowned Prince of Ruritania, Rudolph. He, however, is a cruel, rude, and childish (and usually drunken) man who shows a complete disinterest in her. This is quite a dilemma for Flavia as she reluctantly peruses him as it is her duty to her family and country. When the King’s temporary replacement is introduced, Flavia is unaware of the swap. Upon meeting Rasendyll she falls in love with the drastic change in character that she encounters in the man she believes she is intended to marry. As a character, she is a very intelligent and poised person who knows her place well and has the awareness and confidence to exist in the full rang of her privileges.

What challenges did you have in portraying her?

Brittney: Flavia was a surprisingly challenging character for me to play for several reasons, the first being that I typically win roles that call for either some sort of mental instability/affliction or an excessively quirky personality... or at the very least some sort of silly accent. Flavia is the closest I have ever come to playing a normal, possibly ideal, person whose dimension exists subtly within an obedient and proper demeanor. The other main challenge is that Flavia is the only main character who is oblivious to the impersonator’s identity. In the early weeks, I found myself ignoring other scenes in order to maintain the same ignorance to the conspiracy that Flavia has. However, after I developed a sturdy a base of anti-awareness to the plot, I dove into the script to focus on interactions with other characters.

Brittney, tell us a little bit about you and your background in theater.

Brittney:I’ve been involved in theatre since I was very young. I started out in my county’s summer theatre program as soon as I could read. My most memorable part there was Peter Pan, and yes, I know that’s a male role… that’s why it’s memorable. I also did a production of State Fair with the Audubon County Country Player’s when I was in high school as well as other shows. My favorite of these was Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. My most significant theatre experiences came in the summer of 2006, which I spent in England with seven other American actresses and actors. I went there with a program called E.I.L. and toured all over England performing and participating in workshops. While I was there I played Kate Monster in Avenue Q, Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Bananas in House of Blue Leaves as well as many others. This is my first production in Iowa City as well as my first year out of high school. I hope to be involved in many other shows in Iowa City and work my way up in the world of theatre!

What's the humor like in the show? Are we talking witticisms, pratfalls, situational humor, all of the above?

Kevin: There’s a good variety of humor in the show. Anyone who enjoys the thrill of mistaken identity plays will enjoy exchanges between Rassendyll and nearly everyone as he tries to present himself as King Rudolph. More than one exchange carries on the joke of identity switch in clever ways. A few of the combat sequences border on slapstick for the physical humor fan. For me the funniest parts of the show involve the characters of Bersonin & Detchard, Michael’s villainous henchmen – but I am biased, as I play a villain too…

Brittney: The humor in this show is innocent in that magical way where the parents and the children will both be laughing at the same joke but for different reasons.

Jason: As Rasendyll, I continually find himself in awkward situations stemming from the fact that I’m pretending to be someone I’m not. While the "masterminds" behind this situation have tried their best to prepare me for my masquerade, they haven’t remembered to tell me everything. Occasionally, I’m left to fend for myself with mixed results. The funniest part of the shows for me comes when, in addition to pretending to be the king, I’m also confronted with the Princess who turns out to be a little more than I expected.

The press release tells me there's romance in the show - can you talk a little bit about that? Does that drive the action or is more of a subplot?

Brittney: It is a subplot for every character except mine. I am the love interest and unaware that the true plot even exists. My character is almost entirely invested in the sub plot of romance.

Kevin: Yes, the romance between Flavia & Rassendyll could be described as a sub-plot, I suppose, but it’s really a central part of both characters’ choices throughout the play. One of the ultimate conflict for these characters is their devotion to duty and honor and that devotion as it conflicts with their growing love. As a "bad guy", I should mention that Michael’s relationship with Antoinette is a great sub-plot, as these two very worldly characters grapple with their feelings for each other and their needs, both political and personal.

Jason: I think romance is both a sub-plot, and a complication to the central plot. Everything is going fine until Rasendyll must fool someone he’d really like to get to know better.

The press release also refers to dancing. What sort of dancing can we expect to see in this show?

Brittney: There’s a lovely ballroom scene with some waltzing and such. We had a great time learning how to waltz and the gowns are excellent! I’ve really never waltzed, and I don’t think that Jason had either.

Jason: I attempt to waltz. Thankfully there are other people in the show who can in fact dance.

Brittney: But the lessons helped, and Nika’s etiquette classes about procedures and social rules at the time improved things.

Kevin: The Victorian era was pretty strict about how proper folk danced. It was very controlled, courteous. Its glory comes largely in grandeur. There are a few moments in the show where convention is less strictly adhered to, and simple, sometimes silly, dance and song will be present. The grandeur of Victorian ballrooms is a great visual, and it contrasts nicely with those moments.

Josh Sazon is a well known director in Iowa City. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like working him?

Jason: Josh and I first worked together six or seven years ago on I Hate Hamlet at ICCT. Since then we’ve worked together here and there and he directed a scene from Cyrano for Love and Rage in 2007. When we selected Zenda as this year’s feature, Josh was at the top of our list to direct. It’s always great to work with a director who really has a passion for the genre.

Kevin: I worked with Josh on The Pillowman also, and found him amazing in both shows. He has a great vision, and a fantastic talent for letting an actor explore the character while also remaining true to the script. I am thrilled to work with him again. One of his greatest talents as a director is to ask poignant questions about why the actor is making a specific choice. He doesn’t tell you what to do, but asks you why you choose what you are choosing. The difference is stunning from an actor’s standpoint, because you work further and further into a character with each question he asks. He is very aware of each character, what they are saying and doing, and why. He’s clearly also aware of each actor in the same way.

Brittney: Oh, Josh is great. He’s really easy to work with because he is consistant and knows what he wants. He allows for your opinions on a character and also gives excellent direction. He is also just a great person to have in the Zenda family because of his demeanor and sense of humor. We all have so much fun at practices and yet manage to get so much done — that’s Josh.

Has the weather affected the rehearsal process?

Kevin: The weather has made us grumble a bit more. It has certainly been an adventurous rehearsal schedule. But it has been rare for someone to miss out on rehearsal due to weather. This, I think, hasn’t been a terrible issue, despite the winter we have had so far. I’m much more concerned with folks braving the weather to come see the show.

Brittney: The weather hasn’t affected our practices much at all. The show must go on.

Well, give us one great reason why we should venture out on a cold January night in Iowa to see some theatre.

Brittney: All of the women are in corsets! The costumes are gorgeous! The combat scenes are really cool! I’ll be blonde!

Wow, that's about five reasons!

Brittney: Seriously, we have a great cast who would all love to see you there! You’ll like it, I swear!

Jason: Rarely do you get to see this kind of story portrayed live on stage anymore. Swashbucklers are a challenge to produce, and this style of full-blooded, gritty melodrama is a challenge to act. Rage prides itself on doing theater that is accessible to a none theater-going audience, or to put it another way, we do theater for people who like movies. Swordplay, double-dealing, intrigue, romance, mistaken identity, revenge... all forty feet from your seat.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to tell us about the show.

For more information about Rage, go here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dreamwell announces 2009 season

Dreamwell - Dreamwell Theatre has a long history in Iowa City. It's known for producing lesser known works such as Kimberly Akimbo by David Lindsay-Abaire or controversial works such as Terrence McNally's Corpus Christi. Its venues have ranged from the Unitarian Universalist Society building to the upper level of Old Capitol Mall to Old Brick. They rarely have sell out crowds and there have even been a few times over the past decade when the actors outnumbered the audience. Yet still they persevere as new faces join their board and old friends depart. They have a few things in common. They are all volunteers. And they all love theatre.

In 2009, for the first time in history, Dreamwell will present a season of shows around a common theme. They describe as a season of "inciting theatre". The four shows they've chosen to incite us with are An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, The Drag by Mae West, Playboy of the Western World by J.M. Synge, and Master Harold and the Boys by Athol Fugard. I recently had a chance to sit down and discuss this new direction for the theatre with artistic directors Chuck Dufano and Rachael Lindhart and past president of the board Brian Tanner.

Could you explain what you mean by "inciting theatre"?

Rachael: I'd say that we wanted to select plays that have incited responses in some drastic way(s)--perhaps because audiences disagreed with and felt threatened by them, or perhaps because playwrights responded to audience reaction and criticism of their work. It seems to have gone both ways.

Chuck: Yes, these were all plays that at the time they premiered they were subject to controversy or were immediately shut down. What we think will be interesting is that when these plays are seen by people today they'll wonder, "What's the big deal?" It is in this way we're hoping to illustrate to audiences how theatre both reflects the views of the time and can be an instrument of change.

Why are all the shows going with that theme?

Rachael: We felt it would be possible to choose plays of great variety in this context and be in keeping with the mission of Dreamwell: to be a theatre of exploration and discovery. What plays have incited audiences of the past and will they do the same (or something different) in the present? Of course, we tried to choose plays that we felt would NOT now be hopelessly dated, or prove staid and boring in our own time. In other words, plays that are historically "inciting" but are still good plays with enduring themes. The plays chosen go from 1882 through 1982 and from Stockholm to rural Ireland to NYC in the Roaring '20s to Johannesburg with apartheid very much in effect. What a journey in time and space we feel that this will be!

Chuck: And I especially agree that these are still good plays with enduring themes. A play that merely presents controversial subject matter can become boring once the shock wears off. These playwrights each wove an excellent story that touches on the basics of comedy or drama; things that still make us laugh or evoke sorrow.

Dreamwell doesn't normally do a season theme--why the change?

Brian: When Chuck and Rachael first brought this idea to the board, I was excited about the idea from the start. I don't think it was doing a theme for the sake of doing a theme, but I think this is a topic of significance for theatre in general, and particulary for ours. Dreamwell has always striven to be cutting edge and not always playing it safe. I think it's good to take a look back at shows that have broken new ground before, to examine them and see if what made them controversial at the time would remain controversial today. When we've done that, we can look at modern plays from a different perspective. Will the shows that are shocking now, still be so in 10, 20, 50 years? Were they shocking for merely for the sake of being shocking or did they advance our culture? Will the ideas expressed still be relevant or will they be archaic? I'm really looking forward to the discussions that should come out of viewing these shows next season.

Rachael: I agree about looking forward to discussions that we hope will come out of doing these plays.

We all recognize An Enemy of the People is a classic - what is it about it that made you choose to include it?

Rachael: The "inciting theatre" theme is, I think, interpreted relatively broadly in our selections. An Enemy of the People was written by Ibsen in the wake of vitriolic criticism in the press of his play Ghosts. So the playwright was "incited" to write the play, so to speak. Of course, Ibsen wrote a number of play that were very controversial in their time: A Doll's House and Hedda Gabler being, of course, at the forefront of the list. Enemy is a great choice for our season from among Ibsen plays for another couple of reasons. One is because of the relevance that the theme of environmental crisis surely has in our present time when we are daily made aware of the potential (and real) damages of global warming. It is at the center of this play as well as the theme of the individual against the majority.

Mae West wrote plays? Seriously? How did you find that show?

Chuck: Actually, if Mae West hadn't been a playwright it is likely no one today would ever have heard of her. It was by performing her own work that she became noticed. I found this play after reviewing several plays with a homosexual theme. Homosexuality is frequently the subject of many plays today, but it is hardly as controversial as it once was. In fact, we originally considered doing The Boys in the Band but after reading more about it, we discovered it was actually a great success at its premiere in 1968 and had a good run. But in doing this research I found a number of references to earlier homosexual-themed plays that were not as well received which lead me to find The Drag.

Rachael: Mae West not only wrote plays, but she wrote plays that were the first to portray gay men at all seriously on the American stage. And she produced these plays herself and backed them to the hilt. Several of them were closed down immediately after opening and she paid lots of money to bail out the actors and get the shows going again. In other words, she was a real champion of controversial themes in the theatre. We couldn't ask for a better examplar for "inciting theatre."

Now Playboy of the Western World is referred to as a "poetic drama" on your website. How is it poetic?

Rachael: I'd have to say that it is poetic mostly because it's Irish--and comes from that long literary tradition of lilting speech that can't help being poetic. The reason that the play is included in this season is because, when it premiered in Dublin, it literally caused riots and had to be taken off. The Irish audience was incensed by Synge's portrayal (however poetic) of a rural Ireland of ignorant people where a young man was celebrated for killing his father. But the play eventually was revived and is a landmark in Irish theatre. Especially when you think of the events of individual plays, the work of a modern Irish playwright like Martin Mcdonagh, especially plays like The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West, were made possible today because of Synge's work. It is also a beautiful example of comedy as a tool of incitement!

Q: Last but not least, Master Harold is the most recent of the plays. Were you trying to get plays from different time periods?

Chuck: No, actually, it just turned out this way. But the significant point your question brings out is that inciting theatre still occurs in modern times. Remember, Master Harold and the Boys premiered in 1982, which is only 26 years ago. We can look at examples of other inciteful plays in even more recent years that have been performed locally. I remember when Dreamwell Theatre did Corpus Christi by Terrence McNally which premiered in 1998. When we did it in 2001 I heard that there were still parts of the United States where theaters received threats when performing this play... we didn't have any trouble. I also remember when followers of Fred Phelps came to Iowa City in 2003 to protest Riverside Theatre's production of The Laramie Project. Fortunately, the anti-protesters far outnumbered the protesters, but still, who would've ever thought you'd have to elbow through a crowd to get to the theatre?

Rachael: Chuck is right--we didn't deliberately plan to do plays from different time periods, especially because Dreamwell has done several recent controversial plays--such as Corpus Christi. However, Athol Fugardis a playwright who has incited a lot of controversy world-wide, but especially in South Africa. Under apartheid, his plays were banned there--especially Sizwe Bonsi Is Dead and The Blood Knot. I wanted to do Master Harold because it is, I feel, the most accessible of his plays; that is, a play which our audiences can most easily relate to. Most of us have never lived under apartheid, but we have been adolescent and lost our innocence about the world and about race relations in our own sphere. So this play seemed a natural choice for a season of "inciting" plays.

Talk a little bit more about the selection process you go through for a season. How many plays do you read? How do you choose them?

Chuck: I guess I don't think of it as much as a "process" as that it's just a couple of friends talking about theatre over breakfast on Saturday mornings. Rachael and I meet up once a week or so at a local restaurant and either she'll mention a play she knows, saw or heard about or I'll mention a play I know, saw or heard about. And from there we think "wouldn't this one or that one be great to check out!" I know this all sounds so academic, but one we get going only our waitress can distract us and even then it's only if the English muffins have been toasted twice for extra crispness. But in between our meetings we each read plays, both published and unpublished--and I can't tell you how many we've read (more than a few; less than a hundred). But we read plays and then get together to share our dramatic interpretations and look at what seems feasible for Dreamwell, such as considering any technical problems, other concerns, or stressing that this is a play Dreamwell absolutely needs to do.

Rachael: Thanks, Chuck, for describing the process so well! I would only add one thing to that description and say that I think we both try also to see as many productions and as much theatre as we can. That is an important part of the process--not only for us to familiarize ourselves with a lot of theatrical material, but to see how that materials seems to work onstage in front of an audience. We try to keep ourselves current with what's being done and how it is received. You can never see too many plays, is my motto! Thanks for giving us a chance to talk with blog readers about our season. We are really excited about it!

Thank you all for giving us the inside scoop!

For more information about Dreamwell's next season, go here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Rage's Prisoner of Zenda

Rage - Rage Theatrics, Iowa City's local action theatre company, will present The Prisoner of Zenda at Space/Place Theatre January 23-25 and January 30-Feb 1. Tickets are $10 and will be sold at the door (cash or check only, please).

The Prisoner of Zenda begins with the arrival in Ruritania of Rudolph Rassendyll, an Englishman who bears a remarkable resemblance to Crown Prince Rudolph. After a chance meeting, the Prince befriends Rassendyll and the Englishman is drawn into a plot by the Prince's brother to usurp the throne. What follows is a comedic adventure of impersonation, romance, and swashbuckling. This production is sponsored by TMone, the UI Division of Performing Arts, Zephyr Printing and Design, and Rage Grafix, with additional support by Falbo Bros. Pizza.

According to director Josh Sazon, "It is a singular pleasure to be working with Rage Theatrics once again, and an absolute delight to be working on this material -- an old-fashioned swashbuckler complete with feats of derring-do, a love story and even a few laughs along the way. Working with actors trained in stage combat is especially a treat, allowing us an opportunity to really push the boundaries with what we can do on stage."

Nancy Mayfield, Rage's Marketing Coordinator, remarks "I never quite know what to expect when I walk into a Rage rehearsal. Fighting, dancing, and romance make for a cast that is filled with energy. A person can really get carried away by this play."

Space/Place is located in North Hall on the University of Iowa campus. North Hall is at the north end of Madison Avenue, adjacent to the North Ramp for convenient parking. The show will run January 23, 24, 30, 31 at 8 pm. Matinee performances are January 25th and Februrary 1 at 2 pm. For more information, contact Scott Lewis at 319-936-1847 or email him.

Lightboard Operators needed

Riverside - Riverside Theatre is seeking Light Board Operators for Guys on Ice (January 18 - February 22) and Raising Medusa (March 29 - April 19). Contact Jody at 319-887-1360 or by email.

Riverside Auditions

Riverside - Riverside Theatre announces auditions and interviews for its 2009 Shakespeare Festival Intern Company. Full-time internships are open to undergraduate, graduate students or others seeking a professional experience in the areas of acting, directing, costuming, technical theatre and stage management. Interested applicants should schedule an audition (actors) or interview (design and technical positions) at Riverside Theatre on January 31, 2009 by calling 319-338-7672. Complete information on internships and how to apply is available here .

The Riverside Theatre Shakespeare Festival hires a company of 14 professional actors as well as a 12-member Intern Company to produce two classical plays which run in repertory. 2009 will mark the Festival’s 10th season in lower City Park. The 9-week internship contract period is May 12- July 13. All interns receive $75/week as well as housing for out-of-area interns. Training includes weekly master classes with company members and guest artists.