One of the Top Drama Schools in the Country Forced To Cut Budget and Reduce Staff

Brittany Strelluf

Budget cuts are a painful reality for arts educators and a constant one. There isn't a year that goes by where there isn't a school theatre program in danger of losing its funding. 

Right now, the state of Missouri recently cut millions from their state universities. The resulting trickle-down effect has a resulted in the loss hundreds of jobs from the combined four college campuses across the state.

State funding reductions and declining enrollment across the University of Missouri System forced the university last week to shave $101 million from the budgets of its four campuses, resulting in the loss of 474 jobs.

The University of Missouri of Kansas City (UMKC) theatre is one of many departments whose recent cuts left bleeding wounds.

The UMKC Theatre Department is well-known and highly respected. They have an exceptional Master’s program that is strongly connected with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, the leading regional theatre in the Kansas City area. UMKC Theatre provides education and professional training inall areas of performing arts. The Hollywood Reporter recently recognized the department in a list of the  25 Best Drama Schools for an Acting Degree. Ranking it #17 along with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Juilliard, and the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Tom Mardikes, UMKC Theatre Chair, was kind enough to give OnStage some details about the recent financial issues.  “UMKC is going through some rough financial times, with a cut from the state causing cuts to budgets.”

In late April UMKC Theatre was required to cut their budget by 16%. An even harder cut was the loss of 4 faculty positions.  “This is a deep, permanent destructive cut.” Mardikes clarified. “We'd have money for faculty but no MFA students for them to teach, or MFA students with no faculty to teach them.”

At a recent rally  in the Spencer Theatre, many highly respected and well-known theatre directors and theatre professors spoke passionately about the crucial importance of the department to the community.

Mardikes sums up the phenomenal impact of the university to Kansas City arts:

“UMKC is Missouri's campus for the performing arts.  It's in the mission and goals of specifically support the performing arts as a priority. Most of the music and dance professional groups in KC have been founded by faculty or alumni of the Conservatory. Same for Theatre; many of the professional theatre companies in KC were founded by the faculty or alumni of UMKC Theatre.”

OnStage will update on this story as it develops.  More information on UMKC’s exceptional program can be found on their website

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Brittany Strelluf has a Bachelor's degree in theatre and a Master's degree in education from Avila University in Kansas City. She is theatre and English instructor. She recently served on a Teaching Advisory Board for The Nelson-Adkins Museum of Art. Her stage credits include Trojan Women, Camelot, and I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

Three Spooky Scripts for Classroom Work

Brittany Strelluf

  • Missouri Columnist

As a Teaching Artist, I swear half my class prep time is looking for scripts I can use for classroom work. These are scripts I can use for reading in class, some short scene studies, or for teaching a technical aspect.  With Halloween right around the corner, I love using suspenseful or horror themes in the Fall.  In an effort to spare a few others from endless searching, here are three scripts to consider for using in the classroom this Halloween.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night by Tim Kelly

This play is set in Ye Olde Wayside Inn. This is a dark comedy that has characters, 8 female and 5 male characters. The characters are quite eccentric everything from Hepzibah and Arabelia Saltmarsh who live at the Inn. To their Uncle Silas, who so happens to be the oldest living lunatic in the state of Massachusetts. I particularly like the ghost of a soldier who deserted Washington at Valley Forge.  As a Winner of the Robert J. Pickering Award for Playwriting Excellence, this script is worth the read. 

The Cask of Amontillado adapted by Robert Mason from Edgar Allan Poe

I always thought this short story deserved a little more credit.  This is the story of the resentful Montresor who holds a horrible grudge against Fortunato. With this piece being only 10- 15 minutes in length and having two characters, this would be a fabulous script for short study scenes. It can be done alone or as a part of the full-length play An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe, a collection of six of Poe's short pieces adapted as a play. These are all adapted by Robert Mason and can be found on playscripts.com. 

My Sister in This House by Wendy Kesselman

This creepy piece was based on the true crime of two sisters Christine and Lea Papin who brutally murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France, in 1933. This was one of my favorite scripts that I learned about in college.   My Sister in This House was the Winner of the Playbill Playwriting Award and the 1980-1981 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. This script has been produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and at NYC's Second Stage. With four female characters, It would be a great piece for scenework. 

Photo: Jennifer Losi (Isabelle), Casey Kramer (Madame Danzard) My Sister in this House at Deaf West

 

Talk Less, Sign More

Erin Karll

  • Missouri Columnist

I needed some time to compose myself after last week’s #ham4ham “talk less, sign more”. The video was released on September 21, and here is the link for you to see yourself. If you don’t know, now you know. 

Cast members from Hamilton and New York Deaf Theatre joined forces to produce an accessible version of “Cabinet Battle #2” from the hit musical. While this is not the first time #ham4ham has used sign language (looking at you Andy Mientus and Krysta Rodriguez) this is the most ambitious project showing #DeafTalent.  George Washington is played by Alexandria Wailes (signing) and Nik Walker (voicing). Thomas Jefferson is played by Jubil Kahn (signing) and Jevon McFerrin (voicing). Alexander Hamilton is played by Shelly Guy (signing) and Michael Luwoye (voicing). Samantha Coleman performs the signs and voice for ‘James Madison’. 

From their website, NEW YORK DEAF THEATRE (NYDT) was established over 35 years ago by Deaf theatre artists to create opportunities for the production of a dramatic art form that was not found elsewhere in New York City: plays in American Sign Language (ASL). NYDT’s main goal is to give Deaf and hard of hearing artists in the New York City area a cultural, creative, and artistic home. We strive to create theatre that gives more opportunities for Deaf artists (actors, creators, and designers) and see our audiences expand and have a deeper appreciation and understanding of our beloved Deaf culture. JW Guido, artist director for New York Deaf Theatre says “HAM4HAM is a true example of a company giving opportunities to Deaf actors. Already having a diverse cast, they welcome even more diversity with our female Deaf talent…We wanted to show that no matter who performs these roles, no matter their appearance or hearing ability, the talent can shine through. ...One of my favorite moments in this journey was seeing the NYDT team truly collaborate and develop a unique ASL style.”

After the recent casting controversy at Theatre Cedar Rapids with their production of “Tribes” this short video shows what can happen when artist work together and create. I am still trying to put into words why it is so important for deaf roles to be played by Deaf Talent. Many others have spoken out recently with ‘colorblind casting’ of certain shows that have characters based in specific ethnic groups. Differences matter a lot less when we take the time to understand each other. TCR’s issue with lack of outreach and short production times shows that sometime we must ‘wait for it’ when it comes an accurate production. I’m not saying that once a character’s background is set it cannot be changed, but care must be taken and the community discussed must be brought in to consult.

Catch Hamilton, if you can, at the Richard Rogers Theatre in New York or the PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago. Check out New York Deaf Theatre’s newest production ‘Titus’ that starts October 30th at the Hudson Guild Theatre. For ticket and show details check out newyorkdeaftheatre.org. #ham4ham and #deaftalent are excellent sources for information and videos of impressive talent. 

Theatre Thoughts: Throw Back to High School

Erin Karll

  • OnStage Missouri Columnist

I am from the St Louis area, and we are known for asking one question of locals....Where did you go to high school? For me the answer is St. Dominic. I was a typical theatre kid. I joined the spring musical, took 'acting for theatre' which cast the fall play, joined the choirs, joined the speech team competing in meets in the surrounding area, and was even a member of the writers guild that met after school. All of my friends followed the same path for the most part. Those years on the stage, a simple proscenium built into the gym, helped me grow has a confidant person. I went on to study Arts Management in college. I could type up stories about my experiences all day because arts education was part of my formative years. Please take a moment to look at your local education system.

Many schools are now forced to cut programs due to lack of funds. But these classes and groups help every student in countless ways. These programs are not just for the future Broadway star, they help the next generation of doctors, lawyers, and business owners gain the skills of public speaking and creative thinking. The creative thinking comes into play when you have to problem solve on stage in front of an audience. Here are just a few of my favorite mishaps. 
 
When I attended St. Dominic the theatre did not have many bells and whistles. In fact we were known for making due with less. The backdrop had been used for years and had layers of paint chipping off. Throwing that out was a joy for the stage crew. The lighting was also always a surprise to work with.There was also a night during our production of 'HMS Pinafore' when the lights went out. We had not only thrown the whole circuit breaker, but it started to melt. Our lighting tech drove to his home down the road and got a generator. After intermission we had full lights. 

I played the duck in our production of  "Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass". During the caucus race scene I was suppose to run up and down the side aisle and bump into the rest of the race in the middle of the gym/audience. Opening night one of the spot lights went out and I missed the memo. I did the whole race in the dark and made a note to change my route for next performance. 

What are your favorite high school theatre horror stories? Use #HSTheatreMishaps and tag @onstageblog to share. I love reading these types of stories and look forward to seeing some great moments in High School theatre. 

Photo: Tri-School Theatre

Harry Potter & Theatre

Brittany Strelluf 

  • OnStage Missouri Columnist

I am a Ravenclaw. 

I went to more than one midnight premier of the newest Harry Potter film. I read the Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire to pass the time as I was serving as a Wardrobe Master for a production of the Grapes of Wrath, I've tasted butterbeer and dirt flavored jelly beans. I cried when Dobby the Elf died.  I am one of millions whose life and heart has been touched the magic of Harry Potter.

So I was pretty excited to receive my copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. But my excitement in this case doesn't come from being a head-over-heels fan girl. My excitement for this book, it comes from being a theatre fan. 

According to Entertainment Weekly, the play script sold 2 million copies in the US and Canada in 2 days. The Guardian reported a sale of 480,000 in the United Kingdom. While these sells are fantastic for a book, for a play-script it is phenomenal. 

Harry Potter is helping to make theatre a living, breathing, entity to a whole new generation. 

Having taught theatre in public schools I know there are two types of students who take theatre classes: the first are those who are genuinely interested and excited about theatre and want to learn more, the other are ones who thought that the Intro to Theatre sounded less terrible than the Intro to Speech class.  So to see so much excitement and so many people reading a play script for enjoyment is exciting. 

The text might not be o every readers personal taste, and that is okay. Theatre as an art form is subjective.  We may miss Rowling’s impeccable narrative and may not like a new character. However, that doesn’t mean this script isn’t special. I for one, am treating this script as a catalyst. Reading through it, I was inspired by it for use in the classroom.  It would be an excellent education tool for character study, design, and scene studies. It can spark imagination and reignite flames of excitement for the performing arts.

Will Harry Potter and the cursed child set the American theatrical world aflame? No, probably not. But if one fan, if one child sparks an interest in theatre, intrigues them enough to go see a play, take a theatre class, or go check out their school’s theatre department, I will be grateful to JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. 

Then again, I’ll always be grateful to JK Rowling.

Always.

 

Accessibility in Theatre: Live Streaming

Erin Karll

  • OnStage Missouri Columnist

Recently the off-Broadway play “Daddy Long Legs” live streamed a production. Playbill, via Facebook, streamed the song “Never Can Say Goodbye” from the musical “Disaster”. “She Loves Me” was streamed from Studio 54 in its entirety making history as the first Broadway show to be live streamed thanks to broadwayhd.com. The phenomenon “Hamilton” was recently filmed also, although there is no word on when or where this footage will be used.  As it was stated in the pre-show introduction of “She Loves Me” Broadway is live every time eight times a week, and this trend could lead to something incredible.  Theatres could use live streaming to increase accessibility, not only for those who cannot afford to travel to New York City, but for those who need assistance once they arrive in the building.

While none of the above examples included closed captioning, that is not far off in the future. I ask broadwayhd.com when the first launched if they would provide CC with their videos. They replied to my Facebook post by saying they could not at this time, but hoped to soon. These captions could not only assist the deaf, but also include other languages so international fans could watch their favorite shows. Once the captioning is set up, more aids can be added. For example, American Sign Language interpreters in a split screen. Also a descriptive audio track could be added for the blind.

Those plans are not even touching on the need for those theatre fans that have physical limitations that can make going out to a show unimaginable. Trying to navigate the big apple in a wheelchair or crunches would be enough to deter the even the diehard fans. The Theatre Development Fund host Autistic friendly theatre nights. Being able to just pull up a show on your phone or computer and host a group in a home setting would be a great way to attend a show. The joy of show tunes without the fear of not having access, what a wonderful concept! 

My mind is filled with many ideas on how this hopefully successful new trend can help theatre fans all over the world connect and access their favorite art form. What are some other ideas on why live streaming is great for the theatre industry? 

The more shows that establish streaming and filming rights for public release the easier it will be to set-up accessibility requirements and aids. Nothing can compare to the feeling of sitting in a dark theatre watching actors, musicians, and crew create live, but these glimpses into the theatre will go a long way to connect the theatre world. That connection is what makes the theatre a unique experience. Live streaming could give many the opportunity to join a whole new world.

Catch an encore stream of “She Loves Me” on BroadwayHD.com until July 10th, and then look for it to be released in your local cinema later this fall. Watch out for more shows to join in the live streaming trend. Contact streaming websites and ask about captioning. Support those shows that are making an effort to step outside the ten blocks of the big apple.  These are a few things you can do now to help accessibility in the future. I’ll see you at the theatre, which may just be my living room.

Giving Over to Golden Age

Max Bahneman

  • OnStage Missouri Columnist

As a millennial, I have had a love/hate relationship with Golden Age musicals.  I always assumed that Golden Age was for a more distant generation; a generation who attended theatre for entertainment rather than enlightenment.  My argument was that these musicals were becoming increasingly irrelevant; they were no longer pushing the medium forward.  It didn’t help that my naïve ears found the quality of my Dad’s too-large collection of old Broadway vinyl particularly grating, but I was simply better acquainted with the contemporary pop sound filling radio stations.

I received a rude awakening when I went off to college.  On one of the first days of class, we were asked to listen to a playlist of exposition songs from a variety of musicals.  While I knew some of the songs well, many were from musicals I deliberately avoided.  During one of the first songs on that playlist, “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof, I could feel my guard coming down a bit.  I was taken aback by how intelligent this exposition was.  It established who these people were, what was important to them, and that something was about to shake that sense of tradition in a perfectly concise way.  I began to slowly open myself to the world of Golden Age musicals, though I still remained a bit tentative.

However, years of ridiculing my Dad’s taste in musicals quickly came crashing down in April of last year when I saw Carousel at the Lyric Opera of Chicago starring Laura Osnes and Steven Pasquale. While I must admit it was the stars who brought me in, the whole evening proved to be simply magical.  From the moment the full orchestra began the overture, I could feel my heart swell and my smile grow.  From “If I Loved You” all the way to the “Finale”, I was enamored.  Not only was I completely in awe of the production value, but I was struck by how fully fleshed out the characters were and how complete the story was.  As I sat in the theatre digesting what I had seen, I realized that musicals weren’t written that way anymore.  Carousel provided such great insight into life, love, and the human condition that many contemporary musicals could only dream of.

My love affair with Carousel sprouted a newfound fondness of classic musicals.  After enjoying Carousel, I began to seek out more Golden Age musicals to watch live.  Over the course of this past year I have enjoyed Cinderella, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, and YouTube videos from Gypsy.  Each of these musicals seemed to provide that same magical feeling as Carousel. However, the penultimate moment of my young theatre-going career came when I saw the Lincoln Center revival of The King and I with Kelli O’Hara.  Ms. O’Hara’s strong connection to the material transported me completely to Siam.  Even in the subtlest moments, I found myself in tears from her incredibly nuanced performance.  I experienced this phenomenon again when I saw Kate Baldwin perform the same role in Chicago a few months later.

Many of these musicals, especially those of Rodgers and Hammerstein, present ideas of patriotism as well as displaying differences in culture and how those cultures interact with each other.  These musicals are about communication and what happens when separate parties don’t necessarily know how to do that.  In our world, where miscommunication and judgement happens behind a computer screen, these musicals prove themselves more relevant than ever. 

Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

New Company Brings Ancient Performance Art to Life in Kansas City

Brittany Strelluf

  • OnStage Kansas City Columnist

Kansas City artists are bringing an essential piece of theatre history to the 21st century with Commedia Kansas City.  

Patrick Rippeto Director of Commedia Kansas City had a great deal to say about the subject.  “Commedia dell'Arte is a deeply important genre and time period for all of modern theatre. It was the time where we saw the first truly professional troupes and the first time in western culture women were allowed to be on stage.” 

Commedia Kansas City is KC's newest theatre company. Under the direction by Patrick Rippeto, a student of Maestro Antonio Fava; C.K.C. is aiming to introduce and produce plays in the traditional style of the old Italian Commedia dell’Arte. 

Commedia, began between 1530 and 1550 in Northern Italy. It is a masked, physical style of farce and many credit Commedia for introducing the idea of professional theatre. It also allowed women to become an important part of the stage.  It continues to influence comedy today, in both modern theatre and television sitcoms.

Modern actors looking for a challenge might consider looking more deeply into this art form.  “As far as the actual study of Commedia; you can see some of the benefits from what the Lecoq School of physical acting puts forth. In learning the stock characters and their very specific physicality and sets of gesture, these can grant the actor studying a greater awareness of their body and even more control over the way they move.” Actors like award winning Robert Carlyle has credited commedia dell’arte for having a part in his memorable portrayal of Rumplestiltskin on Once Upon a Time. 

 Rippetto also brings up improvisation. “The improvised nature of Commedia can be probably the biggest tool an actor can acquire. They way Maestro Fava teaches the Commedia teaches the actor to play and write very quickly and efficiently.” Improvisation is a subject some theatre teachers feel overwhelmed by, Commedia dell’Arte can prove to be an excellent catalyst for the honing of improvisational skills.

 “While you're in the thick of study there, creativity sparks and comic lazzi are never in short supply.” Commedia Kansas City will be giving a performance of The Treasure of the Golden Monkey King at 2016's Fringe KC Festival. 

The passion that Commedia KC members have for the art form is intoxicating. “Commedia dell'Arte is a style of theatre that I believe can speak to universal ideas even if the action on stage seems a little anachronistic. I hope with Commedia Kansas City, we can show audiences and members of the theatrical community that Commedia dell'Arte belongs on the contemporary stage and is not just a thing to be used as a tool, or a bit of historical recreation.” 

This deeply passionate and motivated company is comprised of Beth Byrd-Lonski, Kait Dowling, Jordan Fox, Cooper Hart, Philip Hooser, and Patrick Rippeto  The original masks that are used onstage were created by Josh Christ, with costume support by Lisa Bakely.
Follow them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/commediakc/ 

Accessibly in Theatre: Interpreters and Captioning

Erin Karll

  • OnStage Missouri Columnist

Recently #deaftalent has taken center stage in main stream entertainment. You can search social media and find some amazing art in many genres. Nyle Dimarco is a role model in the Deaf community after winning ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars’. Deaf West moving their production of Spring Awakening to Broadway and earning a Tony nomination for Best Revival shows that the world is ready for more ‘Deaf Talent’.  But how can we make the theatre world more accessible to the ‘Deaf World’? There are some simple things that people in the theatre need to do in order to bridge these worlds.  Over the next few blogs I hope to share some ideas, and show the little things that can make a big difference.

The first idea is to simply offer interpreted events. American Sign Language (ASL) is not English so like any other time you are dealing with someone who does not use the same language there needs to be an interpreter. They not only know both language, but can help smooth over some cultural differences. If you are managing any aspect of the house make sure that the interpreting team can be seen and the Deaf audience knows where to go before, during, and after the show. Ushers that know at least a few signs would be an amazing asset on these nights. With this I would also add to have those that can sign use it in every conversation. There is a huge controversy in the Deaf community about that. It’s called Sim-Com meaning using English and ASL at the same time, but in this situation I believe it would open the eyes of the audience. Showing exactly what is going to happen during the show, and obviously code switching back to ASL with the Deaf guest if. To find local interpreters you can start with a search for agencies that provide interpreters. Asking other theatres where they found interpreters would also be a good idea.  Make sure to check into license and certification that are required as that changes from state to state. You may want to see if there are students from local ASL and ITP (Interpreter Training Program) classes that could volunteer.

Culture Note: Not every Deaf person uses caption. They may prefer ASL and not use English since the word order is so different. Spring Awakening’s recent revival was performed in ASL and interpreters and captioned nights were offered for this reason.  I was lucky enough to attend Broadway Con and went to a workshop about accessibility in the theatre. A few things that were said stuck with me. The first was a man who works for a captioning company and his dream is that every theatre would caption every performance. Not just to secure his business (he had to point that out) but because the hearing audience would soon not only ignore the extra stage equipment, but maybe even use it themselves. This would also allow those Deaf who use captioning to attend anytime and not have to wait for special nights. The second lesson happened when I went to the Deaf West Spring Awakening Panel. Sandra Mae Frank, the actress who played the signing Wendla, commented that she was jealous of Austin P McKenzie, the actor who played Melchoir, because he went to three shows in one day. She wanted to join him for one of them, but it was not interpreted or captioned. These two stories connected in me deeply they remain knotted in my mind.

Educated yourself and your theatre about what type of service works best for you and the Deaf guest. It may not always be a full house signing “Applause” at the end of the show, but there could be one person who connects and becomes a lifelong fan now that they have that access. And those connections are what theatre is why theatre is so important and why there should be access everywhere. 

Why the Tony Awards Are About More Than Hamilton

Max Bahneman

  • OnStage St. Louis Columnist
  • @MaximusBahneman

Since they first announced their transfer to Broadway in February of 2015, Hamilton has been the frontrunner for this year’s Tony Awards.  And it has a right to be—it is completely revolutionary in its concept and execution.  However, as the rest of the Broadway season began to come into focus, it became clear that this was one of strongest seasons in recent memory.

On May 3, the Tony nominations were announced and, to no one’s surprise, Hamilton broke the nomination record.  Social media quickly began buzzing with numerous posts about how the other contenders didn’t stand a chance of winning.  While Hamilton certainly deserves all of the praise and awards it’s receiving, the Tony Awards are about much more than the awards themselves—they are about the celebration of a thriving community.  And there was a lot to celebrate this season on Broadway.

The 2015-2016 Broadway season brought a slew of shows with extremely diverse casts.  While Hamilton certainly contributed a great deal by reimagining our founding fathers as the people inhabiting America today, other shows this season had equal contribution.  Shows such as The Color Purple, Shuffle Along, Allegiance, On Your Feet!, Fiddler on the Roof, and Eclipsed brought minorities into the spotlight.  As a result, of the 40 acting nominees, 14 are actors of color.  In the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, this is a huge deal.  Not only is it important that actors of color are being recognized, it is notable that Broadway is telling the stories of people of color and other minorities.

The diversity on Broadway this season wasn’t strictly limited to minority representation either. The nominated shows themselves represent a broad variety of styles and subject matter.  In the best musical category, we have a bluegrass musical based on a true event (Bright Star), a hip-hop musical about America’s first treasury secretary (Hamilton), a rock musical adapted from a popular film (School of Rock), a behind-the-scenes musical written around an existing score (Shuffle Along), and a pop-infused musical about a waitress trying to make a better life for herself and her future child (Waitress).  For revivals, we have a retooled version of a newer musical that was written off by critics in its initial production (The Color Purple), another newer musical reimagined with the use of American Sign Language (Spring Awakening), and two Bock and Harnick classics (Fiddler and She Loves Me).  The diversity in the types of musicals makes it clear that there is room for more than one style of musical on Broadway.  The strong box office numbers being posted by most of these musicals are also quite encouraging.

The play nominees are also admirable with an exceptionally strong revival category lead by Ivo van Hove’s Arthur Miller revivals.  The best play category also features strong entries with two Off-Broadway transfers and two plays from across the pond.  The acting nominees in the play categories are diverse in race as well as experience; the nominees feature celebrities, Broadway veterans, and relative newcomers.

Based on the nominations, it is clear that this season on Broadway was a strong one.  So when the big night comes, we should absolutely celebrate Hamilton, but we should also celebrate all of the other wonderful shows that graced the Broadway stage this season.  Plus, we are in for some incredible live performances.