Three Easy Theatre Games that Aren’t Zip, Zap, Zop

Three Easy Theatre Games that Aren’t Zip, Zap, Zop

Any theatre teacher can tell you the importance of theatre games. Games and ritual help create a safe and supportive environment and promote teamwork.  A great circle can mean the difference between a class that is fun and successful or one that falls flat. 

It can be easy to get caught in a rut of games and warm up activities.  We sometimes rely too heavily on the same games or activities. Perhaps we use activities that have worked well in the past without regard for how your newer students might respond to it. Sometimes it is just fun to mix it up or add to your class lineup of games and warm ups. 

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Four Non-Theatre Classes Theatre Majors Should Consider Taking

Four Non-Theatre Classes Theatre Majors Should Consider Taking

One of the great things about theatre is that it can encompass many different disciplines. Those who work or play in theatre know that it is so much more than meets the eye. If there was ever an art form where the tip of the iceberg metaphor applies, it is the theatre.

A college student or any student can sometimes seem overwhelmed with the choices of electives thrown their way. So here are some electives that I have found can help develop skills that can carry over into the theatrical world.

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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.

 

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/ 

Neil Patrick Harris on Neil Patrick Harris

Brittany Strelluf

Neil Patrick Harris is well- known and much-loved for his performances of Barney on How I Met Your Mother, the title character in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog, and  Doogie Houser MD.  Harris can now add the title of author to his list of many talents, since now he has penned his hilarious and heartfelt autobiography; Chose Your Own Autobiography. 

I jumped at the opportunity to grab a copy of this book for review, and given that it turned out to be one of the best autobiographies I have ever read, I am glad I did. On page 45 of this book Harris includes the recipe for his favorite cocktail, a combination of a Manhattan and an Old-Fashioned. He describes it as “the dry spiciness of the former with the slightly sweet fruitier essence of the latter.”  This description struck me as being perfect metaphor for this book.

Harris paints a loving picture of people, places and things that have shaped him throughout his life.  Harris also displays a dry and self -deprecating humor that comes from decades of hard work and lessons learned. 

Choose Your Own Autobiography will make you laugh out loud and also genuinely shed a tear or two.  Harris brings the reader into his life in an intimate way. To further personalize it, He includes personal photographs paired with hilarious copies, and also letters by Nathan Fillion, Whoopi Goldberg, and Kelly Ripa among others. As great as the writing, the humor, the behind the scene info, and the childhood photos all are, my very favorite thing about this book, is Harris’ unabashed adoration of the performing arts. His fiery enthusiasm reignites a passion and excitement for the stage. 

The title comes from the chose your own adventure books that were popular in the 1980’s and 19909’s. While highly entertaining, the format to me, serves a far more important purpose. It is a reminder that as artists, we can be the harshest judges of our own careers.  Harris reminds the reader that a journey is full of peaks and valleys. It can be hard to remember that the journey is far more difficult than it can often appear on the outside. Harris speaks bluntly about his personal insecurities. Sometimes you must turn the page back, so to speak, and make a different choice.

Harris reminds that in order to tell a character’s story, we must first tell our own.
You can find out more by going to http://nphbook.com/.  

Photo: SNL Photo Shoot

Every Kid Deserves a Costume

Brittany Strelluf

Every actor knows how exciting it can be to have a fantastic costume. It can take your performance and your character to a whole new level.  It automatically brings up the quality of your production. 

If you’re not an actor, think back to Halloween as a child, how excited you were to get dressed up and become a favorite hero or princess.  Then after you grew up, you probably started to share Halloween with your own children, nieces, and nephews. Think about how special it is to see these kids excited to put on their costumes and get their candy.   

Lon Davis believes that every child deserves that experience.  That is how Walkin’ and Rollin’ Costumes came to be.  

Walkin’ and Rollin’ Costumes is an organization that designs and builds custom costumes for children who require the assistance of walkers or wheelchairs to get around. 

“My inspiration was my son, Reese. He was born with cancer 10 years ago. The cancer crushed his spinal cord and he now uses a walker or wheelchair to get around. He got his first wheelchair when he was 3 and wanted to be Wall-E for Halloween that year. I knew I couldn't buy a costume that would work for him, so I built one. Every year since then, we always build a costume together as a team. We have built about 10 costumes over the past 7 years for his chair. This year we decided to open it up to other families and help them out.”

Walkin’ and Rollin’ Costumes designs and creates these costumes and gives them to the families- completely free of charge. 

“It's free to the families that receive the costumes. That's one of the things we knew going into this project.” 

According to Davis, The reaction from the Kansas City community has been overwhelmingly positive.  

“We debuted W&RC at Planet Comic-Con earlier this year and the reaction blew us away. Everyone who stopped by our booth was shocked and amazed. As soon as we told them that we do this for free for the families, people were even more interested. They asked how we do it, and I would explain that we have volunteers help build the costumes and donations to help pay for them. At that moment, they would either sign up as a volunteer; reach for their wallets, or both.”

They have even started hosting workshops for volunteers to help build 10 costumes for kids.  A event Kickstarter campaign raised more than $3,000. 

You can like them on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/WalkinRollin 
To find out more information about this amazing cause, check out their website: http://www.walkinrollin.org/ 

5 Things to Know About Being a Good Audience Member

Brittany Strelluf

A few days ago, right before a performance of Hand to God, an audience member climbed onto the stage and plugged his cell phone into a fake electrical socket. A crew member had to unplug the phone and make an announcement on why that shouldn’t happen. 

In the much loved yet, short lived Sci-Fi show Firefly, Shepard Book talks about a “special hell…reserved for those who talk at the theatre.”  While this is meant to be humorous, it certainly echoes the feelings of many who have their evenings interrupted by extraneous noise or ill-mannered individuals.  

During World War Two and the earlier days of Hollywood, when people wanted to escape they would spend a great deal of their Saturdays at the movie theatre. The shows started with a playing of the Star Spangled Banner, the seats were plush and there were often lots of newsreels and cartoons played before the film. It was an event, something to look forward to all week. This echoes times of old during the height of the renaissance. Opera was extremely popular. The opera was the place to see and be seen. There were often ballets or other acts in between the acts.  To put it simply, behavior in the theatre audience was a common knowledge. Now that populace on mass does not take in the theatre, the knowledge of proper audience behavior has faded into memory. 

It is easy for the theatre community to become frustrated, however, if no one taught you how to act as an audience member, how would you know? So here are a few things to know about being a good audience member.

It is Customary to Dress Up for the Theatre. 

Although the attire does change from day to evening performances, as well as regionally; many people still chose to dress up for theatre performances. Jeans are rarely appropriate. This is also true for orchestral concerts and ballets. Opera goes usually opt for black tie apparel, sporting tuxes and full length formal gowns. Take the opportunity to pull the tags off of that beautiful cocktail dress or grab a new dress shirt, and honor this tradition.  

Your Cell Phone Needs to be Off.

Not on silent mode, off. Aside from the obvious distracting qualities of texting or a blaring ringtone, there is a much, much bigger problem that cell phones cause. Crew members working backstage at a show communicate via wireless headset. Cell phone signals interfere with the headsets, making it very difficult to do their job. This leads to missed cues and a possibly botched performance.  Cell phones aren’t the only problem. Some people have even taken to bringing laptops to shows or other electronics to shows.  It is best to just shut off your phone and get lost in the performance. 

Be Respectful of Your Space.

It is common curtesy to pick your space before you leave. Don’t leave empty cups, soda cans, programs, or candy wrappers. Let the house managers go home to their families as early as possible.  Another problem that occurs is disrespectful lounging in the seats.  The chair in front of you is not a foot rest.  The pressure from your legs can pull the chairs from the floors. Which then have to be repaired at the theatre’s expense, which will drive ticket prices up. 

Quiet Off Stage.

Much enjoyment of the theatre comes from listening to it. Please keep your fellow audience members in consideration. Keep the conversation to a minimum and speak quietly. Try to wait until intermission to get up to use the restroom or to speak to your neighbor.

Don’t Explore.

The theatrical world is littered with stories of audience members walking on the stage, walking backstage, found wandering through tunnels or shops. This is not only inconsiderate, but also potentially unsafe. Actos and crew are used to the flow of the backstage area. During a high school show in my hometown, an audience member walked onto the stage. He then swung open a wing door, striking teenaged actress with great force and therefore injuring her. There are large moving set pieces, rotating sets, dark spaces, and extremely heavy weights.  There are always ushers to tell you where to go. Ask them politely for directions. 

 Keep these in mind for the next time you go to the theatre for the most enjoyable experience possible. 

Discovering the It Factor within You

Brittany Strelluf

Have you ever seen a Broadway performance, or seen an actor who just filled the stage with their presence? They light up the room with their inner glow and light within them.  They have something inside them that sets them apart and makes you pay attention. That is called charisma.

When I saw the title of this book; Discovering the It Factor within You: Developing Your Charismatic Personality, I knew it would be a great book for performers, designers, and other theatre hobbyists and professionals.  I was delighted when author and actress Leesa Rowland graciously provided a sample copy for review.

Rowland has a wonderful voice that shines through her writing. Her tips are gentle but firm, soft but straightforward. I found myself highlighting a great deal of the text, as I found much of the book to be very moving and a joy to read.

When I was in my first year of undergraduate school, a friend of mine and I were in both a world religions class along with our basic acting class. One day during a lecture, my classmate and I just couldn’t believe how much the religion class lined up with our acting class.  Our professors were saying almost the exact same things, just using slightly different vocabulary.  I was remembered of this serendipitous union while reading this book. Rowland writes lovingly of deeply spiritual feelings and a strong belief in God. It also includes wisdom from Eastern philosophy that adds to the development of charisma.

An artist sometimes needs a mentor, someone with experience, wisdom, and knowledge to help guide us along the way. Discovering the It Factor is a mentor in book form.  While this book could help people in many professions, I feel that it could be a very helpful tool in aiding performers to give a more authentic performance and avoid burnout.

 I am hopeful that it can help other stage performers find their inner glow, and light up the room from within.

A Midsummer Night’s Read: 10 Plays to Read (or Re-Read) this Summer

Brittany Strelluf

There are dozens of classics that every actor needs to read, but sometimes the artist needs to explore a side of their passion that isn’t quite as daunting as, say Titus Andronicus.  This is especially when there are warm evenings full of fireflies to be caught. 

When sitting on a dock on a lake, spending a lazy day by the pool, or sunning on a sandy beach, it can be hard to focus on the more dramatic theatrical classics. So here is a list of quality plays that make for a lighter summer read. 

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams  

The Glass Menagerie is a masterpiece of American theatre and a reflection of Tennessee Williams tragic life.  An enjoyable read that only gets better every time it’s read and performed.  This is a play everyone -not just actors-should read at one point. 

Jeb Burris (left) as Jim O’Connor and Sara J. Griffin as Laura Wingfield in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2011 production of The Glass Menagerie. PHOTO BY KARL HUGH. COPYRIGHT UTAH SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL 2011

Jeb Burris (left) as Jim O’Connor and Sara J. Griffin as Laura Wingfield in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2011 production of The Glass Menagerie. PHOTO BY KARL HUGH. COPYRIGHT UTAH SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL 2011

All in the Timing by David Ives

David Ives has become a legend to students of the forensics world. His works are hilarious, faced paced, and very enjoyable. This is a great script for young actors and drama teachers to get to know.

The Miracle Worker by William Gibson

Everyone knows the story about Helen Keller and her Governess Anne Sullivan.  Time Magazine once called this show  "a story that, however well known, acquires stunning new reality…on the stage.” 

The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde

You would never know this play first performed in 1895. This play was in stark contrast to the more serious works of the time. It is wonderfully funny, and charming. A perfect way to spend an afternoon. 

Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring 

If you like your comedy on the dark side. Arsenic and Old Lace is a great one to check out. It is a hilarious show about the Brewster family. This includes two spinster aunts who turn out to be homicidal, and a brother who is believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and spends his days digging the Panama Canal in the family basement. 

Proof by David Auburn

This script is an unbelievably engaging and incredibly well-written piece about genius and madness. While it is dramatic, it is laced with some fun humor. Once you start it you won’t be able to put it down. 

Kristen Bush, Jessica Dickey and Michael Braun perform in "Proof" at  McCarter Theatre in Princeton. NJ Photo courtesy of Richard Termine.

Kristen Bush, Jessica Dickey and Michael Braun perform in "Proof" at  McCarter Theatre in Princeton. NJ Photo courtesy of Richard Termine.

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

This is the story of My Fair Lady, in which Henry Higgens seeks to educate Eliza Doolittle to pass her as a gentile lady. Written in 1912, it is an enjoyable read and a must for any theatre kid. If you like Downtown Abbey, you will appreciate this piece.

 Harvey by Mary Chass

Written in 1944, this play is a Pulitzer Prize Winner for a reason.  The plot revolves around Elwood P. Dowd and his unseen friend Harvey, a six foot tall rabbit.  The film adaptation stars Jimmy Stewart, making for a great summer movie night. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

No must-read play list would be complete without a Shakespeare.  If you haven’t picked up a Shakespeare in a while, go grab Midsummer Night’s Dream and get transported to a forest of fairies, star-crossed lovers and an actors troupe. 

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel

Dancing at Lughnasa is a great show to have in your back pocket. Set in 1936 Ireland - it is a must for students who are active in high school and college theatre, as it has scenes that can be used in classes and is very endearing. 

"Dancing at Lughnasa" at the Wilton Playshop(Wilton, CT) are Patrick Duffy as Michael and Alexandria Clapp as Christina in the foreground. In back, Julie Thaxter-Gourlay as Maggie comforts Shelley Lepetich as Kate. Photo: Wilton Playshop

"Dancing at Lughnasa" at the Wilton Playshop(Wilton, CT) are Patrick Duffy as Michael and Alexandria Clapp as Christina in the foreground. In back, Julie Thaxter-Gourlay as Maggie comforts Shelley Lepetich as Kate. Photo: Wilton Playshop

Whether or not you chose any of the plays on this list, summer is a great time to pick up a good story and expand your theatrical repertory.

 Happy reading!