WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Few Small Words

In August 2009, three new post-grads sat around a table at Bertucci's waxing philosophical about two simple words, "WHY THEATRE?" We all had different reasons for needing some theatre in our lives. We threw around thoughts about where we come from and we settled on these few words:

The CoLab Theatre is committed to cultivating artists and the creative process. We focus on the how not the what; the process, not the product.

And there we were. We were a company. Our small company continued to grow based on words. And our words turned into goals. And after two and half years of working towards accomplishing these goals, it is with a heavy heart that we have one more word to say to you all, “Goodbye.” Over two years ago, we set out with so many goals, and in their simplest form, we accomplished them all.

When we think of how we started, producing a number of free audition workshops around the city, selling cupcakes, and blogging, goodbye seems like a small way of saying, “Thanks for taking the journey with us.” It’s crazy to think that in July 2010, we launched our first show, play. Growing Up. The support we received from already established companies for this show was astounding. From here we knew we wanted to produce a full length show, and this is where our journey with Dearly Beloved really began. In 2011, we mounted two workshop readings of the script, another round of play., this time called, play. Discovery, and finally, in September we mounted the full production of Dearly Beloved. When we reached the end of the run, we were astounded. How did three 20-somethings pull any of it off?

Well, we had some support. The world tells us the arts are dying, but somehow, the experience we've had in the last two years tells a different story. We had support from blog readers, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers. We built a community of actors and artists that became our company cornerstone and created the family of collaborators that kept us producing new work. We were guided by older and wiser members of the community and many other small companies. We had an overwhelming amount of financial support from our Kicktarter donors, who helped us reach our fundraising goal in less than 24 hours.  And lastly (but certainly not leastly), there were the audiences. The quiet full houses, and the raucous small ones. The nights when the seats were filled with nothing but fellow actors, to the mornings when the seats held groups of children experiencing their very first show. We may appreciate you the most, because without you, our craft is withering.

So perhaps, while “goodbye” is a necessary word for this post, what we’re really trying to say is, “Thank you.” You helped us focus on the how, the creative process, and the cultivation of new works. And we don't take back any of it. But as we were fledglings in 2009, leaving one nest for another, we're finding that our mid-twenties are no different than our early twenties. Life is constantly moving around us, and our time as company is coming to a close. We are so proud of everything we've accomplished here, and we sincerely thank each and every one of you who helped us reach our goals. We will miss blogging for you, but we know this is not that last time we'll play. with you.

...and now on to the next big adventure! Much love and luck to you all.

Signing Off,
Kenny, Erika, and Mary-Liz

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Children's Theatre, Now For Adults!

[Alternative title to this blog: Erika Dabbles in Dramaturgy.]

I wrote the first draft of Don't Eat The Apples while I was working at summer camp in 2007. The camp was very much in the red and instead of spending money on the scripts that I would ask for, the camp director would print me out copies of "Junior" versions of plays for my campers. Say what you will about kids, but they know the difference between high quality and crap. (It's this writer's opinion that parents DON'T take kids to the theatre because they don't want to be bored - or to bore their kids. Like anything else, there's a lot of crap out there.) While reading through the script for Peter Pan Junior, each child expressed their disgust at this watered down version of the story. So we added back in, as one child put it, "the good parts," taking the liberty to edit where we saw fit (since someone had taken the liberty to edit J.M. Barrie already), and turned it into a show that the kids could be proud of. 

Somewhere during the process I uttered the fatal statement, "We could write something better than this." And there it was - we were writing a play.

The first draft was written in 72 hours, and many of the roles were written for the children at the camp at the time. In a turn of events that threw me for a loop, it was successful. The kids in the audience laughed. The adults in the audience laughed. The counselor that couldn't understand why a kid would sign up for a theatre class over his soccer game actually complemented us afterwards. He was in disbelief that he enjoyed himself. And I was in disbelief that I had accomplished a goal - I reached two audiences with one play - who knew? I was pleased. And so, DETA made its way into a folder on my desktop, presumably never to be seen again. 

You know... until I opened my big mouth once more. 

The CoLab had been searching for a play to put up that would involve more of the community. After the success of Dearly Beloved, we were committed to putting up a second show that met our usual criteria - fun, fun, learning curve, are we really using this work lights again, fun. This time we all wanted to act (a crazy notion) and we wanted to involve kids. "I've got this play that I wrote in college," I started... So we decided to mount the show - I made some edits, we hired a director, gathered the perfect storm of actors, and cast ourselves. (Nepotism is a thing, dudes.) And we began the rehearsal process.

Due to the way this play was written, I felt a weird lack of ownership over the words. First off, I wrote them in collaboration with two of my co-counselors. Secondly, we had written the original version in such a short amount of time, that I didn't always recall why I had worded something one way or why a particular action appeared in the script. This made it easy to allow changes when they were asked for, but it also put me in an uncomfortable place opposite the text. I knew I was hearing my words out loud, but they sounded foreign to me. Sometimes I was proud of them, and sometimes I cringed. The more I listened to this play, the more I wished it had gone through a formal editing process. The more I memorized my lines, the more I wished I had expanded certain thoughts and plot lines. The more I thought about HOW MANY PEOPLE were involved in producing something I had casually written, the more nervous I got about actually putting up this show. The actors were doing a great job, but I felt that there was something wrong with the words. And that wasn't a happy feeling (or one that I've shared before this blog post).

And then last night happened... and I realized something. This sure ain't Shakespeare. But that's not what our audience is looking for. I've been preaching about how much I love working with and acting for children because of their honest, visceral reactions to the theatre. You say to them, "This room is filled with jelly." And suddenly, there it is, the room is filled with jelly. And THAT'S the quality about this show that made me suggest it in the first place. The story is silly. The writing is simple. The editing is less than perfect. But the framework for imagination is in every word, every breath, every character. It is, exactly what I set out to write. Fun for the actors - there are no limits to what you can bring to these characters physically or vocally. Fun for the adults - there's some jokes in there especially for you. And a blast for the kids - who doesn't want to see a hero named Archie and (a very revamped) Red Riding Hood take on a sorcerer, a witch, a troll, a wolf, AND a magic spell and still be home in time for dinner? (Admit it, you want to see what this all about now, don't you?)

So what's my happily ever after? I'm proud of this show I've written. I'm proud of the work the cast and crew has put in so far. And I'll be even prouder come Saturday when I've shared this with the next generation of theatre-goers. And for those of you out there thinking... hey, you spent this whole post talking about how this is a show for kids, why should I come see this show on Saturday morning? This isn't Peter Pan Junior. This is a play written to be accepted and interpreted on two levels - those under 3 feet tall, and those over.  
Still scoffing at me? Then ask yourself, why would twelve well-respected members of the Boston Theatre Community have happily and willingly signed on to do this show?

Come see the Boston Premiere of Don't Eat The Apples this Saturday, January 28 at 11 a.m. at Unity Somerville. Can't make it? You have two more chances - Saturday, February 11 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tickets available here. (And they're cheap, kids. And grown ups.) See what the fuss is about.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Children’s Theatre: The Scariest Place on Earth

Well folks, it's that time again. SHOW TIME. Take a look at this blog from CoLab veteran, Alyce Householter as she tackles her first children's show. See her play The Wicked Witch with finesse and ease as we open Don't Eat The Apples THIS SATURDAY, January 28 at Unity Somerville! Click for tickets. And enjoy the read.

   I walked into my first rehearsal wearing a long pink skirt, a black leotard, an off the shoulder t-shirt, and my hair pulled up. I was a ballerina. I was confident, secure, and ready for almost anything. But I wasn’t taking a ballet class, rehearsing Swan Lake, or even replicating a Flash Dance montage. I was preparing to play the Wicked Witch in Don’t Eat the Apples. To better understand the reasoning for my fierce ensemble, let me start from the beginning…
   Kids hate me. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true, and I don’t blame them. My experience with children under the age of 10 is virtually nonexistent. My few interactions with kids have been saying hi to my boss’s children and performing in musicals for kids when I was in high school.  So why the hell am I acting in a children’s show? Well….when I was asked to be part of the cast, I thought “Why not!” I hadn’t worked on a show in longer than I would like to admit, I knew I would love working with the CoLab Theatre Company again, and I would love playing the Wicked Witch! 
Most of the plays I have worked on in my career have been dramatic, dark, and usually had a “Mature Audience Only” warning attached. It would be nice to play a role where I wasn’t contemplating, “What vocal sounds best accompany a rape?” or “How do I make dying in a chair for 12 minutes interesting?” Don’t Eat the Apples sounded like the perfect opportunity to just have fun, meet some new people, and get a little crazy on stage.
Best of all, I would be able to do something I love without the stress of “What critiques am I going to get from the audience after the show?”  I know, as actors, we are not supposed to care about reviews and such; just focus on telling the story. But come on actors, we all care about what the audience is going to say at some point. Of course, we want them to love the show and get feedback from our peers and people whose opinions we trust. But then there is that whole other range of people. You know, the ones who see you after the show and say “You were amazing!” then turn around and tell their friend “God, that girl sucked”. Or when people you don’t even know come up to you and say, “The show was terrible, but you were good.” This really doesn’t help us people! (You know who you are.) So when I said “yes” to Don’t Eat the Apples, I thought, “My audience is kids. This is going to be easy.”
A few weeks later, at our first read-through for DETA, we were all asked to talk about our experience with children’s theatre. Someone began talking about how they liked it because of the audience’s instantaneous and honest reaction. Kids know what they like and aren’t afraid to ask for it. An actor knows immediately if their performance is good by simple immediate reaction. If you are a “good” character and they cheer for you, they love you. If you are an “evil” character and they hiss or boo you, they hate you; which in turn, secretly means, they love/hate you. That’s how you know you are successful, told the story, and you’ve done your job. That’s it!! There is no critiquing of the show. There is no kid out there thinking, “I don’t really believe that girl delved into her characters past” or “His stakes weren’t high enough”. Kids either care about you or they don’t.
I didn’t realize how much this idea actually scared me. The night before our first blocking rehearsal, I realized that I had barely looked over my script. After being so excited to accept being a part of this show, why had I not engulfed myself in it by now? I knew, secretly, I had been avoiding it. But why? Then it hit me. I…was….SCARED. I can’t believe it! Kids scare the crap out of me. They don’t like me, and they aren’t exactly #1 on my list either. I don’t know how to talk to them. WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO COMMUNICATE. What was I going to do!? So I spent that night racking my brain. How am I going to deal with this fear? How am I going to learn, in a couple weeks, how to make these kids like me? What is my first step? I began thinking about how I dealt with fear when I was a kid. I remember dressing up A LOT. Playing dress up with my sister and putting on unique outfits for the first day of school. Even when I had to wear a uniform to school, any time I had tests or class presentations, I would still find a way to put something crazy in my hair or wear really fun socks. I did it because that’s how I coped with fear as a kid. Something about dressing up and making myself unique was empowering, and I always seemed to be able face my fear.
So I knew exactly what I needed to do to face my DETA rehearsal: Dress Up Time (hence, my “ballerina inspired couture” in the introduction.) I doubt that any of the other actors even noticed my ensemble choice, but it wasn’t about that. It was about me and facing my fear. Walking into rehearsal, I felt confident; ready to have fun as the Wicked Witch, and knowing I could respond to the kids. I could communicate with them, because I knew what it was like to cheer for “good” and boo at “evil”. I was a kid at once, and there is a part inside me that will always be a kid. It was wonderful  to know that me and Kid-Alyce are still in touch. I’m not saying that children and I are going to start kickin' it on the weekends. And I’m certainly not going to be a nanny or pop out a baby of my own anytime soon. But there is definitely something to be said for the honesty of children and our inner child, and if you aren’t ready to face that, then you may not be ready to face the truth.
Hope everyone enjoys the show!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Calling All Playwrights!

CoLab Theatre supporter, friend, and mentor Michael Carnow brought this project to my attention yesterday. He's a great dude, you have my word. Do it. The CoLab dares you.

Here's the call. We triple dog dare you -- I mean... hope you'll submit! (But seriously, you can't back down from a triple dog dare.)

Echoes Theater Project (Chicago, IL) seeks un-produced full-length scripts for its new play reading series.  Plays in the series will be considered for future production.  Please send scripts to echoestheater@gmail.com

Echoes Theater Company is a non-profit theater company that uses performance to increase compassion, empathy and the human connection.  We endeavor to create art that reverberates and affects a change within our audience.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Best Friend Bias

Hey All. By now you're probably used to the fact that I expound upon my made up philosophies a lot on this blog. First, there was "The Tinkerbell Effect." Next came the Erika-cized term, "Audi-drenaline." I now present to you, dear readers, "The Best Friend Bias."

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to see my bestie, roomie, and all-around fabulous gal pal(ie), perform in show produced by The OnStage Dance Company. I'm going to admit that I was not expecting much when I arrived at the venue. I expected R to be great, for sure, but after years of attending college dance shows I was nervous for the caliber and duration of the evening as a whole. As I munched on my latest chocolate acquisition from Trader Joe's as the lights went down and the music started, I was met with a performance better than the one I had anticipated but still not one that blew me away. As the group danced to Peggy Lee's Fever, they were decent but not totally in sync with each other which was a bit frustrating to watch. However, they weren't bad by any means, they held our interest and we looked forward to the next act. (Side note, if you're still thinking about treats... it was a Dark Chocolate bar with Caramel and Sea Salt - do it. You won't be sorry.) Anyways, as the first act progressed, we were impressed by how quickly everything seemed to be moving, the variations between the acts, and the clean scene transitions.

It wasn't until R's group took the stage though that I was truly vested and interested in what I was watching. First off, they were IN SYNC with each other. Not only was each girl on beat, but they each possessed a sort of attitude that the music, the costume, the choreography suggested. They were *gasp* acting. I don't pretend be an authority on dance, but I know passionate acting when I see it - and this dance fell under that category. As intermission arrived, my friend L and I could not get over how much we enjoyed R's dance. We just kept saying to each other, "That was the best dance we saw in the last hour." And it got me thinking, was it truly the best dance in the act or were we biased based on the presence of a mutual close friend? I like to think that I see enough theatre and general performance events that I have an eye, ear, general understanding of what makes a performance worth seeing, but I know that my personal emotions about the parties involved definitely can help to enhance or reduce my enjoyment. So what was I experiencing? My true feelings as an audience member or The Best Friend Bias?

As we headed into the second act, I was absolutely blown away by the first piece. This company was started by several girls that I went to college with - girls who were phenomenal dancers in school. (What is it with these Brandeis kids and their companies?) I'm not sure why I doubted their ability to put together a great show, but here was proof that talent definitely improves with age. The piece was mesmerizing. But again, they were acting. There was a story. There was passion. And I came to a decision, while I was definitely effected by The BFB, I wasn't so blinded to think that I couldn't enjoy or laud a piece that did not include my best friend. I saw a range of things happening on stage - fabulous choreographers where the dancers emoted nothing, nervous girls who wouldn't remember the steps, and girls with more energy than the steps allowed. At the end of the night, the outcome was simple - when I was watching a spark on stage, there was a spark inside me. Sounds elementary, right? I suppose, but it's still nice to be able to know why you're complimenting someone at the end of the performance.

Things learned last weekend? 1. R is a fantastic performer. (Okay, I didn't newly learn that - but I was reminded.) 2. The show was worth the $10 ticket - I'd definitely check out their spring show. 3. The Best Friend Bias is a thing - we all experience it (how do you think our parents sat through all of those ballet recitals?!) but nothing can match true passion and skill. :)

Happy Weekend.
- E

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No Small Roles

Hey all, you haven't met me before, but I've been working as the administrative intern for CoLab for about a year now. So far I've really enjoyed my experiences and I'm so excited to finally be able to start blogging!

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining Erika at an event called "Something Rotten - Hamlet Re-Mixed" hosted by Whistler in the Dark and Imaginary Beasts as part of their repertory event that included Tom Stoppard's Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth and Ionesco's Macbett.

Mary-Liz was involved a piece directed by Meron Langsner that was an interpretation of Act V of Hamlet. It involved swords and in the words of the director "Rampant Badassery" of varying kinds. What it did NOT include was Fortinbras. I was waiting for all 10 minutes of the piece just anticipating his arrival. Not only did he not appear in Act V...but he wasn't mentioned in any of the other four acts as well. You would think that somewhere throughout the collective process to bring an interprative version of Hamlet together that SOMEONE would have thought to include the true foil to Hamlet himself.This massive oversight reminded me of the old addage "there are no small parts, only small actors". In attempting to recreate the classic (albeit in a condensed version) the creators of each small piece took very broad strokes.

For such a project as "Something Rotten" it is understandable to me that certain nuances and details get cut to the wayside, but it is interesting that a personality that pervades the play in so many ways can so easily be disposed of.

It has come to my attention that the newest full production, being produced by Psych Drama Company (opening tomorrow 11/30/11) also cuts out Fortinbras. There are other liberties being taken with the script, and cuts and changes have become common place in Shakespeare productions. But what do you cut when you cut a character like Norway? What do you lose in the meaning and understanding of the story, the text, and the playwright's intention? What would happen if you cut Mitch from A Streetcar Named Desire ?

Fortinbras is a device in the play that serves as an antithesis for Hamlet. And for all of our Shakespeare scholars/enthusiasts/actors out there, you know that you can never undervalue antithesis. It is what colors the play, the characters, the text.

His presence in the play prior to act V (through other characters' text) as well as his final speech (see below) also create a context for the action of the play that is undervalued by most producers/directors of the play. Fortinbras provides the reality check that no matter how hard you try or what decisions you make, the final outcome of your life actually has very little to do with you. It puts Hamlet's struggle into stark perspective. Fortinbras, with his threats of invasion and ultimate take-over of Denmark, is a reminder of that. If Hamlet had lived and made different choices, who's to say Fortinbras still wouldn't have won in the end? The presence of this larger force, embodied by this tiny character, has the ability to change the tenor of the play in a major way. Why sacrifice layers of what is considered by some, the best play in the canon, to cut 9 lines of text and one actor from production? Whether or not the young Dane had avenged his father sooner, or with more vigor; whether or not he was mad; if he had chosen love and Ophelia rather than hatred and vengefulness do not change the fact that there are outside forces, larger than yourself, that determine much of how your life turns out. And to highlight that struggle is to highlight the true and universal questions that Hamlet offers to himself and the audience. Without Fortinbras those questions are lost in the senseless deaths of the young men of this play.

So really, just don't cut Fortinbras.


Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royally: and, for his passage,
The soldiers' music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the bodies: such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

Looking forward to the next one:


** Gary Howard is a junior at University of Chicago studying Geopolitics and Theatre

Friday, November 11, 2011

Filmed in Front of a LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE!!!

Hello BlogLand!

For those of you who are looking for a great sitcom to watch endlessly on DVD as the weather turns cold (sort of), I highly recommend CBS's The Big Bang Theory. And it's not just because one of the lead characters is a Cheesecake Factory working actress with a bunch of humorous and adorkable friends. There's something about the way the characters are so well thought out and executed that draws me in. The show definitely builds on itself (You must watch it from the beginning - it's like Arrested Development or HIMYM) - once you start to understand the recurring jokes, the funnier the show becomes. But what's most enticing about this sitcom, is the sense of ensemble you feel while watching the show. I love thinking about ensembles at work. When I watch reruns of Friends, I often think to myself, those are six lucky people. They get to work day in and day out with a group of people they understand, trust, and excel at their craft with. What could be better?

And that's what I see when I watch Big Bang. This group of friends who goes to work every day to have some fun and make some entertainment. Sometimes when I consider what it's like to work in a medium other than live theatre, I wonder how the actors do it without the audience. I was recently having a debate with someone about whether or not acting for film or acting for theatre are one skill set or two. I am (was?) of the camp that they're two different skill sets (much in the same way that auditioning and acting are two different skill sets). But, Best Friend, I'm beginning to think that I stand corrected. A quiet house is an obstacle for even the most experience actors (and sometimes fatal for those who are just starting out) but it never occurred to me that one could have that same experience on a sitcom where, let's face it, the point is to make us regular folk forget about our humdrum lives, financial issues, and broken hearts and lift our spirits for 30 minutes at a time.

My favorite character is quickly becoming Mayim Bialik's, Amy Farrah-Fowler. (Gee, that name's familiar you say? Well for TGIF fans out there, she was TV's Blossom as a teenager.) Like the members of The CoLab, Mayim (I feel like we're on a first name basis since her status updates appear in my FB news feed), blogs on a regular basis about a number of things, including her stint on Big Bang. And interestingly enough, tv actors HAVE NOT forgotten about the importance of laughter when it comes to camera work, and even more importantly, they haven't forgotten about the importance of trust and ensemble. As she puts it,

"Working alongside two-time Emmy winner Jim Parsons is unlike working with anyone I have shared a stage with. He and I go about our work very similarly, from how we view our characters’ idiosyncrasies, to how we execute them. Jim and I also seem to agree–all of this is unspoken–that no amount of preparation all week can brace you for the lovable beast that is a live studio audience. You can’t really know how to play a scene until you can hear the audience gasping, giggling, laughing, and hesitating; breathing with you as you breathe and feel the nuances of your character. The way the failed seduction/cuddle scene shook down on your TV screens was, for me, different by eons from how it played all week in rehearsal."

And this has definitely got me thinking (once again), that the reason I'm uncomfortable doing film is because I don't understand it. I don't nearly have enough on camera experience to form a judgement about what it's like to act either way. I know that I'm a stage-lover, but if you really have the right scene partner... okay. I'm not sold on it yet. I'm not sure that ANYTHING will replace my love for the instant gratification of audience laughter, pain, confusion but this week I'm considering Mayim's thoughts regarding on screen acting.

If you're interested in reading more I highly recommend the rest of the article which can be found here. And if all you want to do is see that ensemble-audience dynamic first hand, there's plenty of live theatre happening in Boston this weekend. Go enjoy it!

Happy Watching... I mean Weekend, Folks!