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

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.