Category Archives: Williston Theatre

Stage Manager Risa Tapanes Cues Up Williston Working Artist Award

 

A play cannot exist without a stage manager, especially a play with lights, props, entrances, exits, movement, story, and flow. The person who received the Williston Working Artist Award on May 10 is someone who remains invisible during performances, but without her, Williston literally could not have put on a show, theater director Emily Ditkovski said as she presented the award.

As stage manager of the spring production of Peter and the Starcatcher, Risa Tapanes ’18 was responsible for knowing every component of the production, including every actor’s blocking (movement on stage) and when each prop should come and go.

“When I am lost, I turn to Risa and she always has the answer,” Ditkovski said. “You probably don’t know that during each performance Risa sits high above the stage calling the show from the booth—telling our light board operator to change light cues (in Peter and the Starcatcher there were over 150). Risa isn’t just calling ‘Cue 3, standby. Cue 3, Go.’ She is living and breathing the performance with the actors, telling the story through these cues.”

Risa puts countless hours into her work inside and out of rehearsal making sure she knows the show backwards and forwards. “She is a leader,” Ditkovski added, “someone our cast and crew can always count on, and is one of the reasons our 1,000-plus audience members felt the magic of Peter and the Starcatcher.”

Peter and the Starcatcher: Truly Child’s Play

Peter Pan was initially created as author J.M. Barrie’s tribute to the five Llewelyn Davies boys, who Barrie had known from infancy and became his adopted sons after their parents’ death. The story we have all grown to know and love evolved out of Barrie’s dramatic play with the three middle boys, Peter, Michael, and John, and is a celebration of all things childhood. Peter Pan debuted on the stage in 1904. While the play was an immediate hit in London, Barrie could not stop editing and evolving the story even after it had opened (a rarity in the theater where shows are typically set by opening night). The process Barrie underwent to write Peter Pan mimicked how children adapt and change stories as they play.

Three of the LLewelyn Davies boys playing castaways– the make believe game that inspired J.M. Barrie to write PETER PAN.

The playwrights of Peter and the Starcatcher unabashedly bring this celebration of childhood to life through their script. Nothing is literal—we see trunks change into seats and ropes into doors just as children transform household objects into whatever their dramatic play calls for. Actors in Starcatcher play multiple roles just as children declare, “Now I’m so and so!” Narrators pop out onstage to tell us what’s happening like children announce, “Let’s pretend [fill in the blank] happens!” Not only does this elevate child’s play to an art form (as Barrie intended in his original) but it also invites our audience to be part of the story. The fourth wall, which is at the heart of theatrical realism, is abandoned. The story erupts off the stage and into the audience. You get to use your imagination to fill in the gaps—the door made of rope takes on a unique form in the mind of each audience member. A connection is formed with the characters as actors speak directly to you. In this world, you are no longer a passive audience member but an active part of our theater-making. I recently read the following quote to our cast. It’s from Le Hung, artistic director of Hanoi’s Youth Theatre, speaking about Vietnamese Ceo, a theatrical genre that heavily employs the use of narration. It resonated with the entire company and we wanted to share it with you: “In the Russian tradition of Stanislavsky, the actor says ‘I will tell you a story about me.’ In the German tradition of Brecht, the actor says, ‘I will tell you a story about them.’ In the Vietnamese tradition, the actor says, ‘You and I will tell you the story about all of us.’” With Peter and the Starcatcher, this community storytelling allows us to tap into our child-minds and in the process, opens our hearts more fully to the message of the story, a message as timeless as Peter Pan himself: we all have a gift to give, sometimes it takes a little bit of a journey to discover where it lies.

The (almost) entire cast who are having as much fun as the Llewelyn Davies boys did years ago!

 

 

Peter and the Starcatcher: A Group Poem

This poem was created by Harrison Winrow with help from the company of PETER AND THE STARCATCHER and read by the full cast  at assembly on March 25th. Created with and inspired by words from the show, we hoped it would give our school a taste of the story. By popular demand we include it here. You can also read it in our program when you come see PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. Either way,  enjoy.

The Peeling Gold Letters on Her Majesty’s Trunk

A Company of Men and Women enters with a purpose,

Those who hope and those who dream, on the brink of a new adventure.

We enter now before you, both to hope and to dream

With you yes, swimming in this shimmering lake of gold far, far underground.

There’s a poet in this pirate’s veins

And he scribbles down arteries frantic and with ire brewed in the belly of the Neverland Because it all ends, those are the rules.

No! we are not to dull or drown or disappoint!

The object is to lure them here, not send them into psychoanalysis!

Oh, We are but actors of youth and Integrity

So now if you please, join us, get comfy

And in this chapel, or in the theater, or both

An echo or a voice, or both

Seemed to answer us:

Peter and the Starcatcher

I promise you now,

There is nothing between me and the sky–

But, Why?

Oh you and your inclination towards the sentimental

Fine, I’ll tell you:

It is he, the boy, nameless and friendless, he is a lonesome child with not a single toy;

It is they, the orphans, a unit in desperate need of a leader, they cannot swim lest they have tails, gills or fins;

It is she, the girl, the starcatcher — no apprentice! — the mother, oh the reckless selfless lover of life, and giver of the kiss!

And it is us, the dreamers and the hopeful, yes, the onlookers must look on.

And yes, sold to the snakes, saved from the savage, sent from solace to solitude, he still just wants to be something!

We all still just want to be that one thing.

we still just want to be

A kid

A captain

A lord

A mother

A Pirate

A sailor

A Tropical king

We all still just want to be

Alive

Alive

ALIVE

ALIVE

ALIVE!

 

PETER AND THE STARCATCHER runs April 27-29 and May 5-7. To order tickets visit our website.

 

COMEDY OF ERRORS: Tech Week Begins

I mentioned collaboration in my last post. This is, truly, one of my favorite parts about being a theatre person. Tech Week for The Comedy of Errors began on Saturday and the power of collaboration was on full display.

For weeks the actors have  been rehearsing, the technicians have been building the set, and lighting designer Charles Raffetto and Costume Designer Ashley Tyler have been creating unique looks for the show. While we were working separately all of us had our eyes on the same prize: creating a cohesive, outlandish, ridiculous production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Our job was to stay true to Shakespeare and his influences, while bringing something new and fun to the table. Yesterday we got to see if our individual work came together in all the right ways. Needless to say, when I saw Ashley Tyler’s costume designs on the set Charles Raffeto designed, with the lights hung by tech theatre students, I did another happy dance.

Assistant Stage Manager Risa looks over the prop table with crew members Britanie and Ha.
Assistant Stage Manager Risa looks over the prop table with crew members Britanie and Ha.

 

As blog readers know, Shakespeare was influenced by the Italian Comedy which  also heavily influenced our production. Charles Raffetto wanted to bring the “town square” feeling of a commedia performance to our theatre and created an open playing space ready for a modern-day commedia troupe.

The town square waiting for the actors to arrive.
The town square waiting for the actors to arrive.

We thought long and hard about what present-day actors would be in such a travelling troupe and came to one conclusion: hipsters. You will see that influence in the base costumes Ashley Tyler has given each actor. Prepare yourselves for vintage hair, lots of scarves, and at least two pairs of suspenders. Layered on top of our base costumes are character-specific pieces. Commedia was an art form of survival– troupes got by with very little. Ms. Tyler took this idea and ran with it, crafting her outlandish costumes with found items like coffee filters and post-office envelopes.

Dr. Pinch, Antipholus of Ephesus, and Luciana's costumes wait in the wings for their entrance.
Dr. Pinch, Antipholus of Ephesus, and Luciana’s costumes wait in the wings for their entrance.

All of this is to say that we hope to bring the same energy to our production as there was the night Comedy was first performed. While we don’t want our audience to riot like that night in 1594, we hope you do have a riotous good time. This will be thanks, in large part, to the “theatre magic” created through the work of our designers.

Nina and Glede apply Ashley Tyler's wacky make-up designs.
Nina and Glede apply Ashley Tyler’s wacky make-up designs.

Comedy of Errors: The Ab Fab Collab

Theatre is an inherently collaborative genre. There is, quite literally, no way to do theatre alone. It’s only natural that the author of this blog post, Emily Ditkovski, Director of the Williston Theatre, would seek collaborators wherever she can.

The source material for our fall play, The Comedy of Errors, comes from two comedies by the Roman humorist Plautus, primarily The Menaechmi (cue Latin teacher Ms. Cody). The play is also heavily influenced, as devoted blog readers know, by commedia dell’arte (cue AP European History teacher Mrs. Klumpp). I reached out to my colleagues last spring  to see if we could work together. They agreed (cue Ms. D doing a happy dance.) Ms. Cody, an expert wordsmith, named this project The Ab Fab Collab(oration) and thus something truly exceptional was born.

After some great and entertaining conversation, Mrs. Klumpp, Ms. Cody, and I decided that it would be most powerful for our students to teach our community about commedia and Plautus. Ms. Cody’s Latin IV Honors students read The Menaechmi (parts of it in Latin, ladies and gentleman!) and planned a lesson to teach the cast of the play.

A few weeks back Ms. Klumpp generously invited Ms. Ditkovski to her AP European History classes to introduce commedia dell’arte and discuss it’s influence on Western comedy. Some of you might have noticed me crossing campus with a vintage suitcase and wooden sword wondering what I was up to. Well, you are about to find out! Inside said suitcase were various props relating to commedia: a slapstick, a pair of pants, Barbie and Ken (delightfully dressed for a day at the beach), a bucket full of coins, among a few other things. Acting as detectives, students needed to connect the objects to commedia. At the end of the class they were given the opportunity to try on the body language of a few stock characters. The point of this exercise was to entice them to learn more about commedia so they can, ultimately, teach the entire Williston community a thing or two about the famous art form. I don’t want to give away Mrs. Klumpp’s secrets, but I know she is planning an AP Euro takeover of the Willistonian’s Instagram and perhaps a commedia board game or two available at the dining hall. Judging by their enthusiasm during my visit, I think we’re in for a good time!

The famous suitcase full of props.
The famous suitcase full of props.
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AP Euro students decipher the connection between commedia, an apron, and a slapstick.

After tackling The Menaechmi in class, Latin Scholars planned a visit to a rehearsal for The Comedy of Errors . Last Friday the night of their visit arrived.  After describing the characters and plot of The Menaechmi with gusto (and props!), the Latin students helped us played a little Kahoot to test our knowledge of the plot.

I was so impressed with the notes that the Latin IV Honors students made I had to take a picture!
I was so impressed with the notes that the Latin IV Honors students made I had to take a picture!

It was incredible to hear about how much Shakespeare was inspired by Plautus. Perhaps inspired is too generous a word…he essentially stole every major plot point from The Menaechmi. (Before we get upset and start calling Shakespeare a plagiarist, we need to understand that this kind of lifting from source material was a wide-spread practice back in the day.) In both plays we have twins separated at birth, a jealous wife, a husband accused of cheating, a man locked out of his house, and more. What Shakespeare adds to his play, however is all his own. In the scene-by-scene breakdown given to us by the fantastic Latin scholars, we see a  that Plautus was playing exclusively for laughs. Shakespeare, never content with superficiality, endows The Comedy of Errors with existential questions of belonging, family, and identity. Shakespeare’s gift for storytelling was truly brought home by the visit with Ms. Cody’s students. (No offense, Plautus.)

The Latin IV Honors students give us a scene-by scene breakdown (props included!).
The Latin IV Honors students give us a scene-by scene breakdown (props included!).

Why all of this collaboration, you ask? Besides the fact that it is just fun for us teachers who usually work solo in the classroom,  collaboration brings home how interconnected we are. Plautus wrote in Ancient Rome, commedia’s big moment was in the Renaissance, and here we are hundreds and thousands of years later thinking about these works of art and the themes they raise like class inequity and sexism. We stand to learn a lot by looking backwards in time from every angle that we can: theatre, Latin, history.

Latin scholars and the cast of The Comedy of Errors.
Latin scholars and the cast of The Comedy of Errors.

 

The Comedy of Errors: Shakespeare (Scholar) Visits the Cast

Dr. Adam Zucker, with his brown hair and long beard, is often mistaken for William Shakespeare himself. This is fitting, as he is Associate Professor in the English Department at UMass Amherst with a focus on Elizabethan Theatre.  We were lucky enough to host Dr. Zucker in the Williston Theatre on Wednesday to discuss The Comedy of Errors with the cast of our production.

He shared some fascinating scholarship with us, most notably that even in this most light-hearted of Shakespeare’s plays, the Bard still manages to ask deep, philosophical questions about belonging and family. Dr. Zucker began by reading his favorite lines from the play, Antipholus of Syracuse’s speech in Act I, Scene II:

I to the world am like a drop of water

That in the ocean seeks another drop,

Who, falling there to find his fellow forth,

Unseen, inquisitive, confounds himself:

So I, to find a mother and a brother,

In quest of them, unhappy lose myself.

This marriage of light and dark is a huge presence in this play. We begin with Duke Solinus reminding Egeon that he will die by the end of the day, our Dromios (who are just trying to do their jobs) are repeatedly beaten, and Adriana is deeply wounded because her husband ignores her. Shakespeare is carrying on the very long tradition of using comedy to bring to light the darker sides of society.

Dr. Zucker also reminded us that this play from its very inception, despite the dark undertones, was meant to be festive. After its first performance, which was for an audience of lawyers, there were actual riots. These were not political riots, but a result of people having a bit too much fun. In Elizabethan times lawyers were not the upstanding citizens they are today. They were, in Dr. Zucker’s own words, rich hipsters who tended to have too much fun. Even thought a modern audience shares little in common with Elizabethan lawyers, we are supposed enjoy the experience of the play and let loose a little.

This marriage of light and dark, tension and release, makes good sense for our production. While we have embraced the legacy of The Comedy of Errors’ riotous past, the darker elements of the play have not disappeared. The cast and crew has often remarked how the experience of our Antipholi feels like a nightmare come to life. It is. Imagine a world where everyone recognizes you and you know no one. Or that your closest friends and family are convinced you have said things that never came out of your mouth.

Leave it up to the Bard to brings these two seemingly different worlds together miraculously in one place. We are grateful to Dr. Zucker for reminding us that Shakespeare, even in his shortest work, is a masterful playwright.

Dr. Adam Zucker discusses The Comedy of Errors with the cast of our production.
Dr. Adam Zucker discusses The Comedy of Errors with the cast of our production.

Comedy of Errors: An Introduction

The Comedy of Errors was long thought to be Shakespeare’s first play. It is by far his shortest play with what, at first glance, seems like a very simple plot. All the evidence pointed to the fact that he was a new playwright who hadn’t developed fully as writer. However, scholars have since discovered that Comedy was first performed around 1594 (still early on in his career) at the hall of Gray’s Inn likely during Christmastime for an audience of nobleman and royalty.  The play’s brevity is due to the fact that it was an after piece– a short, boisterous comedy that completed a night of fun and merry-making typical of the Elizabethan holiday season.

The play was inspired by the great Italian Comedy of the Renaissance (commedia dell’arte) and the Roman comedies of Plautus. Anyone who has spent any time in the Williston Theatre knows that I love commedia dell’arte, the professional theatre troupes that grew out of the Renaissance. Almost all of the comedy we see today is derived, in one way or another, from commedia. These troupes were well-organized and often had women in charge (something that, even now, is a rarity in professional theatre). They roamed the countryside of Europe, creatively subverting the status quo by using improvisation, familiar stock characters, gibberish and broad comedy. Like today’s best stand-up comedians and sketch comedy artists, commedia poked fun at all of the things that were wrong with society. Audiences loved it, the government and the Catholic church did not.

An artitsts’ rendering of a commedia troupe performing in a town square.

Because commedia is the basis for all Western comedy (especially Shakespeare’s comedies, which were heavily influenced by commedia), I invited local commedia expert Brianna Sloane to lead a physical comedy workshop with the cast of The Comedy of Errors. Ms. Sloane is the artistic director of Theatre Truck, which crafts “mobile and site-specific  theatre sustainably and playfully.” Her current piece, The Water Project, is an interactive and immersive piece about the  communities that were flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir and will be performed at the Swift RIver Historical society later this month. She has studied commedia dell’arte at the Accedemia dell’Arte in Florence, Italy and holds an MFA in Directing from UMass Amherst. Her vibrant energy kept our actors engaged for the duration of the two-hour workshop!

After a terrific warm-up that involved lots of moving and shouting (like any good theatre warm up!), our actors got a chance to explore the major stock characters of commedia one at a time. Starting with the Zanni (the lowest of the servants who are struggling for basic survival) and all the way up  to the Lovers, the  cast could make connections between their characters and their commedia counterparts. The Comedy of Errors is incredibly physical. Without a basis to create the bodies of our characters, we would end up with a play that is  boring and doesn’t stay true to Shakespeare’s intentions. We look forward to applying all of the wonderful and wacky things we learned in our workshop to the rehearsal process as we bring the show to life. When you come see the play, try and see which commedia character influenced each actor! See below to learn more about some of the stock characters of commedia.

ARLECHINO

Arlechino, one of the most famous characters in commedia, is a servant trying to survive. With his wily imagination he gets himself in and out of heaps of trouble. He is pictured here with the slapstick that his master, no doubt, will beat him with for messing up one task or another.

COLUMBINA

Columbina is a strong, witty, servant who knows more than anyone in the play. She is often the object of Arlechino’s affections.

 

PANTALONE

Pantalone is also very well known and is the basis for lots of contemporary comedy (think Mr. Burns from The Simpsons). He is an old man with lots of money that he doesn’t want to lose. Most of his plots revolve around trying to marry off his daughter so he can make even more money. Pantalone’s female counterpart, El Strega, is nearly forgotten. An old witch with magical powers, her distant relatives can be seen in fairy tales like Snow White.

IL DOTTORE

Il Dottore is Pantalone’s nemesis. A doctor who knows virtually nothing and speaks nonsense, he is usually the father to the son of whomever Pantalone is trying to marry his daughter.

 

CAPITANO

Perhaps my favorite character in commedia, Capitano brags of having done the most brave and terrifying things in battle, but when push comes to shove he is afraid of everything. All characters in commedia posses some kind of duality along these lines.

 

INNAMORATI (THE LOVERS)

The lovers, central to all commedia plots, are obsessed with themselves only slightly more than their love-interests.

 

To learn more about Theatre Truck visit http://www.thetheatretruck.com/

Tickets for The Comedy of Errors will go on sale in early October. Visit http://williston.com/theater for more information.

 

Theatre Season 2016-2017

School is back in session and the theatre building is already teeming with life. Lots of students, old and new, have excitedly found their way back to the studio theatre inquiring about auditions for the fall play (which are TONIGHT– we waste no time here!). It seems fitting then, for us to announce the season to a broader audience so you can get as excited as we are. Without further ado, here are the plays for the 2016-2017 school year!

 

FALL PLAY:  THE COMEDY OF ERRORS by William Shakespeare

To celebrate the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Williston is producing one of the Bard’s most outlandish and ridiculous works. The Comedy of Errors is a raucous and hilarious play that follows two sets of twins who were separated at birth in a sea-storm. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse, arrive in Ephesus, which turns out to be the home of their long-lost twin brothers, Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromio of Ephesus. When the Syracusans encounter the friends and families of their twins, a series of wild mishaps based on mistaken identities leads to a near-seduction, arrests, and accusations of infidelity, theft, madness, and demonic possession. Inspired by both the Roman humorist Plautus, and commedia dell’arte of the Italian Renaissance, The Comedy of Errors is truly comedy at its best. In light of this, we are planning special collaborations with our Latin and AP European History students, so stay tuned for more info about that!

October at 27 and 29th at 7:30pm, October at 28th at 8pm. Join us for a talk-back after the show on Thursday October 27th. The performance on October 28th is free for Williston Families.

WINTER THEATRE LAB

Have you ever wondered what happens when you ask a bunch of theatre students to collaborate on a series of one-act plays? Well, it’s pretty fabulous and we call that THEATRE LAB. Students direct, act, design, and stage manage four short plays which gives them a 360 degree look at what goes into theatre-making. Look out for an exciting new twist this year and the names of our four directors!

February 23-25 at 7:30pm.

SPRING PLAY: PETER AND THE STARCATCHER. Written By Rick Elice. Based on the Novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Music by Wayne Barker

Based on the popular novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Peter and the Starcatcher follows the adventures of a nameless orphan and his new-found friend Molly Aster as they keep a secret treasure safe and out of the hands of the pirate-villain Black Stache. Set on the high seas and a remote island, Peter and the Starcatcher takes its audiences on a magical adventure as we meet lords, orphans, mermaids, sea creatures, and pirates. The story, which serves as a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s novel Peter and Wendy, is theatre magic at its best and guaranteed to touch the hearts of audiences ages 9-99.

April 27-29 and May 4-6 at 7:30pm. Please join us for a talk-back with our cast and crew on Friday April 28th. That evening’s performance is also free for Williston Families.

 

 

For ticket information for these productions visit www.williston.com/theater. Tickets will go on sale approximately four weeks before opening.

Theater Alums Make a Triumphant Return

At this morning’s assembly Archivist Rick Teller explained the word “commencement.” It’s a strange word, considering it is, in fact, the ceremony that marks the end of ones school career. But, as he said, it also marks the beginning of the rest of the graduates’ lives. Our graduates are about to embark on new, uncharted territory and have thrilling new adventures. They are curious to see what the future holds. Theater students will get a glimpse of what that this future might look when two alums visit campus this Thursday.

If you happened to set foot in the Williston Theatre between 2011 and 2014 the names Oliver and Ben will be familiar to you. Both graduates of the Williston class of  2014, Ben Sarat and Oliver Demers  delighted audiences onstage in plays like Rumors, The Servant of Two Masters, and Urinetown. Both skilled comedians, their senior project, a combination of live improv and filmed sketch-comedy, played to a sold-out house. Ben and Oliver were more than skilled performers. Like many of our theatre students, Ben and Oliver were role models. Our younger actors and designers (now seniors themselves!) wanted to be just like them. From Ben and Oliver these younger students learned about the dedication it takes to do theatre and how critical it is to set up a welcoming and safe environment for everyone.

Oliver as Bobby Strong with the company of Urinetown, Spring 2014
Oliver as Bobby Strong with the company of Urinetown, Spring 2014

 

Ben as Caldwell B. Cladwell with the company of Urinetown, Spring 2014.
Ben as Caldwell B. Cladwell with the company of Urinetown, Spring 2014.

It is no surprise that Ben and Oliver went off to do some pretty exciting stuff at college.  Both rising college juniors now studying theatre, Oliver has already performed off-off Broadway and Ben’s college improv team, The Dimple Divers, won the top prize at ImprovBoston’s College Comedy Festival.  They’ve both studied at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and other legendary comedy institutions. You can imagine my delight when they expressed interest in coming back to share what they’ve learned with current Williston students. It’s safe to say that their expertise has now outpaced mine!

The two will be returning to campus tomorrow, Thursday May 26th from 3-4  in the Studio Theatre, to lead an improv masterclass with our current students. We invite anyone who has taken a theatre class at Williston to join us for an afternoon of true hilarity. Be prepared to try some new improv games and learn new tricks of the comedy game. I can’t wait to see what Ben and Oliver have up their sleeves. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at editkovski@williston.com.

Spring Arts Events Kick off End of School Year

May is Arts Month at Williston, and it’s been busy! Over the past few weeks we’ve featured our sold-out Spring Musical, In the Heights (see photos at our Flickr page) and our Spring Instrumental Concert (photos coming soon!). As the year comes to a close, several more fantastic student performances are coming right up, so mark your calendars! 

  • Friday, May 20, and Saturday, May 21: Spring Dance Concert, “Music Made Visible,” Williston Theatre, 8 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 24: Spring Choral Concert, “Songs of Love and Betrayal,” Phillips Stevens Chapel, 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 25: Williston Scholars Artists Reception, Grubbs Gallery, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, May 26: Eight Grade Art Show and Shakespeare Performance, Williston Theatre, 6 p.m.