Director’s note: We’ve finished blocking All My Sons and are now in the midst of working through the play off book. One of our actors, Matt Steinberg ’15 (Frank Lubey), took some time out of his busy schedule to write a bit about what it’s like to bring this show to its feet.
We stand in a circle and take a few deep breaths. On the director’s cue, we all stretch our arms into the sky (or, rather, towards the catwalks), and, with barely a word, we suddenly flop down in unison and attempt in vain to touch our toes. We try to relax our bodies thoroughly. Then, we slowly roll up – vertebra upon vertebra, as we like to say – until we stand once more, feeling ever so slightly taller than when we started.
Once again, without barely a word, we stretch our faces in unison. Make our faces as big as possible, like a lion, then as small as possible, as if we’ve just tasted a sour lemon. And again. Tongue twisters follow, and we end with a truly bizarre game that goes by the name of “zip.” It’s just another night at rehearsal.
All My Sons was originally produced on Broadway in 1947. People sitting in the audience were, in some way, like the characters in the play- struggling to make sense of the post-war era, readjusting to societal roles, and attempting to define new ones. Joe Keller and his wife Kate could very well have been their neighbors and Chris Keller could have been a buddy they fought in the war with. The world of Miller’s play was their world.
That was nearly 70 years ago. The world of the Kellers is as unfamiliar to a contemporary audience as the turn of the 19th century was for Generation X. Doing All My Sons in 2014 requires deep inquiry into the historical context of the play, otherwise the actors would not understand the driving forces behind the characters. It would be all too easy to simply label them good or bad. The result would be a production that dictated to the audience what to think- a dangerous trap. Miller’s work is best when there is subtlety, ambiguity, and unanswered questions. Luckily, it took very little coercing to convince Peter Gunn, Williston’s veteran US History teacher, to visit with the cast and share his expertise.
Mr. Gunn began by putting the American Identity, and by association the American Dream (a paramount theme for Miller which is front and center in All My Sons) in context of the status anxiety associated with the Puritan Ethic. Mr. Gunn continued by discussing three American Identities: the Washingtonian (focus on the civic), the Hamiltonian (focus on the economic) and the identity espoused by Emmerson and Thoreau (focus on the self). It was at this moment in the presentation that the actor’s heads began nodding vigorously as if they were figuring out which identity most impacted their character. Mr. Gunn then took us through an analyses of the American Identity through the decades of the mid 20th century- the ’20’s, ’30’s and 40’s. This was a critical exploration- our young performers began to connect their character’s lives with each decade and could see how they made an imprint on the character’s sense of self. This historical context allowed the world of the play to come to life. The characters were no longer two-dimensional, but real people connected to us through a shared American history. We ended with a lively and passionate Q&A.
After our conversation with Mr. Gunn, the actors felt much more rooted and connected to their roles. He later said, “The questions these actors asked show their desire to empathize fully with their character. In addition, they developed a deeper understanding of the historical context of the events portrayed in the play. Together a sense of empathy and an understanding of historical context will allow these dedicated artists to honor their responsibility to Arthur Miller and to produce a more vibrant and vital interpretation of this play.” I also noted after our work with Mr. Gunn that the characters’ objectives (the primary desire that drives each character) were more clear and well-defined, the actors were more confident in their body language, and their ability to connect with one another onstage was striking. In essence, they were finding the humanity in each character.
Rehearsals are already underway for our first production of the year, Arthur Miller’s classic All My Sons. Bringing the show to life will be challenging. The piece is incredibly rich, demanding, and complex- another reason to start early.
The play revolves around Joe Keller and his family. During World War II Keller and his neighbor, Herbert Deever, ran a machine shop that made airplane parts for military planes. Deever went to jail for sending defective parts out of the shop, causing the deaths of dozens of American soldiers. Keller was exonerated and built a life for himself and his family. These parallel stories pick up early one August morning when a storm takes out the tree dedicated to Joe’s oldest son who was reported missing in action during the war. This symbolic event, along with Keller’s youngest son’s proposal to Ann Deever and the return of a bitter George Deever, sets the wheels in motion for the action of the play that ultimately unearths devastating truths long-buried by Keller and his wife.
The cast sat down last Thursday for our read through of the play. A read through is when the cast and production team get together to hear the cast read the play out loud for the first time. Typically there is lots of stumbling over new words and questions about the plot and various relationships in the story. However, last Thursday there was already dynamic energy between our actors and their passion for the play and characters was palpable. With that much excitement at the read through one can only guess where the rehearsal process will take us.
On Wednesday, we draw the curtain on Cinderella. Over the course of the Winter Trimester, director Annelise Nielsen has worked with 12 actors to bring to life this classic tale in a new way. Drawing from a variety of theatrical styles, our production features shadow puppetry, musical numbers, elements of British panto, and the magic flexibility of a dream.
A simple playroom transforms into a small house, a castle, a forest, and back again as 11 girls are whisked away in their dreams into the fairy tale of Cinderella, by way of her fairy godmother. Walls come to life, chandeliers change color, and the very elements of the room find their way to being costumes. Magic is everywhere, powered by imagination and audience interaction.
Shows are Wednesday – Saturday, Feb. 19-22, at 3:30 p.m. in the Williston Theater. Tickets are free for Williston Northampton students, and $5.00 general admission. They can be purchased online or at the door. We can’t wait to share this story with you!
The Williston Northampton School will present the spring production, The Laramie Project, on April 25-27 and May 2-4 at the Williston Theatre.
In conjunction with The Laramie Project, cast members are leading workshops in classes and dorms that address many of the themes raised in the play. The workshop series kicked off Friday morning in the Middle School.
Four cast members—seniors Gabe Byrd, Brian Hendery, Zack Maldonado, and Rachel Wender—engaged the Middle School student body in a workshop about community. The actors started with a familiar theater game, Zip, and then asked students to listen to each others’ stories about a time they experienced a strong sense of community. The task was to do more than simply listen, but to “phenomenologically listen.”
The actors learned about this term in a meeting earlier this spring when History and Global Studies teacher Diane Williams discussed techniques for leading social change workshops. This idea resonated with the actors, who have taken the concept onto the stage and into their workshop plans.
This weekend, members of The Laramie Project cast took part in a weekend intensive workshop led by Scott Barrow—actor, writer, director and member of the Tectonic Theater Project.
Over the last 15 years, Tectonic has established itself as one of the most groundbreaking theater companies in the country. Five weeks after the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, members of Tectonic went to the town to learn more about why he was murdered. Using a collaborative, process-based approach, Tectonic crafted The Laramie Project entirely out of interviews conducted over six trips to the town.
The play, originally done with eight actors playing 63 roles, will be performed with a cast of 19 at Williston this spring.
Today was our first time putting on the makeup for our upcoming children’s theater production of Wondrous Tales of Old Japan. The play is being produced in the Japanese theatrical style of Kabuki and this makeup is a traditional aspect of that style. February 18-23, 2013 at 3:30pm. Click here for more information and to reserve your tickets online. (photo credit: Rob Kimmel)