Monday, July 10, 2017


Of course we here at Two River have been thrilled by the recent resurgence in #bemorechillmusical mania, and the gigantic international fandom of "chillpills" that have popped up in every corner of the globe (literally) thanks to the cast album, YouTube, and all forms of social media.
The company of BE MORE CHILL. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Our marketing department's multimedia manager, Alycia Yerves (a BMC nerd all the way), runs all of our social media accounts and has been tracking this phenomenon over the last few months online. We get DM's and comments every day with so many requests, most of them begging us to bring the show back and we want to let you know that it's just not as simple as that.
The company of BE MORE CHILL. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

We thought you might be interested in learning more about what goes into the process at a professional regional theater. Hopefully it clarifies some things. Below is a guest post from our Literary Manager, Anika Chapin, who is ALSO a huge #bemorechill nerd and works in our Artistic Department. We think she explains it best. Read below, and THANK YOU for loving our show!!! 

"We’ve been hearing a lot that people would love to have the show come back, and we love hearing that – we are so proud of BE MORE CHILL, and we’re thrilled that you all are discovering it and loving as much as we do. And we wish you could all have seen the truly magical production that premiered here in 2015,  but alas it’s a little more complicated than us simply bringing that production back here. 
We’re a regional theater, which means that we plan a year of productions, with short runs, in advance – unlike Broadway, where a successful show can run forever and ever (looking at you, PHANTOM), our shows can only complete the runs they have planned, with perhaps a week’s extension if they’re very popular (which BE MORE CHILL had). Then we need to get the next play or musical up and running, in order to give our audience a variety of different theater experiences. 
I’m the Literary Manager here, which means part of my job is helping to choose the plays and musicals for the theater’s season, along with our Artistic Director John Dias and Associate Artistic Director Stephanie Coen. We program both plays and musicals, and both classics and new work, which means we have a lot of options for the six slots we have in a season. The season selection process begins at least a year in advance, which means that the shows on our stage in June 2017 were chosen in February of 2016. Our 2017/2018 season is already selected, which means that any show we would like to add to our lineup won’t be seen by audiences until the fall of 2018 at the very earliest. 
Not to mention that as much as we adore BE MORE CHILL and want it to be done everywhere (and believe me when I say that – I’m writing this sitting under a signed poster of the show and a lobby display board asking the audience who their SQUIP would be. I LOVE that show.) we are committed to giving new shows and new productions a chance to be seen on our stage. Also, it was via our commissioning program that Joe Tracz and Joe Iconis wrote BE MORE CHILL, and there are quite a few other projects we have cooking in that program that need their chance to shine. One of those projects just happens to be another musical by Joe Tracz and Joe Iconis, so keep an eye on our theater, and in the next few years you might be able to be the first in the audience for the next BE MORE CHILL  
I don't want to break any hearts - we want to see a million productions of BE MORE CHILL happen around the world, but another production probably won't happen at Two River Theater. Much as we love it, and we really do, we're committed to bringing new pieces and productions into the world instead of bringing back one's we've already premiered. But we will do everything in our power to spread the love, and help the writers create more shows for us to obsess over!"
--Anika Chapin, Two River Theater's Literary Manager


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Message from our Artistic Director

(Photo by Danny Sanchez)

The following was written in mid-October by our Artistic Director, John Dias, and is included as a program note inside our playbill for The Lion in Winter. We decided to also publish it as a blog today.


My fellow Americans, 

You’re sitting in the theater about to jump into the 12th Century and a quintessential drama of family strife and political maneuverings. But, it’s late October as I write this, and I’m still mired in the 21st Century’s nastiest drama yet of family strife and political maneuverings: the 2016 presidential election. 

You’re in a much better place. 

We Americans are often credited with a contribution to the canon of world culture with the establishment of “The American Family Drama.” Before that became an ironic way of describing the goings-on at our Thanksgiving dinner tables, it was a real genre within Western literature, exemplified by the work of our own pantheon of great dramatists, folks like Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Lorraine Hansberry. True, family drama has existed for eons—as long as there have been families, I reckon—in living rooms and onstage (think Greeks), but we Americans raised the bar. We credit its development through the 20th Century to, among many things, an influence of the concurrent developments in the world of psychological analysis and understanding led by Dr. Freud. In the imaginations of American playwrights, the old dramatic tropes of gods and kings and war become psychological battles among husband and wife, siblings, parents and children.  

Even though, with The Lion in Winter, James Goldman conjured up the English royal family in their castle in (what we now call) France—see the helpful essay later in the program for an explanation of how that makes sense—he’s actually written a great “American Family Drama.”  

Listen for Goldman’s prescience and insight. He’s reaching far into our human past and plunking it down in what was, for him, a very immediate present. And yet that present moment for him in 1966 feels as alive and relevant, fifty years later, in 2016. In 1966, Americans were just starting to recover from an era of internecine distrust and paranoia that was the communist “red scare” and the McCarthy trials. The Vietnam War was escalating. A civil rights movement and a new conversation about social justice were gathering steam, fueled by hopes and dreams as well as frustration and resentment. Change the names and faces and it could be today.  

The drama of politics and empire and world domination comes down to what we all recognize as a high-tension, holiday-time, family squabble. 

Putting a stop to a potential “knife-fight” among her sons, Queen Eleanor gets to the heart of the problem. Her youngest son John has just said about his brother, Richard: “A knife—he’s got a knife!” 

Eleanor responds:  
Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It is 1183 and we’re barbarians. How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we’re the origins of war. Not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers; we breed war.  We carry it, like syphilis, inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little? That’s how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children; we could change the world. 
So often, women really do know best. I’m sitting here feeling just like Eleanor. Stuck in the swamp that is this election, while all around us war rages and the rhetoric gets angrier and more debased. None of us seems capable of listening to the other—to our brother, our sister. And I think, “for the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little?” Right now, for me, just one week before the presidential election, that seems like a lot to ask. We’re only human, after all. But maybe that’s the point James Goldman is trying to make. We still want to believe that our leaders are like gods. But they’re not, literarily, and yet we need them to be a little superhuman.

I hope I’m not being naïve when I say I’m optimistic for our country and that I hope for the best for us. No matter who it is who’s finally elected to lead, I will support and respect and expect something superhuman. I’d be a liar to say I don’t have a wished-for outcome… but I really wish that in casting my vote I can also be voting for that which Eleanor craves: A little mutual understanding, some human respect and yes, a little peace.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Something Familiar, Something Peculiar: A Chat with Jessica Stone about her All-Male 'FORUM'

I love theater. And I have learned over the course of my career that great theater is adaptable; a great play or musical, when approached in a new way, will reveal new facets that can illuminate the whole with fresh insight. One of my favorite examples of this is our upcoming production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, which I had the good luck to see in its earlier incarnation at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2010. As always, the show (which is perhaps the greatest musical farce of all time) was hilarious and delightful. But this time around something was different; director Jessica Stone chose to stage the play with an all-male cast. I sat down with Jessica during a recent rehearsal of the show to talk to her about why she made this choice, and how it affects both the actors and the audience. 
        -Anika Chapin, Two River Theater Literary Manager

Jessica Stone


Which came first—the idea of doing the show or the idea of doing it with all men?

The idea happened before I ever started directing, when I was still working as an actor. Almost six years ago, [Williamstown Theatre Company Artistic Director] Nicky Martin was going to put it in his season, and he asked me to be in it. My first thought was, I don’t want to be in that show—and then I started thinking about why I had that response, because I’ve known the score since I was a kid, and I love it. But I thought about these stereotypes that have been passed down to us from Plautus, who was a male playwright writing for male actors (women weren’t allowed to act). These stereotypes are still with us today in plays, movies, and sitcoms. Female actors have become very familiar with the ‘dumb hottie,’ the ‘shrewish wife,’ and the ‘overly sexed, scantily clad vixen.’ I suggested to Nicky that he should do an all-male production, because it would be interesting to see what happens to the comedy if you make what’s basically an all-male show, actually all-male.

I’m not suggesting this is the only way Forum can be done now; I certainly think there are plenty of people who would be happy to see an old man chasing after a scantily clad woman. (Laughs) I’m not even suggesting that enjoying a traditional execution of the show is shallow. It is of its era, or two eras: both Ancient Rome and the 1960s. Not only is the source material written by a man for men but the adapted musical was written in the ‘60s by a bunch of men for a bunch of men. So it’s fine and delightful to do it in a traditional way, but why not try it this way and see what happens to the comedy if we’re not having to actually think about female slavery; or about the fact that this character doesn’t say a word, she’s just naked all night and gyrating; or, ‘oh, it’s interesting that the woman that Hero wants is an illiterate hooker but she’s still highborn so his honor is still intact.’ They are all male constructs: it’s basically an all-male show already. When I presented this argument to Nicky, he said, all right you do it. It was the first thing I ever directed, though I had been assisting directors for a while, (particularly Nicky) and he had always encouraged me to go in this direction.

It’s such a strong and wonderful approach to the show, to flip those archetypes
around. And to make a nod to its origins with Plautus and that era of theater.

We’re setting it in Ancient Rome, in the age of Augustus, who was the first Roman emperor after the assassination of Julius Caesar. The time is a little after Plautus, but it’s once there were permanent theaters in Rome—the idea is to establish that we are watching a scrappy troupe of Roman actors (hence the all-male thing) telling our tale. I also wanted it to be a company of guys that were somewhat in the same ballpark age-wise—late 20s to late 40s—so that we have this unified palette that’s playing all ages and all sexes, to highlight their virtuosity. And it works fairly well because Roman comedy itself was fairly self-conscious; the actors were constantly talking to the audience, and commenting on themselves and their parts.

And as you were working on the show, did anything surprise you?

I knew it was a really funny book with a great score, but I discovered how impeccably crafted it is. I think the book in particular is one of the best constructed books in musical comedy. And the score is so elegant it elevates the entire evening, it’s not just Borscht Belt humor. There are a thousand things that make Sondheim a theater legend. Lyrically, there’s no one who touches him; no one is the puzzle master that he is. But musically, Sondheim is both intellectual and emotional; I feel awe and admiration when hearing complex melodic structures while still feeling moved by the beauty.

When did you know the all-male casting would work?

Not until the first preview in Williamstown. The thing that’s interesting to me is that all of what works about Forum still works: the jokes are so fantastic. What we didn’t know until the first preview audience saw the show was how beautifully they responded to the courtesans—it became less about “look at that beautiful woman, and Pseudolus wants her so badly and he just can’t buy her yet.” But more, “look at that man working so hard to play that woman for real. This is just so silly and delicious.” It’s not drag at all, which is a totally different art form. It’s about actors really playing all of these different women, even the wordless ones, for real, with all of their stakes. And also, how fun would it be for the same guy who’s playing Senex, the dirty old man, to also be a courtesan? It makes it silly and interesting to watch the leering man also be the other side of the leer. “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” is a spectacular song. Some today might argue that it’s very sexist. I’m not making that argument because it’s too complex a matter to delve into here. I will say that we really get to enjoy how spectacular the song is on a totally different level when they maid they’re singing about is played by a guy.

I totally agree. Seeing men play those roles and wear those archetypes made the characters come alive and highlighted ideas of femininity in ways I had never seen before. Later in the season we’re doing I Remember Mama with all women and that illuminates the specific femininity of the mother-daughter relationship and provides a different insight into that play the way that this all-male casting provides an insight into this play.

We can’t be afraid to take an existing thing and turn it inside out and explore it. Otherwise we’re not doing our job as artists.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Internship! the Musical
A New Musical About the Life of an Intern at Two River Theater
Starring Matt Yee as The Intern at Two River Theater
            Hello! I am Matt Yee and I am the new marketing intern! I am a Theater Major at Brookdale Community College. I am an actor – who has performed in shows such as Mary Poppins, Rent, and Godspell – and a playwright who just had his first One Act play, Don’t Let Me Go, performed in Asbury Park, NJ this past August.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “Matt, you’re so fabulous, how did you ever get to be an intern at Two River Theater?” Well, I’ve been attending shows at Two River since A Year with Frog and Toad all the way back in their 2008-2009 season. Wow. Sadly, my next show at Two River was during their 2012-2013 season for The Electric Baby and Present Laughter. Both shows were spectacular and The Electric Baby easily became a favorite of mine. After that I’ve seen shows like Third, Camelot and the soon-to-be-cult-musical: Be More Chill.
Speaking of Be More Chill, can we acknowledge how fabulous that was? The people in the office call me a “Super fan” because I saw that show seven times. Everything about that show was so perfect. It needs to make a transfer ASAP.
But how did I see all these shows when ticket prices are so expensive? Firstly, tickets at Two River Theater are significantly cheaper than on Broadway, but there’s this thing called “Under 30.” We offer $20 to any show, sitting anywhere in the theater, the only catch is that you need to be under the age of 30. It’s definitely worth it. The thing you need to understand about Two River Theater, though, is that it’s an Equity house which means that the talent we get on stage, behind the scenes, and in production is essentially Broadway talent so you don’t want to pass up this offer. Ever.
Also, shout out to the Marketing Team. They are some of the coolest people to work with. Because of them, I have been presented with awesome opportunities such as opening nights for shows, meeting professional actors and techs, and seeing all the ins and outs of an Equity theater. All the staff members of Two River have been so welcoming and helpful that it’s going to be hard when my internship is done in December after A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
That reminds me! Make sure to follow and pay attention to all of our social media because I will be posting on the Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat! You may remember my take over for Seven Guitars, well, expect much more for Forum! We have a lot of awesome stuff planned.
Want to see more? Follow me on Instagram: @DailyDoseOfMattYee and @MatthewBrysYee. Want to ask me questions or suggest stuff for me to do? Ask me on Twitter: @MatthewBrysYee with the hashtag #InternMattAttack.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Guest Post: Being Assistant Director of A LITTLE SHAKESPEARE


Since 2013, Two River’s education department has produced a 70-minute adaptation of a Shakespeare play, directed and designed by theater professionals and performed by talented high school students. It is called A LITTLE SHAKESPEARE. There are many backstage opportunities through this program as well – stage crew, assistant stage managers, assistants to each of the designers and the director.

Annie Zucker has been a part of the Two River Theater family for many years, writing and performing in various education programs as well as being a 2013/14 Metro Scholar. Annie has served as the Assistant Director for both A Little Shakespeare: As You Like It and A Little Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, working with adaptor/director Jason McDowell-Green. She graduated in May ‘15 from Ocean Township High School and will begin studying at Boston University in January ‘16, completing general studies through their January Boston-London program, and studying film after that. When asked to write about working with Jason and being the first (and second) Assistant Director for Little Shakes, Annie had some lovely and insightful things to say about the program. We will miss working with her for the upcoming A Little Shakespeare: Pericles, and we wish her the best!

From Annie Zucker:
Nothing can compare to the sense of accomplishment during the curtain call of the Little Shakespeare’s last performance.  All the hard work that the assistant director does during the course of the rehearsals, tech week, and actual shows is all worth it when the actors take their final bow. Jason McDowell-Green is undeniably one of the best directors to shadow if you have any interest in this field. In many cases teen interns are the assistant TO the director, where as in Jason’s case you are truly the assistant director. Throughout rehearsals you get to bounce ideas back and forth with him, and he always is willing to listen and try your point of view.
His work environment is a very relaxed atmosphere, but with that privilege comes a lot of responsibility. As the assistant director, you are expected to have read the show before the first rehearsal and have a prior understanding of what is going on in the script (trust me, this really helps). As rehearsals go from talks to actually having the actors on their feet, you do get to be more interactive and be more of a vital player in the game. Additionally, you listen in on meetings with the costumers and set designers.
During the tech week, which is my personal favorite time of a show, you are Jason’s notetaker. You sit with him as he watches his show. He is looking at a hundred things going on, so it is really important to be his scribe, so when he gives notes at the end of the run, he’ll remember to tell the actors the little things that probably would have slipped his mind otherwise. The actual run of the show is really fun as well, obviously. Staying backstage you are there to run down the dressing rooms if someone forgot their hat, help with quick changes, and just truly be that extra set of hands that someone needs. Your duties of director are gone, and you step into the role of joy. Especially during the show, you must just be present and enjoy every second, yes that is a part of this job! If the opportunity comes up for a chance to work with Jason, always take it. You will learn more than you ever thought you could. Being the assistant director in the Little Shakespeare program at Two River Theater is one of the best things you could do during high school. So don’t pass it up!



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Teenager Shares his Thoughts on 'BE MORE CHILL'

We here in the offices of Two River Theater deeply love our latest production, of the new musical BE MORE CHILL. It was a commission by the theater to the writers Joe Tracz (book) and Joe Iconis (music and lyrics), and we watched it take shape over the course of a few years, finally flourishing (with the guidance of director Stephen Brackett and choreographer Chase Brock) into the full production that's lighting up our stage right now.

But with any piece of theater, you're always hoping that it will connect with the audience whose message it's most for. We knew the themes with CHILL were universal - who hasn't felt unsure about who they were and wished for a magical path towards social ease and status? - but we felt especially like the show would resonate with teenagers, who were actively experiencing the struggles portrayed in the show. 

Luckily, we had a stellar group of high school interns (whom we called the "SQUIP Squad") who immediately connected to BE MORE CHILL and loved the show as much as we did. One of them, Myles Columbo, wrote this piece about the show. Like Myles himself it is thoughtful, smart, and full of heart. We couldn't wait to share it with you. 

Myles Columbo

Right now, there are two main ways that the media treats teenagers. We’re either big inappropriate kids or small irresponsible adults. And we’re always self-absorbed, apathetic, and technology-obsessed. But honestly, teenagers are our own thing. We have our own forms of communication and attitudes about the world, which most forms of media don’t want to tackle. So when Two River Theater advertised its new musical, BE MORE CHILL, as a story about teenagers, I was a little skeptical. Then I actually watched the show, and I saw a shockingly accurate look at my life. It didn’t shy away from the weird things my peers and I do and say and think. It didn’t try to clean up the mess of life as a teenager. BE MORE CHILL still surprises me with its honesty and fearlessness, and I’ve seen it three more times since then. The story is science fiction but relatable. It’s about a high school junior named Jeremy Heere. He finds out about a supercomputer called a SQUIP that would help him through every situation in his life if he just swallows it. A SQUIP would remove all Jeremy’s self-doubt and needless fear. Honestly, it sounds too good to be true. Who wouldn’t want that at least a little? Humans live in perpetual states of discovering ourselves, and it’s hard to be confident as a teenager. It feels like everyone around you already knows who they are. Jeremy certainly feels that way.

BE MORE CHILL is the story of an “average teenager.” That by itself is a surprisingly common trope, but Jeremy didn’t make me want to roll my eyes or bang my head against the wall. Jeremy Heere actually is an average teenager, because average doesn’t mean “purposely vague so you can insert yourself into the story.” He’s not some cookie-cutter protagonist. He’s a human being with complicated opinions, feelings, and relationships. And you see yourself in him anyway. That’s something I think adults forget: the stories of teenagers are the stories of adults too. Teenagers may not be adults yet, but we have the same kinds of emotions and problems. We all live in the same world and are just trying to get through it together. Joe Iconis, who wrote the music and lyrics for the show, said in an interview in American Theatre Magazine, “When you’re an adult you’re better at hiding the fact that these things feel so huge—but when you’re kid you wear it on your sleeves, because you don’t know how to cover it up.” BE MORE CHILL reminds adults of that. I’ve brought people between the ages of 15 to 75 to see this show, and every one of them has seen themselves in it. It’s resonated with my peers, my parents, and my grandparents because everyone was a teenager. High school has always been a place of clashing personalities and gaining independence. And an experience like that isn’t easily forgotten. Just like this show. It reminds us of what “human” means by showing the unrestrained humanity of the very young. It makes both Jeremy and the audience really look at some tough questions about what makes us who we are. It does it in a way that made me laugh so hard my stomach hurt and has me humming the songs pretty much every waking moment of the day. BE MORE CHILL is a show that’s both enjoyable and important. Teenagers: you’ll see yourselves onstage in a way you may never have before. Adults: you’ll see yourself as you were as a teen, and you might understand the teenagers in your life better. It, in a good way, brings out the teenager in everyone.

This show is about teenagers. But it’s for everyone.

Myles Columbo is a senior at Biotech High School and a member of the “Squip Squad” at Two River Theater, where Be More Chill is having its world premiere through June 28.

Myles observing a film shoot
Myles & Squip Squadders at work!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Season of Stories

To be honest, it's a pretty depressing day here at Two River Theater. After several weeks of performances, our production of Camelot ended its run last night. And, as we usually are when the set is being demolished, the stage is no longer filled with music, and the dressing rooms are again bare, we're all a little glum.

Of course, this is the nature of theater; part of the magic of these separate elements coming together to make a show is knowing that it's live, now, and only for a short time (unless your show is The Phantom of the Opera, of course.) And what you have are the memories of the piece, yours to keep forever, never to be experienced in quite the same way.

And of course, you have the story.

David Lee, the brilliant director and adapter of our Camelot, chose to change the framework of the show a bit; a troupe of players comes together to tell the legendary story of King Arthur, who tried to create a world in which Knights fought for good and equality reigned. At the end of the play, when Arthur meets Tom, a boy who has come to fight for Camelot based only on the stories he's heard, Arthur realizes that even if Camelot itself fell apart, the fact that it will live on in legend means that he has won. David chose to add a coda that pointed out the story's lineage, making Tom grow into Sir Thomas Malory, the author of 'Le Morte D'Arthur'. From there, the players track the story from him to the storytellers who told versions of the story throughout the ages, until it came to Lerner and Loewe, who wrote the show you had seen performed. By adding this coda, David was pointing out that you, as an audience member, were now part of a line of storytellers who stretched out over centuries, telling a story that illuminates crucial elements, both good and bad, of the human experience. Or, as the lyrics say:

Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment 
That was known as Camelot.  

The age of Camelot is gone, even our Camelot is gone now, but the story will not be forgotten.

But it's not only ancient legends that get passed down through the generations. As often as I heard people exclaiming their love for the stories in Camelot, I've heard people celebrating their love of the stories at the heart of our next production: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, an adaptation (with charming puppets, by the Mermaid theater of Nova Scotia) of the beloved Eric Carle books. Written in only 1969, Caterpillar has only had one or two generations to enchant, as opposed to the thousands stretching back who have been hearing the tales of the round table. And yet, this story has already become firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of children who have grown up hearing of the hungry Caterpillar's adventures, and in those of the parents who have shared them. Although the stories of chivalry and honor, of knightly quests and fair maidens, are very different from those of insects questing for their own version of the holy grail (or, wait, perhaps they're not so different after all...), there is something about these stories that sticks, that becomes part of a heritage of storytelling, passed on and shared.

Playwright Tanya Saracho and director Jerry Ruiz read 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' (in two languages!) to the children of the Monmouth Day Care Center, as part of our Nosotros program.

As we approach the holiday season, doubtless you will be a part of your own storytelling traditions. Perhaps it's the annual screening of It's A Wonderful Life that your family watches every Christmas day, or the yearly reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas to the kids who are too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve. Perhaps it's the telling of the miraculous eight days of oil of the first Hanukkah, or the discussion of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Or maybe it's none of these at all. Maybe for your family it's the retelling of that time your grandfather first spied your grandmother across a high school dance hall, then told his friend she was the girl he was going to marry. Or the time your aunt put salt instead of sugar in the apple pie and everyone was too polite to say anything. Maybe it's happy memories of the good year gone by, or painful ones about hard times that will hopefully pass. Maybe it's a story you don't share with anyone, but keep tucked away in your own heart, just for you.

We here at the theater wish you all a very happy holiday season. But most of all, we wish you stories. Hopefully, some of them have come from us, and we promise that we have many more to share with you in the months and years to come. But as you gather with your loved ones over meals and around fires in the weeks to come, we hope that you tell stories, whether they are about ancient kings or peckish bugs or anything that thrills and delights, or even just makes you feel, a little more, what it is to be human.

Happy holidays.

The next generation of storyteller (in this case, Carter Aaron Mandel, grandson of Two River subscriber Linda Stamato), hard at work. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Planning a Season

Hello from Summer!

Well that happened quickly, didn't it? It feels like yesterday that I was scraping ice off my car windshield for the umpteenth time and wondering to myself if summer was ever going to arrive. But here we are, in the blissful heat, and now it's winter that seems very far away.

When you work in a theater, your seasons become very dominated by, well, your season. For those who might not know, that's what we call the group of plays and musicals we choose for our year, and most theater seasons run from September to June or thereabouts, (every theater is a little different, though, and there are theaters whose seasons run exclusively in the summer). Since I came to Two River Theater last August, I had no hand in planning the 2013-14 season, which had been chosen the previous spring (although I don't think I would have chosen anything differently - I loved all of the plays we did last season). But as my job is largely about choosing plays to develop, I've been a part of choosing the 2014-15 season, which will start up in September. And I am so very excited about it.

Choosing a season for your theater is complicated. In its simplest terms, when you're choosing a season you want to have a selection of plays (for us, 6-8) that provide a variety of styles and themes, so that you don't have, say, eight farces in a row one year and nothing but existentialist tragedies the next, or a solid season of plays about teenage boys or fin de siecle. Just as when you're choosing a menu for a great meal, you want a mix of flavors that provide variety and yet live together in the same delicious world. And because most everyone who works in theater does so because they deeply love theater, everyone involved in the process is bringing their own tastes and favorites to the table.

But of course, plays aren't nearly as simple as salads or a nice dessert. Plays are meals unto themselves, entire experiences, sometimes spanning lifetimes or centuries, in a few hours. And they bring with them their own historical context, plus a host of other logistical issues, like cast size, the complexity of their production requirements, and whether it's something that's widely performed (which might be a problem, if there's been several different productions in your area already recently). You have to plan plays that fit within your theater space and budget size (as much as we would love to do Ben-Hur Live: The Stadium Spectacular*), and remember the tastes of your audiences (while still providing work that might expand their tastes and bring them something new). And as a theater, you probably have commissioned works and works-in-development that are ready for a spot in the season. Plus relationships with theater artists you love and respect, who often have their own wish list projects.

So there's a lot to consider, and putting it all together is a fun, fascinating, sometimes slightly heartbreaking (it sucks when you have two projects you really love, but are too similar to put in the same year) process, which takes weeks and often involves a lot of shifting. But we have our season now, and it is a doozy. To carry on my already-tortured metaphor about a season being a meal, our 2014/15 season would get three Michelin stars. Here's just a little sampling of each show (go HERE for a fuller description of each, plus info on their stellar creative teams):

1. School for Wives
       Molière. You've probably at least heard his name, but have you actually seen one of his plays? Molière is one of the all-time funniest writers, and his plays, all in verse (verse translated from French verse!) are as delightful today as they were in 1600s Paris. This play is no exception, and makes some startling observations about romance, men, and women that feel true today.

2. Camelot
       Oh my god, this score. Pretty much the only thing that could possibly improve on the stories of King Arthur is having the characters sing exquisite songs by Lerner and Loewe, and in Camelot, they do. I'm not usually involved in casting at the theater, but I've informed my boss that I will be present at the auditions for Lancelot, purely because I can't think of a better way to spend a day than having handsome talented men sing "If Ever I Would Leave You" at me. If you don't know what I'm talking about, get thee to YouTube, and ready yourself for some heart-melting high notes in the fall.

3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
        This one's technically for kids, but by all accounts this production, featuring puppets as the characters from the beloved children's book, is utterly delightful. 31 still counts as a kid in some cultures, right?

4. Absurd Person Singular
        If you love dark humor, British humor, or things that are very, very funny in general, this play is for you. Alan Ayckbourn is a master of comedy, a few centuries and across the channel from our season's other comedy master, Molière. The producer of the original 1972 production hired a statistician to count the number of laughs in each act, and they calculated that there were 504 individual laughs in the entire show, including 125 Belly Laughs. I haven't checked the math, but that feels entirely accurate to me.

5. Guadalupe in the Guest Room
        John Dias (our Artistic Director) and I went to a reading of this play at the Lark in NYC, and we both fell in love with it. Written by the young playwright Tony Meneses, it's exquisitely beautiful, with a blend of emotional honesty, melancholy, and hope that we have come to recognize as a hallmark of Tony's work. We adore Tony's work and this play, and we couldn't be prouder to be giving it its world premiere.

6. Your Blues Ain't Sweet Like Mine
        I was a big fan of Ruben Santiago-Hudson as an actor before I came to Two River, and I was so excited to learn that he has worked with the theater many times as a director. This play is another world premiere, and a play we commissioned Ruben to write. And like everything Ruben does it is fiercely intelligent, deeply felt, and inspires questions that linger with you long after you leave the theater.

7. Be More Chill
       To put it simply, Be More Chill totally rocks. A new musical by composer Joe Iconis and playwright Joe Tracz, based on a YA novel by Ned Vizzini, it's already become one of my most favorite musicals - and that's saying a lot, since I LOVE musicals. But this show is the real deal, and captures life as a teenager in our increasingly technological world with wit, empathy, and songs that you will be playing on repeat for months (and I speak from experience).

*We don't actually want to do Ben-Hur Live: The Stadium Spectacular, much as we love chariot races.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ode for a Staff Meeting

One of my favorite things that happens here at the theater is our all-staff meetings. Around once a month, the entire staff will gather in our library, eat some food, drink some wine or coffee, and catch up. Since we're not a tiny place, this means that you get to check in with departments you don't often get to see - the administrative departments can hang out with the incredible people of the production team, who are usually out in the shop building the shows, etc. It allows the whole theater staff to connect, and even better, connect over wine and cheese. And since the theater happens to be staffed by an exceptional group of smart, fun, interesting people, hanging out with them hardly seems like work.

Each of these meetings is hosted by a separate department, who provides the food and leads the discussion. Sometimes this takes the form of a talk by an outside person about something the department feels would be useful (the operations department recently had a representative from an insurance company talk to us all), or the department themselves will give some insight into the projects they've been working on and what they do.

The most recent meeting fell to my department and I was tasked with the talk, as it were. Since we bear the heady title of Artistic, I felt some pressure to do something that was, well, artistic (or at least artistic-ish). But what? An interpretive dance representing my feelings about developing new work? A song about lobby displays? A terrible short play about all the good long plays we produce? None of these seemed right (correction: all of these seemed TERRIBLE). So I decided to try the muse for... a poem. Not a good poem, mind you, but a poem. So, without further ado, I present to you:

An Ode from Artistic 

Colleagues and coworkers gathered today, 
You might be thinking, “wait, is this a play?!” 
To which I say, nope, let me give reassurance
Acting we’re not, nor providing insurance. 
But for a staff meeting, you could do worse
Than to provide your precis, but do it in verse. 
So go get a sampling of nibbles and booze 
Find a nice seat, have nice schmooze, 
And I’ll tell you all what we do in Artistic
While somewhere the ghost of Shakespeare goes ballistic.

If you need someone whose domain is logistic
Don’t look to us - for our realm is artistic. 
Spreadsheets and numbers? Sure, we’ve got a few. 
But dealing in drama? That’s what we do. 
We pick out new plays with a promising mien 
Then give them some readings so they can be seen
Or if, in programming, ‘classic’s the word
We’ll set out some context so meanings aren’t blurred
We make sure our audiences are aware
Of the background and hist’ry of plays that we share 
We fully believe in promoting discussion 
Whether on Chile or use of percussion
If writers need space to commune with their muse
We’ll help them to write with some Navesink views. 
We take care of artists, and tend to their work
Though they’re sometimes peculiar, we love every quirk.
We’re proud to contribute, to play our own part: 
We help the people who help make the art.  
So come visit us in our orange domain 
And if you were wond’ring, we’ll gladly explain:
Here in Artistic, we love what we do
But equally, colleagues, we love all of you. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Pinkolandia, Art, and Understanding

I first had the feeling in the middle of Sleep No More. There I was, inside the immersive theater piece that had taken New York by storm, wandering around a floor of a building made to look like an indoor hedge maze*, itchy in the mask that designated me as a member of the audience, and totally alone. I didn't see anyone else in view except for a taxidermied goat, and I started to feel a rising sense of disgruntled panic. I was SURE I was missing something, that the rest of the audience was probably somewhere else seeing something cooler, that there was something I wasn't understanding. And I hated the feeling. 

It's a very human desire to want to know and understand - so much so it's even in the name of our species (the 'sapiens' in Homo Sapiens means 'wise'). We like to know what's what, what the weather will be like next week, to plan ahead and be experts in our fields. We don't like to be lost, to feel like we don't have the necessary pieces of the puzzle. We don't like to be the one staring at the hedges and the goat, alone. 

And yet, knowledge comes from curiosity. To make a groundbreaking scientific discovery, thousands of seemingly dumb experiments must be run. And to open ourselves up to the full spectrum of feelings that we look to art to inspire, we must occasionally go outside of our comfort zone. In the epic battle between intellect and emotion, between head and gut, art often strikes squarely in between. And often, “getting” a piece of art is not about "understanding" it fully.  

Take Shakespeare, for example. We do a lot of Shakespeare here at the theater, and so we often run across people who will say "oh, I don't understand Shakespeare." But when asked about the story of the play they just saw, they often find that they got Shakespeare just fine. They might not have understood all of the words and references in Romeo and Juliet's first scene together, but they got what was happening loud and clear. And that's really all that's necessary; Shakespeare was a smart enough writer that all his many references and details could fill a page with footnotes (and indeed they often do), but what makes his work last until today is not the cleverness of his allusions but the quality of his storytelling. And if you don't understand all of the historical references or arcane vocabulary, you'll probably still have enough to be able to go with the story, if you travel along with it. Moreover, if you allow yourself to be carried along with the verse and the poetry of Shakespeare’s work, you’ll find that it can act much as music does, and bring you to an emotional level that text alone cannot reach.

The play we're currently producing at the theater, Pinkolandiais a play about a family in Wisconsin in the early 1980s, after they have fled their homeland, Chile, following Pinochet's brutal military coup. Because it portrays a Chilean family, the play has some dialogue in Spanish, especially in a scene where Beny (the older of the two children) is trying to talk to her parents in the kitchen. Because I don't speak Spanish, the first time I heard it I felt like I was back in that hedge maze, while the bilingual audience members were doubtless getting some key information I was missing. I felt that familiar tide of disgruntled panic, until I realized that even though I didn't understand what the characters of the parents were saying to each other, I was being given enough in the English dialogue to understand the gist of what was being said. And, moreover, listening to the Spanish words fly lightning-quick between these two characters, I felt both like a child who is straining to understand the adult world around her, and like a refugee dropped into a culture I didn't know. I felt, in short, like the characters in the play. Even though I didn't fully understand the scene because of the Spanish, not understanding the scene helped me to better get the play. 

As for me, the goat, and the topiary? Well, after a minute I realized that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing in the piece – wandering through, and finding my own path. Nobody was having an identical experience to anyone else in the piece, we were all inevitably missing something, and that was partly the point. Moreover, I realized that though I didn’t love the feeling of being lost and missing out, the piece was making me feel something deeply. And in that moment, I got it. Opening ourselves up art means allowing ourselves to experience a full spectrum of feelings. And sometimes, it is the intention of a piece to make us a little lost, to make us a little uncomfortable, in order to make us better understand.

*If you’re not familiar with it, Sleep No More is a dance/theater piece, a version of Macbeth that makes the audience catch snippets of the story while they choose their own path while wandering around a building that's been converted into a spooky hotel set, both indoors and out)