Sunday, February 17, 2008

Theatre Marathon

I just came back from 2 days of non stop theatre and what an amazing time I had. As a LSJ Thespie judge, I have seen about 40 local shows and except for about a handful of them none were as amazing as some of the shows I saw this weekend.

My theatre mantra has always been, "There is good theatre and there is bad theatre and it doesn't matter who does it." That is usually a comment I make when other theatre people begin dissing a particular theatre group like "high school" or "community" theatre.

In the theatre world, like everywhere else there is a pecking order. Once you get away from Broadway, Off-Broadway, traveling shows and begin to look regionally there is "professional theatre", "university theatre", "community theatre", and "high school theatre" and each group occasionally and smugly looks down on the other. The professionals say, "Oh, that's only university theatre" or the university theatre says," Come on, it's only community theatre" (as they did in their latest offering), everyone looks down on high school theatre assuming it's a night of dreadful acting, awful plays, homespun costumes, and rickedy, misaligned shaky sets. And yes, some of that is true but it's also true for all theatre groups at times.

But there was nothing sub-standard about some of the shows I saw this weekend. They could hold a candle to most of what I've seen this season and I'd gladly pit them against many professional, university, and community theatres.

This year's Class A winner was St. John's High School's production of Blood Brothers. I saw this show in London and have seen other versions of it so I wasn't all that enthused about seeing it again. And it was the first show of the day at 9 a.m.! I am so glad I made the effort. This is the story of twin brothers separated when their mother could not support both of them with her already large family. She gives one of the boys up to her employer and the boys are raised apart with the warning that they may never meet or they are doomed to die! But they do meet, accidentally, and become friends and in fact because they share so much in common,"blood brothers". But as prophesied they tragically end up killing each other over a girl and a misunderstanding.

Ashley Bowen, the new director at St. John's pulled this challenging musical together in a spectacular way. From the first note of the orchestra. A big Kudo to my nephew Zach Savoie who played guitar in the orchestra. They were amazing and their talent was rewarded with a Superior award. (Zach encourage Ms. Bowen to post that cool group picture you took at the end of the festival so I can post it here)

Congratulations also to Andrea Farrer (she's in the bottom row left holding their plague) , my niece, who was the student director of her high school's entry The Dancers. This is the first year they competed and she had tons of input into the show. They did a wonderful job earning a I rating at districts and advanced to regional competition. I'm hoping they continue to compete and make it to States next year. Sadly Andrea will be off to college by then.

My friend Kevin Schneider, probably MIFA's most award winning director did Terra Nova the story of the1911 ill-fated race to the South Pole of the British under the leadership of Robert Scott and the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. The Norwegians made it back home; the Englishmen did not. The story is a memory piece told mostly from Scott's journal entries.

Kevin created the most amazing floating polar cap set complete with icebergs created from frames of Saran wrap, the Southern lights that played off of the ice , and howling fierce winds of Antartica.

And the costumes!!! You might remember Kevin in his costumer days here in the Lansing area working on shows like Man of LaMancha, and A Day in Hollywood, Night in the Ukraine. His costumes are always spectacular. Absolutely authentic looking costumes of heavy canvas, fur boot leggings, anoraks, giant fur and knitted mittens. Along with that he added incrediblly authentic props and an amazing wooden sled.

We were treated this weekend to three Greek tragedies; 2 Antigones and Eurydice. Malia Koger of Olivet HS won class D/C with her creative and scenicly splendid Eurydice. Her dad and the former award winning director from St. John's HS, Bob Koger, was there to cheer her on.

Winning Class B was the multi talented innovative director Jeannie Gilbert from John Glenn High School. They did the visually stunning Antigone using a back lit scrim, a raked round platform in the center of the playing space and 7 tall and moveable pillars. She used 3 different choruses that moved throughout the scenes imperceptibly and silently. Her gray clothed "statues" were amazing as they slowly moved from position to position. It took me a while to notice they were real and I nearly jumped out of my seat the first time I noticed they were moving. They were used so effectively to reposition the pillars throughout the play. I was mesmerized as I watched the major action center stage but also watched a diaphanously clad blue chorus of women slowly preparing a body for burial. I wish I had a stunning tableau from their show to share with you.

It was also a time to catch up with old friends, admired directors, and Jeff Nash who was judging States. Unfortunately I had to wait until the end of the tournament to really achmooze with Jeff because judges are sequestered and then kept extremely busy throughout the day. They appear a minute or two before the show and leave almost as the lights go up. Also, it's absolutely forbiddent to talk about any of the shows, even amongst the judges, until the end of the tournament and awards and winners are announced. So we had to wait until we could deconstuct the day and all that we saw.

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