Sheer Madness

The Madness of Lady Bright got a great mention in the NYTheatre.com review today, which I want to share. (I'm a proud papa, both of our piece and of the entire OFF STAGE event!) Steve's work in the show is truly extraordinary, and Gretchen and Lars, in smaller roles, find nuances that break my heart every time. The performances are almost completely sold out for the entire run, so grab your tickets now!
As one might expect from a show of this magnitude, there are many highlights. For me, they include Steve Hauck's powerhouse rendering of the title character from Wilson's The Madness of Lady Bright (which earned a well-earned round of applause from the outdoor diners at the Cornelia Street Café, seated nearby); Michael Tomlinson's haunting turn as Fred Herko from Monuments: Freddie's Monologue by Diane di Prima (I actually thought he was a homeless guy laying in a puddle of his own urine until he rose and started speaking); and a tribute to Dames at Sea, featuring Kristen Lewis and Joel Newman tap-dancing their hearts out on the corner of Bleecker and Cornelia Streets. Truth be told, though, the entire cast is spectacular, and all the directors do a splendid job.
Read the entire review here...

Two Weeks. The Tension Mounts.

As the cast rehearses, we're all starting to focus on the task at hand. However, I'm here in New York taking care of The Madness of Lady Bright (we're a hit, by the way...sold out all weekend!), while the Angels cast does some pick-up rehearsals under the guidance of my MadShag co-captain, Shannon Maddox. She's helping them get off-book (lines are pesky things, and difficult to boot) and focusing some of the physicality of the piece.

What's interesting about the process happening this way is that I'm doing a lot of directing via e-mail; four of the eight actors have sent me their questions, compliments, concerns and fears this week about the work they're doing. It's a new experience for me, because I'm usually right there in the room and can address their needs in person. But with me having to care for Lady Bright (and an Angels cast member's wedding, and other assorted cast conflicts), I'm worried that some of them feel a bit abandoned...Angels is a 500-pound beast of a play, and it probably comes as no surprise to readers here that actors might be intimidated by the text. Also, the Baltimore cast wants so desperately to do justice to Kushner's script...they are working overtime to make it a success, both in rehearsal and in their home study. The consequence is that we run the risk of getting obsessed and a little fixated...a potentially damaging situation for some actors, because most things that seem like obstacles or readblocks are really just paper tigers. (And yes, Eddie, I used "paper tigers" just for you.) ;-)

I LOVE these actors. They are brilliant people, working so hard; as the man standing back watching it all, I can tell you that they are on track to perform a truly phenomenal production. However, we can't rush it...we need to be ready on October 13th, and not a day before. Hopefully e-mail and the internet can help us along the way.

Mr. Lies....In Spain?

That's right...rather than freezing my ass off in Antartica with Harper, I decided to take a little break and head to sunny Spain...until Harper summons me again sometime next week. Those delusions - they keep me working all the time!

No seriously, Mr. Lies..aka Belize...aka David...is now in Spain for a cousin's wedding. I know, I know, I am making it sound like a chore. But truth be told, it kind of freaks me to leave the rehearsal process for so long. I feel like the more we are rehearsing, the more I am able to establish more of a connection with my castmates, and thus, create those connections on stage. However, my castmates are all so fabulous, and I love them dearly, that I am not worried about not having that chemistry when I get back.

I was wandering around Madrid today and I am not sure if it's becuase of this play that I notice more or not, but everywhere I see different types of angels. Cherubs on frescoes, angles on fountains, demonic angels in bars, angels on buildings, and there was even (I AM NOT KIDDING) a person dressed as an angel walking down the street promoting some "heavenly party"...ok, not heavenly, but more like Fiesta en el Cielo. That kind of thing.

There may be "no angels in america" according to some of our characters, but there are plenty here! I saw them all - even the clubbing angel. Except his wings are not as stupendous as ours!

Anyways, I will leave you with a final thought that I am not sure I could necessarily answer. But I did think about it. If these characters in Angels were from Spain and in the same situations, would it even play out the same? We talk so much about the specific politics of America during that time period, but is there not an element of similarity in most cultures when it comes to something like AIDS? The same intolerances, prejedices, stereotypes? Just a thought.

But for now, bye, bye. Now Belize is getting ready to hit the sack, since she's been out and about in Madrid and it's now 3am here.

A Bien Tot Ma Cherie!

The Panel Discussion

I'm sure most of you have heard that there will be a Panel Discussion following the October 29th matinee of Angels. I am very excited about this. We've got doctors and nurses and patients coming to talk in the aptly titled "HIV in Baltimore - What's Next?" discussion.
The need for this discussion (and it is exactly that; open dialogue) was incredibly apparent after the first week of rehearsal. While talking with The Shannons and Gabriel during our post-rehearsal drinkies, we discovered a huge disconnect between the generations regarding how one looks at the HIV/AIDS virus.
Shannon H. and I are the youngins. We didn't grow up in the 80s, during the time of huge fear and homophobia tied to this virus. By the time I knew what the hell it was, there was already a pretty reasonable treatment in place; the virus wasn't a "death sentence" anymore. It could be dealt with, it could be corralled, and the medical community knew better with what they were dealing with.
However, this is posing a problem for my generation and those younger than me. For those aforementioned reasons, the "young" kids today are not taking care of themselves, not practicing safe sex, and, in one particular, horrible, group, trying to catch the disease, thinking it's a gift. The "Bug Catchers" they're called. I haven't heard anything recently about them, but I'm sure they still haven't come to their senses.
Now, I'm the first one to admit being totally complacent about this virus. It was an 80's disease, an ancient plague. The Multiple Priors scene is exactly what I'm talking about. I've had the un-safe sex. Many times. I think I was tested once before I went to college.
With all the research I've done in the past months, it pains and scares the poop out of me that I was so stupid. Psychosomatic thoughts rushed through my head every time I read something about virus. Luckily, the most recent blood test was negative. Bullet dodged.
The Panel is being used as a device to reach the younger crowd. To say, "Yes, the perception and the treatments have gotten better, less expensive, and you can live with this for many many years. But please, please don't be stupid. I can happen to you. Get tested. Respect yourself enough to say, 'Put the rubber on honey,' or, 'Let me do it.'"
Baltimore is 5th on the list in new cases every year. I've never known that. With all the guys I've met and had sex with in this city, that kinda scares me. Are they being just as stupid as I was? A study estimated that about 1/4 of those living with the virus have no idea they're infected. Not a pleasant thought.
Anyway, enough with the preaching. Come and see this Panel Discussion, with speakers from the University of Maryland Institute for Human Virology, the Evelyn Jordon Center, Planned Parenthood, and Chase Brexton. It should be very informative. Tell your friends!!

Can we go to your parent's house?

It's almost 4am after another long weekend of rehearsals and feather making and I can't get to sleep.
After our seventeen hours of rehearsal and five hours of production meetings (give or take a few minutes for coffee and puppies) over the last three days, instead of going home and relaxing I went to the fabric store with Shannon Maddox and we ended up going back to her house to work on costumes because we open in less than twenty days.
While that scares me for so many reasons, I am now getting to the reason for this post.
At some point during the evening she and I were talking about the show and rehashing the weekend and after a few seconds of silence I turned to her and said, "This show is really going to be great, isn't it?" Her response: "Yeah, I really think it is."
While there has been bickering and issues and roadblocks and seeming insurmountable problems, and while I know as sure as I'm sitting here there will be many more to come, I am so excited about October 13th I am about to shit in my crib.
It really is going to be awesome.
I am so proud of and excited by each of my actors and designers and ASM (I really do thank God for you everyday, Andrew) and am giddy at the idea of the finished product.
I know, I know, I'm a big dork, but what can I say?
That's just the way I roll.
xox,
Shannon H.

(Kind Of) Capturing The Moment


We've finally gotten the first publicity photos of Angels in America. Press photos are cheesy by their very nature -- they don't really look anything like the production (productions shots come much later, and are muuuuch better), and they can do little except hint at the relationships. But here the are, and they are certainly pretty. Clockwise from upper left: Don Mullins (Prior) and Richard Goldberg (Louis); Patrick Kilpatrick (Joe) and Shannon Maddox (Harper); Maddox and Kilpatrick, in what I like to call the "Fabio romance novel pose"; and Goldberg and Kilpatrick, who seem to be looking at a pimple on Patrick's wrist. Now THAT's drama.

Building Wings

If you've followed MadShag for the last few years, you know how brilliant Allen Cutler is; our resident set and prop designer, Allen has given us the spooky confines of the House of Usher and the bombed-out war shelters hiding Edward II. The propmaster of Hartford Stage Company, he's designed for many of America's leading theatre companies, including the Berkshire Theatre Festival, George Street Playhouse, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Repertory Theatre, as well as the Anne Meara’s Off-Broadway hit comedy Down The Garden Paths.

Allen is doing double duty at the moment -- he's building our enormous, 12-foot angel wings while ALSO designing the latest show for nationally-renowned drag performer Varla Jean Merman. Previously, Allen and Varla have collaborated on her national tours of Girl With A Pearl Necklace, I'm Not Paying For This and Anatomically Incorrect. The latest, Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte!, has just finished a run in San Francisco and will open soon in New Orleans. We thought we'd share some glamour shots of Varla Jean, and wish Allen the best on his other show!

Oh my...

Tony Kushner. There are some playwrights that I read that make me want to sit down and write plays. When I read Tom Stoppard, or Edward Albee, I think, "Damn. I want to do that." After reading Kushner's adaptation of Corneille's The Illusion recently I sat back and thought, "Fuck it. Why does anybody even try? Nobody can do that."

Kushner's use of the language is absolutely unparalleled. I have often been heard to utter the statement that Millennium Approaches is the greatest play written since Shakespeare died. A bold statement, I know. I said this to Gabriel the other night and he got a funny look on his face and said, "Well... at least since Williams died." But I really believe it. This play isn't about gay or straight; it's not about AIDS; it's not about religion; it's not about politics; it's not about relationships; it's about EVERYTHING. And that's the way Shakespeare wrote. Plays about the entire world.

And this is the play I get to be a small part of. I got a call two weekends ago from Shannon Maddox saying they had lost their Joe and asking if I was available. And by the way, rehearsals start on Thursday. The answer was, "No." I'm currently directing a production of The Importance of Being Earnest for a local college. If I were to take on Angels it would mean a work/rehearsal schedule of 8 am to 10:30 pm Monday through Friday with rehearsals Saturday from 10-6 and Sunday from 9-3:30. From now until December 4th. Of course, the answer I gave was "Hell, yes!". This my my last chance to play Joe, and I'm not missing it.

Last weekend's rehearsals only served to confirm that I made the correct decision. Gabriel's intelligence and real understanding of the script, the cast's professionalism and ability, stage management's organization and humor, all give me confidence that the show will be everything I hoped working on Angels would be.

Big thanks to Mary Ann Walsh for recommending me, Shannon Maddox for remembering me, and especially to Gabriel for trusting those two wierdos about me. I won't disappoint you!

I'll see all of you opening weekend.

THE ROY THEME

When our director ask each of us to find a "theme" song for our character, I quickly went to the "Green Book" (this by the way is a resouce book that lists 1000's of song titles to match themes). But I found nothing that really said, "ROY". Untill, my partner said, "Listen to this",
holy s****. This is indeed the theme of Roy.

"Been there, done that"
by Jon Astley

I stand accused, a social climber
But in truth is i'm not social at all.
Im staying put at the top of the ladder
I'll tread on your hands and make you fall.

Did I ever need to be put to the test?
My heart bleeds behind the cards held so
close to my chest.

Are you still unimpresed 'cos I've been there,
done that, what's next.......

ROY Is......

"In all my years of the theatre" I have never had the oportunity to play such a diverse character. What is Roy, who is Roy? Roy Cohn is the most disgusting man that lived. Really? He was the man that aided Joseph McCarthy, the man that took the credit for having Ethel Rosenberg and her husband Julis put to death - well they were communist and traitors. He was a man that knew NO rules and showed passion for his wants, needs and life. He was a man that denined his deadly battle with AIDS, calling it "liver cancer". This was a man, who loved his father and feard his mother, this man adored the SUN and lothed social gathering, his office was full of stuffed animals, this was a man, that NO puzzle maker could complete, this man is ........

Look Out Baltimore – An Angel Approaches!

Four weeks and counting. Opening approaches. This is David and I am ecstatic to be playing the role of Belize in Angels. Thank you Gabriel and Shannon! Before we started the rehearsal process, I thought the whole idea of mounting such a complex show in just a month – weekends only nonetheless – was a pretty much insane idea. I still think it’s completely insane! However, after the first full weekend of rehearsals, I have just as much, if not more, confidence than shows I’ve rehearsed for months on end.

I think, actually I KNOW, my confidence stems from my deep admiration for everyone that is making this happen. First, there’s the kick-ass production team. We’ve got a director (Gabriel) who is so insightful, prepared, devoted, passionate, professional, knowledgeable, and excited that it shows at each and every rehearsal. Our costume designer (Shannon) is just overflowing with creative ideas– color palettes, accessories, etc – all while working with Gabriel on production AND learning the ever-so-difficult role of Harper. Our very own dramaturg, Andrew, helps us make sense of the small details– after all, some of us were wee babies in the years Angels took place and need some help looking into the culture of that time. ☺ And to top it all off – we’ve got an SM (Shannon H.) that knows how to keep us in our place! When we add the talented light and sound designers to the mix, we’ve got a formula that is bound to be a sensation.

Then of course, there’s the extremely talent cast. I can’t say enough about how excited we all are to be working on this together. We know we have a challenge ahead of us, but it’s clear that we are all committed 200% to make this happen. I don’t want to repeat what people have said but we are so diverse in our acting backgrounds, I think it only adds to the quality of the shows you will see. We’re learning from each other, we’re helping each other, and above all, I think that we are all growing professionally. It was so inspiring to watch people work on their scenes at rehearsals – it made you want to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. This is such an ensemble show and I think a close-knit group of actors is a must. And just after the first weekend, I think we’ve quickly adjusted to one another.

I think I have blabbed enough for now, so I will spare you the Belize characterization comments for a future entry. Plus, I am writing this at my day job…so I have to get back to work. I have plenty of fabulous things to say about my fellow actors ¬– and those will become clear as you journey with us through the rehearsal process. Read on my friends because it only gets better from here! David (Belize)

Squaring The Circle: Angels Rehearsal


A glimpse into our first weekend of rehearsals: the first block-through of the Act Two split scene with our two disintegrating couples -- Harper (Shannon Maddox) and Joe (Patrick Kilpatrick), and Louis (Richard Goldberg) and Prior (Don Mullins). You can see spatially how little room we have to play with in Spotlighters Theatre. (The purple chairs represent the first row of audience seats.) The intimacy, however, has helped us to make more creative choices than we might have otherwise, resulting in (I think) a more resilient and provocative production.

The entire show is now blocked; soon, we start coloring in the dramatic frame with nuance, complexity, sophistication and energy. It really FEELS like a painting sometimes, to be working on this show...which is why I probably find myself gravitating towards visual metaphors. Thank God it's not Sunday in the Park with George, or I'd never shut up.

BLOCKING REHEARSALS

For those of you who enjoy insights into the "nuts & bolts" of the process of mounting a production: Over the weekend we did the basic blocking for all three acts. As an actor I'm appreciative that Gabriel came to rehearsals with lots of specific ideas and themes for our stage movement. I find it is actually easier to develop the fine points when someone else super-imposes some confines on me.
The process is also helped along by working with the other cast members. Things that never occurred to me reading the script, become obvious choices when responding to the choices of other actors. Harper leans in and says "I'm a Mormon", it just makes sense to mirror her action and say "I'm a homosexual". This is the joy of working with people secure in their abilities and who embrace the creative process, many of the details just fall into place.
Blocking in the round is it's own evil mistress and trying to remember your orientation is a challenge, however it also gives you the freedom to move more naturally instead of trying to "cheat" everything within a 3/4 turn-out.
Don Mullins (Prior)

Guest Stars

The only and only Damion, aka Queering The Apparatus, made a stop by our rehearsals tonight for Angels in America, and he was a breath of fresh air...sharing his queer academic views on the Kushner aesthetic, the historical implications of the play, and coming up with great ways to think about the play for a contemporary audience. It would be a tragic mistake on our part to think of Angels as a period piece; the social and sexual politics of the drama are still very much in play in George Bush's America, a land very much in need of angels. He also held court at our after-rehearsal drinkathon (already a crew ritual), where the discussion ran from the semitiocs of crystal meth to Project Runway, the scatology on display in Flavor of Love, and the race war brewing in the new edition of Survivor. (C'mon, we can't be serious all the time.)

Artistic Point of View

As I said last night at the first (wonderful!) read-through, I'm very excited to be working on this show, finally.
All of my experience with this show has been from a purely acedemic view point, i.e. analyzing the structure, characters, what works, what doesn't, and why. I've written many papers on this show, some of which even got an "A". Joking. None of them did. All "B"s.
What? I was in college. Shows and friends came first, then school work. Still got a 3.25 GPA though, kids.
Anyway, I'm thrilled that I finally get to work on this show from an artistic point of view now. I get to actually watch people say the lines and move and think and feel and listen. The play is finally a living, breathing, albeit young, creature. This is opposed to studying what felt like an ancient artifact. Like the Rossetta Stone. A big, giant intimidating rock.
But now, it's beginning to come to life. It's shaping and coloring and grabbing us, as I'm sure you felt last night. (BTW: Don and Maddox- The Prior/Harper dream/hallucination was AMAZING!)
That's what I'm feeling. That and total bordom here at work. I wish I could work on Angels for 40 hours a week and get paid for it...
See you all for the 1st night of blocking. Bring pencils and erasers!!!

Melding of Acting Styles

One thing I noticed during our first rehearsal was the wide variety of acting styles.
Some people are very natualistic, almost acting for camera; while others have a broader stage style. This worries me a little because I don't want to stick out from the other characters too much. I knew early on that this would be a challenge as the space in Spotlighter's is so intimate, and in the round, there's not room for "telephoning" in your performance like when the first row is 40 feet away.
I was also appreciative of how honest everyone was about tackling such a great piece of work in such a short time frame. This took away the pressure for me to try to pretend I "have it all together" and now I feel more free to explore and make mistakes
Don Mullins ( Prior)

One Day Down

Reporting live from Baltimore: it's 3:30 in the morning after the first rehearsal, and without causing me to miss my beauty rest, I'll just say that the cast here is so freaking talented it's scary. We have a Prior with an almost Oscar Wildean wit, a Louis who nails the monologue-from-hell on the first day, and a Roy Cohn that is so smokingly fiery he could start a bonfire. More later as we get into our first day (including posts from all eight amazing cast members), but for now...a truly terrific start.

The Great Work Begins...

First rehearsal is tonight! Angels in America is officially underway. Over the next few weeks, we'll introduce you to more of our cast and crew, share in our discoveries and challenges, and give you a ringside seat for any catfights or hair-pulling that may occur. (For those who still have hair.)

First things first, though: the designer presentations, the meet-and-greet, and a mad dash to rough-block all three acts in just three days. (For those of you not in the biz, that's telling all these talented actors where to stand. The acting brilliance comes later.) More reports soon!

"It should be the questions and shape of a life, its total complexity gathered, arranged and considered, which matters in the end." - Tony Kushner

Lady Bright Has Her Day

So we've found a truly stellar cast for our production of The Madness of Lady Bright...and just in time, since we open on September 21st. Steve Hauck, Gretchen Michelfeld and Lars Preece will star as the lonely queen and the matching His and Her hallucinations. Gabriel is co-directing the Butoh-inspired production (yes, Virginia, we said Butoh) with Kay Mitchell; this team are also collaborating with MadShag on Significant Blur in 2007, so we're keeping it in the family! For tickets to the Off Stage Festival event (which runs through October 7th), visit Peculiar Works and sign up...in just over 2 hours, you can experience the history of Off-Broadway and the work of over 150 artists!

The Kushner Walking Tour


While this Brooklyn building may not look like much, it in fact plays a very central role in Angels In America -- Borough Hall is the actual site where, in the play, Joe and Louis first meet and decide to begin their fateful affair (and even share a hot dog on the granite steps outside). Like most of the locations in Tony Kushner's play, those steps are a real, actual place in the universe. So last week, continuing our research for the projection design, Shannon and I spent a day wandering all over New York City photographing the sights and neighborhoods where the Angels characters lived and worked. Or where they would have, if they had existed.

From the beginning, we didn't plan to be slavish to reality; it is, after all, a gay fantasia, and literal documentary is the farthest thing from the play's intent. But after climbing the rocky crags of The Ramble in Central Park (where Louis searches for anonymous sex), strolling down East 87th Street (where Roy Cohn lives when Ethel Rosenberg's ghost crashes the party), and visiting Brooklyn (the home of Prior, Louis, Harper, and Joe), I have to admit that I am relating to the play in a different way. Sure, it's a fantasy of Kushner's invention...but the world of the play is very real, and its foundations lay squarely in our own lives. Joe and Louis never shared a hot dog on these steps, but the steps nevertheless are there. (Profound? Probably not, but it did affect me. I'm a sucker for contrivance.)

It also helped that we had an absolute ball doing this day-long project; amateur photographers that we are, you would have thought we were Diane Arbus. (I have to admit that the hills of Central Park kicked my ass, and by the end of our eight-hour jaunt, I was ready to sit and think about anything besides the play!)


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Artists/Collaborators

  • Gabriel Shanks
  • Artistic Director

  • Erik C. Bruce
  • Allen Cutler
  • Shannon Maddox
  • Kay Mitchell
  • Jeni Shanks
  • Artistic Associates

  • Charles Borkhuis
  • Erin Browne
  • Oscar Castillo
  • Jane Ann Crum
  • Robbie Heacock
  • Shannon Hunt
  • Jeffrey James Keyes
  • Barbara Lanciers
  • Leonard Madrid
  • Gretchen Michelfeld
  • Christopher Mirto
  • Catherine Porter
  • Juanita Rockwell
  • Barry Rowell
  • Jeni Shanks
  • Nomi Tichman
  • Mary Ann Walsh


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