Mauckingbird Mix: Staged Readings of Queer Classics

 Mauckingbird Theatre Company in residence at Temple Theaters

By Deneia Washington

As an avid fan of new gay plays and classic dramas, Professor Peter Reynolds, head of the Musical Theater program at Temple University, feels that there can and should be a way to merge these two traditionally separate worlds. “My partner and I read all the new gay plays, see all the new gay plays, see gay films, and we really had a desire to look at classic stories that have survived for generations. And we want to look at those stories through a queer or gay lens.”

Peter Reynolds Headshot

Peter Reynolds

From this, Mauckingbird Theatre Company emerged. Founded in 2008, Mauckingbird serves to produce theater through a queer lens with classic texts, while also telling new queer stories.

The company, which presented a gender-bending A Midsummer’s Night Dream on campus in 2010, returns with Mauckingbird Mix August 29 through September 7 in the Randall Theater.

“It was a chance to come back to Temple and do some exciting things with young people again,” Reynolds says.

Mauckingbird Mix kicks off on Friday, August 29 with Miss Cast 5: College Edition, hosted by Barrymore Award-winner Jennie Eisenhower. This fun-filled cabaret features a talented group of Temple alums, Temple students, and local talent singing gender-flipped songs.

Events continue on over the weekend with a reading of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour; the classic drama celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. The staged readings on August 30 & 31 feature Philadelphia actresses Jessica Bedford and Kim Carson, with readings directed by Temple MFA graduate student Liz Carlson.

The residency concludes on September 6-7 with Mart Crowley’s 1968 gay classic The Boys in the Band. The reading stars Barrymore Award-winner Jeff Coon and Tony Award-nominee & Barrymore Award-winner Forrest McClendon; it is directed by alumnus and adjunct professor Brandon McShaffrey.

“These are two classic plays and they are very significant in queer theater history,” says Reynolds. “They’re large and [have] large casts, which is very hard to produce. But these readings are a wonderful way to hear these plays with terrific actors. We get to share these highly important works with young people and with our Mauckingbird audience.”

Although rehearsals are limited due to union restrictions, Reynolds doesn’t see this as a limitation, but a testament to how actors with great storytelling abilities can thrive and excel regardless of restrictions. “With great actors, it’s a joy and it can be even more exciting,” says Reynolds. “You’re really living in that moment, because you haven’t had all that time to rehearse.”

A Midsummer Night's Dream by Mauckingbird Theatre Company

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Reynolds receives great joy when audience members tell him that while watching the plays they forget about who would conventionally be cast for particular roles. “When an audience member says to me, ‘a couple minutes in and I forgot that that’s usually played by a woman,’ or ‘I forgot that’s usually a heterosexual couple,’ that’s success to me,” says Reynolds.

“There’s room for you tell your story,” says Reynolds and that’s what he and Mauckingbird Theatre Company are doing.

For more information about the Mauckingbird Theatre Company residency, including how to purchase tickets, visit www.mauckingbird.org. Peter Reynolds directs the upcoming production of Brigadoon, running October 15 -26.

Meet the Designer: Jeff Sturdivant

Brigadoon costume designer explores the magical world of Scotland

By Deneia Washington

Jeff Sturdivant Headshot

Jeff Sturdivant

Months away from the opening of musical Brigadoon in Tomlinson Theater, meetings regarding final set, costume design, and other miscellaneous items are in full swing.

Using director Peter Reynolds’ twist of magical realism on this classic,  costume designer and MFA student Jeff Sturdivant has customized modern designs to fall into place within the Scottish context of the storyline.

“We’re not going for period accuracy, we’re going for magical fairy tale,” states Sturdivant. “So we don’t have to concern ourselves with being period accurate as much as we have to deal with being aesthetically beautiful and still Scottish.”

The usage of particular colors to convey emotions and personalities of major characters displays how costume design can be a valuable storytelling asset. “Everyone has their own tartan, their own identity in the world, really, so that’s where the detail comes in. It’s like separating different people based on details,” Sturdivant states. “That’s really what separates costume design from fashion design and it’s an interesting thing to talk about because the storytelling component is the number one focus of a costume design, versus an aesthetic look.”

For major characters Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas, Sturdivant utilizes “urban-metropolitan” attire to depict these young New Yorkers and describe their escape from their perceived “privileged” lifestyle, to Brigadoon. Using the buildings of New York City as inspiration for Tommy and Jeff’s palette decisions, Sturdivant felt these choices helped easily transition the two into Brigadoon.

“It also explains a lot about their characters and what they’re trying to escape from. It sets up a great concept to explore about leaving what a lot of people see as having everything and kind of giving it up for nothing,” Sturdivant says.

Through research, Sturdivant also found ways to incorporate Scotland’s scenic and natural colors into his palette. “I did a lot of research as far as dyes and natural dye because at the time, Scotland was a very large producer of this tartan fabric that they have become infamous for around the world. So they were producing a lot of plaid and creating kind of a culture that followed along with these plaids that they were creating.”

This natural element directly affected his design choices for Fiona, the female lead and love interest of Tommy. “Fiona, she is known for her duet with Tommy and ‘Heather of the Hill’ and that’s really where her color palette has become inspired by because she talked about literally picking heather for the wedding.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

With an abundance of choreographed numbers, Sturdivant has had to consider both personalities and movement. Sturdivant, who worked for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in New York City, has the ability to make costumes glide and twirl to the beat of choreographer Maggie Anderson’s dance routines. “It capitalizes on my asset, which is knowing about movement and dance… But it was also an interesting challenge for me because normally I’m not accustomed to doing pieces so light and positive,” Sturdivant says.

Though designs are finalized this far along in the process, minor adjustments are made for functionality of actors wearing the garments. “Based on whose cast you might want to make something a little higher cut or a little lower cut or shorter sleeves or longer sleeves.” He adds, “But also I try to make mine as flexible as possible because whoever is the right person is the right person and the costume will just fit them.”

Listing time, money, and manpower as major obstacles of costume design, Sturdivant sees these tools as a balancing formula, where there is lack in one area the other two have to be the driving force of the design.

Much of Sturdivant’s fulfillment results from his designs leaving the sketchbook and entering into the flesh. “One of my absolute favorite things is seeing other people’s reaction to the work that I’ve done or been a part of creating.”

Since this production isn’t about period accuracy but fantasy, the fairy tale twist on these modern pieces explains the shift through time. “That’s the main juxtaposition of the play. Looking back at the past for something that was longed, an in a way something that was more perfect than today.”

Brigadoon runs October 15 – 26 in the Tomlinson Theater.

 

 

2014-2015 Season Artwork

We are excited to present the 2014-2015 season posters designed once again by Bridget Currie (TYL ’13). It’s a colorful collection for a diverse season.

Look for these posters through Temple University’s campus and around Philadelphia.

 

 

 

Meet the Designers: John Eddy & Liz Phillips

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo designers tackle a unique project

by Deneia Washington

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, the Pulitzer Prize nominated drama by Rajiv Joseph about the early days of the Iraqi War, is set to hit the Adrienne Theater in Center City in September and all behind-the-scenes personnel, including graduate students John Eddy and Liz Phillips, have been hard at work formulating ideas that capture and enhance director David Girard’s vision for this production for months. The play’s structure, the unique floor plan of the Adrienne Theater, and required scenic elements challenged the designers to think creatively and collaboratively.

Just weeks before the spring semester came to a close, scenic designer John Eddy had to scrap his design plans for a central Middle Eastern style gazebo or pergola that incorporated the existing support columns on the theater’s playing space.  “This it seemed this version of the design would be the one we would use; however, after visiting the theater we quickly realized it was not going to work,” say Eddy. Issues of difficult sight lines, a confined playing space, and the logistics of creating the large topiaries essential to the story made the original design impractical.

Going back to the drawing board, Eddy carried out strenuous visual research to come up with a more effective idea. He came across a photograph of a wall around the Green Zone, a zone in the center of the Iraqi capital that was the headquarters of Iraqi regimes, by journalist Carolyn Cole that gave him a spark of inspiration.

“Was the wall around the Green Zone to keep people out or in?” Eddy ponders.

In the spirit of collaboration, Eddy began to think more about the lighting after lighting designer Liz Phillips emailed Eddy a YouTube clip with a single question, “What if we could pull something like this off for the topiaries?” The video (below) of projection onto 3D surfaces, made his vision evermore clear.

 

“Everything else started to fall in place – how to incorporate the existing architecture, how to give a flavor of Baghdad, how to provide flexibility for David while still keeping the magical quality we wanted,” explains Eddy. “By Monday, I had a new design that I shared with the team, and by that Friday a new final design that was agreed to by the production team.”

As a reflection of the director’s point of view for the script, Eddy drew design inspiration from historical and visual context.

“The scenic design helps to bring the vision of the playwright and director to life,” he says. “Design can and should suggest the style and tone of the production, create mood and atmosphere and ‘set the stage’ – crafting the world of the play for actor and audience.”

Phillips understands how lighting can directly affect the atmosphere of the performance and the audiences’ relationship with the characters. “The costumes support the character, the set supports the world, and the lighting can be the support for everything in-between,” says Phillips.

Working on Bengal Tiger is easy for Liz Phillips, as the play resonated with her. “Bengal Tiger, especially this production with David Girard’s imagining of it, speaks both to my preferred visual aesthetics, and to my personal politics,” says Phillips.

Phillips wants the lighting to not only hone in on certain messages and themes of the play, she also hopes it will exemplify the intricacies of the costume designs.

“I have to decide if my initial color instincts will support, minimize or accentuate the colors in the costume, and how I need to change my choices based on those answers,” she explains. “If I know the costume designer has spent a lot of time finding or designing some specific detailing in a costume I will try to help accentuate that detailing too.”

A digital rendering of the set

A digital rendering of the set

Eddy believes his clean design captures the essence of David Girard’s idea of magical realism, but enhanced. “My ideas are giving the design a sense of location without being too specific. We should get a flavor of Baghdad,” he says.

As she moves forward in her lighting process, Phillips hopes to get a clearer focus of matching light with mood. “The set is more minimal in that aspect so it’s my goal right now in the process to figure out how to provide the specific location and set the emotional context or mood.”

Normally, theaters students get hands-on experience in the construction of the set, but not this time. An outside shop has been contracted for this task. Once the time comes for the set to be moved into the theater and rehearsals begin, designers will be able to see how well their designs pair together.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph begins September 17 at the Adrienne Theater. This production is presented as part of the citywide FringeArts Festival.

Citizen Artist: Alice Gatling

 Supporting teachers through the arts

By Deneia Washington

From a professional viewpoint that spans from auditions and callbacks to single file lines and raised hands, Alice Gatling, a third year MFA Acting student, finds that her love for children and her desire to act makes her purpose as actor and educator even more impactful.

Her duties as an instructor who faces harsh realities in the school system, while simultaneously acting as an outsider by way of theater, gave Gatling the idea to establish an approach for teachers to utilize the arts and deconstruct the traditional atmosphere of the classroom, making it more conducive to learning.

Alice Gatling Headshot“I hear individuals who are quick to say something negative about teachers, but how are we feeding teachers? How are we giving them what they need? When I was an educator, do I feel like my needs were actually addressed?” says Gatling. It was in these moments of reflection that Gatling realized that much of the teachers’ voice and concern would be dismissed, and sometimes even ignored, throughout the conversation about the state of the U.S. education system.

On a quest to address this issue through the use of artistic expression, in 2009 Gatling, founded TEACH, The Educational Acting Company of Houston. TEACH serves as a developmental program for teachers by utilizing the arts in the classroom for a new and creative approach to teaching, as a response to a technologically advancing world.

Gatling finds that it takes more than the traditional way of learning and teaching to keep students thirsting for knowledge when there are so many distractions that result from a new technological age.

“The way I was taught in the ‘60s is not the way that should be taught today in 2014,” explains Gatling. “A lot of individuals get on that little high horse of, ‘if it was good for me, then…”

She feels that teachers and their classroom methods of engaging young learners must adapt to the changing times. “When you were a child, you didn’t have a computer so your brain didn’t have to work at a fast pace, it was trained to work at a slow, reasonable pace,” says Gatling. “So when you come with that slow pace to someone who’s been trained to move fast, they’re gonna get bored with you really quick.”

While shifting TEACH from thought to reality was a huge goal for Gatling, there was something she felt the developmental program was missing.

That all changed once Eileen Morris, Artistic Director of the Ensemble Theater of Houston, contacted Gatling about a play called No Child, by Nilaja Sun.

After reading the script, Gatling instantly felt like No Child, a one-woman play that explores New York’s public schools through the lens of various personnel in the schools, fit perfectly with TEACH and the program could finally move forward.

“Teachers are able to come in and see it and it’s not just a reflection of them, but they’re able to see that even when an outsider comes in, this is what they have to say,” says Gatling. “This is the script that teachers need, that we could then build workshops on themes found in this script.”

Not only does Gatling see No Child as an important dialogue starter for teachers, she also feels that it is of great importance to rising actors, as this one-person show style of acting was constructed in a way she hadn’t witnessed before. “It blew my mind,” says Gatling. “This is dialogue. This is jumping from to character to character to character. It is so challenging, so a part of me also wanted them to have an opportunity to see that,” she adds.

Though she now had all the factors needed for TEACH to propel forward, life had its own plans for Gatling.  With constant bookings for shows, and even graduate school to attend, Gatling was not able to completely get TEACH off the ground.

But in 2015 as a part of her senior project, Gatling plans on showcasing TEACH with No Child in Temple Theaters. “I think it would be a great launch for it because there’s so much happening in the educational system in Philadelphia,” says Gatling.

After the performance, Gatling wants there to be a session of dialogue, where discussion about important themes in the play will ensue and solutions can be addressed.

“There may not be one, or there may be several, or there may not be one we can come up with, but the least we can do is go away and think about it more,” Gatling says. “When individuals are able to talk about what they just saw, it makes for a more lasting impression.”

Thinking about TEACH and its effects on a much larger scale, Gatling has hopes to expand the problem with various plays that meet the needs of different school systems across the nation. “When we’re contacted by anyone in the country and they’re like, ‘we’re interested in having you come in and present this work to our teachers’, they’re able to then choose which one of the productions will best meet the needs of the development the teachers need to have.

Essentially, Gatling’s main goal is that TEACH brings a community of teachers together where everyone’s voice can be heard.

“I want to not only inspire teachers so that they really look to use the arts, but the main thing I want is for teachers to feel supported and that there is someone else out there to support you and help you grow.”

Gatling will appear in Temple Theaters’ production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at the  Adrienne Theater this September.

Faculty Profile: Maggie Anderson

An Artist’s Passion

by Deneia Washington

Maggie Anderson headshot_oIdentifying as an introverted child, she found solace in the arts. From singing to dancing to even being a young and creative playwright, Assistant Professor Maggie Anderson’s past quest for artistic freedom soon became her life’s work.

Her captivation for theater stems from its way of highlighting the human experience and the way it brings people together. “[Theater] helps to evolve and heal each other by sharing stories and embracing humanity.

As head of the Department’s movement and dance program, Anderson teaches jazz, ballet, and musical theater dance to undergraduate theater majors. She also mentors the budding performers both in and out of the classroom. Before coming to Temple, she taught dance and movement to students of all ages: children, teen, and young adults.

“Teaching is in my blood. It has always been a calling and I have been teaching as long as I’ve been performing. It grounds me with a deep sense of purpose,” says Anderson.

In addition to her extensive teaching background, Anderson has experience in directing and choreographing. Her choreography credits includes McCarter Theatre’s The Jungle Book, Maples Repertory Theater’s Chicago, and Temple Theaters’ Oklahoma.

Anderson was first introduced to the art of movement at the age of fourteen during an African dance class. “I was hooked immediately – the drums, the rhythms, the sweat, the structure, and the discipline,” she says.  Not looking back, Anderson would begin to commit to learn various forms of dance. She now adds jazz, modern, ballet, and tap dancing to her training.

While there are many aspects that make theater, the collaboration between dance and theater is of much importance to Anderson. “When we express something through the body, the audience has a visceral response to that expression that goes beyond verbal communication,” says Anderson. “It is also an incredible devise for expressing elation, ritual, and the inner workings of a character’s mental struggle in a poetic form,” she adds.

With this in mind, Anderson makes sure movement tells a story with her choreographic formations at Temple Theaters and across New York and Philadelphia. Believing that there is no one way to tell a story, Anderson draws inspiration from wherever she feels paints the best picture.

“I know my history, and I try to honor the iconic moments when applicable; but also forge new ground when appropriate,” she says.

Theater and its hectic schedule is something Anderson embraces about the profession. But when she does have downtime, Anderson enjoys yoga, cooking, reading, and checking out some live music and theater.

“Having tools that help to rejuvenate and ground yourself is crucial,” Anderson explains.

For someone who may be trying to break into the industry, Anderson believes that curiosity must be the driving force to help one craft and make theater. She also believes that asking questions and paying attention to detail is critical in theater.

“Inspiration is a fickle muse. You must have a craft for longevity,” says Anderson.

Keeping herself grounded, Anderson remains productive and active by continuing dance training. “I still take class regularly to stay in shape and to gain new knowledge and stimulation for my teaching and creative work,” says Anderson.

Anderson is the choreographer for musical production Brigadoon, which will be opening Temple Theaters’ on campus season this fall.

Student Theater Season: A Culture of Support

New student organization develops student-driven theater

By Deneia Washington

“Vibrant culture,” describes the expected outcome of student drive in the Theater Department. With constant streams of student produced productions but moderate student engagement, one sought out to rejuvenate the culture of student theater. Junior Alex Monsell felt fit for the task.

“We have this structure, we have this set up, and we have this constitution already written.  I’m just gonna take it, I’m just gonna run very, very quickly towards getting the shows done. So that’s what I’ve been doing since,” says Monsell, who transferred to Temple University last fall.

Alex Monsell

Alex Monsell

With an attitude of “jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” Monsell comes with varying experience in theater as a result of his work with Lumina Studio Theater in Silver Spring, MD that includes acting, directing, lighting, and sound.

Student Theater Season, now an official student organization, leaves the management and execution of regular performances in the hands of the students. Monsell feels that this effectively initiates collaboration and acts as a safe space for mistakes to be made into daily learning experiences.

But Student Theater Season is not only of benefit to students. It extends an opportunity for faculty to be creative while administering advice and support to students. This advising system makes it so that faculty can work closely with students on projects that are related to their professional interests.

“Faculty is now directly connecting with those students.  It’s a way to take the mentorship program we kind of have in the whole connect-with-your-adviser, asking questions; it’s a way to take that to another level,” Monsell says. “Not only am I asking you a few questions about ‘how to’ hypothetical scenario’s, I can ask you directly and you can help me directly and turn it into real world experience.”

As Temple promotes diversity amongst students, Monsell places emphasis on reaching out to other organizations with no affiliation with theater in order to help create informed artists with knowledge of what they are creating. “You can’t just be an artist in a closed little bubble, you have to listen and understand the need and the conversation about the community around you,” says Monsell. “It’s art; and you can’t do it improperly.”

Student Theater Season is also helpful to non-theater majors with peaked interests in various aspects of the arts. “We’ve had at least a couple of designers say, ‘I’m an engineer, but I did theatrical design in high school and I really want to practice my craft’ and it’s great because we don’t have many designers,” states Monsell.

In a larger sense, he believes that this type of collaboration will have a positive effect on pushing students out of their comfort zone to band together across the university, showing support to organizations that are different from their own, thus creating an influx of returned support. Monsell explains, “Even though you might not have a friend in that show, you might go support them and now they’ll come and support you. That’s having a dialogue of artists.”

Monsell sees involvement in Student Theater Season as one of the best opportunities to prepare oneself for the professional world.

“Do what you’re here for,” says Monsell. ”This is your time to explore and to say some wild and outlandish things to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

 

There are four upcoming productions scheduled for Student Theater Season, including Putting It Together and Indian Wants the Bronx  this fall in the Randall Theater. Check out Temple Theaters social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) for more information about the shows in September. Want to be involved? Email Alex at TempleTheaterSS@gmail.com.