The 2014 Short Stuff Festival

Annual festival of new works brings together writers and directors

by Deneia Washington

For those who were interested in being involved in a production that gave participants hands-on experience, without the time consuming and stressful components of mainstage productions of Temple Theater, Short Stuff , a 10-minute play festival of six original works by students, was that middle ground.

Alex Monsell

Alex Monsell

In its third year at Temple University’s Theater Department, Short Stuff serves as a multipurpose platform for both rising playwrights and directors alike. President of Temple Theaters Sidestage Season, Alex Monsell notes Short Stuff as having little to do with the performance aspects of the pieces, rather, “it’s about the rehearsal process for the writer so that they can figure out ‘how do I figure out what’s good about my play?’, ‘how can I figure out what can be relevant about my play?’, and ‘how do I then actually go and take that action to the next step to perform it?’”

To select the six original works that would be a part of this year’s festival, the student directors, with faculty sponsor Professor David Strattan-White, discussed each play individually; not in terms of good or bad, but in terms of versatility.  “We each choose which play we would want to direct right now as it was,” says Monsell.  Professor White then makes the final call and assigns the directors to plays.

Short Stuff also serves as a great way for directors to work with new plays and playwrights. “If you’re working with an original piece, as we have, there are certain ways to give your notes and there are certain ways to talk to the writer and there are certain ways to talk to the actors,” says Monsell. “Because as a director, you don’t want to put too much of yourself into the writer’s head,” he adds.

Since the works in this play festival are original pieces by students, both playwright and director worked hand in hand to create a performance. However, Short Stuff makes it clear that the writer’s voice is primary and whatever the playwright wants takes top priority. Monsell states, the “writer’s vision has to be at the forefront, so it’s also pretty humbling, to especially myself as a director that what I want out of this show is not important. What does my writer want? How can I give him that?” He explains, “So in this environment, if I don’t understand something I have the writer right there and can ask him, chat it out, and say, ‘though I don’t necessarily see that, if that’s what you want, this is how I can get it to you.’”

That doesn’t mean that playwright and director don’t butt heads a little when it comes to the production, but it does ensure that directors try their hardest to humble themselves, compromise, and ask: “How do I make my vision their vision?” Because of this, writers were allowed in the audition room where actors were cast, making sure that the writers were happy with those selected for their piece. As actors normally do not have the opportunity to work alongside the writer, Short Stuff gives actors the ability to ask questions to the writers right in that moment, allowing them to understand why the dialogue was crafted a certain way and the feelings the writer associated with that dialogue.

Scene from Short Stuff

Scene from Short Stuff

Reflecting on this year’s Short Stuff, Monsell felt that the turnout this year was “insane” and even admits that he had to turn away some people at the door. Monsell also believes that pushing up the deadline for writers to turn in their pieces played a big part in making the festival successful.  “Usually the deadline is October 26, and this year I made it September 26, which means that we had less submissions because people in general had less time,” says Monsell. “But those writers had another month to edit those pieces, so I think the final products were a little more polished than in the past.”

To Monsell, Short Stuff showed that the student voice is powerful. “We as artists, we as individuals, we as students have enough to say,” he says. “We’re still learning and we’re still students, but it fulfills all the parts of theater that makes theater great. It’s passionate, it’s moving, it’s funny, and, especially with six plays, you see that whole wealth,” he adds.

In terms of next steps to keep Short Stuff growing, Monsell would like for more first time writers to send in their work. “Short Stuff is the perfect environment to try out writing,” Monsell states. “With a safe environment and emphasis placed on writer’s edits, first time writers can really get the taste for the craft and learn if it’s something they would like to follow up with.”

Short Stuff is presented annual at the end of the fall semester.

 

Student Profile: William Bankhead

Undergraduate student has rare opportunity as mainstage technical director 

by Deneia Washington

She Stoops to Conquer, which ran at Temple Theaters from November 12 – 22, was a special opportunity for junior theater student William Bankhead to display leadership and skill by taking on a position that has only been given to a select few. Bankhead was given the chance to take full control as technical director for this mainstage production.

Since starting his studies at Temple, Bankhead has been under the mentorship of resident Technical Director Andrew Laine, and upon transitioning from scenic design to technical direction Bankhead began to challenge himself more and more.  “Andrew gave me that in the form of assisting him on Oklahoma! [Temple Theaters’ fall 2013 musical]” he says.

Even while hinting to Laine at the end of last spring semester that he was ready to take on a full show, Bankhead didn’t know that those words would become a reality. Expecting to enter into Laine’s office and find out which show he’d be assisting Laine with, Bankhead was given the good news.

“When I went to him to see what show he’d like my help on, he said rather than assisting him, I could take on She Stoops to Conquer in its entirety,” Bankhead explains.

Leading up to this decision, Bankhead had taken a few of Professor Laine’s courses and hung around the scene shop, exemplifying his willingness to observe and assist. This, along with his work as Assistant Technical Director of Oklahoma! with the major assignment of the windmill, displayed his ability to problem-solve.

“Over the course of all of this, he had developed an understanding of how scenery is constructed, of budgeting time and materials, and his drafting skills were becoming very strong,” Laine says.

While grateful to be given this opportunity, Bankhead was still a bit apprehensive. “I was terrified at the prospect of tackling an entire show on Temple’s mainstage by myself,” he states. “But I’m also of the mindset that just because something’s hard or scary doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.”

Production photo of set with actors

The compete set of SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER

The role of the technical director is a balancing act of time, money, and craft. When the designer has an idea and decides the size, shape, and look of the piece, “I, as the technical director, take that finished product the designer has conceptualized, and lay out the materials, budget, and assembly needed so a scene shop of craftsmen can make it into a reality,” Bankhead explains.

While Bankhead felt a little awkward of essentially becoming an “authority” over some of the graduate student actors, and even a few professors whose courses he had taken in the past, he made certain to let people know he wouldn’t be forcing orders around. “I was there to complete a task in a timely and cost-effective manner, and above all, to learn,” he states.

He feels that being given this opportunity is a testament to honing in on his interests and craft. Going off of the idea that people must follow before they can lead, Bankhead immersed himself in a variety of theater and elective classes, while also taking on different positions in various productions. “That’s how I grew as a theatre-maker, by cultivating a sort of theatrical cura personalis.”

“I think what helped me was, and still is, going into every class, theatre or otherwise, and every show ready and willing to learn something, confident that everyone you meet has the potential to teach you something new,” says Bankhead.

He especially enjoyed being able to work in the scene shop. Its stocked shelves, organization, and helpful staff were signs of creativity dangling at his feet. “What better place to pick up the gauntlet, and maybe make something great?” he says. “It was like being invited to play in a giant sandbox, and make cool things for and with people.”

Bankhead sees the relationship between him and Laine as being a positive and ongoing exchange occurring between teachers and students, which results in constant growth. “I like to think he saw that growth, and was willing to take a chance on me, because he knew that I’d be able to roll with the punches, and ask for help if I needed it,” he states. “So I essentially took the leap of faith, content in the knowledge that I would have the full resources and support of my shop and department behind me.”

Laine believes that a leader is a balancing act of organization, confidence, humility, and the willingness to absorb new information – traits that Bankhead exhibit well.

“He did a great job with She Stoops to Conquer, and it should stand as a strong example of his work for his portfolio.”

 

This article was edited to include quotes from Andrew Laine on Friday, December 12.

Temple Theaters Welcomes Main Street Musicals

MainStreet Musicals Inc. will be collaborating with Temple Theaters in presenting three staged readings in Randall Theater from January 10-11.  With both professional actors and student performers, these readings include Merton of the Movies, directed by Temple Theaters’ Artistic Director Douglas C. Wager; Pride and Prejudice, directed by Professor Peter Reynolds; and Under Fire, directed by Nick Anselmo of Drexel University.

In the video below, from MainStreet Musicals’ festival in St. Louis earlier this year, affiliate producer Ben Nordstrom discusses the new musicals and explains the process.

MainStreet Musicals Inc. is a national association of theater professionals and education partners whose mission is to promote and aid in the development of original music theater works. The artistic advisory group is composed of major musical theater artists; past members include Harold Prince, Sutton Foster, Patti Lupone, and John Lithgow, the 2014 Guest Artisitc Director. Among their multitude of programs, MainStreet Musical Festivals showcases the year’s MainStreet award-winning musicals in local cities across the country. Soon, Philadelphia will be the newest member of its city line-up.

This collaboration poses as a great opportunity for students looking for theater experience to work on new shows, while also working alongside professional directors and actors. Students interested in working backstage or participating in other assistantship duties can email theater@temple.edu.

Visit BrownPaperTickets to purchase tickets this event.

Capturing the Magic: Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo

The production photos from our first 2014-2015 show are here! Our amazing photographer Luis Rodriguez capturing these stunning images of Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo during dress rehearsals and photo call. This production was directed by David Girard, with scenic design by John Michael Eddy, costume design by Marie Anne Chiment, lighting design by Liz Phillips, sound design by Mark Valenzuela and projection design by Michael Long. The show performed September 17 – 27 in the Main Stage at the Adrienne Theater as part of the FringeArts 2014 Festival.

 

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The Process: Dialect Work in She Stoops to Conquer

The cast works with Rosemary Hay on their character’s accents

By Emily Young

She Stoops to Conquer ArtworkThe third show in the Temple Theaters, She Stoops to Conquer, is fast approaching, and the cast and crew are hard at work. Set in northern England, the play presents a unique challenge to the cast: a collection of English dialects, including Yorkshire – think the downstairs staff of Downton Abbey, and Recognized Pronunciation (R.P.), the most recognizable English dialect – think Harry Potter.

The two dialects share a forward resonance and purer vowels which are universal in English dialects, but they are still vastly different. R.P. differs from standard American mostly in placement: Americans focus their voices toward the back of the mouth, while the British focus sound closer to their lips. Adjusting the placement of the sound and adjusting a few vowels-and there are fewer than you’d think-takes an American actor most of the way to R.P. Yorkshire, on the other hand, demands a more challenging balance between being forward and not too forward, being more closed but also much more open than R.P. Americans are also much less exposed to the Yorkshire dialect, which only adds to the challenge.

Fortunately for the cast, Rosemary Hay, and adjunct professor at Temple and an English native, has come to their aid. Hay teaches acting for the department, but has stepped in to help with the production. She works on a regular basis with cast members, either individually or in groups, on both dialects. The hardest part of working on a dialect can sometimes be simply not knowing what’s right and what’s not. By working on lines with Hay, and receiving her corrections, the entire cast has been able to grown more confident.

Cheryl Williams, a Temple adjunct faculty member playing the formidable Mrs. Hardcastle, started work on her dialect well before rehearsals began. “The first thing I did,” she says, “[was watch] Downton Abbey…to listen to the people downstairs. But that didn’t help me. At all. So then I ordered a dialect tape and started listening to that.”

Image of actors Julia Hopkins and Ken Sandberg in character

Kate (Julia Hopkins) and Marlow (Ken Sandberg)

Dialect tapes are available for countless dialects, but most feature a male voice demonstrating the sounds. Many actresses, including Williams, have trouble using them, because imitating the speech pattern of a male voice is difficult for women. Fortunately for the ladies of the cast, Rosemary recorded an interview with a young woman from Northern England, a foreign exchange student studying theatre here in Philadelphia. With a native, easy-to-listen-to voice to work with, dialect work has been a bit easier for those working on a Yorkshire Dialect.

Julia Hopkins, who plays Miss Hardcastle, has a double challenge, having to use both RP and Yorkshire dialects. “It’s difficult, especially in scenes where I flip back and forth,” she says. Hopkins has been working hard on her dialects since the cast list went up earlier this semester, and is lucky enough to have a friend from England to talk to. “I run my lines with her and she helps me over Skype,” Hopkins says. Having two dialects to work on, and having to use both in the same show, means having to be twice as confident in both. With help from friends and from Rosey, though, Hopkins is already doing well.

With only a few weeks until opening night, dialects are starting to be easier for everyone in the cast. “We’re trying to get to a point where we don’t think about it,” says Williams. But think about it they will, until the curtain goes down on closing night.

She Stoops to Conquer will open November 12, and will run until November 22 in Randall Theater.

 

Temple Theaters to Host Screening of In Conflict

 In Conflict, the award-winning play adapted by Douglas C. Wager, will be screened at Tomlinson Theater on November 15 at 7:30 pm in honor of Temple University’s Military Appreciation Month. In Conflict, based on the book by Yvonne Latty, is a collection of personal stories from Iraq War veterans. This presentation will include a special Q&A session with Wager and Latty.

Directed by Wager, former artistic director of Arena Stage, the play premiered in 2007 as the season opener to Temple Theaters’ 40th season.  Eleven student actors starred in this docudrama based on interviews from veterans collected by Latty. The play explores how hostile conditions of war and near death experiences affected veterans’ adjustment back into civilian life.  In Conflict prompted discussion about treatment of veterans, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the Iraq War at large.

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A highly acclaimed book, In Conflict: Iraq War Veterans Speak Out on Duty, Loss, and the Fight to Stay Alive, is a first-person account of one of the most controversial wars in modern American history. Latty interviewed twenty-five men and women from diverse backgrounds to shed light on their experiences at war and at home.

A graduate of New York University (NYU), Yvonne Latty worked as a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News for 13 years, where she specialized in urban issues. Latty is currently the Director of the Reporting New York and Reporting the Nation graduate programs at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of NYU. She is also the author of the critically acclaimed text We Were There: Voices of African American Veterans, from World War II to the War in Iraq and producing director of award-winning documentary Sacred Poison.

In Conflict, the play, received rave reviews and was awarded The Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The production was also selected to compete in the Region II edition of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. The production traveled to New York City, running Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theater in 2008.

Read more about the In Conflict: New York Times’ review, American Theater Magazine, or Temple University News Center.

In Conflict: An Encore Screening of the Play, November 15 at 7:30 pm in Tomlinson Theater, 1301 West Norris Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122. The screening is free and open to the public; the film contains adult content and adult language. Donations will be collected in support of Wounded Warrior Project.

Meet The Designer: Mandy Goynes

Details set the stage for She Stoops to Conquer

by Deneia Washington

All hands are on deck as Temple Theaters’ She Stoops to Conquer, an 18th century comedy about an high class country woman’s attempt to woo a wealthy London man who’s more at easy with lower-class women, will be making its debut in Randall Theater soon. Graduate student and set designer Mandy Goynes has been hard at work capturing elements of this period piece that’ll make audience members feel like they’re back in time.

“For She Stoops, we have really changed the setting of this room so it’s really almost like you’re walking into this house as an audience member,” says Goynes.

As staple pieces of the set have their humble beginnings as raw wood transformed into artistic elements that capture the historical aspects of this production, Goynes believes that building pieces from the ground up strips one of certain limitations, leaving room for more creative freedom.“You get to build the world to what you want it to be, whereas if I were renting, say, the walls, I could only rent wall that’s this size or this size because that’s all they have,” Goynes explains. “It gives you the creativity of building a world to where you need it to be, whereas if we were purchasing a lot I don’t think we’d have that.”

This was especially the case for Goynes as she picked out specific elements of various fireplaces she liked, molding and configuring these elements together to create one uniquely made unit. “I got to design that from scratch and say, ‘well I like that thing from this fireplace, and I like that thing from this fireplace,’ and I got to decide what I wanted and it allowed me to totally create that,” says Goynes. “Whereas if we were renting, it’s more of a ‘that one’s pretty,’ kind of thing.”

Goynes believes that inspiration can come from anywhere, thus she documents fascinating elements she comes across on her daily ventures. “I have a visual diary and I take pictures when I’m walking down the street and see a cool piece of graffiti or a really cool decorative ornament on a house, and I keep all those  because sometimes the smallest thing can inspire you,” she says.

Set designs are also helpful to actors as well. Instead of standing on a bare stage, actors are given the ability to enhance their capacity to narrate through interaction with the set pieces. This artistic touch makes actors appear even more realistic as their movements around these pieces mirror what an audience member would do in their everyday lives.

“There are plenty of shows out there that you can go to and the actor is standing on a blank stage, maybe on a box or something, but you then have to really have some juxtaposition to tell the audience about what we are, where we are at, what is the show,” Goynes says. “Whereas if they can walk into this room and there’s a set that really explains it, they know and they can immediately dive into that world and dive into that realm that we’re in.”

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Although She Stoops to Conquer is set in the 18th century, the visual dynamics of this production showcases a multitude of time periods through costumes and location.“The set is supposed to look like [the Hardcastle family has] been in this house for a really long time, so it’s actually a little bit of an older period than what you’re seeing in the costumes,” Goynes explains. “But there is almost a few periods happening in this because we wanna show that this house is older, its been lived in and it’s not something new and fancy.”

Because of the the bold and accentuated fashion of 18th century women, Goynes had an interesting obstacle of making sure her set was actor friendly. “Women use to wear panniers which use to bring the hips out really, really wide, so that was something I had to worry about. Could they get through the doorways? Could they get through these areas with these extra wide hips?”

During the run, Goynes hopes that the audience captures the essence of the set as if they are common dwellers of this space. “I want them to feel the majesty of this location that we’re in. We’re in this beautiful, old London house owned by somebody who has quite a bit of money and I want them to feel that, says Goynes. “I want them to feel that they are really apart of this show.”

She Stoops to Conquer opens on Friday, November 14. Tickets can be purchase online or at the box office.