The Process: Maggie Anderson, Choreographer

Professor Anderson discusses the challenges and rewards of choreographing at Temple Theaters

By Deneia Washington

The second production of the season, Brigadoon, the musical about two American tourists who stumble upon a Scottish village that is a tangible reality, only once every one hundred years, will be debuting in just a few days. Rehearsals and technical meetings have now kicked into high gear with six to eight hour rehearsals and minor adjustments being made to ensure clear storytelling throughout.

Over the summer, Assistant Professor and show choreographer Maggie Anderson got a jump start in the pre-production process for the big show. Just as acting plays an integral role to the fluidity of the play, dance is instrumental to the narrative.  Maggie Anderson headshot_o “We always say ‘When a character can no longer contain the emotion in words, he must break into song. And when the character can no longer contain the emotion in song, he DANCES! My hope as a choreographer is that the dance always feels necessary, and never artificial,” says Anderson.

Once the school year officially began, it was time to get to business. Auditions were set in motion and the show cast was delicately chosen. For Anderson’s movement call auditions, she knew exactly the type of dancer she was looking for. “I choreographed specific dance sequences for skills that I needed to see. I was really looking for ballet technique, which you’ve either studied and have a lot of that under your belt, or you don’t,” says Anderson. “I needed people who were incredibly proficient and experienced in terms of their ability to execute pretty complicated ballet sequences.”

Technique and athleticism were not the only factors for Anderson; those cast also had to be able to become a visual narrator through their movements. “They needed to be able to really story tell to connect the steps together,” Anderson says. “So they really had to work hard to figure out where the intention of the choreography was and how to story tell through it.”

Once auditions were complete, Anderson began pairing movement to cast member, basing particular placement off of each actor’s strengths. As students have varying degrees of dance experience, it can be challenging to make movement accessible to everyone. “The choreographic process takes months of preparation. It’s like putting a huge puzzle together, and sometimes the pieces evolve in size and shape and you keep tweaking and adjusting until everything comes together,” she says.

As music, dance, and blocking are all intertwined in this production, rehearsals were no different. “We try so that they can memorize the music first, then they can get the dance sequence the second, because those require a lot of rehearsals. Then we implement the blocking and then we piece it all together,” Anderson explains. “They have more information about the whole trajectory of what the journey is going to be and we bring the three parts together. So it’s a whole journey for everybody.”

Even with all of the preparation of dance sequences she created over the summer, there were some things that had to be reconfigured to match the abilities and skill sets of the cast. “I changed some sequences, formations, and stuff to play on the skills of the actors that I had, which is a traditional part of the process,” says Anderson. “So some of the storytelling through the dance numbers I manipulated how they were originally done so that they featured a different kind of a story,” she adds.

Professor Anderson believes that as a choreographer you have to use discernment when challenging your students to help them grow, while also making sure they are comfortable and can exude confidence with each step. “We do make adjustments along the way, especially if there’s a solo and I’m watching someone and they’re struggling,” says Anderson. “But I also want them to try because sometimes you don’t know what you can do right when it’s given to you. You have to really practice it and then come back.”

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Another important aspect of the dance numbers of Brigadoon were the duo sequences. Anderson says pairing the right dancers together is “an education itself.” In order for the storytelling to connect with the audience, partners have to build trust with one another. “If you’re trusting somebody to lift you over their head every night it takes both partners being on their game, completely focused, and then being fully committed to it, because if either person backs off a little bit, it’s not going to go well,” says Anderson. “Every little beat, in turns of timing is crucial.”

Just days before the show, the cast is able to rehearse with the costumes and fully embody their character. Anderson and costume designer Jeff Sturdivant were constantly communicating with each other about making sure the designs flowed effortlessly with the dance sequences. “He has a lot of experience working with dance companies, so he has a really good eye for all of that,” she says. “What type of shoe, what length of skirt, what type of undergarment, if there’s a quick change, all of that is sort of choreographed. It’s always done the same, night after night.”

Anderson sees the growth in students within the Department of Theater as they continue to put on more productions. “We keep raising the bar for musical theater and what we’re able to accomplish here,” says Anderson. “I’m really proud and pleased and surprised each year as the caliber of skill gets higher and higher, which allows me to be able to do more and more, which makes the productions really exciting.” For these reasons, Anderson enjoys working with student actors and watching them grow as actors. “They are full of discovery and it’s fun to stretch student performers beyond their notions of limitations and grow in their capabilities.”

Brigadoon previews starts Wednesday, October 15 and opening night is Saturday, October 18. Tickets and information can be found here.

Temple Theaters London: Q & A with Dan Kern

By Deneia Washington

In case you didn’t know, the Department of Theater has international study opportunities for students looking to experience theater through a culturally expansive lens. The Temple Theaters London program allows students a firsthand look into the city as one of the major producers of theater. The Rehearsal Room sat down with Dan Kern, the Program Director of  Temple Theaters London for information about how and why students should consider abroad study as a part of their college experience.

The Rehearsal Room: Can you tell me a little bit about the Temple Theaters London program and how it was created?

Dan Kern: As a department, we really believed that it’s extremely important for young people to experience life in another culture. It’s one of the most educational things that you can do. When we separated from [the School of Communications & Theater], we no longer had a financial stake in that Study Away program. Another thing was that the coursework that was being offered by the SCT program really focused on media, but for our students it wasn’t a very broad selection of courses that they could take. So that’s why we [developed this new program] – because we believe in Study Away and we wanted to create a program that would make it possible for our students to have this experience.

Tower Bridge at Night, London

Tower Bridge at Night, London

RR: What made London the city of choice for the program?

DK: There is probably no other city in the world that has a greater reputation for producing world class theater than London. The art form is very, very healthy in London. It is not overly burdened by the commercial world, so there is a lot more theater and more people are working, which I think is a healthier environment for the art form. I think that for our students to be able to go and see two or three plays a week done by world class performers in small venues all over the city, all with different kinds of perspectives and political points of view is just an extraordinary opportunity.

RR: Why do you feel it’s important for students to study abroad?

DK: I think that we have to look at the future of this world that we live in and I think the worldview for the future is a global one. But another reason is because it shows to the artists, the people of the theater, the only thing that an artist has to say is what an artist knows or can create in the artists’ imagination based on what they’re asked. So to feed the soul with new experiences is only to expand the palette that the artist has to work with. So to go and see different architecture, different cultures, different ways of living and being, just makes the artist more sophisticated.

RR: What would you say the student experience is like?

DK: I did the program in 2005 and every single person describes it as being a life changing experience. One of the most significant things they did while they were in college, and I’m still in touch with all of these people. Three of the theater students that went with me in that year have actually gone on to do significant professional work. They will tell you if you ask them that that semester they spent in London is what turned the corner for them, and was what inspired them and kicked them into high gear.

RR: What does the curriculum consist of for the program?

DK: We are offering our students the option of being able to take one of the required acting courses, which is either Acting III or Acting IV, and we’re also offering them additional acting course called Acting Styles. We also offer a course called World of the Play, which is our capstone course. It’s a writing intensive that’s from the Dramaturgy course. Another course we’re offering is Art History and in this particular course, students will never be in a classroom. Each week they meet at a different museum for three hours and have a professional instructor show them all the artwork, so it’s really a muscular art history class that gives a lot of firsthand exposure. Then we have an internship program that we’re making available to the students, which if they choose, they can work in a number of different capacities in one of the one of the smaller theaters in the city. British Life and Culture is the other course, which is a course that we’re asking everybody to take for the obvious reason that it is a great accompaniment to their experience of being here.

Students at the Globe Theatre

Students at the Globe Theatre

RR: So the program emphasizes student interaction with the city?

DK: It does. We have a number of planned trips where we take them to various areas in the city. We’re also going to be taking them outside of London as well to places like Stonehenge. Part of the package of the course is that students get to go to nine different plays as part of World of the Play. So we’re really loading them in the theaters too.

RR: Would you say the program helps shape leaders out of these Temple students?

DK: Absolutely. Most people are content to just not do anything – just to stay. It’s easier. So I think they go together. Leadership, curiosity, and the willingness to go into the unknown is the hallmark of good leaders.

RR: Can this program help solidify students’ professional goals for the future?

DK: What it does is completely shift the foundational balance. In other words, all of a sudden you’re in a different place in a different world and you see things in a different way. It gives you the opportunity to reassess and reevaluate and if that means shifting yourself in a new direction – absolutely.

Students at Camden Lock

Students at Camden Lock

RR: What advice would you give to students on the fence about doing this program?

DK: Well I think that the feedback that I’ve been getting thus far is that folks are sitting on the fence not because they don’t want to go, but because they don’t have the finances together. Or the process of putting the finances together is a little too scary. But I think it’s also important to look at the real net cost. I would say that if you’re sitting on the fence because you are uncertain about what the cost may be or you don’t know how you’ll be able to afford it, one way of looking at it is that the semester abroad is, whether you’re in-state or out-of state, is gonna cost you about $10,000 more money than if you went to school here – and that’s a big chunk of change. But I would say that when you look at in the grand scheme of things what $10,000 gets you, that an investment of this type would pay huge dividends in the long run. I don’t think you would regret it.

RR: If there was one word you could use to describe Temple Theaters London, what would it be? Why?

DK: Enlightening. It opens up and sheds light on all new vistas that you’ve had a chance to really experience.

More information on Temple Theaters London can be found online.

Student Profile: Darryl Gene Daughtry & Kevin Murray

Two talented students receive the 2014 Kunal & Neha Nayyar Scholarship

by Deneia Washington

Last spring, senior Darryl Gene Daughtry, Jr. and junior Kevin Murray were awarded the second annual Kunal & Neha Nayyar Scholarship, established by alumnus Kunal Nayyar, MFA ’06, and his wife Neha Kapur. The fund provides two $10,000 scholarships annually for students studying acting who have demonstrated financial need, with a preference for students who attended urban public schools. In addition, the fund provides $5,000 yearly in travel stipends to assist students attending graduate school auditions and conferences.

Deneia Washington spoke to both men about what the scholarship meant to them and where they see themselves in the future.

Darryl Gene Daughtry, Jr.

Darryl Gene Daughtry, Jr.

Darryl Gene Daughtry, Jr.

When Darryl Gene Daughtry, Jr. is not in rehearsals or on stage – he was last seen in Temple Theaters’ Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, he is using his free time to apply for scholarships. As a rising junior, who had matured in his theater work and studies, Daughtry would apply for as many scholarships as he came across.

“At the end of my sophomore year I applied to every scholarship offered, including the Theater scholarships,” says Daughtry, an Acting concentration. “Got none of them.”

With the incentive to be self-sufficient and dependent on no one – not even his parents – for financial support, as to not burden them with his troubles, Daughtry had to rid of certain college “luxuries”, to offset some of the financial costs.

“I had to drop my meal plan in order to pay for rent this past year, so it was really, really tough,” Daughtry says. “I know my parents have their own bills they have to pay, so I feel guilty asking them every month for food money.”

Continuing to fill out scholarships as he prepared for his senior year last spring, Daughtry was met with good news.

“I can eat again!” were Daughtry’s first thoughts upon hearing he had received the Kunal and Neha Nayyar Scholarship.

Daughtry was one of two recipients of the Kunal and Neha Nayyar Scholarship. The Nayyar Scholarship was created by Temple Alumnus and star of CBS show The Big Bang Theory, Kunal Nayyar. The scholarship gives two recipients who are studying acting, and in financial need $10,000 each.

“I get to graduate with $10,000 less debt, which is beautiful,” he says.

Daughtry believes that applying for scholarships is essential to college students. “There’s so much untapped money for scholarships that we just aren’t using,” says Daughtry.

Nearing the end of his college career, Daughtry is thinking ahead about ways to enhance his acting even more and network with some of the future greats in theater and film. These future plans include attending graduate school at Yale or NYU.

He also has a passion for service and hopes to give back to the community through theater. “We have so many untapped resources. We have acres and diamonds right here where we live, so why don’t we use it?” he says.

Daughtry believes that immersing the Temple Theater department into the community helps attract diverse audiences and has the ability to change the world we live in. “Things always get better with diversity,” Daughtry says. “When you have a lot of people thinking on a lot of different wavelengths, you come up with the best frequency.”

Kevin Murray

Kevin Murray

Kevin Murray

”My dad is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known,” says Kevin Murray, junior Theater major and the second recipient of the Kunal and Neha Nayyar Scholarship. “Watching him be a strong worker and having good work ethic has been an inspiration. I always wanna make my family proud and I always wanna be the best person I can be.”

Along with his responsibilities as Musical Theater concentration, as performing in productions which include, but are not limited to, Spring Awakening, Oklahoma!, and Hair, Murray is a Resident Assistant at one of Temple University’s dorms.

“Financially me and my family aren’t in a good place right now and school’s been very rough,” says Murray. “I work as an RA on top of being in the shows I’ve been in so I can live on campus and save money on commuting.”

Upon receiving the news that he is a recipient of the Nayyar Scholarship, an “emotionally stale” Murray was no more.

“I have a lot of trouble showing emotion, but when I found out that I won, I cried and I never cry out of happiness,” he says. “It just made me think that there’s people that really truly care about me, my life, my career, and my well-being.”

Murray believes that self-confidence plays a big role in whether students take the opportunity to continue to apply for scholarships. “I didn’t apply for this scholarship thinking that I was going to get it. I did it because I thought I should be taking proactive steps,” says Murray. “You can think you might not be eligible, but you should still apply for it because you’d be surprised.”

To Murray, what sets Temple’s Department of Theater apart from other colleges is the ways in which the department really tries to immerse students into the Philadelphia theater culture. “I know a lot of colleges, it’s like you’re their product for four years, you cannot do anything; you’re stuck here,” Murray says.

At Temple, he says, “this is your chance to start putting your foot in the world and make connections and meet people.” Murray adds, “Everyone I’ve come in contact with outside and inside of Temple is just so gracious and are very warm and welcoming.”

Along with receiving his Bachelor’s degree from Temple, Murray’s future goals consist of becoming even more active in Philadelphia’s theater scene. “I think there’s so many great opportunities and there’s great theaters, and making those connections in Philadelphia is amazing,” he says.

Though Murray dream job is to be in a Broadway musical, he says he’s open to any opportunity. But for the next few years, Murray wants to be able to support himself.

“If you’re doing what you love then there’s nothing to be unhappy about.”

Murray appears in Lerner & Loewe’s Brigadoon, opening next week.

Remembering Alan Kosher

Alan Ross Kosher

Alan Ross Kosher

The Temple Theaters community is mourning the loss of Alan Ross Kosher, BA ’69, who passed away on September 27, 2014, in Philadelphia, PA, at the age of 68 of colon cancer. Kosher was a respected theater professional and supportive Temple Theaters alumnus; a friend and mentor to many.

Kosher had an extensive and successful forty-five year career in theater, primarily as the company manager of the touring production of The Lion King. He began his career working box office at Philadelphia theaters and by 1980 became the company manager for major touring stage productions. He was employed by Disney Theatrical Productions from 1999 until his retirement in 2012. He toured with Beauty and the Beast as well as with The Lion King and retired when The Lion King production closed at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.

In May 2005, The League of American Theater and Producers awarded him its Career Achievement Award for Touring Broadway Theater to honor his twenty-five years as a company manager. In October 2010, he received the Lew Klein Alumni in the Media Award from Temple University in recognition of his work. He frequently returned to speak to theater classes at Temple about theater administration and stage management. He was a well-respected member of the Temple Theaters community.

Alan Kosher with Clifford Schwartz

Alan Kosher (right)  with Clifford Schwartz

An advocate of mentorship, Kosher endowed the Alan Kosher Fund in 2007. The fund provides financial support, including, but not limited to, travel, food and lodging expenses, to an undergraduate Theater major for one week internship or job-shadowing with a union manager of a first-class theatrical touring production. Past recipients worked along side Kosher in Las Vegas with The Lion King.

J.T. Murtagh, BA ’14, was the 2012 recipient of the award and used it to travel to Houston to work on Disney’s production of the The Lion King. “I am so thankful for the opportunity that was given to me by Alan. It really did cement into place what I was meant to do in theater,” say Murtagh. “I know his loss is one that struck the worldwide theatre community. My heart and prayers go out to his family and loved ones.” Murtagh staged managed several production as student, and since graduation, has worked steadily at area theaters.

R.J. Magee, BA ’12, the 2010 recipient, shared his thoughts about his time working with The Lion King and what the opportunity meant to him. “The week that I spent shadowing the company managers of The Lion King in Costa Mesa, CA is one that I will never forget. Mr. Kosher provided me with an opportunity that went far beyond anything that I could learn in the classroom. I made invaluable industry contacts and got to witness the true inner workings of such a first class production. Mr. Kosher’s passion for his work, along with his desire to educate/mentor the future artists of American theatre, is something that will forever inspire me.”

The funeral will take place on Tuesday, September 30, 12:00 Noon, at the graveside, Montefiore Cemetery, 600 Church Road, Jenkintown, PA, 19046.

Gifts to the Alan Kosher Fund can be made online, at giving.temple.edu/givetotheater (type in “Alan Kosher Fund” in “Other”) or mail a check, payable to “Temple University – Alan Kosher Fund” to Temple University, P.O.Box 827651, Philadelphia, PA   19182-7651.

Remembrances can by emailed to theater@temple.edu. We will update this post regularly.

Projection Mapping: Expanding Visual Storytelling

Designer Michael Long enhances the world of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo with video

by Deneia Washington

If you’ve already made your way to Temple Theaters season opener of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, you’ve probably seen video projections all around the set. Wondering who’s behind this design of visual language? Look no further than Michael Long.

Since 2009, Long has immersed himself in the Philadelphia theater scene as a freelance cinematographer, director, and production designer. He has designing projections for 1812 Productions, Delaware Theater Company, and Luna Theater Company.

In his latest project, Long has utilized projection mapping in the Temple Theaters’ Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo to make the department’s production even more vivid and daring. But what exactly is “projection mapping”? Projection mapping, says Long, “is the use of sophisticated video software to morph a video to match the shape of what it’s being projected onto.” An example of this technology is used in the video below.

 

Upon introduction, through David Girard, to an artistic phenomenon called Hypercubism, which deals with the manipulation of changing technologies and how they affect our interactions with objects, people, and time, both Girard and Long felt that projection mapping as a form of hypercubism fit within the magical realism of Bengal Tiger.

“This play, and magical realism in general, blurs the lines between the real and the fantastic, and the past and the present — and video is a medium that is great for both of those,” Long explains.

Long had to be practical in his approach for the projections with the small space of The Adrienne Theater and large topiary animals. Thus, the topiary animals would be projected onto large, strategically placed, set pieces that resemble cement blocks. These blocks constituted “remnants of the Jersey Wall that were used in Baghdad during the war.”

Alice Gatling (Tiger) in front of the projected topiaries

Alice Gatling (Tiger) in front of the projected topiaries

The integration of the projections within certain design elements enabled the set to depict other parts of the story, enhancing the storytelling narrative of this production. “We see the entire narrative of the beginning of the Iraq War condensed into 30 seconds through various news clips and TV footage which has now become part of the United States’ collective conscious,” says Long.

“We use videos to help set the scene at the beginning of the play, and to set the tone between scenes as the play unfolds,” he adds. The ability to map videos into pieces of the set, instead of one large projection on stage, ensures that the audience isn’t separated from the setting of the play, it integrates them into it.

With any new technology come new, unforeseen obstacles. Along with technical problems of inability to pick up video signals and unresponsive computers, Long also had to tackle some design complications.

“When we finally got our first look at the videos in the theatre, some of them didn’t look the way we anticipated. The topiary animals I had created didn’t look anything like topiary animals when they were projected onto the set, so I had to change the lighting and the textures of the images to something that would be more recognizable for the audience,” he explains.

As society is inundated with new technologies, Long sees it as essential for theater to expand with evolving times. “The way we interact with one another has drastically changed, and so we need new technologies like projection mapping in theatre to tell today’s stories, as well as explore yesterday’s stories in new ways,” says Long.

Long believes that with the knowledge gained by directors about it and the ability for designers to create it, projection mapping will become increasingly more common on theater sets. “As the technology becomes cheaper and the visual language becomes more common on stage, I think we’ll start to see more productions that use projections.”

For more about the Bengal Tiger design process: MEET THE DESIGNERS: JOHN EDDY & LIZ PHILLIPS.

Inside Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

A guest series by Bonnie Baldini, Production Dramaturg

This Week: A discussion with David Girard

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo opens tonight! Among the excitement, it is only fitting to receive the insight of director David Girard. The insight into the production process he shared with me did not come from one sit down meeting. Rather, it is an accumulation of discoveries through conversations we have had since the beginning of the process to create such a rewarding piece.

David spoke with me about his issue with the term director, asserting it is not an active enough term to describe the necessary mindset he feels is essential in the creation of a successful piece. He discovered a better term for what he does, half as a joke with a friend, remarking that he was a “facilitator of drama.” But upon further contemplation, he found it to be true. The term director often evokes an image of a stern face and a pointed finger, telling this actor to stand there. It lacks imagination.

Once you let go of that term, you realize that you are not the most important person on the room, and you are able to understand that, as David put it, “theatre is about creating an ensemble with all members.” It is about coming together and solidifying a vision. This process does not only include the director and the actor for David, but extends to all of those involved in the production, including designers and other staff and crew members.

David attempted to ensure that “everyone has a voice in the room.” This is what is most important.  He shared that this collaborative style can make it difficult for a director to “call the shots and get everyone on same page with your vision.” Collaboration is enforced by choosing artists who could lend themselves to it and according to David, it is “easier when actors have been educators.” He cited Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which has an ensemble with a blend of experiences. Actors in the piece are professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students.

David offered that the need for diverse experience within a cast in crucial, particularly in an academic setting, because the actors are always learning from each other, and thus collectively raising the level of professionalism and investment. Having professional actors in a cast with younger actors guides everyone to rise to the level of their peers daily. According to David, simple things like actor Charlie DelMarcelle’s arriving early to the Adrienne Theater to warm-up shows the actors that it is okay to get comfortable on the stage before pre-show calls. Such a simple act unlocks a boundary younger actors may not notice by themselves. In the long run, an actor’s basic stretching onstage fostered cast unity and overall comfort in the space.

The concept of the director as a facilitator revolutionizes the rehearsal process. It does not take away power from the director, but rather shares the responsibility with the rest of the cast, and thus raises the integrity of the ensemble.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo opens this evening at the MainStage @ the Adrienne Theater and runs through September 27th.

At a Glance: Costume Designs for BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO

Marie Anne Chiment’s beautiful renderings for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

This “At a Glance” Gallery features the stunning rendering by costume designer Professor Marie Anne Chiment for our production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. Described by the Los Angeles Times as “the most original play about the Iraq war,” Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is an imaginative exploration of the power and perils of human nature. The lives of two American soldiers, Tom (Tim Dugan) and Kev (Darryl Gene Daughtry) and an Iraqi translator (Ibrahim Miari) are forever changed by an encounter with a clever, sardonic tiger (Alice Gatling) haunting the streets of war-torn Baghdad. Tragic and disturbing, darkly comic and highly theatrical, the play is a meditation on life, death, and the afterlife. The cast is completed with Charlie DelMarcelle (Uday/Iraqi Man), Kayla Tarpley (Iraqi Teenager/Hadia), and Stephanie Iozzia (Iraqi Woman/Leper).  The production is directed by David Girard with scenic design by John Michael Eddy, lighting design by Liz Phillips, sound design by Mark Valenzela, and projection design by Michael Long.

 

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Performances run Wednesday, September 17 through Saturday, September 27 at the MainStage @ the Adrienne. For more information and tickets visit our ticketing site.