Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Now Serving: The Diner Team

The world premiere of Diner at Signature Theatre is fast upon us and the artistic, production and administrative teams could not be more ecstatic to share this amazing show with everyone. Signature is known for its bold and brave new musicals and Diner aims to be one of the boldest and bravest yet. Taking on a landmark film such as Diner is no easy feat. As highlighted in one of our previous blog entries, the film helped pave the way for such stars as Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon and pushed for the usage of “nothing” in film and television. At the helm of this landmark production is a powerhouse team consisting of director Kathleen Marshall, writer Barry Levinson, and musician Sheryl Crow. 

Kathleen Marshall
Kathleen Marshall is a Tony and Drama Desk award winning director and choreographer. Originally from the Pittsburgh theatrical scene, Kathleen began her Broadway career as the assistant to her choreographer brother Rob Marshall and has since collaborated with him on shows such as She Loves Me, Damn Yankees and Seussical. Kathleen has gone on to direct and choreograph Broadway revivals of the Pajama Game with Harry Connick, Jr. in 2006 and Anything Goes with Sutton Foster in 2011. 
Barry Levinson
On the writing front of Diner, is none other than the film’s original director and screenwriter, Barry Levinson. Barry, a Baltimore native, brings incredible warmth and an immense supply of talent to the table. Having directed and written award winning films that have included: The Natural, Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain ManBugsy,Toys ,and What Just Happened, Levinson is more than seasoned enough to handle diving back under the hood of Diner.

Sheryl Crow
Last but not least, bringing up the musical and lyrical front of Diner in none other than singer songwriter Sheryl Crow. This Grammy Award winning musician is taking on a new challenge with the music and lyrics of Diner, as this is the first time she has written for a musical. However, if what we have seen and heard in rehearsals and tech is any indication, Sheryl clearly knows what she is doing. 

The creative reigns of Diner are clearly in very capable hands. With a power plant of creative energy in charge of this project, the production is sure to electrify audiences. For more information and tickets please contact the Signature Theatre Box Office at 703-820-9771 or visit the Signature website.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Order Up a Plate of "Nothing" Thanks to Diner

As we slowly approach December, the days and nights get colder and we find ourselves one step closer to the world premiere of Diner here at Signature Theatre. This production, under the helm of three-time Tony Award®-winning director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall features music by Grammy Award Winning Sheryl Crow and book by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Barry Levinson.

For those that aren’t familiar with the Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated film, Diner focuses on a reunion of childhood friends around Christmas time in 1959 Baltimore, Maryland. From the comfort of an all-night diner, the men, in their early-twenties, confront the realities of adulthood and the always perplexing opposite sex.

The film itself is a landmark movie, one that launched numerous careers, including those of actors Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, and screenwriter/director Barry Levinson. Diner’s groundbreaking evocation of male friendship changed the way men interact, not just in movies, but on television, commercials and the radio as well.  In 2009, TV critic Nancy Franklin observed that “Levinson should get royalties any time two or more men sit together in a coffee shop.”

What Franklin really means is that, more than any other film, Diner invented the concept of “nothing”. In Diner, Levinson took the stuff that usually fills time between the car chases and kisses and made it central to the story (This idea was popularized with the premiere of Seinfeld.)

Diner influenced a whole generation of writers, revolutionizing the way characters talk and how realistic they could be. The film was particularly influential with actors, as it provided this notion that you could play someone who was extremely real and at the same time humorous and emotional. Diner has a complexity that not a lot of movies at the time had. Older films tended to be tremendously dramatic or broadly comic. Diner on the other hand landed in a new territory where somebody could be entertaining and humorous and also make you cry. Observing more contemporary television and film, Diner is clearly responsible for such "nothing" heavy hits as The Office, Pulp Fiction and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Signature Theatre’s world premiere production of Diner promises to remain faithful to the concept of “nothing” and to retain the truthfully entertaining personalities that are on display. Diner opens December 9th and runs until January 25th. Tickets and more information can be found on the Signature website and at our box office. (703 820 9771)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Celebrating 20 Years of Signature in the Schools

As Signature in the Schools quickly approaches its 20th anniversary, its staff and students look back fondly on the many productions and memories they have been a part of. To help celebrate this momentous occasion (and ten-year writing partnership with longtime Signature favorite and newly appointed Resident Director Joe Calarco), the Signature Education Department is proud to present the Signature in the Schools Festival! Part showcase, part pop-up fringe, all fun, this two week long festival features four separate productions of former Signature in the Schools shows by local high schools. The shows will all be performed in the beautiful MAX Theatre at Signature in January 2015.
Original Productions Photos of Eve of Destruction, Revolution, Image is Everything, and Aftershock. All photos by Dennis Deloria. 

In order to prep you for a flurry of talent and amazing productions, we have prepared a brief primer on each show. 

Salat 

Eve of Destruction
(Originally titled Eve of Destruction)
Presented and performed by Duke Ellington School of the Arts
Directed by Tracie Jade Jenkins 
Date: January 17th at 11AM
Summary: While his classmates study Ancient Sumer, Daniel struggles with his own relationship to Iraq, where his father was blinded in the First Gulf War. While Rasha, a young girl in modern Basra, writes hopeful letters to her imaginary American friend, two Iraqi boys wrestle with how to take action in a time of great change. These two stories, intertwined with the ancient Sumerian story of Lugalbanda, ultimately carry heartbreaking and shocking connections.

Revolution
Presented and performed by Bishop Ireton High School
Directed by Joanna Henry
Revolution
Date: January 18th at 11AM
Summary: It’s 2011. The events that would come to be known as the Arab Spring are underway. The Occupy Movement is in its infancy. With the world changing at a rapid pace, a group of young students find themselves grappling to identify with and understand the surrounding revolutionary fervor. One student, Patrick, struggles in quiet desperation with changes that could prove to be more than he can handle. Visited by Basma Bouazizi, sister of revolutionary Mohammed Bouazizi, Patrick’s story becomes a sobering exploration of the origins of revolutions and the consequences of upheaval.



Image is Everything

Image is Everything
Presented and performed by Oakton High School
Directed by Vanessa Gelinas
Date: January 24th at 11AM
Summary: Inspired by Leni Riefenstahl’s legendary propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, which chronicled the Nazi Party rallies and helped to glorify German leader Adolf Hitler, Image is Everything focuses on themes of propaganda, conformity and personal responsibility. Taking place in the present day, a group of students study the tragic events of the Holocaust and are forced to face the fact that propaganda didn’t just die with Nazi Germany but is alive and well in America, even in their very own school.

Aftershock
Presented and Performed by High School Students From Across the DC Area
Directed by Joe Calarco
Aftershock
Date: January 25th at 11AM
Summary: While trying to write a paper about the aftermath of tragedy, high school student Ruthie turns to her brother Timothy, a Red Cross worker, for stories of survival. He tells her the story of Ayana, a young woman facing tough choices while stranded on a roof in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He also brings to life Negie, a Congolese girl who witnessed the unspeakable deaths of her family before escaping into the jungle. Closer to home, Timothy tells Ruthie the story of their ancestors, Ruth and Sarah, reunited in Belgium after the Holocaust and struggling to maintain their identities. Ruthie’s own experience of tragedy breaks through in surprising ways as she absorbs the stories of these incredible survivors.


The Signature in the Schools 20th Anniversary Festival is sure to not be missed this January. Tickets are available here and through our box office at 703 820 9771. We can't wait to share these amazing pieces, students and artists with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Passionate Productions at Signature

Here at Signature Theatre, we are known for being bold, brash and communicative about what we want and how we want it. This passion and drive of ours compels us to create, produce and perform theatrical productions which speak to the hearts of audiences and actors. Over the past 25 years Signature has used this passion to ignite emotions both on and off the stage.

Elmer Gantry and Sex with Strangers are productions that are bursting at the seams with tension, power, passion and a more than healthy dose of lust. In Elmer Gantry, our titular character (played by the remarkably talented Charlie Pollock) must struggle between his underhanded tactics as a businessman and his feelings for the woman he loves. In Sex with Strangers, Ethan and Olivia must try to confront their often alternating passions towards one another and the writing they care so very much about. Both productions deal with "passion" in the physical and carnal sense of the word. There is a bounty of insight to be found in these moments as one observes these characters and the actions they pursue.

As Charlie Pollock sits in his role as Elmer, he must wrestle with several things throughout the show. Should Elmer commit himself to serving the Lord again after straying from his religious path? Is it possible for passion to reignite a past persona once thought lost? Are people doomed to repeat past actions or is redemption possible? Elmer struggles with all of these moments of passion and conflict and more throughout Elmer Gantry. Does Elmer ever come to a conclusion in response to any of these burning questions? Only time and seeing Elmer Gantry will answer these questions.

The enigmatic Holly Twyford and Luigi Sottile star in Sex with Strangers as writers Olivia and Ethan. The ever-present sexuality raises a wide variety of questions in regards to motivations, actions and words spoken between the two. Are the feelings Ethan and Olivia have real? Are their rendezvous from the heart or strictly a matter of business? See if you can tell the differences between moments of passion and moments of logic in this production. Do passion and clear-headed decision making have distinctively different appearances or are they one and the same? See for yourself in Sex with Strangers.

Some could say it's unfortunate that so much of the best theatre involves passion and things not going perfectly to plan. But then again, that is a fairly accurate representation of life for all of us. Not all things go according to plan in life. Other people, places and things get in the way of our own motivations and desires.

For more information on either Elmer Gantry or Sex with Strangers or tickets feel free to check out our website here or give the box office a call at 703 820 9771 for all your information needs.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Signature in the Schools - Anne and Emmett

Signature in the Schools has long sought out to expand as much as possible. We as an educational organization want to spread the joy of interacting with the theatrical arts to as many people as humanly possible. The following production will help us reach out to an even greater number of individuals we had otherwise been unable to reach due to time, resources and barriers. There just isn't enough time in the day to do all the things we want to do here at Signature Theatre!
A young Anne Frank.

Through Arlington Public Schools , in association with Signature in the Schools program, is proud to present Anne and Emmett by Janet Langhart Cohen. The production, which features two Arlington County high school students and two professional actors, Christopher Bloch and Ashley Ware, focuses on the life and times of Anne Frank and Emmett Till.

The play itself is comprised of a fictional meeting between the two individuals. Anne is seen as a hopeful and inspiring figure for the Jewish people while the bright and hopeful Emmett is a rallying beacon of support for African-Americans. Over the course of the play, both Anne and Emmett share parts of their lives with one another and see how much they have in common.
Otto Frank, Anne's father.

Annelies Marie "Anne" Frank was a young diarist and writer in the early 20th century. One of the most talked about victims of the Holocaust during World War II, Anne’s wartime diary, The Diary of a Young Girl, has inspired millions and been the basis for many different plays and films. In May of 1940, Anne and her family were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. As Jewish persecution increased the family went into hiding in concealed rooms in the building where Anne's father worked. After hiding for two years, the group was betrayed and sent to concentration camps in Germany. Anne was ultimately transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she died of typhus in 1945. Anne’s diary survived and was later published by her father following the war to keep her spirit and memory alive in 1947.

Emmett Till
The other driving force behind this play is none other than Emmett Till. Emmett Louis Till was an African-American teenager from the early 20th century. Emmett was from Chicago, Illinois, and in 1955 was visiting his relatives in the Mississippi Delta region, when he supposedly flirted with the white 21-year-old married proprietor of a small grocery store there. Several nights later, the husband of the woman, Roy, and his half brother J.W. took Till away to a barn, where they beat him and gouged out his eyes. The pair shot him through the head and disposed of his body in the Tallahatchie River. The subsequent trial and handling of the Emmett Till case caused a sensation among the African American community and eventually led to the start of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America.
Roy and J.W. celebrating their release
and success following the trial for
Emmett's murder.

Both Anne Frank and Emmett Till bring incredible history and lessons to contemporary audiences. Signature Theatre is elated to bring this informative and important show production to the students, faculty and individuals of Arlington County. This production in particular is incredibly relevant in today’s society, as it help teach and highlight just how destructive prejudice and bigotry can be.

There will be one public performance of Anne and Emmett on November 8th at 2 PM at WakefieldHigh School. Tickets are available online at www.apsva.us/artseducation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sex with Strangers - In Regards to The Menaissance

Holly Twyford stars in Signature Theatre's
Sex with Strangers
The first show to grace the ARK stage at Signature Theatre this fall is none other than Laura Eason'sSex with Strangers. Under the direction of Aaron Posner, actors Holly Twyford and Luigi Sottile bring this sexy, provocative and intimate play to life in the intimate theatre. The show itself explores what happens when private stories and moments between two people become a part of the public domain and the consequences.

Both Twyford and Sottile's characters, Olivia and Ethan, are writers. However, what these two characters choose to write about and their approaches to writing are distinctly different. While Olivia is more rooted in traditional approaches and topics in regards to writing, Sottile's Ethan veers away from the traditional in favor of the edgier and more modern "Fratire".

(Warning that some of the content of the attached links may not be safe for work or for younger audiences.)

The Emergance of Fratire
Fratire is a genre of 21st century literature marketed to young men in a politically incorrect and overtly masculine fashion. The title of the genre gained notoriety following the popularity of works by George Ouzounian (writing under the pen name Maddox) and Tucker Max. Described as a satirical celebration of traditional masculinity, the genre has been criticized for allegedly promoting sexism and misogyny.

The genre generally features male protagonists, usually in their mid-twenties to thirties. The style of literature is often characterized by masculine themes and could be described as the male equivalent of "chick lit." The genre was originally popularized by Tucker Max's I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and Maddox's web page titled The Best Page in the Universe and his book The Alphabet of Manliness

The cover of Tucker Max's I Hope They
Serve Beer in Hell
The term fratire itself is aimed to classify male-centric books that focus on alcohol and sexual themes in regards to a younger 21st century audience. Publishers continue to push the genre as a sales tactic in hopes of driving up sales. After the initial success of books published by Maddox and Max, the media attempted to capitalize on the trend with new iterations of the word, including "lad lit," "frat-lit" and "menaissance."

Response to Fratire
Not all people are happy with the existence and emergence of fratire. Melissa Lafsky of The New York Times described the genre as "misogyny for sale." Lafsky wrote that fratire authors were profiting by fueling young male anger concerning societal demands for equality. In a Salon.com interview, Ouzounian said his writing was a nostalgic parody of old-fashioned masculinity and that society had moved too far forward to return to those concepts. 

What do you view the emergence of the fratire genre as? A regression to old-fashioned sexism "presented under the veil of irony?" A movement towards greater overall equality in media and literature?

Sex with Strangers runs October 14th to December 7th in the ARK Theatre. For more information please visit our website or call the box office at 703 820 9771. Follow Sex with Strangers on social media with #SigStrangers

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Save Me, Sister Sharon

Aimee Semple McPherson
With the recent opening of Elmer Gantry here at Signature Theatre under the direction of Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer, it is time to get into the spirit of the religious revival. The author of the 1927 novel, Sinclair Lewis, was drawn to many characters and personalities present in early 20th century America (as we mentioned in this previous post.) This fascination is evident in the leading female character in both the novel and musical, Sister Sharon Falconer (played by the talented Mary Kate Morrissey here in Signature's production.)

Aimee McPherson, also known as Sister Aimee, was a media celebrity and evangelist in the 1920s and 1930s. After the birth of her first child and death of her first husband, McPherson felt the call to preach tug at her strongly. In 1914, she fell seriously ill, and after a failed operation, feeling that either her life was at an end or she would go preach, McPherson accepted the God’s challenge to preach.

The female Pentecostal preacher was greeted with trepidation by pastors of local churches she solicited. Pentecostals were at the edge of Christian religious society, sometimes seen as strange with their loud, raucous unorganized meetings and were often located in the poorer sections of town.


McPherson, however, kept an order to her meetings that came to be much appreciated. She wanted to create the enthusiasm a Pentecostal meeting could provide, but also wanted to avoid its unbridled chaos as participants started simultaneously shouting, trembling on the floor and speaking in tongues. In contrast to Billy Sunday’s gospel of fear, McPherson spoke of a sunnier religion called the Foursquare Gospel. Her message was one of joyfulness joined with religious exultation.
  
The appeal of McPherson's thirty or so revival events from 1919 to 1922 surpassed any touring event of theater or politics ever presented in American history. Her one to four-week meetings typically overflowed any building she could find to hold them.

Aimee used the power of new media, like
 radio, to convey her message to people
all across the nation.
Aimee knew exactly how to package her message and sell it to those starving for spiritual fulfillment. Often described as the Barnum of Religion and the Mary Pickford of revivalism, Aimee preached a conservative gospel but used progressive methods, taking advantage of radio, movies, and stage acts throughout her life. (McPherson was one of the first women to preach a radio sermon and be granted a broadcast license.) By accepting and using such new media outlets, McPherson helped integrate them into people’s daily lives.

By early 1926, McPherson had become one of the most charismatic, influential and publicized women and ministers of her time. Her fame equaled Charles Lindbergh, BabeRuth and Rudolph Valentino. She was a major American phenomenon who, unlike Hollywood celebrities, could be admired by their adoring public without apparently compromising their souls.
  
McPherson's Angelus Temple in Los Angeles
California.
Following her heyday in the 1920s, McPherson carried on with her ministry but fell out of favor with the press.  On September 26, 1944, McPherson went to Oakland, California, for a series of revivals. The next morning, her son found her unconscious with pills and a half-empty bottle of capsules nearby. She was dead. Her body lay in state at her Angelus Temple over the course of three days as 45,000 people waited to file past the evangelist to say a final goodbye.


Elmer Gantry runs from October 7th to November 9th in the MAX Theatre. For more information please visit our website or call the box office at 703 820 977. Follow along with Elmer Gantry on social media with #SigGantry. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Take a Swing for the Fences, Elmer!

Billy striking a powerful pose during
a promotional photo shoot.
Signature Theatre’s 25th Anniversary Season is swinging for the fences with its next musical, Elmer Gantry. Under the direction of our very own Artistic Director, Eric Schaeffer, Gantry is set to step up to the plate and knock another musical out of the park for this amazing season. The cast and production team feature a cavalcade of old Signature favorites and energize the show with a familiar spirit and energy that is sure to delight audiences.

In the title role, Charlie Pollock, of Broadway’s Violet, leads the charge as he whips Sister Sharon Falconer’s revival troupe into a well-oiled preaching machine. Pollock’s character in the show is not entirely fictitious. Based largely off of popular early 20th century baseball-player-turned-preacher Billy Sunday, Elmer’s character is rich in history, personality, and bravado.

Billy “The Evangelist” Sunday
Born into poverty on November 19, 1862, Sunday grew up in at the Soldiers' Orphans' Home in Davenport, Iowa. At the orphanage, Sunday obtained a decent primary education and the realization that he was a skilled athlete.

Billy in his National League uniform
from his baseball days.
In 1880, Sunday relocated to Marshalltown, Iowa, where he played for the town baseball team. His professional baseball career was launched in 1883, when, A.G. Spalding, the president of the Chicago White Stockings, signed Sunday. He would play in the majors for eight years and was among the league leaders in stolen bases.

During one of his final seasons in the majors, Sunday began attending a local Presbyterian Church. In the spring of 1891, Sunday turned down a baseball contract for $3,500 a year to accept a position with the Chicago YMCA at $83 per month. For three years, Sunday visited the sick, prayed with the troubled, counseled the suicidal, and visited saloons to invite patrons to evangelistic meetings.

In 1896, Sunday struck out on his own. For the next twelve years Sunday preached in approximately seventy communities, most of them in Iowa and Illinois. Towns often booked Sunday meetings informally, sometimes by sending a delegation to hear him preach and then telegraphing him while he was holding services somewhere else.

As his popularity grew,  Sunday was welcomed into the circle of the social, economic, and political elite. He counted among his neighbors and acquaintances several prominent businessmen. Sunday dined with numerous politicians, including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and counted both Herbert Hoover and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as friends.

As far as his religious stance went, Billy Sunday was a conservative evangelical who accepted fundamentalist doctrines. His sermons were clear, loud, and often stressed the failures of the sinful and how they will come to be punished for straying from the way of the Lord.

Elmer Gantry opens October 7th and runs until November 9th in the MAX Theatre.  For more information please visit our website or call the box office at 703-820-9771. Follow along with Elmer Gantry on social media with #SigGantry

Billy Sunday is captured preaching in this lithograph by artist George Bellows

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