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

Friday, September 19, 2014

That Old Time Religion

Charlie Pollock is our Elmer Gantry.
Up next on the docket for the Signature Theatre 25th Anniversary Season is the updated version of Elmer Gantry, which features an updated book and brand new music! This revised musical is being directed by Signature Theatre’s very own Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and features a fiery and talented cast and production team.

The basis for Elmer Gantry comes to the MAX Theatre stage from its source novel (also titled Elmer Gantry) by early 20th century writer Sinclair Lewis. Sinclair was a novelist and playwright whose wit, wry sense of humor, and striking observations about the American way of life earned him a Nobel Prize in Literature. (The first American writer to do so in 1930.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Lewis’s novel, Elmer Gantry focuses around the charismatic title character as he stumbles upon a struggling religious tour led by the pious sister Sharon Falconer. As Elmer ingratiates himself in the tour and the hearts of those around him, trouble is not far behind his revival meetings’ trail.

Revival Meetings
Famous preacher Billy Sunday preaching to
followers in one of his largest revival meetings.
A revival meeting is a Christian religious service held to inspire active members of a church body to gain new converts. A revival is ideally a renewed, radical commitment to Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit. The true, blue revival often results in dynamic evangelism, conversions, worship, purity, joy, fellowship, obedience, peace, fulfillment, and devotion in the life of the believer. (A good time for the churchgoer and an even better time for the church in the long run.)

The meeting itself usually consists of several consecutive nights of services conducted at the same time and location. This is most often in a building belonging to the sponsoring congregation but sometimes a rented assembly hall or pitched tent organized by a visiting group or preacher. The meeting often features a variety of performances and speakers, from fire and brimstone preachers to angelic choirs, live bands, faith healings and religious stage plays.

This event, with its new and eclectic style of sermons and delivery of the gospel, helped breathe new life into the American people and how they practiced religion. Their basic rituals, piety, and self-awareness changed as this form of religious expression gained steam and support throughout the early 20th century.

Instead of passively listening to religious discourse and lectures in detached manners, the American people began to be passionately and emotionally involved in their religion, fully investing themselves in the pageantry, spectacle, and spirit that revival meetings brought to their communities. This full investment in the power of religion brought individual Christians that much closer to God and Christ and made them all the more likely to continue to attend, participate, assist and donate to the church.

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


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Art Isn't Easy

Claybourne Elder in the role of Georges Seurat
in Signature's production of
Sunday in the Park with George.
by Matt Strote, Education Associate

Art isn't easy. The making of it, selling it and surviving on it are all very real challenges that artists face. It is incredibly difficult to be both an artistically satisfied and commercially successful. The same thing can be said of artists of the past. If you have seen Signature Theatre's production of, or are any bit familiar with, Sunday in the Park with George this is made crystal clear by the musical's end. 

As both Georges in Sunday in the Park with George typify, the path of those that are artistically inclined is often paved poorly. Both artists in Sondheim's show are striving to create something that will rocket their names to artistic acclaim and praise but at the same time sacrificing their personal lives in pursuit of their goals. This seemingly single-minded pursuit and drive towards an artistic objective may seem stubborn and rude on the part of the artist, but I believe that if we look a little bit closer into the art world we might find some reason behind these artistic crusades of greatness. Why must artists seemingly "sell out" or commit themselves to single projects? Is art ever easy?

The cast of Sunday in the Park with George.
I believe the simplest answer to these questions is that "the state of the art" and largely world as a whole, finds it necessary that artists commit and sell themselves to such extents. "Selling out" and attaching one's self to a particular project, like "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" in George's case, is a necessary evil. For George to achieve the trailblazing status, creative distinction, acclaim for thinking outside of the standard artistic box and ultimate financial benefits, he must commit himself fully to his work and essentially shut out other distractions. (This obviously goes on to hurt his relationships with those around him that care about him.)

Now, it might seem like George and other artists the world over are required to submit to this commercial "evil" of the art world but they do not have to let it influence and affect them that strongly. As Kevin Barnes stated in his op-ed essay, Selling Out Isn't Possible, nearly everyone is a sell out, whether they are an artist or not. "The only way to avoid selling out is to live like a savage all alone in the wilderness. The moment you attempt to live within the confines of a social order, you become a sell out." The individual that is faced with "selling out" to garner attention and control does not sacrifice all control to those in the upper echelons of society. Everyone sells out in one way or another to get through life. 

Frieda (Angela Miller) and Franz (Evan Casey) 
"In the art industry, it’s extremely difficult to be successful without turning yourself into a cartoon. Even Hunter S. Thompson knew this. God knows Duchamp and Warhol knew it. Some artists are turned into cartoons and others do it themselves." Artists should prefer to to craft their own commercial versions of themselves. This may seem and sound like a bit of a sacrifice to create a persona that is put up in place for the public to view but like all things in this life, you have to make certain sacrifices to get what you want. (The same is true with art.)

So, the next time you come across one of your favorite pieces of art or songs being used commercially in an advertisement, television ad or movie trailer just tell yourself, neat, that band / artist / group I like made some money and now I can probably look forward to a few more pieces of art from them in the near future. After all, hopefully the artists and people in question are creating art for the purpose of sharing a piece 

 It’s as simple as that. We all have to do certain things, from time to time, that we might not be completely psyched about, in order to pay the bills and do the things we love. 

Interested in seeing Sunday in the Park with George for yourself at Signature Theatre. Call the box office at 703 820 9771 for tickets.

Follow Signature Theatre on Twitter at @sigtheatre for updates on shows, opportunities, and additional educational outreach events.




Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stage One - Singing in the Park with Susan

Emma Sophie and Susan work through a song
with Stage One students chiming in.
Here at Signature Theatre, we are incredibly lucky to have so many talented performers and artists working with us on a day to day basis, both onstage and off. From the actors that perform most every night to the technicians and staff here that keep everything running smoothly. (Or at least as smooth as live theatre can ever go.) Yesterday, Stage One students got to receive advice and instruction from one of Signature Theatre's favorite performers, Susan Derry.
Stage One looks on and supports
one another during the master class.

Susan Derry is a popular performer in the DC area. Having performed in several Signature events and productions including: Sunday in the Park with George (Celeste), Sunset Boulevard (Betty Schaeffer), Saturday Night (Helen), I Capture the Castle (21/24 workshop) and Show Boat, Susan is very familiar with the comings and goings of the world of theatre. Some of Susans other performance credits include: Kennedy Center: Ragtime (Kathleen), Bernstein’s Mass (Street Chorus Soloist), Mame, Camelot, My Fair Lady. Her regional credits include: Othello (Desdemona), My Fair Lady (Eliza), Crimes of the Heart (Meg), The Importance of Being Earnest (Gwendolen), I Do! I Do! (Agnes), Brigadoon (Fiona), West Side Story (Maria), Company (Susan), Regina (Alexandra), The Merchant of Venice (Jessica.) 
Caleigh works on "If I Loved You" with Susan.
Throughout her master class, Susan worked with several Stage One students on presenting and refining audition material. Now, wherein other master classes here at Signature Theatre have focused on working 16 or 32 bar cuts of songs, Susan's class instead worked full versions of songs. Some songs that were presented and workshopped  included "If I Loved You" (Carousel), "What You'd Call A Dream" (Diamonds), "A Change in Me" (Beauty and the Beast) and "Frank Mills" (Hair).

A few particular things that were stressed throughout the workshop included specificity, clarity, and honesty. When a performer is presenting a song at an audition, whether a full song or a smaller cutting, they need to be able to present the song as a stand alone piece. The other people in the room may or may not be familiar with the song in question, but the performer needs to make the context of the song maintain itself. So, who or what is the performer singing at or about? Place the objective of the song in the room itself if possible and communicate through the song to it as actively as possible. 
Amanda sings her rendition of "Frank Mills"

Singing in musical theatre is the apex of emotion. It is all very well and good to get basic emotions and dialogue out through the delivery of lines, but it is another thing to sing what one is saying. The characters' emotions and thoughts have reached a breaking point and the only way to communicate their frustration, love, anger, confusion, determination, etc., is through the heightened emotional form of communication that is singing. Use this song to convey what you are truly feeling.

On Twitter? Follow us at #SigStageOne. More information on Stage One can be found here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Stage One - Another One Bites the Dance


Rachel Dolan demonstrates a bit of choreography to
the Stage One students.
The students of Stage One work hard. For eight hours a day, five days a week, these students are acting, singing, and dancing their hearts out essentially nonstop. There are a few merciful breaks worked in here and there for essentials like food, water, and bathroom breaks, but the work is difficult, demanding, and constant. So as the day comes to an end each weekday, one can imagine the last thing these talented young men and women might want to do is something physical. Too bad for them, because yesterday their master class to close out the day was a musical theatre dance workshop with the noted Rachel Dolan.
Stage One students warm up under
Rachel's direction.

Rachel Dolan is a musical theatre choreographer based in Washington, DC.  Some of her credits include work at Keegan Theatre: Cabaret (Helen Hayes Nomination, Outstanding Choreography, Broadway World Award) and Hair (Helen Hayes Recommended); Montgomery College Summer Dinner Theatre: Seussical. Rachel’s musical theatre and jazz choreography have appeared in showcases in New York City, Washington, DC and internationally.  As a teacher, Rachel has trained thousands of students in Tap, Jazz, and Musical Theatre. Her students’ credits include the Radio City Rockettes, Mary Poppins and White Christmas, Equity national tours, numerous cruise ships and theme parks, and renowned college programs across the country.  She is currently on faculty at Metropolitan School of the Arts and a recent guest teacher for Joy of Motion, American University and Catholic University.  
Caleigh stretches before starting in on "Another One Bites
the Dust".
During her hour long workshop, Rachel worked a sequence set to "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen. As the students were learning the steps, Rachel reminded them that auditions, particularly dance auditions, are an opportunity to present oneself as a dancer. From the way one answers questions to how somebody enters the room and holds the space, there are ways in which a performer can convey what it is they are good at and where their strengths lie. If one wishes to be considered and read as as dancer by directors and casting teams then they should always be ready to have a movement or response to a prompt; physical or otherwise. Performers should be able to show the ability to think on the fly and be open to learning.


Stage One hits all the right steps during
"Another One Bites the Dust".
On Twitter? Follow us at #SigStageOne. More information here

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stage One - Taking a Hit


Casey Kaleba offers up advice to Caleigh for a stage slap.
To kick off the master class series for the second and final week here at Stage One we thought it might be good to let out a little aggression. Supervising this release of pent up aggression and rage was the ever so talented and delightful fight choreographer Casey Kaleba. 

Over the course of his career, Casey has arranged violence for more than three hundred productions, including work at Signature, Folger Theatre, Round House Theatre, Rorschach Theatre, six national tours for the National Players, Olney Theatre, and Shakespeare Theatres.  He has arranged fights for knights, musketeers, princesses, zombies, wolves, pirates, ninjas, and at least one alien tentacle. A Certified Teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors, he has taught throughout the country as well as serving as a guest artist for the Nordic Stagefight Society and Fight Directors Canada. Casey is also one of the founders of Tooth & Claw Combat; a stage combat training and choreography school for theatres, schools, and interested parties big and small.
Bryan squares up against Gillian with a clean
and clear punch.

During his hour-long master class with Stage One, Casey provided the students with a basic toolkit of stage violence to employ throughout their fledgling careers. Starting with a simple stage slap and ultimately culminating in a six move stage fight between two people, Casey gave the students the ins and outs of the world of stage violence. 

Casey illustrates some
moments where stage combat
can go wrong.
Slaps are one of the most dangerous moves in regards to violence on stage. There are just so many things that can go wrong if not taken into account and done safely. From distance apart to trim fingernails and back again, a stage slap should always be done with safety in mind on all fronts. As Casey told the Stage One students, a bad slap or hit can make or break a career, literally. You do not want to be the actor that knocks out another actors hearing or breaks their nose during the run of a show. (Not a good life / career choice.)

As Casey went on to later describe throughout his workshop as his students fought around him, the majority of his job as a fight choreographer is maintaining safety. He is present to make sure all manner of activities that could result in any type of harm or danger are done in the safest way. Yes, there are punches, kicks, rolls, shots and stabs to choreograph with the actors but it is making sure these actions are continuously safe for all involved that retains highest priority. 
Liam sells a choke with the help of Casey.

On Twitter? Follow us at #SigStageOne

Interested in Stage One. Check out additional information here

Friday, August 8, 2014

Stage One - Vocal Technique


Lisa Carrier demonstrates proper vocal technique to
Stage One Students
 We are wrapping up the first week of Stage One here at Signature Theatre this summer and with the close of the first half of the workshop comes one more master class. Our final master class focused on proper vocal technique and presentation and was led by the incomparable Lisa Carrier Baker.
Jacob gets a few pointers from Lisa on his
prepared 16 bars.

An acclaimed vocal teacher and performer, Lisa spent three seasons as Artist in Residence with the Fletcher Opera Institute at North Carolina School of the Arts. From 2009 to 2011, Lisa served as both Director of Education at the Musical Theatre Center (now Adventure Theatre MTC) and continues as Director of Ensembles. She has performed on several national tours including La Boheme (Musetta) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (Anne). Other performance credits include: Ohio Light Opera: Christopher Columbus (Gretel – American Premiere); Lyric Theatre: Follies (Young Sally), Singin’ in the Rain (Zelda Zanders), Dames at Sea (Mona). Some of her Washington DC credits include: Kennedy Center: TThe Emperor’s New Clothes (Reyalto), several Page to Stage Festivals; American Century Theatre: Dear World (Nina); Washington Savoyards: The Mikado (Yum Yum); Toby’s Dinner Theatre: The Sound of Music (Mother Abbess); Ganymede Arts: Falsetto’s (Trina.) 


Lisa explains how to captivate an audience
and act a song.
Lisa is an adjunct professor of voice at American University and Montgomery College. Her students can be heard on Broadway stages, national tours, and are local Helen Hayes award winners and nominees. 

During her master class, Lisa observed several students cuttings of audition songs. After observing each short performances, Lisa offered up advice and exercises to help each individual student. The advice ranged from different physical exercises to directing the students' sound to visualization and association to helping find purpose and connection to the songs. 

One of the main points that Lisa helped get across to the students was finding relatability and connection to a song. A person might be singing about the biggest and saddest moment of their life in the context of the show, and that is all very well and good but not everyone has had that same giant, sad moment in their life. For instance, in Show Boat, the song "Make Believe" is about falling in love and admitting one's feelings for another person. Not everyone has had colossal conflicting feelings like this before. So, perhaps instead of using the image and idea of admitting love for another person use something you do love. Does the performer love pizza and peanut butter? Then sing about admitting your love for pizza and peanut butter. Keep the lyrics but alter your connection to the feelings expressed in the song.

Bryan sings a cut of "Santa Fe" from Newsies after receiving
a bit of direction from Lisa.
On Twitter? Follow Stage One at #SigStageOne


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stage One - How Do I Get Out of the Box?

Jack gives suggestions and encouragement to Abby and Jacob
during a pantomime exercise.
One of the final master classes of the week here at Stage One at Signature Theatre was led by the supremely talented and entertaining Jack Novak. The class itself focused on the art pantomime, which Jack is very adept and familiar with.

Jack Novak is an actor, writer, and teaching artist in the DC area. Some of his recent acting credits include Pinocchio in Pinocchio with Faction of Fools, Washington DC's Commedia dell'Arte Theatre Company, as well as Dusty in The Stone Tape Party  with Nu Sass Productions. Jack is an Associate Artist with InterAct Story Theatre, and is a member of the improv group Commonwealth (an in-house ensemble at Washington Improv Theatre). Jack studied with The Mime Company at Northwestern University; where he received a degree in Theatre, and performed with the company for several years.

Maria and Amanda attempt to pull Grace over
to their side with a pull of a rope.

During his class, Jack went into a brief history of pantomime and touched on the work of Marcel Marceau, one of the most well-known mimes and practitioners of pantomime. Once introduced to the subject, the students dove in with Jack as they explored the world of pantomime.

Abby demonstrates focus from her core as Jacob attempts
to move her "Unbendable Arm".

One of the primary pillars that Jack stressed in regards to pantomime was the "center". The center exsists three fingers below belly button. For one to successfully exercise effective pantomime one's energy must emanate from their center to the rest of their body and into the earth. If this center of focus is held and kept, wonderous moments of play and creation can come forth from the performer.


As the master class went on, the students explored various mime moments. From walks to walls and pushes to pulls, Jack had Stage One feeling objects and tensions that did not exist literally in the space. It was a blast to watch and participate in these pantomime exercises. 
Bryan explores inside his box with his hands.
On Twitter? Follow Stage One at #SigStageOne

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