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

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 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
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

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.


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