Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Characters of Crossing, Part III: Seeking a Newer World

"Seeking a Newer World"

Part III in a series exploring the history and characters behind Signature’s world premiere of Crossing, by Matt Conner and Grace Barnes.

If you missed the first few, click here to view Part I: Freedom Trains

and click here to view Part II: Mothers & Sons.

 Here is a sneak-peek of Crossing's talented travelers in rehearsal!

 “Why couldn’t we have met at another time?” the Wealthy Man (year: 1929) asks the Woman With Flowers (1977)as they sit side-by-side nervously waiting for the train to arrive in Crossing’s station. Although they are from different decades, they share a sense of disconnection from their families. They also share a love of poetry, particularly of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Ulysses. One of them looks toward the future with despair, the other with hope, but like all of Crossing’s characters, they meet in the middle and continue their journey changed.

The World of 1929: The Wealthy Man

“Sail to the end of the world and change my name.
Let my wings unfurl, nothing will be the same,
Sail to a different me, someone whom I’ve never seen.
Set my spirit free.”

On October 29, 1929, the roaring success and glamour of the ‘20s came to a screeching halt as the Stock Market abruptly crashed on “Black Tuesday.” Investors lost everything. According to one stock exchange witness:
“Men hollered and screamed, they clawed at one another’s collars. It was like a bunch of crazy men. Every once in a while, when Radio or Steel or Auburn would take another tumble, you’d see some poor devil collapse and fall to the floor.”
The Great Depression had begun.

Changing family ideals furthered the sense of disorder. The liberal ‘20s introduced the idea of “companionate marriages,” meaning that wives and husbands should share their personal lives, domestic responsibilities, and the work outside the home. Although this meant more equality for women, it was also threatening and confusing for someone raised in the Victorian ideals of a patriarchal family structure with the husband as the head and breadwinner. What was a man’s true role in his family?

The World of 1977: The Woman with Flowers
"The world has a way of always changing,
Slowly shifting, slightly rearranging,
Sometimes making no sense at all.
It’s unpredictable.
They’re little miracles."

The 1970s continued the social upheaval of the ‘60’s. Anti-war protests turned violent in the Kent State Massacre, and the Watergate Scandal eroded faith in government. And on November 18, 1978, “Reverend” Jim Jones led 900 people in the largest mass suicide/murder in history. Jones was a master manipulator, fooling politicians, his congregation, and his many female companions. His “People’s Temple” willingly moved to Guyana, where they drank Kool-Aide laced with cyanide.
"Jonestown" after the mass suicides

Despite these disturbing events, opportunities for women were increasing, particularly in the field of medicine. With the Title IX Act banning discrimination by gender in schools, the number of women physicians was on the rise. Self-help books written by women for women, such as The Feminine Mystique and Our Bodies, Ourselves, allowed women to educate themselves about their own health. The feminist movement also encouraged women to have their own identity apart from being a wife and mother. The American family looked very different than the previous decades. Divorce rates were rising, and more women were “working moms.”


Nearly 200 years, but still getting airtime. Ulysses, featured in 2012's Skyfall (dir: Sam Mendes.) 

Victorian poet Lord Alfred Tennyson penned Ulysses in 1833 upon hearing about the death of his best friend. Bowed by grief and his financially struggling family, Tennyson dreams of following the path of the wandering Greek hero Ulysses from Homer’s Odyssey:

'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die…
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

directed by Eric Schaeffer 
music and lyrics by Matt Conner
book and additional lyrics by Grace Barnes 

October 29-November 24

  For more information, including ticketing, click here



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Characters of Crossing, Part II: The Mothers and Sons

"Mothers and Sons"

Part Two in a series exploring the history and characters behind Signature’s world premier of Crossing, by Matt Conner and Grace Barnes 

Click here to view Part 1: Freedom Trains

In Signature’s world premier of Crossing, two pairs of mothers and sons wait on the platform. One mother, from the year 1917, dreads the arrival of the train that will take her grown son away to fight in WWI. The other mother, a “war bride” from WWII, tries to ignore her young son’s begging to go for a ride on the next train, but the lure of a new life calls her onward.

A WWI soldier bids his mother farewell from a train; 
samples of letters home from war 
The World of 1917: 
The Mother & The Soldier 
“Someone who doesn’t know the hour because the time flew by.
Someone with something in his heart to make the fight seem right.
Maybe the end or a brand new start, 
someone to stay through the night."

In April 1917, the United States Armed Forces consisted of only 200,000 volunteers, so Congress passed the Selective Service Act, establishing the draft. President Theodore Roosevelt called the war in Europe, “the great adventure.” The nation was swept up in the fervor of patriotism. By the end of the war, 2.8 million men had been called to service. Few knew of the carnage they were about to face.
“After witnessing demonstrations from coast to coast, the men of the 91st felt that they were backed by an undivided nation. The motherly gray-haired old woman standing in front of her little cottage on the broad prairie of Montana, alternately waving a flag and brushing away the tears she could not restrain, contributed as much to this feeling as did the impromptu receptions tendered the men in the great cities through which they passed.” – Richard Rubin, The Last of the Doughboys
Although American losses were comparatively small, more than 100,000 soldiers did not come back to their waiting families. They were forced to fight from cold, disease-infested trenches and endure attacks from deadly tear gas.

 Trench warfare in WWI
One British mother in particular suffered more than most. Amy Beechey lost five of her eight sons to WWI. When the newspapers picked up on her tragic story, Queen Mary of England personally offered her sympathy and thanked her for the sacrifice. Mrs. Beeechey responded:  "It was no sacrifice, Ma’am. I did not give them willingly.”
 WWI soldier recovering from mustard gas burns

The World of 1952: 
The Woman in Pink and The Child
"Here I am.
Waiting for something again,
Looking for a sign,
Something that's mine."

In 1954, WWII had ended, the troops were home, and America experienced the greatest one-year population growth in its history. Despite the peace and stability, young mothers and wives received conflicting messages from society. During the war, women weren’t permitted to fight, but the British and American governments begged them to be nurses, build machines in factories, and work in communications. Recruitment posters showed women as glamorous and independent, and images of women, especially in uniform, were used to sell everything from cigarettes to shoes. Once the war was over, however, women were encouraged to leave the factory jobs and return to their homes. Better Homes and Gardens stressed the importance of keeping the spheres of “home” and “work” separate: "There is simply no room for split-level thinking—or doing—when Mr. and Mrs. set their sights on a happy home, a host of friends, and a bright future through success in his job."

Many of these women were “war brides.” During World War II, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers were stationed in Britain. Many who survived the war came back with English wives. Over 100,000 women left their home country and traveled to the United States. Many of them had successful and happy marriages in their new home. Others struggled to find a place in their new world as they went from being active workers for their homeland to domesticated housewives in a foreign country.

 A ship of War Brides and their young children lands in America
To see how these mothers and their sons confront the upheavals of the world wars, come and see Crossing, directed by Eric Schaeffer with music lyrics by Matt Conner and book by Grace Barnes, from October 29 – November 24.
  For ticket information, visit




Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Characters of Crossing, Part I: Freedom Trains

"Freedom Trains"

Part One in a series exploring the history and characters behind Signature’s world premiere of Crossing, by Matt Conner and Grace Barnes

“Come my friends,
Tis not too late to seek a newer world ….
To strive, to seek, 
to find, and not to yield.”

Do you recall the thrill of anticipation in your youth when you witnessed an approaching train at the station? The clarion call of the whistle, the deep chug-chug of the metal beast as it lumbered forward, the smell of smoke burning your nose?  “Trains tap into some deep American collective memory,” wrote historian Dana Frank. Wikipedia lists over 1,000 songs about trains, and there are countless movies and books about the railroad. Trains captivate our imagination because they represent a call to discovery, the triumph of technology, and the beginning of a journey.

Signature’s new musical Crossing, featuring music and lyrics by Matt Conner and book by Grace Barnes, resurrects characters from pivotal moments in America’s history and weaves their stories into unexpected encounters on the platform of a train station. One of these characters is a Civil Rights Marcher, played by actress Ines Nassarra.

Listen to Ines' Story and get behind-the-scenes preview of Crossing
Harriet Tubman

“They’re calling them freedom trains
They’re calling them America
Saying there’s a time for change.”

Evoking a different kind of railroad, the Civil Rights Marcher remembers the journey of Harriet Tubman and “the Underground Railroad.” Fugitive slaves trying to escape used terminology from the newly-established train industry as a code for safehouses and supporters on the road North. They found their way using the North Star, called "The Drinking Gourd." The greatest conductor was Harriet Tubman, who crossed the Maryland border 13 times to help over 70 slaves escape, earning her the nickname “Moses.” She claimed, “I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.

Listen to Ines' song, "Follow the Drinking Gourd," referring to the Big Dipper constellation that guided escaping slaves to the North and freedom:

A hundred years later in 1963, an equally dangerous journey was happening for African Americans. A group of black and white activists developed a daring plan to ride buses across state lines in the Deep South to test the new desegregation laws.  In Alabama, the buses were halted by a 200-person mob that slashed the tires and threw a firebomb into the bus. Despite the danger, over the summer more people traveled South to make “Freedom Rides,” eventually causing the Interstate Commerce Commission to make guidelines enforcing integration in all public bus terminals.

"Freedom Riders" bus burned by mob in Alabama

That fall another momentous journey occurred as 250,000 people of all ages and skin colors traveled to Washington, D.C. for the biggest demonstration in our nation’s history. President Kennedy claimed that the Civil Rights Bill would meet less resistance if African Americans just stayed quiet, but the time for silence had passed. The voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. echoed over the courageous crowd as they looked forward to their destination “when all God’s children…will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'

Civil rights marchers stand in reflecting pool, Aug. 28th, 1963

  Crossing, A New Musical, by Grace Barnes and Matt Conner, opens on October 29, 2013 and closes Sunday, November 24. Check back next week for more about this exciting new musical.

For ticket information, visit



Monday, October 7, 2013

Signature in the Schools Kicks Off an Exciting Year

What do Green Eggs and Ham, Batman, and a classroom of 9th graders have in common?

All were part of the first workshop at Wakefield High School for the Signature in the Schools program!

In mid-September, the entire freshman class of Wakefield received backstage tours at Signature Theatre. Not long after those initial tours, representatives from Signature visited all of the freshman English classes at Wakefield. Over the course of a week, nearly 450 students in 17 classes received the first of three workshops they’ll receive before Signature in the Schools performs in March. This first workshop aimed to introduce students to different ways of storytelling and to encourage them to try something new, like Signature in the Schools.

We started with a familiar topic, prompting them to think about the Batman story and how many different ways it has been retold. We looked at images from comic books; the 1960’s live action TV show; the newer, darker films; video games; and even the Batman rollercoaster at Six Flags. As we discussed the versions of Batman, we encouraged them to think of every possible mode of storytelling. Soon, the students were brainstorming their own creative ideas: visual art, dance, music, action figures, texts, and theatre were among their many suggestions. Later in the lesson, the students had a chance to apply their new knowledge by telling a short story with different assigned mediums.

So why use so many different ways to tell a story?

The variety gives us diverse perspectives, exciting options, and opportunities for creativity. It gives us a “balanced diet” in our art forms. Too often, we prefer to stick to only the most familiar mediums, such as movies. We all understand movies. We’ve grown up with movies. Even within the movie medium, familiarity sometimes limits us. Think about the things that influence our movie decisions: friends, family, previews, location, genre, price. How often do those influences also keep us from trying something new?

Part of the problem is that trying new things is challenging. Mediums like theatre may feel like being stuck in a room where everyone is speaking a different language. We don’t understand it, so we get frustrated and give up before we give it a chance.

 The Signature in the Schools program seeks to help students understand the “language” of theatre and to teach them that if we never try anything new, we’re missing out. We call it the “Green-Eggs-and-Ham” principle: Try it, and you just might like it!

After these workshops, we had over 60 students audition for this year’s Signature in the Schools show, many of whom had never auditioned for anything before. They took the lesson to heart and decided to give this unfamiliar art form a try.

What new thing are you going to explore this week?


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