Monday, May 19, 2014

Wakefield High School - Improv Residency

Over the past three weeks, we in the Education Department at Signature Theatre have had the distinct pleasure of doing a teaching residency with the advanced theatre class at Wakefield High School in Arlington County. For over five years, Signature has joined in this unique partnership to bring topics previously untouched to the theatre classrooms at Wakefield. Previous topics have included creativity, directing  and playwriting. This year we decided to get a little bit "unstructured" and "unplanned" and settled to teach a four week long improv workshop.

For those of you that might be unfamiliar with the term "improv", let me break it down for you as simply as possible. Improv is the shortened form of the word "improvisation" or "improvise". Now, what improvisation is can best be described as "to compose and perform or deliver, without previous to preform in the spur of the moment."

Over the past several weeks, the lovely and talented students of Chris Gillespie have been hard at work under the instruction of Signature Theatre's David Zobell and Matt Strote as they explore the improvised world. With exercises including simple improvisational icebreakers, imagination sequences, character building intensives, status / relationship breakouts and source-inspired scenes, the students of Gillespie's theatre class have come quite far in such a short time. They have shown considerable growth in their abilities to play off of one another, be bold and creative in the moment, not be afraid to look silly or make a mistake and how to approach a given circumstance with little to no preparation. (Let's face it. Most of our lives are fraught with trying to overcome challenges and obstacles that we were not prepared for.)

We hope you enjoy getting a sneak peak on the fun we have every morning with these brilliant young individuals. We are sad to see this residency come to its annual end this week, but the time we have spent with the students at Wakefield has been a wonderful experience and we hope to continue this mutually beneficial relationship with Wakefield High School for many years to come.

Grace begins one of her improvised monologues.
Jose literally "supporting" Will throughout a short scene.
Lena reaching for something.
Liz accepting Jose's proposal. Finally!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Selecting a Season - Part II

With the coming year, Signature Theatre is getting ready to celebrate its 25th Anniversary. To celebrate we have created our biggest, most dazzling and daring seasons to date. What follows in this post is a breakdown of what to expect in the second half of this coming season, some things to consider with each show, and additional resources to investigate to get yourself even more excited for the stupendous season you have coming your way next year.

Kid Victory (February 17 – March 22, 2015)
Signature Theatre very excited to present the highly anticipated and chilling world premiere musical from legendary composer John Kander and acclaimed playwright Greg Pierce in the MAX Theatre. Seventeen-year-old Luke returns home after vanishing a year ago. Profoundly changed, Luke and his parents struggle to adjust to life following his disappearance. Only finding solace with Emily, the quirky proprietor of an offbeat garden shop, Luke grapples with a past undone and a coming of age that came too late to a boy who just wants to fade away. The second collaboration between Kander (Chicago, Cabaret) and Pierce (Slowgirl), Kid Victory is a hauntingly mesmerizing original musical about what it means to disappear.

Story by John Kander & Greg Pierce | Music by John Kander | Book & Lyrics by Greg Pierce Directed by Liesl Tommy | A co-production with The Vineyard Theatre

Soon (March 10 – April 26, 2015)
In this wold premiere by Nick Blaemire it is the hottest summer in human history and, in a few short months, all water on earth will evaporate. In response, twenty-something Charlie has taken to her couch with only her beloved possessions: peanut butter, Wolf Blitzer, and Herschel, the fish. Her mother, roommate and sometimes-boyfriend all attempt to persuade her to leave her apartment and enjoy life. However, as Charlie’s memories take over, more complicated reasons for her self-inflicted hibernation emerge as she confronts her deferred dreams and considers the possibility of life and love just outside her door. Filled with Blaemire’s (Glory Days) trademark quirky style and reminiscent of past Signature contemporary musicals [title of show] and The Last Five Years, Soon’s youthful humor, energy and wit deliver a searing and sardonic commentary on what to do with the time you have left on the MAX stage..

Book, Music & Lyrics by Nick Blaemire | Directed by Matthew Gardiner

Simply Sondheim (April 2 – 19, 2015)
An original tribute celebrating Stephen Sondheim and Signature Theatre’s special partnership over the last 25 years. Eric Schaeffer and David Loud plays only at Signature and will never be seen again.Whether you’d like to race Into the Woods with Sweeney Todd and a few Assassins, enjoy A Little Night Music at the Follies on a Saturday Night, or simply relish a Sunday in the Park with George, you’ll be in good Company when six Signature favorites and a gorgeous 16-piece orchestra take the MAX stage to honor the genius himself, Stephen Sondheim. years. For two and a half weeks only, with special permission from Sondheim himself, this completely new revue created by Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and David Loud plays only at Signature and will never be seen again.

Additional resources: Sondheim Website, Sondheim Guide, and Sondheim Biography.

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim | Co-conceived by David Loud & Eric Schaeffer | Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick | Muiscal Supervision & Vocal Arrangements by David Loud | Choreographed by Matthew Gardiner | Directed by Eric Schaeffer

Cabaret (May 12 – June 28, 2015)
Willkommen to the Kit Kat Club, the hottest nightclub in seedy, prewar Berlin; here, life is beautiful. American writer Cliff Bradshaw travels to Berlin searching for inspiration. He finds it in English club performer Sally Bowles and they begin a torrid affair. However, outside their door, the nazis’ impending rise to power heralds a brutal end to their decadent way of life. Featuring the treasured songs “Maybe This Time,” “Willkommen,” “Don’t Tell Mama” and the title song, Kander and Ebb’s Tony Award®-winning masterpiece graces the Signature Theatre's MAX stage for the first time in over twenty years.

Additional resources: Berlin Photos, Kabrett, and Kander & Ebb Top 10

Book by Joe Masteroff | Based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood Music by John Kander | Lyrics by Fred Ebb | Broadway production directed by Harold Prince | Produced for the Broadway stage by Harold Prince | Directed by Matthew Gardiner

We here at Signature Theatre could not be happier to present this stellar season to you next year to celebrate our 25th Anniversary season. Please join us in celebrating a milestone.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Selecting a Season - Part I

Next year is Signature Theatre’s 25th Anniversary and to celebrate we have put together one of our most ambitious, exciting, and star-studded seasons to celebrate. What follows in this post is a breakdown of what to expect in the first half of this coming season, some things to consider with each show, and additional resources to investigate to get yourself even more excited for the stellar season you have coming your way.  

Sunday in the Park with George (August 5 - September 21, 2014)

Signature launches its 25th Anniversary season with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Pulitzer Prize- winning Sunday in the Park with George. Inspired by the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat, Sunday in the Park with George brings art to vibrant life. In the MAX Theatre, Sondheim and Lapine’s stunning masterpiece merges past and present into beautiful, poignant truths about life, love and the creation of art.Written by the team behind Into the Woods and Passion, and featuring the songs “Finishing the Hat,” “Children and Art” and “Putting it Together,” Sunday in the Park with George is a special 25th Anniversary celebration of Sondheim – Signature’s signature.

Additional resources: Complete Works of George Seurat, Art Insitute of Chicago, Neo-Impressionism at the Phillips Collection, and Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters

Book by James Lapine | Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim | Directed by Matthew Gardiner

Elmer Gantry (October 7 - November 9, 2014

The charismatic, but completely broke, salesman Elmer Gantry stumbles upon a struggling religious tour, led by pious evangelist Sister Sharon Falconer. Falling for Falconer, Gantry joins the troupe as a preacher and, with a little showmanship and theatrics, transforms the revival into the hottest ticket in town. However, inspired by Falconer’s earnestness and his reawakened spirit, Gantry inserts one spectacle too many and risks blowing up the entire operation. Fiery and passionate, with a rich blues, folk and gospel-infused score, Elmer Gantry brings the evangelical charlatan of Sinclair Lewis’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to life on the MAX stage in an adventurous new reimagining.

Additional resources: PBS Sinclair Lewis, Sinclair Lewis Books, and Elmer Gantry Theatrical Trailer

Book by John Bishop | Lyrics by Bob Satuloff | Music by Mel Marvin Based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis | Directed by Eric Schaeffer

Sex with Strangers (October 14 - December 7, 2014)

A raging snowstorm traps strangers Olivia, an unsuccessful, yet gifted, thirty-nine-year-old writer, and Ethan, a tech-addicted and wildly successful young blogger, in a secluded cabin. Opposites instantly attract, undeniable chemistry ignites and sex is imminent in the ARK theatre. As the dawn rises, however, what could have just been a one-night-stand transforms into something more complicated when online exploits interfere with their real-life connection. Starring Holly Twyford (The Little Dog Laughed), Sex with Strangers is a sexy, provocative and intimate exposé that playfully explores what happens when private lives become public domain.

Additional Resources: Chelsea Handler Book, Tucker Max, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell Book, Assholes Finish First Book, Hilarity Ensues Book

By Laura Eason | Directed by Aaron Posner

Diner (December 9, 2014 - January 25, 2015)

Nine-time Grammy Award Winner Sheryl Crow and Academy Award-winning original screenwriter Barry Levinson makes a stunning debut with the world premiere musical adaptation of the landmark movie Diner. Christmas, Baltimore: 1959. A circle of childhood friends reunite for the upcoming wedding of one of them. Well, only if his fiancée passes a football trivia test. From the comfort of their all-night diner, the men, now in their early-twenties, confront the realities of adulthood: marriage, careers, money and the ever-mysterious opposite sex. But no matter where life takes them, they know they’re welcome back at the diner, the one place they’ll always belong. Infused with swinging 1950s rock and roll sound, three-time Tony Award®-winning director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall joins Crow and Levinson in the MAX to transform Diner’s groundbreaking evocation of burgeoning adulthood and friendship for the stage.

Additinal resources: Diner Trivia, Roger Ebert Review, and Vanity Fair Article on Diner

Book by Barry Levinson | Music & Lyrics by Sheryl Crow | Directed & Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall

We will be back soon with the other half of our season preview and guide where we will be highlighting Kid Victory, Soon, Simply Sondheim, and Cabaret.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mack the Knife - The Song's Back in Town

As we head into the run of The Threepenny Opera at Signature Theatre, it is slowly becoming obvious why a many guests are coming to see the show. For some people it might be the strong and talented actors that make up Signature Theatre's cast of regulars. For others it might be the strong direction by Associate Artistic Director, Matthew Gardiner. But for the rest of you, I suspect it is one particular song. Might that song be “Mack the Knife”?

Natascia Diaz in Signature Theatre's The
Threepenny Opera
sings Mack the Knife.
"Mack the Knife" or "The Ballad of Mack the Knife", originally "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer", is a song originally composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their music drama The Threepenny OperaA moritat; from mori meaning "deadly" and tat meaning "deed", is a medieval version of the murder ballad performed by strolling minstrels. In The Threepenny Opera, the murder ballad singer introduces and closes the drama with the story of dastardly Mack the Knife. (Interesting side note, Mack the Knife as a character is based on the dashing highwayman Macheath in John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, who was based on the historical English thief Jack Sheppard.)

The song was actually a last minute addition to the musical. The song itself was written and inserted just 24 hours before its première in 1928 because the actor who was playing Macheath demanded another musical number that would more effectively introduce his character. Weill intended the Moritat to be accompanied by a barrel organ, which was to be played by the singer. At the premiere, though, the barrel organ failed, and the pit orchestra had to quickly provide the accompaniment for the street singer.

The song was first introduced to American audiences in 1933 with the first English-language production of The Threepenny Opera. In the best known English translation, from the Marc Blitzstein 1954 version of The Threepenny Opera, which played Off-Broadway for over six years, the words are:

Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear,
And he shows them pearly white
Just a jack-knife has Macheath dear
And he keeps it out of sight.

A dapper and dashing Bobby Darin.
A much darker translation by Robert David MacDonald and Jeremy Sams into English was used for the 1994 Donmar Warehouse production in London (This particular translation is the one being used at Signature.) This new translation attempted to recapture the original tone of the song:

Though the shark's teeth may be lethal
Still you see them white and red
But you won't see Mackie's flick knife
Cause he slashed you and you're dead

 As a "popular" song, "Mack the Knife" was introduced to the United States by Louis Armstrong in 1956, but the song is most closely associated with Bobby Darin. Even though Darin was reluctant to release the song as a single, in 1959 it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and number six on the Black Singles chart, and earned him a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

Louis "Pops" Armstrong with his trumpet.
Other popular and eclectic covers include ones by Lotte Lenya (1955), Bing Crosby (1957), Eartha Kitt (1959) Bill Haley & His Comets, (1959), Ella Fitzgerald (1960), The Doors (1968), Peggy Lee (1977), Frank Sinatra (1984), Sting (1985), Lyle Lovett (1994), The Brian Setzer Orchestra (2000), and Michael Bublé (2004)

Bretolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera runs from April 22nd - June 1st at Signature Theatre. Call 703 820 9771 for tickets and showtime information.


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