I’m thrilled to have directed Lauren Gunderson’s THE REVOLUTIONISTS at The Firehouse Center for the Arts this winter! It opened last Friday to a packed and rowdy house, and the cast absolutely owned this comic drama about women making history during the French Revolution. Orlik Guzman, Branwyn Ritchie, Mary Sapp and Mikayla Bishop are a dream team. Each woman combines dynamic physical presence, a phenomenal voice, spot-on comedic timing and profoundly moving emotional nuance into their work in this piece. The design and stage management crews are also top-notch, so the whole show looks and sounds beautiful and really sweeps you along. I could not be more proud. And there are four more performances to enjoy!
Phew! What a year, yes? I’ve wound up classes and coaching at Lemon Punch Theatre Lab for 2021 with tremendous gratitude to the students, audience members and friends who cheered us on as we kept the lights on in the studio, while hopping back on Zoom when COVID exposures threatened. Like many performance and training venues, we are adopting a hybrid schedule as we approach 2022. I are staying hopeful, but remaining careful as I lead the Lab into the new year!
First off, I’m delighted to announce that I’m directing Lauren Gunderson’s THE REVOLUTIONISTS for The Firehouse Center for the Arts! That show opens on March 11th, and I’ll be hosting many of the (COVID-protocol following) rehearsals in the Lemon Punch Theatre Lab studio. This is what the space is for–to create art!!! I haven’t held rehearsals there since January 2020, so this makes me extremely happy.
Next, I’m expanding my Thursday pay-as-you-go offerings in January and February by alternating my successful and filled-to-capacity “Not-So-Cold Readings” with “Between the Lines” classes, which will focus on all the physicality that fills our scenes in and around the text. All in-person class participants must be fully vaccinated and agree to follow the Lab’s “COVID-safer” policies, which include staying home if you are symptomatic and being ready to pivot to Zoom if the situation requires it. This fall, we moved to Zoom for two classes following a possible exposure, and we also happily used Zoom one stormy night when we thought it was unsafe to drive! It’s great to have a new tool to help navigate the winter season.
Last update: I’m rolling out a Zoom-only Scene Study class in January for some folks who wanted to stay tucked in at home. And before we know it, spring will come, and hopefully we can all breathe easier as we continue to make and enjoy theatre. Best wishes to all!
“I’ll Be Right There” was a huge success! Thank you to all those who attended!
On February 20th and 21st, Lemon Punch Theatre Lab presented two performances of our original play, “I’ll Be Right There,” and enjoyed two marvelous post-show discussions. Steven Sacks and Pamela Battin-Sacks knocked their roles out of the park, and Martha Douglas-Osmundson led our conversations with insight and joy.
Here are some of the awesome comments from our audience:
“Felt dynamic, even in Zoom! Forgot that I was watching a play!”
“A heartfelt slice of life, and so refreshing.”
“Your play grabbed you in the beginning and never let go.”
“Mesmerizing. Kept me right there the whole time.”
We also received many fascinating comments and questions about the process of writing current events into our work and the particular challenges of performing in Zoom. These explorations will continue throughout the spring in a variety of classes and workshops.
Hello, friends. In this amazingly stressful time, I’m taking comfort and even finding joy creating theatre through my studio. Lemon Punch Theatre Lab, via Zoom!
I first pivoted to Zoom pretty quickly in late March, just to remain connected to my colleagues and Lemon Punch students. I had no expectations and was not at all sure how the new platform would work. It sure has its quirks! But since then, I’ve hosted two free microplay festivals, taught two multi-week classes and one movement workshop, and have now spent almost 6 weeks developing the Lemon Live New Play Festival, volume 3, which will go up on Zoom July 31- August 2. The Lemon Live team is brilliant, funny, and incredibly resourceful–we’ve produced two lineups of 7 short plays, for a total of 14 new works that challenge our idea of what Zoom theatre can be. For more information, or to book your tickets, visit the Lemon Punch Theatre Lab “box office.”
During this play development process, I asked one of the playwrights, Haley Dunning, if she’d like to co-direct one of her pieces with me, and it’s been extremely fun to collaborate! She asked me one day for some pointers, and I came up with a list that sums up my approach to theatre directing, and leadership in general, pretty well. So I want to share it with you!
We all need to lead with “what’s working,” rather than, “this isn’t working for me.” If we receive too much negative criticism and no highlights of what is good, we may throw out all of our work, get confused and lose confidence. So I try to always lead with what is working—often actors don’t even realize it, so it’s important to draw their attention to their successes.
In acting, as in writing, we don’t want to simply evoke static emotional states. We want to see/hear real people doing things. Acting is doing. So I talk a lot about thinking in verbs rather than adjectives. Instead of, “She needs to be more sad here,” you might say, “Could you try to mourn the loss?” Or, instead of saying, “I think she’s defensive,” you would say, “I think she might try to defend herself.” You might follow that up by saying, “Hmmm, how do we defend ourselves? What verbs are embedded in that? Does she attack someone? Does she blame another person? Does she deflect attention from herself?” Verbs keep the performance realistic and interesting.
Ask your actors/writers/designers questions. You may have all kinds of ideas about improving the scene, but until you know what your collaborators are thinking, you can’t shape your ideas to suit their frame of reference. Also, in listening to their response, you will learn more about your own ideas and might see ways to refine or improve them. Lastly, when people feel listened to first, they are often more relaxed and willing to listen to you back.
Set a calm tone. If you are frazzled, acknowledge it. If there’s something you don’t know, say, That’s a great question, I will find that out for you! Actors get nervous when they feel the director isn’t calm. The director doesn’t need to have all the answers right away—in fact, they shouldn’t, if they want to foster collaboration and exploration. But you can model a relaxed, interested response to challenges that come up. For example—oh, if we all turn off our cameras in Zoom, something weird happens?! That’s interesting! I will sort that out and get back to you on we’re going to handle that.
Remember that it’s only a play. While many of these scripts give us the opportunity to explore serious topics and feelings, ultimately we are not working not he COVID vaccine or defusing a bomb, so we should give permission for people to be less hard on themselves. We maintain a foundational level of respect and consideration for each other’s time and talent, but we don’t push people when they are uncomfortable. If it’s not fun, why make theatre? Keeping the play in perspective helps you create and maintain an upbeat rehearsal space. And we all need that right now!
So, those are my tips for directing, and for life right now. Give me a holler and tell me what works for you in the studio, whether it’s live in-person or on Zoom!
On March 7th, I had the good fortune to present the traveling version of Kate Wenner’s MAKE SURE IT’S ME at the Manchester VA Medical Center as part of Brain Injury Awareness Month. Thanks once again to Nina Romano and Erica Rowe for organizing the event, and to John, Matt, Martin and Kim for reading with me and sharing your reactions and personal reflections on the challenges of coping with combat-related trauma. As always, it wouldn’t be possible without playwright Kate Wenner’s permission to use her work royalty-free in support of the veterans grappling with TBI and PTSD–Kate, you are still my hero! I have to let my bias show now by saying that one of the best parts was the company of Jasmine, a service dog specializing in mitigating the effects of PTSD. She certainly helped soothe the atmosphere as we discussed troubling topics. Here’s a picture of Jasmine getting ready for the presentation, to help smooth your way today!
It’s been a busy month so I’m tardy reporting about our extremely moving MAKE SURE IT’S ME presentation at the VA Medical Center in Manchester on March 2nd! Our star reader was Sean Carrier, who survived seven IED blasts and a plane crash while serving in Iraq. Sean gave a great reading, pushing courageously past any pain or nervousness to share insights from Kate Wenner’s play about combat-related Traumatic Brain Injury. Sean and I were joined on our little “stage” by VA staff members, many of whom were also veterans. The event was organized by VA TBI clinician Nina Romano and social worker Erica Rowe and was introduced by the Medical Center Director Al Montoya, who awarded us all with Director’s coins for bringing this important conversation to the VA. The post-reading discussion lasted nearly 90 minutes and allowed veterans, family members, and service providers to share their observations and feelings about the complicated effects of TBI. As we wound up the event, Nina said they’d love to make MSIM an annual event as part of the March Brain Injury Awareness month. So it’s on my calendar for 2019! If you want to know more about this event, Sean and I were interviewed by the marvelous Peter Biello, who is the NHPR anchor for “All Things Considered.” You can listen to that interview or read the transcript here. Stay tuned for more MSIM news . . . plans are in the works to return to the Manchester Vet Center in September.
Last Thursday I was pleased to return to the Manchester Vet Center in Hooksett for the third year in a row to present excerpts from Kate Wenner’s MAKE SURE IT’S ME read by veterans and Vet Center Staff. Once again, Vet Center counselor and coordinator of this event Mearlene Filkins made me warmly welcome and lined up a great group of readers. Colleen Moriarty, director of the Vet Center, even stepped in to read as a last-minute replacement and knocked it out of the park! We were honored to have Don, a Vietnam veteran, return for his third year in a row, as well as some new faces in the group. After the presentation and some snacks, Manchester VA TBI clinicians Sherry Thrasher and Nina Romano were on hand, along with a social worker named Erica, to kick off the post-presentation talk back. This script continues to yield great conversations, increase awareness of military-related TBI, and encourage military families to seek support from a variety of sources across the state. Thanks to all the readers, to Mearlene, Colleen, Sherry and Nina for making it happen. And thanks once again to the playwright, Kate Wenner, for giving us the words knit together from her interviews with veterans, caregivers and clinicians dealing with TBI. Without these words, the growing conversation would not be possible. Love to all!
David Houlden as Joseph Moody and Liz Locke as Patience Boston
It’s officially autumn, but my summer was pretty busy with theatre! Last spring I was asked to direct Mike Kimball’s new play, PATIENCE BOSTON, a historical drama set in York, Maine and based on the lives (and deaths) of real people. PB tells the story of a Native American servant woman who claimed to have killed a child and demanded to be hung for the crime. But after she was sentenced, it was discovered that she was pregnant, so the Sheriff and his wife, as well as Pastors Samuel and Joseph Moody, were charged with caring for her until the baby was born–and then executing her.
We rehearsed throughout the summer, working around folks’ vacations and other shows, and opened on September 15th at the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth. The show is going extremely well and will close on October 1. I’m immensely proud of the playwright, the cast (Liz Locke, David Houlden, Charles Bradley, Pam Battin-Sacks, Greg Chabot, Whitney Smith, Paul Benford-Bruce and Steve Sacks) and our dear stage manager, Deb Barry and board operator, Kate Quisumbing. We also had impeccable stage design by D. Cary Wendell, lighting by John Stewart, costumes by Barbara Newton, and sound design by the impeccable Mike Kimball himself! Scroll down for more great images from PATIENCE BOSTON.
Charles Bradley as Jeremiah Moulton and Paul Benford-Bruce as Boston
2016 has been a busy year, so busy that I haven’t been writing on this blog too much. Most of the work I have been doing involves upcoming events supporting veterans and their families. I’m thrilled to say that my traveling version of MAKE SURE IT’S ME will return to the Manchester Vet Center on September 29th. I will be joined there by a cast of 5 veterans to read dramatic scenes from Kate Wenner’s play, as well as VA Manchester clinicians to help me address questions about Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD. Then, on October 20th I will take it to UNH, where my readers will be members of the Student Armed Forces Association, joined by some Theatre majors. That promises to be a winning combination! The research and treatment options for TBI and PTSD keep evolving, so whenever I pull this presentation out I retool my framing material to reflect recent developments. It’s also extremely fun for me to work with the coordinators and readers as different venues, as well as to meet the audiences and mediate the conversation on performance day. So I’m looking forward to both of those events.
I have also had the honor of serving as Humanities Expert for Community Stories: Soldiers Home & Away, a nine-week event series celebrating, commemorating and supporting veterans and military families across 8 libraries in Southern NH, as well as Timberlane School District. The event series runs September 16 through November 12. My duties to this project have included helping the amazing group of library officials on the committee to write the grant proposal for the New Hampshire Humanities (which was successful, thank you NHH!); helping to identify presenters and keep a “humanities” angle across the event series; and I’ll be contributing to the “after-action” report to NHH about how Community Stories fulfilled its mission. I am also involved in three of the events: I will present a brand new presentation, “Staging War: Veterans’ Voices in Post-9/11 Theatre” at the Plaistow Public Library on October 4; I will mediate a book discussion of “Either the Beginning or the End of the World” will the glorious author Terry Farish on October 27th in Hampstead; and I will be co-presenting the final keynote presentation on November 12th, “War Trauma: A Changing Story”, with neurologist Dr. James Whitlock. That final presentation will include some readings from MSIM, aided by veteran and former Vet Center counselor Al Porsche.
So that’s a lot of exciting work I’ve been putting together, with fantastic and inspiring collaborators.
I have also been invited to do several more ongoing projects: The NHH Humanities To Go program has selected my new presentation for their catalog. In response to their feedback, the title is slightly different from the one in Community Stories, but it will be effectively the same format: “Speaking of War: How Theatre Gives Voice to Combat Veterans.” (It’s always tricky to figure out appealing titles.) Once the presentation is in the catalog, it remains to be seen if anyone wants me to bring it to their library or meeting hall. So stay tuned!
I have also been hired as an actor by PowerPlay Interactive Development. PowerPlay was founded by UNH Theatre Department Chair David Kaye. It is a UNH sponsored business that uses Applied Theatre techniques to address issues like corporate culture, gender bias, harassment, and diversity for clients who include university departments, nonprofits and corporations. So far, I have worked on four improv-based workshops for Easter Seals in Manchester; in November, I will be traveling to the University of Virginia to present a combination of scripted material and improv addressing biases and potential conflicts in faculty hiring. This is extremely challenging, fascinating work! I am learning a lot and, once again, working with a great group of people that includes David Kaye, CJ Lewis and Susan Poulin.
Lastly for now, I am pleased to have been cast in New Hampshire Theatre Project‘s winter show, METAMORPHOSES, directed by Genevieve Aichele. Rehearsals begin in November. Phew, that’s a lot!!!
In the meantime, my Board work for HAVEN is ongoing, so don’t be surprised if I tap your shoulder in a fundraising campaign. Best wishes to all as we move into Autumn!
Last Thursday, October 8th, a group of veterans helped me present my traveling version of Kate Wenner’s MAKE SURE IT’S ME at the Manchester Vet Center in Hooksett, NH. With the help of counselor Mearlene Filkins, who joined me in reading the educational material about Traumatic Brain Injury, and the coordination of Team Leader Colleen Moriarty, we presented to a group of about fifty in the Vet Center’s welcoming, well-appointed conference room.
This was my second time using the model of directing a group of volunteer readers nominated by the venue itself. The first time my readers were members of the student veterans’ group at the campus of Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, MA. This time, Mearlene invited community members who attend the Manchester Vet Center regularly for various kinds of support to step up and share their time and talents by acting in this reading. I was blown away by the intelligence and emotional courage of these readers. These two men and two women, who clearly had put their hearts, minds and bodies on the line in service to their country, were serving again by spreading the word about the effects of TBI on veterans and their families. The audience was extremely responsive to their portrayals of injured veterans and their struggling caregivers. Maybe it was the dueling apple crisps baked by two community members and enjoyed during intermission, but I swear the audience did not want to leave! Many observations and questions were shared during a talkback with Susan Burns, Nina Romano, and Sherry Thrasher, all clinicians from the Manchester VA Medical Center with expertise in treating TBIs. We were even able to connect an audience member on the spot with resources for TBI screening. Thanks again to Colleen, Mearlene and all the staff at the Vet Center for making this event possible.
As always with the MSIM project, I was thrilled and humbled by this experience. There was a lot of support in the room for more MSIM programming, so stay tuned for news as I follow up with my new contacts and continue to spread the word. For more information on the history of the project, or to find resources, visit the MSIM home page.