The Night I Returned

Well, I’ll be dipped, I actually have another theatre tale for you.

As you may remember, I finally got my theatre mojo back after it being in abeyance for quite a while.  Of course, in true comedic fashion, the universe decided to answer my renewed mojo by either not having plays with suitable roles for me or the double whammy of having the rear end of my car redesigned by a truck and the conflict of my annual Christmas B & B review interfering with shows that did.

Then fate finally tossed me a bone.

Last year, BlueBarn Theatre began a new series called Musing which is a storytelling series where people (not necessarily actors) tell a true story based on the theme of the night.  The series has been wildly successful with routine full houses.  Now I’ve lived a story or two, but I knew this one would be dynamite for the show once the proper theme night was available.

In August, Musing announced that two sessions would be held during the 2022-2023 season and the theme for both would be Storyteller’s Choice.

Bingo!

I contacted Seth Fox, Musing’s curator, and sent him the link to Devastation for a pitch.  In less than an hour, I had a reply from him saying that he loved the story and that he had a spot open in the October session and offered it to me.  I accepted without batting an eye.

While not a role, it was my first performance in a very long time and I was glad that I’d be sharing the tale of my audition for The Elephant Man.  For starters, we had just passed the 20th anniversary of that audition so it seemed a bit of poetic justice to commemorate it in some way.  But more importantly, it was the most honest and dramatic work I could present.

I’ve had a pretty good body of work, but, in my regular acting days, I got typed/perceived/what have you as a light-hearted actor.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love doing comedy and bits and I enjoy watching them.  But my first love in theatre has always been dramas and my dramatic moments on the stage have been few and far between.

So if Musing was going to begin a regular return to the stage, it was important to me to be able to present myself in a new light so that those who knew me would see me differently and to introduce myself to those who only know me as the writer in the boldest way possible.

So I went about cutting my story down to the 10-12 minutes I would need for Musing and began to polish it up.  I started performing it simply so I could get a feel for the words.  Then I started preparing it the way I knew best:  as an actor.  I added the emotion and interpretation and began shaping it into a performance piece.

Now the preparation for Musing was closer to reader’s theatre.  Seth and I met twice virtually to work on my story and then we had 2 full group rehearsals before the performance.

Our first group meeting was at Sozo’s Coffeehouse where Seth had rented a study room and we presented our stories publicly (more or less) for the first time.

Other storytellers were Ralph Kellogg who had a moving and brutally honest story of how he dealt with a most unwelcome houseguest; Teresa Conway had the funniest story of the group with how she took an advanced ballet class with a group of kids; local beat poet, Fernando Antonio Montejano, kept eyes pinned to him with his well spokentale about returning to his hometown for the funeral of his sister, Bianca; and Sara Strattan closed things with the sweet, but sad, tale about her relationship with her husband who had died from cancer.

All of them did a wonderful job with only minor changes needed.  I just loved their honesty and their sincerity and it just reached out and grabbed you.

Then there was me.

No, no, I’m not about to beat myself up.  But I presented the story through the lens of an actor.  And, as a performance piece, it wasn’t too shabby.  But it was the wrong take.

I remember my late friend, Kay McGuigan, once saying my acting style reminded her of Val Kilmer due to its intensity.  I never really understood that until after I did this piece, but I finally got it.  I do put serious oomph into my performances which makes for good acting.  But acting was not what was needed here.

Seth told me to take Kevin’s advice of not being so earnest and to tell the story as if I were telling it to friends over coffee.  With those words and the vision of the works of the others flashing through my mind, my path lit up clear as day.

There was no need to enhance the emotion of the story.  It was there, naturally.  I didn’t need to perform the story, I just simply needed to tell it.

I literally got into my car and did the story again, but removed the theatre from it.  And I knew I had something magical.  I chuckled at the way life seemed to be repeating itself.  Back in 2002, Kay had helped me get Merrick on the correct course.  Now with Seth’s mentoring, a story about Merrick was now set on the proper course.

Each time I practiced my piece from thenceforth, I could feel the momentum building and I was ready for the dress rehearsal on Monday.

On Monday, it was a completely different ballgame.  I felt the power of the simple delivery and when I wrapped up, I knew I had struck pay dirt with the entranced looks and thumbs up coming from my fellow readers.  Seth’s compliment of, “That was some great fine tuning” left me with a profound feeling of satisfaction.

Then came the real deal.

The one downside to the whole process was how little bonding time I had with these people.  Still we did have a sense of camaraderie as we all shared the same vision of blowing the socks off the audience with our tales.  We did enjoy a little fun time as Sara and Teresa battled Ralph and myself in the game, I Should Have Known That.  (We lost).

Then it was time to go to work.  Seth had changed the lineup.  Originally, I was to be the fourth reader, but ended up swapping places with Fernando to become the third reader and the flow made perfect sense.  Most of our stories were heart tuggers, but there was definitely a different energy and feel to each.  Ralph’s tale was a hard hitting intro that segued into Teresa’s lighthearted fare.  I became the bridge from Teresa to Fernando as my piece was certainly sad, but ends on a positive note.  From there Fernando broke the hearts of the audience while Sara certainly had the audience sobbing, but its sweetness helped to buoy them.

For my own work, I was extremely pleased.  I don’t normally take much stock in my own voice, but this time it was like a part of me disengaged and I heard myself telling the story as I was telling the story and I thought, “Dang, this is gripping.”  It was the storytelling equivalent of forgetting I was acting which is the peak that an actor can hit.  I had forgotten I was telling the story.  I was that lost in it.

All too soon, it seemed like the show had come to an end.  We took our final bows in front of a standing ovation, mingled with the audience, took a group photo, and went our separate ways. 

My only regret of the night is that we couldn’t do it a few more times, but I was glad for the brief time and truly enjoyed my return to the stage.

The good news for those you reading this who now wish they could have seen it, you will get your wish.  The show was recorded and I shall be posting the link to the Corner once the show is posted.

Until the next time.

It Came Upon a Midnight Drear

Schoolmaster Ichabod Crane arrives in the village of Sleepy Hollow to instruct students and direct the church choir.  While there, he sets his eyes on the fortune of Baltus Van Tassel and his beautiful daughter, Katrina.  In his path lay a formidable rival and the headless ghost of a Hessian soldier.  This is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and it is currently playing at BlueBarn Theatre.

As normalcy continues to return to the world, I’ve found myself returning to a lot of things that I did before the pandemic.  So it seems apropos that I get another chance at reviewing a version of this story.  Washington Irving’s gothic tale is one of my favorite short stories.  Both times I heard about a production of this story I had the same question, “How does one take a 20-30 minute tale and spin it into a full length production?”  The first version I saw went wide of the mark.

Ben Beck and Jill Anderson hit a dead center bullseye.

Beck and Anderson’s version of the classic ghost story is completely faithful to the original even to the point of using Irving’s own lines.  How did they expand it into a full show?  Not by adding unnecessary scenes, but by expanding Irving’s references.  When Ichabod is invited to a fall harvest at the Van Tassel’s, they do a formal invitation scene.  When they say they’re going to tell ghost stories at the party, they tell some ghost stories.  Thus, Beck and Anderson retain the story’s original intention and are able to present its full power to the public, greatly boosted by top of the line direction and acting.

Jill Anderson has taken on a very unique challenge with her direction of this production.  This is not a regular play.  Rather it blends several styles of performing.  There most assuredly is acting, but there is also puppetry, pantomime, and storytelling.  That final point is crucial because there is a difference between acting and storytelling.  Acting is presenting the truth of a character, but storytelling is exactly what it sounds like and provides a certain leeway in being a bit bigger and over the top.  Anderson effortlessly fuses the multiple styles of performing to create a gripping tale, adds some icing with her coaching of the cast, and tops it with the cherry of her staging which uses the whole theatre and I mean the WHOLE theatre.  Watch out when Ichabod starts wandering through the woods.

This show is primarily narration with the actors occasionally becoming characters (with the exception of Ichabod) to help propel the story along.  As such it eschews normal analysis, but the ensemble does excellent work in presenting the story.  Where needed, they give it humor, drama, and even chilling tension.  Each performer gets a chance to shine such as Abz Cameron’s take on the coquettish (I say shallow and manipulative) Katrina Van Tassel.  Raydell Cordell III generates some of the show’s biggest laughs as an uneducated, uncouth farmer plus Crane’s housing host, Hans Van Ripper.  Rodger Gerberding makes for a surprisingly convincing mistress as Van Tassel’s wife.  Roderick Hickman has a voice made for narration.  Theresa Sindelar provides laughs as a bratty student in Ichabod’s class and exudes authority as Baltus Van Tassel. 

Brandon Williams is a standout with his key role of Ichabod’s rival, Brom Bones.  Williams’ powerful baritone perfectly suits the athletic and confident Brom and he gives Brom that important quality of likability.  Sure, he’s a bit of a rowdy, but has “more mischief than ill-will in his composition”.  And I like how his facial expressions and snarling make clear he’d like to drive his fist into Ichabod’s beaked nose, but settles for juvenile pranks and perhaps one not quite so juvenile.

Josh Peyton is perfect as Ichabod Crane.  Peyton gets Ichabod and realizes he’s no hero.  Crane is actually a very unlikable person.  He’s smug.  He’s vain.  He’s superstitious.  He’s a craven coward.  He flaunts his education.  He ingratiates himself to the local women to share gossip and to feed his face (and he’s a gluttonous pig) and, while he may truly be smitten with Katrina, is more attracted to her father’s wealth.  Peyton embodies all of these traits and enhances them with a loose-limbed walk and dilletante voice to emphasize Crane’s reediness.

This particular show relies on its technical aspects more than most shows I’ve seen and their support is solid as an oak.  Olga Smola has composed an original score that can spook you or make you feel like you’re in a frolic and done solely with her fierce violin playing and Julia Williams’ dandy accordion work.  Sarah Rowe has designed a set of cardboard trees and fanciful overhang with a horse’s head and crescent moon suitable for a bit of storytelling and fleshed out by Craig Lee’s artistry and Amy Reiner’s properties.  Bill Kirby’s lights really pump up the story with some of my favorite moments being when Ichabod is riding through the woods alone in the deep, dark night and the final lighting effect of the Headless Horseman’s pursuit of Crane.  Jill Anderson’s knowledge of period accurate costumes is second to none as all of the characters look like they stepped out of the late 1700s with frock coats, three pointed hats, and frilled shirts.

This is a show made for the Halloween season and is a faithful rendition of one of the all-time classic gothic tales in American history.  Sellouts have already begun so grab a ticket before they’re just a wisp of a memory.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow plays at BlueBarn Theatre through Oct 31.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thurs-Sat and Sundays at 6pm (no show on Oct 9 and 2pm matinee on Oct 23 in lieu of 6pm show).  The show will close on Monday, Oct 31 with a 7:30pm show.  Tickets cost $37 and can be purchased by calling 402-345-1576 or visiting www.bluebarn.org. BlueBarn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Shakespearean Tragedy Heading for BlueBarn

BLUEBARN THEATRE Proudly Presents:

King Lear
by William Shakespeare
March 24th-April 16th, 2022

Performances

Thursdays -Saturday@ 7:30pm; Sun April 3rd@ 2:00pm; Sun April 10th@ 2pm
Virtual Presentation available beginning April 15th@ 7:30
ASL Interpreted Performance-Friday, April 8th@ 7:30

About King Lear

BLUEBARN takes on Shakespeare’s most intimate embrace of heights and depths of human experience with King Lear. When an aging monarch decides to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, chaos reigns, madness is ascendant and love’s labours come to nothing.

“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools”

About the Production

BLUEBARN’s production of King Lear features performances by Thomas Becker, Thomas Gjere, Delaney Jackson, Ryan Kathman, Melissa King, Matthew Kischer, Ashley Kobza, Mike Leaman, Josh Peyton, Paul Shaw, Brent Spencer, Shane Staiger, Michael Trunta, and Fred Vogel.

Directed by Jill Anderson.
Dramaturgy by D. Scott Glasser.
Set and lighting design by Steven Williams.
Costume design by Jill Anderson and Katherine Neary.
Fight Choreography by Terry Doughman.
Special Effects/Fight Assist by Wes Clowers.
Music by Vince Krysl.
Sound design by Bill Kirby.
Properties by Amy Reiner.
Scenic Arts by Craig Lee.

Seating & Tickets

Attendance is free to TruBLU members and $35 for General Admission tickets. Educator/Healthcare Workers/Military Personnel tickets are available for $30. To reserve and/or purchase your tickets, visit our website, www.bluebarn.org/tickets, or call the box office at (402) 345-1576, M-F between 10am-4pm. Covid vaccination required to attend any show at the BLUEBARN Theatre. You will be asked to show your vaccination card at the box office when you check-in. Masks will be required for King Lear.

King Lear is generously sponsored by:

Immanuel Communities
James and Susan Tracy Charitable Foundation
Dr. Bill Hutson
Nebraska Arts Council
Nebraska Cultural Endowment

BLUEBARN Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Deck the Halls or Die Hard

BLUEBARN THEATRE Proudly Presents:

The Return of Our Holiday Smash Hit

A Very Die Hard Christmas
by Jeff Schell and the Habit

November 26th-December 19th, 2021
Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays: 11/28 at 2pm| 12/5 at 2pm & 6pm | 12/12 & 12/19 at 2pm
No show Thursday 12/2

Forty Floors of Sheer Adventure!

Tickets
General Admission($35) and Educator|Healthcare|Military($30)

Tickets are available at bluebarn.org or through the box office @ (402) 345-1576.

About the Play
The Best. Holiday Show. Ever. Based on the Best. Christmas. Movie. Of All Time. Is. Back! Join us once again at Nakatomi Plaza! It’s John McClane versus Hans Gruber with Christmas itself on the line! Grab your Twinkies, your cocaine, and your favorite explosive device for our star-studded remount of A Very Die Hard Christmas.

About the Production
A Very Die Hard Christmas features Hughston Walkinshaw, Katie Becker-Colón, Theresa Sindelar, Josh Peyton, Jonathan Purcell, Ronnie Shelley-Perez, Diane Watson, Raydell Cordell III, Bill Grennan, Todd Brooks, Kerron Stark, Don Harris, Therese Rennels, J.J. Davis, and Wai Yim. Directed by Susan Clement. Dramaturgy by Barry Carman. Sound Design by Bill Kirby. Properties by Amy Reiner. Set Design by Bob Donlan. Lighting Design by Josh Mullady. Costume Design by Jenny Pool. Choreography by Melanie Walters. Fight Direction by Ezra Colón.

ASL interpreted performance Thursday, Dec. 16th.

BlueBarn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.