“Circle Mirror Transformation” Begins Blue Barn Season

BLUEBARN THEATRE presents
2009 Obie Winner for Best New Play
Circle Mirror Transformation
by Annie Baker
September 27th-October 21st, 2018
Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm
Sunday 10/7 & 10/21 at 2pm | 10/14 at 6:00pm
About the play:
Students in a community-center acting class find their lives transformed, their souls reflected, and the patterns of their lives revealed in this extraordinary celebration of ordinary life. As they discover each other through storytelling and deceptively simple games, hearts are won and lost, destinies shaped, and tiny triumphs and tragedies take on epic proportions.

About the production:
Circle Mirror Transformation is directed by Susan Clement-Toberer, with dramaturgy by Barry Carman, stage management by Meghan Boucher, set design by Marty Marchitto, lighting design by Brendan Greene-Walsh, costume design by Kendra Newby, and sound design by Craig Marsh.
The cast features Susie Baer Collins (Marty), Caroline Friend (Lauren), Nils Haaland (Schultz), Ashley Kobza (Theresa), and Mike Markey (James).
The production is generously sponsored by Sara Foxley.

Tickets: General Admission tickets are $35 and available by calling our box office (402) 345-1576. You may also purchase tickets via our website at www.bluebarn.org/tickets/

Engage:
“After Words”
October 4th Post-Show
Following the Thursday, October 4th performance, join us for a talkback with the cast. Our actors will tell tall tales about tale-telling, answer all your questions about the proper way to hula-hoop, and reveal their secret strategies for counting to ten.

“Theatre Works”
October 7th Post-show
Following the Sunday, October 7th performance, the BLUEBARN will spotlight three area organizations and artists who use theatre to actively transform lives. Join us for a panel discussion with Tyrone Beasley, Director of Outbound Programming at the Rose Theatre, Nick Zadina, Training Specialist at Project Harmony, and Carolyn Anderson, Director of WhyArts?.
Engagement events are free and open to the public.

Professional Theatre vs Community Theatre: Is There a Difference?

A friend asked me for my thoughts on this article today.

I thought the writer made several valid points and it provided a whirlwind of commentary on Facebook.  Speaking as both writer and actor, I completely agree with the author’s sentiment that community theatre should be judged on exactly the same standards as a full blown professional production.  To do anything less is unfair to those who work so tirelessly to bring a show to life.  More importantly, I believe community theatre is at least as good, if not superior, to professional productions.

Theatre is far more than lights, sounds, and costumes.  Those can enhance a performance, but ultimately, theatre boils down to the simple art of storytelling.  And a well told story can be told on Broadway or in a basement.  There is no connection between talent and pay.  I’m fortunate enough to live in Omaha, NE where our talent pool is so rich and deep that many could easily earn their living through acting and directing if they had the inclination and that little bit of luck needed to really make it.

One telling thing the author of this article pointed out is that many critics operate from the mindset that community theatre is somehow lesser than a professional production and that it has to be treated with kid gloves.  That’s just silly.

I decided to start reviewing shows two years ago because I long felt that my theatre community was not getting the reviews it deserved.  So many of the reviews I read were largely summary with a little blurb of “Oh, and so and so was in it and didn’t do too badly.”  That’s not the purpose of a review.  A review should accomplish the following:

  1. It tells the reader why she or he should or should not watch the show.
  2. It helps promote the show, especially if the show is of high quality.
  3. It points out the things that make the show effective and ineffective.

Point 3 is my biggest concern when I write a review and I take great pride in the fact that I am completely fair and honest when I write up my observations.  While I freely admit that a review is simply an opinion and nothing more, I do harbor the notion that a director or actor may read my opinion and think, “He has a point, what happened here really didn’t work.  I’m going to fix that.”

I disagree with the article’s author when he says that an ineffective production needs to be called “bad” or “awful”.  Criticism is supposed to be constructive and there are ways to call out problems without destroying a production.  When I see sketchy work, I professionally point out where it goes astray and how it might be fixed.

I have a lot of faith in the toughness of actors.  We put ourselves on the line all the time.  And if we can handle the rejection of an audition, we can certainly weather a tough review.  Trust me, I’ve received a bad review or two in my time and here I stand.

At the end of the day the only difference between an amateur production and a professional production may be production values and ticket prices.  It certainly isn’t the talent.  A good story is a good story whether it is told with the best money can buy or if it’s told with a sheet and a piece of cardboard.  For those reason, community theatre needs, and deserves, the right to be judged on equal footing with a professional production.

Give Doug a Lift!

Doug Marr is the founder of the Circle Theatre as well as a renowned local playwright in Omaha, NE.  Doug has been in and out of the hospital for the past few months and the bills are starting to pile up.  His daughter, Emma, has created a fundraising page for him on YouCaring in an attempt to raise $9,500 in the next 60 days to help defray medical expenses.  Doug and his wife, Laura, have donated countless hours to the Omaha theatre community over the past 30 years.  Please click on the link below and help give Doug a lift.  Any little bit helps.  Thank you for your charity.

Give Doug a Lift!

Awakenings, Part 3

And so I ended up being part of Dracula and I was glad for the opportunity.  It was also one of the most challenging shows with which I have ever been involved.  For starters, it was a technical juggernaut.  The show had well over 200 light and sound cues.  On Tech Sunday, the day in which those cues are added to the show for the first time, I was at the theatre from 2pm until 2am and we did not tech the entire show.

We also did not have an entire script until a few days before we opened.  Fortunately, the cast was so talented that having to finish memorizing the show near opening night did not appear to be that much of a difficulty.  Finally, the show was monstrously (no pun intended) long.  At nearly 3.5 hours, we knew we had to have a top flight show in order to maintain an audience’s attention for that long of a time span.

As far as my acting went I received one note repeatedly.  “Chris, you’re too big!”  “Chris, pull it back.”  “Too big, Chris.”  I had once heard that a stage actor needed to do everything three times as big for a person at the rear of the balcony could understand it.  Whether the advice was bad or I was merely misapplying the advice, I still do not know, but what was important was that I finally had one of my flaws as an actor clearly defined and that was crucial to the upcoming awakening.

And the show was very successful.  It drew in good crowds for the BSB.  Good enough that Scott had decided to remount it the next year.  More importantly, I began to feel that I had a home theatre as I formed some very strong bonds of friendships with the actors and crew at this theatre.  Aside from Scott, I also formed strong friendships with Jerry Onik and David Sindelar who invited me to join their film group EFS (Exposed Film Society).  The group’s purpose is to watch the worst movies in existence.  I also became good friends with Daniel Dorner, whom you may remember from The Elephant Man.  Dan played Renfield and is truly one of the kindest people I have ever met.  This is a guy who is so sweet and lovable that he felt guilty when he found out that I had badly wanted the roles of Merrick and Renfield.  And that, my friends, is a class act.

While I was rehearsing Dracula, I was offered the opportunity to get involved in a different aspect of theatre.  Angela Dashner, at the time the resident stage manager of the BSB, asked if I would be willing to serve as an assistant stage manager on the BSB’s next show, You Can’t Take it With You.  I was intrigued by the possibility and agreed to do it.

I found out that stage managing is, in some ways, ten times more difficult than acting.  If acting were construction then stage manager is to director what foreman is to boss.  Cathy had the final word, but the stage manager runs everything.  The stage manager starts up rehearsals, serves as liaison between the actors and the director, checks up on actors, gives calls, sets the stage at the top of acts, and many other numerous duties.  In learning how to do this, I gained a whole new appreciation of this particular job.

And then tragedy struck.

Angela’s father died shortly before the show opened.  He had been sick during a great deal of the rehearsal period, so I had actually been a proper stage manager and not an assistant for a good deal of the process.  Angela bravely offered to still come and run a couple weeks of the show.  I told Scott and Cathy that I could run the show and to let her have the time needed to grieve.

It was grueling, but I did it and I can even say I did it well.  One of the actors, John Brennan, said it was the best stage managed show he had ever been a part of.  Not that there weren’t a couple of snafus along the way.

One of the actors, who shall remain nameless, liked to read when he wasn’t on stage.  There’s nothing wrong with that except an actor has a duty to be where he or she can hear calls.  One night, he didn’t hear me give the call for the top of act 2 and he missed his cue by about 30 seconds, so it was covered reasonably well.  The next night, he missed his cue again.  This time by several minutes.  Of course, this was the day that every reviewer in town came to see the show.  Even worse, this actor’s character introduces a character not yet seen in the show so it is absolutely vital for him to be on stage.

The cast improvised a conversation quite impressively and finally one of the actresses, Amy Kunz, looked out the door and said, “Hey , isn’t that (character’s name) that (missing character’s name) is always talking about?  Let’s invite her in.”  Thank heavens.  I was very glad she did that as I was about ready to leave the booth and hunt this guy down myself.

A few days later, I got a letter from Cathy thanking me for all of my dedication to the theatre and my act of bravery in taking over as stage manager when I was only supposed to be an assistant.  She also apologized profusely for the actor’s sloppiness.  Cathy told me that she, Amy, and Scott were proud to have someone like me involved in theatre and if there were ever anything she could do to please not hesitate to ask.  I was very moved and feeling pretty good after that letter.

A few months later, Scott contacted me and told me he was adapting the movie His Girl Friday for the stage and he wanted me to play a role.  He cast me as Virgil Pinkus and he was a great deal of fun.  Pinkus kind of saves the day for the protagonists of the story, but he is a very sweet guy.  He comes off as stupid, but he is really just uber naïve and innocent.  I took my own innocence and ratcheted it up about a million degrees.

I felt good about that role because it was the first time in a long time that I really felt good as an actor.  Scott told me I was funny as hell.  Dan told me that I took a one note character and got as much mileage out of him as I could.  Cathy gushed about my shouting of her favorite line of mine, “She’s good enough for me.”  I was even noticed by the critics.  One of whom said I hit the right notes in a minor role and another saying that I was the dumb blonde even though I was neither blonde nor a woman and that I made the most out of Pinkus.

I made some serious strides as an actor that year and began to envision a brighter future for myself on the boards.  As great as the year had been, I had no way of knowing that my next show would bring about the awakening and then things were really going to change for me.

To be concluded

Chasing the Dream, Part 2

The Empty Plough really rocked me, but, like the mighty phoenix, I rose again.

With my senior year at Creighton fast approaching, I vowed to do everything within my power to get cast.  The first audition of that year was Children of a Lesser god.  This play had an added level of difficulty due to the use of sign language throughout the entirety of the play.  I decided this would be a good way to help me stand out from the crowd, so, in addition to preparing one of the roles, I also taught myself the ASL alphabet.

I was the first reader of the night and I met Alan Klem, who would eventually become responsible for a key moment in my avocation.  Alan seemed impressed that I had learned the ASL alphabet already and gave me a monologue to read.  And I gave a fairly good showing in the read.  I must have read well enough because Alan moved me to the next phase of the audition which was to do the same scene again, but do it with no words and still get the meaning across to a deaf audience.

I was caught flat footed by that request.

However, I decided to go down swinging.  I gave a Herculean effort, but I knew it wasn’t working.  I looked at Alan and I knew he knew I knew it wasn’t working.  When I finished, I was dismissed with a brief, “Thank you.”  I knew I didn’t need to examine the cast list later that week, but I did anyway.  And, to no surprise, I was not cast.

The one act festival made its return this year, only this time (and ever since) it was directed by theatre students.  I mostly read for a show called Carwash and I had another solid showing.  This time I even lasted until the bitter end as I was asked to stay for a final examination as the director, Brent Tierney, kept several actors just to examine our appearances against one another.  Again, it was another defeat as I failed to find my name on the cast list.

Needless to say, I was really starting to get frustrated with the whole process.  There are very few things that match the colossal risk of the audition.  If you audition properly (even if you don’t do it well), you open yourself up and leave it all hang out.  And to be that open and to get denied again and again can take a tremendous toll because it feels so personal, yet is not.  It is never a director’s intent to make you feel bad.  A director wants you to be the answer to his or her casting problem, but he or she looks for a lot more than just the acting.  It’s how you look, how you sound, how you look compared to others, etc.  The director is looking for the whole.  An actor can only control his or her acting and that counts for a very small part of the casting process.

But I digress.  I had one final chance to get cast.  Creighton was going to produce a play called Death of a Blind, Old Man and it was a modern day interpretation of Oedipus at Colonus.  As I went through the audition, I had another flash.  I noticed that everyone auditioning for the role of Oedipus played him like Superman.  I knew that the only thing super about Oedipus at this point was his ability to suffer.  When I got the chance to read for him, I jerked the rug right out from under his feet.  I made him a truly pitiable, tragic figure and I noted that several people I was reading with really got into this take on the character.

The director, Bill Hutson, stopped the read with a booming, “Good.”  I felt really proud of my work that night and as I sat down, I was congratulated by a friend of mine for an awesome read.  A short while later, Bill asked a few people to stay and dismissed the rest of us, but said, “Just because I’m asking you to leave doesn’t mean you haven’t been cast.”

That Friday, I rushed over to the Performing Arts Center as soon as I got on the campus.  I was tingling with anticipation as I approached the cast line.  Nervously I ran my finger down the list and saw that my name was nowhere to be found. 

I leaned my head against the call board and heaved a heavy sigh.  I just wanted to crumple to the floor and vanish.  For four years, I had given my all and I couldn’t even land a bit part.  I thought my theatre days were over.

But I still wanted to be involved.  So I signed up for an Oral Interpretation of Literature class in the spring semester of my senior year.  As I went through the class, I learned that I slowly won my teacher, Alan Klem, over.  Many of my performances were well received and Alan dubbed me the master of dialects as I seemed to have a knack for mimicking various accents.  Towards the end of the term, Alan stopped me before class and said he had just received the graduating seniors list and saw that my name was on it.  I admitted that I was graduating and he said, “I’m really sorry to hear that.  I wish you had about 2 years left to go because I can see you going a long way in plays.”

With that statement, I found the strength to go on for a little longer.  I had recently discovered community theatre and I decided that I would give theatre one more year and if I could not get cast in that time, then I would call it quits.

And that’s when things took a turn. . .

To be continued