By Pete Lundberg
How do I love Forward Theater? Let me count the ways.
I value Forward Theater because it provides great opportunities for talented local actors, directors, writers, set people, and a whole host of others. I think Forward Theater really raises the bar for all the arts groups in Dane County, not to mention benefiting the economic fabric of not only the downtown, but the entire area.
I love the fact that I laugh until I can barely breath at one production and then yet two months later, I’m struck by a very serious and profound topic that leaves me contemplating what I just saw for days and possibly even weeks or sometimes it’s a combination of both, but one thing that’s consistent - the common thread is that it’s very very high quality in the sets, the acting, and the production and that’s really great. It’s a great whole package. As a business man, I appreciate that Forward Theater operates in the black. As a donor, I like the fact that each dollar that we give is leveraged and squeezed to its best possible use. So, that even on a very lean budget they do some amazingly creative, professional and enjoyable theater. Frankly, it’s about as most fun as you can have without breaking the law. Not that I condone breaking the law, but I do condone having fun. So, I would encourage everyone to go out and see local theater, support Forward Theater and heck, while you’re at it, write a check.
by Sarah Day
Sonia, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Sarah Day and James Ridge in VANYA. Photo by Zane Williams
I can't begin to say how much we've needed all of you to be the seventh member of our cast. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (as well as Cassandra and Nina) have been very anxious for your arrival.
You have made our journey make sense. We knew the play was humorous--although after a couple of weeks of rehearsal, we started to wonder why something was funny--we've seen or done it too many times for ANYthing to seem funny. But, on Thursday night with our first group--we knew we had some funny going on. So MANY laughs were heard. But, I think we were all so thrilled with some of the groans of recognition, the gasps of delight, the cheering on of a character when they made a good decision, or surprised us with their choice. What a joy it is to play.
All our audiences have been just a little different. And that is also a treat for us. We're still figuring out how to work with you - our Cast member number seven. This sweet, thoughtful and deliciously wicked comedy is a joy to play, and I hope that when you
see it, you will agree.
by Marcella Kearns
Cassandra, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Confessions of an English Major
In college, I was an English major. One of my favorite professors, Dr. Robert Butler, worked us hard on analysis. He urged us to pick apart not only paragraphs but syllables, to interpret thematic signs in imagery, to search for patterns in word repetition and sentence rhythms and character names. Every class session he’d whip up a complex stew of evidence for a theory he had about some aspect of a story on our desks and thereby (naturally) spin us up into a breathless frenzy of discovery: “Yeah, yeah, that’s what it means! Whoa, I didn’t see that!” He made us see the magic both in story and interpretation. It felt like a kind of augury, or cryptography at the very least. Some kind of ancient divining, that communion with and connection to text.
Of course, every single time he got us excited about an idea, he’d pull the rug out from under us: “It could be, couldn’t it?” he’d ask. “Or am I reading too much into this?”
I’m on English major overdrive right now, a state which I confess has its merits and its drawbacks, with Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Playwright Christopher Durang’s rich script has gotten to that part of my brain. In the rehearsal hall, I’m endlessly fascinated by the colors others discover through repetition of a scene. I’m tickled hearing the echoes of other plays, other stories, which Durang has by his own words thrown into a “blender” here. Most of all, I’m bowled over by allusion: Durang manages to make me think of the aftermath of the Trojan War, recent natural disasters in Pennsylvania, Alexander the Great, and “The Owl and the Pussy-cat” all in the space of six of my lines, for instance. The accumulation of disparate thoughts sometimes overwhelms, and in observing I can’t help but try to anchor myself in patterns, to order my own thoughts about what the characters are trying to communicate to one another (especially my own, who often communicates through a hodge-podge of poetry and pop culture references). Often I end up having to check myself, to take myself to task with Dr. Butler’s question: Am I reading too much into this? Ultimately, what they’re trying to communicate may be less important than that they’re trying to communicate, to connect to one another. These characters are very vulnerable, achingly human in their flaws, kindnesses, and longing. It’s a sweet ride.
P.S. Speaking of communication, one character is on social media. No, really. Check him out—Spike is on Twitter as @sp1kesohard. Instagram, too. He’s connected. (The “i” in “Spike” is written as a number “1.” Number one. That choice means so many things. Okay, signing off now before I get myself started again.)
For Theatre Geeks
In his own words, playwright Christopher Durang threw themes and characters from the plays of Anton Chekhov into a blender as a foundation for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. He didn’t stop there. He took it all the way back to ancient Greek dramatists. While it’s not at all necessary to have a familiarity with Chekhov or ancients like Aeschylus to enjoy this play, it does make an old English major gleeful to hunt down how often he makes reference. Here’s a pop quiz. Can you sift out what’s ancient Greek, what’s modern Russian, and what’s contemporary Durang from quotes below?
- Well, in a chariot… Agamemnon am I, or what?
- Where/is the end? Where shall the fury of fate/be stilled to sleep, be done with?
- I am a sea gull.
- That’s so, but we shan’t talk of plays or atoms.
- I am in mourning for my life.
- I am the same as I always was, grown worse very likely, since I’m getting lazy; I do nothing and only make a fuss like any old grumbler.
- I hope the blue heron comes later.
- Remember too/the storm and wrath of the whirlwind.
- …we think you should go as Grumpy.
- I realize that climate too is a little in my power, and that a thousand years from now if man should be happy, why then I’ll be a small part of that too.
- My play is about scary change in the weather.
- I am fifty-five, it’s too late to change now.
- And it may be some bird—like a heron.
- Or an owl.
- Next time you won’t go killing Agamemnon, will you?
- But for me already the most of my life has gone by without hope.
- O sad-voiced ocean-bird, heard in the foam/Low by the rocky ledge/Singing a note unhappy hearts can hear
- Portents of dismay/and calamity/yawn beneath the yonder cliff.
- I am one such molecule. And I am lonely.
- I am going in. I walk a cliff-edge in a sea of evil, and evil I will do.
- Trigorin, Chekhov’s The Seagull
- Chorus, Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers
- Nina, Chekhov’s The Seagull
- Arkadina, Chekhov’s The Seagull
- Masha, Chekhov’s The Seagull; Sonia, Durang
- Vanya, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya
- Sonia, Durang
- Chorus, Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers
- Masha, Durang
- Astroff, Uncle Vanya
- Vanya, Durang
- Dorn, The Seagull
- Gayeff, The Cherry Orchard
- Trofimoff, The Cherry Orchard
- Cassandra, Durang
- Electra, Sophocles’ Electra
- First Maiden, Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris
- Cassandra, Durang
- Nina, Durang
- Orestes, Euripides’ Electra
by Scott Rott
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
I am so thrilled that I get to design the costumes for the next play at Forward Theater! That play is Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. I have designed many plays for Forward and for many other theaters. I have designed big shows and small shows, world premieres and classics. Every show is unique but the process is similar.
First comes meetings with the director and the other designers. Figuring out the world of the show. Next is the research. For a costume designer its finding images that will help tell who each character is. Finally we come to design - whether sketching each look or collaging found images. This is a process of discovery. Finding out who each character is and how they are effected by what is happening in the show - what is their journey. Then comes shopping and fitting. What costumes will be built? Are the any quick changes to figure out? Pulling the whole look together.
For Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike this has been an amazing process. Every character is so unique with subtleties and boldness. And there is a costume party in the middle of the play - what could be more fun? This show is truly a labor of love for me. Enjoy the show.