On Designing "From Up Here" - October Blog 2014

by Joe Varga


The most significant thing about stage design, at least from my point of view, is that it is a collaborative process. One thing that makes the process exciting is that it's always different each time because of the personnel involved and the specific script, not to mention a host of other variables. Of course we designers all collaborate with each other, depending on our specialty be it scenery, costumes, lighting, projection, sound, or another specialty. But we all work with the script and the director, which is the prime relationship among us.

Jen Gray and I have worked together before – on last year's Sons of the Prophet and previously on The Dairy of Anne Frank, so we've established a record of mutual trust and artistic success. We first met to discuss this script several months ago. This time we found ourselves literally taking notes off of each other. Part of collaboration involves an effort at revealing our own impressions and trading them back and forth until they start to coalesce into a viable way of staging the show. At one of our early meetings I brought in a photo from a NY Times article showing the aftermath of a devastating storm in a suburban neighborhood. Ordinary items such as a door and tree branches were strewn about in the picture, against a bluish sky. I can't say precisely why, but the image resonated for me, perhaps because the family in the play undergoes some sort of social and emotional storm that has upset the normal course of their lives... the script mentions that the family plans on selling their home because of it. These characters are under unusual stress and some exhibit a steady breakdown. But then there is also the title of the play which suggests a point of view, perhaps a remote aerial one; it is also one that offers a redeeming perspective contributed by the character of the roving aunt.

If all goes well, designer and director sooner or later make a creative leap to arrive at an image that provides a foundation for the dramatic storytelling in the script. Jen suggested sky...what if the set were mapped in its entirety with the sky image. Hey, I know a visual idea that 'rings' when I hear it. So I ran with this one. Let actors, dialogue, plot and props establish the specific physical 'where' of the play. Let the design offer a metaphorical context that encompasses the emotional point of view. Besides, this particular design also leaves room for projections that can augment the visualization for each scene.

In terms of tasks involved, the design process is variable according to the nature of the production. I knew there had to be a scale model built to explain what I was seeing in my head, but more often than not my scenic models are 'white' i.e. colorless and only showing proportion and placement of scenic items. This time I sensed the model absolutely had to be in color ...basically, only two colors predominantly: the blue of sky and the white of clouds. Looking again at the photo that I found inspirational, I decided to try floating ordinary objects and furniture against the sky map to symbolize upheaval in the lives of the characters. Halfway through building the model it occurred to me that there's a famous painter whose work supports the direction in which the design was going: Rene Magritte. Unlike phantasmagorical surrealists like Dali, Magritte was a surrealist of the "quotidian" who typically presented everyday objects and people in odd juxtapositions. To a large extent that is the context of this play: ordinary people caught in a maelstrom all their own... yet it's recognizably a situation that can speak to a contemporary audience. If the play has a resolution, it is best summed up in the final moments of the script, in which a change of perspective lends a note of hope.



Accio-Blogus! - September Blog 2014

by Shannon Barry


My husband, William Bolz (member of Forward Theater Company's Advisory Company), and I have many things in common (which is a good thing when you decide to spend the rest of your life with someone). One of those things is a deep love of theater. Another is an obsession for reading – especially books from the fantasy genre. And a third is for entertaining – specifically throwing costume parties for our creative, artsy friends. When we heard that this year's theme for one of our favorite annual events – Feast Forward – was "banned books," it seemed like a perfect opportunity to combine many of our loves together into one delightful evening of merriment with our wonderful friends by throwing a "Harry Potter" themed dinner party (with costumes, of course). The bonus is that we also get to benefit an incredible organization which is near and dear to our hearts.

Now neither Bill nor I are culinary masters by any stretch of the imagination. However, it has been so much fun planning a themed menu and trying to figure out the best recipe for "Butter Beer" for our guests, not to mention pulling together our costumes and coming up with other creative, Harry Potter inspired surprises for our dinner party. Planning this party has been one of the easiest we've ever done due to the outstanding support we've received from the Forward team. (In fact, I think our biggest challenge is going to be mustering the patience to wait until October 11th to reveal all we have in store for our guests.)

Though we have attended Feast Forward dinners in the past, this is the first year we are hosting a dinner of our own. The Feast Forward concept is incredibly brilliant. It provides us with the opportunity to spend quality time with our guests in an intimate setting over dinner and then to celebrate with other Forward supporters at Overture with wonderful desserts and awesome entertainment.

As the executive director of a local non-profit, I am very particular about which non-profits I support with my time and treasure. Forward Theater Company is at the top of my list because they are a well-run, fiscally sound organization that provides a high quality theater experience for Madison audiences. Additionally, they focus on connecting with the broader community through education and outreach, partnering with other local non-profits, encouraging dialogue with their audiences through talk backs at every show, and employing outstanding theater professionals and artists from our area. My support of Forward Theater Company is an investment in my community.



Cooking for Literary Nerds - August Blog 2014

by Kimberly Megna Yarnall

Recipe for a Perfect Workday (if you are a literary nerd in the theater)

Preparation time: 5 hours

Yields: An exciting evening of new work sure to surprise, delight, and inspire audiences.


  • One straight-backed wooden chair
  • One small table
  • One obscenely large chai latte
  • One cookie, preferably oatmeal, larger than the latte
  • One laptop
  • 80 brand-spanking-new monologues


  1. Arrange the first five ingredients to find the perfect balance of comfort and attention. You want to feel cozy and relaxed but alert and present before adding the last ingredient.
  2. Turn on the laptop and open the Mother Of All Monologue Spreadsheets. Take a moment to bask in its color-coded organizational glory.
  3. Open the Submissions folder. Using your cursor take a quick tour of the file names enjoying all the potential contained in the list of monologue titles.
  4. Cross-reference the spreadsheet and monologue files making sure it’s all queued up correctly. Bask in the organization prowess of your colleagues (namely Karen Moeller).
  5. Make a note of the title and open your first monologue file.
  6. Stop here and take a breath. This is the moment: 100% potential energy at the cusp of becoming kinetic. It’s the very apex before the first downhill of the rollercoaster. What amazing ideas were sparked in the minds of these writers by the festival title we chose (Out of the Fire - Banned Books)? What historical perspectives, heartfelt pleas, hilarious tell-alls, tragic characters, and surprising glimpses of a fantastic future await? Who will charm you? Disarm you? Dismember and disgust you? Who will move you? To tears? To snorty laughter? Who will make you spill your latte or gorge on your cookie?
  7. Read and evaluate.
  8. Read and evaluate.
  9. Read and evaluate.
  10. Stop here and think about all of the writers across the country who sat down to write these words – maybe with a similar ingredient list. Think about the good energy created and sent out into the universe when people dig deep and find something they want to say and then say it and then send it and then you read it.
  11. Consider getting another latte or cookie or both.
  12. Make a trip to the restroom.
  13. Read and evaluate.
  14. Read and evaluate. (Rinse and repeat until every file is completed.)
  15. Stop here and take a breath. You’ve done it. You’ve paid homage to the muse. You’ve done good work. You’ve been open and honest and ready to receive. You’ve been generous and critical and earnest. You’ve done your small part in creating an inspiring event for audiences. You’ve supported new work.
  16. Review the Mother Of All Monologue Spreadsheets and bask in the completed column under your initials.
  17. Wait with fidgety anticipation for opening night (and consider going decaf next year).



Summer Plays in Wisconsin - August Blog 2014

by Richard Ganoung

Here in the Midwest we enjoy Summer the old fashioned way, we EARN it! Among the myriad festivities which abound this time of year I'd like to offer a jaunt to our beloved Door County where audiences can be entertained under the stars at both American Folklore Theatre and Door Shakespeare. Last August, I had the privilege of visiting these outdoor venues in the "Thumb of Wisconsin" and I can promise you laughter and rejuvenation should you choose to make a long weekend of hiking, swimming, and theater going. And the best part is you can often wear the same clothes to all three! It's an unassuming, relaxed, and carefree adventure in the great outdoors. You'll see familiar faces onstage and behind the scenes at these venues as many of the theater professionals there have worked with Forward Theater. As an actor I thoroughly enjoy watching companies throughout my state and marvel at the fortitude of individuals who relocate their whole lives for a few months each summer. Actors who battle mosquitoes, ticks, and heat exhaustion, just to ring laughter from hundreds of grateful audience members. Please visit FolkloreTheatre.com and DoorShakespeare.com for more information. I'm half tempted here to include lodging information and restaurant tips but I've been asked to write only about the 'play experience'. Maybe Forward could send me for another weekend this year to just check out hotels and restaurants? I should get on that! Best wishes for a safe and relaxing summer to you all. See you in the lobby!