by Kathie Nichols, FTC Board President
Thanksgiving is behind us, but the Holiday Season is far from over. And I like to think of this entire period of time as an opportunity to count blessings and to express gratitude for things that enrich my life. High on that list for me is Forward Theater Company. Little did I know six years ago (when I agreed to serve on the company’s first Board of Directors) that this amazing company and this incredible group of people would—quite literally—change my life! I found myself surrounded by gifted theater professionals (of all stripes) and by people who love theater with a passion that nearly knows no bounds. Everyone invested their precious time, energy and financial support to help this newborn theater get off the ground. This energy, dedication and sense of shared purpose propelled us forward (yes, I know; it’s hard not to use that word). And now here we are - a full-fledged, local, professional theater company thriving in Madison, WI!
There is something magical about Forward’s story. Theater is “magic-making” at its best, and Forward has made plenty of magic on the stage in its short history. But Forward’s very existence is magical: a group of grieving theater professionals decided to start a new theater company in the midst of a severe recession. Who thought that was a good idea??? It wasn’t (on the face of it). But you couldn’t tell that to those people gathered around Celia Klehr’s famous kitchen table. They were all about the magic! And the creativity….and the transformative potential of artistic endeavor. So they would not hear “no” or “that’s unrealistic” or “that’s impossible”. They only heard, “Forward!”
So at this magical time of year, I want to wish you blessings and all the best during the holidays and in the New Year. And I’m saying a special word of thanks for the “little theater company that could”. Forward!
by Nicholas Harazin
Nick Harazin and Marcus Truschinski in 'Sons of the Prophet' (photo by Zane Williams)
Musings of a Minnesotan; turned Wisconsinite; living in Chicago:
A home away from home, nestled between the city I originate from and that which I reside in now, Madison marks a place to which I return almost every year.
I only am able to do this because the incredibly talented people at Forward Theater continue to hire me, and allow me to be a small portion of their overall workings to engage the community at large.
Honestly, as an artist I value the work Forward produces. When asked in Chicago about why I travel here to do work, I tell them that the artists are intelligent, talented, and brimming with vitality. I trust the Forward team to choose thought-provoking, subtle, pulsating plays that both tell the story of a community, and also challenge their way of thinking.
This trust comes only from having had the great fortune to work on Farnsworth Invention, Sons of the Prophet, and currently From Up Here. Beginning with time in the rehearsal room, but culminating in what I believe to be the most important and vibrant part of Forward's work in Madison: the dialogue created and completed by having a talkback after EVERY performance.
Nowhere else have I worked with a theater company which actively and continually seeks to engage, listen and in many cases be challenged by their audience in hopes of becoming both better artists and better citizens within the community. By far, this is my favorite part of my time in Madison.
Often times theaters will boast their community outreach, but very rarely do I find they have an accurate idea of how they are reaching that community. But here in Madison, I see more people stay afterwards to ask questions, probe issues, and create a real dialogue that I hope to the gods goes well beyond the walls of the theater.
Nowhere else, do I see this number of people talk back to a theater company and ask questions of 'why?' or ' how can this be fixed?'
I commend Forward Theater for having the idea for these talkbacks, but I am floored and honored to be asked to engage with you as an audience every time the curtain comes down at the end of a show. Its the main reason I change out of costume so fast. To get out and talk with you.
And From Up Here has been no different. Hearing an audience that is consciously aware of young people and violence in schools, bullying and the subtleties thereof, and wondering how they can be better about ' taking care of their own,' meaning not simply their own children, but the youth as a whole within their community is a miraculous thing to behold. And I behold it every night we perform. Every night we speak with you after.
So I guess these musings serve as more of a thank you or love letter to the people of Madison. Forward-thinking people whose hearts and minds are open to being challenged but willing to fight for their own beliefs. A group of avid citizens who strive to be better, both for themselves and their neighbors. And much like the Barrett family in From Up Here, it is a community that when it sees something that needs to be addressed, fixed, illuminated, it circles its wagons, galvanizes itself, and works toward the goal together.
It is the reason I trust Forward Theater when I work here. The reason I love Madison for the short time I live here. It is the reason I feel honored to share a moment in your lives as you generously allow me to tell you a story and then afterward you tell me yours. I take those stories with me through the world, feeding subsequent communities with similar grace, example and generosity as you have fed me.
My many thanks for having me here.
I hope to see you at the theater this weekend. Our final chance to share From Up Here.
by Alistair Sewell
The initial read-through was a brilliant introduction to rehearsals, as we enjoyed a cold- lunch style spread, it was exciting to finally bring life to the script. And now the weekend approaches when we finally move into the Playhouse. The technical side of the play is starting to smooth over, only possible thanks to our won- derful stage managers Kim Patch and Olivia Bedard. They do a stellar job keeping track of the copious amount of props we handle and keep us on schedule despite our many breaks in character, they are exceptionally patient when I call out "Line!" for Kenny's one to two-word response, and they've put up with the obscene amount of kibble I've spilled to practice for the opening scene.
Liz Flahive has an acute ability to balance how close the audience gets to the issues that arise in the play. She speckles the play with humor after emotional segments and refrains from dramatizing the story to the point of becoming unrelatable. I found aligning myself to the ideas portrayed through the script was easy, when it comes to the dialogue of teenagers specifically, Liz Flahive's writing is right on. Not one to exude self-confidence, most of Kenny's answers are either short or indirect. This aversion of holding steadfast to one belief or opinion affects his willingness to vocalize his emotions and to healthily process them with others. The sheer lack of communication between Kenny and his mother Grace reveals itself when they're sitting side-by-side in a police station, of all places. Grace addresses the "incident" with Kenny, because it's an emotionally charged subject, and he attempts to shut it down. However, while not everything that needs to be expressed is said between them, their conversation in the station is a small sign of hope for Kenny and Grace.
The rehearsal process has been terrific so far and I can't wait to head into the performance run.
Okay, okay, one last thing! Here is one of my favorite moments in the play. Grace tries to ameliorate Kenny's less-than-satisfactory situation on the morning of his return to school by attempting to divert his energies to a new — utterly harmless! — skill. She presents him with a saxophone she bought, because apparently he had mentioned to his doctor that he might consider "band" as a potential prospect to finding an outlet. Lauren gives him a slingshot. Her abrasive, humorous approach is exactly what Kenny needs, and she demonstrates that she is perhaps the only person who can face what Kenny did and not be afraid to touch him.
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.