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.

Ingredients:

  • 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

Steps:

  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!

 

 

 

A Writer Prepares - July Blog 2014

by Sam White


When I learned I was commissioned to write a monologue for Forward Theater's upcoming festival, I was overwhelmed. Looking at the list of commissioned playwrights, I was honored, humbled and significantly freaked out. All tremendous writers, I... completely unworthy! Then, when I discovered the festival's literary theme – "Banned Books." The bottom dropped out.

Do not misunderstand. I think it's a marvelous idea. The issues surrounding banned and challenged books are fertile territory to explore, full of important issues, and limitless "dramatic" possibility. Today, besides being in danger of possible extinction, books are still in danger of censorship! There are even in our day and age – the 21st Century – books that some people don't want you to read. Astonishing!

Regardless, what really made me balk at this clever and important theme – and this is a frightful admission for a theater artist – I am not literary person. Don't tell anyone, but I do not very well read. I'm not a "good reader." Credit that to a mild case of undiagnosed dyslexia and a state of perpetual motion. I'm a slow reader and I find it challenging to sit still long enough to read anything... especially fiction. It's not that I don't read. I do. But when I pick up something to read, it is invariably either a play or research about a play.

So when I reviewed the background material Forward supplied – a list of the 100 most banned, challenged, or censored books, my heart sank even further. I'd read maybe two – One Flew Over the Cuckoos' Nest and Catcher in the Rye – one because I was directing the play and the other because I had to read it in high school. I never even read any of those Harry Potter things, which are on that villainous banned book list, too. Yeah, I'm not normal. And all those books I was supposed to read throughout my forgettable scholastic career? Well... perhaps another confession I should not make. Suffice it to say, I was not a studious youth. There was too much adventure to be had to waste valuable time sitting in a room reading something.

So, looking at the list of infamous and often revered books I was lost. I wasn't about to read Slaughterhouse-Five just so I could write a monologue about it. Despite the fact it would be undoubtedly good for me, I'd enjoy it immensely and come up with a lot of ideas, that's not what I wanted to do. Reading a book just so I could write about it would take too long and I probably fall asleep – which invariably happens when I try to read a book. Bottom line, I had no idea what to write. NONE! Not only was I faced with I subject I felt was over my head, I was issued a deadline! I've lived deadline life before during a brief, shining career as a journalist, but a deadline for a creative work? Heaven forefend! Yeah, well, welcome to the real world, dude.

So almost immediately I exchanged a few ideas with Forward's dramaturge, Kimberly Megna Yarnall. She quickly became my muse, my Melpomene, my Thalia (primarily the later). One of the primary ideas to come out of our correspondences, which eased my anguish, was that I didn't have to write something profound and deep. The main goal, as a commissioned playwright, was that I needed to write something more specific. Something that worked with the rest of the pieces – see, the other writers got their stuff done before the deadline – jerks. Then it clicked.

I stuck to what I know best, being a character... I mean creating a character. I didn't need to, nor should I write something based on profound literary themes or a great piece of literature. I needed to write something character-based. What better character to create for this particular project than a portraiture of a librarian. Someone who is on the front lines of the banned book war, a battle that is essentially over our freedom of speech. Librarians are truly in the trenches on this battlefield. They are the generals in this fight.

Ironically, they are not all on the same side. And there lies one of the keys in writing stuff – where there is irony, there is often great theater. So here is the origin of my piece, "Bad Librarian." I wanted to explore the idea of being in the midst of combat. So Miss Helberschlaben was created. Kimberly was delighted and encouraging – frankly something I desperately needed. Being an actor by nature and a writer by necessity (long story there), that's all I needed to throw myself into the project. Often, one "atta boy" goes a long way. Doesn't it for all of us?

She also affirmed we absolutely needed that type of representation in our festival. A librarian was a perfect fit. To add even a little more texture to the festival, we decided a comic bent would be nice – like I can help writing anything that isn't humorous. When I get serious about anything, it's generally droll and pedantic.

The first draft is now done, only a few weeks behind deadline. We have several very fine actresses in mind for the role and I am looking forward to developing the piece further. Nothing is more enlightening for a playwright, than putting a work into the hands, or rather the voice of a good actor. That is where things really come to life.

So mission mostly accomplished and lesson relearned. Write what you know. I know crazy, fun characters, because I are one. However, by writing something from the perspective of a combatant in this war against censorship, it has given me something to say. Because, bottom line, if you don't have something to say, how can you write anything?

Now, I need to thank Kimberly for her guidance and encouragement. I also hope you come out to the libraries where the commission pieces will be performed this fall. As well as to the festival in February, which is part of FTC's season. The monologue festival has become a semi-annual favorite of our audiences, and it's an exciting and unique type of theater experience. We'd love to see you there.