Herald Times Review – Production features praiseworthy cast

Tantrum Time[1]“In her bones those five fingers know, that hand aches to speak out, and something in her mind is asleep. How do I nudge that awake?” These are the passionate words of Annie Sullivan as represented in William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker,” a staged docudrama telling the story of Helen Keller’s difficult upbringing.

“The Miracle Worker” makes one half of Indiana Festival Theatre’s 2014 repertory plays, the other half being Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The two plays (which will rotate in the Wells-Metz Theatre through July 27th) share a terrific cast assembled from professional and student actors.

Annie Sullivan answers her own question — “How do I nudge that (Helen’s potential for using language) awake” — with three words: “Keep at it.” As someone who overcame blindness herself, Sullivan refuses to give up on her mission of teaching young Helen. Through Helen’s screaming, hitting, kicking, slapping and throwing (not to mention a lack of cooperation from Helen’s parents), Sullivan perseveres heroically.

“The Miracle Worker” was adapted from Helen Keller’s autobiography “The Story of My Life” first into a 90-minute teleplay, then into a stage play, garnering the 1960 Tony Award for Best Play. At its heart, “The Miracle Worker” is a story about love and the lengths to which we go for it. In the case of Helen Keller, the love her parents feel compels them to spoil her. The love her teacher feels compels her to devote herself to giving Helen the gift of language.

Dale McFadden’s direction of “The Miracle Worker” is tasteful, simple and adroit. McFadden’s design team effectively establishes the atmosphere of 1880s Alabama.

Hillary Clemens brilliantly realized the character of Annie Sullivan in this production. Clemens brought scalpel-edged focus to the role, resulting in a nuanced and cogent performance.

Similarly admirable is the work of Lola Kennedy in the challenging role of 6-year-old Helen Keller. Not only does Kennedy consistently maintain a realistic portrayal of her character’s disabilities, but she also sustains high energy and reactiveness on stage.

A fervent (albeit somewhat underwritten) subplot involves Helen’s half-brother James (Adam St. John) searching for love and approval from his father. St. John is convincing and humorously cynical as James.

A highlight of this production is Rob Johansen’s fight direction. The play is fight-heavy, with multiple incidents blurring the lines between spelling lessons and wrestling matches. Actors adeptly and vigorously execute Johansen’s seamless choreography.

As Mr. and Mrs. Keller, David Kortemeier and Jenny McKnight bring the audience to understand their characters’ weaknesses in raising Helen. The Kellers struggle to let go of Helen and leave her to Sullivan’s care. Helen’s parents cannot help but treat her with pity, when firm discipline and high expectations will be more beneficial in the long run.

In smaller roles, Nancy Lipschultz (Aunt Ev), Ben Abbott (Doctor), Mara Lefler (Viney) and Ian Martin (Mr. Anagnos) achieve equally praiseworthy performances.

Gentle humor will keep the audience interested through this lengthy three-act play. Helen’s journey is an arduous one, and it is not until well into the second act that she manages to fold a napkin independently. Despite this slow-moving plot, tensions soared on stage; moments of boredom were few and far between.

“Language is to the mind as light is to the eyes,” claims Annie Sullivan near the beginning of “The Miracle Worker.” The events of this play only span a short period of Keller’s childhood, but they were an essential step in Keller becoming the renowned writer and humanitarian she was. This remarkably touching play will humble and inspire audiences, reminding us that determination and patience are the primary ingredients for great achievement.

If you go

WHO: Indiana Festival Theatre.

WHAT: “The Miracle Worker” by William Gibson.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday, Sunday and July 22, 24 and 26; 2 p.m. Saturday and July 27.

WHERE: Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

TICKETS: $15-$25. Available at www.theatre.indiana.edu or call the IU Auditorium Box Office 812-855-1103.

Reprinted with permission.

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WFIU – The Miracle Worker: A Story Well Worth Retelling


“The production’s Helen, Lola Kennedy was simply amazing. Her spirit, her anger, her own frustration and occasional joy were wonderfully transparent. Never for a moment did you think that she could see or hear.”

“If you don’t come to the show, you’ll have to put up with friends who do telling you that they’re sorry you missed it in the months and perhaps years to come.”

You can hear the full story at WFIU and see The Miracle Worker on stage in the Wells-Metz Theatre, July 22, 24 and 26 at 7:30pm, and July 26th at 2pm. For tickets, visit theatre.indiana.edu.


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Summer School

Tantrum Time[1]

The Miracle Worker’s Hillary Clemens and Bloomington’s own Lola Kennedy

The Indiana Festival Theatre is underway in Bloomington, and the move to Indiana University’s local campus has proven worthwhile to managing director Drew Bratton.

“By moving into our full-time theater spaces here on the Bloomington campus we’ve had the ability to do more technically complicated theater, do larger scale productions,” Bratton said. “We were sorry to leave Nashville and the tradition of the Brown County Playhouse, but with the opportunities to do more and involve more students and members of the community, our summer company has grown immensely.”

IU’s summer theater program was located for years at the Brown County Playhouse in Nashville, until it moved to the Bloomington campus in 2011.

Everyone involved in the summer program, including the students, are paid a professional salary for their work. This makes it a unique, first-time experience for a lot of the cast and crew.

“We’re very proud of the fact that we run a full-fledged summer based company here in Bloomington,” Bratton said. “It’s sort of the first of its kind.”

Bratton said the Theatre Department at IU focuses on students’ academic responsibilities during the school year, so students usually make up 100% of the cast and crew for shows during the fall and spring semesters.

And that’s the other key difference with the Indiana Festival Theatre — they bring in professionals to work alongside the students.

This year two designers on faculty joined the team: Reuben Lucas on scenic design and Linda Pisano on costumes. And as they’ve done since the summer program came to Bloomington, the company is recruiting professional actors through the Actor’s Equity Association, including Hillary Clemens, Andy Sullivan, Jenny McKnight, David Kortemeier and IU professor Nancy Lipschultz.

“There’s a little less hecticness in the summer, simply because everybody involved isn’t also going to class,” Bratton said. “We have a little bit more time, we can work rehearsals during the day without too many conflicts. They get a taste of what that really feels like, to be in that professional world. That being said, there’s the whole added pressure of trying to do five shows in a really compact period of time.”

Work for the IFT started in May and continues throughout the summer, which means students are doing five shows in what Bratton said would normally span five months.

He explained another challenge, that the sets this year are quite different from one another, making the component of scenic construction and changeovers day to day truly transformative.

“It’s really quite miraculous to see,” he said. “Some people actually see two shows in one day, so you can see Twelfth Night with a mid-Shakespearean setting in Italy, and later that evening you come back and it’s The Miracle Worker, and it’s America in the 1880s. That’s part of what people always talk about as theater magic. A lot of work goes into the theater magic, but we’re happy to create that illusion for people.”

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a Shakespeare comedy being performed this year in repertory with the Helen Keller drama The Miracle Worker.

Chad Singer, a sophomore at IU, is performing in Schoolhouse Rock Live! and Twelfth Night. It’s Singer’s first time in the summer program, and his first time on a main stage. He joined because he plans on going into musical theater after graduation.

“It’s really inspiring and eye-opening to be working with professionals,” Singer said. “I’m very motivated and driven when I’m with those people.”

“Being in Twelfth Night, I don’t think I’ve ever understood more of [Shakespeare’s] language than in that process,” said Jennifer Smith, a rising senior at IU who is also house manager for Schoolhouse Rock Live!. “ Everyone in the show is so talented, and they’re all really good at communicating the story with language that’s kind of difficult to understand.”

Schoolhouse Rock

Schoolhouse Rock Live! is this year’s show for children, a musical based on songs from the popular 1970’s animated series.

“We have seen an older crowd turn out that grew up with the cartoon,” Bratton said, “and a lot of people raised in the 70’s are raising kids now too. We like to do programming that’s for kids but doesn’t play down to kids, doesn’t make their parents fall asleep with boredom.”

To cater to a younger crowd, it’s being performed in a small studio space separate from the other four shows.

“The kids are really responsive,” Singer said. “It’s cute, we bring them up to dance, it’s really fun to see their reactions. The Studio Theater provides a more intimate experience for the audience, it’s nice for the kids.”

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times

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“We will draw the curtain and show you the picture.”

Before you see Twelfth Night in the Wells- Metz Theatre, flip through our audience guide for a behind the curtain look at our production!



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Indiana Festival Theatre’s ‘Twelfth Night’ fast-paced, uproarious, moving

The 12th night of Christmas, in Tudor England, was a night marked by social unrest; peasants superseded their landlords, servants were the betters of their masters, law subsided to festivity and the lines of gender were crossed. This immoderate celebration was dubbed the “Feast of Fools.” All things considered, it’s easy to understand Shakespeare’s reasoning in titling his 1602 comedy “Twelfth Night.”

Though a fitting name, “Twelfth Night” was not actually the play’s original title; it was first called “What You Will.”

Indiana Festival Theatre brings a superb production of “Twelfth Night” (or “What You Will”) to the Wells-Metz Theatre this month as its annual Shakespearean comedy. Starting next weekend, “Twelfth Night” will play in rotating repertory with William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker,” based on the story of Helen Keller. These productions combine the talents of IU’s best student actors with those of seasoned professional actors.

“Twelfth Night” incorporates all the aforementioned aspects of the “Feast of Fools.” The play’s primary plot revolves around Viola (Hillary Clemens), a shipwrecked young lady, swapping genders and disguising herself as a page to Duke Orsino (Ian Martin). Additionally, echoing the power reversals of the “Feast of Fools,” it is the characters of lower stations driving the plot forward.

Not yet 20 minutes into the play, a dicey love triangle has already developed. Viola loves Duke Orsino, who thinks she is a boy, Duke Orsino loves Countess Olivia (Jenny McKnight), who will have none of him, and Countess Olivia loves Viola, also duped by the disguise. As if this weren’t enough, Shakespeare throws a new wrench into the works: Olivia’s drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch (David Kortemeier), is attempting to set Olivia up with his degenerate companion Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ben Abbott).

To add a little more fun, Shakespeare brings in a wild subplot involving Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Olivia’s maid Maria (Mara Lefler) conspiring to undo Olivia’s fastidious and egotistical steward Malvolio (Rob Johansen).

Under the inventive and masterful direction of Jonathan Michaelsen, the show’s actors achieve profound comedy and comic profundity. Rob Johansen brought the house down with his impassioned portrayal of Malvolio, the butt of the play’s grand joke. Johansen effectively highlighted Malvolio’s tragic flaws: arrogance and asininity.

Jenny McKnight was convincing as the love-struck Countess Olivia. David Kortemeier and Ben Abbott were hilarious as the carousing duo of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.

Nat Zegree played Feste, Olivia’s jester, as well as providing the show’s music. Wielding on various occasions a guitar, a drum and a melodica, Zegree performed original music for scene transitions and the scenes themselves. At times, he was assisted by violinist Chad Singer. In his acting role, Zegree made the fool wise, quirky and lively.

Tim Pyles (Fabian), Ian Martin (Duke Orsino), David Gordon-Johnson (Sebastian), Mara Lefler (Maria), Adam St. John (Antonio) and Hillary Clemens (Viola) rounded out the principal cast of “Twelfth Night” with comfortable yet energetic performances. The show had no weak links.

Scenic designer Reuben Lucas crafted a huge, beautiful set for “Twelfth Night.” Linda Pisano’s costumes were sometimes regal, sometimes oceanic and always appropriate for the character.

Michaelsen’s production is fast-paced and hysterical. For all the mistaken identities, there is potential for confusion. However, the actors color and chew the Bard’s language clearly enough that audience members needn’t be Shakespeare scholars to follow the story or get the jokes.

Attendees might choose to arrive slightly early for live pre-show music and a little painless audience participation.

To catch an uproarious and moving performance, make your way to Seventh and Jordan this month to see Indiana Festival Theatre’s exquisite production of “Twelfth Night.”

Reprinted with permission from the Herald Times

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From Saturday Morning to the Stage: An interview with George Keating, Co-Author of “School House Rock Live!”


George Keating is a busy man. He co-wrote the book for School House Rock Live!, acted in the original cast, and recently directed it at the Marriot Theatre in Chicago. Currently, he is performing Les Miserables at Drury Lane Theatre and rehearsing for Brigadoon at the Goodman Theatre. It is a gorgeous afternoon in Chicago, however, and he is out walking his two small dogs. “They remind me of what’s important in life,” he says. I called George to chat with him about his experiences working on School House Rock Live!

Keating and Scott Ferguson, two of the three authors of the book for School House Rock Live!, met after graduating from college in 1993. Their idea for the show came from a shared love of the original TV program, School House Rock!. After finally securing the rights to it, the show opened in the basement of a café in Chicago with performances during the week and late on Friday and Saturday nights.

Keating explains how he and Ferguson didn’t want the show to simply be a review of the songs from the cartoon. He wanted a plot that the audience could follow with characters. The story began with a preliminary idea and grew as the cast did improvisation with the material. “The actors were incredibly important in the process,” he says. “From there, we just kept shaping it and it kept evolving. It has always been an evolution, but it has also been about us honoring and loving the material from the original cartoons.”

Despite the original show’s young audience, “We never wrote it as a children’s theatre piece,” Keating says. “This was a nostalgia piece for adults like me who had these memories of watching School House Rock! on Saturday mornings with their cereal bowl in front of them. Our performances were BYOB.” Apart from this, however, there was also a touring version of the show that went around to schools and libraries. “That’s one of the challenges we had. With the adults we could have a little more of a tongue-in-cheek approach to the show. But with the children’s touring show it was always a celebration.”

Keating just celebrated the 20th anniversary of School House Rock Live! last year with the original cast and crew. The reunion was held in the basement where the show opened, and Bob Dorough, the original musical director from School House Rock! was there. Twenty-one years later, Keating said, the show is still exciting for audiences because “it invites them to participate. It makes room for them. The show is all about inclusiveness. It says play is for everybody, no matter how old you are.” This musical certainly has a place in people’s hearts. For instance, three couples have gotten married after meeting while working together on the show!

This summer, Indiana University’s professional summer theatre, Indiana Festival Theatre, is presenting a production of School House Rock Live! directed by Lee Cromwell with Musical Direction by Nat Zegree. The show opens on June 21st and runs until July 12th. Call the box office at 812-855-0514 or visit theatre.indiana.edu for more information on Indiana Festival Theatre.

Mandy Wenz is a rising Junior at Indiana University, majoring in Theatre & Drama with a General Honors Notation from the Hutton Honors College. She is currently interning with the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance as a Marketing Assistant. 

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HERALD TIMES THEATER REVIEW: ‘GODSPELL’ Modern touches added to IFT’s ‘Godspell’

Flower children singing and dancing to rock and roll, clownish sock puppetry, story-telling through rap … these don’t quite conjure up thoughts of Jesus and his Holy Disciples, but these are the exact devices used to tell Jesus’s story in “Godspell.”

Indiana Festival Theatre opens its summer 2014 season with “Godspell,” directed and choreographed by George Pinney. As the head of IU’s musical theater program, Pinney has directed or choreographed more than 50 productions for IU Theatre.

The show was considered revolutionary at its inception back in 1970, and it somehow still feels that way in 2014. The piece came to be when John-Michael Tebelak, dissatisfied with the practices and attitudes of mainstream Christian churches, set out to recreate “the simple, joyful message that (he) felt the first time (he) read (the Gospels).” Tebelak saw the theater as a perfect medium for his mission.

As audience members, we join the disciples in learning the moral teachings of Jesus. The 10 actors in “Godspell” use music, dancing, puppetry, clowning, games, rap and whimsical voices to tell parables from the Bible. These devices are humorous at some points, yet profound at others.

Other unusual traits of the show: Actors, with the exceptions of Jesus and John the Baptist/Judas, go by their own personal names. All 10 of the actors remain on stage throughout the show. And if you choose to attend, you may be invited to participate.

Even aside from the religious aspects, “Godspell” undoubtedly radiates joy. Stephen Schwartz’s music incites feelings of community, love and celebration. Stylistically, the score incorporates influences from hard rock, gospel, classic show tunes and spiritual hymns.

Arguably, the production’s strongest attribute is its vocal performances. Caleb Fath’s singing in the role of Jesus was — pun intended — heavenly. Vocal abilities were strong across the board, with no noticeable weak links in the cast. Todd Aulwurm, Mia Fitzgibbon and Colin Schreier (John the Baptist/Judas) all had particularly impressive solo songs.

The musical accompaniment was masterfully realized by a five-piece rock band under the leadership of Terry LaBolt. Their play..ing provided the ideal sonic backdrop for the singers.

The show is updated from its initial 1970 premiere by the additions of abundant pop-culture references and modern technology. The evening started out with actors running across the stage absorbed in their own phones and tablets. This introduction effectively contrasted the communal atmosphere that permeated through the rest of the play.

“Godspell” is often remembered for its hit song “Day by Day” (beautifully led by in this production by Kelsey Shaw). However, audience members may leave the theater humming more unfamiliar tunes, such as “Learn Your Lessons Well,” “All for the Best” and “Light of the World.” Though each disciple has one solo feature in the performance, almost every song eventually escalates to include participation from the entire company.

Caleb Fath plays Jesus with confidence, friendliness, positivity and sincerity. His pure voice was perfectly suited to the part; this was especially apparent during his touching rendition of “Beautiful City.”

Despite the brightness and humor of the show’s bulk, it did manage to strike more serious tones in the second act. This generally lighthearted musical did not shy away from depicting the full weight of its subject.

Robbie Stanton’s costume design was a marvelous triumph. Stanton injected a profusion of color into the Wells-Metz Theatre. Lighting designer Lee Burckes also made significant contributions, using the lights to intensify dramatic moments.

Regardless of one’s religious inclinations or lack thereof, it’s hard to attend “Godspell” without feeling overcome by a sense of glory. The show uses the powers of music and story-telling to rejoice and worship. If you are looking for a fresh take on an ancient story, “Godspell” is sure to please.

If you go

WHO: Indiana Festival Theatre.

WHAT: “Godspell” by Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and June 17-21, 24-28; 2 p.m. Sunday and June 22, 29.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre.

TICKETS: $15-$25. Available at www.theatre.indiana.edu or call the IU Auditorium box office at 812-855-1103.

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