7th and Jordan Spotlight Series: Naomi S. Gold

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With Big Fish up and running, we’re back yet again with a spotlight on Naomi S. Gold, MFA candidate in Lighting Design fulfilling her thesis with her work on Big Fish.

How do you feel the lighting design for Big Fish is the culmination of your time here at IU, both in the classroom and onstage? What drew you to the show?

Naomi: What firstly drew me to the show was the fact that it is all about storytelling and things that are larger than life. Which can be quite fun for a lighting designer since lighting is a device used for visual storytelling. This production has been a great culmination of my time here at IU because it (indirectly) show my organizational skills with how I have to keep everything in order, between follow spots, drafting, cueing the book scenes versus the music, etc. This production has required all of my skills to work together in order to produce a design that its cohesive and helps tell the story of Big Fish.

Thoughts on the joys of working with Rich?

Naomi: Rich has been absolutely amazing to work with. From the start, he and I have had great conversations on the story and how we want to use lighting as a device to bring that story to life. In a way, this production can really relate to everyone in a personal manner, and I really believe that helped Rich and I connect with both one another and the musical.

Fun facts – where ya from, hobbies, pets, what you do to unwind after a long day of class and rehearsal, fave current tv show (or podcast)?

Naomi: I’m from Aurora, Colorado. I love to spend my time outdoors, especially in the Rocky Mountains. I also enjoy reading and I am a huge fanatic of pinball machines. Both old and new. I’m also still a kid in the fact that I still collect pressed pennies as souvenirs from every place I go… I even got some when I was in Israel! To unwind, I tend to make a cup of tea, put on my pajamas and fuzzy socks and either watch tv or read until I fall asleep. My all-time favorite TV show is Grey’s Anatomy; it can’t get better than that!

And finally, toilet paper. Over or under?

Naomi: Toilet paper is most definitely over, not under. If you look at the patent for the toilet paper roll, it specifies that the roll must go over and not under 😂

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7th and Jordan Spotlight Series: Elizabeth Grace Davis

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Aaaaaand we’re back, with a spotlight on another of our MFA Thesis Project students. Today we bring you Elizabeth Grace Davis, candidate for her MFA in Costume Design.

How do you feel the costume design for Big Fish is the culmination of your time here at IU, both in the classroom and onstage? What drew you to the show?

Lizzie: Over my past three years at IU I have grown a lot personally and professionally. I feel like the costume design for Big Fish is a great accumulation of everything I have learned here: plays on colour and pattern, using unique materials, crafting, dying, etc… I think this show really challenged me to think outside of the box in the terms of challenging what we decide is reality. This show has so many fantastical elements that pushed me, and the whole design team, to make bold choices and create magical moments. Moreover, this piece is all about the journey that the people go on throughout their lives, and taking the audience on this journey seems very fitting for my thesis show.

Thoughts on the joys of working with Rich?

Lizzie: Rich has been an absolute joy to work with! He is someone who loves to just bounce ideas back and forth, which is all the better for the show. Each time I read the Big Fish script, or see a run-through, I see a new layer to the story. Having sat in on quite a few rehearsals, I have really enjoyed watching rich and the actors dissect the intricacies of the script and peel back the layers of the characters.

Fun facts – where ya from, hobbies, pets, what you do to unwind after a long day of class and rehearsal, fave current tv show (or podcast)?

Lizzie: I’m originally from a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio called Solon. I have one dog, Sophie, and one cat, Kit Kat. They are the loves of my life. After class, I mostly work on my next show or homework, but I do love baking and cooking. I cure my own extracts and love to make soap when I have the time. I have also really gotten into eco-printing and dying. This past summer my sister and I started our own baby wear business using all organic and environmentally sustainable techniques and fabrics.  My favourite tv show is currently Derry Girls, thanks to Eleanor Owicki!

And finally, toilet paper. Over or under?

Lizzie: ​Over. Always! I have a graphic of the patent showing that that’s how it should be!!!

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7th & Jordan Spotlight Series: Ellise Chase

As we over here on 7th and Jordan gear up for the 2019–2020 season of IU Theatre, we’ll be shining a spotlight on the artists currently taking on their thesis projects during the Fall season. First up, Ellise Chase, a third year MFA actor who is about to open in the role of Hester Swane in By the Bog of Cats, by Marina Carr, the first show of the 2019–2020 season. I threw some questions her way about the show, her work, and her time here at IU.Chase.ellise2019 768

How do you feel the role of Hester is a culmination of your time here at IU, both in the classroom and onstage? 

Ellise: Hester is using every ounce of knowledge I’ve gained here at IU and beyond. This rehearsal process has allowed me to use every facet of our actor training: dialect, vocal work, physicality, stage combat, awareness of atmosphere, ensemble work, following impulses, and working in the realm of non-realism, just to name a few. The most useful tool is the confidence and peace of having faith in my hard work over the years has given me an extensive tool belt to draw from.

What drew you to the role of Hester?

Ellise: Honestly, what drew me to the role was that the challenge scared me (and still does, a bit). Hester Swane is intense, erratic, entirely unique, and completely intimidating. She is unlike anyone I’ve ever played, and I’ve had to utilize every ounce of acting training I have to make something of this character. Hester is an roller coaster ride, constantly changing. It is so incredibly fun and challenging to go on this ride with her.

Thoughts on the joys of dialogue work and working with Ansley (Valentine, the director, and Head of Acting)?

Ellise: ​I absolutely love dialogue work. It is such a clear and straightforward way to click into the world of the play. I was lucky enough to study abroad in Ireland, west of where By the Bog of Cats ​is set, so I had some insight into the dialect, but there was a lot of study as an ensemble with the help of Nancy Lipschultz, our dialect/vocal coach to get us all on the same page.

Ansley is a freaking delight. I have worked with him as an adviser, teacher, and now finally director. He is truly an actor’s dream. He has a clear vision, knows what he wants from the actors, but gives us room to play, explore, and discover the world together. He is also so clearly a teacher in his directing. It’s a group of gifted youngsters, and he is leading us by helping us not only grow in this production, but future productions and in the professional world moving forward.

Fun facts – where ya from? Hobbies?  What you do to unwind after a long day of class and rehearsal? Fave current tv show (or podcast)?

Ellise: I am from Erie, PA (the home of the famous Pizza Bomber) and my fiancé and I share an awesome doggo named Chloe! She is a black lab mix we adopted from the Bloomington Animal Shelter. Grad school doesn’t give me a lot of down time, but in the rare moments I find some, you can usually find me cooking, up-cycling furniture from Goodwill, or recently planning my wedding. I am getting married October 20th (mere days away) and it has taken over my free moments!

After our long days with rehearsal (usually you will find the grad students in the building from 9:00 am until about 10:30 pm) I unwind with a glass of Merlot, a few rounds of fetch with Chloe, and The Great British Baking Show.

Toilet paper – over or under? Why? (we here over at 7th and Jordan ask the hard questions)

Ellise: This question rocked my world because I didn’t even know this was a thing! I have never noticed whether or not the toilet paper is over or under. I am just happy whenever there is toilet paper actually on the holder, and not on the back of the seat.

Break legs Ellise! Check out Ellise Chase as Hester Swane in By the Bog of Cats, opening THIS Friday September 27th and running through October 5th in the Wells-Metz Theatre.

By the Bog of Cats

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Famous Civil War-era novel comes to life

By Connie Shakalis H-T Reviewer

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Samantha Rahn, Suzanne Lang Fodor, Peter Ruiz, Josh Carter, Allison Marshall, Ellise Chase. Tayler Fischer, Ken Farrell, Isabelle Gardo, and Brynn Jones. Suzanne Lang Fodor and Ken Farrell appear courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association (photo courtesy of IU Theatre & Dance).

By the next morning, I often know how the previous night’s play affected me, and “Little Women,” playing at Indiana University Summer Theatre, is lingering. It’s on the long side, two and a half hours with an intermission, but that only helped draw me into this family saga set in New England during the American Civil War.

Marisha Chamberlain adapted the famous semi-autobiographical novel by Louisa May Alcott, and director Jenny McKnight brings the cast to life amid Reuben Lucas’ set design and upstage-wall projections.

Using stunning digital effects, Lucas changed seasons to portray the passage of time. I also liked his upstairs “garret” for second sister Jo (Samantha Rahn). Its imaginary wall lets us peek at this complicated, fiery teenager as she writes stories and shares confidences with the wealthy neighbor boy, Laurie (Josh Carter), who adores her. “You climb trees, don’t you?” he asks. Of course she does.

Jo represents Alcott herself, who derided marriage and its confining lifelong “sewing and cooking” responsibilities. “Marriage is the very worst thing,” Jo tells her sisters. Alcott never married, although she adopted her sister’s baby girl when her sister died shortly after the birth.

Coming right after IU’s hilarious and raucous “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Little Women” was a pensive trek into Victorian era history. My mother’s side of my family came from the same Massachusetts area as the Alcotts, and at times Saturday night I pretended I was watching my ancestors.

Well-written plays teach, and this does. I keep forgetting how difficult it was for 19th century women, who had limited choices. They married, often into lives of drudgery and perilous childbearing, or they worked outside the home. As Jo’s sister reminds her, a woman who earned her own living back then “has a very hard life.” I look at my desktop Mac, then I think about having a Big Mac down the street from my air-conditioned home, and I am grateful to be here in 2019, 157 years after “Little Women” begins.

Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06, said in Sunday’s Herald-Times, “(Today’s poem) states just what I look for in the poems I choose for this column.” Kooser then quotes from “Moonflowers,” a poem by James Davis May: “We praise the world by making / others see what we see.” What an apt observation about art. Alcott, along with this cast and crew, makes us see what life was like for certain families in 1862-63 New England. This morning, more than half a day later, I am still in Lucas’ set, a living area, waiting for tea and biscuits to be served by Hannah (Isabelle Gardo), the March family’s cook.

The play covers Part I of Alcott’s two-volume novel. The Marches, “a poor, eccentric, bookish family,” according to sister Beth (Tayler Fischer), enjoyed a Christmas Eve feast and plenty of presents the previous winter. In 1862, however, they await a meager plum pudding, a pudding that is soon to be given away to a neighbor family that is even poorer than the Marches. “They have nothing,” Mrs. March (Ellise Chase) tells her four daughters as they carry the fragrant food out the door.

My grandmother, whose parents grew up near the Alcotts, used to talk about “making silk purses out of sows’ ears”; this came to mind, as the Marshes, having little income, create what they need. No set or scenery for Jo’s play? The Marsh girls merely upend sofa and tables to serve as their stage.

Jo is the show’s star, and we get glorious glimpses of a tomboy’s struggles in a male-dominated society. Her self assurance and wanderlust — “We’re meant to go out and see the world” — shock all but her empathic mother, who admits to Jo not only their mother-daughter similarities, but Mrs. Marsh’s continual discomfort (her husband, played by Daniel Meeks, is off at war). “I am angry nearly every day of my life,” she tells Jo. 

Jo occasionally tries to fit in with her society but usually ends up resisting its norms. Interesting, too, is the assortment of personalities within the family. Firstborn Meg (Brynn Jones) yearns for caviar — and a kiss from a neighbor’s tutor (Peter Ruiz); Beth, a pianist, is painfully introverted: “Oh, I want to be at home.” Amy (Allison Marshall), the youngest, is delightfully self-absorbed and adds to the plot’s humor with her naivete and strings of malapropisms.

A character dies, which reminds me of having heard about our country’s past scourge of scarlet fever, and, again, I give thanks for 2019.

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Danger: You might die laughing during ‘Little Shop’

By Connie Shakalis H-T Reviewer

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Ethan St. Germain with the plant, Audrey II (photo courtesy of IU Theatre & Dance).

More dangerous than entering a little shop with a person-eating plant is entering a little theater with high hopes to see a favorite musical. What might have been a disaster of hitting below the bar and politically incorrect stereotypes was a triumph for cast, director, music director, costumers and props and set designers.

“Little Shop of Horrors,” a witty horror movie (1960) turned musical (1982) has been one of my picks since I saw it in Manhattan decades ago. Indiana University grad Howard Ashman, who I met in Times Square — more name dropping — wrote the songs, and he was vastly smart and funny. I say this even though he rejected me, after five callbacks, for a part in his and Marvin Hamlisch’s Broadway musical “Smile.”

Ashman’s grasp of human nature combined with his intelligence and talent for writing lyrics helped transform the cult film of 1960 into a dazzling song-filled satire, where we can observe ourselves in the characters.

Greed, deception, manipulation, hope, first love, murder — they’re all there. Yes, it evokes Faust in that the lead male character, Seymour (Ethan St. Germain), sells his soul to the devil, not so much for power and knowledge, as Faust does, but for the love of Audrey (Nina Donville). But I saw “Hamlet” in there, too: Seymour just isn’t good at deciding, and his waffling leads to a “Hamlet”-ish ending. The man next to me Friday night, noticed themes from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” and “a pound of flesh” and “if you prick us do we not bleed?” do resonate.

A woman in front of me mentioned her slight disdain for the plot’s racism and anti-Semitism, but by the finale, she said she had changed her mind. As I looked around the audience I noticed faces looking dismayed at the references to girlfriend-beating and animal abuse (by the sadistic dentist, played by Christopher Crider-Plonka). Opinions on what is production-appropriate have shifted since 1960 and 1982, and some may take offense in 2019. Humor is always, as I keep learning the hard way, tricky. One woman’s clever punster is another’s oaf.

“Little Shop” is dark, certainly. Seymour works for a Skid Row florist and finds a solar-eclipse-induced plant, which turns out to be carnivorous — live humans preferred. “If only I knew what breed it is, what genus,” he says. St. Germain’s Seymour was the favorite of the man who sat beside me. An orphan (“If I had a mother, she’d be so happy”), Seymour has known neither love nor kindness. His boss, shop owner Mr. Mushnik (a daunting Joshua Robinson) decides to adopt him, not out of love but out of a desire to share Seymour’s popularity and income he now has from owning the plant, Audrey-II. He has named it for his love interest, colleague and shop girl, Audrey. (For the Rotary Club members I noticed in the audience, as Seymour’s fame rises, he receives invitations to speak at their meetings.)

Ellen Greene’s Audrey in the original musical was so good I feared I could never love another, but the moment Donville appeared in her tight black dress and with a painful black eye my hopes escalated. Donville gives Audrey not just the vulnerability and sweetness she needs but adds a non-Ellen-Greene Betty Boopishness. She seemed perfectly cast and nearly stole all of her scenes.

Running away with all of their scenes was the song-and-dance trio, Ronette (singer’s singer, Danielle McKnight), Crystal (the beautiful Victoria Wiley) and Chiffon (an elegant Shai Warfield-Cross). These Skid Row women work a split shift: They went “through the fifth grade, and then we split.” They help narrate the show and provide much of its pizzazz.

Steve Martin played the fiendish dentist, Audrey’s boyfriend, in the musical film, and IU’s Crider-Plonka was just as funny and hellish (Faust again). He seemed to enjoy poking Seymour’s gums with a rusty, “antique,” drill as much as I did watching them. I thought, with a chuckle, of my own kind and sensitive dentist on Third Street. Crider-Plonka also plays a variety of other, smaller, roles, including the wife of the editor of Life Magazine.

My only reservation is the use of New York accents, which in some cases sounded more like Boston, at best. A retail horticulture note — on Long Island I saw nurseries offering for sale invasive plant species, such as Japanese knotweed, which is pretty but can take over an entire yard, destroying habitat. A lesson here?

Jeremy Gussin gave a sonorously good voice to the Audrey-II puppet, and I wondered if the audience’s children were shuddering; I would have been had I not known the play so well. “Manning” this work-of-art puppet was Michael Bayler.

Terry LaBolt directed the music and played in the orchestra. He brought me near tears several times. Choreographers need to be good storytellers, and D.J. Gray kept the singing trio bouncing and also designed one of the night’s best features, a duet between father (Robinson) and newly adopted son (St. Germain).

Richard Roland, whose other works I’ve admired, particularly his recent “Wonderful Town,” directed this monstrously good murder musical.

 

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Provocative production, ‘The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia,’ wraps theater department’s fall season

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 IU Actors (left to right): Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz (Stevie), Josh Hogan (Billy), Jay C. Hemphill (Martin)

This production of the Tony Award-winning play is arguably the most controversial theatrical performance presented at IU Bloomington. The story revolves around a normal family and their reaction to a series of shocking truths. The production runs through Dec. 8 at the Wells-Metz Theatre.

“The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” deals with taboo subjects that are rarely discussed or confronted in a public setting. The dialogue is dynamic and realistic; it is set up to mimic a real-life conversation, making the audience feel like they are part of the actual story.

According to the director, associate professor Murray McGibbon, this performance will urge the audience to look at their prejudices and points of view to consider what it is to be human and gain a better understanding of the human condition. Some of the themes explored in the production include love, loss, redemption and forgiveness.

“Some people might get up and walk out, and some people might be very offended,” McGibbon said. “But in a funny way, that is good theater, because it makes you think.”

The play is presented in such a way that the audience will not watch passively but rather will become active participants.

“We zip through our lives without taking time to pause, sit and stare,” McGibbon said. “I think this play is a reality check for people. ‘What do I think about this situation?’ I want to electrify the audiences with a performance so powerful that they can’t not be engaged.”

“The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” is for mature audiences only. Tickets can be purchased through the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance website.

 

By Gabriella Altchek    

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As “Barbecue” flavors up the IU Stage, Director Ansley Valentine shares his inspirations…

If you don’t already know Ansley Valentine, get to know him now…

Ansley Valentine

In general, how did you become a director? Why Theatre?

In high school, I was a musical theatre junkie. I became a director, in part, because I wanted to be the one to shape how the big sets and things moved around on a stage.  It wasn’t until later that I started to realize the pure power of storytelling and doing that with only a few resources could be just as dynamic and exciting as a huge production. While I do camera work as well, I am still a junkie for the theatre. The shared experience reshaped and recreated night after night is still the most thrilling to me.

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that theatre- making  was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?

When I left college, I could not find a job in my chosen profession: graphic design. I saw a notice for auditions at the Indianapolis Shakespeare Festival and got hired for their touring company. Ever since then, I have made my living in the theatre (with only a brief stint waiting tables).

What makes a play great for you? What are the certain qualities that you look for in a play?

I am most interested in creating an experience for the audience…a thoughtful, emotional journey to places unknown. For me, a great play is one that allows the audience to think and respond and reflect on their human condition. I love plays that generate an authentic response from the audience. Laughing and crying are equally wonderful.

I would argue that theatre-makers have a responsibility to culture. Would you agree? If so, how? If not, why?

I tell my students to recognize the power they have as actors and theatre artists. They have the power to change people’s lives. And those who try to reduce artists saying that we are simply “entertainers,”  do a disservice to themselves and the artists. The works we choose to share with our communities should challenge, embrace and affirm our human existence. There is no higher responsibility.

 

Ansley, tell us about Barbecue by Robert O’Hara…


What was it about this play that ultimately struck you?

I was most moved by the clever storytelling. Robert O’Hara created something that is inherently theatrical but also takes on current issues in a creative way. I love satire and it’s ability to help us unpack the problems in society and culture.

Did you recommend this play for the current season? If so, why? 

We were looking for a play that could be minimally produced with a small budget. At that point, other than the new play by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, our season did not have a piece written by a playwright of color. I recommended “Barbecue” because it fit the bill and also offered some great roles for students of color in the department.

Do you identify with any of the racial politics that Robert O’Hara evokes in this play?

I’m not sure what you mean by “identify.” If you mean do I see things in the world as he portrays them in the play, then the answer is a definite YES. O’Hara asks a lot of questions about race, identity, and stereotypes. He doesn’t provide many answers or course of action. I enjoy engaging the questions and hope the audience will think about what the answers might be.

Can you tell us a bit about the original vision and the journey to get to where you are today?

I don’t really have a good “sexy” answer for this question. I wanted to do a clean and simple production of an excellently written play. I wanted to put the words in front of the audience and let them decide what the lives of these characters mean. There wasn’t a heavy concept for the production. The playwright gave us concept-enough in his writing.

What was the casting process like?

Casting was a bit of a whirlwind. After the general audition call for all of the fall productions, we only had a couple of hours for callbacks. There were A LOT of people I called back as I was searching for folks with the right sense of innate comic timing and pathos. I was also interested to see new students and give new people a chance to shine. I think we found actors who fit the bill!

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Kenneth Arnold II, Sha Collier, Adrianne Embry, (cast) “Barbecue”

What has the rehearsal process been like?

It was a bit like a 3-ring circus. We had two rehearsal halls going, two assistant directors and one associate director. Because of the structure of the play, we could have more than one scene rehearsing at the same time. Also, we rehearsed the play in ways to encourage the actors to be creative and discover their characters. The comedy grew out of them organically and we spent the rest of our time refining and sharpening the moments.

What were some of your inspirations?

I actually had a random assortment of things and pop culture references that inspired the production. Everything from George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum” to television shows like “Golden Girls” and Tracee Ellis Ross on “Girlfriends” and the lives of singers like Beyoncé and Whitney Houston, all found their way into the work.

What can a person expect when they go to see Barbecue?

People should expect to be surprised, to laugh AND to think. 

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Christopher Plonka, Clark Conrad, Caroline Santiago Turner (cast), “Barbecue”

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When can YOU catch Barbecue by Robert O’Hara?

DATES: October 12-13th & October 16-20th at 7:30pm, and on October 20, 2018 at 2pm.

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

TICKETS: Regular admission is $20 for adults, $10 for students. 812.855.1103 or theatre.indiana.edu.

 

*Interview by Christin Eve Cato, MFA Playwright Candidate 2021.

 

 

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Dale McFadden’s influence on local theater in his decades at IU

McFadden’s farewell: “The Heiress” will be his last, at least at IU

By Connie Shakalis H-T Reviewer

If you see Indiana University’s current production of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’ “The Heiress” you will witness the last act of Dale McFadden’s career with the department of theatre, drama, and contemporary dance. He’s retiring and leaving behind nearly 35 years of coaxing the best from theater students. “One thing that has stayed consistent all these years,” he said, “is the great quality of IU students, regardless of their majors.” Directors use various styles to extract an actor’s other selves, and McFadden says he focuses on imparting the value of discipline. “I’m not mean, but it has been said that you’ll never have a problem knowing what I think,” he said.

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McFadden joined the IU faculty in 1985. He is the department’s associate chair where he also heads the M.F.A. acting and directing programs. He attended University of London and Trinity College in Dublin before directing professionally in Chicago. He has worked at the Goodman Studio, Steppenwolf, the Theatre Building, the Raven Theatre, Renaissance Rep, Chicago Dramatists, and was artistic director at The Body Politic. His Chicago production of “The King’s Clown” won Joseph Jefferson Award citations.

He teaches his students to pay attention to their audiences, an integral part of any production. “When the audience loves the play, it’s because of both things: the audience and the production,” he said. He prepares them for the “artistic anxiety”of opening nights, a test of nerves for all directors, producers, tech crew and performers. “Opening nights are like funerals,”he said. “People always say: ‘I had to come tonight. I saw it in the paper. It’s so lifelike!’ ” McFadden’s dry wit will be missed once he closes his office door that last time. But one thing he’s serious about is “not turning on your work,” stressing that harshly criticizing one’s own efforts is counterproductive — and “never” to be done.

When directing a cast of performers with different levels of experience and ability, he is careful to start “where each person is,” not pushing, but assessing and guiding. Having worked in many local and regional theaters, including Chicago, Indianapolis and Bloomington — at IU, Bloomington Playwrights Project and the Jewish Theatre — he has seen a range of talent in his actors. “The best performers to work with are those who have done stage, TV and film,” he said. Directing — and acting — for the camera differs vastly from stage work, and having knowledge of all three disciplines helps create a well-rounded performer who can reveal emotions with the full body (stage) yet convey meaning through subtle, sometimes barely perceptible, facial expressions (camera).

A serious director with serious opinions about what theater is, he, albeit with a smile and his tongue in his cheek, refers to musical theater as “the dark side.” He shares this view with many critics who wonder why we Americans have no national theater, as do Paris and London, where intelligent and deeply dramatic plays are routinely produced. It’s not that McFadden disdains the —fluffier — musicals (he loved the unfluffed Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” and Mark Hollmann’s “Urinetown”), but his heart seems to lie with Shakespeare, Ibsen, James, et al. Musical theater has been a boon to theater and to theater-going, getting people in the doors he said. “I just hope that audiences don’t get the sugar-high from the musicals and then choose not to go see the dramas.”   And musicals, with rhythm and pizzazz, can move in a way straight plays cannot.

“I thought IU’s ‘Spelling Bee’ was a detailed, insightful production about young people with a competitive skill that is a refuge from the struggles on their life,” he said. Of audiences, he said, “Our job is to give them something to come back for.” Extolling the wonders of live theater he noted that audiences are aware of other audience members; they are not sitting home isolated in front of a screen. They are in this living, inhaling, heart-beating performance together, experiencing it not with one or two, but with a roomful all at once. A bond forms among people watching live performances.

The “Three on the Aisle” theater podcast even stated recently that audience members’ heartbeats synchronize while watching live theater. Ever wonder what the director does, exactly? Audiences can never really tell how much of the play is the director’s and how much comes from the actors’ own input. McFadden likes to teach about “the hidden hand of the director.” He said the director is responsible for every moment of the show, a frightening thought. “By tech night (usually the last rehearsal before the show opens), not many things are left unexplained,”he said. Directors also control what gets rehearsed and what doesn’t. “Most plays need about 60 hours of rehearsal time, he said.

Those five dozen hours are precious and must be apportioned, hopefully in the right increments. So, probably with feelings as assorted as a New York City brunch buffet, McFadden will watch his last IU play unfold, as we learn about “The Heiress’ ” main character dealing with an overbearing father and an ardent, misjudged (?) lover. McFadden said he might hide, or not — maybe depending on how it goes. And we will observe his directing.

His performers, if he has successfully relayed his message, will show us their three required traits: talent, temperament and tenacity. And the lights will lower again, this last time, on a McFadden-directed play at IU.

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Meet, Linda Pisano: The New Face for The Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance at Indiana University

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Linda Pisano 

 


Linda Pisano was appointed Chairperson for the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance in July 2018.  The first female chairperson of the department, Linda comes from an impressive background of Theatre Making, Performance, and Costume Technology Design. 

Getting down to business with Linda…

As the new chairperson for the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance, what are you most excited about?

I’m very excited to work more closely with all of my theatre and dance colleagues.  I have spent sixteen years as a colleague in different capacities but now I get to learn more about  the faculty as individual artists and scholars to work with them on their path for success here at IU.  Being able to facilitate opportunities and mentorship for the faculty and students is very exciting work.  I’m also very enthusiastic about getting to know more of the students in a different capacity.

What kind of changes or improvements will you like to see happen in the Department? Do you have any special plans for us?

We’ve got a lot of plans! Our mission is clear, that excellence in creative activity and research are paramount.  We stand by this in all its many forms; our faculty, students, classrooms and productions.

After listening to the faculty, I’ve established the following four priorities to navigate resources and initiatives. It is easy to see how these priorities complement one another, and indeed, support one another:

  1. Diversity and inclusion, we want to foster the experience and exploration of ‘difference’ in all that we do
  2. Refocusing a concentration on recruitment to our programs
  3. Cultivating a more intensive and robust BA undergraduate experience
  4. Partnership and engagement with our communities

The faculty has expressed our need for more partnership internally and externally as well as more exploration into bridging our classrooms and productions.  Due to the specialization of our fields we have often been situated in silos, we are looking for creative ways to break down those walls and divisions to take a more contemporary look at making, doing, researching and creating.  This includes studying of how dramatic structure, experience, rehearsal and methods are changing, and how we can integrate voice, movement, design, technology, playwriting, and so forth.

There are some physical changes being created to enhance our learning environment.  A300U is being transformed this year into a space more similar to a collaborative research space.  Not only does it house our script library but it will also have a configuration that is designed for small and large group intellectual and creative conversations about our work.  My hope is that we will create a physical space that connects and bridges our academics with the creative and intellectual process of our productions.  We are still working diligently and prioritizing dance space.

Design

Costume Design by Linda Pisano

What do you think your biggest challenge will be? 

I think rather than ‘biggest’ challenge will be contextualizing the ‘important’ challenge. Having a rotating chair model is new for us.  In our department you aren’t just the chair, you are also the artistic director and producer of around 15 fully produced theatre and dance productions, along with countless student and guest artist programming.  This model is unusual for the complexity of our department.   Therefore, I’m focusing on succession planning and cultivating future leaders within our faculty.  I’d like our future chair/producers to walk into an infrastructure that will support vision rather than having to create an infrastructure.

Getting personal with Linda…

Who are your biggest influences? Who do you admire most? Who or what inspired you to do what you are doing now?

So many people!!  Obviously my kids, my husband and my mom are huge on the list, always and forever.  Two mentors from grad school (Mark and Dennis) are still my mentors 20 years later! Hope I can be that kind of mentor.

But honestly, I find inspiration in so many places:  the student who survived cancer and was back in the classroom, the freshman who was brave enough to come up and introduce themselves in the first week of classes and their enthusiasm to start this new chapter into adulthood, the single parent coming back for their masters despite pressures telling them not to, the retired faculty whose wisdom buoys me up when I’m trying to solve a problem.

The people who inspired me to do what I do now is the drama therapist who helped me as a very young child find my voice and confidence, the teachers who believed in me, and my colleagues who believe in me now and who have been incredibly supportive during this time of transition.

What surprising lessons have you learned along your journey? What’s the best advice you ever received?

Heh heh…how about best advice that I’ve received that are life long lessons to learn?

  1. You get what you tolerate
  2. Be kind, you never know where someone has been
  3. Don’t compare your first chapter to someone’s tenth chapter
  4. Seek first to understand and then to be understood

How do you structure your days? How do you balance work and family demands? (Is this too personal?)

This is not too personal at all.  I’ve actually thought about writing an article about this facet of our lives in Theatre.  The work-life balance shifts over your life.  It was different from when my kids were toddlers to their teenage years now.  However some are the same.

  1. Pay yourself first: not just money-wise, but with your time, love, and energy.
  2. Carpe-diem: you only live once
  3. Morning is Magnificent:  I get up at 4:45am every day and have created a ritual to ensure I never start the day with dread, fear or unhappiness.  It is not easy, especially during the darkest times of life (a family death, illness etc), but it is worth it and it helps me to pay-it-forward.

Getting advice from Linda…

What tools do you find indispensable for accomplishing anything in the Theatre industry?

My mantra for students is “Be Brave, Bloom, and Be Kind”.  I live by this mantra and it stems from my experience with the hard knocks of this industry. Integrity, curiosity, self-discipline, drive: Write a mission statement so you explore why you are doing what you are doing…it will ground you.

What do you find are the biggest stumbling blocks for a career in Theatre, and what are the best ways you’ve found to overcome them?

I’ve come to realize that there are people who drive their career by feeling competitive with others and they end up selling themselves and that is so disrespectful to oneself.  It is important that people only compete against themselves and find reward in bettering their own work and their intelligence. Not compromising their integrity by just doing something to be better than someone else. I find always comparing and competing with others is not a sign of a deep-thinking artist and is a wasted life. It’s better when used in happy and meaningful endeavors.

Always, always focus on something bigger than oneself.

In this industry, we are endlessly being critiqued for so many factors. What’s your best advice for handling criticism?

As I mentioned above, there are still those who are always compelled to compete against others and our industry tends to enable that through the criticism. Be open to advice, mentorship, and evaluation from trusted and respected sources.

When I was 17 I had my first professional gig.  After casting I was told I was too fat by  two of my acting professors.  I was 5’6 and 125 pounds of muscle.  Yeah, that was rough on a 17 year old and led to bulimia.  This is why I have my mantra for students: “Be Brave, Bloom and Be Kind”.

The first response I have when getting criticism is ‘consider the source’.  Who is giving you the criticism and how did they give that criticism?  If the criticism is from a valued individual in a dignified and respectful tone, than I should listen. A true mentor/teacher gives criticism to help direct and guide an artist/student to a better place, not to demean, belittle or harm.

When criticism is given in a callous, flippant, sarcastic or hurtful manner the criticism is not worth your time.  I ignore it and move on.  Nobody has time for that.

I paraphrase the Dalai Lama:  “If you cannot be kind, at least do no harm.”

Shell Photo

 

Interview by Christin Eve Cato, MFA Playwright Candidate 2021.

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Introducing Sean Blake, our final IU Summer Theatre TGotW: Guest Artist Edition!

A member of Actors’ Equity Association, Sean Blake is a Chicago-based actor and singer. This summer Sean has been delighting IUST audiences as the doting Mr. Webb in Our Town and the tough-loving Mitch Mahoney in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

 

1. When did first you realize you were a “theatre geek”?

I probably realized I was a theatre geek when I did my first musical. I was a junior in high school and auditioned for Damn Yankees.  I got cast as Joe Hardy, and I was hooked.

2. What is your favorite thing about the theatre, and why?

My favorite thing about the theatre are the people. In this profession you get to meet so many people from all walks of life.

3. Do you have a favorite show or role? Why is it your favorite?

I don’t really have a favorite show or role. I have pretty much loved every show I have been involved with.

Sean Blake and the cast of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at Drury Lane Theatre in 2016. Photo by Brett Beiner.

4. Who in the theatre world inspires you, and why?

E. Faye Butler inspires me. She’s the ultimate PRO and a force on and off the stage. She has been my mentor and dear friend for many years.

5. Do you have any words of advice for our theatre students?

My advice to IU Theatre students is to be kind, be professional, and above all learn to balance ego with humility.

6. When no one is watching, what song do you love to dance or sing along with?

Anything by Celine Dion!!!!

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