It’s good to be the King

Former BFA student, Nat Zegree, returns to IU Summer Theatre to workshop his new musical, The King’s Critique.

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The curls on the top of Nat Zegree’s head are getting a little longer; he’s had to stop cutting his hair since he agreed to reprise his BroadwayWorld.com Award-nominated performance as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet.

Between performances of his eight-show-a-week schedule, Zegree found time to discuss his passion project. In addition to his acting career, he is also an aspiring songwriter and lyricist. In just a few short weeks IU Summer Theatre will present his first musical, The King’s Critique, in a workshop production.

“I think the idea of a workshop is brilliant! I’m so excited to see my words and music come to life in front of me,” says Zegree, from Flat Rock, North Carolina, where he is currently performing Quartet. “There’s only so much I can envision. Some things may look entirely different when we actually hear these songs sung by seventeen extremely talented singers.”

The King’s Critique presents a storybook land in which a king appoints himself head theatre critic of his entire empire. Amongst the king’s chief complaints about theatre in his realm: too many women onstage. But soon unlikely allies emerge in the land’s theatre scene, as actors band together to fight this despotic bullying.

“We’re doing our own twist on The Emperor’s New Clothes, and we’re trying to have as much fun as possible with it,” says Zegree. “It’s a fairytale world. But it’s the kind of fairytale where adults have very adult problems to deal with.”  

Zegree trained at IU in the BFA Musical Theatre program, where he met his writing partner, Eric Holmes, who studied directing. The writing duo left Bloomington in 2014 and penned The King’s Critique in New York, where they hope to one day find a home for the play. But first they’re headed back to Indiana University to polish the music and script.

“We have three weeks to see this play come to life – to finally get it out of our heads and in front of us,” says Zegree. “It’s such an easier process when you find someone you communicate with so well. We agree most of the time; we disagree sometimes, too. Still, the most important thing to me is that we have fun doing what we do.”

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The King’s Critique
June 8, 9, 10 & 11 at 7:30pm
Wells-Metz Theatre
Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

Admission is $15 for adults, $10 for students. 812.855.1103 or theatre.indiana.edu. For group discounts contact Paige Roberts (paigrobe@indiana.edu).

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Behind The Phunk

By Alex Zabel

What do you get when you mix sex, racism, and the seventh president of the United States? One of Indiana University’s latest must-see musicals.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is a brilliant production that tests the boundaries of theatre. The script is explicitly hilarious while still being incredibly impactful. The acting is phenomenally executed, and the plot will make you rethink history.

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The Phunk Nasty’s ALL ORIGINAL album to be released Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

The outrageous punk-inspired costumes and politically charged show tunes aren’t the only unique features of this musical. The production is backed by one of Bloomington’s best jam bands. The Phunk Nasty’s have been rocking Bloomington since 2012, playing
anywhere from campus house parties to headlining at The Bluebird. The classically trained band members flawlessly interpret the original work of Michael Friedman. This is not the band’s first time performing in an IU Theatre production. However, front man Marshall Robbins admitted Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson has been one of the most surprising and moving musicals he has been a part of. I agree with Marshall when he says that the surprise ending will have you leaving the theatre with chills.

The most difficult part of performing on stage, according to the band, is picking up on cues that the actors give for them to start playing. Being on two separate levels on stage can complicate musical entrances and exits. However, the band has formed a great connection with music director Ray Fellman, and his guidance and expertise has allowed them to work seamlessly with the company.

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Marshall Robbins

Playing in a musical isn’t out of the ordinary for The Phunk Nasty’s. The Jacobs School of Music students have been the house theatre band at IU for many years and have participated in multiple productions. The band has performed during readings at the Bloomington Playwrights Project, and can be found backing up vocals at local recording studios.

In regards to the band’s versatility and inspiring participation in Bloomington’s music community, Robbins says it best. “That’s what jazz is about. It’s about learning the tradition, but the tradition allows you to be prepared to play anything, even a rock musical.”

AlexAlex Zabel is an Arts Management major with a concentration in music and a psychology minor. From Northbrook, Illinois. Alex is a daycare teacher and loves working with children. Incredibly passionate about music and writing, she hopes to work for a record label in the city of Chicago or be music supervisor for film.

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Talking Tech: Projection Design in BBAJ

By Reuben Lucas, Projection Designer

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The intent with the projections is four-fold; to comment on the subject matter, to set a location, to further the story, and finally to enhance the storytelling through emotional/mood based video imagery. Additionally, the goal of the projections is to support the overall environment and to enhance the audience’s understanding and emotional reaction to the story.

The overall style of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson allows for the incorporation of the very modern aesthetic of projections into this historically based rock musical rather nicely. At times the projections are very concert-like with large, bold and exciting visuals supporting the rock songs; while other moments the projections take a back seat to the story and are more subtle. The use of projections also allows for the integration of a modern political statement using recorded video of a news announcer (similar to a 24 hour news station).

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Lucas.reuben2014Reuben Lucas (Projection Designer) is the Assistant Professor of Scenic Design at Indiana University’s Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance. His designs have been seen onstage at the Denver Center Theatre Company, National Theatre Conservatory, Theatre Aspen, Indiana Festival Theatre, Curious Theatre Company and others. Previously, he was the resident scenic design associate at the Denver Center Theatre Company, where he worked on more than 40 productions with nationally known designers. Some other companies he has worked with include: Santa Fe Opera, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and Hope Summer Repertory Theatre. Reuben is a member of United Scenic Artists Local 829.

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Olivia Ranseen: Bringing sustainability from backstage to center stage

Ranseen.Olivia1From carbon dioxide sensors in Ruth N. Halls Theatre that help adjust energy use based on audience numbers, to reducing theatre set wood waste by using screws rather than glue and nails, IU Bloomington freshman Olivia Ranseen is trying to bring sustainability from backstage to center stage at IU Theatre.

As a member of IU Office of Sustainability and IU Integrated Program in the Environment’s inaugural class of 2020 Sustainability Scholars, the former high school musical theatre performer from Brentwood, Tenn., has found a new voice in looking at human behaviors in every aspect of theatre production – from auditions to set teardowns – and then identifying sustainability opportunities.

Gone are the purchases of up to 750 alkaline batteries each year needed for the theatre transmitters that power microphones – rechargeables do the job just as well, saving money and reducing the waste stream.

With the installation of carbon dioxide and occupancy sensors in both Ruth Halls Theatre and Wells-Metz Theatre the university’s building automation system is working at new levels of efficiency by providing the optimum environment to patrons based on actual occupancy.

And while an analysis of wood salvaged for reuse after the February production of Macbeth amounted to a low 38 percent reuse rate, the April production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is expected to be higher due to a greater use of screws in set-building compared to the loads of glue, staples and nails used in the Macbeth set.

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Set for 2016 Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Kristen Martino, scenic designer.

“Those in theatre typically apply short-term, single production goals and objectives, which means reuse is minimal in regards to scenery pieces, wood, and other products,” said Paul Brunner, an associate professor of theatre technology and Ranseen’s 2020 Sustainability Scholar mentor. “A few materials, like paint, are tightly conserved in order to save resources, but this is irregular and not systematic. The theatre consists of much more than just the stage and scenic studio; it has administrative and academic components as well which grapple with different environmental challenges.”

Brunner is no stranger to “green” theatre. His 1999 graduate thesis at University of Wisconsin-Madison was on the topic of sustainable design and production and he’s since presented at conferences, published research and contributed to the first text book on greener production approaches for theatre.

“With Olivia, IU Theatre is developing a research project to study more intimate aspects of theatre production,” he said. “She has a particular interest in electricity conservation, but she’s already performed preliminary study on scenic paints, scenery wastes, wood recycling options, battery use, recycling programs, and other more broad issues in IU’s theatre productions.”

He described Ranseen as “incredibly organized and driven,” adding that he’d been “thoroughly impressed with her work, determination and maturity.”

Andrew Lowry, assistant director for building systems at IU Facility Operations gave Ranseen an introduction to common strategies used in building automation system and then a real-time view of energy use at IU Theatre that led to a range of heating, ventilating and air conditioning recommendations and improvements.

“Olivia was extremely interested in what, if anything, Facility Operations did and we were pleased to take advantage of the opportunity to engage her curiosity and at the same time present and make known the efforts and strategies we employ in regard to effectively managing energy consumption,” Lowry said. “And she was instrumental in the installation of carbon dioxide and occupancy sensors in Ruth Halls and Wells-Metz theatres.”

A two-week study during weekday hours of computer monitor and building lighting also identified an opportunity to increase LED light use, and her research also delved into how props and sets can be better stored, made more accessible and reused for longer periods of time.

IU Theatre and Drama properties and painting supervisor Dan Tracy said the use of an image-based inventory database allows set designers to view source materials easily, while also allowing him to track usage, condition and location of materials.

“However, the use of the system is dependent upon our being able to organize and grow our stock responsibly,” he said. “We simply don’t have the space organize our stock efficiently to make the database work.”

That’s where Ranseen recognizes that real sustainability begins with behavioral changes, like bringing to the forefront the rather unglamorous problem of not having enough efficient warehouse space.

“Identifying current behaviors and habits and then developing a good model that people can follow, and in this case, throughout the entire creative process, is our ultimate goal,” Ranseen said.

She is now working on a set of sustainability policies for theatre production and next year will use a $3,000 grant from the Office of Sustainability to develop a Green Certification Program for theatre productions at not just IU, but at other universities and even professional productions. The foundation for that policy development process will be a new case study focused upon the beginning-to-end process for a single upcoming IU theatrical production.

For more information, contact:
Steve Chaplin, Research Communications Manager, IU Communications, stjchap@iu.edu
Paul Brunner, Theatre Technology, Department of Theatre, Drama, & Contemporary Dance, pbrunner@indiana.edu

More information about the 2020 Sustainability Scholars program and additional research projects around the Bloomington campus can be found at IU Communications’ Student Experience blog.

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Talking Tech: Get Set for BBAJ

By Kristen Martino, Scenic Designer

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Photo of Kristen Martino’s scenic design model

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson fuses the early nineteenth century with glam rock of the eighties into one glorious rock musical.  Grounding the set in the historical side allows for costumes, lights, and projections to layer on the flare. Inspiration was gathered from iconic historical elements such as rustic textures of old crates and timber construction found in barns. The wood textures, strong angles, and solid construction give a nod to early American architecture.

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Under Reuben Lucas’s projections, the band watches as Rachel and Andrew discover their love for blood and each other.

Crumpled newspapers cover a false proscenium adding in another historical element.  The newspaper also serves as the main projection surface to emphasize the flashy rock moments as well as set the location of several scenes. The band of the show is elevated on a loft level that spans the entire stage.  This allows the band to be a character within the show. An enormous stack of crates provides access to the loft from stage and gives many levels for fight scenes and power ballads.

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Projection designs by Reuben Lucas

The back wall of the barn is composed of aged boards that have space between them to allow light to pour though in streaks and give a pop of color when viewing the cyc through the boards. Three large posts support the structure and punch through the fourth wall, encroaching on the audience.  The stage floor also extends right into the second row of seats allowing the actors to have direct interaction with audience. Just as Jackson led invasions throughout his time in office, the set of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson invades the audience’s space throughout their time in the theatre.

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Kristen Martino (Scenic Designer) is a third year M.F.A. candidate in scenic design with a B.F.A. in scenic and lighting design from Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA. Scenic Design credits at IU include: Hedda Gabler, Romeo and Juliet, In the Red and Brown Water, The Art of Bowing, and Lacy and Ashley Live in a Trailer Now. Scenic Charge Artist credits at IU include: Noises Off, Into the Woods, King Lear, and The Imaginary Invalid. Other recent credits include: 2015 Prague Quadrennial USITT USA National Exhibit (Assistant to the Designer), The Full Monty for Stages St. Louis (Scenic Artist), Godspell for IFT (Charge Artist) and Mary Poppins for Alabama Shakespeare Festival (Scenic Artist). Kristen is originally from Slidell, Louisiana. www.kristenmartino.com

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Joel Pierson: A rocking look at Andrew Jackson

I don’t remember U.S. history sounding like this.

In recent years, the folks who make musicals (and you know who you are) have developed a pattern of turning 18th- and 19th-century American presidents into rock stars — literally. “Hamilton,” currently burning up Broadway, turns the dude on the ten-dollar bill into a hip-hop sensation. Meanwhile, “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson,” opening BBAJIMG_4929at IU Theater this week, re-imagines the fellow on the twenty as an emo-punk star. One can only imagine that “Ulysses S. Grant — Ska Superstar” is not far off.

I suppose it’s like getting kids to eat their vegetables; if these shows make American history more palatable to the general public, more power to ’em. “Bloody” uses biographical information about Jackson, taking dramatic liberties to focus on political hot buttons of his time such as populism and the Indian Removal Act. But don’t go in expecting “Schoolhouse Rock.” This show pulls no punches in its material. Jackson is portrayed warts and all. (I hark you back to the “Bloody, Bloody” part.)

During the course of the play, we watch him make unpopular decisions in the interest of getting the job done, even before he becomes president. His victory at the Battle of New Orleans makes him into a hero, and it’s here we see the parallel to modern-day rock stars. We also see the divided popular opinion of him at the time, with some people viewing him as the savior of the nation, while others judge him harshly for his actions.

And don’t forget, all of this is set to a contemporary rock score, moving the action along with memorable music that somehow feels right amid the backdrop of pre-Civil War America. The musical won a 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book and an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Musical.

As director George Pinney sees it, the musical is an opportunity for education as well. “The students performing in the play have truly taken possession of this musical, because they see the issues of Andrew Jackson’s presidency emerging in their lives today. The rise of Donald Trump, the whole idea of American populism, questions of assimilation, deportation and the threat of violence are all entwined in our contemporary politics.”

As such, Pinney’s design concept for the show melds current technology into the historical setting, including digital projection, improv, and a three-piece house band. A thrust stage bridges the gap between the performers and the audience.

Pinney adds, “It’s a challenging play to work on as a choreographer, because it’s really mosh-pit choreography, so there are no jazz slides, no pirouettes. I’ve learned that I need to give the actors the framework, but they really have to run with it. The performers are deeply involved in the creation of this show from start to finish.”

IU’s production of “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” continues their ongoing embrace of contemporary, cutting-edge theater and promises to be a wild ride for those who dare to climb aboard.

Contact Joel by sending an email to features@heraldt.com with “Pierson” in the subject line.

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theater, Drama, and Contemporary Dance

WHAT: “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” by Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. April 15, 16, 19-23; 2 p.m. April 23

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

TICKETS: $15-$25 for adults. Visit theatre.indiana.edu, Ticketmaster, or call 812-855-1103.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times – Click for the original article at heraldtimesonline.com
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Talking Tech: Stage Managing BBAJ

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Elizabeth Allen, Stage Manager for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the first dress rehearsal

Being the stage manager for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson has been an amazing opportunity for me.  As a stage manager, you have to be able to juggle a lot of different responsibilities inside and outside of rehearsal. I am in charge of making sure that everything that happens in the rehearsal room is communicated to our production team, and vice versa.  I also manage the safety of all our actors and crew members.

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Elizabeth manages the safety of the actors

My job during the show is to call the light, sound, fly, and projection effects that take place, making sure that the show runs as smoothly as possible.  If I’m doing my job right, the audience shouldn’t notice that these transitions are happening at all! That’s part of the beauty of stage management, we are the invisible cog in the machine. The creative and artistic team I have been able to work with have been absolutely wonderful throughout the entire process, and their talent has made my job much easier!

The best moment of any show is the day that all of our team comes together and the show runs as one big production, and I can’t wait to show all of my friends and family the amazing work that these actors and designers have created!

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Elizabeth Allen is a sophomore majoring in theatre and drama. For IU Theatre, she has worked on Antigone, Hedda Gabler, Into the Woods, Romeo and Juliet, Encounters and Collisions (Assistant Stage Manager), and Mr. Burns: a post-electric play (Gun Master). For University Players: Marat/Sade (Scenic Designer), Legally Blonde: The Musical (Assistant Stage Manager), and she stage managed Intentions, an IU independent production. She is the Assistant Technical Director for University Players. Elizabeth is from Fishers, Indiana.

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