H-T REVIEW: Whiz kids excel in this No. 1 musical at Indiana University

By Connie Shakalis


The next time you have to really, really go to the bathroom, thank your lucky stars you don’t live in Urinetown. And thank those stars that we have the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

Even if musical comedy satire were not one of my favorite genres, I would still have loved Indiana University Theatre’s “Urinetown.” Non-professional theater is almost always uneven, with a range of abilities, but this production has nary a weak link.

The playwright, Greg Kotis, conceived the idea for the plot one day as he searched for a bathroom in Europe, finding only pay toilets. The story of “Urinetown” is of a town that has suffered a lengthy drought, and now private toilets are banned. Everyone must pay a fee to use public toilets. “You can’t just go in the bushes,” warns Little Sally, a street urchin and the narrator of the show.

Kotis also wrote the lyrics, along with composer Mark Hollmann, and the play has won multiple Tony Awards, among others.

Where there’s a need, there’s typically an opportunist waiting to fill it. The Urine Good Company corporation doesn’t piddle around when it comes to capitalizing on the people’s need to regularly relieve themselves. “I’m here to tell you, you IS gonna pay,” says the urinal’s warden, “and I think I’ll charge you twice.”

The company’s president, Caldwell B. Cladwell (clad well, and he is), is a white-collar crook with expensive suits and shiny shoes who relishes scalping the public, even those who are desperate, pregnant and poor. They must hold in their urine or risk being arrested and sent to the dreaded Urinetown.

“I look the other way as we run the company the way we see fit,” he gloats. Actually, “there is no Urinetown; we just kill people,” police officer Lockstock confides.

Themes include capitalism, corporate irresponsibility, populism and how we use common property. Kotis drew inspiration from the works of German playwright, director and poet Bertolt Brecht and from German composer Kurt Weill.

“Dreams are meant to be crushed,” explains Officer Barrel. IU freshman and audience member Denis Joseph is majoring in economic consulting, and said he found it interesting how the play pits capitalism against socialism. “I had never thought of business as the villain, “ he said, then digressing, added, “That high note (of the revolution leader, Bobby Strong) was divine!”

But there’s a snag. Enter Mr. Cladwell’s innocent and optimistic daughter, having just graduated from “the most expensive college in the world.” She is everything her dastardly dad is not and, of course, falls for the leader of the revolution that has formed to oust Cladwell and his heinous business.


Janie Johnson as Hope Cladwell

Unfortunately, Janie Johnson, as daughter Hope Cladwell, has all but ruined the role of Hope for me. She is so suited to this role — and it to her — that I now can’t imagine anyone else ever performing it. Hope is often played with a “The Simpsons” Lisa Simpson voice, which at first funny can quickly turn to cloying. But Johnson is near perfection as the seemingly cherished child who learns, by living, that things are seldom what they seem. We witness her character’s development as she must chose between loyalty to her father and a growing awareness of his insults to society. Extraordinarily watchable, Johnson is a true actor and singer, whom I believed, and enjoyed, every second she was on stage.

Also extraordinary, in a very different style, is Michelle Zink as Penelope Pennywise, the hardened overseer of the town’s grimiest urinal. What Johnson has in sweetness, Zink has in outrageous meanness. She scared me. She’s good. “The people are peein’ for free. I tried to stop them,” she sneers. Her voice is one of the cast’s best; she belts gloriously but also has a lovely lead voice, and her duet with Mr. Cladwell (there’s a secret here, which I won’t divulge) is a treat. “Sorry, I’m not sorry,” they croon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Jimmy Hogan as revolution leader Bobby Strong (be strong) is another centerpiece. His everyman charm and his powerful singing voice enthralled the audience. One benefit of having the audience in two sections facing each other is the opportunity to observe fellow theater-goers. They liked Hogan.

Rebecca Dwoskin as Little Sally gave a moving performance as an impassioned and sensitive revolutionary. Dom Pagliaro is a forceful Caldwell B. Cladwell and had us appropriately fearing and disapproving of him.


Connor Bernard as Lockstock

The officious Officer Lockstock, played by Connor Bernard, has many of the play’s funniest moments. “Cop Song,” with him, Officer Barrel (lockstock and barrel), and the other officers is one of the show’s best. He and Adam Hass-Hill as Barrel are side-splitting together.

Senator Fipp, played by Jake McCutcheon, is deliciously greedy and cowardly. Mr. McQueen, played by Sam Sanderson, is supple (body as well as facial expressions) as a sycophant trying to please Mr. Cladwell. Broderick Balsley as Tiny Tom is delightedly nimble and neurotic. You would never guess he had recently, in real life, sprained his foot. Mary Beth Black, as Ma Strong, was convincing as Bobby’s angry and tough mother. I heard her beautiful voice in several of the ensemble numbers.

This entire cast is first rate; yes, dare I say Number One.

Satires, by their natures, are funny, and “Urinetown” kept me laughing at its clever lines and talented performers. “I made flushing mean ‘flush’ at the bank,” Mr. Cladwell proclaims. The song “Don’t Be the Bunny,” had me trying to stifle my guffaws as Mr. Cladwell discusses what happens to the world’s innocents. “Hello, Bunny Boo — rabbit stew!” he sings.

Director and choreographer Kenneth L. Roberson chose to stage the play using two opposing sides for the audience, with a staircase at one end, for much of the play’s action. Stairs on stage can be distracting, as the audience worries about actors stumbling to their demise. But these stairs work, as the actors run, leap, crawl and sing on them.

Musical direction is by Broadway’s Terry LaBolt, and it’s obvious why Broadway selected him. Every number captivates. Also, I enjoyed watching him and his talented band, on the first balcony.

The Wells-Metz uses a “black box” theater, a trend made popular in the 1960s and 1970s, where the stage is basically a plain black-walled area. Purists like it, because technical effects need to be minimal, and acting talent can shine through. Lighting and stage direction can be a challenge, though, because actors facing one direction are invisible to the other side. And lights that illuminate a face on one side cast a shadow on the other. But Roberson and lighting designer Tony Stoeri have achieved a striking result. Linda Pisano designed the effective costumes, which lent an eerie, drab feel to the town’s horrid predicament. Scenic design and sound design were by Ryan P. Miller and Andrew Hopson.

Near the finale, Little Sally asks, “Can’t we do a happy musical next time?” Never mind; they have. This is one happy, funny, poignant musical.

If you go

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

WHAT: “Urinetown” by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23, 26-30; 2 p.m. Sept. 30

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $10-$20. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.

Theater-goers can bring dry goods to donate to Hoosier Hills Food Bank. Barrels are in the lobby now through the run of the show.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Original review available at heraldtimesonline.com.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Roadmap to IUST’s Premiere Musical

By Nathaniel Kohlmeier


IUST’s 2017 Premiere Musical: Joe Schmoe Saves the World goes up in just a few weeks and you might be asking yourself: “Wait, what’s a premiere musical?”

I had the same question! Luckily, I did the research so you don’t have to.


Seriously, Rihanna, I love you. But what is that holding up?

Indiana University’s tradition of a premiere musical dates all the way back to 2006. You remember 2006 — it was the year of pointless belts where you, like me, might have listened to Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” until the batteries of your treasured iPod Nano gave out.

The Premiere Musical was conceived by Department head Jonathan Michaelsen and then-BFA theatre program head George Pinney. Pinney and Michealsen created the Premiere Musical to bring new musical works to Indiana University, something that has continued for 11 years. To achieve this, Pinney and Michaelsen reached out to alumni and up-and-coming writers from coast to coast. In August of that year, the IU Department of Theatre and Drama presented three performances of the inaugural show, Slow Dance with a Hot Pickup, by John Pielmeier and Matty Selman, directed by Pinney.

(Fun Fact One: Four premiere musicals have been written by IU Theatre alums since 2006. This includes last year’s: The King’s Critique, which was the brainchild of IU Theatre alum Eric Holmes and writing partner Nat Zegree.)

New works are definitely not a new concept for IU. A playwriting program has existed in some form at IU since the 80s, even before it was titled “At First Sight”, the series that now presents original plays written by MFA playwrights for the main stage each year.

(Fun Fact Two: Aaron Ricciardi, who plays Lyon in Joe Schmoe will be writing this season’s “At First Sight” play).

So why should you go?

Beyond seeing a show, audience members become part of a process of creation. Premiere musicals might have been briefly shopped around, but most see their first real production on IU’s stage. And audiences are integral to their evolution. Writers like to see the reactions to their work. What makes us laugh, what makes us cry? In what ways could their work go even further? A premiere musical comes to us as a tween, still in its wonder years. It wants, dare I say it, needs an audience to reach its full potential.

IU’s 2013 premiere musical Island Song had its 2014 New York debut at 54 Below, also known as “Broadway’s living room”.

You can believe the audience was a crucial part of Island Song’s journey. And these productions help guide the journeys of the actors as well.


The cast of “Island Song”. Photo: Ric Cradick

For Pinney and Michealsen, part of creating the premiere musical program hinged on it also benefiting IU students. The idea of workshopping a new musical also functions as a learning exercise, and a networking opportunity. For musical theatre students interested in breaking into the industry, a workshop might be their foot in the door. Producers want to get their show on the stage, but often don’t want to spend the money to hire big name performers so early
in development.

So what are the takeaways? For students, the workshop gives them the first look at their future. For audiences, premiere musicals promise originality. And in an age where even Pitch Perfect is getting a threequel, originality is a hot item.


Just. Why?

Since the retirement of the beloved George Pinney, the new head of the Musical Theatre Program and force of nature Liza Gennaro has selected Joe Schmoe as 2017’s premiere musical. So if the idea of something fresh intrigues you, or if your interest is sufficiently piqued by being a part of the artistic process, then the premiere musical may be for you!

Joe Schmoe Saves the World: http://www.indiana.edu/~thtr/productions/IUST2017/joeschmoe.shtml

IMG_4661_EDITEDNathaniel Kohlmeier is a junior in the Media School majoring in Cinema Studies and Production. A Hudson Holland Scholar, Nathaniel spends most of his free time as an actor, having previously appeared in University Players’ productions of Punk Rock, and Picasso at the Lapin Agile. He is a photographer, freelance graphic designer, and film buff (especially bad ones).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

H-T Review – 1814 England comes to Bloomington in adaptation of Austen’s ‘Persuasion’

By Connie Shakalis, H-T Theater Reviewer

Henry Woronicz and Grant Goodman in IU Summer Theatre’s “Persuasion”, adapted for the stage from Jane Austen’s novel by Jennifer LeBlanc.

“Persuasion,” the novel, was Jane Austen’s last, published half a year after she died. Some scholars believe that someone other than Austen chose the title, with Austen intending to call it “The Elliots.” Indeed, the novel — as well as playwright Jennifer LeBlanc’s adaptation of it, playing at the IU Summer Theatre — revolves around the Elliot family. They, and their sweet-and-sour medley of friends and acquaintances, educate us in the details of social climbing, closeted agendas, knowing “what’s best” for others, vanity, hanging in even when your true love seems lost, and, well, persuasion — of others and oneself.

Every time I see a good play, I feel like going home and dispensing with most of my self-help books: My problems’ solutions end up appearing stage left, right and center. As singer Roberta Flack said about a stranger singing his song one night in a show she happened to attend, “I felt as if he knew me.” Austen, consummate storyteller, knows human nature.

Anne Elliot, an Englishwoman in her late 20s, is at the heart of the action. She is still in love with a naval officer, whom she had been persuaded several years earlier to reject. She wonders which is better — to be inflexible (unable to be persuaded) or to allow the opinions of others to sway one, in this case, in the wrong direction.

Anne is likable; she is humble, intelligent, gracious and supportive of her friends. Her huge-headed and shallow father (”He could read his own history with an interest that never failed him”), played by Henry Woronicz, is uninterested in her. So is her icy older sister Elizabeth (Erin Logan). Both believe youth’s rosy bloom has abandoned Anne — after all, she is 27! Although she is somewhat of an orphan in her own unappreciative family, her godmother, Lady Russell, grasps Anne’s intelligence and wisdom. Lady Russell serves the significant role of mother-surrogate, and as can happen with maternal love, Lady Russell interferes. It was she who eight years ago persuaded Anne not “to marry a sailor of no connections.”

That sailor has become respected naval officer Capt. Wentworth. He is one of the 19th century’s “new gentlemen,” independent, intrepid and — perhaps most appealing to Anne —self-made.

Throughout the play, a colorful assortment of friends visits, while potential suitors compete. Capt. Wentworth, smoldering from Anne’s past rejection, in turn, appears to reject her. Seeing her for the first time since the broken engagement, he snubs her, then openly pursues the younger, spunkier Louisa Musgrove (Julia Klinestiver).

Tara Chiusano is a highlight as Anne’s deliciously self-focused, hypochondriacal married younger sister, Mary Musgrove. When Anne goes out of her way to assist her one afternoon, Mary asks, utterly perplexed, “What (better things) could YOU possibly have had to do?”

Meaghan Deiter is entertaining as Lady Russell and the Elliots’ tenant Mrs. Croft. As the opera singer, she also sings a good “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice,” by Gluck. Mr. Elliot, Anne’s cousin who courts her — we discover, for her family status — is played with reptilian smoothness by Jason Craig West. Justino Brokaw is ebullient and appealing as Anne’s brother-in-law, Charles Musgrove. Jenny McKnight’s Mrs. Musgrove embodies a mother’s vivacious affection for her children (something Anne misses), and her people-pleasing dowager viscountess, Lady Dalrymple, adds to the play’s humor.

Capts. Benwick and Harville, friends of Capt. Wentworth, are played with sincerity and warmth by Devin May and Nicholas Jenkins. Courtney Relyea-Spivack is a nicely cloying Mrs. Clay, eager to attach to a man.

Grant Goodman, who I had seen the night before as Lord Berowne in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” reveals his versatility as an actor; the two roles are eons apart. As Shakespeare’s Berowne, he is unleashed and outspoken. As Austen’s Capt. Wentworth, centered and discreet. By the play’s end, he blames not Anne but “my own private doubts” for his misplaced bitterness. His “I have loved none but you” is good enough for a top-40. I melt.

Ashley Dillard’s Anne Elliot is patient and serene. As she did in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” Dillard had me almost crying along with her in the play’s sentimental moments. While Mrs. Musgrove merrily selects lace for her daughters’ wedding dresses one afternoon, Anne, giving up on love, reads aloud a letter left by Capt. Wentworth. Particularly moving are their two voices heard together, his coming from offstage.

Dale McFadden, the department’s associate chairman, directed this talented cast. An effective aspect was each actor narrating his or her own entrance, giving the audience a preview of who was about to do what.

Katie Cowan Sickmeier’s costumes were so convincing that my seat mate failed to realize that seven of the actors played multiple parts.

Since this is repertory theater, the cast takes turns performing “Persuasion” and William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost”: one cast; two very different plays made up of very different roles — one day after the other. It is dizzying to imagine the actors’ focus and energy.

Jane Austen said, “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” I say, I think you do want to see this play.

If you go

WHO: IU Summer Theatre.

WHAT: “Persuasion,” adapted for the stage from Jane Austen’s novel by Jennifer LeBlanc.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. July 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 22; 2 p.m. July 15 and 23.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

TICKETS: $10-$20 for each show. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. For this review and more arts news around town, visit heraldtimesonline.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

H-T Review – Audience finds vitality in ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’

By Connie Shakalis | H-T Theater Reviewer

Grant Goodman, Julia Klinestiver, and Ashley Dillard in IU Summer Theatre’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” in the Wells-Metz Theatre. Grant Goodman appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association.

You’re as sick as your secrets, they say. And although IU Summer Theatre’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” by William Shakespeare, is anything but sick, it offers a trove of juicy deceits, broken promises and hush-hush schemes. One of Shakespeare’s earlier works, it tests combining romantic comedy (although there are no marriages at the end) and farce.

When a king decides to turn his realm into a prestigious academy for learning only, he forbids the distraction women would pose by signing — and persuading his three lords to sign — an oath of abstinence. For three studious years, there are to be no damsels, rich food or merriment.


This show belongs to three characters, Grant Goodman’s Berowne, Ashley Dillard’s the Princess of France and Henry Woronicz’s Don Armado, with some fine performances by other cast members as well.

A fascinating aspect of attending theatre-in-the-round productions — where the audience surrounds the stage — is the audience’s ability to observe each other. From what I witnessed, this show is a grabber.

All is well until the comely Princess of France (Dillard) appears for her scheduled — but until now forgotten — visit and brings along three young lovelies. A Shakespearean coincidence: we now have four men and four women. Oaths instantly dissolve, and love floods the stage. Cryptic letters are sent and, naturally, mixed up, and love poems are uttered and eavesdropped upon.

Don Armado (Woronicz) is a Spanish knight and a star of the comic subplot. In Shakespeare’s time, theater-goers would have instantly grasped the allusion to the Spanish Armada’s failure to beat England in 1588. Armado, deliciously pontifical and verbose, has fallen for (and impregnated) a lowly wench, Jacquenetta. And fall he does, as he drops to the stage floor, rolling, gasping and kissing the grass in his romantic trance. He is funny!

Goodman’s Lord Berowne is the most realistic human in the play and is cynical, questioning and direct. After signing the king’s oath of three-year self-denial, he says, “Not to see ladies? Then, I swore in jest.” Later, expressing his doubts about academia’s benefits surpassing those of real life, he tells it as he sees it: “To see a king transformed into a gnat!”

Goodman has everything it takes to do Shakespeare: vocal variety, comic timing, physical agility and pathos.

As the French princess, Dillard is stunningly pretty and lithe. Her acting is superb, and she has us laughing, indeed, but also near tears at the suddenly sad and serious finale.

Her companion, Lady Rosaline, played by Julia Klinestiver, contributes to the play’s wit and fun-poking.

Tara Chiusano is charming as Armado’s page, Moth; Chiusano and Woronicz have a sparkling chemistry.

Boyet, a French lord who looks after the princess, is played with humor and verve by Jenny McKnight. Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom calls Boyet the “play’s prophet,” since he manages many of the plot’s transitions.

In all, the cast handled the word-laden and pun-riddled script with triumph. The four lords posing as dancing Muscovites nearly brought down the house, and the four ladies were resplendent in their golds, pinks, purples and greens, dressed beautifully by costume supervisor Robbie Stanton and crew.

Director Jonathan Michaelsen is also the department chairman. He has set the play in 1914, which seemed to somehow make the action more accessible to this modern audience. His pacing of the actors was marvelous.

Playwright and actor William Mountfort may have said “Be still, my beating heart,” but I say, “Be still, my laughing mouth and applauding hands.” I almost had to sit on them.

If You Go

WHO: IU Summer Theatre

WHAT: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” by William Shakespeare

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today, Thursday, Saturday and July 19 and 21; 2 p.m. Sunday and July 22.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $10-$20 for each show. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Read this review and find more arts news at heraldtimesonline.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

There’s more to theater costumes than meets the eye

By Marcela Creps 812-331-4375 | mcreps@heraldt.com Jul 9, 2017

Photo by Chris Howell | Herald-Times Drawings for “Love’s Labour’s Lost” costume design by Emmie Phelps, a recent MFA in Costume Design at IU.

When attending a theater production at Indiana University, have you ever given thought to the costumes?

Yes, sometimes the costumes standout and can catch your eye, but the costume designers behind the work are also trying to be sure that the costumes are true to the time period so that they don’t stand out as being wrong.

Costume Studio Supervisor Robbie Stanton

Robbie Stanton, costumer for IU, said a lot of research goes into designing the costumes so that they are correct for the time period. Designers will also work with the director, presenting ideas that may or may not be what the director is looking for before doing renderings.

When it comes to making sure a costume is historically right, there’s a fine line for the designers. “We work from research to get as close to the real thing,” he said. But sometimes that may not work for the actor.

“A lot of period clothing made restrictions on movement,” Stanton said. A coat he was working on for “Persuasion” was a good example. “Men’s coats actually forced their shoulders back and curved their arms. The dresses that we’re using in ‘Persuasion’, which is the empire regency, they also hold the shoulders back.”

With those restrictions, it would be difficult for an actor to move, so adjustments need to be made so that the costume works for the actor. “We’re trying to use it for what we need,” Stanton said.

But it’s not as simple as designing for the right time period and for what the director wants. Stanton also has to consider how much things will cost and how much time is needed to create the clothes.

“We have to look at the logistics of anything — time, money — just like any business,” Stanton said.

Costume designers are given a budget, and when deciding what to create, more has to be considered that just the cost of the fabric or a premade shirt.

“I don’t make those decisions,” Stanton said of costume designers chosen for a particular show. “I say if you want a $200 undershirt, fine. But just make sure you’ve got money so he’s got pants on. What’s more important,” Stanton said.

Photo by Chris Howell | Herald-Times

While it is important to work within the budget, it is also important to not be too far under budget. Phelps said in a previous show she was under budget by $2,500.

Phelps said that budgets are often based on what was used the previous quarter or year, so if a designer is under budget, it gives the impression that the next production would need less money. It is a good idea to keep some money available in case there is a problem, but she now knows how important it is to use what she’s given.

“You need to use it for things for the show,” she said.

Finding the pieces

Sometimes clothes can be repurposed from a previous show. When IU staged “Dames at Sea” earlier in the summer season, Stanton remembered working on that show years ago.

“We had a set of costumes that were for ‘The Echo Waltz,'” Stanton said. So he encouraged the designer to look in stock to see if they were workable.

“If you like the, we’ll use them. She did. We used them,” Stanton said. “Everything else was built new.”

To build a new costume, the designers have options. Sometimes it means a buying trip to Chicago or New York City to find the right fabric. Other times, it means going into IU’s fabric stock to find what is needed. There are also trims to consider as well as accessories, which, again may be purchased or found in stock.

Sometimes items can be rented. Since most theater companies have stock, IU can sometimes rent what is needed or even borrow from IU’s opera theater.

Shoes can also be tricky. Sometimes shoes can be pulled from stock, but there are times when they need to be purchased.

“These are brand new,” said Katie Cowan Sickmeier, costume designer for “Persuasion.” “We have to put something on there so he doesn’t slip,” she said, pointing to the slick sole of the shoe.

As “Persuasion” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost” are performed in repertory, the challenges are increased.

“Every ounce of extra space is storage for the show that is not on, so I have to carve out quick change areas,” said Robbie Stanton, costumer for IU’s theater department.

Making the change

Finding space for actors to change means a lot of creative thought is needed.

“With these shows, I have 14 actors and five dressers. I have to figure out where I’m going to do all this,” he said.

Figuring it out means working with the set designer, technical director and electrician to make sure the dressers have the necessary space, lighting and equipment to do their jobs.

With the two current shows, two designers — Stanton and Sickmeier — split the work for “Persuasion” with Emmie Phelps working on “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Cutter/drapers work with the designers to make sure the costumes are completed on time.

Cutter/Draper Anne Sorenson

Anne Sorenson is the cutter/draper for “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” which used previous costumes and reworked them for the show.

“The cutter/draper is really the engineer of the costuming world,” she said. She often is solving problems and re-engineering items so that they will work for the current show and actor.

She started taking sewing classes in sixth grade and went to undergraduate school thinking she would own a bridal shop, thinking it was a good way to continue her passion for sewing. In college, she had a chance work on some theater productions, and that opportunity opened her eyes to a potential new career.

Working in various places as a cutter/draper has given her a wealth of knowledge for the work she does. Since people have different techniques, her previous jobs have expanded her skills where she can adapt what she learns from others to help her with the job at hand. Working with others has been an important learning experience.

“A lot of it is hands on, and a lot of times it takes a couple of times to feel like you get it,” she said.

With only two dress rehearsals before a show opens, the designers are often sending out various pieces as they are finished so the actors can get a feel for what they will endure during the performance.

“If we threw all of this at the actors during dress rehearsals — quick changes, all the accessories — it’s not going to work,” Stanton said.

To keep things simple, actors are reduced to numbers when it comes to costumes. For example, with the two current shows, women are numbered one to seven with men numbered from eight to 14. Letters are then added to make it easy to identify the show. For example, 7L would be used for an actress in “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Costumes than then easily be divvied up onto racks for men and women based on the shows.

“It’s all about organization. It’s all it is,” Stanton said.

There is a choreography that happens with the costumes, the actors and the dressers to ensure that everything is ready for each performance. Check lists are used for performances so that each item can be tracked. The checklist contains a box that is marked with a line when the actor takes it and marked a second time when the actor returns it. If each box has an “X” when the performance is through, then everything can be prepped for the next performance.

If you don’t have an X, you know what you’re missing. You go look for it because it could have been left backstage especially with so many changes,” Stanton said.

Actors are also given mesh bags where washables are to be put at the end of a performance. Items are washed after each performance with dry clean items and other props, including wigs, freshened up for the next show.

While the costumes are made to fit the actor or actress, it is rare that someone wants to keep a costume. Stanton remembers some extras that were hired to carry in a queen during a production. The actors, who were bodybuilders, wore chains around their necks with collars. Stanton said he has no idea why the extras wanted the collars.

When it comes to shows that use modern dress, sometimes the actors are offered the opportunity to buy the item at a discounted price. Stanton said modern dress items are easy to buy, so there isn’t any need to keep them.

“So we make a little money back, and the actor gets their costume at a much reduced price and something they can wear everyday,” he said.

Purchasing pieces

Sometimes what the costume shop needs to be can raise an eyebrow or two for IU’s purchasing department. For example, other costume shops will often purchase vodka for cleaning costumes. As it is straight alcohol, it can be used as a much cheaper option for cleaning costumes. However, due to the university’s restrictions, it isn’t possible to use it.

Other items can be even more questionable. Stanton remembers needing to buy a male enhancer last year for a character who was written up as well-endowed. For a production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the costumes required people to be in fetish wear.

“When you go to leatherdaddy.com, they wonder,” Stanton said.

For Phelps, working on “Love’s Labour’s Lost” gave her a chance at two new experiences as she’d never worked costumes from this period or worked with director Jonathan Michaelsen.

There were challenges of not only making sure the costumes were right but also working with previously used costumes and repurposing them.

“We have so much that we can’t build from scratch,” she said.

Phelps loved meeting the challenge and had fun creating all the costumes and accessories that were needed for the show. She was also able to use lots of hats.

“I love millinery. I love the craft work,” she said.

Reworking old costumes also means she’ll return things to stock better than she found them, since some of them had been deteriorating.

Phelps excitedly talked about the costumes she’s created and the work that she does. It makes it obvious that despite the challenges, she loves what she does.

“I’m so glad I’m not doing anything else,” she said.

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Summer Theatre

WHAT: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” by William Shakespeare and “Persuasion,” adapted for the stage from Jane Austen’s novel by Jennifer LeBlanc

WHEN: “Love’s Labour’s Lost”: 7:30 p.m. July 9, 11, 13, 15, 19, 21; 2 p.m. July 16, 22
“Persuasion”: 7:30 p.m. July 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22; 2 p.m., July 9, 15, 23

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $10-$20 for each show. Call 812.855.1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Visit The Herald Times online for this and more great arts news at heraldtimesonline.com.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If you love a rom com, chances are you already love Will and Jane!

By Anne Sattler

We’re happy to welcome Bloomington High School North intern Anne Sattler to the blog!

Anne has been working in the Marketing Office since school ended this year. She has become a trusted and invaluable member of our team and we appreciate this pop culture contribution to our classical summer!

Anne says that while some teenagers think they don’t like or won’t understand Shakespeare and Jane Austen, what they might not realize is that a lot of teen movies and rom coms they already like are adaptations of these famous works. “While some might be older, cheesier, or better than others, they are always able to show a classic differently and to make you smile!” So here is Anne’s list of  Shakespeare and Jane Austen classics that have been adapted for the teen and the screen:

O, directed by Tim Blake Nelson

Based on the play Othello, the movie takes place in a high school setting where the main character, Odin, is a star basketball player. The movie follows Odin as he struggles to deal with the truth and lies as he is manipulated by his teammate Hugo.  To compare it with the original Shakespeare, it has the same overall plot and very similar character names, just modernized because it takes place in 2001. This is darker than other teen films because it deals with situations like rape, drugs, and abusive behavior.

This movie stars Mekhi Phifer as Odin and Josh Hartnett as Hugo. Other cast members include Julia Stiles, Andrew Keegan, and Martin Sheen. You can watch O with a Cinemax subscription, or with a purchase through YouTube, Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes.

Lizzie Bennet Diaries, directed by Bernie Su and Margaret Dunlap

This Pride and Prejudice adaptation takes place in 3-7-minute weekly update videos, vlog-style, as Lizzie Bennet talks about her life story to the camera, with the help of her two sisters, Jane and Lydia, and her best friend, Charlotte. The weekly updates of the life of graduate student Lizzie Bennet is the focus of series. Lizzie has to conquer the hardships of relationships, not knowing what to do next with her life, and dealing with her annoying mother. The story follows the Pride and Prejudice plot and maintains the characters’ names throughout the show, with some changes to last names. The series shows what Pride and Prejudice would’ve been like if it had taken place in 2012.

This YouTube show stars Ashley Clements in the title role, along with, Julia Cho, Laura Spencer, and Daniel Vincent Gordh as William Darcy. This web series is available on YouTube.

She’s the Man, directed by Andy Fickman

One of the most popular adaptations, She’s the Man, takes on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The 2006 movie is about a girl named Viola who takes her brother’s place at an elite boarding school after her previous school has cut the girls soccer team. Throughout the movie Viola, now as her brother “Sebastian”, has to tackle life as a boy. Compared to the Shakespeare play, the adaption keeps the same names of the main characters, and has the basic plot and concept.

The movie features a young Channing Tatum as Duke, the roommate and love interest of Amanda Bynes’ character Viola/Sebastian. Other cast members include Laura Ramsey, Robert Hoffman, and Alexandra Breckenridge. This movie available for purchase through YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play

Bridget Jones’ Diary directed by Sharon Maguire

Another Pride and Prejudice inspired movie introduces Bridget as she attempts to tackle single life at age 32. The story follows her as she tries to turn her life around and change herself in hopes of finding the man for her. The story has a lot of similarities to its inspiration — Bridget’s love interest is named Darcy, her mother is obsessed with finding her a man, the two female leads from both stories are pressured by society to marry up, and while at first Darcy seems arrogant and selfish, he deeply cares for Bridget (or Elizabeth) deeply.

This movie stars Renee Zellweger in the main lead, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth as the two love interests and you can find it on Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes.

Shakespeare in Love, directed by John Madden

There is one movie that seems to wrap most of Shakespeare’s works into one story. Shakespeare in Love. This Academy-Award winning film references a lot of Shakespeare’s works and Elizabethan literature, including, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Two Gentleman of Verona, The Merchant of Venice, and Sonnet 18 and Sonnet 130.

The plot focuses on Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet, while he is having a fictional love affair with a women named Viola (name being based on the character in Twelfth Night.) And you also see many prop references to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, through the use of a skull, and there is also an open chest, which recalls The Merchant of Venice. Dialogue that includes some of Shakespeare’s famous quotes such as, “A plague on both your houses”, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, (Romeo and Juliet), “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” (Sonnet 18), and “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” (Sonnet 130) are peppered throughout the film to help tell the story.

This movie stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola and Joseph Fiennes as William Shakespeare. Other cast members include, Judi Dench, Ben Affleck, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. It is available with a HBO subscription or for purchase on YouTube, Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes.

Jane Austen Book Club, directed by Robin Swincord

This movie follows the life of six people who come together to start a book club in honor of Jane Austen. While this isn’t based on a specific Austen novel, the references and characters are enough. As the movie goes on, you start to notice how the characters are starting to express similar traits to the Austen characters. An example is that the character Prudie is similar to Anne Elliot from Persuasion, according to director, Swincord.

This movie features Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace, and Hugh Dancy as the main six members of the book club and I found it on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.

Now before we discuss the last Shakespeare and Austen adaptations, it’s clear that this isn’t a new idea. Taking an old good play or novel and adapting it (and re-adapting it) is something that has been done many times before. For Shakespeare, some of those movie titles include, Forbidden Planet (The Tempest), Throne of Blood (Macbeth), My Own Idaho (Henry IV and V), Just One of the Guys (Twelfth Night), and the two most popular movies, West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet) and The Lion King (Hamlet).

West Side Story is one of the most popular of all Broadway musicals! It takes Tony and Maria, two people from different cultures that fall in love regardless of what other people think. And Disney’s The Lion King is an animated movie musical that follows, Simba, an African lion, who lost his father, for which he blames himself. Simba eventually returns to the animal kingdom, and takes on his uncle Scar for the right to the throne.

For Austen, a lot of her novels have had many straight film adaptations of the actual novels. Some feature famous actors and actresses such as Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Colin Firth, and Keira Knightley.

And now the final films on my list:

10 Things I Hate About You, directed by Gil Junger

Another of the funny, popular Shakespeare adaptations is 10 Things I Hate About You, based on The Taming of the Shrew. In this film, like She’s the Man, the characters keep very similar names. The film follows the same plot — of younger sister Bianca wanting to date. The father won’t allow her to date until her older sister Kat, starts dating as well. However, Kat isn’t a person who is viewed as appealing to men. Cameron, the guy that is interested in Bianca, hires Patrick, the school’s messed up bad boy, to date Kat so he can see Bianca. Truths and lies are revealed, and chaos occur throughout. 10 Things gives Shakespeare’s work a new look through the modern lens.

The movie stars Julia Stiles as Kat, Heath Ledger as Patrick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cameron, and Larisa Oleynik as Bianca. It is available on Netflix, or for purchase on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.

Clueless, directed by Amy Heckerling

Probably the most popular Jane Austen romantic comedy adaptation is Clueless, based on Austen’s novel, Emma. This 1995 film is about a girl name Cher who lives in a Beverly Hills mansion, where her dad is a successful lawyer. Cher has everything and anything she wants, but also has good intentions and good heart. The story follows Cher as she tries to navigate the life of a spoiled teenage girl living in Beverly Hills. Wanting to do a good deed, she helps out the new girl, Tai Frasier. Through the movie, Cher attempts to do good deeds, some which are successful, and some that go wrong. While Clueless has been modernized to be the perfect 90’s movie, it still captures the idea of the meaning of Emma.

This movie stars Alicia Silverstone as the lead role as Cher. Other cast members are Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, and Donald Faison. Clueless is on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.

Thank you for joining me on the trip down rom com memory lane. Check out these fun adaptations and be sure to see the ORIGINALS when you have a chance. You know the stories already!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Talking Tech: “The Really Old Chair”

or “Before it can be reborn, it must first be destroyed.”

By Jennie Fischer

Second-year M.F.A. Scenic Designer Jennie Fischer

This is the story of a very old chair. We were lucky to catch Jennie Fischer in the shop one day as she was working on resurrecting and transforming this hidden gem from the depths of storage into a stunning piece that will help complete the world of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” this July.

The world of properties is filled with method and an equal measure of madness. Improvisation is often just as important as knowing the tools of your trade. Every project is different, and no matter how many love letters you compose, flowers you arrange, or armchairs you rip apart, something unexpected will  inevitably happen that sends a prop maker down an unknown path. This constant learning curve is what fuels my love of props and the wider world of theatre.

As a set designer and prop artist, I have no shortage of love for furniture. The first prop I ever helped build at the ripe age of sixteen was an eccentric couch for a high school production of Twelfth Night. I come from a family of furniture builders and fine carpenters. Needless to say, I was thrilled when a kind of crappy but still beautiful armchair was chosen from our stock to be in this summer’s production of Persuasion. After spending my year building 1960’s chic furniture for Vanya and refinishing elegant pieces for Duchess, I dived in right away into reviving our armchair to its former glory.

Since a properties department often handles a huge amount of work for each show produced, we often find the quickest ways to complete a project. Taking shortcuts is hardly ever the first choice, as it tends to come around and bite someone later, even if it is years later. As I began my journey into this chair, I was determined to not take the easy way out. The topmost layer of fabric, the green stripes, had not been properly tucked and stapled near the back of the seat where it meets the backrest. I could tell right away that this was due to a rushed job, so I set out to correct it. Underneath this striped fabric was, as I expected, a lovely red and gold fabric.

It is common for furniture in theatre to simply be upholstered over instead of reupholstered, since it is faster. I’ve encountered dining chairs with up to seven different layers of fabric on their seats before I could find the foam of the seat itself. Thinking this was the original fabric and I would find foam or stuffing underneath, I kept digging, first taking off the panel of fabric on the back. Here, I discovered tacked on thin cardboard and some old stuffing. This covered the inside of the back of the chair, where I could see strings for button tufting. However, there were no buttons on the front where the strings indicated there should be. I realized then that I was in for several more surprises.

After I removed the red fabric from the seat, I found the stuffing to be similar to a blanket used to protect furniture from moving, and yet another layer of fabric. This was an ancient looking green velvet, though whether it was originally the olive color of the center of the fabric or the bright teal of the edge where a trim would have laid, I have no idea.

This was mimicked on the arm cushions, and was also held down with rusty tacks, so surely this could have been the original upholstery. The green striped fabric had been held down with newer, wider staples; the red, with smaller, older staples; and now the green velvet was attached with tacks. It was like a timeline telling me the history of this chair, the different shows it had been in. This timeline was also shows in the layers of paint as they chipped away from the frame. The original dark wood veneer had been coated with a cream color, then a pistachio green, and then the plain brown it currently was. The most telling thing about the history of this chair, however, was the stuffing.

Modern furniture uses a variety of foams to make cushions, but before mass manufacturing, furniture was stuffed with springs, burlap, and wadded up mounds of horsehair. This is roughly the point where I both donned a dust mask and named the chair Dante. As I ripped away the fabric on the arms, I discovered yet another layer of fabric under the green. This fabric was coated in so much dust I couldn’t really tell what color it was. It also disintegrated in my hands as I pulled it free from the tacks.

My second full day of deconstruction was far slower going since I was working with exclusively pulling out tacks. I managed to remove the horse hair and burlap on the seat to reveal the tangled web of springs and twine underneath. I left the back for last, knowing it would be a complete pain to remove due to the tufting holding the layers of fabric, hair, stuffing, and dust together. I got fed up and cut it out, leaving me with a ring of fabric and tacks to remove. The chair was finally down to just a frame, after two days of work. In all, I pulled out three and a half layers of fabric, a huge amount of horsehair and dust, burlap, enough tacks and staples to redo several other chairs, and a set of springs that looked more like a torture device than a piece of a comfy old chair.

After a bit of research and a well-timed photo on my Facebook page, I discovered a chair that looked extremely similar to the one I was currently performing surgery on in a photo taken in 1853. I count myself lucky and smart that I had used a facemask, otherwise I would have been breathing 160-year-old dust for the better part of sixteen hours.

Finally, it was time to refinish the actual chair. On an ideal timeline, I would have stripped the four layers of paint down to the raw wood, but I had compromises to make. I opted instead for more layers of paint and stain to mimic a wood grain and give the chair an elegant finish. From the original frame, I put a base coat of a light orange, then created a false grain with gel stain, layered that with a dark, regular stain, and then sealed it with a satin finish to give it the gorgeous, deep tone that will be seen under the stage lights. This process took another day, allowing for dry time between the coats.

Next, I created new supports by stretching burlap webbing across the seat and back of the chair. I then cut and trimmed new foam for the seat and back, adding extra padding in the centers and tapering their edges so they may create a nice curve when the fabric is finally added. I then added a layer of batting, to help ease the foam into the shape I wanted. From there, it was finally time to fulfill the purpose of this project, which was just to put different fabric on this chair! This part of the process went together quickly, as it’s always easier to put in staples than it is to take them out. I just cut squares of fabric that fit over the general area I wanted to cover, carefully worked back and forth stapling them down, and then trimmed off the excess. Finally, I added the gimp trim to cover all the staples, and the chair was ready for rehearsal. .

This chair was such a wonderful experience for me, even though it was frustrating and disgusting at some points. I can only hope that the actors and the audience will appreciate this work of art as much as I have, and that my next furniture project will be even more challenging than this one!

Jennie Fischer is an upcoming second year scenic design MFA. She will serve as the scenic designer for The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, the projection designer for City of Angels, as well as the props master for Peter and the Starcatcher, Julius Caesar, and Machinal this next season. When she is not building models or refinishing furniture, Jennie hangs out with her dog Ginger and writes fantasy novels. Jennie is from Durango, Colorado.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment