Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother Theatre

Just a few thoughts on Mother's Day on how theatre can be like your mother...

Theatre welcomes you even when no one else does.
Theatre can make you laugh.
Theatre can make you cry.
Theatre will tell you the truth...even when it isn't easy for you to hear.
Theatre wants what's best for you.

How else do upon think theatre is like a mother? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, April 30, 2012

TEam Work

from Christa Kimlicko JonesAssociate Artistic Director, Director of Programming: 
We have begun the creative discussions. Last week we held our first production meeting for our fall shows NORMALCY and THE JUNGLE BOOK. What’s most exciting about this season is the challenge of discussing two productions at once that need to work together. It is a lot to take on in a short, 3-hour meeting, but because of the team that we have, we all left inspired and ready for the next steps. 
First production meetings are so much about coming to the table with initial ideas and problem solving. Everyone has been doing work on their own and the time has come to begin to put it together—to collaborate, to really work as a team. I’m always amazed to see what the various departments have been working on. In many ways it’s the same excitement we, as school children, felt on Show-and-Tell days. It’s a lot of oohs and ahhs. Set, lighting, costumes, sound and music—all these incredible folks gathered in a room presenting their ideas, supporting the director’s vision...and the production manager making sure it all stays within budget. 
It was a great beginning, resulting in very workable and exciting ideas. We all left inspired and ready for more! Go TEam! 
You can also be a part of the TEam and help make these productions happen.  DONATE TODAY  to Theatre East!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Moment of Truth

from Todd Eric Hawkins, Managing Director

This past week I attended a preview of one of the new musicals opening on Broadway this season. It was a Monday night, I wasn’t particularly excited by the star, nor was I really in the mood to sit in the theater. But...I had a ticket so off to the theatre I went.

One of the disadvantages of being “in the business” is that there is a tendency to
be hyper-critical of theatre, especially when you are not in the mood to lose yourself in the story. Admittedly, this was one of those nights. I will not mention the show, because I am sure that my impression of it is completely based on my own psychological state, not on the quality of the show, or the performances. However, even in my disgruntled mood, a single line, in the hands of an incredible actress, pierced through all of the crap that I was carrying around. With just a few words, she was able to deliver that elusive, magical moment of truth: an emotional connection so strong that the audience has no choice but to connect.

At that moment, everything in my otherwise unremarkable, slightly annoying day fell away. For the first time that evening I stopped looking at the lights and the set and wondering how much they cost. I stopped nit-picking every performance and every song. I stopped being an ass.

Of all of the shows I have seen, I can only think of two occasions when a member of the
ensemble delivered, in my opinion, the best performance of the night. I have always heard the adage, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” Both of these performers have proven that statement.

It is rare for actors—especially those in the ensemble—to hear how much their performance affects audience members. I think good work deserves praise, no matter how small the role. So, while I will not mention the show, I would like to thank that actress—in spirit here, and in a letter delivered to the stage door—for reminding me why I am in the theatre.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Power of Story

from Judson Jones, Artistic Director

One of the things I love about New York is the subway system. So many walks of life. So many histories. So many geographical, religious, and political backgrounds.  So many different clothing options! So many different faces. I love the shared glances you have with someone when you realize that you’re both eavesdropping on the same conversation and a bit a juicy news just came out. And for the most part, I love the myriad of musical performers (some good…and some not so good) that hop on the subway to play and then pass the hat. And all of this is crammed together in a hole in the ground.

The other day, it was an unusually early morning commute. I was on my way to a set and, as TV shows tend to start shooting at the break of dawn, I was not in the mood to do anything but go over my lines in silence. So of course there’s going to be a baby that’s having a complete and utter breakdown on the train. This child had some lungs and wanted everyone to know that he was not happy! Put on my headphones, but instead of hearing Jeff Buckley, I heard Jeff Buckley being backed up by the crying baby chorus. Ditched the headphones and tried to focus on my script. Then the doors open and I see two guitars and an accordion walk on. I looked up to the ceiling and thought, “Well, my morning just got better.” I was just not in the mood. Then they started playing one of the most beautiful and sad pieces of music I have ever heard. I’m not an expert of Spanish music but it sounded like it was perhaps a traditional folk song. The first thing I noticed was that the child stopped crying almost immediately. He just stared at the musicians, his cheeks still covered in tears. And then I looked across from me and there was an elderly woman mouthing the words, with tears in her eyes. There was such passion and pain in her eyes. I’m not sure what the history of the song is, but to her, it was very personal and it was very deep. I just sat there and watched her, and the child, and the band. And I smiled. Oh, the power of performance.

Today, throughout the world, two holidays are being celebrated by millions. Passover and Easter.  Passover celebrates the great exodus of the Children of Israel from the bonds of slavery in Egypt. And Easter celebrates the resurrection of a messiah. Both of these holidays celebrate the miracle of great change, journeys, and hope. Today people will gather in homes and perform the ritual of the Seder and others will gather in churches and take communion.  And at the heart of both of these rituals are the stories that will be told as they have been for many, many generations.

Theatre, at its core, is just that. Storytelling. Take away the lights, the score, the costumes, the scenery and what are you left with? The story. But the paramount aspect of the storytelling is the communion we share with each other. It is during time when we come together and we don’t just observe, but we partake. And when we leave, we should all be full.

Have a truly wonderful holiday.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lies & Truth in the Theatre

from William Franke, Director of Development & Communications

Much has been made in the past few weeks of Mike Daisey’s one-man show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, particularly the truthfulness of it.  Perhaps none of this would have come up had it stayed in the theater and not been presented as truth on This American Life, where it transitioned from theatre to journalism.

(Full disclosure: I have not seen the live performance at the Public Theater. But like many people*, I was enthralled with the half hour excerpt of Daisey’s performance presented on This American Life. I was equally captivated by the episode that they ran last week, “Retraction.”)

I know some people who find it ridiculous that Daisey is being lambasted for being less than truthful. They repeat Daisey’s defense that he is an artist of the theatre and that his monologue—a piece of theatre—does not need to meet the same rigors that a piece of pure journalism does.

The reason this sticks in my craw is that it reminds me of a refrain I’ve heard over and over again: that actors = liars. (A few examples: A friend of mine was told by her in-laws “We can never be sure if you’re telling the truth, because you’re an actor.” I was once approached by a former coworker to pose on the phone as her grown daughter’s boss to give a glowing recommendation to a potential employer. When I refused, she said “C’mon, you can do it. You’re an actor.”)

My understanding is that, while Daisey created a theatrical piece, he did so as a storyteller, purportedly relating stories of his actual experiences without caveat, without footnote. Instead, what was brought to light was that he made much of it up to manipulate the emotions of the audience.

Yes, actors in any play are up there on stage saying things they don’t mean, things they may not personally believe, pretending to be people they aren’t. But when actor and audience enter the theater, there is a contract, an understanding between both parties about what is going on. Even with plays based on historical events, audiences understand that liberties are taken: historical personages and events are merged for the sake of dramatic expediency. The irony of this situation is that in a room full of people sharing an evening of these agreed-upon lies, something transcendent often occurs. Greater truths are discovered. That is the power of theatre when everyone is in it together.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Meltdown on the Mountain

Meltdown on the Mountain—It’s the getting back up that counts (with a little help from our friends).
from Christa Kimlicko JonesAssociate Artistic Director, Director of Programming: 

Building a theatre company isn’t easy.  There are many long roads, hurdles, and often mountains to climb. There are fears and doubts. There are big leaps. There are setbacks. Sometimes it even seems that it would make more sense to just not do it. It would be easier, safer, simpler. But, then, miraculously we get back up. We leap. We dive. We push through. Somehow we find strength in each other, in our dreamsand in you, our supporters. Not really sure how exactly it happens, but it doesand we thank you for it.

This past week, I went skiing for the first time EVER. And, needless to say, it proved to be more than just a skiing trip. I think I discovered myself and perhaps even conquered myself up on that stupid not-so-easy "Easy Street" course—with a little help from my friends. The leading up to it was fine, I guess. I would mention what I was doing for Spring Break, look around with saucer eyes for any sort of insight (people didn't realize that I was really looking for magical ANSWERS!) and mostly it was the same: people giving me advice, saying "you’ll be fine!" and telling me "just keep your skis in 'pizza.'" Telling me what boots or pants or jacket I needed. And of course I just said, "Okay!" because really, I had no idea about any of it. I had no context (except what I've seen on TV, and those people aren't doing 'pizza,' I don’t think. These "bits of advice," however, could IN NO WAY prepare me for what I was about to do. I suppose "keep it in pizza" was something I used the most! But, seriously, folksalmost 40 and first time skiing?? This brain and body are a bit different than my 5-year-old nephew who literally got to the top of the mountain and just went. No pausing. No questions. He just went. And survived. And went back for more. There is a lesson in that, I’m sure!  But, my journey was a bit more…um… involved.

So, first things first, I got my outfit—I looked like I knew what I was doing (that’s half the battle, right?!). The next morning, we started our road trip to Vermont. We got to the lodge after our gorgeous drive and met up with family. We were staying in the Trapp Family Lodges in Stowe, VT. Over dinner, there was discussion about the snow and the slopes and "Stay on the bunny..." "Okay," I said. Next morning—got dressed, good breakfast, and off we went! Another gorgeous, peaceful drive to the slopes. After getting all set up and looking around I thought, "I can do this!" Then off to lessons. We started slowly. Scooting along, learning about weight, etc. We learned how to get on the lift (much appreciated!), and then got to the top of the bunny slope. I honestly don’t remember my first time down. I was just following. Just trying to stay up. And I was doing great! We did this several more times until the class was over. Success!! I was able to do this! I only fell a couple of times (trying not to run into children—a very smart objective, I thought!). But I was good! We then had lunch, and back to the 1pm lesson: Intro to Turning. We graduated to "Easy Street." However, Easy Street wasn’t so easy. Anyway, it was fine, reallyat first. With my class, I was able to follow my teacher and my other classmates. I fell mostly every time going down, but I learned how to get up. In fact, I got really good at that. (Maybe that’s the moral to the story, really?!) Up and down. Falling, yes, but getting back up! Had a great afternoon, evening of restmuscles very sore. Jud said that I’d probably wake up tomorrow and think, "I don’t want to go, I’m too sore" (he was right), but, "getting up and going is key!"

Next morning, VERY sore. Could hardly walk. But, was determined to push through. Stretched out. Got dressed. Good breakfast. Nice drive there, but this day…this day was different. I had a feeling in my stomach. Of dread. The day before, I knew nothing. But today, today I knew what was about to happen. And I, in no way, trusted myself. But, on we went. ‘Easy Street’, here we come! Lift was good. I was a pro at this! Got to the top--the top of the mountain that I had skied many times the day before. Turned the corner, looked down. And FROZE. My legs had no idea of what to do. People zooming past but I froze. And then I started crying. The meltdown on the mountain had begun. I tried to move, scooted a bit. But just couldn't go. Or let go. Isn't interesting how just a little bit of knowledge will keep you stuck in one place? Anyway, I tried to follow Jud, but just couldn’t go. I cried, I yelled at him for bringing me up there, I started scooting down on my bottom—but that wasn't really working. The people on the lifts got a lift and a show! And I didn't care. I was going to die on that mountain (it was a very dramatic moment). I had to keep taking my goggles off because they were fogging up from crying. I tried getting up and kept falling over and then no energy to get back up because I was cryingI mean, sobbing. It was quite a sight, I'm sure. Jud standing there, all the while, trying to give me pointers. I certainly didn't want to listen. But he stayed. And then, after probably 20 minutes or so of this, I'm not sure what happened—something in me?  Something in the fact that he was still there?  Something in the knowledge that I had to get down? Something in the knowledge that I did it just the day before? I don't know. But I stood up, had a moment with myself, looked straight ahead, and went forward a bit. I stopped. Then turned a bit, went the other way. The next thing I knew I was traversing down the mountain—slowly, but I was going. Bit by bit, and then somehow, I was down the mountain. It wasn't like I just said "Okay…GO…" and I was down, which may be the way for some. For me, it was slowly, bit by bit. And the most bizarre thing—when I got down, I had the thought of, "I want to go again." Why in the world would I do that to myself?  Bizarre. So, I went down again. I fell every time—but less and less. Most importantly, I kept going. Learning something about it each time down.

On that day, I realized that looking straight down the mountain didn't work, but focusing on just the task at hand—that I could handle. I learned that if I keep going, eventually I will get through.  And, at some point, I might even enjoy myself! I learned that it’s okay to be cautious, smart in fact. It's okay to be a bit afraid. It's most important that you take that breath and you try. And if you fall, learn how to get up. And surround yourself with those that love you, care for you, believe in you, will stick up for you when others try to push you down, and you will actually enjoy the scenery as it goes by. You might even be able to improve your technique each time you go.

Just like building a theatre. Just like anything in life, really. Those things that are most worth it will be hard, but they are possible. I’m certainly not ready to do blue slopes yet, but I am willing to go back again and get more bruises in the process. Thank you for being those supporters on the mountain of building a theatre company. We literally could not do it without you. It's scary at times for sure, but it's definitely possible. And the bumps and bruises are worth it. We will keep diving. Taking leaps. Taking chances—with you. Looking forward to seeing you up there on that mountain again and again. Together we can do this!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

We Are Family

from Todd Eric Hawkins, Managing Director 
In school, I was constantly bullied; I was ganged up on, beaten, and terrorized on a regular basis. Or at least that is how it felt at the time.

On my first day of sixth grade, I transitioned to a middle school in Norman, Oklahoma. It was the first time I wasn’t able to walk to school; I had to ride the bus.  This concept to me was terrifying. At 11 years old, I was already almost 6 feet tall and I was painfully shy—a combination that would prove to be a liability.

I sat on the bus that first morning, scared of the new experience. To soothe myself, I held my books to my chest, trying to make myself as small as humanly possible. I can only assume that I thought that if I stayed still, none of the other kids would notice me and, therefore, wouldn’t pick on me. My height made this impossible.

One of the boys on the bus asked if I was a boy or a girl. I, of course, told him that I was a boy. At the time I didn’t realize it, but the next move would be the beginning of my many encounters with bullies. He told me that he thought I was a girl, because I carried my books like one. Everyone laughed and that was all it took, I was called a fag for the first time in my life.  At the time I didn’t even know what the word meant, let alone whether I was one or not.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. When I look back on that time and the events that followed over the course of the next six years, I am oddly thankful. Without that teasing I wouldn’t be the person I am today, nor would I have found a home in the theatre.

In the Drama Club, I found my allies, a merry band of misfits who were all looking for some kind of escape from the cruel, unjust world that we were forced to inhabit. In the auditorium after school, during countless hours of rehearsal, I felt like a valued member of the team. That feeling gave me the strength to ignore the name-calling and fight back when pushed.  I discovered who I was.

The theatre has always provided me with a sense of family. Whether it was high school, college, or Theatre East, the people who surround me when I am actively engaged in the art of making theatre are the best people I know. 

I think much of it has to do with the collaborative nature of the theatre. Nothing can get done without everyone involved doing his or her job. Success depends upon it.  Even when things don’t seem to be going well, the show, as they say, must go on, and the players must pull together and do whatever it takes to make it happen. That lesson may be the most valuable thing I have learned from the theatre.

I am honored to be a part of the Theatre East family, and as part of that family, I am committed to doing whatever it takes to make it a success. Thank you for welcoming me and above all for your continued support.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons

from Judson Jones, Artistic Director

When life gives you lemons, make saturated calcium hydroxide1 
We’ve all heard the old adage before. And while we know it to be true, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
The year is 1990. I’m a junior at Whitehouse High School. And for some reason, in the infinite wisdom of a 17-year-old, I opted to sign up for Physics class. Why? I still don’t know. I could say that I truly wanted to ponder the mysteries of the universe. Most likely there was a cute girl in the class; at 17 you tend to follow certain parts of the body more than others. So there I was. I had already plastered my textbook cover with my favorite bands, I had my new Chuck Taylors on (which I think the cute girl noticed), I was ready for some Physics. Then Mr. Tom Young walked in. You know that look on your face when you smell something but you can’t figure out exactly what it is, and you kind of turn your head one direction and then another to see if you find the source? That was my face for the next 50 minutes. Who cares about Bon Jovi? Who cares about red canvas Hi-Tops with black laces? Who cares about the cute girl?! I’m going to fail Physics!!! After school that day I went and drowned my sorrows in a tall  suicide2 Slush from Sonic.
As I lay in bed that night two thoughts kept creeping into my mind. Over and over. Incessantly. No matter how hard I tried, my mind was plagued with fear and grief. One: Cop Rock. Really?! From the same mind that created Hill Street Blues?! It made no sense! That was the problem with the ’90s! Things were too good! We left the depressing, gritty, cocaine-filled, recession-induced dramas with the ’80s! We didn’t want to see a brooding cop with a dark past who nurses a bottle of Scotch each night just to blot out the nightmares of the streets arresting some arrogant drug lord that had the cop’s partner taken out in an undercover sting that went bad two weeks ago! We didn’t want to see that! Instead we wanted to see the same brooding cop and the same arrogant drug lord SINGING AND DANCING TOGETHER! Ugh! It was such a rough time. Oh, and the other thought that kept penetrating my mind was sitting in Mr. Young’s Physics class for the remainder of the school year.
But much to my surprise Physics class got better. There was something incredibly special that Mr. Young brought to class every single day: Passion. And it was contagious. He loved teaching. He loved his students. He didn’t try to make science cool, instead he simply showed us how cool it was. Listening to him talk about quantum behavior or how a Dunking Duck works was like listening to a master painter talking about a piece of art. He was the myth buster before MythBusters came along! Plus he always had assignments you could do for extra credit. This was the secret to me passing. (Oh, and after the 11th episode—“Bang the Potts Slowly”—Cop Rock was canceled.)
We were getting close to midterms and we were each directed to conduct an experiment and document the process FULLY. This would count for half our grade. The stakes were high. So I chose the old lemon-powers-the-digital clock experiment. I already had a head start: we’d bought my dad one of those setups years ago for Father’s Day and my dad keeps everything! I had my digital clock, my piece of copper, my galvanized nail, my wiring, and most importantly my lemon. It went off without a hitch! Then I had to write about it. What was the chemical process that made it work. Mind you, this was before one could just Google it or go to Wikipedia to find out that it’s just an electrochemical reaction caused when oxidation and reduction occur. (I’m still not certain what that means.) Anyway, I pored over texts and labored over my predicament for days. And the night before it was due I found myself staring at the blinking colon on my lemon-powered-digital clock. Then an idea struck me. Partially because I’m stubborn and partially because it’s rumored that I’m a smart ass…I would write a play. Which Way Did He Go George could be called an homage to Of Mice and Men with a Frankenstein twist. It centered around an ill-fated lemon named Lenny and the painful choice that George would have to make. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but yes, George kills Lenny! Sorry. But then George decides to resurrect Lenny in spectacular fashion and thus documenting my experiment began. I finished my masterpiece, went to class the next day, and handed in my death sentence with a smile.
When we came back from the break Mr. Young promptly started handing out our graded term papers. All but mine. He simply asked me to stay after class. Great. I was going to get an F and a lecture. I could hear it already: “You don’t apply yourself.” “Was this supposed to be funny?” “You’ve learned nothing in my class.” After everyone left the class I slowly made my way to his desk and was prepared to lay prostrate and receive my lashings. Mr. Young handed me my paper. B. “I would have given it a higher grade but I felt like the plot sort of fell apart towards the end. And it seemed a bit contrived at times.” I just stared at him. Oh my God, I’ve fallen asleep again. That’s what’s happening. I’m asleep at my desk and at any moment something is going to wake me up and I’m going to spring back and let out something like, “Uhwoodowha?” That didn’t happen. I was indeed awake. Mr. Young broke the silence, “You probably think I'm teaching you Physics don't you? I’m not. I'm teaching you that when you're faced with something and you don't know what to do or how to move forward…you don't close the book. You don't give up. You DO something.”
In this business of theatre, we are told “No” so many times. Whether it’s seeking a role, funding for a production, a home for a play, presenting a design or a score, we will hear “No” many times before we will hear “Yes.” And all too often it makes us want to throw up our hands and simply close the book. Over the past couple of weeks Mr. Young has come to mind often. Every time I think I can’t send another email, I can’t reach out to another possible funder, I can’t chew another TUMS…I take a moment. Breathe. And think, “Don’t close the book.”
Thank you, Mr. Young for that gift. It has made all the difference. What you put in motion…has stayed in motion.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Are You Not Entertained?

from William Franke, Director of Development & Communications
While I realize that quoting the catchphrase from an Oscar-winning film from 11 years ago may not seem the most timely of ideas, I couldn't help but think of Maximus bellowing to the crowds at the Colosseum after reading the latest post at An Uncommon Mind. Subtitled An Autodidact's Guide to Public Education, it is the blog of Joanne O'Brien, who is a high school teacher as well as a longtime friend of Theatre East*.
In her post from last Sunday, Joanne addresses the challenges of Engagement vs. Entertainment in education, asking "How did we come to confuse engagement with entertainment, and to insist that teachers perform like marionettes, bouncing around the classroom, mouthing scripts prepared by others?" She goes on to argue that truly engaging educational instruction "challenges the student to seek out the answers to questions of 'how' and 'why' in addition to the 'what' and 'who' of a topic. This search goes hand-in-hand with challenging activities, and rewards students for delving deeply into subject matter."
As I read this, it occurred to me that what Joanne strives for in the classroom is what Theatre East strives for in the theater. In the classroom, the "why" makes learning so much more interesting than the simple rote memorization of names, dates & places. And of course in the theater it is enjoyable to see complex characters in interesting situations and it's rewarding to be able to parse out the "why"—the motivation— behind each character's words & actions. But that would stop at being merely entertaining. At Theatre East, as we lay out in our core beliefs, we believe that theatre enables a greater connection to the world and to each other & that it is a catalyst for critical thinking.
seek to advance the dialogue of the shared human experience through works that utilize simple storytelling,providing our community with a platform to deepen its understanding of themselves, each other and the world we that provoke you to see the "what" up on stage, think about how the "who" is you, and challenge you to debate what your "how" & "why" would be under those circumstances. And not to have the solution laid out up on stage, but rather allow it to be  something you discover & unlock inside of you.

I feel we've done a pretty good job wrestling with some meaty issues in our past couple of seasons with EYE OF GOD (what are the limits of faith, especially where they intersect with a woman's right to choose?) and THE SOLDIER DREAMS (who has the right to make end-of-life decisions for a loved one? and how can we connect with them before it's too late?) and I look forward to the discussions that will follow NORMALCY in August-September. What will those post-show conversations be like? Well, you'll have to come to the show and see for yourself!
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*(and wife to Theatre East's Resident Composer & Sound Designer, Scott O'Brien.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Planted Seeds

Jim's aunt, grandfather, visiting relative (actually from NYC!), and uncle (L to R)
We're excited to have our first guest post! This one comes from Theatre East community member & supporter Jim Farfaglia:

Seeing plays in New York City is a big deal for an upstater like me, so back in December 2007, while in town visiting a college buddy, I was looking forward to a good show. The tickets to a play at the Beckett Theatre were a gift from a friend of a friend, who offered just a brief preview as he placed them in my hand: “I’ve heard good things about this one. I was ready for the larger world theatre can offer our certain lives. I was ready to see things fresh. But what I wasn’t ready for, standing and applauding that performance of Harvest, was what broke ground in my opening heart as that curtain closed.

I was raised in a rural area near the Great Lake Ontario, where winter blizzards and rain-filled springs create rich muck farms. Two of my uncles’ families made their lives on those farms, and my earliest memories are filled with all the drama homespun lives can produce. The characters of Harvest wrestled with that kind of life, and watching their passages through the play was a tender reminder that only a few of my uncles’ generation were still with us and, when we buried them, we would also be burying the farming life. The emotion I felt for both the Harvest performance and my ancestry stirred with my applause—and the seed to somehow honor my family was planted.

A few years had to pass before I could nurture that seed to fruition. I took every opportunity to talk with my relatives—the older the better—asking them to share what they remembered from those farming days. We nosed around the root cellars of our memories, compared notes over dinners made from Grandma’s recipes, held photos of our loved ones like prized produce.

During the first half of 2011, I wrote feverishly, something within me urging: Now is the time. By September the book was complete and Country Boy, a collection of poems about the people, places and thinkings of my youth, was bound. How fortunate I was to be able to place a copy of it in my father’s hands six weeks before he passed away, and how my memories curled up with his in our last talks.

It’s not often that we can see so clearly the line between a life-changing event and its humble beginning.  Today, when I attend a book signing and read from Country Boy, I always start by telling the audience about a little theatre company tucked away, like the sweetest farm garden, in a corner of New York City. And I tell them about a play that brought me to my feet, that brought my pen to paper. Thanks Jud. Thanks Christa. Thanks cast and crew. May you always hold close the truth that Harvest did not die with its last performance. In fact, it thrives.
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you can find Country Boy on Amazon.
you can find a schedule of Jim's readings at the CNY [Central New York] Arts Center here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Human Connection

from Christa Kimlicko Jones, Associate Artistic Director, Director of Programming:
“The world is as a looking-glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it and it in turn will look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly, kind companion."
I teach voice and speech at Stella Adler Studio.  I am an actress.  One might say I love communication. I love diving into stories and telling them well—and then discussing the stories after.  I love sitting over coffee and exchanging ideas.  I love helping a student realize that they might be understood a bit better if they would open their mouth more and breathe.  I love random conversations with strangers on the subway (sometimes complaining about the MTA, sometimes not).  I even love non-verbal conversations: realizing that you and a stranger are smiling about the same child in the stroller;  You make eye contact, and you smile at them too—sharing the moment.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  “Where are you from? What brought you here?”  I love striking up conversations with taxi drivers, discovering that this person was a doctor in his country before he came here.  I love asking people about their children or pets—there is a very special light that comes on when they speak about them.  It’s a different light when you ask them about their parents.  Watch for this, it’s fascinating.  I love, love, love talking with people about dreams.  I love brainstorming the possible rungs on the ladder for reaching those dreams.

Yep, I’m that person.  I mean, I’m not annoying about it—I just think that people are fascinating!  I wish that history class had been more about the people and not so much about dates.  Anyway, I guess I’m in the right business. I get to literally step in others’ shoes and dive into their stories.

But in this constant curiosity about humanity, what I find most fascinating is the very common thread of the basic need for human connection.  We need it.  We need it to push ourselves forward.  We need it to see the mirror.  We need it for validation.  We need it to feed each other.  We have a responsibility to feed each other.  And I’m pretty sure that requires compassion.

I am so proud that Theatre East provides many outlets for possibilities for human connection; possibilities for discussion of big ideas as well as big dreams.  Whether at the monthly mixers, readings, talk backs, main-stage productions, family series—we believe in human connection, with compassion, so that we just might all help lift this world up a little bit higher.

So join us February 20th for the next Theatre East Third Monday Mixer/Neighborhood Reading Series installment: StephenMassicotte’s THE BOY’S OWN JEDI HANDBOOK.  Come hang out, hear a fun & clever play about the life lessons a boy learned from Star Wars. (If you are a fan, were a fan, or knew anyone who was, you will love this play!) Let’s laugh about ourselves and learn from each other, shall we?

See you there!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Advocacy and Inspiration

from Todd Eric Hawkins, Managing Director 

“Before we sang, we spoke. Before we danced, we walked. Before we wrote, we told stories. Before we told stories, we lived.

Those songs, dances, writings allow us to speak to one another across generations. They gave us an understanding of our commonality long before the DNA told us we are all part of one glorious procession.

At any point on the timeline of human history, there are tales to be told, of love and loss, glory and shame, profundity, and even profound stupidity– tales that deserve retelling, embellishing, and, if need be, inventing from whole cloth. This is our story. This is our song. If well sung, it tells us WHO we are and where we belong.” 

These words come from the opening lines of Wynton Marsalis’s lecture “The Ballad of American Arts,” delivered on March 30th, 2009 at the 22nd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy. Speaking to a sold-out audience gathered in the Concert Hall of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Mr. Marsalis’s lecture focused on the importance of arts and culture to the American identity. It was the most powerful speech on the arts in America that I have ever witnessed.  (View the entire speech here).

The lecture, held each year on the eve of Arts Advocacy Day in Washington DC, is named after the second Chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts, Nancy Hanks. During her eight-year tenure (1969–1977), Ms. Hanks was able to grow the budget for the NEA from $8 million to $114 million—an unbelievable feat considering she was able to do so at time when members of Congress disputed any funding of the NEA at all.

Ms. Hanks believed strongly in the value of the Arts, dedicating her professional life to ensuring that the arts were a vital part of the American dialogue. It is fitting that the lecture is targeted to an audience of arts advocates from across the country the night before they meet with their elected officials to reinforce the value of the arts in their districts back home.

Arts Advocacy Day is the only annual event that brings together a broad cross section of America’s cultural and civic organizations, along with hundreds of grassroots advocates from across the country. Each year the event is instrumental in the advancement of key legislative initiatives, maintaining levels of funding for the federal cultural agencies, and influencing tax, international, and educational policies. (learn more about Arts Advocacy Day 2012 here)

We must ensure that every American has the same opportunities that we at Theatre East had growing up. Not to turn everyone into an artist, but to give everyone an understanding of what the arts make possible, and to capture the imaginations of those who will find it their calling.
Before we produced, we learned.

Each of us can share stories of teachers who saw something in us that no one else saw, or community theatres that gave us our chance to play and explore. People who encouraged us to major in drama, and continue to hone our crafts in graduate school.  Without that support system, how would any of us have had the courage to move away from home to put it all on the line in New York City?

Today we must remember that we were afforded those opportunities because someone before us fought to make the arts part of the American dialogue.  This year as I represent Theatre East in DC, I would like to take with me your stories of how the arts have impacted your life.  What about the arts has changed you? How would it have been different without the arts and why is it important to you? Please share your stories in the comments below, or email me directly at

There is power in numbers, and together we will ask that the arts and arts education be a national priority.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sacred Spaces

 from Judson Jones, Artistic Director

So this post is a bit like the stew I made this past week: It’s a little bit of this and a dash of that. But I promise you there’s a rhyme & reason to it.

While spending time with family over the holidays, Christa & I found ourselves in the tiny town of Winona, Texas and ended up taking a tour with some family through the old forgotten high school. Winona is a small, sleepy town of around 582 people. I seem to recall dating a girl in my youth from Winona (or perhaps it was Mineola). Anyway, we were walking through the abandoned hallways when we came to the auditorium, now filled with debris, discarded desks, and dust of years past.  I love high school theatre. I'm not sure why exactly. Perhaps for the same reason I love watching high school football: You see a lot of mistakes and a lot of missed opportunities, but there's so much heart. As I walked through the old theater, you could almost see the audiences of the past. Hear their laughter. Feel their suspense. I sat in one of the old wooden seats and strained to hear the heartbeat of the old place.  You just don't see auditoriums like this anymore. Everything has become so utilitarian. Art, by itself, is no longer enough to deserve its own space. Art now has to be art-and. These once magnificent sanctuaries have been replaced by Cafe-toriums and the like. The works of Shakespeare aren’t enough. It can’t be just Horton Foote. It has to be Horton Foote and a Fiesta Station. Sorry. Wasn't my intention to get on a soapbox.

Back to the auditorium. I made my way through the space, across the stage—most of the boards rotted away by time—and found myself in the wings, right outside the dressing room. This is such holy place for me. I stood there, staring at the closed door, and could almost smell the pancake makeup. I thought of how many young actors must have stood there…waiting for the moment. The call for places has been made, but the opening music hasn’t begun yet. You hear the audience just beyond the curtain, people are rushing around, there’s electricity in the air that is palpable…and then there’s a pause. A beat. A divine moment. Everything goes quiet…and you breathe it in. This may not be the Nederlander, but to these magnificent souls it might as well be. As I stood there I thought of the countless students that stood in that same sacred spot. And I felt them. I felt their hopes and dreams, their passion, their love, their nervousness, their joy. And I cried. By myself. Just stood there and took in the moment.

Saturday night Christa and I went to see the Harold Clurman Laboratory Theatre Company’s production of Imagining Heschel at the Stella Adler Studio—a production I highly, highly recommend seeing before it closes on February 11th. I was again reminded of the holiness of the theatre: to see actors pouring out their very hearts and souls for the audience; to experience a designer’s work as it folds into this world that will become your journey for the time you are there; to hear the words that a playwright has labored over, sometimes for years, to make sure that every word, every bit of punctuation is perfect and needed; to realize a director’s work, the hours of planning and pacing and doubting, all in the hopes that this piece of art connects in some real way with those present. Oh, it is something to be revered. For me, there’s no other place like it on earth.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


from William Franke, Director of Development & Communications
Those of you who have been reading this blog & paying close attention will note that this post is a few days later than usual. Which is ironic, as I am usually the one cracking the whip to get those other jokers to turn in their blog posts (and then they turn in some great stuff, don't they?).

It's this state of affairs that has gotten me to thinking about the word "commitment" for a couple of days now. It does seem like commitment is a pretty rare commodity nowadays. Meteorologists change their forecasts; corporations push back their product launches; politicians renege on their promises; judges & lawyers adjourn court dates; blog posts come in a few days late...

But when I think about the theatre, I cannot help but be a bit proud at the level of commitment shown by all involved. Despite the bad rap that artists often get, their commitment is often the strongest thing going. When you go to the theater, that curtain comes up because all of the artists involved made a commitment—to put on that show, to share something with the audience who have taken the time, spent the money, and are giving their attention to the folks on stage. They made a commitment of their time, talent & energy months in advance (often for little pay) to design the lights, write the score & design the sound, craft the set, learn the lines, delve into the create this world to share with an audience for 90 minutes a night (and beyond the walls of the theater) meet that curtain deadline with a quality product worth sharing. 

There's a reason the old adage goes "The show must go on."

I'm not thinking about this only because I'm behind schedule posting to this blog, though. As those of you who follow us on the Facebook know, on Friday the 13th, a number of our staff & design team did a walk-through of the Peter Jay Sharp theater on west 42nd Street. Yesterday, Jud & Christa (our Artistic Director & Associate Artistic Director) returned to put down the deposit on the space—to make a commitment to presenting our next mainstage production there (that's a sneak-peek, first-time announcement for those of you reading this).

Over the past year or so, a number of you have shown your support—monetarily & spiritually—because you have seen what we do and you believe it is worth sharing with the New York community. In return we've made a commitment to keep putting community back in theatre and do so by producing a full season. I'm proud that we've taken this next step in honoring that commitment, and I look forward to sharing it all with you when the curtain goes up.