Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Freehold Student and Alum Upcoming Work

Jenny Schmidt will be performing in Penguins: Suffer the Children at Annex Theatre. Written by Scot Augustson and directed by Bret Fetzer. Featuring Daniel Christensen, Chris Dietz, Katie Driscoll, Karen Heaven, Sophie Lowenstein, Jenny Schmidt, Jillian Vashro, Lisa Viertel, and Clayton Weller, Jan 28-Feb 18, 2011 | Fri-Sat at 11 pm, $10 gen / $5, TPS/senior/student, Industry Night (PWYC) Mon Feb 14, 8 pm, Pay What You Can Feb 11/12

Erwin Galan will be in a staged reading Passport, by Gustavo Ott, Translated by Heather L. McKay, Directed by Arlene Martinez-Vickers, Saturday, Feb 26 7:30pm ACT (Buster's Special Events Room), and Saturday, Mar 5 2:00pm Burien Little Theatre,
Tickets $5.00 (for each date), Buy at: www.acttheatre.org OR www.burienlittletheatre.org. Info at: info@eseteatro.org and http://www.eseteatro.org/

David Kubiczky booked a featured extra spot in the new David Fincher film (american re-make) Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Rosalyn Le will be playing the fair Hero in a production of Much Ado About Nothing at SecondStory Repertory in Redmond, Directed by Corey McDaniel, February 4-26, 2011, Fri & Sat Nights at 8pm, Sun Feb 13 & 20 at 2pm, Tickets: $25 adults/$19, students/seniors/educators, TPS Rush discount tickets (day of performance) $10

Jonathan Nawn
, a Freehold ETI student, will be performing a Solo Performance piece he developed at Freehold at On the Boards' 12 Minutes Max on February 27, 28.

Monday, January 24, 2011

When Everything Old is New Again by Jenni Taggart

PBS recently aired Sondheim! The Birthday Concert, recorded in March 2010, in honor of Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday. In Act II, six of the grandest dames of musical theatre take the stage in luscious red Diane von Furstenberg dresses. Patti Lupone steps up to the mike first. She proclaims, “I'd like to propose a toast!” The crowd bursts into applause---we all know what's coming. She cracks her knuckles and launches into “The Ladies Who Lunch” from Company.

Here's the thing. When you sing a musical theatre song for a musical theatre crowd, it's difficult to surprise your audience. We know the words and the melody as well as you do (most of us are singing along under our breath). When Patti Lupone started singing, I thought I knew what was coming---I was wrong. By the time she bellowed the last line, imploring everybody to rise, my jaw was on the floor. While I had heard that song before, I had never heard that song before. How did she do it? How do you take a song that your audience has heard a thousand times and breathe new life into it? I believe that the answer is here at Freehold.

When I'm working on a song, I work with the text just like I do with scene work for class. In the Meisner progression, Robin Lynn Smith taught us to write out a script with no punctuation, no capitalization. You then speak the text one syllable at a time without inflection---kind of like a robot—-until you've got it memorized. (This is especially difficult with a song that is familiar. Try saying the lyrics of “The Star Spangled Banner.” When you said “oh say can you see by the dawn's early light,” how many syllables were in the word “oh”? Did you pause between “see” and “by”?) With spoken text, this keeps you from reading the same words in the same way every time. When it comes time in the scene to say those words, you know what to say, but you've not memorized the words with a specific rhythm or inflection---they come out in response to what's happening with your scene partner in that moment and that moment alone. With song lyrics, rhythm and inflection are tied to the music. Freeing the text from the music allows me to hear new patterns, and discover highs and lows for myself.

I identify my scene partner in the song and what I want and how I'll get it---I'm specific about objectives and tactics. In Scene Study, Annette Toutonghi suggested finding the places in the script that don't make sense—-that's an opportunity for a shift in action or tactic. Working just with the script without the music gives me the opportunity to discover a subtle shift that might otherwise be hidden in the middle of a musical phrase.

In her class on Theatrical Song Interpretation, Billie Wildrick taught me that there are no wasted words in a song. Every lyric is chosen for a specific purpose. I say each word and just let it ring, seeing what images come to mind. I think about what happens to me emotionally if the word is repeated and then I make a choice as to why the word is repeated. I consider what the lyricist implies by choosing a word over its synonym. In “The Ladies Who Lunch,” for example, there must be a high-stakes reason that the character yells for “another vodka stinger” and not “another vodka sour” and that reason cannot simply be that “stinger” rhymes with “zinger.”

Once I've done my work with the text, it is always interesting to pair the words again with the music. In her Shakespeare classes, Amy Thone points out that, if a character consistently throws extra syllables into her iambic pentameter, that's a clue to her state of mind: perhaps she has a lot to say or is losing control. In a song, if the rhythm changes from straight to syncopated or the song changes key, that must mean something to the singer.

I came to Freehold just hoping for a little help with audition monologues, but Freehold has given me a great deal more than that. The fact that I now get so much more satisfaction from singing has been a very nice surprise. The techniques I've learned at Freehold mean that even the most familiar song can be new every time I sing it...or hear Patti Lupone sing it.

Jenni Taggart has appeared at Seattle Musical Theatre as a doomed Hungarian "murderess" in Chicago, Jane's evil Aunt Reed in Jane Eyre, General Cartwright in Guys & Dolls, and Ma Templeton in George M! Her appearances on other Seattle stages include Godspell (UPAC Theatre Group), Flow at the Triple Door (SoleSound Visual Music Productions), and A Tap Dance Christmas Carol (Anacrusis Modern Tap Dance). Jenni studies acting at Freehold Studios and is a Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Washington.

Photo above: Jenni in Guys and Dolls
Photo below: Jenni in Jane Eyre with FX Wood.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In the Gallery: Postcards from the Floating World, selected collages by Melanie Reed

Melanie's artwork is currently being displayed at Freehold Theatre, 2222 2nd Avenue, Suite 200.

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Growing up in a world out of balance, I was able, through some mysterious combination of luck, survival skills, experience or personality, to find comfort in nature and a definite, immediate affinity with certain types of art. Surrealist art became a favorite touchstone, because its evocative, symbolic and often disturbing language is so appropriate for describing the "floating world" between nature's harmony and man's disharmony - a world of flux, confusion and intense conflicting feelings, despite whatever creative new "machine" one tries to build to stabilize oneself.

I eventually found the making of my own art to be an excellent way of organizing the chaotic and overwhelming thoughts that often accompany a life out of balance. Expressing these thoughts through the language of surrealism has helped me to feel connected to a community of kindred spirits and understand that my own experiences are not isolated, but have been felt and observed by many others in the same or similar ways.

The process begins with the collection of a number of unrelated images to which I find myself drawn by a mysterious yet distinct resonance. These images serve as dormant life forms, which, when placed close together in certain particular groupings, give life to each other and transmute into newer and more complex life forms. During this process, I strive for high levels of both personal emotional awareness and compositional craft, attempting to match the sensibility both of my own emotional "landscape" as well as that of other artists' more representational landscapes to which I tend to have the strongest emotional response.

To address the balance issue even more broadly, thoroughly and effectively, I am interested in advocating higher levels of emotional consciousness in relationship with ourselves and others in order to move towards a greater sense of integrated harmonious connection. But before we can do this, we have to first be able to see the strangeness that is us. Surrealist art should be thought of as snapshots from a dream world that reflects the real world by throwing its imbalance into sharp perspective. It need not be intellectually "understood," but should be felt viscerally and recognized personally, in ways that may often prove to be disturbing and complex.

I would like to invite the viewer to let the imagery in each of these pieces flow over them, enter into the spirit of the piece, and allow its energy to work a subtle transformation of body, mind and soul. Just as change of place gives new perspective, these pieces aim to conjure up new worlds, new ways to see ourselves, creating landscapes of personal resonance that are broad, deep, and emotionally evocative enough to allow their visitors to return again and again for expanding, ever-changing explorations.

Melanie is a dedicated theater-goer and long-term supporter of Freehold.

Photo above: Wraith
Photo below: The Takeover

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stage Combat Elements by Caleb Slavens

Stage Combat--- or as I referred to it over the holiday break, “a really neat trick to show my brothers and freak out members of my family and the community.” Let me set the scene; here is me dressed in semi-formal wear, milling about in the waiting area of a mid-sized food chain (lets say Chili’s), over there, about an arms length away, is my youngest brother. He is facing the interior of the restaurant, I’m facing the door. He makes an audible comment about my shirt, I retort with a snide remark about how stupid his hat is, we get into a heated debate about fashion styles, and then out of nowhere he swings at me and punches me in the face with a haymaker that could down a horse. I fall to the ground holding the left side of my face, and contorting the rest into a look of anger/ pain/ and surprise. The restaurant is silent. I slowly wobble to my feet as my brother backs closer to the door. Someone sets a hand on my shoulder and says in my ear ‘let it go, settle down.’ I shrug them off and through gritted teeth, I hiss, “I’m fine. I’m not going to do anything.” I step closer to my brother, until we’re face to face, I can feel the tension in almost every patron in the restaurant rippling through the atmosphere… that’s when I make my move, I pirouette, grab my brothers hand and we both bow to the crowd, he tips his hat, and then we run out the door and across the street giggling like children until we enter the waiting area of the Olive Garden one block over and report to the rest of my obviously bored family ‘how packed the Chili’s is’ and ‘that we had better just wait for a table here.’… Now, you might say that what we did was an immature use of what I’ve learned in stage combat, and I will agree with you to a point, but I have to say that it was actually the perfect opportunity to teach my brother and my family the important elements of the fights they see on stage and in films. Those elements being; control, choreography, the lead-in, distance, timing, perspective, action, re-action, and then resolution.

I learned these elements in the Stage Combat classes I have taken at Freehold, from both Geof Alm, in his annual 3 class series, and Hans Altwies as part of the Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI). Both instructors have helped me discover the necessary tricks needed to captivate an audience with the bait that there just might be a throw-down, and then hold their attention as I gracefully miss my scene partner by mere inches, either with blade, fist, or stick. But from the audiences PERSPECTIVE, if I used my training correctly, it looks like I just sliced through my scene partner with a broadsword. (And even though, in real life, my cut would have left him gasping for air and disemboweled on the floor, in this instance, cause it was stage combat, he is still alive and healthy enough to jump up and stab me in the jugular.) ... I mean there is just a lot to say about the art form of fighting. In the world of visual arts though, it is closest related to dance. It is a dance with your scene partner: a dance where every move is essentially choreographed, and wrapped around ‘words’ and ‘actions’, as a dance is wrapped around measures in a song. But unlike dance, it packs the accepted machismo of the human emotions behind it. Dance is an enlightening art type, meant to lift the spirit, but combat is meant to pull us all back into the animalistic nature that is either hidden or locked up in all of us. When resolutions can’t be found in words, or walking away, but instead your only out is through a release of testosterone and adrenalin into your system and then turning your limbs into a barrage of blunt surfaces. Whew! Let me catch my breath.

Where dance and combat differ though is in the level of control. In dance there typically isn’t a chance that somebody could get stabbed (not counting stilettos, of course). This is a critical point of Stage Combat training; learning about the balance point where your body and appearance can give every impression of delivering a killing blow to your partner, but internally your calm and in control enough to stop the weapon from even touching your partner if they forget their blocking. This level of control doesn’t come easily and requires rigorous training and repetition. For the sword to become a ‘safe’ extension of your arm requires hours swinging it through the air practicing your cuts, parrys’ (blocks), and drilling your body on the techniques needed to move you in and out of the range of your partners weapon. Eventually, you’ll reach that comfort point where you’ll be able to know where the blades are at all times, and then you can start to refine the acting bits needed to fill out the scene. You may ask ‘what does it feel like to be comfortable with a sword’ to which I can say “It’s like when you have been driving the same car, or riding the same bike for many years, and you know just how fast you have to be going to merge into traffic, or park in this or that spot, or just how narrowly you can avoid a disastrous collision and squeeze between two vehicles going the same speed as you. It’s all still really dangerous, and you have to be completely aware of what you’re doing, but you’re comfortable with it because you’ve trained with the right tools and techniques.”

I think having Combat training is necessary for all actors. At the very least it makes one more aware of their body and the things they can do, and is an excellent primer on possible self-defense moves. Plus, you can go home and get in fake fights with your friends and families and with any luck you’ll be able to spice up that boring cocktail party or picnic you get invited to every year.

Freehold's ETI Students will be performing their Solo Performance work in the Solo Performance Showcase on January 27, 28, 29 at 7:30 pm and January 29 at 2:00. To reserve tickets, email us at info@freeholdtheatre.org. For more information: Solo Performance Showcase
Photo above: Lori Evans and Caleb Slavens in ETI Stage Combat class