Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Engaging with Theatre by John Helde

John Helde is a Freehold Board Member who attended an enhanced performance as part of Freehold's Engaged Theatre tour's production of The Flower of England's Face: Henry IV this past summer. Freehold hosted an enhanced performance which brought together audiences from seemingly disparate, disconnected communities where guests first saw the play, then broke bread together and engaged in debates with characters from the play while using improvisation, story telling, free writing and group poetry to explore the themes of the play. Freehold invited groups from Path with Art, Expedia, UW, Boeing and Getty Images to participate in the enhanced performance.  Here's John's experience of his participation in the event ....

I’d been anticipating this summer’s Engaged Theatre production The Flower of England’s Face: Henry IV – a special cutting and reworking of three of Shakespeare’s historical plays – for awhile.  I had the opportunity to see a work-in-progress last summer and it was electric even then.  Then last May, Robin Lynn Smith asked me to collaborate on a unique “surveillance” film she planned to integrate into the play; it was a blast to work with the cast and Robin to shoot the noir-ish flashback one morning in a back stairway at Freehold.

So when I was invited to attend the first “enhanced” performance I happily signed on.  The workshop following the Sunday afternoon performance promised to include “story telling, free writing and group poetry inspired by themes from the play.” The play was a completely compelling piece of theatre with a clear story, passionate actors and brilliant live music pouring from the wings. And, yes, it was sweaty!  It was a hot July night with no AC.

But it was in fact a great night to gather outside the UW’s Penthouse Theater afterwards with fellow audience members. Daemond Arrindell, Robin’s collaborator on the workshop, is a poet and teacher. He has a resonant voice and a generous spirit and he led us through a series of exercises that gave the group a way to interact with each other. My favorite was a “group poetry” project inspired by the play. The premise is this: it’s intimidating for the vast majority of us to write poetry spontaneously. Daemond went around the circle soliciting words and phrases that emerge from our understanding of the themes of the play, while Robin scribbled them up on a piece of butcher paper.  When we were done, Daemond read our “instant” poem aloud and lo and behold! - it was a surprisingly powerful piece. I love that one piece of art combined a willing audience can create a wholly new piece of art in a matter of minutes.

Then, we rolled up our sleeves and made our own poems. Daemond offered a prompt:  “If my dignity was a coat…” and away we went scribbling as fast as we could without thinking. When I was through covering one side of my 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper with my illegible handwriting, I found myself hoping a little that we were done; but we kept on cranking it out until Daemond called it.   Then, an even bigger challenge: sharing this work with the group.  I’m a filmmaker and a writer, and of course a big part of making creative work is sharing it. However, I’m used to editing and tweaking for a long time in private before that point.  Now, there was no opportunity for that.  One after another, we stood up to share our instantaneous poems. The idea of dignity – such a personal and tenuous one – grew to have many forms and facets. A young man who’s had difficult experiences growing up; an aging woman who’s passionate about peace… back to back the poems made the idea grow both more personal and more universal. I felt like we began to realize how tied we are by one word, and how each individual voice brings something new to our understanding. The words that poured out felt powerful and true, and I admired people’s courage and vulnerability.

Never did these games feel contrived, like, say, an overly upbeat session you might encounter at a company morale booster. The evening felt like a great meal. Maybe the play was, surprisingly, the appetizer. Sharing ourselves with our fellow audience members in a forthright way on a beautiful summer evening was the main course. And writing a poem, dessert.  The workshop was an honest and collaborative way to extend the emotional experience of the play into a connection with those who experienced it with you.  It was also a reminder that people are surprising and full of creative spirit, if they take the opportunity to play.  I walked out into the twilight of the U-District feeling like I’d traveled someplace pretty stirring with a bunch of new friends.

Discovering Shakespeare by Aaron Moore

Aaron Moore was a student in Freehold's Summer Shakespeare Intensive with Amy Thone. Here's Aaron's experience of his participation in Freehold's summer Shakespeare Intensive ...

After coming back from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I was pumped to get back into acting. My curiosity about the Bard was piqued. As luck would have it I was able to get into Freehold’s Shakespeare Intensive with Amy Thone. My goal was to crack the nut, finally. Why do we value this playwright so deeply? Why is his language useful to actors? She vowed to treat us like adults and laid the responsibility on us to take care of ourselves. She asked us to get the most out of each other and her. These attitudes I found refreshing.

It became clear quickly that intelligibility is the first hurdle. It turns out that 400-year-old language sometimes contains subtleties of meaning that are easily lost on modern ears! In this way also Shakespearean text encourages the development of voice and diction: you must communicate it, and sometimes what is said is quite alien to the listener!

Soon, however, I began to see just how masterful this poet is at carving out speech. His twists of rhetoric and perfume of imagery, when engaged with, yield fruit in multiple ways. Foreign word use (such as “lief" for “dear”) forces clarity of inner life. Once you’ve swum in the language and grown comfortable with your memorization, you begin to be surprised by his wit and humor, both dark and light. I learned that for Shakespeare, the word is a weapon: sharpen it and use it well. Let it work for you. You are not Shakespeare’s slave; rather, he supports you.

The memorization expectations were one specific way I felt I was treated as an adult. This is our discipline as actors, and to expect us to embrace it was an attitude I appreciated. “We will not drop any text in this class, there’s simply not enough time!”

Amy’s approach to teaching is impressive: dynamic and flexible. She offers so much: in her personal time, her encouragement, her insights, and the material she picks for study. Her own enthusiasm for Shakespeare is itself a teaching tool. She encouraged us to draw our partners out, to wrestle deeply with the language and situations, and met us where we were towards growth as artists. And I feel that under her direction we did grow indeed, both individually and together. Class is exciting when it is filled with discoveries, new things, and pieces clicking into place. More than once, towards the end of class, watching other group's scene work brought tears up. Amy provided for us the safe and productive play space we needed for that discovery to be possible. She’s fiery, witty, funny, patient, challenging, caring… learning under her is so very fun!

And now, through the shifting colored glass of reflection, I see that I did indeed get what I asked for: I have found enthusiasm of my own for the Bard that I can share. However, I must not be overwrought in doing so, going on and on with ostentation, as I have learned: “for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.” From Hamlet’s mouth, this admonition to actors is a touchstone I will surely carry with me for years to come.

My Playwriting III Experience by Ruth-Ellen Perlman

I registered for the Playwriting III class with Rebecca Tourino for several reasons:  some of my friends had taken classes with her and recommended her highly; I knew that without a class, meaning deadlines, I wouldn’t do any work over the summer; and, finally, the class ends with a directed reading and I was excited about that.  I had written a play called Ecstasy and after a “living room reading” of it, put it away for about eight months.  That was the play I chose to rewrite in Rebecca’s class.

The schedule of the workshop was intense:  four weekends in a row, four hours on Saturday morning and four hours on Sunday evening.  In between we had to read each other’s plays, for discussion in class over the weekend.  In addition, of course, we had to work on our own plays, revising and occasionally doing exercises.  So this was a demanding setup that required a high level of commitment.

About Rebecca.  She definitely lived up to the praise she received from past students of hers.  The first amazing thing she did was to establish a structure for discussing each other’s work.  She explained the method, and then we actually had to practice it with hypotheticals!  It seemed somewhat forced while we practiced it, but in fact it was excellent.  Having the structure made it much easier to share our work with strangers, knowing that we would get feedback in a helpful, rather than a hurtful, manner.  What was incredible, though, was how quickly the group of six strangers bonded, becoming colleagues and friends well before the four week session was over.

Often each weekend session began with a number of question-and-answer exercises to help us identify elements that could be strengthened or, sometimes, let go.  I found these to be hugely helpful, since I’m basically an intuitive writer – it’s great to have the tools to be more analytical about my writing.  As the weeks went by we became deeply involved in the progress of our classmates’ work, so that by the last session we could cheer for each other’s progress as well as feel good about our own.

As I write this, rehearsal for my reading is just days away.  I’ve met with my director, participated in the casting and learned quite a bit about what the actors need to prepare for a reading.  This is a whole other process, tremendously absorbing and exciting.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Update:  it was fantastic!  There are few things as rewarding as hearing your words spoken by amazing actors.  The New Play Lab offers an unmatched opportunity to put a new play (excerpt, but still!) in front of an audience. The process has given me the motivation to find new outlets for my play, based on the enthusiastic response it received from audiences, actors and my fabulous director!


Rebecca Tourino will be teaching Playwriting I this fall at Freehold Theatre. More information on her Playwriting class can be found here.

Introducing Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive Diversity Scholarship Students

Freehold’s Diversity Scholarship was created to ensure that our programs reflect the diversity of our community. Freehold awarded three scholarships to the 2014-2015 Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) class which will cover tuition in full for selected students from under-represented communities. We are excited to welcome and introduce you to Freehold's ETI Diversity Scholarship Students for 2014-15: Brace Evans, Marie Bolla and Fernando Luna.

Can you share with us a little bit about your background and what drew you to apply to ETI?

Brace: ETI found me through the Meisner series at Freehold which found me because of a friend's suggestion who I had performed with in Moby Dick at Book-It Repertory Theatre. And all of this came because of living: the importance and skill of being present. I say this because acting is not my life. It is something that I do because I enjoy telling and inspiring others through stories. It is crucial for me to live in the things that we all have in our lives: a stressful moment at work, a stranger who pisses me off, watching dogs cavort in a dog park, attempting to pass by a beautifully colored tree in the fall that dares your to not notice it, and so many other individual moments that build a life. These are the things that inform my sense of being as it contributes to acting a character in a play, a film, or a commercial. As it happens in life, you find things and things find you, and you make a choice of how to respond, which takes you on an unknown journey. The reality for me, which a good friend pointed out to me when I lived in New York, is that just because you have a gift doesn't mean that you don't have to do the work. For me, that is a universal truth of all living things. And as a thinking being, that can get lost as we go from child to adult, a DNA redirect. So when a program finds you that allows you to claim your DNA, 'I AM AN ACTOR," and revel in it, you simply say “yes” to the journey.

Marie: I've loved art since I was a small child. Acting, singing, playing the piano, writing and dancing have been life-giving and sources of tremendous pleasure since I can remember. During my daytime hours I've worked in the legal field, sales, churches, live radio and most recently, non-profit development. It was shortly after my father passed away suddenly in 2003 that I took a job at a radio station working as an Executive Producer, On-air Host and doing Voice-Overs, that I connected with a Voice Over coach who asked if I'd ever considered acting. I told her I thought that ship had sailed for me as I had graduated college and thought I was past my time. She quickly informed me that I was mistaken - anyone at any age can act, and I should do it if it felt important to me. I believe that life is a precious gift and I've got to take savor every moment pursuing things that are sacred to me, as acting is. My voice-over coach connected me to an acting coach who helped me start preparing for ETI years ago. When I first heard about it in 2010 it felt too good to be true. A year of training in acting with experts in Seattle without having to enroll in a University? This is a thing?! I'm so excited to see how ETI will change my life. From how I move to honing my craft and giving me the skills to express a character in my most authentic way. I can't wait. I've wanted this since I was calling up television companies as a kid asking them how I be an actor.

Fernando: I am so honored to have granted the Diversity Scholarship to attend this year’s ETI. This opportunity brings me a complete full circle from my youthful roots in theatre to my recent return to the stage and beyond. Previously, I found a path to a career in social work working with several social service agencies. I also pursued higher education, eventually achieving a Master’s degree in Public Policy from The Evergreen State College. Four years ago, chance brought me back into the theatre fold as I founded Latino Theatre Projects here in Seattle and returned to acting, this time with the double challenge of acting in my second language. It feels like a return to home to again be presenting quality theatre experiences to local audiences.

What are you most looking forward to as you head into ETI 2014-2015?

Brace: What I am looking forward to surprised me because it also frightens me, which is solo performance. I have been intrigued by this for many, many years. So, as part of the program, it is now an opportunity to emBRACE this fear and explore how it will manifest. I am also looking forward to seeing how I respond to the rigors of this training. I tend to have high expectations of myself to meet the requirements of the program to access what it means to develop a character and understand the dynamics and fundamentals of interpreting and performing text, a play or otherwise. The Meisner series was a first step, which was serious, a stab with a sharp knife, and glad to have come out on the other end with a better ability. But this may cut to the core on a razors edge but I am excited to see what is removed and developed in the end.

Marie: It's really hard to narrow this down. The idea of taking this course is a dream come true. The most exciting thing is learning so much from so many experts. The movement/physical training is really new and exciting for me. I have the incredible pleasure and privilege of taking a movement course from Donald Byrd (The Artistic Director at Spectrum). I never would have imagined I'd ever be in a position to take a class from him. I've already seen that the way the brain is used for movement is so different and I'm excited to grow in physical expression. I think it may be one of the most challenging parts of ETI for me - so I anticipate me growing a lot in that area. I'm also really curious about the Solo Show and what I'm going to come up with for 10 minutes. The challenge is both nerve-wracking and incredibly exciting. I'm just so thrilled to be able to participate in this year's ETI and feel so thankful for this opportunity.

Fernando: After a performance of my first venture into acting in English, I was approached by an ETI alumnus who told me of the excitement of getting intense training in all aspects of acting through ETI and recommended that I apply when the chance came along. I paid attention and when this year’s program was announced, I leapt at the opportunity. ETI will enable me to hone my craft and integrate me more directly with Seattle’s theatre community. Through the skills and techniques presented in ETI, I can move forward with expanding diversity both on the stage and in our audiences. I can give my own community art that reflects their culture and lives and open new doors of understanding and experience for all Seattle theatre patrons. It humbles me to have been selected to participate in this wonderful, professional advancement program.

As you anticipate the intensive class schedule of 22-30 hours of class work a week, is there anything in particular that you think will help you to navigate the program?

Brace: Dancing, riding my bike, and tennis. Dancing, literally and figuratively. Going out to dance, literally, frees up my flow and allows me to completely let go, not caring who is watching. It also helps me to recalibrate my internal timing. Figuratively, because the rhythm of life, changing in a moments notice, means that then I have to adjust or interpret the music differently from one song to the next but make the transition seamless. Riding my bike because it relieves and helps me transition, but also forces me to anticipate in timing, and be present with everything that surrounds me to be able to make quick decisions, sometimes between life and death. And tennis, because, like the dancing and riding my bike, it is a stress buster to hit a ball hard but also work on planning, strategic thinking, and make peace with exposed and exploited weaknesses. Oddly, all of this is fun, but helps with the added benefit of crossing into daily life and the art of acting. And lastly, a good deodorant. Preferably non toxic and environmentally friendly.

Maria: A heating pad, ice pack, ibuprofen (thank you Movement class), yummy snacks and Mamma's on speed-dial.

Fernando: I may need lots of caffeine to work my regular job, and the intensive program schedule. Bring on the jitters!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Freehold Faculty Members Upcoming Work

Freehold Theatre is privileged to have Faculty Members who are working professional actors, playwrights and directors whose credentials include recognized work on and off Broadway, in major motion pictures, on television, and in regional and international theatre venues. Here is some of their upcoming fall work ...

Annette Toutonghi and Susanna Burney will be appearing in The Bunner Sisters (along with a cast/artistic staff full of Sandbox Artists Collective members), directed and adapted from the Edith Wharton novella by Julie Beckman, September 18th - October 5th at Theatre Off Jackson. More information on The Bunner Sisters, here. In late October Susanna Burney will be opening in I Never Betrayed the Revolution at West of Lenin. Her latest audiobook, Fluency, by Jennifer Foehner Wells will be available on iTunes, Audible.com and Amazon sometime in September. Sarah Harlett and Annette Toutonghi will be in The Man Who Could Forget Anything, an original generative dance, theater, film, music piece at On the Boards October 9-12. More information here.

Gin Hammond has been working on Gifts of War for the past two years along with Ana Maria Campoy.  It originated out of Freehold's Incubator Studio Series and was also seen at 12 Minutes Max.  It will be at Velocity Dance Center's Founder's Theater September 25th - 28th.  They will be partnering with YouthCare and D.A.W.N. There is a Pay-What-You-Can the afternoon of the 24th.  Inquiries about that performance can be send directly to Gin Hammond. Gin will also be performing Returning the Bones at Key City Public Theater in October.

John Jacobsen won an Emmy Award for directing my PBS show, The Artist Toolbox and a film he recently directed, Dr. Canard,  just made it into the International Film Festival of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles - screens in October. John is directing a radio show called The Epic of Gilgamesh starting September 19th at West of Lenin. He also just finished casting for a film called The Gift, and is shooting that now with Dave Drummond, MJ Siebert, Eric Ray Anderson, Laure Larkin, Sean Griffith, Riley Neldam and Ronnie Hill.John also won a Keep It Simple Photography Award for the photo to the right here:

Marya Sea Kaminski will be playing the angel in Angels in America as part of Intiman's Festival. More information here.
Marya is the new Associate Artistic Director at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Andrew McGinn and Christine Marie Brown will be playing Mr. and Mrs. Banks in The Village Theatre's production of Mary Poppins which runs from November 12th - February 8th. For more information, go here. Andrew McGinn will be directing two short plays by Samuel Beckett as part of Sound Theater Company's 5 by Beckett, produced as part of TPS' "Beckett Fest". More info, here.

Meg McLynn will originate the role of Helen in the new musical, The Hours of Life, Dec 5--14 at the Cornish Black Box in Seattle Center. More info here.

Matt Smith's Film My Last Year with the Nuns will be shown on Saturday, October 11 at the Pickford theatre in Bellingham, and Sunday, October 12, 1:30 pm at Tacoma Film Fest at the Museum of Glass. More information on his film, go here.