Auditions! Hamlet, Rosencrantz + Guildenstern are Dead

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Three audition sessions are coming up with the Pocono Shakes! theater company. Audition for roles in two shows: Hamlet by William Shakespeare and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. The dates are:
Tuesday August 20, 6:00-8:00 pm at the Shawnee Playhouse.
Saturday August 24, 8:00 pm at THE GAMER’S EDGE, 424 Main St, Stroudsburg.
Sunday August 25, any time from 11:00am–6:00pm in the Hope Room at the Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort.
Needed are Actors, Singers, Musicians, Dancers, Mimes, Mimics, Clowns, Jugglers & Acrobats.
Roles are available for all ages and physical types.  Shakespeare experience not required.  Monologs appreciated but not required.
HAMLET:
“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Shakespeare’s most popular play! The Tragedy of Hamlet is considered one of the greatest of all literary works in the English language. After Hamlet, the world of theatre was forever changed.  Suspicion, fear, and the threat of violence are exposed from the opening lines, and bear us along throughout the play, culminating in a scene of revenge and mayhem equal to none!
ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD:
“We’re Actors, we’re the opposite of people!!”
An existential tragi-comedy named from one of the final lines of Hamlet, this play by Tom Stoppard follows 2 minor characters from Shakespeare’s play as they are swept along towards a seemingly unalterable fate.  A Player and his raucous troupe of Tragedians only complicate matters for our hapless heroes.
R&G is filled with humor, pirate battles, swordfights, plots, mime-shows, actor’s death scenes and lots of action.
DOING TWO PLAYS AT ONCE:
All of the scenes in R&G that are lifted from Hamlet will be staged in exactly the same way.  The only actors who must learn lines and staging for  both Hamlet and R&G are Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and The Player.  Everyone else will simply perform those court scenes with no additional lines or staging.
The Tragedians are a major part in R&G.  They speak no lines (nothing  to memorize) but they have lots of action. They perform, mime, upstage, fight, yell, scream, and otherwise cause mayhem throughout the play.

For more information please contact PoconoShakes@gmail.com or find Pocono Shakes! on Facebook.

Emish: Keeping Celtic Current

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I like people to think I cover events with a certain amount of professional premeditation. So just how far ahead do I plan?

This Friday I was scoping out Sussex Community College to see if I could find any upcoming cultural events. In the Performing Arts building, I stumbled into a theater occupied by the directors of the Tri-State Actors Theater. They were surprised that I hadn’t heard that Emish would be performing at the Erie Hotel that night at a release party for a new album. They were even more surprised when I said I had never heard their music. (Many readers will have a similar reaction to this post.)

I arrived in Port Jervis with time to spare, possibly a bit more than I would have liked. I was a little curious when I arrived, seeing posters for a different musical act. After some hard-nosed investigative work, in the form of questioning the first waitress I saw, I learned that Emish would be performing in the catering building next door. It was locked, and there was nothing to do but bide my time. I revisited the locked door several times and began to notice Emish t-shirts worn by people loitering around the door. Apparently they knew something I didn’t.

At length the doors were opened, and I followed the crowd in. Emish presented themselves as a five-part band with guitar, bass, drums, flute and fiddle. After a brief introduction, they let it rip.

Their sound was excellent. Chief among their offerings was “In the Devil’s Soil,” with a prominent, driving fiddle part provided by Christy Brown. The vivacious “Sparkle,” the subject of Emish’s new album, was a more up-tempo offering that speaks to whatever gives life meaning. Front man Bobby Curreri’s vocals and lyrics shine here, lending themselves to the joyous nature of the song, and the lively instrumentals really make it pop. “August Air” is an interesting song–I spent a few minutes trying to decide whether the title was actually “Autumn Air.” When I went back and looked at the track descriptions that had been handed out, I remembered why. August Air is all about contrasts, where the singer feels cold and alone despite the summer warmth. I was also impressed by “Remember These Bones,” with a powerful melody that I found very agreeable. In most cases, the music was enlivened by Jen Curreri’s flute.

Emish.

There were times when the performers’ physicality became interesting in itself. Bobby literally jumped into several of his songs while working the guitar. Jen and Christy moved differently as they played. Christy’s whole body seemed to move into her fiddling. Jen, on the other hand, displayed interesting movements that are difficult to describe without the right words. At certain points, the two of them would come to the front of the band and move together as they played. Even more interestingly, two of the songs involved a special appearance by an Irish dancer (who I have yet to identify) who impressively danced to the pace of Emish’s high-energy music.

Even though I feel like saying something about the group’s contribution to Celtic rock, it seems both unfair and inaccurate to shrink it down to a label. Having been raised on the songs of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, I have certain preferences and expectations in Celtic music. When I first heard about Emish on Friday, they were described to me as “Celtic rock,” which put me in a specific frame of mind. The Emish website, meanwhile, describes their style as “power folk.” But let’s look at what it all means.

My interviews with the core members of the group–Bobby, Jen, and Christy–revealed the creative process that produces the Emish sound. The name Emish, by the way, was meant to combine “Emo” and “Irish” into a single title. This is a result of Bobby’s cross-pollination; he has worked with such disparate styles as emo, metal, and punk. Bobby explained that he writes the songs, and then Jen and Christy, somewhat more musically traditional, “rein in” the sound and see that it fits with what Emish is supposed to be. I was fascinated by the creative process here. In some ways, I imagine that Bobby has some freedom in how far out he initially writes, since he knows that the ladies will find a way to bring it back to the Emish sound (which, of course, is constantly evolving). Just think–that lovely Emish fiddle and guitar piece could have started life as an emo breakup lament or a speed metal shredfest!

…right, maybe not, but you get the idea.

Anyway, Emish’s Friends of High Point Concert is coming on the 20th of the month. Go check out their website for details, and grab their new CD, Sparkle!

Cruise to the Music, August 3rd

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I’ve just been made aware that Jim Thorpe’s annual “Cruise to the Music” festival is rolling around once again. The fun starts on August 3rd, when you’ll encounter musical talents like

1970 Duster, owned by a Jukebox Cruisers Car Club member.

Mike Williams Band
She Said Sunday
Karen Meeks and the Soul
Freefall
Kris Scherer
Don Slepian
Thad Tinsley Jr.
Nite Train

I’ve even heard rumors of a special mystery guest. They’re a big name, and they have a lot of places to be between now and then, so at this point the only way you’ll know for sure is to be there.

On top of the music, you’ll discover the dance expertise of La’neice Mobley. You’ll find vendors selling an assortment of goodies, as well as raffles, prizes and a Chinese auction.
The “cruising” in this festival comes in the form of a classic car show, courtesy of Jim Thorpe’s “Jukebox Cruisers” Car Club.

The event is totally FREE for everyone, and suitable for the whole family. You’ll get to see some of the area’s best musicians, rare classic cars, and food and crafts you might not find anywhere else. Get out and see it!

Twelfth Night at Centenary College

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I made my first visit to Centenary College two weekends ago, to see a performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that I’d learned about on the radio. Just looking at the production’s excellent poster (shown here) made me happy, and I could only hope that the actual performance would be as good.

The Kutz black box theater resonated with mellow music from a sharply-dressed band as I took a seat. The Kutz theater has a long rectangular shape with audience seating on two sides of the stage.The play opened to an explosion of activity. One end of the stage held a shipwrecking storm with twin siblings Viola (Tyler Milazzo) and Sebastian (Jonathan Meola) while other performers held a sail aloft with lively choreography. At the other end of the stage stood Count Orsino (Christopher Kolwicz) in his court. This lively beginning showcased the Kutz Theater’s unique real estate; the action switched frequently between Orsino’s court and the ship at sea, and audience members had to turn their heads to see the other end of the stage, heightening the excitement.

Having played Malvolio in two separate productions of Twelfth Night, I paid close attention to see what this group would do differently. I was particularly pleased with Kyle Dylan Connor’s performance as the servant Malvolio, which I had to admit was better than either of mine. He was proper, haughty, and consistent in his mannerisms. Another interesting feature was the casting of a female performer, Becca Rind, as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Rind’s comic physicality reminded me of a wind-up toy that gets wound up and travels in a straight line until it runs into something–there were times when this diminutive Sir Andrew would be picked up by another actor and carried across the stage, heightening the zany comedy of the scene. This cross-gender casting choice also underscores Twelfth Night’s theme of sex/gender ambiguity.

Speaking of physicality, I found the constant, interesting stage movement of the actors to be addictive. The more I saw, the more I wanted.  Malvolio’s letter scene (Act II Scene 5) had the three conspirators–Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Sir Toby Belch (Kyle Parham) and Maria (Briana Klingaman)–darting behind trees to hide from Malvolio as he “[practices] behavior to his own shadow.” I saw a few telling bits of physicality between the romantic figures as well, like when Viola, dressed as a boy, lies in Duke Orsino’s lap as they listen to music–long before Orsino realizes that “Cesario” is actually a girl. I found myself thinking, “As long as they keep moving, it’ll be funny.”

Director Stephen Davis confirmed that stage movement was emphasized during the rehearsal process, and it showed in the performance. The cast members I talked to confirmed this as well. I salute them, as constant repetition of a scene for fine-tuning movements can sometimes be exhausting.

Antonio (Nick Ardito-Martelli) made an excellent show of swordsmanship in the latter half of the play, using the often-romanticized and rarely seen style of cloak and rapier. I was even more impressed to find that Nick Ardito-Martelli himself choreographed the fights.

I enjoyed the costume work of Sarah Greenstone, which focused on the Victorian Crinoline period. Costuming has some of the most visible and permanent effects on a performance, and I thought the somber colors of the servants’ costumes nicely emphasized the mood of Lady Olivia’s court. I have seen Twelfth Night performed in quasi-Renaissance garb as well as a 60’s Woodstock look, and I think a Victorian look excels in highlighting the stratified society of the play as well as the dangers (or hilarity) of crossing those boundaries.

I would like to thank the cast and crew for a great show. For those who haven’t yet seen a performance at Centenary College, check out http://centenarystageco.org/ for upcoming events and directions. You’ll be glad you did.

Play Reading: “Heels over Head” by Susan Goodell

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I spent Saturday evening at a reading of “Heels over Head,” a comedic work-in-progress by playwright Susan Goodell presented by the Tri-State Actors Theater. The reading was performed at SpringBoard in Newton, NJ, a storefront for startup retail businesses. The performing space was narrow; a carpeted platform in one of the stores served as a stage, while “offstage” performers sat on chairs around the platform. That, coupled with the modest lighting, would present an interesting challenge.

This reading was part of the New Plays Reading Series by the Tri-State Actors Theater. The purpose of these events is to allow playwrights to see their plays in action and hear them read by actors. Tri-State founder and artistic director Paul Meacham describes these presentations as “part of our job. If we don’t help develop these plays, who will?” Meacham, who also stage directed this performance/production, explained the importance of letting playwrights fine-tune their scripts at readings like these. “If [that script] was a piece of jewelry, you’d keep working on it.” He also identified the author as “a bona fide playwright” and one he regards highly.

The play begins at a bungee jumping event where Jake (Jason Szamreta) and Luna (Marie Wallace) meet. Jake nervously tries to make small talk with Luna, who is clearly annoyed that Jake is interrupting her attempts at deep breathing to calm herself before the jump. They are getting on each other’s nerves until they make the jump–and the lights come back up on the two of them waking up in bed together.

The two now-lovers, in an ecstasy of passion, promise to never fight and keep no secrets, all the more important since they got married some time after the jump. Moments later, it comes out that the leases on both of their apartments are running out and they can’t agree whose apartment to live in. Part of the problem is their crazy roommates: Jake’s best friend Stan (Nick Wilder) and Luna’s allegedly psychic sister Mari (Patricia Durante).

The play becomes a laugh riot as the newlyweds’ secrets start coming out: Marvin (Daniel Mian), Luna’s investment broker ex-boyfriend; Blossom (Rosemary Glennon), a member of Jake’s phobia support group with a hug-inducing fear of abandonment; and Mari’s habit of adopting wildly different personalities.

I enjoyed the play throughout, and by the end my face hurt from laughter. I mentioned in the talkbacks after the performance that there were spots where the play seemed to lack humor. However, these are important scenes for building conflict. Also, as Phil Meacham said, “Actors like to fix things. They were handed a revision on Wednesday and they had less time to fix it.” This is a helpful thing to do for a progressing script, as it becomes easier for the playwright to discover problems with the script. Otherwise, Meacham said, the actors would fix the major problems before the author could notice them. As a work in progress, the play needs work, but it’s hilarious even in its current form. The all-professional cast assembled for Saturday’s reading didn’t hurt.

When I asked playwright Susan Goodell if she could name any playwrights that inspired her, or that she admired, she responded: “In some ways I don’t seek inspiration from other playwrights. I want to preserve my own voice.” However, she did specify Christopher Durang, Terrence McNally and Kenneth Lonergan as a few of her favorite playwrights.

Susan Goodell is also the author of the play “Hope Throws Her Heart Away” and her plays have been produced in eight states.

Bruno Schulz: Hawthorne meets Kafka

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On the heels of a roughly five-word introduction, I discovered a world where beauty’s allure is tempered by toxic, frightening, savage, bizarre, and sometimes so-funny-you-laugh-when-you-definitely-shouldn’t atmosphere. This is a reality where the mundane is made gloriously beautiful and everything not beautiful smolders with anxiety-inducing power.

This is The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, an author distinguished for having been shot by a Nazi officer–one imagines Schulz was doing something right. His descriptive language is lush, with glowing amber sunlight and “bright shining worlds, like the ideally happy pictures contained in the peerless perfection of soap bubbles,” yet his European sensibilities manifest as a Kafka-esque sense of futility that germinates in a Byzantine maze of identical apartments with fading wallpaper tenanted by emasculated husbands.

I look forward to experiencing this story in all its strangeness and wonder. I’ll continue putting my observations here as I read.

Shakespeare’s Dirty Jokes-“Much Ado About Nothing”

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William Shakespeare: Old. Stuffy. Hard to understand. Boring.

Right?

No.

Instead, imagine a play so dirty that it challenges you to keep your mind out of the gutter. Get ready for the front lines of the battle between the sexes when the Pocono Shakes! Theater Company opens “Much Ado About Nothing” on October 26th, 2012 at the Shawnee Playhouse. Join Benedick (yes, I spelled that correctly), Beatrice, Constable Dogberry, Claudio, Hero, John the Bastard, and a cast of other hilarious characters in the “merry war” presented by a stable of Northeast PA’s most seasoned and dedicated Shakespearean actors.

Image by Andrei Protsouk. Used with permission.

The brave but aging Benedick (Richard M. Rose), prince Don Pedro (Rob Taylor), his brother John the Bastard (Ryan Moore), and the celebrated Claudio (Aaron Pappalardo) return to Messina. They receive a hero’s welcome from Governor Leonato (Scotty McIntosh), his lovely daughter Hero (Jessica Santos), and the scathing wit of Beatrice (Gillian Bender). But it soon becomes apparent that Benedick and Beatrice have a history together, as they engage in what some spectators have called Shakespeare’s fiercest battle of words. Benedick swears before Don Pedro and Claudio that he will “die a bachelor,” while taunting Claudio, who has clearly fallen in love with Hero.

Meanwhile, John confers with his henchmen Conrade (Griffin Wagner) and Borachio (Mark Pender) to bring misfortune on his brother and Claudio. He learns that Claudio is to marry Hero, and decides that the best way to take revenge on Don Pedro and Claudio is to wreck the wedding.

The merry madness ensues with the proud but inept Constable Dogberry and partner Headborough Verges (Maureen Harms) mobilizing the ragtag city watch, while Benedick seeks to defend Beatrice’s honor. This is Shakespeare done right, with laughs at every turn and a love story that has remained famous for hundreds of years, and rightly so, backed up by a contemporary soundtrack performed live by the actors of Pocono Shakes!

Pocono Shakes! is dedicated to shaking up Shakespeare and giving him back his groove. They have an absolute, no-discrimination policy and encourage all actors to audition for any and all open roles. Find PoconoShakes on Facebook!

Artistic Director Richard M. Rose is an award-winning actor, director, producer, and teacher. He studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company and has worked at Shakespeare’s Globe, The American Globe, NJ Shakespeare Festival, Hudson Valley Shakespeare, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and more.

For tickets please contact the Shawnee Playhouse online at www.TheShawneePlayhouse.com, or phone 570-421-5093.

Rupert Wates at ArtMusic Coffeehouse

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Rupert Wates

Photo: Andrew Wallach

The award-winning singer/songwriter Rupert Wates returned to ArtMusic Coffeehouse the Friday night of September 14th. His lyrics run the gamut of life’s ups and downs, with an emphasis on the downs. While the same can be said of most blues and several other categories of music, I found Wates’ music to be more compelling, more sympathetic and more emotionally accessible than that of many other modern performers.

Wates is British by birth yet known for his Americana. He left rainy London for five years in Paris, then moved to Seattle where he experienced more rain. During Friday’s performance, Wates admitted that the constant precipitation made its way into several of his song titles: “Come In, Come Out of the Rain,” “After the Rains,” “Rainfall,” and so on. This repetition isn’t bad, since it means that Wates has explored rain through his music and used it to express a wide range of human experiences.

Though a foreign artist producing characteristically American music is ironic, it isn’t new. The Blues is popular in Europe and the UK (not to mention Japan, where anything American can be a source of fascination) and the overseas movement has given rise to legends like John Mayall and his numerous Bluesbreakers, and Cream’s Clapton, Bruce and Baker.

Speaking of Cream’s bassist, his name came up during the interview, when I asked Rupert to characterize his personal sound. He explained that he likes to emphasize interesting bass lines, as opposed to repetitive backups that, to his mind, don’t add much to the music. I cited the example of Jack Bruce in Cream, whose metamorphic bass parts communicate with Eric Clapton’s lead guitar and evolve over the course of a song. While Robin Kessler has pointed out that this sort of thing is common among jazz musicians, Cream was a mainstream group that departed from the note-for-note dogmatism found in most popular music then as well as now.

Another notable feature of the performance was Wates’ rendition of Leo Kottke’s instrumental piece, “The Fisherman.” I was impressed not only by the speed and accuracy of Rupert’s playing, but also the emotional content of the performance. Without the use of words, “The Fisherman” takes the listener on an emotional journey which is hard for me to describe. I was pleasantly surprised when I looked up a performance of the song by the original artist, and found that Rupert had been playing a significantly up-tempo version of an already fast and technically demanding song.

I should also mention the performance of Don Slepian, who opens for all of his guest performers at ArtMusic Coffeehouse. He produced a Spanish guitar piece through his keyboard, and later played recorder alongside the guest performer. Don’s a talented musician and he always provides something new.

Check out Rupert Wates’ website here for all things Rupert Wates, and visit artmusiccoffeehouse.com for future performances at ArtMusic Coffeehouse!