We gif’d it!
Season on the Line - Trailer
A Theater’s Great White Whale
They are shadows of each other: performance and criticism. Performance without criticism is art in a vacuum. Criticism without performance is simply being grumpy. They love each other, they hate each other, but most of all: they need each other. Work grows by excellence in criticism and criticism grows by excellence in work.- Narrator and novice Assistant Stage Manager of Bad Settlement Theatre Company in Season on the Line
What is the equivalent of Captain Ahab’s obsession with the white whale for a theater company? A sold-out run? Awards? Profit? Fame?
Or is it that ever elusive glowing review in the paper?
In Season on the Line, Bad Settlement Theatre Company Artistic Director Ben Adonna is hell-bent on getting the perfect review of his adaption of Moby Dick from Arthur Williamson, the most influential critic in the region. Ben is so devoted to his cause that he has “…every single one of Arthur’s reviews plastered to my walls…I know what he wants. I know what he’s after. I know what his reviews are before he even rights them. I know Arthur better than Arthur knows Arthur.’
With a determination that rivals Ahab’s desire to kill Moby Dick, Ben sways his Bad Settlement Crew with the idea that only Arthur’s words matter in deciding whether a play is any good. Shawn Pfautsch’s script reveals just how this idea infects and influences his company of artists at the end of Act II, which I saw last week at a rehearsal.
It is the opening night party of Bad Settlement’s production of Balm in Gilead. The crew is having fun, dancing with each other, and enjoying Kaku’s cocktails. (Fictional Bad Settlement ensemble member Kaku Wada has the super-power of knowing what someone will drink and why they drink it even before they order it!) All in all, they are celebrating their work and feeling happy that they have opened a kick-ass show. But the mood changes completely when company member Peter screams, ‘Stop! Reviews are up!’
Jess McLeod, the director of Season on the Line (I know it can get confusing when we are talking about a play that is about making multiple plays.) urges the cast to (and I am paraphrasing a bit here), ‘We don’t even need look or react to each other. Just read the review as if it is the most important thing you have ever read in your life.’
The room immediately turns dead silent. Everyone stops what they are doing and whips out their phones to read what Arthur (Played by Sean Sinitski, standing in the front) has to say about the show.
Jess’s direction serves the scene right because these artists, converted to Ben’s purposes, believe that the words of a single influential critic can make a theater sink or swim. And could they be right? Our fictional friends at Bad Settlement haven’t had a big hit since last time Arthur gave them a good review. On the verge of bankruptcy, the theater could shipwreck if Arthur pans the show. This is truly their season on the line. And the chase for their white whale is on!
Set sail with Bad Settlement Theatre Company at Season on the Line this fall!
SEASON ON THE LINE: REHEARSAL
Photos from our rehearsal process of the play about making theatre with special attention on the scenes about rehearsal. Wha!?#dontcallitplaypractice
The Birth of a Dragon
Irek Obsidian, one of the main storytellers of The Hammer Trinity, is a mighty black dragon. Bringing Irek to life on the stage is an important and challenging mission that our puppet designer Jesse Mooney-Bullock has to accomplish. Irek is voiced by Tracy Letts, who is at least as cool as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug in The Hobbit. Tracy is returning for The Excelsior King in the spring.
Those of you who saw The Iron Stag King and The Crownless King will remember that Irek’s head was hung from the ceiling of the theatre, exiled outside the Land (and the stage space). Irek’s arms and tail stretched out to envelop the audience. (For people who have never seen the previous installments of The Hammer Trinity and have no idea what I am talking about, here is a picture of Irek from The Crownless King.)
Looks cool, right? We are making Irek even cooler this summer! The head is going to be similar to the one we used in The Crownless King, with his geometric lines, and illuminated interior. And now, we plan to give Irek more mobility so the audience can really feel his presence. We want to let Irek fly all over the stage and be inches away from the audience. To make this happen, Jesse is attaching the dragon puppet to a trolley. Here is a sketch of the new design.
The puppeteer in the middle uses the two wooden levers to control the head, up, down and side to side. The puppeteers at the side flies the dragon everywhere with the trolley. They also control the Irek’s jaw and eyes.
And here is a model, which is 1/7th the size of the actual thing.
The actual dragon head is going to be 10 feet long! You can’t see it from the model but the puppet is going to be shiny black with neon lights attached to it to highlight its features. It is going to look badass in the theatre with proper lighting!
Here is Jesse posing in front of the trolley he just created. He wishes that he can control a dragon in real life like Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon.
And here is Jesse testing the weight and balance of what is the beginning of a frame for the dragon head. Notice that at the moment the aluminum bars are connected by duct tape. We will obviously weld the bars. Building a powerful dragon story teller with duct tape is simply unacceptable.
And a week later…
The skeleton is welded together and attached to the trolley. Check out this awesome video of the actors playing around with the dragon puppet. They act out a scene from The Crownless King to explore how to make Irek Obsidian come to life!
See Irek Obsidian in action on July 24 at The Trinity Tour! More information available here.
The Hunt for the Whale Commences- Announcing Season on the Line!
“To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”- Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, written by Herman Melville
Have you ever walked out of a theatre wondering how the spectacle you just witnessed was put together? Were the rehearsals tough? What exactly does a stage manager do? What did the actors do when they were offstage during a show? Are actors and directors weird because they do theatre, or is it the other way round? And more importantly, why would a group of people be crazy enough to spend days and nights (sometimes with little to no pay) and shed blood, sweat and tears to create something so ephemeral? Season on the Line, the first play of our 13th season will satisfy your curiosity what it’s really like to make theatre happen.
Written by Company Member Shawn Pfautsch and directed by Jess McLeod, Season on the Line is a meta-theatrical adaptation of Melville’s Moby-Dick. It’s funny, it’s epic, it’s heartbreaking. Shawn sets the story of obsession and revenge onto the fictional Bad Settlement Theatre Company. Beleaguered by a dilapidated building, strained finances, their aging artistic director has one singular focus: the first-ever perfect production of Moby-Dick. A novice assistant stage manager joins the ranks at the top of the company’s make-or-break season, and is thrown quickly into the fray. Mirroring Melville’s unconventional form, Season on the Line is the young narrator’s look back at the industry he has grown to love, even as those around him pay the ultimate price in pursuit of their great white whale. Season on the Line has been in the development process for the past three years, including a Summer, Inc. workshop at the Logan Arts Center as a part of Exploring Moby-Dick, a summer residency program hosted by The University of Chicago Theatre and Performance Studies department.
Since it takes so many people to make a show happen, Season on the Line has a whopping huge cast of 19 actors, including Equity guest artists Thomas J. Cox* as Artistic Director Ben Adonna, and Maggie Kettering* as his right-hand and stage manager, Day Starr. Guest artist Ty Olwin steps into the role of our narrator, mirroring the reflections of Melville’s Ishmael. House Company Member Marika Mashburn (last seen in Death & Harry Houdini) steps into the role of Elizabeth, a company director helming a wacky avant-garde production in the company’s season. House Company Member Abu Ansari (also last seen in Death & Harry Houdini) appears as a Ugandan actor and voice of reason. Returning guest artists Christopher M. Walsh and Mary Hollis Inboden both play designers stretched to their limits by the outrageous demands of the season. Guest artists Danny Bernardo, Tiffany Yvonne Cox, Shane Kenyon, Bob Kruse, Andy Lutz, Molly Lyons, Marvin Quijada, Jessica Dean Turner, and Rawson Vint fill the ensemble with actors, designers, and technicians. Sean Sinitski completes the ensemble as the primary object of obsession, the chief theater critic.
Season on the Line runs from Sep 12 to Oct 26 at the Chopin Theatre. Stayed tuned for behind the scenes goodies!
July Speaks! The Hammer Trinity Workshop is underway!
July of the Seven Foxes welcomes you to her favorite month of the year!
This summer is exciting for The House. We are very fortunate to be a part of Summer, Inc. Summer, Inc. is a residency program hosted by the University of Chicago’s Theatre and Performance Studies aiming to support performance artists from all disciplines to develop original works at the state-of-the-art Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.
We are using Summer, Inc. to workshop The Hammer Trinity, an epic fantasy trilogy exploring the meaning of liberty, destiny, and the formation of a nation. Taking place in a parallel-proto-America, The Hammer Trinity is inspired by the legend of King Arthur, but with an American twist. The first two episodes, The Iron Stag King, and The Crownless King, were audience favorites in our last two seasons. Since the trinity deserves a conclusion as magical as its first two plays, we will spend most of Summer, Inc. developing The Excelsior King, the final installment of the trinity. We will also rework parts of The Iron Stag King and The Crownless King to ensure that The Hammer Trinity as a whole is even better than the sum of its parts. In spring 2015 we will produce all three plays as a part of our 13th season, with single features on weeknights, and full marathon performances of the entire trinity on the weekends. This will be the most ambitious project The House has undertaken.
We began our Summer, Inc. workshops a week ago with something we have never done before: a read-through of the entire Hammer Trinity. It took us seven hours (with lots of snack breaks) to tell the complete tale of Casper Kent’s recovery of the Hammer, using it to defend the Land from the Crownless, and choosing how to use it for the greater good. We embraced retuning actors, and welcomed guest artists who are joining us for the workshop phase of The Hammer Trinity. The mix of returning and new actors created great chemistry across the room. Everyone was so immersed into the story that the seven hours passed by quickly! The complete read-through provided useful insights for the playwrights and the actors, as thoughts and questions about the characters and the underlying themes of the trinity were illuminated when the plays were heard side by side. Everyone enjoyed the read-through immensely, and is psyched to make the words come to life on stage.
The entire cast gathered at Logan Arts Center Theatre West for the read-through. Check out the rest of the photos here.
Excited? Want to see what we will have come up by the end of the Summer, Inc.? Come to The Trinity Tour on Thursday, July 24 from 6:30-9:00pm at the Logan Arts Center! It is a great opportunity to get an insider’s look on the new work development process. Visit various spaces in the Logan Center, each highlighting a part of the process, including our new dragon puppet protoype. Then, hang out with the actors and writers in the beautiful Performance Penthouse.
(You can see the entire UChicago campus from the Performance Penthouse. Some say it looks like Hogwarts. We have definitely chosen the right place to workshop The Hammer Trinity.)
Stayed tuned as I will regularly blog about the progress of The Hammer Trinity workshops!
Partnering with University of Chicago for Summer, Inc!
The Hammer Trinity approaches! In just two weeks, we’re diving into five full weeks of incredible workshop time at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts as part of Summer, Inc! U of C is generously providing their state-of-the-art facilities at the Logan Center where we will build more incredible creatures, test out the air battles for Part 3: The Excelsior King, and bring the three stories into harmonious union.