by Nicholas Harazin
Nick Harazin and Marcus Truschinski in 'Sons of the Prophet' (photo by Zane Williams)
Musings of a Minnesotan; turned Wisconsinite; living in Chicago:
A home away from home, nestled between the city I originate from and that which I reside in now, Madison marks a place to which I return almost every year.
I only am able to do this because the incredibly talented people at Forward Theater continue to hire me, and allow me to be a small portion of their overall workings to engage the community at large.
Honestly, as an artist I value the work Forward produces. When asked in Chicago about why I travel here to do work, I tell them that the artists are intelligent, talented, and brimming with vitality. I trust the Forward team to choose thought-provoking, subtle, pulsating plays that both tell the story of a community, and also challenge their way of thinking.
This trust comes only from having had the great fortune to work on Farnsworth Invention, Sons of the Prophet, and currently From Up Here. Beginning with time in the rehearsal room, but culminating in what I believe to be the most important and vibrant part of Forward's work in Madison: the dialogue created and completed by having a talkback after EVERY performance.
Nowhere else have I worked with a theater company which actively and continually seeks to engage, listen and in many cases be challenged by their audience in hopes of becoming both better artists and better citizens within the community. By far, this is my favorite part of my time in Madison.
Often times theaters will boast their community outreach, but very rarely do I find they have an accurate idea of how they are reaching that community. But here in Madison, I see more people stay afterwards to ask questions, probe issues, and create a real dialogue that I hope to the gods goes well beyond the walls of the theater.
Nowhere else, do I see this number of people talk back to a theater company and ask questions of 'why?' or ' how can this be fixed?'
I commend Forward Theater for having the idea for these talkbacks, but I am floored and honored to be asked to engage with you as an audience every time the curtain comes down at the end of a show. Its the main reason I change out of costume so fast. To get out and talk with you.
And From Up Here has been no different. Hearing an audience that is consciously aware of young people and violence in schools, bullying and the subtleties thereof, and wondering how they can be better about ' taking care of their own,' meaning not simply their own children, but the youth as a whole within their community is a miraculous thing to behold. And I behold it every night we perform. Every night we speak with you after.
So I guess these musings serve as more of a thank you or love letter to the people of Madison. Forward-thinking people whose hearts and minds are open to being challenged but willing to fight for their own beliefs. A group of avid citizens who strive to be better, both for themselves and their neighbors. And much like the Barrett family in From Up Here, it is a community that when it sees something that needs to be addressed, fixed, illuminated, it circles its wagons, galvanizes itself, and works toward the goal together.
It is the reason I trust Forward Theater when I work here. The reason I love Madison for the short time I live here. It is the reason I feel honored to share a moment in your lives as you generously allow me to tell you a story and then afterward you tell me yours. I take those stories with me through the world, feeding subsequent communities with similar grace, example and generosity as you have fed me.
My many thanks for having me here.
I hope to see you at the theater this weekend. Our final chance to share From Up Here.
by Alistair Sewell
The initial read-through was a brilliant introduction to rehearsals, as we enjoyed a cold- lunch style spread, it was exciting to finally bring life to the script. And now the weekend approaches when we finally move into the Playhouse. The technical side of the play is starting to smooth over, only possible thanks to our won- derful stage managers Kim Patch and Olivia Bedard. They do a stellar job keeping track of the copious amount of props we handle and keep us on schedule despite our many breaks in character, they are exceptionally patient when I call out "Line!" for Kenny's one to two-word response, and they've put up with the obscene amount of kibble I've spilled to practice for the opening scene.
Liz Flahive has an acute ability to balance how close the audience gets to the issues that arise in the play. She speckles the play with humor after emotional segments and refrains from dramatizing the story to the point of becoming unrelatable. I found aligning myself to the ideas portrayed through the script was easy, when it comes to the dialogue of teenagers specifically, Liz Flahive's writing is right on. Not one to exude self-confidence, most of Kenny's answers are either short or indirect. This aversion of holding steadfast to one belief or opinion affects his willingness to vocalize his emotions and to healthily process them with others. The sheer lack of communication between Kenny and his mother Grace reveals itself when they're sitting side-by-side in a police station, of all places. Grace addresses the "incident" with Kenny, because it's an emotionally charged subject, and he attempts to shut it down. However, while not everything that needs to be expressed is said between them, their conversation in the station is a small sign of hope for Kenny and Grace.
The rehearsal process has been terrific so far and I can't wait to head into the performance run.
Okay, okay, one last thing! Here is one of my favorite moments in the play. Grace tries to ameliorate Kenny's less-than-satisfactory situation on the morning of his return to school by attempting to divert his energies to a new — utterly harmless! — skill. She presents him with a saxophone she bought, because apparently he had mentioned to his doctor that he might consider "band" as a potential prospect to finding an outlet. Lauren gives him a slingshot. Her abrasive, humorous approach is exactly what Kenny needs, and she demonstrates that she is perhaps the only person who can face what Kenny did and not be afraid to touch him.
by Joe Varga
The most significant thing about stage design, at least from my point of view, is that it is a collaborative process. One thing that makes the process exciting is that it's always different each time because of the personnel involved and the specific script, not to mention a host of other variables. Of course we designers all collaborate with each other, depending on our specialty be it scenery, costumes, lighting, projection, sound, or another specialty. But we all work with the script and the director, which is the prime relationship among us.
Jen Gray and I have worked together before – on last year's Sons of the Prophet and previously on The Dairy of Anne Frank, so we've established a record of mutual trust and artistic success. We first met to discuss this script several months ago. This time we found ourselves literally taking notes off of each other. Part of collaboration involves an effort at revealing our own impressions and trading them back and forth until they start to coalesce into a viable way of staging the show. At one of our early meetings I brought in a photo from a NY Times article showing the aftermath of a devastating storm in a suburban neighborhood. Ordinary items such as a door and tree branches were strewn about in the picture, against a bluish sky. I can't say precisely why, but the image resonated for me, perhaps because the family in the play undergoes some sort of social and emotional storm that has upset the normal course of their lives... the script mentions that the family plans on selling their home because of it. These characters are under unusual stress and some exhibit a steady breakdown. But then there is also the title of the play which suggests a point of view, perhaps a remote aerial one; it is also one that offers a redeeming perspective contributed by the character of the roving aunt.
If all goes well, designer and director sooner or later make a creative leap to arrive at an image that provides a foundation for the dramatic storytelling in the script. Jen suggested sky...what if the set were mapped in its entirety with the sky image. Hey, I know a visual idea that 'rings' when I hear it. So I ran with this one. Let actors, dialogue, plot and props establish the specific physical 'where' of the play. Let the design offer a metaphorical context that encompasses the emotional point of view. Besides, this particular design also leaves room for projections that can augment the visualization for each scene.
In terms of tasks involved, the design process is variable according to the nature of the production. I knew there had to be a scale model built to explain what I was seeing in my head, but more often than not my scenic models are 'white' i.e. colorless and only showing proportion and placement of scenic items. This time I sensed the model absolutely had to be in color ...basically, only two colors predominantly: the blue of sky and the white of clouds. Looking again at the photo that I found inspirational, I decided to try floating ordinary objects and furniture against the sky map to symbolize upheaval in the lives of the characters. Halfway through building the model it occurred to me that there's a famous painter whose work supports the direction in which the design was going: Rene Magritte. Unlike phantasmagorical surrealists like Dali, Magritte was a surrealist of the "quotidian" who typically presented everyday objects and people in odd juxtapositions. To a large extent that is the context of this play: ordinary people caught in a maelstrom all their own... yet it's recognizably a situation that can speak to a contemporary audience. If the play has a resolution, it is best summed up in the final moments of the script, in which a change of perspective lends a note of hope.
by Shannon Barry
My husband, William Bolz (member of Forward Theater Company's Advisory Company), and I have many things in common (which is a good thing when you decide to spend the rest of your life with someone). One of those things is a deep love of theater. Another is an obsession for reading – especially books from the fantasy genre. And a third is for entertaining – specifically throwing costume parties for our creative, artsy friends. When we heard that this year's theme for one of our favorite annual events – Feast Forward – was "banned books," it seemed like a perfect opportunity to combine many of our loves together into one delightful evening of merriment with our wonderful friends by throwing a "Harry Potter" themed dinner party (with costumes, of course). The bonus is that we also get to benefit an incredible organization which is near and dear to our hearts.
Now neither Bill nor I are culinary masters by any stretch of the imagination. However, it has been so much fun planning a themed menu and trying to figure out the best recipe for "Butter Beer" for our guests, not to mention pulling together our costumes and coming up with other creative, Harry Potter inspired surprises for our dinner party. Planning this party has been one of the easiest we've ever done due to the outstanding support we've received from the Forward team. (In fact, I think our biggest challenge is going to be mustering the patience to wait until October 11th to reveal all we have in store for our guests.)
Though we have attended Feast Forward dinners in the past, this is the first year we are hosting a dinner of our own. The Feast Forward concept is incredibly brilliant. It provides us with the opportunity to spend quality time with our guests in an intimate setting over dinner and then to celebrate with other Forward supporters at Overture with wonderful desserts and awesome entertainment.
As the executive director of a local non-profit, I am very particular about which non-profits I support with my time and treasure. Forward Theater Company is at the top of my list because they are a well-run, fiscally sound organization that provides a high quality theater experience for Madison audiences. Additionally, they focus on connecting with the broader community through education and outreach, partnering with other local non-profits, encouraging dialogue with their audiences through talk backs at every show, and employing outstanding theater professionals and artists from our area. My support of Forward Theater Company is an investment in my community.