Halloween (October 2008)

Posted in history, Past Shows on September 2nd, 2009 by kellinewby

In the sort of moment I had only daydreamed about.  A woman I didn’t know was  running across the BCC auditorium saying: “Hey, you guys are Main Street Stage?  I’ve heard all about you and have been meaning to track you down.”

The woman was Juliana.  The project was a Halloween show in the old graveyard in Williamstown.  She needed actors for the graveyard tour, but more than that, she needed someone to write and produce a show in the chapel and heard we might be the folks for the project.

A couple weeks later, I piled most of the Redroom writers and a few others into a car and we got a tour of the chapel and did some brainstorming for plots.  An evil wedding?  Some sort of historical piece?  A town meeting?  We wandered around, found a secret passage, discovered the old town morgue, played around with the organ and had a good time.  Eventually, we decided that the story should be a presentation on local ghosts that is interrupted by ghosts, of course.  We made a couple more trips backs with various people in tow, including some MCLA students, to plan special effects.  I wanted them to all be created in the space, especially the noises.  Prerecorded sounds just weren’t going to cut it.

Here’s the story.  Penny tours around giving her lecture on local ghosts.  She had an encounter in the Houghton Mansion as a child.  Her friend, Maxine, fancies herself a paranormal investigator and often crashes Penny’s presentations.  Of course, on this night, the women have stumbled into an actual haunted place and everything falls apart in a cacphony of ghost noises and a blackout at the end.

I spent many delightful hours reading up on local ghosts late into the night  and scaring myself.  (Incidentally, here’s a link to a great blog on the topic if you’re interested). We had also decided that one of our characters was a ghost hunter, so I called up the local ghost hunting team, Berkshire Paranormal Group, to get a sense of what kind of equipment the character would have and what sort of language she’d use.  I even spent a long, dark evening in the chapel with the Berkshire Paranormal Group doing an investigation of the chapel.

Then things started to go wrong.  Although the event had been approved by the town council and had been in the works for the better part of  a year, about a month before Halloween some residents of Williamstown got wind of it and objected strongly to theatrics taking place in a graveyard, on hallowed ground, as it were.  What followed was weeks worth of nasty letters to the editor (and even worse comments on the online Transcript comment sections below said letters) and a heated town council meeting.  While the project moved ahead as planned, it was  not without an emotional cost to the main planners.

But the day came and, except for it being bitterly cold, we had two nights of good attendence and great fun.

The Halloween event will be in the basement of the Milne library this year and Main Street Stage will be there!

RBIT on the road

Posted in Improv, Past Shows, RBIT, Summer 2009 on August 14th, 2009 by mtrainor

We just returned from a great road show at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield. What great bunch of people. What a beautiful theater. What a great show. Huge thanks to Liz for getting us that gig. We’d love to play there again.

(I’m finishing up part 2 of the Providence Improv Fest report – I know it has taken forever. Sorry for the delay – posting shortly, I hope.)

A few numbers on the show at the Majestic (you may wish to measure our eco-footprint in doing these road shows):

  • Number of cars to get us there: 2
  • MPG for one of the cars: close to 30, I think.
  • Number of performers: 6 (we missed Frank!)
  • Audience members: around 100
  • Number of people we knew in the audience: 2 (love you Aslynn and Liz!)
  • Length of show: 2 hours, 20 min intermission
  • Number of scenes played: over 20 (!)
  • Number of long form games: one new one (called “History of Ken Burns” – we recently invented it)
  • Number of Obama jokes: zip
  • Number of donuts Seth had for dinner: 7

Here are a few photos from our past two road trips: at the Majestic and before that the Triplex Cinemas in Great Barrington.

Intermission at the MajesticBarbie, Lex and Mike backstageYep - we played in a movie theaterRight this way!That's usPosterTop of the bill

RBIT at the Providence Improv Fest

Posted in Improv, Past Shows, RBIT, Summer 2009 on July 20th, 2009 by mtrainor

As we take our last breath and hold it in anticipation of Twelfth Night’s opening, here’s part one of a two-part post on The Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe’s recent voyage to Providence, RI for the Providence Improv Festival.

We arrived in Providence the day of our show, on Saturday afternoon. We were scheduled to perform at 7:00pm at their AS220 theater. The festival had been running for two fulls days already, beginning on Thursday.

We checked into our hotel; nearly all of the troupe stayed at the excellent Hotel Providence (Seth stayed with a friend from the area – he grew up near Providence. He actually wrote the book on the place). After check-in and exploring the area, we grabbed some food and ambled over to the theater which is just a few blocks from the hotel in the “arts” district. There were lots of beautiful old buildings converted into galleries or performance spaces, including the festival’s spaces: AS220 and the Perishable Theater. These are just around the corner from Trinity Rep.

We arrived at AS220 and were greeted by a really sweet festival staffer, and the cool tech guy (Mike), who got us set up tech-wise and showed us the stage and backstage area (in the basement). We also met the frazzled but charming Mauro – the artistic director of the festival. He made us feel at home (we’re accustomed to the “frazzled and charming” types here at RBIT).

The space probably held around 80 people or so. It was bare when we arrived: a medium sized black room with a raised stage opposite the windows at the store front. We did tech as they set up the chairs.

We were paired to perform with a group from North Attleboro, MA, called Speed Of Thought Players. We first met their master-of-ceremonies type guy backstage: Christian. He’s known as “the Mouth”. Really nutty, witty guy – I figured he did stand-up, too. Anyway, he started shaping a plan with us on who was going on when, where and how, which was eventually overruled by Festival staff (Christian kept pointing out how he didn’t have a right to organize anything – yet, he had so many ideas. I liked him a lot).

Here’s how the festival told us it was going to work: each group had a half hour of stage time. Each audience member had a score card, which they would use to rate each group on a scale of 1 through 5. We weren’t competing directly with the Speed Of Thought Players exactly, but we were competing to get into the finals (six groups would be picked to compete in the final of the 25 or so total groups). The winner of the fest would be crowned “Best Improv Troupe in New England”. I think many of the audience members had seen several acts already, as most of them looked to be wearing festival lanyards with pases in them.

I think effectively turning every audience member into a critic took its toll psychologically on several members of our troupe of tender-hearted Berkshirians. More on that in a bit.

This is not the usual Royal Berkshire Improv Troupe gig, and we decided to play partly because it wasn’t our normal thing. Not that we didn’t miss the good cheer of our regular audiences in the Berkshires, but we were intrigued to play in front of a group of total strangers and see how it went. Plus – we were keen to see how we measured up against other groups. Living in the relative vacuum of Berkshire county we sometimes feel a little isolated (as others surely must), and we were looking to be de-pressurized, so to speak.

Our only supporters in Providence were Liz and Charlie (they rode with us), and a couple of friends of Seth’s from the area: Sarah and Allison. Between the four of them, they provided more emotional support than Mother Teresa would have (I heard she hated improv).

Anyways, I, personally, had a couple of beers before the show. It really helped me mellow out and enjoy watching the group who, it was decided, were going to perform ahead of us. It also gave me a little distance to see the terror in my fellow RBITers eyes when we witnessed them kick ass on the stage.

I’ll say again – this wasn’t a normal RBIT gig. Our time on stage was greatly compressed (we usually play for an hour and a half). We happened to be missing a key member of our troupe: Barby. A last minute flu bug laid her up – she was at home. That was a pretty big blow, as she’s one of the most reliably funny and talented players.

But there’s more – due to a technical issue, we could not play our *key* first game we normally play in our shows: the Dance. In the Dance, we play snippets of music of various kinds over the PA and each member of the troupe leads the other in a dance of their choosing (with other troupe members mirroring the “dancer”). We take turns as the dancer – when the music strikes us. This is an important first game in my opinion, because the energy is usually very high (we get a work-out) and it serves as an introduction to each member of the troupe through their dance. You can tell a lot about a person from watching them dance around goofily.

So, we were a bit nervous. We had to play against a really sharp group with the audience behind them while we had a couple of major factors well outside of our comfort zone. And RBIT is used to comfort. Luxury, even (take note, bookers).

We kept watching SOTP – I kept drinking. The audience kept laughing – I got another beer. I glanced at Lex’s shaking hands – swig. Frank gesturing frantically for a troupe huddle to try to reconfigure something in our act – chug. In my mind at the end of SOTP’s set, I could see each audience member laughing to themselves at the genius they had just witnessed and checking off the big “five-star” rating. Then they’d glance up from their card with a “let’s see if these guys can measure up” smirk, arms crossed, waiting.

Would this be the gig where we would be booed in earnest – actually booed? My mind careened wildly through every possible scenario of what could happen next: I would throw up on the stage. Frank would pee himself. Lisa would lose it and attack an audience member to feast on their flesh. Paul would hump something to climax. Seth would smile at a baby. Lex would remove a piece of clothing because she was too warm (never happens).

SOTP were finished their set, and started to exit the stage. Big audience ovation. We were poised on the house left behind the audience – like a crazy, drunken cat about to pounce on a much larger animal. Would we manage to hold on? To slay the beast?

Stay tuned for part 2.

All My Sons (April 2009)

Posted in Past Shows on June 29th, 2009 by kellinewby

“Comedic directors should always direct tragedy.  It’s easy to drag a play like this down, but a comedian finds the moments of lightness in the script.”  –Ed

We had a fabulous set designer and scene painters lined up.  We had a director who loved the script, loved the stage and realized that many of the themes in All My Sons would compliment our tiny space.  30 people showed up to audition and Ed, the director, had several different casts to choose from.

But there was no Joe.

For anyone who knows Arthur Miller at all, you know that the father figure is the most important figure (tied with the idealistic son) in his plays.  The father is the anchor, the tragic hero in the tradition of Aristotle.  He is the play.

the-kellers

Ultimately, we had to cast the director in the lead role with the promise that Lex would take over as soon as Ed could no longer work in both capacities (which, we discovered, is just after you’ve blocked everything).  People raised eyebrows, sure.  The director is starring in the play?  Co-Directors?

Hey, when you’ve been working by committee and company for awhile, you can do it.  And we did it.

It was a difficult play that dealt with gray ares of morality, and the death of hope and love due to past mistakes.  It has moments of great loss.  The Keller family lives in their backyard, a simultaneously public and private arena.  A student of mine wrote a blog post about this tension created both in the script and in our tiny space:

When I call the performance a train wreck, I mean that it conveyed the reality of the scenario and characters more perfectly than I could have imagined. I personally felt uncomfortable, like I needed to leave or look away because I shouldn’t be watching this family’s personal drama. It wasn’t a moment for the public eye. Fortunately, it was a moment for the public eye and it was a great story, Miller just really knew how to bring life to an idea.

chris-and-george-and-ann

The set, designed by Juliana Von Haubrich, was a house with no walls where the audience could see the characters in the moments before they stepped into public view.  The murals, painted by Andrew Davis and Jaye Foxe, conveyed the idea of the neighborhood stretching out to either side (and also into the house).  We had originally wanted a full soundscape to accompany the production in order to create an aural neighborhood, but the constant sounds were distracting and we had to cut them.

All My Sons opened to rave reviews.  Practically every show was sold out.  The production amounted to all the things volunteer theatre can do.  The actors had three months to get to know their characters as well as each other.  Three months to experiment, to find the tragedy in the script and then find the humor in it.  And who knew we’d all come to like Arthur Miller?

“Welcome to Main Street Stage. Here’s a hammer. We own you now.”

Posted in history, Past Shows, The Redroom on June 3rd, 2009 by jturbin

I lurked backstage behind the curtain at the May 2008 Redroom intently listening in on the audience response to my short play, Job Interview with the Vampire Wannabee.  Written during a slow day at my then-dayjob as a substitute teacher it involved a vetting session for the new member of a high school goth clique.  The small yet vocal audience seemed to be lapping it up.  I had been involved with Main Street Stage only a matter of weeks and already I had begun acting, directing and writing for the company.

And it was all due to a matter of chance.

I was eating out with a friend (okay – it was a date) when a woman with way more energy than is advisable waltzed into the restaurant, dropped a quarter-sheet on the table, plugged the Redroom, and left.  Said friend looked at the card, observed “oh.  It’s right around the corner” and suggested we attend.  I had only been back in the country for a few weeks, let alone the city, and knew next to nothing about the art scene in North Adams (I had only a vague notion that a bunch of old mills had been converted into artist lofts and museums).  Little did I know that I was about to encounter an olde tyme cabaret/burlesque performance, a team of earnest and talented artists, and people who would become some of my closest friends.

The evening in question involved a local singer/songwriter (a “troubadour,” as my friend put it), a Dada performance piece, and a one-act about a woman harassed by her time-travelling, future groupies.  Afterward, over drinks at the bar, I struck up a conversation with a woman in striped tights.  Said conversation began with Paul Farmer and ended with me being handed the executive director’s email address.  Truth be told, I nearly threw it out; while I had done theatre as an undergrad, those days were behind me.  Or so I thought.  One month later, I attended my first executive committee meeting.  Shortly after that, Main Street Stage had claimed me.

It’s now little over a year since my first performance with the company.  Here I am dramaturging our summer production (Twelfth Night, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention) and helping manage our humble blog.  Main Street Stage has grown by leaps and bounds during my tenure, so I can only imagine how far it’s come since its founding.  If history is any judge, next year will be even bigger and better.

The Mystery of Irma Vep (October 2007)

Posted in history, Past Shows on May 21st, 2009 by kellinewby

“Top Geniuses!!” –audience member addressing the Trova sisters at the bar after the show.

irma-vep-cleaver1

We needed to do a show and we needed to do one fast; if all of our hard work to start over as a company was going to work, we needed to refill the coffers.  Lex suggested remounting Irma Vep with her and her sister in the two roles.  We still had most of the set downstairs, it was a funny Halloween themed play, it would be easy to get up and running quickly and it had some name recognition.

Irma Vep usually stars two men.  We had two women on stage, three women back stage and a woman in the director’s seat.  It is a quick change show where a lot of the fun is seeing an actor walk off stage as one character and walking back on stage as someone entirley different  literally seconds later.  Sometimes the results are a little wonky…lexs-wig

But it adds to the fun.

The show was our first big step in company building.  The set was harder to put together than originally anticipated; consequently there were a lot of late nights at the theatre painting and sewing.  The crew had to be at all the rehearsals.  A couple people of including myself – who had initially felt a little outside the inner workings at the stage — found a welcoming environment and a completely non-hierarchical production.  There were bloopers to keep us going through the exhaustion (with that many wigs and a werewolf costume, how can there not be bloopers?)

One of the most interesting parts of the show was the set change between Egypt and the mansion, which happens before an audience.  There was some set ingenuity (namely hinged, panted panels with Egypt scenes).  More than that, however, the director wanted to make the set change interesting, so she put the crew in masks, put on a song and made it into a creepy dance.

“Why do we always have to pretend the set isn’t being changed?  It’s ridiculous” quoth she.

Some of the Redroom began here–bringing elements of  other disciplines into a show and saying “we just can’t hide this, so we’re going to have to put it out in the open, but we have to make it entertaining…”

edgar-and-nicoLex wants to make Irma Vep a tradition. It’s a fun show and everyone has a grand ol’ time.  There’s a big trunk in the basement full of werewolves, mummies, fake legs, cleavers, wigs, paintings that can bleed, and much more  just waiting for the next time through.

The Red(and Green)room, Decemeber 2008

Posted in Past Shows, The Redroom on May 21st, 2009 by kellinewby

We were fresh off the success of Romeo and Juliet.  We had a much bigger and more active company.  We had a much bigger and more active audience.  M.  had this great idea–let’s do Christmas Carol.  Let’s really do Christmas Carol.

After all, it is a play about an old guy who is part of a community that he doesn’t much care for and doesn’t know at all.  Then, one day he wakes up and realizes that being part of the community around you is what makes you alive and that you should celebrate it!  The metaphor was not lost on us.

The problem–no Scrooge.  (Incidentally, this is a recurring problem at the stage; we have no older men.  See also All My Sons)  We spent a frantic month or so trying to find a Scrooge, pestering, begging, pleading, but to no avail.  Half as a joke, I suggested Jeffrey Borak, the local critic.  He’s an actor (a good one, so I’ve heard) and he’s the right age, and he’d look good in a Victorian top-hat…

We all laughed.   Then I thought, wouldn’t that be interesting…I sat down with a copy of Dickens’ story and started work right away.   The idea eventually became “A Critic’s Carol.”  The story is of Benjamin Montgomery, the much feared local critic, who has come to play Scrooge at a small local theatre company that is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.  During the course of the first read through, Benjamin is visited by three performances (from Christmas Carols Past, Present, and Future) who remind him why he loved theatre in the first place.   As with most Redroom ventures, the company shaped the piece after the initial script had been written.

So, we had half a Christmas show.  The company then got together and wrote a series of skits for the first half of the show, creating a Holiday-themed, more traditional Red Room.  These acts included workplace Secret Santa and Yankee Swap gift exchanges gone terribly awry, a parody of “Carol of the Bells,” a bittersweet dance, readings by local writers about Christmas memories, a skit with a chain-encumbered Jacob Marley trying to sneak home after a night of drinking without waking his wife, and, a personal favorite, “Jonathan’s Jewish Corner”–the Redroom’s answer to all those well-intentioned people who try to play up Hanukkah so that they don’t feel bad about being over the top with Christmas.

The show ran four nights and was a success.  It was an experiment–a Redroom with a lot of rehearsal that ran the same show more than once–but it worked.  We’re hoping to do a musical review this summer in August building on what we learned this past December.

Romeo and Juliet, summer 2008

Posted in history, Past Shows on April 26th, 2009 by kellinewby

“This is the strangest thing you’ve ever done.”

–Jeffery Borak, local critic, to Alexia Trainor after he found out Main Street Stage was producing Romeo and Juliet.

[Follow this link to see pictures of the production]

wedding1It was a strange thing.  We all thought M. was crazy when she suggested it.  Romeo and Juliet?  That play we all read(and hated) in 9th grade?  That over-produced play that was totally beneath us?  We were all leaning toward the Tempest after we’d decided on Shakespeare for the summer–after all, it was artsier and we could do mask and puppet work!

M. held a day-long Shakespeare workshop to help us make the final decision.   We spent a lot of time publishing it, harassing people who had said they were interested in the stage but had yet to take the plunge, and the turn out was excellent–20 people.   It was a wonderful day full of new faces and fun and at the end, when we started reading sides from Romeo and Juliet we all came to the same terrifying conclusion–that we should do Romeo and Juliet.  Why?  It was a gut level reaction.  The R&J sides resonated.  The community was telling us what to do and we listened.

But, we all agreed, we had to do it right.  Whatever that meant.

Fast forward–M. found teenagers, real teenagers, to play the titular roles.  friar-and-romeo1She followed through on age appropriate casting (Lady Capulet was 13 years older than the actor playing her daughter.  Lord Capulet was about fifteen years his Lady’s senior.  The cousins and friends were all early-mid 20′s.  The nurse was not very old at all–she was, after all, able to have a child as of 14 years ago.)  We spent weeks at a table pulling the text apart word by word.  M. focused on making the cast a cohesive, collaborating group with a mix of old pros and green actors.

And you know what, it worked.

Gail Burns wrote in her review:

The result is this production of Romeo and Juliet which is chock full of the energy that comes from ownership of a show. This cast owns this show and you can tell that they are thrilled to be sharing it with their friends and neighbors. And by gum, their friends and neighbors are coming!

We even took the show to Windsor Lake and performed outdoors for a crowd of 80 or so.   Letters to the editor came in declaring the show interesting and moving, and that putting such a big show in a tiny space made the spectator feel as if she, too, was in Verona.

Another audience member summed up her reaction to the play like this:

The Friar comforts Lord and Lady Capulet after they've discovered her dead on the morning of her wedding to Paris.

The Friar comforts Lord and Lady Capulet after they've discovered her dead on the morning of her wedding to Paris.

I finally get it.  They’re not idiots.  They’re teenagers!

When Romeo andJuliet are teenagers, they no longer look like idiots that make rash decisions. They look like children caught up in a violent society that is not of their making who are trying to find a way out of it.  The bad decisions made by the adults around them result in the violent deaths of an entire generation.

And you thought it was a love story.

Tags: , ,