Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Haint," a New Play by Memphis Playwright Justin Asher Opens at TheatreWorks

Posted By on Thu, May 29, 2014 at 6:29 PM

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Intermission Impossible talked to Haint playwright Justin Asher prior to a workshop production of the new work in 2013. This week Asher's play opens at TheatreWorks as a part of the New Moon Theatre Company's regular season.

Here's what Asher had to say about spooky stories, and why we love them.

Intermission Impossible: Since this is a new work, maybe you can tell us a little about what we can expect to see, without telling us too much, of course.

Justin Asher: What I hope to show you is the story of a woman who holds on to the past so tightly that she can’t live in the present. Mercy, the central character, who used to be a well-known root worker and healer, now secludes herself in her home and depends on her thirty year old son, Charlie, as her only source to the outside world. But, after her son’s death she is forced to deal with life again and along the way discovers the secrets that Charlie had been keeping from her for years. After that, Charlie acting as the narrator, watches as his mother learns to trust people again and let go of the fear and anger she’d been a slave to for years.

It’s not a traditional ghost story, but rather a drama that just happens to have a ghost in it. It doesn’t try to be scary. It does however try to make you uncomfortable at moments. It’s really just a story about people as seen by a person who has passed on.

II: I grew up in rural Middle Tennessee and there was a place called "Hainted Holler" so I always immediately associate that version of the word "Haunt" with older, more rural traditions. I'm curious as to where you picked up the word, and what images you hope it evokes even before people have experienced the play.

JA: I picked up the word “Haint” from my Granddad. He used to tell me ghost stories from back home and it just sort of stuck. This story is a rural piece which has elements of folk traditions, superstition and hoodoo. The word “Haint” brings to mind, for me, images of light blue porch ceilings and cracked mirrors hung just outside the front door. Both of which were used to keep the spirits away. I have a deep appreciation for those sorts of things. For being respectful of the world you cannot see and looking for the signs and clues it leaves out for us to find.

II: As a culture we seem to love our ghost stories. What's your take on that?

JA: I really like to be scared. I think it's the adrenaline. I think it's that feeling of knowing that you have no control over the situation, of being powerless - but can feel safe in the knowledge that once the movie is over I will be home safe and sound, on my couch with my dog in my lap. It letting absolute chaos take control of your emotions on the condition that it doesn't stay for long. Yeah, it's something like that. That's why I like it.

Haint is at TheatreWorks May 30 - June 15.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Sneak Peek Inside the Memphis Children's Theatre Festival

Posted By on Fri, May 23, 2014 at 8:53 PM

Here's a clip from The New Old Forest Fairy Tale.

For details about this and Voices of the South's annual Children's Theatre Festival you can visit here and here.

Funny Things: GCT's Colorful "Forum" Has a lot of Heart and a Few Good Gags

Posted By on Fri, May 23, 2014 at 10:18 AM

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Germantown Community Theatre's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum presents its audiences with an interesting question to ponder: just how good can a canned ham be?

The material is time-tested and maybe a little shopworn, but the comic foundations remain solid. The cast, if somewhat streamlined, has a good sense for the material, and also the good sense to take ownership of what can be a predictable night full of predictable gags. As Pseudolus, the slave who'll do anything for his freedom, Wesley Barnes is all ham (in the best way) and although he may never quite rise to the acrobatic heights or sink to the lewd, appetite-driven depths of a true Arlecchino, Barns is a fearless performer, very funny clown, and taken on its own, his energetic performance is a perfectly good reason to recommend the show.

That's how I feel about a lot of the very funny performances and jokes here, although they collectively add up to something less than the sum of their parts.

"You know, a funny thing happened on the way to [fill in the blank]" is to comedians what rhyming moon with June is to songwriters. And true to form, Forum, Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove, and Larry Gelbart's 1962 musical comedy, is filled with jokes that were old when the concept of comedy was still relatively young. A loving tribute to historical burlesque the show borrows plot devices from Plautus, the popular Roman author whose plays were essentially an excuse for one naughty joke after the other. Since mating hasn't changed all that much in the last 2000 years, they're essentially the same naughty jokes told by the baggy-pants comedians of burlesque who were famous for their lack of originality. After all, in burlesque, the content of the joke itself is relatively unimportant. As with the tease before the strip, it's all about how you present the material.

When were sunglasses invented?
  • When were sunglasses invented?

Plautus is the spiritual father of Commedia dell'arte, which took stock characters, and stock stories and loaded them up with timely topical references and improvisational gags called lazzis. Attempts to mine this history result in some of the night's most jarring notes (lazzi of the cell phone), and some of its biggest laughs (lazzi of mourning).

The plot (more or less): Pseudolus, a slave, has been promised his freedom if he can deliver to his master the love of his life, a young virgin who has, much to the slave's dismay, already been purchased by the pompous war-hero Miles Gloriosus. The rest is a breakneck mishmash of sight gags and mistaken identities, bolstered by 16 of Sondheim's typically literate tunes.

In addition to Barnes' admirable go at Pseudolus there are some fine comic turns by Greg Alexander (Senex), Mary Buchignani (Domina), Justin Willingham (Lycus), Brent Davis (Hysterium), and Chad Hoy (Erronius), who manages to make one of the script's most worn out gags funny again with the sheer force of silliness.

Andy Saunders stylized set depicts an Athens so garishly colorful it just might make your eyeballs bleed. While it's right on target in so many ways, sometimes it's best to remove a piece of jewelry before going out. When all of the equally colorful costumes parade across the stage it's almost too much too for tired eyes.

Alas, unless you're working with an incredible recording and a state of the art sound system (and even then...) it's hard to make canned music sound like anything but canned music. And that, ultimately, is what keeps a potentially stellar, and for GCT, a fairly progressive interpretation of this Funny Thing from ever taking us all the way to the Forum.

For ticket information, here you go!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Slipping Into the New Hattiloo

Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2014 at 2:53 PM

Ekundayo Bandele is going to be so mad at me.

Oof!
  • Oof!


The Hattiloo's founding director took a bit of a spill today while attempting to strike a heroic pose inside his new theater.

Ek: Tell me you didnt take a picture of that.
  • Ek: "Tell me you didn't take a picture of that."

Thankfully he was uninjured and he's got good comic timing so it was kind of awesome.

Me: I did. Im sorry.
  • Me: "I did. I'm sorry."

In a week the Midtown Hattiloo will be complete, opening a new chapter in the history of Memphis theater and Overton Square.

Today carpet went down in the lobby and sprung floors were installed in the black box. Tomorrow the trees arrive and landscaping gets serious. Any momentary loss of composure was, if anything, a case of overly excited expectant father jitters.

Bandele does a neat trick where he mimes giving a tour of the old Hattiloo inside the larger of the new Hattiloo's two performance spaces, showing how you can fit the whole thing on the stage: bar, box office, balcony, and bathrooms.

And once he gets things under control he looks completely at home in his fantastic new digs. And pretty heroic.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Memphis Children's Theatre Festival Returns to Rhodes College Friday and Saturday

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 4:10 PM

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Voices of the South's annual Children's Theatre Festival really is one of the best things about Memorial Day Weekend in Memphis.

I've got to admit, this year's lineup is especially interesting to me and I should probably plow right through this next bit of bragging disguised as "ethical disclosure."

Having grown up going to every installment of the Children's Theatre Festival, my own twin daughters make their theatrical debut this weekend with Voices' first junior company. The girls befriend the oldest daughter of Voices' most musical member, Virginia Matthews, at Rock & Romp camp in 2011. The three girls have been playing, and playing music together since. So they were absorbed, and are now playing (and playing music) with all the other Voices of the South kids who are all unsurprisingly talented.

This isn't why I'm plugging the event, of course, but a father/blogger's got to disclose what he's got to disclose. I get excited about this festival every year. It's grown into a reliably fun pay-what-you-can way for a family to kick off summer vacation. And this shorter iteration of the Voices of the South company (that looks a lot like the older, taller iteration of the Voices of the South company) is something brand new and pretty nifty, if I do say so myself. The junior troupe performs a revised version of The Old Forest Fairy Tale, a mighty quirky, mighty Midtown musical about Overton Park, and how it was once saved by a bunch of "old ladies in tennis shoes."

A bit of video from the original production starring grownups? Of course.

Voices is also rebooting The New Adventures of Hansel & Gretel, adapted by Jerre Dye who has made quite a splash in Chicago recently with Cicada, a rewrite of the play he originally opened at TheatreWorks.

The Children's Theatre Festival is a two-day event with workshops and crafts and three stages from which audiences may sample a work by a range of Memphis-area companies like the bilingual theater troupe Cazateatro, Chatterbox Audio Theatre, DeltaARTS, Germantown Community Theatre, Music for Aardvarks, Playhouse on the Square, Theatre Memphis ShoWagon, St. Luke’s Boys Choir, and, of course, Voices of the South.

Continue reading »

Spoken Words: The Tennessee Shakespeare Company introduces a pair of literary salons

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2014 at 3:56 PM

Bosco Hogan as Jonathan Harker in a 1977 TV adaptation of Count Dracula
  • Bosco Hogan as Jonathan Harker in a 1977 TV adaptation of "Count Dracula"

Tennessee Shakespeare builds on its Southern Exposure Series, and expands its opportunities for fans of world literature with a pair of literary Salons.

Here are the details:

"Of Ireland Born" features legendary Irish star of stage and screen Bosco Hogan reading from Yeats, Synge, O’Connor, and more on June 10 at Memphis’ Authentic Irish Pub The Brass Door downtown. Mr. Hogan is the star of such recent series and films as "The Tudors," "The Borgias," and "In the Name of the Father." The evening also features the live, traditional Irish music of Robert Johnson and John Albertson.

Mark Twain at Twilight on July 22 features Memphis Grizzlies television play-by-play announcer and ardent Twain fan Pete Pranica in a delightfully witty evening of American humor. Hosted by Milton T. Schaeffer in and around his luxurious Germantown residence recently featured in Memphis Magazine, the evening is also enlivened by live ragtime music.

Tickets are $55 per event, or $100 for both

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Eddie Izzard Explains Why You Should See His Show at the Orpheum Instead of Staying Home to Watch "Game of Thrones"

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 4:15 PM

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Did you know Eddie Izzard gave his first American performance in an Overton Square parking lot that has since been developed and is now the deck for Bosco's Squared?

It's true and you can read all about his act in my Q&A with Izzard in this week's issue of the Memphis Flyer. Meanwhile, enjoy this tidbit that didn't make it into the final draft.

Memphis Flyer: I sometimes do an annoying thing where I ask readers to submit questions and I'd like to ask you one reader-submitted question if I may. This one is from Ned Canty the General Director of Opera Memphis. He wants to know what he can tell his wife to convince her to go see your show at the Orpheum Sunday night instead of staying home to watch Game of Thrones.

Eddie Izzard: One, I’m sure he’s the kind of person who has recording equipment, don't you think? So he can always record Game of Thrones— which is fantastic, really beautiful stuff. He and his wife can do both. But if you come and see me I would like to compete with Game of Thrones for intelligence. And there’s also much more fighting and blood in my show than there is in Game of Thrones. The difference is I’ve got this whole Pythonesque Holy Grail thing going through mine.

Borrowed from the blog Ice and Fire or Death.

So there you have it straight from the comic's mouth. Eddie Izzard's Force Majeure: Come for the intelligence, stick around for the bloodshed.

If you're looking for ticket information here's your CLICK.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

WKNO Documentary "Inside Story" goes into the Shelby County Detention Center with Storyteller Elaine Blanchard

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2014 at 4:52 PM

Elaine Blanchard performing Skin & Bones
  • Elaine Blanchard performing "Skin & Bones"

"Prison Stories," a nifty theatre project facilitated by Memphis storyteller Elaine Blanchard is the subject of a new half-hour documentary airing on WKNO this week. Four years ago Blanchard started paying regular visits to a select group of female inmates held at the Shelby County Detention Center. She continues to work with an ever-changing cast of women behind bars, helping them first to talk about themselves, and then to create detail-rich biographical sketches that take audiences behind the headline-grabbing crime statistics and and into a world of difficult lives and impossible landscapes. Blanchard transforms these hard stories into new plays and mounts them in and out of prison with lots of help from area actors and some fabulous musicians. "Inside Story" tells that story.

I don't have a preview of the doc, but I do have a clip of Blanchard talking about "Prison Stories."

For more information about Blanchard and Inside Story visit her website.

Inside Story airs on WKNO Thursday, May 15th, at 9 p.m., Friday, May 16th at 2 a.m. and Saturday, May 17 at 3:30 p.m.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Memphis' New Ballet Ensemble Performs With the National Symphony, Brings DC Audiences to Their Feet

Posted By on Mon, May 12, 2014 at 3:55 PM

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New Ballet Ensemble performed a commissioned piece with the National
Symphony Orchestra this week and, although reviews for the New Moves: Symphony + Dance event were mixed, things went well for the Memphis-based company.

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Really well.

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To read the full Washington Post review click here.

NBE performs a final show with the NSO Tuesday, May 13.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

New Moves: New Ballet Ensemble to Perform at the Kennedy Center- May 10-13th

Posted By on Wed, May 7, 2014 at 11:44 AM

New Ballet Ensemble
  • New Ballet Ensemble

The most exciting thing about the New Ballet Ensemble & School (NBE) is that the company consistently lives up to its name. If the moves coming out of NBE aren't all hot off the grill the combinations are certainly fresh, pulling together Memphis street, ballet, and flamenco in a way that lets all three traditions stand out even as they disappear into the gumbo. It only makes sense that the company that helped to launch the career of super jooker Charles "Lil Buck" Riley would be chosen as one of three dance companies nationwide to perform in the Kennedy Center's NEW MOVES: symphony + dance Concert with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.

Over the course of a two-week festival conductor Thomas Wilkins will introduce audiences to works by American artists coupled with world premier dance commissions.


New Ballet Ensemble rehearses "SpringLoaded"

NBE's commissioned work was created by the company's founding artistic director, Katie Smythe and choreographed with the ensemble to Duke Ellington's “Tone Parallel to Harlem.

Smythe describes Ellington as "The great American composer," and a perfect match for NBE's local meets international style.

New Ballet Director, Katie Smythe, with Lil Buck (center) and dancers MK Thinnes and CWebster on the Promenade at New York State Theater after Lil Bucks world premiere with famous Parisian photographer and social advocate, JR.
  • New Ballet Director, Katie Smythe, with Lil Buck (center) and dancers MK Thinnes and CWebster on the Promenade at New York State Theater after Lil Buck's world premiere with famous Parisian photographer and social advocate, JR.

National interest in New Ballet Ensemble stems, in part, from Lil Buck's incredible success. He has toured with Madonna and Yo Yo Ma. He's shot commercials for the Gap, danced with the Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson tribute One, and was named in Dance Magazine as being one of 25 dancers to watch. More recently the 2014 Vail International Dance Festival named Lil Buck Artist-in-Residence.

Buck grew grew up dancing and making Jookin videos with family and friends in Orange Mound before enrolling in NBE's scholarship and professional development program. He is scheduled to appear on CBS This Morning with Wynton Marsalis Thursday, May 8.

Lil Buck isn't the only NBE dancer making a name for himself. Maxx Reed , who plays the villain Electro in the Broadway cast of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is also an alum.

Even more good news arrived for NBE this week in the form of a letter from the President's Committee on Arts and the Humanities. NBE was chosen from among 360 nominees as a finalist for a 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the Nation's highest honor for out-of-school arts programs that foster creativity in young people.

Kennedy Center Performances are Saturday, May 10th and Tuesday, May 13th. Tickets are available through the Kennedy Center website.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Will Call: Tips & Tidbits for the Theatrically Inclined

Posted By on Fri, May 2, 2014 at 2:44 PM

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Best bets for this weekend? If you're looking for something that's fun for the whole family and as far away from Memphis in May as you can get inside the 240-loop, check out Tennessee Shakespeare's vaudeville-inspired take on Taming of the Shrew.

If you're in the mood for something a little more daring there's Claws: A Cycle of Shorter Plays by Memphis filmmaker Morgan Fox, with fellow writers Eileen Townsend, and Matt Bowsher. The short pieces include a Fox penned script titled Ann Coulter and Dan Savage in an Elevator on It’s Way to Hell.

I'm so in for that.

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