Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Theatre Memphis Announces its 2016-17 Season

Posted By on Tue, Feb 16, 2016 at 2:55 PM


Theatre Memphis' 2016-17 season includes a healthy mix of musicals, comedies, and dramas with regional premieres like Sideshow and The City of Conversation and chestnuts like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and South Pacific.

Summer Musical Showcase

Debbie Sings: Judy, Just for You
Theater Memphis' executive director sings songs popularized by Judy Garland. Conceived and directed by André Bruce Ward, Musical direction by Gary Beard, Performed by Debbie Litch

July 15 - 31, 2016
Lohrey Stage 


Beauty and the Beast
A beauty falls in love with a beast. Also, magic stuff.
September 2 - 25, 2016

The City of Conversation – REGIONAL PREMIERE
Washington D.C. where the political animals talk... and talk... and talk
October 21 – November 6, 2016


A Christmas Carol
Ghosts torment jerk.
December 2 – 23, 2016 Theatre Memphis’ 39th Annual Production
39 Steps
A Hitchcock pastiche with 4 actors playing over 100 characters. 
January 20 – February 5, 2017

Side Show
The freaks come out at night. 
March 10 – April 2, 2017

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Mississippi football hero likes whiskey more than his wife. 
April 28 – May 14, 2017

South Pacific
A wartime romance by Rodgers & Hammerstein.
June 2 – 25, 2017

Next Stage


The man with the candelabra is back. 
September 30 – October 16, 2016

One Ham Manlet - ORIGINAL WORK
Solo Shakespeare. 
November 10 - 20, 2016

Sense and Sensibility
Remember what Jane Austen stories were like before the zombie apocalypse? This is one of those. 
February 10 - 26, 2017


Rasheeda Speaking – REGIONAL PREMIERE
Office politics collide with race politics. Drama happens. 
April 7 - 23, 2017

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Hattiloo Theatre to Expand.

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2016 at 10:15 AM


The Hattiloo Theatre has come great distance in only 10 years. Ekundayo Bandele’s black repertory theater launched in 2006 in a cramped but lovingly converted storefront on Marshall Avenue just north of Sun Studio. Eight years later, following an innovative capital campaign, Bandele moved his company into a new, custom-built playhouse on Overton Square. Now, only 18 months — and not quite two full performance seasons — after the big move, Bandele and his board of directors are preparing to undertake the Hattiloo’s first major expansion.

Longtime board member Cardell Orrin says the need to expand physical resources became apparent during a strategic planning effort. “We thought about our mission and the kind of staffing we’d need to meet these goals,” he says. “And it became clear that we were already bursting at the seams in terms of multiple plays on stage, multiple plays in rehearsal, and everything else.”


$750,000 in funding is already in place, and plans have been developed to build a two-story, 3,200 square-foot Development Center just off the northwest corner of the existing theater building at 37 S. Cooper at Monroe. “We’re calling it the D.C.,” Bandele says. The list of contributing benefactors for the expansion is only four names long: An anonymous Friend of the Hattiloo Theatre, The Assisi Foundation, The Hyde Family Foundation, and The City of Memphis.

“Of course the first question we had to answer was why so quick?” Bandele says. “That answer was simple. The new building generated a level of growth — or more accurately a pace of growth — that we weren’t prepared for. “We’ve always done a lot, but we’ve done it with so little,” Bandele explains. “We had to make compromises.”

The Hattiloo has never been a playhouse only. It has doubled as a teaching space, cultural center, and hub for artists. Since its move to Midtown, the theater has hosted everything from book clubs to film festivals to conversations about social justice. Orrin describes the Hattiloo as “This dream of what Memphis could and should look like.”

Ambitious programming found the rapidly growing company with one play open and running on its main stage, a second play in technical rehearsals in the adjoining black box theater, a youth program rehearsing in the lobby, and no space available for anything else. To accommodate all the activity many rehearsals moved off site to Rhodes College or the Urban League on Union Avenue. “The real problem with all these locations is that a parent takes their kids to a rehearsal at the Urban League one night, then to Rhodes the next night, then Hattiloo,” Bandele says. “There’s been no consistency. So whenever we were rehearsing or doing programs, it was a full-time job just figuring out where things are being placed. Now everything we do is going to be on the same campus.”


Like the Hattiloo, the D.C. is being designed by Barry Yoakum and the design team at Archimania. The new space will be divided equally into two 1,600 square-foot stories. There are 10 small office spaces, a modest conference/rehearsal room, and a smaller office/meeting room on the first floor. The second floor is dedicated primarily to the development center — a large open room with an adjoining lobby and green room. Although it is laid out like a third performance space the D.C. won’t be used as a venue for additional programming. “I mean, where would we rehearse then?” Bandele asks. “We might do an occasional showcase there or something like that but nothing else. That would defeat the whole point.”

“Archimania has done a fantastic job of building a lot into a small space,” says Orrin. “They figured out how to grow it from one to two stories and put in an elevator.”

Bandele sees the new building as both a solution to his growth problems and as a chance to create more opportunities for theater education and community engagement. “We are definitely going to amp up our youth theater program,” he says. He also anticipates growing a program the Hattilooo started for young adults with special needs.

Oluremi (Loo), Bandele’s youngest daughter, has cerebral palsy. “I noticed that, as soon as a young person with special needs graduates from high school, their entire social circle just collapses,” he says. “So not only will this allow young adults with special needs to continue to have a social life, it helps in the same ways theater helps everybody. It’s going to help with speech, with the expression of emotion, and with their bodies.”

There are also plans to relaunch the Hattiloo Theater School for adults, which focuses on playwriting, directing, and acting.

If all goes according to plan, construction on the Hattiloo’s Development Center should begin before the end of the first quarter and be complete before the end of 2016.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Love Changes Everything: Opera Memphis Presents Kallen Esperian in Concert

Over the years the adventurous singer has tried her hand at everything from Verdi to Aristocrunk and Led Zeppelin

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 3:53 PM

Behold a diva, y'all
  • Behold a diva, y'all

In February, 1984 Memphis Culture critic Edwin Howard penned a column about a promising young voice student who’d just won the Metropolitan Opera’s Mid-South regional opera competition. “It’s a good thing Kallen Esperian is taking geography at Memphis State University this semester,” Howard wrote in the pages of Mid-South Business. “Because this lovely, young, brunette mezzo-soprano is going places.”

Howard wasn’t just whistling “Dixie.” Two years down the road Esperian was singing in front of motion picture cameras in China with the immensely successful Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti.

Esperian, who is appearing in Love Changes Everything, a one night only concert produced by Opera Memphis, specialized in Italian classics and went on to perform alongside many of the leading lights of modern opera including Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. If you're keeping score that's all three of The Three Tenors. 

Love Changes Everything is an evening of “opera’s greatest hits,” featuring the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and “special guests.” Cocktails and snacks will be served at a post concert reception for ticket holders who can also pick up an Esperian-autographed concert poster.

While a concert showcasing “Opera’s greatest hits” sounds entirely delightful, no Intermission Impossible post about Esperian is complete without some mention of her more musically adventurous side. Her buttery soprano was the cherry on top of Lord T & Eloise’s Aristocrunk CD.

But the most fun recording in the history of time? It’s got to be Esperian’s take on a Led Zeppelin classic. Click that link and discover the meaning of true happiness. 

Menage á Trois: Love Letters From the Cast of LOVE LETTERS

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 8:52 AM


Germantown Community Theater went big with their production of A.R. Gurney's two person play Love Letters. In most cases Gurney's epistolary script requires almost nothing to produce other than a pair of great actors. GCT chose to cast six actors divided into three casts, giving fans an opportunity to make repeat visits and never see the same show twice.

It's been a different kind of process for director Tony Isbell and his stable of performers — Greg Boller, Pamela Poletti, Chris Cotten, Lorraine Cotten, Sam Weakly, and Tamara Wright. To provide readers a bit of behind the scenes insight Intermission Impossible has collected a handful of loving letters between Isbell and actors from his three casts. 

Tony Isbell

Dear “Love Letters” Casts,

Well, the show is finally up and running!

I’ve told you all how much I love the work you are doing. I couldn’t ask for more committed, talented folks to work with.

It has been a new experience for me to direct three casts simultaneously, especially in a show like this that is not quite a “normal” script.

It occurs to me that people might be interested to hear what the experience has been like for you, as actors. We talked about this some during rehearsals, but I wondered if you might share how this show has been different because of its structure? Was anything easier? Was it all more difficult? How did you approach your characters and your relationship with your partner, given that there is no blocking and no eye contact?

Would love to hear what you think!


Greg Boller:

Dear Tony,

Doing this show is like doing Suzuki method with your ears. You have to listen so very carefully to not only what your partner is saying but also how they are saying it. I focus very carefully on the sound (music) of Pamela's voice — like I might attend to the sound (music) of a woodwind instrument. I think this helps with the on-stage intimacy that these characters need to have if the audience is going to believe the 48 year trajectory of their friendship.

Pamela and I got together for our own rehearsal prior to opening, and we met at Republic Coffee to read the show. Because we had an audience (of coffee drinkers) overhearing us, it forced us to seek a slightly more hushed, intimate, private conversational tone in how we read. We both really liked the discoveries we made in the process and brought it on-stage for the first time for F&F and then again for opening.

How have I connected to Andy? Easy — from the standpoint of someone who has ever had a deep, abiding friendship with another who you could have been romantically intimate with but instead stayed emotionally intimate. Cross-sex friendships (like Melissa and Andy's) are very special, but exceeding difficult to maintain as the friends find romantic life partners — the emotional intimacy of the friendship puts a lot of stress on the romantic lives of those people. And we see that play out in the emotionally wrenching change in Melissa and Andy's relationship toward the end of the show. So yeah, if you've ever had a very close cross-sex friendship (that's different from your romantic relationships), it's very easy to connect with Andy's experiences in this play.


Lorraine Cotten:

Dear Tony,

I love how the three of us women are so different, yet it is not surprising to me that we
 are all three cast as Melissa. That is one of the loveliest things about the incredible writing in this piece to me. It has such universal truths that we can all find ways to connect with them- especially if we have "lived" a bit.

The most challenging thing about finding Melissa (for me) has been discovering when the cracks in her shell are invisible and when she is fully exposed. She is a dichotomy. She's extremely complicated and simple at the same time.

Another challenge has been acting while sitting in a chair and not being able to "play" with Chris (who is playing Andy) in the way I'm used to playing with actors onstage. We don't look at each other. We are reading the letters so I am responding to what he has written and the way I (as Melissa) hear his voice as he's reading it. It is freeing because I am not bound to movement and focused completely on his voice and what he is saying and what I am saying. It also requires a different kind of focus than I use in a typical fully-blocked play. I think of myself as a character actor who uses my body quite a lot when I become the character. This performance limits my ability to use my body and forces me to rely more on my voice.

Yet another challenge has been defining the quick transitions within the letters. You have been a great help with that. Each time I read it I find new ways to connect with Melissa and what she is feeling and I fall a little more in love with both Chris and Andy every performance - especially when he surprises me with a little caress on the back of my neck just before we begin the play. It's a memory I will always cherish.


Tamara Wright:

Dear Tony,

My bestie was asking me if I was excited to open the show and I found it difficult to answer. Trepidation, dread, shame were probably much more appropriate responses, but mostly an overwhelming need to ‘get it out’ of me. I’d say the most difficult part of the process has been diving into places that are usually kept covered and on a back shelf. If it isn’t obvious, I’m a method actor.

I had an immediate visceral reaction to the script. I made the mistake of reading it at work and was a hot mess, crying my eyes out in my cubicle. Damn you, A.R. Gurney! It should have come with a warning! I

connected with Melissa on a deeply personal level; in fact, there are several lines that barring a name change, I have actually written to a past love….I knew I had to play her.

It is rare that I get upset about not 
being cast, but with this one…well, thank God, you made the right choice! The opportunity to play Melissa couldn’t have come at a more perfect time in my life. And I’m not sure if I’d have been able to do the role justice any sooner in my career.

My favorite part of the show? That’s easy. It’s listening to my wonderful cast mate, Sam, speak declarations of love so beautiful and heartfelt you’d have to be made of stone not to be moved.



Dear Tony,

As to the first question, my acting process always starts at a place as close to myself as possible, so the question of how I connect with the character on a personal level is always the first one I ask.

For this character, it was his relationship with his father. Like Andy, I had a father who instilled in me a very specific set of ethics against which to measure my choices in almost any situation. I also lost my father at almost the exact age that Andy lost his. I think that there is an undercurrent of resentment in Andy's relationship with his father that I can't relate to personally, but overall, that relationship was a way into his story for me. 

As to what makes this show a unique challenge, a couple of things stand out. A wise 
director once told me that acting starts at the end of your nose. So much of a performance is watching, listening, and reacting to your fellow actors in a scene. For this show, one of those tools is taken away. I can't look at Melissa and react to her physical cues, so that means I have to listen that much more closely. For that reason, you absolutely CANNOT check out mentally for even a moment with this show, and as a result, for a play where you're just sitting in one place reading for two hours, it consumes a surprising amount of energy.

Another challenge unique to the epistolary format of the play: Andy says that letters are a way of presenting your best self to another person. In that way — particularly in a lot of Andy's correspondence — the letters are unreliable narrators, and are loaded with subtext that is often quite different from the words that are actually being spoken.


Tony Isbell:

Dear Casts:

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Here’s to a successful run! Enjoy!


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

THE OTHER PLACE: 90 Perfect Minutes at Circuit Playhouse

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2016 at 2:11 PM


Go to The Other Place. It’s not an uplifting play, this story of Dr. Juliana Smithton, a biophysicist developing drugs to treat dementia, while losing her grip on reality. She has brain cancer. Or maybe she doesn’t. Her husband is screwing around and filing for divorce. Or maybe he's not. Her daughter’s dead in a ditch somewhere, or maybe she's at the bottom a the river sleeping with the fishes, or maybe — just maybe — she’s dropping by the family’s second home and bringing the twins to visit grandmother.

Sharr White's critically acclaimed play The Other Place is not an uplifting experience but, with its unique structure and big heart, it's an experience audiences are unlikely to forget any time soon. For fans of good acting and unconventional mysteries, its arrival at Circuit Playhouse is fantastic news. This is the rare piece of theater where everything you think you know one minute is wiped clean in the next, stringing viewers along until the hopeful, but not very happy end.

Go to The Other Place. You’ll see Kim Sanders play an unsuspecting woman with problems of her own who’s come home to drown her sorrows in wine and Chinese takeout only to find a stranger in the kitchen who wants to hug it out. This scene between Sanders and an astonishingly good Kim Justis is funny, tense, hard to watch, impossible not to watch, and as fine a thing as anyone is likely to watch on any stage probably ever. Unless something extraordinary occurs between now and August — and it certainly could — this is the scene that will very likely earn both performers an Ostrander award. 

Go to The Other Place, where Michael Gravois vividly falls apart and pulls himself together after taking more than anybody could ever be expected to bear and where Kinon Keplinger shows, once again, that he’s among the most versatile character actors in town. These are two of Memphis's most reliable actors at the top of their game. Gravois is uncommonly vulnerable here, and a magnificent ensemble player. His most heart crunching sounds happen off stage, framing and lifting some of Justis' best work to date. Keplinger has taken on more showy roles in the past but he's never been better. 

Go to The Other Place. Director Dave Landis and his first-rate cast and crew have served up 90 minutes of bracing uncertainty. It's a tight, concise script with zero padding, and beautifully acted. It's not the best thing I've seen, but it's the best I've seen in Memphis in ages. Just go. 

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A Conversation With New Orpheum CEO Brett Batterson

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2016 at 12:19 PM

New Memphian, Brett Batterson
  • New Memphian, Brett Batterson
I recently interviewed newly arrived Orpheum Theatre CEO Brett Batterson for Memphis Magazine's 901 blog. It was a lively conversation and I wanted to link it here for folks who may have missed it the first time around. 

Brett Batterson leans back in his brand new chair in the brand new Halloran Centre for Performing Arts Education and taps the frame of an old photo— an artifact of his time working for The Nashville Network when TNN’s programing was built around Tennessee’s Country Music industry. “This is The Statler Brothers,” he says. “And this is one of my set designs for The Statler Brothers show. That was the height of Country music and the height of The Nashville Network. I had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time, which is kind of the story of my life.”

Batterson is the new President and CEO of the Orpheum Theatre, replacing Pat Halloran who retired in 2015 after 35-years at the theater’s helm. Prior to moving to Memphis Batterson served in a similar position at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. He’s not from Nashville or Chicago though. Over five decades the plain-spoken Iowan has planted his shiny cowboy boots in ten different states. He’s evolved professionally from performer to scenic artist to theater builder, and finally to arts administrator. Batteson arrives the Orpheum during a major transition, as the opulent antique playhouse on Main at Beale launches its new, state of the art education center.

Memphis magazine: Tell me your story. I’ve done my homework and know all the high points. But I’d like to hear you tell it. I’ll rudely interrupt you with questions along the way.

Brett Batterson: I was born in upstate New York but when I was eleven months old my family moved to Davenport, Iowa. So I was raised in Iowa and claim to be an Iowan but I have a New York birthright, I guess. My parents were puppeteers. My father was a commercial artist and a wood carver, and together they made marionettes and I grew up with a puppet theater in my basement. So all of this has been in my blood since the day I was born.
To read the rest of the 901 interview click here.

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