28 February, 2012

SHOWMANCE! The Scottsboro-mance: The Scottsboro Boys

In recent memory, it would be hard to recreate the palpable on-(and off)-stage chemistry, the extraordinary effervescence, and the striking, penetrative emotional bond of the entire creative ensemble of The Scottsboro Boys, and it is this, that leads us to introduce a Showmace that includes not a pair, but an especially tight group. 

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you:



In 2002, Susan Stroman first met with Thompson, Kander, and Ebb. 
“I'd collaborated with Kander and Ebb before (on And the World Goes Round, Steel Pier, and Flora, the Red Menace among others), and we all wanted to work together again,” says Stroman. They started from scratch, all sharing the desire to tell a true story, one based entirely in fact. “In the theatre, most worlds are fantastical. We wanted to do something true." With that, the team went about researching the great American trials—one was the trial of a group known simply as ‘The Scottsboro Boys.’”
As Douglas O. Linder says in his book The Trials of "The Scottsboro Boys,
“No crime in American history—let alone a crime that never occurred—produced as many trials, convictions, reversals, and retrials as did an alleged [crime supposedly committed] by nine black teenagers on a Southern Railroad freight run on March 25, 1931.”
The Scottsboro Boys ordeal lasted over two decades, and served as a catalyst for a host of civil issues, all still chillingly relevant today. 
“Kander and Ebb do shows about ordinary people in extraordinary situations" Stroman continues, “It very quickly became evident—this was the right project.”
Stroman, Thompson, Kander and Ebb met once every week or two developing the project, until, sadly and suddenly in 2004, Fred Ebb passed away.  The project went on the shelf. But four years later, compelled by the nature of the work they had done, Kander called and wanted to look at it again. They started back at it. 
A reading with actors was arranged by Doug Abel at The Vineyard Theatre. 
Then it moved to The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. 
And then on to Broadway. 


Casting was a tall order— the creative team had to assemble a group young men with a very specific, highly developed, and wide range of abilities. The young men had to play many parts— not merely the individual The Scottsboro Boys themselves, but also the minstrels, the female accusers, the defense lawyers, prosecutors, guards, and judges. 
“They truly got to stretch their chops” Stroman confirmed. 
It was an triple threat tour de force for everyone involved.  
But what you cannot always measure in an audition room is the heart of each individual, nor can one predict the manner in which a company will weave itself together.
“It is something you always hope for—” Stroman says when asked if the team consciously attempted to create so tight an ensemble, “you try to pick a company that will get along! But sometimes—and this can’t be helped—people have one foot out the door. Everybody was ‘in it’ at The Scottsboro Boys; every last person was present, feeling it in the moment.”
The cast had their “roles” within the group, too,
“Many times a leader comes out of the company, only had it a couple times in my life. There I had it—Colman Domingo really became a father figure who gathered them together. And we were fortunate to have John Cullum leading the company” she says of the actor who celebrated his 50th year on Broadway during the run of the show, “he’s a wonderful actor for a director who challenged me to think and make decisions, you could tell the boys learned from him.”


"I think that when you read about The Scottsboro Boys, you only ever hear of the group, of their alleged crime, but you didn't know the boys.That company put gave those boys an individuality they were never afforded in life." 
In rehearsal the Susan Stroman says she was inspired by them, 
“As a director I can only give them a venue to tell this important story. They bring their own experiences and history and apply it, that is something I can’t teach them.”
Because the story was told predominantly with simple chairs that the actors build into the train, the prison cell, the courtroom, etc., the cast takes complete charge of the story telling and depend on one another to do so. To an audience it appears they end up taking over the show.  As the story unravels, the boys confront John Cullum’s character [of The Interlocutor], tipping their chairs over and walking off in defiance. 
Stroman describes that day as a 'defining moment' of this ensemble.
“The day that happened was very emotional, it had a historic feel to it.”


“I felt so proud to hand the show over to them on opening night,” Stroman muses, “I have never been involved in a company that was so invested in telling the story. I knew they would treat it with care and respect.”  They were not so much  ‘taking a chance together,’ they were extending themselves, “It was like being in a big pool together, sometimes swimming, sometimes keeping one another afloat,  but always fueled by our passion for the show.”
They were doing something that hadn’t been done before,  “Of all the shows we’ve ever done the most fulfilling emotionally. The entire time we were working we felt alive.”


At the end of every day, the team was so drained by the story, everyone had to connect—they couldn’t leave 
the building without connecting with someone physically or verbally in a lovely positive way, it became something necessary for them to do.
"But what was most extraordinary…" adds Stroman thoughtfully, "…When stage management would call places, some one—usually Christian Dante White—would start to sing. Gospel, Broadway, whatever it was each guy would hook on in harmony, singing along as they descended the stairs, and by the time they got to bottom they finished singing backstage in great harmony and joy! All to bring them together to start the evening. Then they would put their hands together and 'remember The Scottsboro Boys…'"

After what the real-life people, as well as this extraordinary piece, company and creative team gave us— how could any of us ever forget?

21 February, 2012

SHOWMANCE! - An Introduction

Well hello there Playbill and London Still readers, remember me? I'm Al(exandra) Silber (you might know my on-stage self from Hello Again, Master Class, or London's Carousel) and I'm baaaaaaack... (after such a fun stint taking you through the ins and outs of MTC's Master Class last summer, how could I resist a return?)

This time, I come bearing new kinds of gifts! No, smart kid in the back, not frankincense and myrrh, but a new kind of peak inside the lives of those in the theatre. In a world where artists make instantaneous, inexplicably close friendships, romances and collaborations that last a lifetime... I bring you...




 Hear me out: people in the theatre bond in a very unique and meaningful way-- which is, frankly, ineffable. And while one can't always describe the hows or the whys of these magical happenings, one certainly can agree that they most certainly do happen. They deserve to be explored! Not all "Showmances" are focused on Broadway lovebirds; Showmance casts a wider net, featuring various kinds of friendships and bonds that tie theatre folk together.  This could include strong friendships made during a show or in training, family connections or especially tight ensembles.

Showmance is a [fun--yes, amusing--yes, colorful--yesyesyes, but also a very fresh] way to document some of Broadway's best, across generations and styles and ages and talents. It is an unconventional structure for something important: a  new way of chronicling the ever-changing world of theatre Itself.

If you are reading this, then welcome: you are at the forefront!
Join me, and allow Broadway to Showmance you...

13 February, 2012

Love, Loss and What I [*actually*] Wore

In honor of my current project, I give you a special post about my own experiences of love, loss and what I did indeed, actually wear.


My father liked to declare things to be "a celebration." Today is a celebration because it arrived. We are here. We are together. Today is an adventure. Let's celebrate. He took such tremendous joy in the act of living life. 

The day my father actually died is full of a great deal of mystery. So much happens, it is hard to stay present, while you simultaneously cannot get away from recognizing that you are in the middle of a memory.

When I heard JNF's young voice on the phone through the closed door speak the pronouncement to the police, I remember being grateful that the news was unwittingly shared with me in so private a manner.

My reaction surprised me-- I gathered myself and walked very calmly upstairs to my bedroom (next to the room where my father lay behind his closed bedroom door), opened my closet, ripped off the checkered pajamas and teal wool sweater from my boarding school share box, and immediately pulled on a long dress of pure, white silk. It was elegant, functional, and

I wanted to be ready to act. I somehow knew that I would always remember what I wore that day, and wanted those memories to be filled with beauty.  And hope.

I remember so clearly, wanting to be armed in white.

Similarly, on the day of the funeral, somewhere inside me I did not so much decide, but recognize that
I would not be wearing black. This, I thought, is not going to be a funeral at all, it is going to be a celebration, (and a concert and a recital and a reunion) and I am going to get glam goddammit. I would've dared anyone to stop me that day because I was feeling juuuuust feisty enough to start hurting feelings.

My hand graced my Senior “MORP” dress— hot pink sassiness. Too much, I thought. I don’t want the good folks at The Mystery Temple to be put off.

Vintage A-line Donna Reed statement? No, too “Hi Honey I’m home and by the way my Dad is dead.”

Then there it was.
My hand graced the lightest pastel iridescent green ball gown you have ever seen. It was modest and elegant, dancing on the cusp of child and fully-fledged woman, just as I was, and made of raw silk.

This was the one.

A matching jacket in case The Mystery Temple is mysteriously cold.
The same pearls my Father bought me for my High School graduation just four months ago.

I walk into the hallway to make my way out and down the stairs when I meet my mother coming out of her room. She was dressed in a glorious lavender ball gown of her own. She looked as beautiful, and as certain as I felt.

    “It’s a celebration” she said.

We hadn’t talked about it.

It just was.

05 February, 2012

The Jehovah’s Witness

A Memoir.
Late October, 2001

[At rise: Al is at home sometime during Week 1 of The Aftermath. The doorbell rings. It is getting colder as October churns onward, leaves are falling and nights are drawing in. Alone, in pajamas and glasses she cannot remember changing in or out of. She answers it and her stomach flinches: THIS IS NOT HAPPENING. But it is.]

Al: Hi.
Jehovah’s Witness: Good morning!
Al: [under her breath] Not really— [though not really caring who hears her…]
JW: —Have you heard of Jesus Christ?
Al: [thinks and answers carefully] …I’ve… read his book.
JW: [looking Al up and down, assessing her age, he looks about him, confused.] Wait: why aren’t you in school?
Al: My dad is dead.
JW: [unfazed] But you are a teenager.
Al: In college.
JW: Then why aren’t you in college?
Al: I’m taking some time off.
JW: Why?
Al: Because my Dad is dead.

[Al wants to say "No, asshole, I'm at home because I just hate responsibility that much," but she doesn’t. She awkward pauses with this evangelist and let’s it stew. Then—]

JW: Would you like to see your father again?
Al: [She hates him] Is this a joke?
JW: No! [Joyfully] You can see your father again if you give your soul over to Jesus Christ! Here, see the drawing in this pamphlet?

Not in the mood, Sir...
[Pause. Al inspects the pamphlet: it is the kind of drawing you see in cheap children’s magazines at the Pediatrician’s office—children running towards the elderly in a perfect, sunny, Dr. Seuss-like field of bliss.]

Al: Um, you need to go.

[Ignoring her]

JW: May I come in?

[Having lost the will to live anyway she shrugs her shoulders and says]

Al: ... Sure.

[The JW does the WHOLE speech. He stands up, he acts stuff out. He is impassioned and expressive and oddly, sort of beautiful without being the kind of desperate one might expect. But Al just sits there--cross-legged and perched in the center of the sofa in her week-old clothes, numb, no will of her own to stop it, hoping this will soon be over. Finally, it ends.]

JW: So, do you have any questions?
Al: Yes. [For a second she considers asking him if he’d like to hear a ‘Knock Knock’ joke, but thinks better of it. These are not the people you start ‘Knock Knock’ jokes with…] Does it feel good?
JW: [taken aback] I’m sorry?
Al: To have done the whole speech?
JW: What do you mean?
Al: You must not ever be able to get the whole thing out; so many people slam doors in your faces. I mean you are…well, you are like the original telemarketers. Does it feel good to have done the whole Thing?

[He stares at Al. There is a part of him that can see he cannot hide from her— a person so raw they are incapable of judgment either passed or received and he looks, for an instant, uneasy. But this quickly fades as he sees the humor and truth in her question. This man is her neighbor and there is a part of him that is so gentle and well meaning it breaks her heart. He smiles and all his theatricality wanes.]

JW: It does, you know.
Al: What?
JW: Feel good.
Al: Good.
JW: Thank you.
Al: Thank you.

[They smile at one another]

…But now you probably should go.
JW: Okay.

[He will always have his friends at the Kingdom Hall...]

...I mean...I mean: wow...


Related Posts with Thumbnails