Friday, January 14, 2011

From Kristen Ahern: "To Build a Testicle, The Costume Designer’s Perspective"

I love this show. It has everything I love about theatre, it’s clever, bawdy, musical, historical, fantastical and many other adjectives; in short, I was thrilled to be asked to design it. I had planned on sharing my sketches for the show with you but sadly, my sketchbook has run off so here’s a brief description:

The design has one foot in history, one in modern day, and one in a Grimm faerie tale. It’s the largest show I’ve done so far without having a costume shop at my disposal, I counted costume pieces for my Mum over Christmas and I was up to 130 individual items and that included things like “suit” or “socks” which technically are each two pieces. It also has used many different techniques: corsetry, dying, distressing, paper mache, painting, tailoring, thrifting, altering, renting, millinery. In short, this show uses almost every costume creation technique possible.

I am being helped by some lovely ladies, Katie (who is pulling double duty by also being in the band) and someone not even associated with the company but a willing friend of a member of the company, Ruth. I would not be able to do this without help; I should also mention that of my boyfriend, Michael, who has kept me fed and functioning during the sprint to the finish since Christmas.

To conclude, here is a picture of my sewing room at 7:30 AM after a night of paper mache, January 3rd, 34:30 to first dress rehearsal:

From Kate Black, ESCAPE FROM THE HALTSBURG BOYS CHOIR's plucky mastermind Johanne

This is a great story. Might be one of my favorite blog posts ever.

Kate Black leads the Escape (center). Also pictured: Liz Goodson (top) and Alyse Kittner (shot with an arrow).

So, funny story... I had no idea what I was getting into when I went to the audition for Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir. Like... seriously. No idea. I thought it was a straight play where the characters periodically spoke in prose. Does that make sense? No. Of course not. However, this is what I thought I was auditioning for when I awkwardly walked into the Side Project Theatre back in August. My first indication that something was amiss was the man walking in with a giant keyboard and being referred to as the "accompanist." "Accompanying what?" I thought. My second indication were the girls coming in with sheet music and quietly practicing scales. Even my slow brain comprehended the significance of that. I wanted to turn around and run. Unfortunately, I had already checked in with a really nice guy in the front and they had my name. Maybe the only thing worse than being a no show is showing up and *then* dashing for the door. So that was it, I was stuck. I looked down at the check in sheet and saw at the bottom of a list of questions about our scheduling conflicts the request to "Tell us a joke." I thought only briefly and then wrote, "I didn't know this was a musical! HAHAAA...ha..."

Being called into the room was sort of a blur, doing my monologue is still a very hazy memory, but what I remember quite clearly is the look on everyone's faces when I sheepishly said, "I don't have a song...?" I saw a lot of confusion and puzzled, "How could we have been clearer?" faces but not a SINGLE face of judgment- which may be the only reason I didn't run out of the room crying like a psycho. It was that moment that it occured to me- this may be the moment that my year of taking voice lessons had prepared me for. While I still had a momentous fear of singing in front of people, I had the forsight in the summer of 2009 to start taking voice lessons in an effort to conquer my fear. This was the moment I had procrastinated: singing in front of a group of people who weren't my voice teacher. The truth is, I may have never gotten up the balls to go to an audition for a musical if I hadn't stumbled upon it so strangely. So I looked at those puzzled faces and said, "Can I sing something a capella?" Suddenly enthused by the idea they all agreed and couldn't have been nicer about it.

I don't remember singing. I remember having a moment in the middle where I thought, "This doesn't sound terrible!" but that was about it. The next thing I vividly recall was walking to the Jarvis red line stop and calling my mom and telling her I just made the biggest ass out of myself at an audition and after hearing my story, she somewhat jokingly suggested I move out of the city immediately to protect my image.

Today, I am Johanne. The boy with the "golden voice." This experience has made me a stronger person and certainly a braver artist. Life has a way of surprising you, and if you don't actively seek out challenges, it will periodically demand you stand up to them when it throws them at you. And thank God/Buddha/Karma/Fate for that.

See, what did I tell you? Great story. Come see Kate sing (rather beautifully, I might add) between now and January 30th. She's the tops.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

From scenic designer Nick Shaw, ESCAPE FROM THE HALTSBURG BOYS CHOIR's Maker of Gates


Welcome to the New Year Everyone!!!

I am excited to be working on my second show with The Ruckus!! I am very thankful to have a theatrical family in the great city of Chicago. I think the work that they/we are doing is extremely important and exciting. It is a welcome and dangerous change from the kind of theatre I am a part of at my day job.

I would like to tell a little story about my history with The Ruckus.

I graduated from Western Michigan University in 2005 with a double emphasis in Performance and Technical Theatre. I luckily was accepted into the Graduate Program of Scenic Design at University of Missouri, Kansas City. Upon the completion of my MFA (Mutha Fuckin Artist) I promptly received a position at Eastern Illinois University, teaching technical theatre and designing scenery for half of their season (bear with me, I am almost to the part where I reunite with the people of The Ruckus) I was bored during the summers and looked for a creative outlet outside of the university. I was scanning for a little summer design work and there was a notice from The Ruckus. They were looking for a scenic designer for The Gay American. I opened up the notice and the contact person was one Allison Shoemaker and I was like WHAT??? ALLISON SHOEMAKER??? I wonder if that is the Allison Shoemaker I know. There really can't be more than one Allison Shoemaker in theatre?? I promptly went the The Ruckus's website and discovered that I knew more than half of the company(cue music: "It's a Small World) I was super relieved when some of them remembered me and was even more relieved when they wanted me to play theatre with them.

This story is for all you young designers, directors, and actors reading this. Be GOOD!!! Be a warm and nurturing collaborator!! You never know when or where you or your colleagues are going to end up. You may have to work with the asshole sitting next to you, sometime in the distant future.

I would like to thank the entire company of The Ruckus for making me feel welcome and letting me sleep on their floors or couches or beds(Dan) I would also like to thank them for giving some of my students at EIU a chance to do some theatre outside of EIU.

-Professor Shaw

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Happy tech week, Blog!

You just heard from managing director and sometime villain Jeffrey Fauver, and now, the wonderful Sarah Bockel. Sarah gets into all kinds of mischief in our little corner of the world, and we love her for it. Here's how she works her magic.

Why I spent an hour watching crazy people speak in tongues on youtube but decided on Milla Jovovich instead

Let me catch you up a little here. Back in September when I saw The Ruckus' posting for Boy Choir I was terribly excited. The project was original, a bit twisted, and most of all, a good story. I wanted to be involved and I loved the idea of boys playing girls, but when I heard there was a also witch character in the story I knew I was sold. I had just gotten back from a gig where I understudied the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, but never got to go on. It was like fate. I had another chance at being a creepy, bizarre, witch. IT WAS MY TURN. So here I am, the luckiest girl, my wish came true and I get to play a witch. and not just any witch. A witch that speaks in TONGUES. YES my friends, tongues. I was daunted by this task. Did I need to have some kind of religious experience? Did I need to speak to a
Jesuit priest? What about chanting? would that help? But director Dan Caffrey and writer Aaron Dean soothed my fears and gave me some advice.
So, what does one do when presented with the task of playing a witch that speaks in tongues?

one goes on youtube.

DUH. that's the solution for everything. They gave some a few suggestions of where to start and here's where it led.

I started here...
This guy was basically useless. He goes on for about 9 minutes talking about...whatever hes talking about, then FINALLY "speaks" in tongues for about 30 seconds. which does seem authentic, i guess, but not really the sound I'm looking for. Not helpful. After a few more similar videos i found this.


So then my search took a turn for the scary and I stumbled upon this...
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based on this chick. That's a recording of her speaking while possessed. I...don't want to talk about this anymore, I'm getting creeped out.

At this point I needed to watch something light. Not anything to do with The Exorcist.

It would appear that Jeffrey wrote his blog post... in character.

The Choirmaster is…lots of things. A swirling mass of contradictions.

He is perfect. Never question that. He has worked very hard to attain this perfection, and he deserves your respect.

Embroidered on his gown are some of the finest brooches and jewels from across Europe. He is beauty.

Relax, he is also kind and gentle—a cuddly teddy bear loved by all his pupils. He is admired throughout Haltsburg for his soft touch and winning smile.

Really, he is friends with all who know him.

Choirmaster is a maestro—a master of music, specializing in Austria’s most brilliant, and divinely-inspired composers.

He rewards the hard work of his pupils daily with a warm bed and nutritionally-sufficient meals.

On the other hand, he does reprimand laziness, lack of musicality and losing performances.

Ingles is his servant. Good for almost nothing, he does execute directly all punishments. Choirmaster has never laid a hand on a pupil. But--beware and always

Remember, he

Might filch from you what you cherish most,

Apprehend your young ones,

Steal them in the night and

Take from them any chance at a normal childhood or healthy adulthood.

Everything he does is for himself.

Repulsed by him you may be. But he’s got your son, and he’s never giving him back.

Jeffrey practicing!



More tech photos!

Backstage boys choir tech week

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On Inspiration and Influence, by Jason Rico

The cast and band of Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir get musical-y.

"Musical compositions, it should be remembered, do not inhabit certain countries, certain museums, like paintings and statues. The Mozart Quintet is not shut up in Salzburg; I have it in my pocket." - Henri Rabaud

It’s somewhat hard for me to know how to explain this from anything other than a composer’s standpoint since that is all I know, but I’m going to give it a damn good try.

Music is what feelings sound like. This is why when you hear particular pieces of music they invoke certain emotions and reactions that often times you can’t explain. As someone who creates music I feel these same things and often store these feelings in my brain for later use. This is how I get inspired by this music at a later time when I’m writing my own. It’s similar to you as an individual becoming who you are as a result of all your experiences and the people in your life who have influenced you. You are still a solitary being but people say “you have your mother’s temper” or “you have your father’s devilish humor.”

Considering we start listening to music at birth and start absorbing it and remembering it long term around the age of six or seven, I have about 25 years of aural input stored in my brain. It’s somewhat funny to me that I have become this flesh and blood encyclopedia of music. I get texts and phone calls all the time asking “what’s this piece?” And I usually know what it is and how the rest of it goes. All this wonderful knowledge that the human brain can store is waiting up in there with bated breath to pop out and influence what I put on a page.

So when you listen to the music in Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir, keep this in mind. Listen for Mary Poppins, South Pacific, Bach, Hill Street Blues, Samuel Barber, Kurt Weill, Gypsy, Mozart. Their notes, their rhythms impacted my life just enough to convince my pen to reuse them, reinvent them and make them relevant in a new and different way. I hope you enjoy discovering them and perhaps get some inspiration of your own to listen when influences speak to you. They make us who we are.

That's great advice, you should absolutely listen for all of that. It's wonderful. Jason's musical written with Aaron, Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir, opens this weekend. Don't miss it.

Aaron Dean Gets Sentimental: a blog entry by Aaron Dean

December 26th

How much is that bloggy in the the window? The one with the pompous and diluted tail? How much is that bloggy in the window, I do hope that bloggy can expound on a bunch of stuff they have no business foisting on a public sick of everyone's constant flood of half considered opinions.

Ahem. Ahem. I have been summond again, blog stars. This will be a sincere and sentimental one. Focus up the camera on my glistening, teary eyes. I am going to tell a story that will make Ryan Seacrest, Nick Cannon and even that light loafered Englishman on the dancing show do more rehearsed crying than a Godly and Creme Music videooooo!!!

My niece turned three yesterday. Yes, she was born on the Christmas, no halos, but a nice shock of red hair that is turning strawberry blonde and will no doubt be pee-wee football participation trophy gold in some time.

After a good dinner of freshly caught Northern Pike (never frozen, except if you count its time alive in the cold waters of Lake Michigan) and opening of gifts and such, my niece and I got bored with the usual red and greenery, and we picked up flashlights and crawled around on our hands and knees throughout my brother's house, and hunted creatures. When creature hunting you must crawl on your hands and knees as creatures always look straight in front of their own eyes, never down. And then you grab them by the ankles and pull. Then you put them in a sack or something. We didn't have a sack. But we didn't find any creatures either.

My niece told my sister (her ma) that she hates creatures, which she pronounces "teachers" and my sister frowned at the child's exclamation. After that misunderstanding was cleared up, we resumed our search.
We looked in the closet, the computer room, the bedrooms and the basement. We turned on no lights as this is repellent to creatures and makes them difficult to spot. Okay, we did turn on lights in the basement cuz, ya know its scary down there, and we walked upright too cuz the floor is cold. But I'm pretty sure their were no creatures in there anyway, so...

But it was cool, becuase there were moments in her big brown eyes of sheer terror and exhiliration, because my god, what if there really are creatures. There might as well be at her age!

The line between reality and fantasy is so blurry for one so small. That flashlight she carried was really a wand. And I wish to everything that I could see what she imagined the creatures to look like.

I bet the were horrible, just horrible.

And of course I got tired, I went back to the red and greenery to sit. Mmmm, sitting.

But there were creatures to catch. And she needed me. She tugged at me, forcing my wand back into my hands, begging me to get back in the game.

I, to my shame, declined.

And so, they're out there.

She went home with her parents to bed, I stayed at my brother's (where I am blogging now) leaving her to fend for herself.

Cuz see, I'm coming back to Chicago, where I don't really need to worry about creatures.

And I have left her here.
Where her mother thinks she is saying "teachers"
I have abandoned her.
But she has her wand and her halo.
And she knows to stay low, so they can't see her.

Aaron still believes there are creatures. He put some in his play. It opens this week, and it is called Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir. It's wonderful. Come see it.