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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Impossible Here and Now: An Actors’ World of LAGAN

Second year acting scholar Chris Monaco shared his thoughts with us about our current production of Stacey Gregg’s LAGAN. In addition to playing Ian, the young writer, LAGAN is Chris’ thesis play! Learn more about Chris’ process and the kaleidoscopic world of LAGAN here:

I had no idea what to expect when they announced the third show last year. “Lagan? How do you pronounce that? La GAHN? LAY-gin? Is the ‘g’ silent?” Little did I know I would eventually fall in love with the city of Belfast as written in Stacey Gregg’s play, or that I would end up doing my acting thesis on the play. The process thus far has been a huge learning curve - I’ve discovered crucial things about myself as an actor and also as a person. I’ve been keeping a journal as part of the thesis, and as Allyce (who plays my sister Aoife) pointed out, my real-life journaling blurred the line between Chris and Ian, who is also a writer and spends much of his time negotiating his external life with his inner world - trapped in his own thoughts as life goes on around him. I’ve never journaled before so it’s been really useful. Journaling has been a great way to check in with my process, how each rehearsal feels, and allows me to track my process night by night as I chip my way into the show.

Working with our director, KC has also been incredible. She’s an inspiring woman, in that she knows exactly how to coax the perfect performance out of her actors without ever exhibiting anger or panic or any of the other ugly emotions that can scare an actor in the wrong direction. She’s funny, cool, laid back, and has been absolutely fearless at the helm of this massively challenging show, one which has never been seen on American soil! 
Lagan is Irish to the core. 50% of my genetic code is Irish, but I grew up 100% Italian. All I know about Northern Ireland is that Game of Thrones films there and that Irish names are the coolest names on earth (I did a film once with an Irish guy whose son was named Diarmuid. Isn’t that such a cool name?! It took me a full day to figure out how to say it, though.) Needless to say, any time I work on an Irish play – Lagan is my third foray into that beautiful country - an obstacle that stands in my way is the accent. There are so many variants on the Irish brogue, and each experience has required a complete re-evaluation of the way I pronounce vowels and consonants.

I worked on Translations at Villanova last year in which we decided to ‘create’ an Irish language because it took place in a fictional Irish town, thus giving us the liberty to create an accent which would fall easily on American ears. Lagan takes place in contemporary Belfast, thus requiring an authentic accent. Lucky for us, Villanova was able to provide us the most valuable asset possible: Andrea Ainsworth, the vocal coach from the Abbey Theatre. Andrea nearly broke me, in the best possible way. In order to learn the Northern Irish accent, I had to forget everything I thought I knew about the English language. Any of my fellow actors could tell you how much I struggled with certain words - I still get red in the face trying to pronounce the word “school.”The accent was a challenge on its own, but Andrea also taught me to rethink the way I use my voice onstage - as an actor I tend to be quiet, not using much of the resonant space in my mouth. Andrea did tons of exercises with the cast to expand, accentuate, and punch different areas of the body to access different parts of our voices. The process was really incredible, even though I left more than a few rehearsals positive I would never get things right.

Near the end of Lagan, Ian asks: “Am I a cliché?” It’s an important question for the character, but also for myself as the actor playing him. There are many aspects to Ian which could inevitably lead an actor to playing him as a stereotype: he’s a writer who frequently falls in love with his own clever witticisms; he’s a tweed-wearing Anglophile; he’s quick to judge others: he compares old women to men in drag and girls who wear makeup must dabble in self-harm; and he’s gay but unable to come out to his mother. An actor playing a role like Ian could easily fall prey to judging him as harshly as some of the characters in the play do and choose to play only his cliché traits. Oddly enough, early in the process I struggled with the opposite problem: I chose to ignore Ian’s less-desirable qualities.

Typically when approaching a role, I immediately grab ahold of the similarities between myself and a character and consider how the character views the world. In the first weeks of rehearsal, I had absolutely no doubt that Ian was supremely likable and was 100% justified in saying everything that he does. When KC asked me to consider the way characters like the Taximan and Aoife talk about Ian, I realized this guy’s human. He’s not a cliché, but he’s also not some blameless superhero. He’s just a 24 year old guys, a writer, dealing with life just the same as I am.  


I look forward to greeting audiences into the world of
Lagan. We’ve reached a point where everything feels familiar because the cast has grown to know these characters, this world, and the amazing interconnecting stories about a Belfast still learning to knit itself together. It is exciting to share this with an audience and let them in on the beauty of it all.

Lagan is the kind of show that keeps on giving - it’s smart as hell and so rich with character tics, backstory, humor and wit. Audiences who come with an open mind and a willingness to be transported into what Ian calls “the impossible here and now” will be rewarded ten times over. There’s so much love imbued in this production - the painstaking care each cast and crew member has given to this show is really palpable. It’s the kind of show I’d want to see twice - once to take it all in, and again to close my eyes and just listen to the music of the script Gregg has given us to work with.

This has been one trip abroad I never want to come back from.

LAGAN runs at Villanova Theatre through the end of this weekend (closing on February 19th). Tickets are $21-$25 with discounts available for students, alumni, faculty/staff, and senior citizens. For tickets or information please visit www.villanovatheatre.org or call the Box Office at 610-519-7474.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Belfast Ballads Playlist

Tonight is the preview performance of the American premiere of Lagan. Set in Northern Ireland's capital city, Belfast, we decided to celebrate the music of the city. From well known artists like U2, Van Morrison, and The Corrs, to fun folk songs and melodies inspired by the Troubles; our Belfast Ballads playlist has something for everyone.



Get into the Irish spirit with the playlist below, and then join us in Belfast for Lagan! 



LAGAN previews this evening, opens tomorrow Wednesday, February 8th and performs through Sunday, February 19th. Tickets are $21-$25 with discounts available for students, alumni, senior citizens, and groups. For tickets and more information visit www.villanovatheatre.org.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Bridging The Divides: An Inside Peek Into The Dramaturgy of LAGAN

Second year graduate student Rachel O’Hanlon-Rodriguez, who you may recognize from last year’s MARISOL, is working off-stage this year as the production dramaturg for LAGAN. She took some time to chat with us about Stacey Gregg’s play. Learn more about the world of LAGAN here:

I don’t think I’ve read a play that is quite like Stacey Gregg’s Lagan. The play unfolds in a series of monologues with characters shifting from their internal minds to their external world. Taking place in Northern Ireland, dramaturging became fascinating opportunity to research history that had impacted the life of my family. I grew up hearing stories about how my grandfather lied about his age in order to join the army and fight for a united Ireland. At that time, I had no idea just how divided Northern Ireland was.

Lagan takes place in modern-day Belfast, thirteen years after the violent thirty-year civil war known as the Troubles that divided and defined Northern Ireland. While the play itself doesn’t make many references to the war that many of the characters endured, it was important for me to help the actors understand the character’s lives which span over three generations.

The older generation of characters (Anne, Joan, Terry, and the Taximan) have lived their lives primarily in a war-torn Belfast. Their communities were segregated between Catholics who continue to believe in a United Ireland, and Protestants who identify as British citizens. The younger generation of characters (Ian, Aoife, Emmet, Fiona, and Philip) have grown up in a transforming Belfast; a city moving from violence to peace. Only one character (Tracey) was born after the Troubles, and seems to represent the new Belfast; a city that is moving beyond the conflict and into a new stage of progress as an international city. Each character therefore has grown up in a different Belfast.

Because of the varying experiences with war, each character is impacted by the trauma they’ve experienced in different ways. Much like in America, the older generation often judges the younger generation based on how easy life has been for them; while the younger generation sees their parents as stuck in their ways. In Gregg’s exploration of generational history and the shifts in communal understanding, I realized the play transcends Belfast. 

As the play began to take shape, under the masterful direction of Kathryn MacMillan and the incredible guidance of Andrea Ainsworth from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, I felt like I was watching history unfold on an intimate level.

Being a woman who has grown up in a changing world: I was in the first class to receive computer lessons in school, I remember my family’s first huge computer, and watched cell phones and social media become a part of our daily lives; I’ve always been infatuated with questioning history through generational understanding. My grandmother’s world, for instance, is completely different than mine. My life, however, was impacted through my grandmother’s way of life that she passed down to my mother.

The lives we live, the history we are a part of, shift so fast that it is often hard to see the interconnections of life. I found this to be true for many of the characters in Lagan who struggle to live their normal every-day lives in a world that feels in flux.

The city of Belfast itself is a landscape of memory, filled with walls that continue to divide neighborhoods and murals that colorfully display the city’s violent past. It makes sense that each character in Lagan carries this past within them, and the play itself took on a greater meaning for me about the repercussions of division in modern times.

Now more than ever we turn on our television and see evidence of violence, acts of terror, fueled by past hate; divides that took form in the past continue to separate our own society. Gregg’s motivation to write this play came from an exploration of a post-conflict Belfast, a world in which people are slowly coming back together. I believe the history of Belfast can act as a warning to humans about the capacity of our own violence, a reminder that war lives long after the fighting has stopped, and provides a message that progress towards unity can be made, no matter how slowly.

LAGAN runs at Villanova Theatre from February 7-19 in Vasey Hall. Tickets are $21-$25 with discounts available for students, alumni, faculty/staff, and senior citizens. For tickets or information please visit www.villanovetheatre.org or call the Box Office at 610-519-7474.


Friday, January 20, 2017

An Inside Peek Into Our Second Studio Show With Director Lexa Grace

Villanova Theatre is gearing up to present our second annual graduate student produced Studio Show! WE MUST SHARE EVERYTHING explores the complex, and often confusing, landscape of private and public spaces. Second year graduate assistant and director of the show, Lexa Grace, has shared with us some of her inspiration behind the production. Check our her blog post below! 

Lexa Grace in Ireland during her internship at the Abbey Theatre
This past summer I had the privilege of traveling to Ireland to study and work with The Abbey Theatre along with several of my fellow classmates. One day I was walking the streets of Dublin with one of my Villanova friends. We were discussing the differences between Irish and American cultures. There is a stereotype that Irish people are friendlier and more open than Americans. In many ways my friend and I found this to be true. It seemed that every time we went to a bar, we ended up in a passionate discussion about politics with an Irish stranger. While both of us enjoyed these interactions, we knew that they would never happen in America. 

As Americans we are taught that certain subjects are not meant to be shared in public, especially not with strangers. Yet these social rules are broken all the time, depending on the setting and the people involved. This has become even more prevalent with the advancement of social media. As my friend and I continued to talk that day, I realized that we both had vastly different beliefs on privacy, even within our own American culture.

I grew up with very little regard for privacy. This had partly to do with being involved in theatre from a young age and partly to do with the fact that I lived with two younger siblings, and was always forced to share everything- from my room to my clothes, to the last bite of ice cream in the freezer. My friend on the other hand, was an only child and learned to love and respect privacy from a young age. This dynamic of public and private spaces is what first sparked my interest in exploring privacy as a theme. At the time, however, I had no real concept for how this idea could be expressed in the theatre-- a place where privacy is under constant negotiation between actors, audience, and characters.

Then school started again and submissions for Villanova Theatre’s second annual Studio Show were announced. I knew that I wanted to submit a devised piece. My love for devised theater comes from a strong need to produce new work and a firm belief that everyone has an original idea. The beauty about devised work is that it allows individuals to share and sift through all of their original ideas, find the best ones, and then merge them together with other people’s inspiration. With this in mind, I collided my two interests together: a devised show exploring the multi-faceted views of privacy.
Graduate Students Alexandra King and
Andrea Rumble-Moore in rehearsals

Over the course of several days, my ensemble and I completely indulged in all of our creative thoughts on privacy. Some were interesting, some were weird, some were hilarious, and others were completely unrelated to anything we had conceived of. Once we had a pool of concepts, we began to isolate the ideas that could be developed into something that we needed to share. This sculpting process led us to the creation of a script, which has been crafted and edited throughout our rehearsal process. 

Now that we are a week away from opening it seems almost unreal. All of the work we created, all of the pieces we included in the performance and even more of the pieces we cut- all of this started with a conversation, with a friend on a park bench about our different ideas about privacy- the wonderful and terrifying interactions that occur when that privacy is broken.

WE MUST SHARE EVERYTHING runs January 26th at 8:30, January 27th and 28th at 7:00, and closes January 29th at 2pm in the Vasey Hall Studio on the second floor. Tickets are free but seating is limited. Register for your tickets today at www.shareeverything.eventbrite.com

Monday, October 31, 2016

We Love The 90s Playlist

The 1990s was a great decade of music and popular culture. To help us get into the apocalyptic world of MARISOL we've assembled a 1995 playlist. From the Crazy-Sexy-Cool ladies of TLC to the angst of Nirvana, this nostalgic playlist will send you back in time!

And one thing we noticed- man were the mid-90's a weird, dark time in American music.

via GIPHY

Without trying too hard we found song titles that reflect Marisol's chaotic world. Like...

Black Hole Sun by Sound Garden
It's The End of The World As We Know It by REM
Sumthin' Wicked This Way Comes by TLC

...get pumped for the end of times or just enjoy this fierce playlist for your Halloween fun.



Marisol opens in two weeks and runs November 8-20 at Villanova Theatre. Tickets are $21-$25 with discounts available for students and seniors. For tickets and more information please click here or call 610-519-7474.

Monday, October 17, 2016

WAKE UP: Enter the world of MARISOL with Dramaturg Sarah Kelley

Second year graduate student Sarah Kelley has been working hard preparing to dramaturg MARISOL- which will serve as her final thesis project! As she traveled through the fantastical world of José Rivera, her vision of his work has deepened. Villanova Theatre is looking forward to sharing her engaging audience display which will prep audiences to enter Marisol’s world. Check out Sarah’s blog post to learn more about MARISOL.

Marisol by José Rivera is a puzzle that is a thrill to unravel. When I started my dramaturgical research this summer, I was excited and daunted by the wide range of topics Rivera introduces in the play and the passion with which he tackles them. Is the play about gender dynamics? Violence in urban areas? Millennialism and the Apocalypse? Homelessness and the growing gap between the rich and the poor? Through my research and our rehearsals so far, I really believe the play is about all of the above ideas and that they all have equal weight in telling Rivera’s story. Many past productions of Marisol chose one or two topical lenses through which to present the play to an audience, but one of James' goals is to bring clarity to all angles and fully explore everything Rivera gives us to experiment with in this gorgeous and poetic script.

My two personal threads of interest the helped me step inside the world of the play on my first reading was: (1) the connection between societal fears of the Millennium in the early 1990s and the current fears we hold regarding the impending election of 2016; (2) linking the problems of the past and present that women face in a patriarchal and dangerous world. Using these concepts has been helpful for me to connect to Marisol. Although the play has many 1990s references, Rivera’s work feels incredibly timely for audiences right now at Villanova and in a larger context, as we strive to define what “American Values” are in 2016.

I've gained many new insights during the first two weeks of rehearsals watching the brilliant work of James, the cast, and the production team. I've learned how important the concepts of physical space and time are in understanding the characters’ journeys through the play. I have also learned that the contrast between what we expect as an audience and what is actually happening onstage is a huge part of Rivera's genius in crafting a masterpiece of "anti-apathy" theater. By pointing out the larger societal issues using the expressionistic imagery of magic realism, Rivera utilizes creativity and exaggeration to poke holes in existing socio-political systems and point out injustices that are often invisible in our daily lives. His storytelling encourages the audience’s emotions to shift from pathos to euphoria at the drop of a hat, like a heightened version of how we live each day.

I hope Marisol encourages everyone who sees it to WAKE UP and take action as much as it has inspired me to work toward making the world better during this process and beyond. Rivera intertwines activism with his goal of speaking modern truth to power through century’s old literary traditions of apocalyptic literature and magic realism. In the Augustinian spirit, I hope we all leave Villanova Theatre wanting to act on the courage of our own uncertainty and set the world aflame with positive change.

Villanova Theatre's production of MARISOL runs November 8-20. Get your tickets at www.villanovatheatre.org or give us a call at 610-519-7474.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Playlist For ELECTRA

In celebration of the strong and powerful female characters of ELECTRA, our team has put together a playlist of our favorite bad a$$ ladies. From Beyonce to Joan Jett - Florence And The Machine to Aretha Franklin, this playlist has something for everyone.

via GIPHY

Whether you'd like to inspire your inner Goddess or get prepared for Electra's fury, our exclusive playlist is ready to go for you!



Be sure to catch Villanova Theatre's own Bad A$$ women on stage at Sophocles' ELECTRA. There's only one week of performances left. Be sure to grab your tickets before we close on October 2nd. For tickets and more information visit www.villanovatheatre.org.