Villanova Theatre Logo

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I Am Thankful For . . . by Christine Petrini

Villanova Theatre Masters Program awards several full tuition scholarships to students who display passion, talent, and dedication to the theatre arts.  Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, Acting Scholar Christine Petrini reflected on all of the things she is grateful for.  Here is her post, just in time for the Christmas holidays!

Before I over indulge in Thursday’s Thanksgiving feastival, at which time I will scour the world with cruel exactitude in search of juicy turkey legs and my Aunt Paula’s apple pie, I would like to give thanks. I am thankful every day, as I’m sure we all are, but I don’t always say so.

I don’t know how I came to be so blessed, I suppose it all started with my mama and my dad who offer me unconditional love, support and encouragement (even when it may be undeserved). They helped to set me on a path that led me here, to Villanova, where I can be thankful for friends, mentors, a community of collaborators, hugs, laughs, tears and smiles.

Now let’s talk a little turkey here.

I am thankful for….

a generous community of teachers, peers, collaborators and supporters; all of whom provide a safe and motivational environment within the Villanova Theatre Department.

the daily joy and pride I experience when witnessing the work of my peers as performers, designers, directors, stage managers, dramaturgs, and shop assistants. I am in a constant state of awe.

the opportunity to be pushed beyond my limits, stretched and challenged by my professors, peers and directors (I’m always surprised when I get to the other side of a project or challenge).

my experience in the cast of Everyman. This, of course, includes costumes made of belts and other fabulous repurposed items, the chance to sing an aria for the first time in probably a decade and the experience of being harnessed and magically suspended in the air as Good Deeds.

my partner, Christian, who keeps me sane and sits at my laptop helping me understand my Financial Management homework while making a big pot of Chili after I’ve had a long day at school.

a daily awareness of my body, my mind, and my breathing; all of which comes with a life in the arts where we free ourselves to imagine, create and do.

my full tuition scholarship, the very special honor of attending Villanova as an acting scholar and the opportunity to be a leader amongst my theatre peers.

Thank you for these blessings! Now, the challenge is to go fourth and do something good with all the goodness that has been granted to me!

Of course, there is plenty more to be thanks to be given. Instead of naming each one of you here, I will thank you for touching my life the next time I see you at Villanova (and if I don’t, remind me of this promise)!!

Now, if you don’t know, I once ate 14 pieces of French toast on a Saturday and then 12 pancakes the next day. Clearly, I am thankful for good food so, enough turkey talk; it’s time for turkey eating!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Everyman will never be de-feeted!

One week before Everyman opened, Hallie Martenson, who plays the eponymous role, gave us quite a scare.  On the cast's night off, she broke her big toe, seriously impeding her ability to walk.  All turned out well, despite the injury.  What's it like it do a physical show on a serious physical injury?  See her journal below!  Just don't tell her to "break a leg"!  She might actually do it!

November 4th, 2013

It's our day off from rehearsal, but excited as I am for Opening next week, I can't keep myself from the set.  I sneak into the Theatre after my evening class to practice a sequence in which I run up the set's amazing sloped wall (designed by incredible student designer Seth Thomas Schmitt-Hall).  Maybe in punishment or karma for being in the theatre when I'm not supposed to, and despite the fact that I had run up that wall about a hundred times before without an ounce of trouble, something goes wrong.  I can't say what, but when I came back down that wall, my big toe was completely numb.  When I looked down, my stomach turned.  Imperceptible to anyone outside of my own body, my toe was pointing in the wrong direction.  

So what's an actor to do?  An actor who holds the titular role in a show that previews in eight days?  An actor who has a whole department full of people depending on her to anchor a production?

Ignore it, obviously.  Go to a rehearsal for another scene, stomp around on an injured foot in physical character work.  Enter the sweet state of denial.

November 5th, 2013

Why the other two toes are bruised is beyond me.

I wake up and my foot is swollen to twice its normal size.  I decide to go to Villanova Health Services, who I'm sure will just tell me that I banged myself up, that I would be absolutely be fine.


The nurse balks at the swollen state of my foot.  She says she is going to send me to go get x-rays.  I quickly intervene.  "That's not necessary.  I'm sure I'm fine."  She tells me to stay off of it, and to bow out of any physical work I do in the show.  I smile and nod, ignoring every word she says.

Leaving the health services building, I call the office of Father David Cregan, our director and chair of the Department.  His assistant answers the phone and tells me he is in a meeting.

"Okay, well, I just wanted to talk to him before he heard any rumors.  I'm totally fine, but hurt my toe.  I'm about 12% worried that it might be broken.  Please don't worry him, just tell him to call me back."

Next thing I know, Father David is in my office, winded from sprinting across campus.  He assures me that he isn't worried, but I can read the concern all over his face.  He insists that I go to the hospital immediately.


After two consultations with nurses and two sets of x-rays, I am sitting in the doctor's office, awaiting judgement.  I am confident, almost cocky, that she will walk in with a smile and say, "Yep, just bruised.  Nothing to worry about."  I am sure that I will be dancing in rehearsal in a few hours time.

She walks in.  There is no smile.  "Oh yeah.  It's broken, alright."  The air leaves my body.

"Bad?" I ask.  It is the only word I can croak out.

"It's very serious.  Looks like you'll need an understudy."  Great bedside manner, doc.  I immediately burst into tears.

As those tears transform into uncontrollable, embarrassing, hiccuping sobs, my doctor's sternness fades.  She tells me to take as much time as I need.  I hobble out of the doctor's office on my crutches, tears still running down my face.


The tears have finally stopped.  I get Father David on his cell.  He is confident and comforting.  "Well, I said at the beginning of the process that we didn't know what the show was going to be.  Now, the show is Everyman with a broken foot.  We will make it work."  But my heart is still broken.

I crutch my way into my Script Analysis class.  Half of my cast mates are there.  They look up and do a double take.  I can hear them muttering to each other in concern from across the room.  I can't look any of them in the eye.  My professor Valerie Joyce, a director in her own right, tells me not to worry.  "These kinds of things happen.  We will make it work."


Rehearsal.  Father David tells the cast about my toe.  He is, once again, kind and confident.  He tells me to sit in the house and deliver my lines while sitting.  Even in my chair, I am able to get myself to the emotional heights I need to reach.  I am comforted.  Immediately after rehearsal, I get myself home, crawl into bed, and fall into a deep, dark sleep, emotionally and mentally spent.

November 6th, 2013


Rehearsal.  Father David lets me onstage, as long as I keep my boot on.  I am thrilled to be back onstage - until I'm actually there.  My boot is heavy and clunky, and makes loud noises as I hobble from moment to moment.  

About two thirds of the way through the show, our stage manager stops us.  "We're almost at time."

Father David pulls me aside and lets me know quietly that they had stopped us when we were already 9 minutes over the length of time it had ever taken us to run the entire show.  I am mortified.  My worst fears has come true.  My foot has negatively impacted the show.

I try hard to bite back tears, but Father David sees them immediately.  He puts his arms around me.  "Hallie, you need to know that I'm not worried.  I am not worried," he repeated.  "This is what the show is now."

November 7th, 2013


I go see a specialist, a orthopedic podiatrist.  It is the fanciest doctor's office I have ever been in.  I fill out my intake papers on an I-Pad.  

I explain to the doctor, who specializes in sports injuries, that it's kind of like the quarterback breaking his toe before the big game - we need to do whatever we can to get me on the field.  I think I'm cool.  He doesn't crack a smile.  "A quarterback would be benched with this injury in a second."

He explains that my toe snapped back at the first joint, shattering through the joint.  It would almost certainly require surgery.  My heart falls again.

But then he gives me a gift.  An inflexible graphite insole for my stage shoe.  It would prevent my foot from bending at all.  A spark of hope flashes in my brain.  My hearing is dulled as he talks about how I need to scale back on my activity.  All I can do is stare at that graphite insole and imagine the possibilities it holds.


I get back to the theatre and sit down with Parris, the theatre's Production Manager, to explain my woes.  He is appropriately funny and sympathetic.  Father David appears and we visit the Costume Shop, where Courtney Boches, the Costume Designer, and Janus Stefanowicz, the Costume Shop Manager, are waiting.  They present me with a pair of combat boots, with a hard outer shell that would protect my toe.  They shove in the new graphite insole before asking me to try them on.

I squeeze my swollen foot into the boot carefully and lace them up.  I stand.  I take a few steps.  And I almost cry.  But this time from joy.

I am not even limping.  My foot is completely stable and protected.  Father David and I visit the stage and I walk through some of my blocking.  I am nervous, but there is no pain.  Father David looks as relieved as I feel.  For the first time, I actually believe that everything is going to be okay.

In this moment, those boots, simple, cheap, innocuous, become my MIRACLE BOOTS.  Gratitude doesn't begin to express how I feel toward the costume shop and designers.

November 12th, 2013

It's preview day!  Over the last five days, which include long tech days, I experiment more and more, and become more and more confident.  I dance.  I run up the wall.  I walk the runway.

On the second day of tech, Father David approaches me.  "You're back!  Can you feel it?"  I nod, smiling.  

And now, hearing the audience a few feet away muttering and fidgeting, I feel no fear.  Just excitement.  And something else, something very important that shadows all other emotions.  Something that blossoms inside me as I glance around at my cast mates, who have  held, and comforted, and supported me through every step of this process.  

Gratitude.  A whole lot of gratitude.  Which, for Everyman, feels exactly right.  

My toe twinges.  I shake it off.  I have a show to do.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Fashion of Fierceness: Designing Strength by Courtney Boches

Courtney Boches, Theatre MA student and costume designer for Villanova's upcoming production of Everyman (opening this Wednesday!), spills about building one of the many INCREDIBLE costume elements present in this show.  

COURTNEY: Everyman is a visually fascinating, but complicated show.  When thinking about how to explain it in a concise (and mostly spoiler-free!) blog, I thought the most interesting thing to do would be to take you on a journey for one piece.  Here's an inside scoop on Strength, particularly his headpiece, from inspiration to completion.

COURTNEY:  One of the first things that happened early in the process of designing Everyman was a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to see the new exhibit "PUNK: Chaos to Couture."  Much of the inspiration for the show grew from that trip and the pieces featured at the museum and in the accompanying book that the Met published.

COURTNEY:  When thinking about the character of Strength, one of my initial ideas was to explore a military theme.  His jacket evolved out of that thought, and the detail on his shoulders is meant to recall the armor of medieval knights.  This was an attempt to bring in aspects of the time in which the original play was written.

COURTNEY:  Another thing that I did early on in the process was to research and identify all of the punk "stereotypes" that should be incorporated, like safety pins, tartan fabrics, use of found objects, and, of course, the mohawk.  It made sense to me that the mohawk should be worn by Strength - an imposing hair style for an imposing character.  

COURTNEY:  I also wanted the mohawk to evoke the feeling of a helmet, both of knights and other military eras.  I was particularly interested in the plumes found on helmets of various eras - Greek, Roman, and even the metal pieces that run down the center of medieval knight helmets.  To me, the mohawk was the perfect modern punk interpretation of this classic military style.

COURTNEY:  Our undergraduate work-study students had fun using papier-mache to construct this awesome headpiece.  We won't give away all the details of Strength's headpiece or any other fabulous costume here - you'll just have to come to a performance of Everyman to see the finished product!  It's been an honor and a phenomenal learning experience for me as a student to work on this production and I couldn't be prouder of what we're presenting onstage.

The costumes in this show are to die for!  Come see Courtney's breathtaking design in Villanova Theatre's production of Everyman, running from November 13th-24th.  For ticket information, call the box office at (610) 519-7474, or visit

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Translating EVERYMAN, or: Wait, What's the Original Written in, Latin?

As a production team, we had a great debate: is my work to be considered an adaptation, or a translation? Everyman, after all, is written in English and one, typically, does not translate a text into its own language. The English of Everyman, though, demanded revisiting as a modern stage would be inhospitable to the low-intensity sloppy semi-rhyming ramble to which the original text falls victim.

So, why not adapt? Adaptation requires imposition. It requires shifting and revision of character and story arc, or reexamining the essential form of the work and making a shadow play of it, a thing separated from the source by a chasm of light and darkness. My play m4m is a true adaptation—a tinkering with Measure for Measure that captures the original energy of the play and adapts it into a new form to convey the same sex-and-power-fueled tragedy. We were not interested in doing this with Everyman, as we agreed that the core of the work is valuable dramaturgically and aesthetically, and as such, should remain unchanged and unaltered. I am not a man of faith but a cultural record of the medieval man’s coping with the threat of death in a fideistic world is vital to our understanding of our pasts and therefore, ourselves.

We’re back to translation, then—but how to translate? The language is outdated and dull, so it needs to be torn down and rebuilt, but a subtle hand is required in the reconstruction to retain the structure, intent, and intrinsic energies of the original piece. The words are new, but the story must remain old.

God is big, the world is small—a piteous and saddening place sullied by mankind’s rebellion against his maker. So sayeth the medieval mindset that pushed Everyman into being, and how odd a work it is that almost finds joy in the sinfulness of the world so that salvation seems sweeter. The play revels in worldliness until the blood of penance is drawn, and in doing so, somehow, the work becomes darker. Light fades, strength fails, the dampness of the earth encroaches upward and draws us down. Death is not to be withstood but feared, and as we move closer to it, we find ourselves longing for a just and punishing God who will brutally beat the world back into harmony with his own desires. That God is good the work never questions; how terrible that goodness is—well, that’s another matter entirely.

Fear and angst are universal feelings but particular in expression, with language and experience forming each other in a shared striving toward meaning and truth. Everyman is a medieval text written in an early modern form of English and as such, an early modern English politic. Take, for example, the interaction between God and Death:
Go thou to Everyman,
And show him in my name
A pilgrimage he must on him take,
Which he in no wise may escape;
And that he bring with him a sure reckoning
Without delay or any tarrying.
Lord, I will in the world go run over all,
And cruelly outsearch both great and small;
Every man will I beset that liveth beastly
Out of God’s laws, and dreadeth not folly;
He that loveth riches I will strike with my dart,
His sight to blind, and from heaven to depart,
Except that alms be his good friend,
In hell for to dwell, world without end.
I delight in the risk of sounding anti-academic: dead language expresses dead thoughts, and if the work is to be vital, it needs to be revised. It is unfair to impose upon a 15th century text the concerns and fears of the 21st century; while they had our hearts, minds, guts, and groins, the language of expression—at least, artistic expression—was simpler for a simpler audience. We’re eternally evolving in thoughts and deeds, and as our fears have evolved, so must the language we use to convey them, which is what my translation strives toward:
Go to Everyman
and renew his fear of me
by placing him on an inescapable pilgrimage.
Bring him to his final reckoning, unhindered by his world.
My God: I will scour the world with cruel exactitude.
Great and small, every man that delights in living in beastly hovels beyond God’s law
without dread of folly, loving riches more than grace—
in their flesh will my sword sing its song of reckoning.
If he will not make his account clean,
he will be forsaken by heaven, live and die in hell, world without end.
We are no different from our medieval cousins and kindred in our lustful embrace of Death and the Deadly. The original text gives Death a measured and careful cadence that folds into the generally bland and inoffensive language-scape the entirety of the urtext employs. We, however, are on the other side of immeasurable cruelties, unconscionable devices of warfare, and death by phantom sexually transmitted viruses. Death has descended upon us like a shawl, has become comfortably omnipresent, and our new language must match. Death can no longer throw a dart—he must sink a sword singing reckoning into Everyman’s flesh. This, after all, actually pulls us closer to our medieval counterparts, for whom the threat of death by any number of easily preventable maladies was constant. Here is where we walk the line between translation and adaptation: death is constant, but the language used to engage with it over the past 500 years has changed quite a bit.
Heartbreak and loneliness are no different:
Whither away, Fellowship? Will you forsake me?
Yea, by my fay, to God I betake thee.
Farewell, good Fellowship; for this my heart is sore;
Adieu for ever, I shall see thee no more.
In faith, Everyman, farewell now at the end;
For you I will remember that parting is mourning.
Our approach to abandonment and desperation in modern theatre is far more active and confrontational now, with language demanding immediate change or response. The core of the original must remain—Fellowship must abandon Everyman, with perhaps a twinge of sadness, but the language has to become softer to drive the point home:
You have forsaken me.
Go to our Lord.
Goodbye, then, and know you’ve wounded me to my core.
We will not see each other again, you know this?
So be it, Everyman—farewell, then.
Rest knowing that when I think on you years hence—
I will remember that our parting was sad without the benefit of being sweet.
Know you will be mourned, at least.
Mourned at least, indeed—the most we can hope for, perhaps. The subtle shifts in syntax give actors actionable dialogue instead of melodramatic ruminations, but elsewhere, the opposite has a stronger effect. The simple and ordinary sometimes needs to be made more eccentric:
I know your sorrow well, Everyman;
Because with Knowledge ye come to me,
I will you comfort as well as I can,
And a precious jewel I will give thee,
Called penance, wise voider of adversity;
Therewith shall your body chastised be,
With abstinence and perseverance in God’s service:
Here shall you receive that scourge of me,
Which is penance strong, that ye must endure,
To remember thy Saviour was scourged for thee
With sharp scourges, and suffered it patiently;
So must thou, or thou scape that that painful pilgrimage…
This won’t do! Someone’s being scourged onstage, the language must bleed:
Your sorrow has the ring of sad authenticity, Everyman, and well I know it.
You come with Knowledge and the good intent she inspires, so here is a gift:
Penance, a precious jewel and little comfort, the painful obliteration of adversity.
Chastise your body and when it is pure, abstain: and so, persevere for your Lord.
The whip is sharp and strong, and you will scream under the arcing crack of its hymnal moan.
You will see blood rise in spurts as you let the tendrils cut deep into your flesh,
but then when you gasp you draw in God. Breathe easier with each lash,
for your body approaches pain as a sacrament.
Remember that we scourged our Savior, who suffered it for us.
And now, you: be Christ-like, and fully so—heaven detests a false wretch; prove yourself.
The original text delights in having Everyman flayed onstage in an attempt to bring him closer to his God, and lucky for us that the intervening centuries have given our culture new words and syntax to make lusty that interaction. The joy of penance approaches sexual ecstasy, and both ebb as quickly as they arose, leaving behind the faint glow of having undergone a great experience, and a great change. Such complexity was unknown on the medieval stage, whose primary concern was reinforcing the status quo through simple didactic rhetoric. Everyman is unique in the medieval cannon for allowing a character an arc: Everyman starts sinful and ends saved, but only for having changed thoroughly over the course of the play, and fittingly, I wanted to give the work sexual charge to fold into the status quo of the modern era. Theatre is the language of power in conversation with itself.

Indeed, we know what the play is and we know what modern theatre is, making translation not so much the search-and-replace function of linguistic substitution but rather, the conversion of source material into a new but familiar form. English isn’t English when we look back at it and it speaks the depths of our hearts in a foreign vernacular. It requires updating to convey its meaning, keep it vital, and satisfy the modern ear.
Everyman must die, but the text need not.

My translation, as well as the quotes in this article, used the edition of the original text available through the University of Fordham’s Internet History Sourcebook.  You can go see my translation of Everyman in Villanova Theatre's production November 11-24th.  For tickets, visit their website here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seth spills about the EVERYMAN set!

Every second-year graduate student in the Villanova Theatre MA program must complete an Orals Project, a capstone thesis within a chosen discipline.  Seth Thomas Schmitt-Hall, set assistant and actor in the Villanova Theatre MA program, chose to combine two of his passions into a single project: acting and set design.  Below, Seth shares with us a little bit about his process in conceiving of this beautiful and challenging design, and how he designs through the lens of an actor.

*NOTE: In this post, we have chosen to include only build shots.  You'll have to come see the show to be wowed by the final product.  And trust us, you'll be wowed.

SETH:  In Everyman, I have been given the rare opportunity to act in a show for which I have designed the set.  Having worked with Father David Cregan in Salome, knowing his interest in physical theatre, I hoped to create a set that would challenge the actors physically. Approaching the design process where the script was a malleable object, I conceived of the design as a playground for the actors, giving the largest amount of choices for the director to play with while sticking as close to the dramaturgical needs of the script as possible.
SETH: My design for this production consists of three major scenic elements; a non-symmetrical cruciform runway, two non-symmetrical staircases, and a large sloped wall that ranges from 18 inches off the stage floor to the top of the upper platform.  The sloped wall is an obstacle that Everyman cannot climb. It acts as a wall and a road, an obstacle and an entrance.

SETH: As a son of two Episcopalian priests, my life has been filled with vacations to explore old Gothic and Nordic cathedrals. So when considering a way to have structure based in Medieval England, my mind was drawn to the remnants of an old cathedral floor.  The floor of a cathedral is a common place for a gravestone.  Every sunday, priests and lay people walk over bodies from the past, as if the gravestone were just another tile on the floor. This is a wonderful symbol of how Everyman walks by Death everyday without a care, and yet Death is always present. 

SETH: As an actor, I explore a role, challenging myself to find new ideas and make discoveries until opening night. What if I were to include in my actor exploration the mind of the scenic designer? As an actor, I will be there for the whole rehearsal process.  I’d like to investigate how I as set designer can fluidly adjust the design of the set, even after the fundamental structure has been rendered and created.  An actor has a script that cannot be changed.  The actor creates a role based upon the words of the playwright, but the character is much more than words. So too, my design has a basic structure; but how can what I learn as an actor in rehearsal - and what I learn from my fellow actors - influence changes in my design even after the foundation has been placed? 

SETH: My goal in the rehearsal process is not only to have the design fit my own needs as an actor, but to see how the set (as I live with it as an actor) can help create harmony with the entire cast. I plan on talking with my cast members, seeing how they feel, how they interpret the set, what they can create based on the ground plan given to them by me as designer and the blocking given by Fr. David.  Already, discoveries have been emerging.  One of my fellow cast members mentioned to Fr. David after a rehearsal, "It really seems like this set isn't just a playground for us.  It is our obstacle, as well."  Play on, friends!


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Victoria Talks Turkey

Victoria (bottom center) pictured with past Brian Morgan award recipients
A GIANT congratulations to Victoria Rose Bonito, who was awarded the Brian Morgan Award this past Saturday.  The Brian Morgan Award, which honors a second year actor who displays talent, work ethic, and a playful and generous spirit, could not have gone to a more deserving candidate!  

On their path to graduation, all Villanova Theatre second-year students complete an Orals project, basically a Master's thesis, in a chosen area that they have studied over the past two years. Options range from academic to artistic and have taken on many forms over the years. Victoria, currently playing Maggie in Villanova Theatre's Red Herring, is using her role in the fast-paced, period comedy to apply to her Orals project in Acting. Victoria speaks about the process, obstacles and rewards involved in readying Maggie for the stage every evening.


From day one of the rehearsal process, Red Herring has been something special.  After reading the play over the summer, Maggie jumped out at me as a role I would adore exploring, and I thought it would be an interesting challenge to take on as my Acting Oral as well.  Aside from the very clear dialect challenge--Boston sits in a much more "difficult" place for me vocally than, say, the American South or the British Isles--Maggie is not just what she seems on the surface.  She has muscle and is a more aggressive role than I have played in the recent past; being a female cop in a man's world, she must be tough to hold her position toward the top of her field.  This attitude strangely helped me with the dialect, and vice versa, as the vocal quality and sound is a bit more forceful and no nonsense.  I love her for her edge...and simultaneously, her heart.  At the very first rehearsal, Michael said that in writing this play he wanted to "create as much craziness and bury as much truth as possible" in the piece.  This give and take of energy has been (and still continues to be!) the most exhilarating part of the process for me.

The style and rhythm of this play is also exciting and a tad intimidating.  But it all came together with that first audience.  The fast-paced, cinematic style that Michael has crafted his world in leaves little time to think--only time to do.  For an actor, this is both core-shattering and incredibly freeing.  While I still study my scene change list EVERY night, I also find myself in GO mode throughout each run; when I am conscious of and tuned in to what Maggie is doing, I find that I am more specific, nuanced, and on point as an actor.  There is little time to consider feeling--you just do it!  The noir vibe also came to life once the audience embraced it (which they do quite early).  At first, the takes out to the audience and the epic clinchers ("I think it's time to sharpen my harpoon") felt a bit unnatural.  Not out of place in the world of the play, just a tad zanier than one would expect of a largely "realistic" character.  The height of storytelling that these moments allow, however, is astounding.  Finding this rhythm was essential and now continues to be endless fun.

Most of all, I love how Maggie anchors the play in a very real way.  It takes a good bit of sanity to enter into the final scene and ask "will you marry me" while there are guns drawn, people hanging off docks, and general mayhem ensuing.  This is the brilliance of Michael's writing, the beauty of Harriet's directing, and the fun for me--this story is real in so many ways.  Love is not the most straight-forward thing to begin why make a "normal" story about it?  I am having a blast both in the run of this production and in investigating it more deeply for my Acting Oral.  Thus far it has proven satisfying artistically, emotionally, and intellectually, and has led to some fabulous conversations at home in my own marriage.  Here's further proof that art imitates life and life often imitates art.  This sure will be a difficult one to close!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fishy Fun!

One of the many beautiful things about Red Herring is the whole new world of wordplay it has opened up for us; from commies to gumshoes, there has been a lot of linguistic gambol here in Vasey 5 - not the least of which has been with our fishy friends.  Here are some Fred the Red's favorite fish puns, for your reading pleasure:

Thanks Fred!  While we may have differing opinions on economic philosophy, your wordplay sure does put us in stitches!

Red Herring opens THIS WEDNESDAY and runs until October 13th!  Call (610) 519-7474 or visit for tickets.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A day in the LIFE (1952) ...

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of 1952? Poodle skirts? American Bandstand?  A gallon of gas costing 20 cents? Villanova Theatre’s upcoming production of Red Herring takes a look at marriage, nuclear espionage, and the McCarthy hearings as some of the iconic images of 1952 America.

Liz Marafino, second-year MA student and dramaturg for Red Herring, currently in production at Villanova Theatre, finds an authentic way to bring the time period of Michael Hollinger’s noir comedy to life.

LIZ: One of the things Harriet Power, Red Herring director, stressed to me was the importance of my role in grounding the actors in the play's time period of October 1952 (as none of them would have been alive at the time!).  I always like to return to primary sources in these cases, so I tracked down a copy of Life magazine from the week that the play takes place. Not only were there great articles about the upcoming presidential election and nuclear weaponry, it was also full of advertisements and other cultural touchstones that could provide a more visceral experience of 1952 for the actors. Below are some of my personal favorites from the issue:

Here are a few other touchstone events from 1952:

- The first mechanical heart is successfully used at Harper University Hospital in Michigan.

- Elizabeth II becomes Queen of England after the death of George VI.

- Dwight D. Eisenhower is elected president of the United States.

- Rocky Marciano becomes world heavyweight champion after knocking out Jersey Joe Walcott.

- Prime Minister Winston Churchill announces that the United Kingdom has an atomic bomb.

- A single episode of “I Love Lucy” is approximated to be tuned into over 10,000,000 homes.

Red Herring runs October 1-13. Call (610)519-7474 or visit for more info or to purchase tickets!  Keep an eye out for Liz’s LIFE magazine in the production!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Interview with RED HERRING playwright Michael Hollinger

Second-year MA student Elizabeth Marafino, in preparation for her role as Dramaturg for the upcoming production of Red Herring, sat down with playwright Michael Hollinger (who is also a professor of Theatre and the Associate Artistic Director for Villanova Theatre) to get his thoughts on corpses, noir, and marriage.

What was the initial inspiration for Red Herring?

I was teaching a playwriting class in the mid-90s and assigned my students an in-class writing exercise to write a scene based around a significant set piece. I wrote one, too, which turned out to be a hard-boiled detective interviewing a tough-cookie landlady over a bathtub where the bare legs of her dead tenant (presumed drowned) protruded. I liked the detective, and the landlady, and tucked them away in a file called "Cold Feet," in case this idea ever wanted to become a play. (Turns out, it did.)

How did the play develop into its final form?

I wrote the play in earnest over about two years, and developed it during that time through readings and short workshops at Arden Theatre Company and Berkshire Theatre Festival. At one point, it stretched to 30 scenes -- it found its final form at 25 — so I generated a lot of material that I eventually threw out (including a torch song for Mrs. Kravitz called "There's Somethin' Fishy Goin' On," and a monologue for the Corpse). Because the structure is so complex, I mapped out dozens of different scene arrangements, like trying to solve a really difficult Sudoku puzzle. After our first audience at the Arden, I cut two entire scenes, and had to rewrite others in order to incorporate key information that was revealed in the cut scenes. Many trees died before I stopped revising this play.

Why were you particularly drawn to noir at the time of writing the play?

I had dramaturged a noir musical called Gunmetal Blues at the Wilma Theater a few years before, and became very taken with the conventions of this form, particularly the way protagonists get beat up (literally and figuratively) as they descend into the underworld. Noir is fun as a style, and in fact can seem rather overexposed at times, but I was more interested in using it as a means to say something true about love than to spoof its devices.

How did marriage become the defining center of the play?

For nearly all of my plays, I start out thinking they're about one thing, and at some point I become disgusted with the whole idea: "Who cares about these tough-talking detectives and this silly spy story anyway? Why do I care about it? What's the story beneath the story?" When I looked more closely at what I'd written, I realized themes of love and coupledom -- and a reluctance to marry -- were at the heart of the play (remember "Cold Feet"?). I'd been married myself for eight or nine years at that point, realized I had things I wanted to explore about the institution, and that crime, nuclear espionage, and 1950s America might provide useful metaphors for looking at marriage.

What was the impetus for incorporating Joseph McCarthy into a noir play about marriage?

The play throws up icons of the early 50s — Ike, Dick Nixon, Adlai Stevenson, Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, J. Edgar Hoover, the Rosenbergs, etc. -- both as cultural markers and as embodiments of certain qualities. McCarthy was a towering (and very threatening) figure for a few years during this time, and I was interested in exploring how the Communist fears he worked so hard to cultivate parallel the jealousy and paranoia we can experience when love becomes possessive.

Why was it important for you to write Red Herring?

My previous three plays had all been written for single settings, with lots of unities and almost no doubling. On a purely formal level, I wanted my next play to feel "extravagant" — lots of scenes, characters, costumes, plot twists and turns. But in terms of content, I really wanted to use this very fabricated, high-style world to say as many true things as possible about love and marriage, subjects I hold dear to my heart.  My parents got married in a police station, both of them refugees of previous marriages that ended disastrously. Theirs was not a "picture-book" marriage, but it worked, and lasted (unlike their first marriages, which nevertheless produced great pictures). In the same way that Christians celebrate Jesus's birth in a stable of all places, I've always held dear the fact that my parents joined their lives together in such a humble setting, without pomp or illusions, acknowledging their own brokenness and each other's. This, for me, embodies the spiritual nature of marriage, which, in our materialist culture, we can easily lose sight of amid the pomp and frou-frou.

Do you have any thoughts in regards to collaborating  as a playwright with Professor Harriet Power and with Villanova?

It's very meaningful for me to be able to collaborate again with my friend and colleague on this production, after working together on my play Incorruptible at Villanova Theatre in 2005, and on professional projects at PlayPenn and New Dramatists thereafter. Red Herring is a very intricate play on all sorts of levels, requiring painstaking preparation to assemble, and no director I know prepares as painstakingly as Harriet, so I know this production is in very good hands. 

Red Herring runs October 1st-13th at Villanova Theatre.  
For tickets, visit our website or call our Box Office at (610) 519-7474 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation . . .

Remember when your first back-to-school assignment was to write an essay on how you spent our summer vacation? While our homework may be a bit more complex these days (that's an understatement!), we still enjoy reflecting on those few precious months we spend between semesters.  We asked four of our second-year graduate students to tell us about their summer vacation. From Dublin to Princeton to Philadelphia, they all seemed to dive right into their experiences in the professional world.

Lauren Fanslau was awarded a grant by the Villanova-Abbey Theatre Exchange to work at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland for two months over the summer. She worked in four different departments: Casting, Community/Education, Voice, and Props, along with designing workshops to coincide with the ongoing Abbey season.

LAUREN: In short, my dream came true this summer. I traveled to a country that had been on my radar for years but always seemed completely out of reach. I worked for what is arguably the most significant and influential theatre in Ireland. In two short months, I absorbed as much of the Irish culture as I possibly could and I quickly realized that this visit would radically change me, both as a person and as an artist. I entered many a pub by myself and heard more life-stories than I can count... including, but not limited to, an older gentleman who pulled up his shirt to show me his scars from disarming bombs in Belfast! However, the traditional music was what made me feel like I had truly arrived. It was EVERYWHERE and had (still has) a profound effect on me.

My main take-away from the Abbey an awareness of the bigger picture that these practitioners possessed. It wasn't just about the current production, about budget, about selling tickets. I saw, in the people I worked alongside, an ability and a continuous effort to do something bigger than themselves. Every one of my "bosses" displayed this obsessive dedication and, in effect, provided an incredibly encouraging work environment. In particular, the Director of the Abbey, Fiach Mac Conghail, constantly articulated how certain choices impacted the larger community; not just season subscribers. I was able to see firsthand how big theatre can be, how much of an impact it can have on a person, and how important my work as a theatre artist and educator needs to be. My goal for my second and final year in the Villanova Theatre MA program is to bring that kind of awareness, accountability, and passion to my work. As a direct result of the experiences with the Villanova-Abbey Theatre Exchange, I am currently looking to return to Ireland after completing my Master's degree in hopes of working in the Dublin theatre scene and / or pursuing a PhD in Irish Theatre Studies. I have no doubt that this much-too-brief trip to Ireland and the people, culture, and history that I encountered will shape my post-graduate path.


Emily Poworoznek spent time throughout July and August as the Summer Marketing Intern at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ. McCarter Theatre is one of the top theatres in the country having won the Tony Award in 1994 for Best Regional Theatre.

EMILY: Every year I sit down to watch the Tony Awards in awe of every moment: What it means to be invited. What will Neil Patrick Harris do? Which shows will win? This year, just like every other, I sat down and watched, but something was different. As I was watching, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike won the award for Best Play and Emily Mann took the stage to accept the award for McCarter Theatre. Alone in my house I screamed, “THAT’S WHERE I’M INTERNING!”  

Princeton, NJ is my hometown.  I have grown up with this theatre - going to performances of A Christmas Carol or the Nutcracker every holiday season - and I was thrilled to finally be a part of the McCarter family. What I appreciated the most was that the tasks I was completing were integral to the functioning of the organization. I was made sure bills were paid for the marketing department, invoiced playbill advertisers, and controlled the ticket donation programs. I created a social media marketing plan and wrote outreach letters to McCarter patrons about the upcoming season.  I felt I was a part of the office culture - never like an intern. It was a summer I will never forget. 


Polly Edelstein was a busy multi-tasker this summer. Along with completing a class for the Certificate in Non-Profit Management, she served as an instructor, intern, and producer in various organizations all over Philadelphia.


POLLY: I don't know if I stopped moving this whole summer  - but the experiences I was lucky enough to have made it all worth it!  First and foremost, I spent my third summer as an instructor for Theatre Horizon's Drama Camp, while also acting as an instructor for various other camps throughout the summer, including Kathy Wickline's Little Stars (with fellow Villanovan Liz Marafino!) and the Darlington Arts Center, teaching subjects that varied from song-writing to cultural theatre.  Teaching is a constant learning experience; I learned that children are sometimes able to comprehend things that adults can't even understand!  I was also lucky enough to intern with International Ballet Classique, specializing in Social Media, which sharpened and honed my marketing skills.

However, my favorite thing I did this summer was directing 4PLAY, a compilation of short plays that will be showcased in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival! All of the plays are written by women and feature a very talented ensemble of actors. Working with my actors and the Fringe staff has been an exhausting yet rewarding process.  I experienced all the nuts-and-bolts work of producing a play, administrative and artistic.  I am beyond excited to see our hard work come to fruition this week!


Megan Diehl received the Graduate Student Summer Research Fellowship through Villanova to pursue her research in Dramaturgy and Theater Administration. Conducting her research while in residence at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival in Center Valley, PA she served as the Dramaturgy and Literary Assistant from May through August.


MEGAN: What initially excited me most about working with the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival this summer was the opportunity to experience how everything I was learning in the classroom would translate to a professional atmosphere. I’ve worked at PSF for quite a few seasons in many different capacities, but I was anxious to bring all of my painstakingly hard work from weekly assignments and apply it to a rehearsal room full of actors, a meeting with a director, or a pre-show or post-show chat with the audience. Not only was the work incredibly informative, but it also confirmed what I hold as the best description for the dramaturg’s work: Dramaturgy is not simply a job, it’s a function. 

In the first week of our season, Patrick Mulcahy, PSF’s artistic director, shared with the company that, for him, theater remains relevant and fresh because of the connection that it offers the audience. This idea resonated with me for the rest of the summer as it echoes a lot of what the dramaturg’s function becomes: forming connections. A connection between the past and present, a connection between the director and the actors, a connection between the stage and the audience, a connection between the playwright’s words and the final production. As a dramaturg and an administrator, being a catalyst for that kind of work was incredibly fulfilling, a feeling I hope to chase during the rest of my time at Villanova and throughout my whole career.


Congrats to all of our students for making such a splash this summer!