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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!