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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Brighten Your Day With Some Barbershop

As we approach the Opening Night of A Wonderful Noise we're grooving to the  nostalgic tunes of barbershop quartets. We were inspired by the harmonies of the 40's and began collecting songs for our special "Happy Harmonies Through the Ages" playlist. From Queen to the Pentatonix, this special playlist features songs that riff off of the quintessential barbershop style. Visit the Villanova Theatre Talk Blog to check it out! And then there is always Steve Carrell.

Let us know some of your favorite harmonies!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Peek Inside The Evaluation Room: Building a New Play With Kristin Miller

Villanova Theatre is thrilled to present our first Graduate Student produced Studio Show, The Evaluation Room, written by second year Kristin Miller. This program was started to provide a unique opportunity for our Graduate Students to collaborate and produce original work together. Kristin was generous enough to share her process and feelings over the course of developing and staging her new work: 

Playwrights are always listening to characters fall in love, fall out of love, argue, lie, break down, and reconcile. Every character lives a full life, and becomes a person, inside the creator’s mind. I care deeply about every person I dare to offer the world. It doesn’t matter to me how many lines she speaks or how many pages she’s in—each person is worthy of my full attention and careful consideration. All of this probably makes me sound a little bit obsessed. I think, as a playwright, you have to be a tiny bit obsessive or you’ll never give in to the agony it takes to flesh a piece out completely.  The internal life of a play in my head can be satisfying by itself, but the greatest reward is watching other artists pull everything I’ve been thinking out onto the stage in front of me.

I was very nervous when we sat down for The Evaluation Room auditions. Would people pick up on the quirks and vibes of my characters? How would the energy flow between actors? Did these characters even make sense? Do they need to make sense? When I was a senior in college we staged a rehearsed reading of this play, but this was the first time people had ever actually auditioned for a play I wrote. For the first ten minutes my fists were clenched and my lips were pursed—I was trying to look very serious in an attempt to mask my urge to burst into anxious tears. But then something magical happened: just as I opened my mouth to say something about a character, Meg (the director) was already saying it. I turned, a dumbstruck look on my face. Suddenly every restless feeling in my body melted away. Of course, I already knew that Meg understood my aesthetic, but hearing her say something I was thinking at the exact same moment was enough to make me swoon!

That moment with Meg was the first moment of spontaneous harmony, but it was definitely not the last. There have been so many times over the past weeks when my brain has been directly linked to Meg’s and Amanda’s (dramaturg and actor!) that I don’t think I could mention each instance if I tried. Before we started this process I believed revisions were needed. I started writing The Evaluation Room when I was 21 years old, and since then I have evolved as a person tremendously I knew that some perspectives would shift. However, I did not expect to find and develop a completely new ending and add almost 40 pages worth of new material!
There are many questions that playwrights cannot answer for themselves. There are things we cannot see when we look at the words that directors, dramaturgs, actors, and designers see immediately. I sat down for a casual lunch with Amanda, after our first read of the script, knowing that we’d have a great conversation about structure, arc, and character development. I found out something much more important during that lunch, though: Amanda cared about the play just as deeply as I did. I didn’t think it was possible for another person to have the same ardent passion for this play. I listened with new ears during our second read of the script, and heard genuine devotion in the voices of every person in the room. It’s a feeling I cannot accurately describe. The best I can say is that I continually have wonderful realizations that everyone involved in the development of The Evaluation Room is as invested as I am. This experience clarifies beyond any shadow of a doubt that the theatre is the place for me.

This blog post has turned into a bit of a love letter to the cast and production team, but that feels entirely right. A play is just words on a page without people willing to lift it onto its feet and put it in front of an audience. I am honored that such talented and generous artists are dedicating themselves to realizing a play that lives so close to my heart. Each of them has been instrumental in The Evaluation Room’s growth. Inspiration comes in the most mysterious ways. Whether it was a late night text message from Ebeth (Lizzie), a chat on the way to the car with Jess (Frank), an off-the-cuff remark from John (Prince) or Mark (J-Man), or the perfect facial expression from Lize (Gabe). Everyone has offered something invaluable to the development of this play. In fact, just when I thought the play was nearly complete I sat with Elise to talk about her character Mags and found that the character I’d created was awakened by Elise and emerged more beautifully than I had ever imagined. 

Meet Kristin's characters and be the first to see this world premiere production! The Evaluation Room will run January 26-31 in the Vasey Hall Studio. Tickets are free but seating is limited. For more information and to reserve your tickets click here. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Falling in Love With The 40s: A Dramaturg’s Perspective on A WONDERFUL NOISE

Graduate Student, Alix Rosenfeld, is completing her thesis as the dramaturg for A Wonderful Noise. We are lucky enough to have the inside scoop of her process working on this Philadelphia premiere which will transport audiences to the 1940s. Check out this excerpt of Alix's thesis proposal and learn more about this fantastic musical comedy by Villanova's very own Michael Hollinger, who serves as the Associate Artistic Director for Villanova Theatre. 

I first fell in love with this musical when “Chit Chat” was sung at the season selection announcement last spring. The song is incredibly entertaining, rich, and comical—truly a knockout number. It is a song that is pure joy, but it also acts as a time machine, propelling us back into another era that initially feels foreign, but actually sits comfortably in our cores. After my first encounter with the music and the script, I found that this holds true from beginning to end. The audience is transported to 1941 St. Louis with all of the innocence that accompanies a bygone era, and that feeling is reinforced masterfully by the music, the words, and the character relationships created by Michael Hollinger and Vance Lehmkuhl. In this musical we get the opportunity to be enchanted as we leave the modern world behind yet somehow land in a place that feels like home.

Though 1941 seems like a fragment of the past that we have forgotten, the brilliance of this piece is its ability to live in that past but still reach forward in time and speak to issues that affect us today. That is where its power lies: comedy and guilelessness charge forward throughout, but the threat of war bubbles almost imperceptibly under the surface. A Wonderful Noise packs a very unexpected punch, and it is the effect of the war that keeps it from simply being an evening of camp and good times. Instead, it is a wonderful blend of witty hijinks, heartfelt emotions, and just enough solemnity, working in harmony to create a beautiful, well-rounded experience for the audience.

Throughout the research process, I’ve continued to discover avenues into this musical that strengthen my connection to it. As a woman, I find Mae’s (and the rest of the quartet’s) determination to create more equal opportunities for women incredibly inspiring. Despite it being nearly seventy-five years later, we still live in a society where women have to fight for equality, and the quartet’s struggles for recognition represent this conflict on a small yet meaningful scale. In this vein, I also can’t help but note that our production is incredibly timely. The presidential primaries will be just days away from opening night, and with one very serious female contender for the democratic nomination, it’s exciting (and oddly prescient) to have references to a woman in the white house in the song “Give a Girl a Chance.” And while I don’t necessarily have a strong connection to the male quartet’s feelings of brotherhood and “esprit de corps,” I think we all can understand the desire to maintain a legacy put in place by one’s forefathers and a need for adventure. In this musical, there truly is something for everyone.

In this way and many more, A Wonderful Noise is extraordinary. Hollinger and Lehmkuhl have tapped into a remarkable ability to take the universal and distill these big ideas into a heartwarming and enjoyable story. Because of its universality, it transcends its very specific snapshot of time and breaks open issues that we contend with today, such as immigration, otherness, equality, war, and patriotism, to name a few. If asked, “why this play now,” I think the only answer is perhaps the most obvious: we need this piece. Recently we have been plagued with bombings and other acts of terrorism, people being displaced from their homes, and other heart-heavy events that could easily bog us down and make us lose our humanity. A Wonderful Noise reminds us, specifically in the song “Out of the Blue,” that through these atrocities we can still find camaraderie and strength despite adversity. 

Villanova Theatre's production of A Wonderful Noise runs February 9-21. Get your tickets at or call us at 610-519-7474.