The Denver Center for the Performing Arts Blog

Posts tagged Mike Donahue

Interview with ‘Georgia McBride’ team: When it comes to drag, ‘Subtlety is our enemy’

image

image

"Georgia McBride" Choreographer Will Taylor, left, and Director Mike Donahue.

By John Moore

On opening day of the Denver Center’s world-premiere comedy, we took some time with director Mike Donahue and choreographer Will Taylor to talk about staging the story of a straight Elvis impersonator in the Florida Panhandle who turns to the world of drag to support his growing family. It plays through Feb. 23 in the Ricketson Theatre.

John Moore: What did you guys think months ago, before rehearsals had even started, when you saw the video that showed 82-year-old Dan Ritchie, CEO of the largest performing-arts organization between L.A. and Chicago, undergoing a public drag transformation just to bring attention to this play? That video has had nearly 3,000 hits, and I just don’t think there are many other CEOs out there who would have done it.

Photos: Opening night of ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’

image

Choregrapher Will Taylor, left, with director Mike Donahue.

Here are some photos from last night’s world-premiere performance of Matthew Lopez’s sweet new comedy, The Legend of Georgia McBride. It’s the story of an Elvis impersonator who delves into the world of drag to help support his growing family. The play runs through Feb. 23 in the Ricketson Theatre. Call 303-893-4100 or go to www.denvercenter.org. Photos by John Moore.

And to see our complete gallery of production photos by Jennifer M. Koskinen, click here.

2014 Colorado New Play Summit will complete “Plainsong” trilogy

image

Jamie Ann Romero and Quincy Dunn-Baker read “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at the 2013 Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by Kyle Malone.

By John Moore

The Denver Center Theatre Company’s 9th annual Colorado New Play Summit will include a reading based on the novel Benediction, completing author Kent Haruf’s trilogy of rural Colorado tales, all  adapted for the stage by Eric Schmiedl.

The Colorado New Play Summit previously introduced Haruf’s “Plainsong” in 2007 and “Eventide” in 2009, both of which went on to full productions on Denver Center mainstage seasons.

Unanticipated Grace: Climbing on Stage

At the end of July 2012, the creative team for Grace, or The Art of Climbing had a design conference to discuss the usual aspects of planning, designing and assembling a production—plus one more. Lauren Feldman’s exquisite metaphorical play rests on the central idea of climbing one’s way out of a deep depression. That’s climbing as in rock climbing. Our protagonist Emm has suffered two major losses in as many days. This double whammy has knocked her out. The play is about climbing out of that pit and into the light— literally and figuratively. How to put this event on a stage, let alone the stage of a theatre in the round such as The Space?

Among the artists assembled to figure this out were the playwright, Lauren Feldman (LF), director Mike Donahue (MD), scenic designer Dane Laffrey (DL), Director of Production Ed Lapine (EL) and a less predictable but in this case pivotal person: climbing consultant Kynan Waggoner (KW).

Feldman, who is a climber, contributed this to the conversation: “We’re all journeying in our way in our lives and we are supported by all of our loved ones. [The play] is a visual and physical manifestation of a solo sport with partners. Even though it’s the story of one person in this group of seven, I feel it’s part of the fabric—seeing how everyone is supporting each other and letting each other down, and failing each other and then apologizing. Seeing an actor climbing and another belaying [is] seeing that literalized.”

Below is part of the exchange at the July meeting plus some updated comments from designer Laffrey as plans for the production took more concrete shape.

 

Mike Donahue, directorMD: There is a lot of rock climbing in the show. The big question: how literal is the climbing? The language is Shakespearean, in that [Emm] tells you a lot of what you’re meant to see and where you are. We don’t always need to show that, we don’t need a fully realized climbing gym onstage. But it’s also an athletic, muscular piece of theatre about the body going through something real, and we need to create an evocative space where all of that physical work can actually happen.

Rock climbing is a solo sport with partners—the way you tackle yourself and work with others. The cast needs to understand the climbing: the kind of movements required, the way your body moves, the grace of it. It takes real work and that work wants to be somehow real in the show. It’s not about hiding the strings or creating an illusion.

Kynan will need to be an active part of the process, collaborating on the design and structures we must have; and we will have to train as a company throughout rehearsals.

 

KW: I see it more as about the emotions brought out via climbing than the climbing itself. The main focus needs to be about what’s happening internally.

 

Lauren Feldman, playwright

LF: The muscularity and effort are more important than the technicality of the climbing. We’ll respond to seeing someone work hard, not to whether they’re extraordinary climbers. The other side of that would be finding physical moments of grace or beauty that are theatrical… Climbing is about the poetry or the beauty of something, the opportunities to create art out of that.

 

MD: The Space is perfect for us because it offers both intimacy and verticality—we can really get up high in that theatre—and she will still feel close to us. But the fundamental spatial relationship in climbing is you against a flat surface, so how do you open that up in the round so everyone can see the body through the wall? Climbing requires a structure to climb on. How do you create a structure substantial enough to allow the actors to go up high in the space, but minimal enough to not block the audience from being able to see them? That is the real challenge of the design.

There’s an idea in the play that everything is porous, that nothing is totally solid, not the walls, the ground or the climbing. It’s about the body in free-fall. This somehow feels key.

 

EL: What would you say drives a person to rock climb?

  

Kynon Waggoner, Climbing ConsultantKW: My first experience was in a gym. Something clicked with climbing physically first, emotionally as well to some degree, but I knew I wanted to do this. For me it’s always been about getting to an emotional state facilitated by a physical response. 

In climbing there is kind of an unwritten code of ethics. You want to walk up to something and say I’m going to climb this right now, not knowing the grade, what’s up there. Some climbers excel in very choreographed routines of climbing, from their breathing to their hand placements. I never identified with that, and there are people who don’t like the outside climbing that I do. 

 

LF: There’s something that gets triggered in the human brain when you are physically ascending something. You have this incredibly literal tracking of what you’ve just accomplished. It’s very specific. There’s something lovely about the fact that the challenge is equally internal and external; it’s in your head, and also it’s between you and that hold.

The other lovely thing is that as the climber, you have a belayer who is supporting you by holding your rope and offering feedback. Once you have that support, you can feel free to explore and move and take risks. Some folks discover that their bodies really take to the movement and rhythm of climbing.

 

Scenic designer Laffrey, who mostly listened in silence, contributed these final words after the fact:

Dane Laffrey, Scenic DesignerWe never discussed the idea of a climbing wall, even a transparent one. We needed something kinetic, but also visible from all sides of the hexagonal space. We ended up with something where we can start with a completely empty stage, then a person and then stuff falling into the space: a pair of climbing shoes, small objects, all important to creating that world, as opposed to having any kind of construction in the space.

The only scenic elements on which the climbing takes place [in the theatre] are five 40-foot steel I-beams, woven together, that stack on top of each other and can move independently to the full height of the space. They exist along axes—three along one axis, two along another—because vertical climbing is really only one part of the sport. There is also horizontal climbing, bouldering as it’s called, and there is a lot of this sideways action in Grace.

The look and feel of a real gym is not particularly well matched with the piece. A gym is hot, lots of people and stuff everywhere; the sound is dull; it’s stuffy and smelly. If there is any iconography about rock climbing, it is something that transcends the environment. It’s the language of the body. The way it moves. Like dance. That visual vocabulary.

So we want to provide something simple and sparse, where the body can accomplish the many scenarios of the climbing task, where the physical can evolve and devolve and shift and create an illusion of climbing. But it’s always more interesting if the structure on which it happens does not look like something you can trust. That idea of porousness. Not only do the pieces move around Emm, but she can move on and with the pieces. Even the most basic ways in which we understand space hopefully will be shifted slightly in our interpretation of it.

We’re trying to do the climbing very faithfully, using harnesses and belays where appropriate. Audiences will see the action from different angles. They’ll see backs, they’ll see fronts. Climbing is rigorous. What surprised me is that it is not so much goal-oriented as in climbing to the top of something. It’s a much bigger thing, much more cerebral. It’s about mastery.

Grace, or The Art of Climbing plays Denver’s Space Theatre January 18-February 17, 2012. Tickets: 303.893.4100

 

Day 2: Colorado New Play Summit

The second day of the COLORADO NEW PLAY SUMMIT had our 100 artistic team members actively engaged in five hours of rehearsal. The casts and crews of Lisa Loomer’s HOMEFREE and Richard Dresser’s THE HAND OF GOD had an “on stage” rehearsal when they worked in The Jones and The Ricketson theatres respectively.

Meanwhile, the casts and crews of Jeffrey Haddow and Neal Hampton’s SENSE & SENSIBILITY THE MUSICAL, MIchael Mitnick’s ED, DOWNLOADED and Lauren Feldman’s GRACE, OR THE ART OF CLIMBING were rehearsing in our cleverly named (and painted) Yellow, Purple and Orange rehearsal studios.

But you might be wondering what happens on these days. While directors SAM BUNTROCK (Ed, Downloaded), MIKE DONAHUE (GRACE…), PAM MACKINNON (The Hand of God), MARCIA MILGROM DODGE (Sense & Sensibility) and JUSTIN ZSEBE (Homefree) work with the actors on bring the script to life with tone, inflection, dialect, etc., the playwright spends a lot of time listening, gauging and refining.

Then lines are cut, dialogue is added, scripts are changed, copies are made and the whole process begins again tomorrow in preparation for the weekend’s public readings.

And then there’s tonight - a time for the participants to see plays that went through this same process last year and are now being fully produced by our DENVER CENTER THEATRE COMPANY: THE WHALE by Samuel D. Hunter and TWO THINGS YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT AT DINNER by Lisa Loomer.

Then there’s a little food and drink to connect, refresh, reminisce and anticipate what the coming days will bring. 

Kent Thompson opens Colorado New Play Summit

Kent Thompson welcomes participants in the COLORADO NEW PLAY SUMMITAnd we’re off! More than 100 playwrights, directors, dramaturgs, actors, stage managers and other key staff gathered this morning to kick off the DENVER CENTER THEATRE COMPANY's seventh COLORADO NEW PLAY SUMMIT.

Five readings of new works in development, plus two full productions of new plays and the ever-popular Playwrights’ Slam will be experienced by theatre industry representatives from across the nation, local and national press, and local theatre patrons. 

Participants gather to kick off the COLORADO NEW PLAY SUMMITThe casts are assembled and the work has started on the second floor of our Newman Center. Here’s what you can expect coming up Feb 10-12:

SENSE & SENSIBILITY
THE MUSICAL
Based in the novel by Jane Austen
Book and Lyrics by Jeffrey Haddow     Music by Neal Hampton
Directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Music Direction by Ethyl Will 

ED, DOWNLOADED
by Michael MItnick
Directed by Sam Buntrock
Dramaturgy by Douglas Langworthy
Multimedia Design by Charlie I. Miller 

THE HAND OF GOD
by Richard Dresser
Directed by Pam MacKinnon

HOMEFREE
by Lisa G. Loomer
Directed by Justin Zsebe
Dramaturgy by Liz Engelman

GRACE, OR THE ART OF CLIMBING
by Lauren Feldman
Directed by Mike Donahue
Dramaturgy by Liz Frankel 

Stay tuned for a daily recap of our work in development.