Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Meet the Director:
New York guest theatre artist Donnie Mather
What To Expect:
Hope College cast members describe the world of bobrauschenbergamerica
Posted by Donnie Mather at 10:01 PM
Thursday, February 21, 2013
From Theo Zucker (Bob's Mom):
It is hard to believe that this is my last blog entry for bobrauschenbergamerica. Though we have only been working on this production for a month, I have gone through such a transformation in this short time. This four week journey has taught me more than I ever knew there was to learn about theatre, art, and humanity. I am more grateful than I can say to Donnie Mather, my cast and crew mates, Charles Mee, and Bob Rauschenberg. All have helped me learn to appreciate art in all its forms and to respect others’ views of the world, regardless of my opinions or tastes.
For four weeks, I have been in a state of bliss. Viewpoints training, choreographing the show, and getting to know my character deeply have left me with a feeling of unadulterated joy. I have walked with an extra spring in my step, no matter how tired I have been. I am the happiest I have been since coming to college. Miraculously, I feel that I am finally finding a home here. I owe that to Bob.
My only regret for this play is that we will not be able to share it with more people. I know that this production is important in ways none of us can understand. It has helped each of us heal differently and has brought us all true, pure happiness.
There is something magical about bobrauschenbergamerica. It speaks to the human in all of us and shows us that, while we are indeed all part of a larger picture, each individual is also vital to the whole. Each person loves and hurts and dreams. This production does the impossible. It shows us un-expressible emotions. It helps us feel indescribable feelings.
I cannot describe how humbled I am to be included in this beautiful experience. I hope that everyone who sees this production is, in some way, healed and touched by it as we are with each performance. As Carl so wonderfully says: "I don't feel shame in my joy."
From Mollie Murk (Phil's Girl):
The final leg of our run has arrived. Reflecting back on this experience awakens a full range of emotions from sheer joy to sorrow that it will soon come to a close. I have grown so much from being a part of bob in so many ways, but the one that stands out the most to me is my confidence in myself, my castmates, this play, and the power of theatre as a whole.
I think that part of being human is struggling with self-confidence. Through bob, I have found a new faith in myself that I never had before. It could have something to do with the fact that I am parading around the stage in a swimsuit for the whole show, but I really think it comes from the support I have had from Donnie and the cast since we started rehearsals. The first day I had to wear my swimsuit, I was terrified. Our costume designer did a fantastic job of finding a flattering, comfortable, and modest suit that allowed for a lot of movement, but it didn't take away from the idea of wearing very little clothing in front of the whole cast, crew, and eventually the audience. However, as I finished my first scene, I realized that I had found a place where I didn't have to be self-conscious anymore. Phil's Girl's ability to wear a swimsuit reminded me of the free spirit in all of us, and helped me find that in myself.
Another thing that has helped my confidence grow is the biggest change we have encountered this week: the audience. They are the vital piece of the puzzle that was missing. We have gotten rave reviews and some incredibly interesting comments in talkbacks, which truly mean the world to us with such a bold play. Each time someone has complimented bob or explained something in the play that touched them, I have come to understand that it is a beautiful thing to take a risk. When I look at my fellow actors onstage, I can't help but feel immensely proud of them for the distance we all have come since being cast in bob. I think I speak for the whole cast when I say that as a unit and as individuals, we have been transformed. I look at theatre now as a method to reach out to people, and tell stories that need to be told. When I reflect on my time spent with bob, I can't help but think of some of Allen's words from the play itself:
"What we did: we thought it was, at that point, urgently necessary to do that. But I don't know why that is. In any case, it all happened and it's very hard to see how it could have gone otherwise. But the place itself was fascinating, especially for a scientist engaged in the work...It was dangerous...it seemed very responsible, it demanded all our attention, and we worried a great deal about what was happening ...But, meanwhile, it was a beautiful place."
Allen is referring to his work as a scientist, but I believe his words apply to our work as actors. We did worry about how people would receive the show, but it was a piece that absolutely need to be done. All of our hard work paid off, and we can admire the ways it will touch people in the audience. The little world we created is a beautiful place. I now have confidence that this play has the power to change people, because I know it truly has changed me for the better. Thank you for your support in this outstanding adventure.
From John Haga (Phil):
I’m just going to start with WOW that one word seems to describe most of my feelings for this play and this experience. This has been amazing pulling all of this together in the short period we had. Working with Donnie and all of my fellow cast and crew has been such a journey we have had our ups and downs but we all pulled through and we did it together. The sense of community that has been created from this play is like nothing I have ever experienced before. The way all the different parts and nuances come together to form this play is amazing, you can look at all the parts individually and say there is no way that would work, but then you put them all together and you have something that is so beautiful and wonderful. I have to say this is a once in a life time experience and I regret that it has to end. “There is an end to everything, good things as well” -Geoffrey Chaucer
I really want to participate in this final blog, but I find that I am at a loss for words. “Bob” has left me speechless. Our audiences have left me speechless. We have had the blessing and privilege to chat with audience members at a talkback after each of our performances. The talkbacks are led by Hope faculty members, but they always ask the to join them on stage. It’s interesting – we, the cast, spend an hour and a half onstage showing this world of our creation to groups of friends and strangers, and then we sit there, and contemplate together. What I am excited about is that we have people who join us in contemplation. Our work is inspiring thought; and not only regurgitation of the cast’s ideas, or Donnie’s ideas, but brand new, exhilarating, amazing original interpretations that blow my own interpretations out of the water! This sharing of ideas completes the circle for me. I have ideas, I show them, and in return I get ideas back. This is a genuinely beautiful thing, and has been a gift of this entire process. Three more shows. I can’t wait to see where we end up.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Meet the Director:
New York guest theatre artist Donnie Mather
What To Expect:
Hope College cast members describe the world of bobrauschenbergamerica
Thursday, February 14, 2013
From Theodora Zucker (Bob's Mom):
The week leading up to opening night is best described as "a beautiful chaos." Tech takes over our lives, as do lines, blocking, cues, etc. We have no free time or homework time. And yet, every night, we eagerly file into the theatre, get into costume, and take our places backstage. The technicians sit down in their booth or climb up to their positions at the spotlights. We walk onto the stage, and the show begins - night after night. This might seem tiresome and repetitious, but we love every minute of it, for we have an indescribable, wonderful passion for theatre.
Every night, I am thoroughly amazed by my cast members' zeal, talent, and creativity. I am so absolutely grateful to be a part of this cast and to have this opportunity to explore the meaning of theatre, art, and patriotism.
Though bobrauschenbergamerica seems, at first, like a random series of events, it becomes clear upon careful viewing that the production is actually quite logical. This "hidden logic" has made me question theatre in many ways. It has brought to my attention the randomness (and interconnectedness) of life and has helped me discover that glory of things I never knew to be glorious.
I am utterly thankful to be a part of Hope's production of bobrauschenbergamerica. I want everyone who possibly can to experience the magic of this exciting, crazy, lovely show. I have fallen more in love with theatre every minute I have spent working on this production. I cannot wait to share it with you.
From Cameron Pratt (Allen):
After many long hours of rehearsal, I think I have finally realized what this show is about. I think bobrauschenbergamerica is a show about trying to answer the difficult question about what it is to be an American. The show goes about answering this “impossible” question in a non-linear way and I think each individual audience member will take something different from it. This is because each audience member sees America just a little bit differently from the person sitting next to them. Nonetheless, all people who come to see the show will see the same exuberant, unworldly, and tear-jerking scenes! The true beauty of this production is that it begs to be interpreted personally. It asks its audience to devote themselves fully and completely. It is a great show and I am proud to be a part of it! Now all we have to do is share it with an audience!
Posted by Donnie Mather at 12:19 AM
Thursday, February 7, 2013
From Nick Richardson (Bob the Pizza Boy):
Playing Bob the Pizza Boy has been an incredible experience. While providing me with a rewarding new endeavor, the character has constantly challenged me. Playing such a dark role has made me view myself differently and even warily. While I do not claim to have much in common with the disturbed character, I have found small connections with him. Insecurity, thoughtfulness and carefulness to name a few. Even though I do not share the warped mind of the Bob the Pizza Boy, in a way, I truly am him. In a way, everyone has a little Bob in them. It’s a sobering fact but it is also liberating in that we know that we cannot be perfect. We all make mistakes. This role has a lot to teach everyone.
From Theodora Zucker (Bob's Mom):
This last week, I have felt the show really taking shape. Beginning the week with our first “stumble through” was both exciting and daunting. While it was a great accomplishment to make it through the show, it proved that we still have quite a bit of work to do. Still, I find it amazing to watch a “transition-less” show become one fluid piece of theatre.
As we have worked through the show moment-by-moment recently, it has become clear how important the first week of rehearsals was. Though we worked very little with the script, our presentations of past experiences and the introduction viewpoints training clearly laid a sound foundation for our acting. Now, as we take direction, we understand the memories and culture we are building upon and drawing from. Our bodies and minds know the world of the play, which makes it much easier to jump in and peel back the layers of Mee’s work the minute we step into the theatre.
I am constantly astounded by the depth of emotion found in Charles Mee’s work, and the ability of my cast members to detect it. What seems like a casual exchange of dialogue on the page becomes a heated tussle onstage. Particular words jump out to me as I perform monologues. Moments of pure emotion are born as the cast dances with abandon. I feel that the deceptive simplicity of the script reflects Bob Rauschenberg’s work. What at first seems like a muddled mess of cultural references and random conversations transforms onstage into a rich stew of American heritage, romance, and secrets shamelessly divulged to the audience.
Since this show began, I have been continually amazed by both the talent of my peers and the power of theatre, movement, and emotion. From the first week of viewpoints training all the way to running the show in its entirety, I have grown as an actor and learned to appreciate live theatre more deeply than ever before. I am humbled and ecstatic to be a part of this enthusiastic journey through the mind of a great American artist.
From Mollie Murk (Phil's Girl):
Well, after a week of training and two weeks of rehearsal, we finally finished blocking the entire show. I use the word "finished" loosely, very loosely. We may have completed transferring the script to the stage, but as I have learned this week, our work is nowhere near done. I don't think we ever will be done creating new moments and bringing new ideas to life in this play.
Nonetheless, this week we reached the end of the script for the first time onstage. In other plays I have been in, this is the part of the rehearsal process where we run the entire show over and over. While I'm sure that tactic would help us reach our goal of purely seamless transitions, our rehearsals this week have been invaluable. I am so grateful for the growth that has happened in the past few days as a result of reconstructing previously blocked scenes. When we blocked the last scene of the play, a melancholy feeling sunk in as I let go of Phil's Girl and became Mollie Murk for my final moments onstage. It made me realize just how attached I have become to my character and our bobrauschenbergamerica world. At that point, I had no idea how much more we would discover as we continue in rehearsals. This week, I have realized that our learning will not stop, but become even more in-depth. The past couple of days, we have been working through the script moment by moment, solidifying old blocking and making new discoveries about each nano-second of the play. It is truly amazing to see what a difference even the most miniscule adjustments make. Entire scenes have been transformed just by changing the volume of one word, or adding one slight head movement.
As we approach the insanity that tech week will inevitably bring, this time to dive deeper into the script than what was seemingly possible has been beyond helpful. I hope that this detail-work will bring steady footing (both literally and figuatively) to our cast for the remainder of the production. It is unfathomable to me that at this time next week, we will be only a day away from having an audience. My eagerness for further discoveries as a cast and my curiosity about the audience members' possible reactions to our work both continue to grow day by day.
From Dylan Connor (Carl):
We're in a phase of rehearsal that's simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. Our opening is looming and time is of the essence, but it's been so wonderful to revisit each nuanced moment of the show and do very specific work on it. One of the most interesting things that's cropped up this week is the idea of blurring the lines between our characters and ourselves. When we first enter the stage, are we ourselves? Do we leave the stage as our characters? What other moments in the show do we allow ourselves to come through more than one normally would? I've loved playing with this concept, and it's made me, if possible, even more emotionally attached to every wonderfully outlandish aspect of the play. As the details are coming gradually together, one element is clearly missing: an audience. They (you!) will play such an integral role, and it's impossible to know exactly what that means until it happens. I'm so pleased we have a few more days of re-working and fine-tuning, but I eagerly anticipate completing the jigsaw puzzle with the final piece, audience interaction. At this point, I honestly have no clue how audiences will even react, but if they connect with this piece in just a fraction of the way our ensemble has... Well, as my dear friend Carl says, "Art lets us practice freedom and helps us know what it is to be free, and so what it is to be human."
From Jesse Swatling-Holcomb (Wilson): It has been said that to sculpt a horse out of marble, you start with a big block of marble and carve away everything that doesn’t look like a horse. When I first sat down to write tonight, I thought that was a good way to look at week three of “bob” rehearsals. We finished blocking the show. We had a stumble through. In many ways we have seen the first glimpses of our end product and now we simply need to refine, hone, and carve until we find out how to get there.
The living collage that is “bobrauschenbergamerica” cannot be summed up in something as simple as a horse, and certainly cannot be thought of as a carving in marble. Our good friend “bob” is more like a shape that vaguely resembles, maybe for an instant, a horse created in swirling light and shadows and reflected to an audience with funhouse mirrors.
I think it is interesting how much we discuss time in this play. “All any human being can ever observe is the past,” states Allen, as the contents of the universe, the world of our play, swirl around him. It is a very interesting thought in the context of creation, isn’t it? Isn’t our piece “new”? Isn’t our piece “present”? Our cast is creating a new piece, and yet, “bobrauschenbergamerica” has already been presented by other companies on other stages and is a part of the past; and our production itself will be new each night, but only after the action has settled will the living, breathing instants of the play become something with a purpose.
“Bob” is quite a bit like life on stage. As an audience member, you see your life, as well as the bits of overflow from other lives you may or may not understand. Or that you may think you understand. So, our end result, as well as being the story we tell, will also be the story each audience member perceives. In that way, “bob” is like a beautiful Rorschach test of represented moments, and we the actors are no longer sculptors, we are the marble to be shaped to the audience’s idea of a horse.
As Carl says, “We don’t often get to do a show like this.”
Posted by Donnie Mather at 6:35 AM
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Something Red, White, & Blue"
This variation on the old adage about weddings sprang to mind as we endeavored to (re)produce this unique contemporary play here at Hope College. "bobrauschenbergamerica" is a broad comedy that takes its name from Robert Rauschenberg, the 20th century visual artist who specialized in collage work utilizing found objects and materials. He famously created a hybrid of painting and sculpture which he called Combines. In "bobrauschenbergamerica", playwright Charles Mee sets out to write a play as if Rauschenberg were the playwright. In so doing, Mee assembles disparate styles, original and existing texts, music, and dance to create his own theatrical collage. The unconventional journey provides a roller coaster ride for the senses. Rather than a direct biographical portrait, the resulting play reflects America and the American spirit which is as diverse and beautiful as collage itself.
The play draws from some very familiar forms including vaudeville, variety shows, and even sketch comedy. Originally written for and in collaboration with SITI Company led by director Anne Bogart, the play premiered in the Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville in 2001. Their significant contributions in that original collaboration made a lasting impact on the very DNA of the piece. Additionally, the play incorporates our own collective notions of America including our most nostalgic and idealized versions. On my own part, this has conjured many humble memories of my family playing baseball in the front yard, playing checkers with my dad, tapping along to Square Dances, or watching Laugh In and Hee Haw on television. Ultimately, the familiar stories of falling in and out of love, which are woven throughout the play, are probably the oldest element of all. Everyone shares in this universal experience and Charles Mee gives us the opportunity to find and perhaps laugh at ourselves.
The most obvious new element is that of our exciting young ensemble here at Hope College. These fresh-faced 21st century actors bring a youthful energy to this playworld. Together as collaborators, we have have found our own interpretation and offered a new theatrical design supported by a new soundtrack. These performers have their own way of dancing and ultimately, have brought their own humanity and sense of timing to the party. Furthermore, our 2013 production finds us in a very different context too. We are now well into our second decade of this century and have just marked a new inauguration after a long and exhausting election year. Much has changed within our country in the dozen years since the play's original premiere. That production was born during a troubled 2000 election and toured in the aftermath of 9/11. While the play does not address these issues directly, the ever-complex question of what it is to be an American certainly lingers. Under our current atmosphere, we have found that these questions resonate in entirely new ways with these new voices. Indeed, it feels right presenting this exuberant show now at a college called Hope.
In the play, Charles Mee borrows freely from existing texts, Walt Whitman’s poetry, real life characters, popular song and dance along with his own original storylines and situations. The resulting collision of the old and the new, the familiar and the bizarre is inspired and borrowed from Rauschenberg's aesthetic.
Something Red, White, & Blue:
Here, I had to build upon the old adage because the play is not merely blue in tone. It is not a drama, but a brightly colored comedy that at times is as bombastic as a 4th of July parade. The driving spirit within it is that of America itself as a vast entity, ever-evolving. In the hands of Charles Mee's joyful comedy, this pluralism is something worth celebrating.
Donnie Mather directs & choreographs "bobrauschenbergamerica" at Hope College in Holland, Michigan on Feb. 15-16 and 20-23, 2013. For more information, please visit: http://bobrauschenbergamerica2013.blogspot.com/