Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Wilder "Words to Live By"

Our upcoming 'Skin of Our Teeth' is a wild blend of prehistoric, Biblical, and mid-century American dynamics. A show you have to see to believe, the crazy adventure follows a 5,000 year old family as they navigate apocalyptic and every-day disasters. For more information visit rosebudtheatre.com

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A Blog Within a Blog Within a ... WHAT?

This week on the blog we’ll attempt what no-one in their right mind would: a satire on the satirical masterpiece, 'The Skin of Our Teeth'. The play plays with a play within a play (Got that? If not, click here). So we'll do our best with a blog within a blog...

Let us know if you find your way out of this. 

  • Krista Marushy: the person who came up with this stupid idea
  • Morris Ertman: Artistic Director (Rosebud), Regular Director (The Skin of Our Teeth)
Note: all interview questions are real. Artistic liberties have not been taken with Rosebud’s Artistic Director, just liberties with art, in general.


*ACT 1: Home*
A woman sits, distractedly, before a computer. The first words appear on the screen: INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR THE BLOG. A rewrite looms ominously.

KRISTA: I’m sitting here in my living room, pleased to take you on the artistic journey into this blog process.

Calgary, AB.

This morning was daylight savings, and my children were appropriately unreasonable. In the news, many dispiriting things, mostly coming from the country south of our borders. There is reportedly a wall of ignorance moving northward, but disruptions within our own country’s communications indicate the wall may be surrounding us more closely than first suspected. For further information, see your daily papers, or grossly inaccurate social media feeds.

But let's settle into something a little more comfortable, as in, the actual interview.

She types more words into an e-mail then fires it off to Morris Ertman, Artistic Director, Rosebud Theatre.

KRISTA: I wonder if he’ll hate this idea.

Time passes. Slowly. Later that day...

KRISTA: 6 PM and he hasn’t responded yet! He almost certainly hates the idea. Direct questions would probably be best, but a telemarketer once told me a clear question is the most dangerous thing and should absolutely be avoided at all costs. Oh why oh why can’t anyone respond in a timely manner on their only day off at dinner time?

Every e-mail it’s the same ole thing: will they respond, or won’t they? Will they use words, attachments, emojis? Emojis, by the way, are the only sure way to tell what's really being said and if the Garden of Eden had more emojis in front of that treewe’d all be in a better place.
Of course Morris is extraordinarily intuitive so there really shouldn’t be a problem. Artistic too. He’s been running that Rosebud for so many years, it’s a wonder the theatre’s still standing. But since they’ve rattled along for some time now – my advice is not to inquire why or whither but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate – that’s my philosophy. (Or rather, a direct quote from The Skin of Our Teeth.)

Oh, look! The e-mail has arrived and all is right with the world.

*ACT 2: The Interwebs*
Krista opens the e-mail and transcribes Morris’s answers into the appropriate places. A blog appears on your screen:

Morris, why on earth would you choose this story at this time? Please keep your answers direct as there is too much artistic freewheeling going on as is. 
Because someone has to do this play in this time! It's all about the state of the world we live in right now - climate change, refugees, what is good in us, how can we survive? What is our place in the Cosmos? It was written in the 1940's, as if it were written for today! And I love Thornton Wilder. And the 1st Act is all about refugees finding safety in an everyday suburban home because it is so cold outside. What are we reading about in the news? Refugees crossing the border from the U.S. to Manitoba, losing limbs because of frostbite and a small Manitoba town of generous people bing overwhelmed by the steady stream of people seeing refuge... Short enough for you? It is a play about the end of the world, you know. 
What’s a question within a question that you have about the play?  
Why is a man's love for his son manifested only in expectation? 

The profundity of Morris’s answer reveals a doorwary. They open it and stand in front of the dawn of creation. The first moonlight blazes like the inaugural launch of a virginal ship. 

 Morris: Always present, some days appearing round, other days a crescent. And never the same for everyone on the planet.
: Do you have any snacks, and if so, what would they be?
              Morris: Nuts and mango juice.
              Krista: Do you think we’re meant to sleep under that light?
              Morris: We’re all meant to sleep under that same light.

They close the door.
Some would call this show Metatheatrical. First of all, what is that, and second of all, does it get confusing?
Meta Epic! It’s an epic show about a family spanning thousands of years surviving huge threats to its existence both outside and inside. [Meta = self-referential: the characters in the play are actors putting on a play and they sometimes acknowledge that.] And surprisingly, it doesn’t get confusing. It’s as if Thornton Wilder touched genius and heart all at the same time. It’s so approachable as a story. We know these people. We know their struggles and their triumphs.
What IS confusing about this play?
At the moment, nothing. But that could all change in today’s rehearsal.
What are some of your favorite lines from the script? 
   Mr. Antrobus: Broken-down camel of a pig’s snout, open this door!
   Mrs. Antrobus: God be praised! It’s your father! 
"Pass up your chairs, everybody. Save the human race."
Mrs. Antrobus: I have a message to throw into the ocean… It’s a bottle. And in the bottle’s a letter. And in the letter is written all the things that a woman knows. It’s never been told to any man and it’s never been told to any woman, and if it finds its destination, a new time will come. We’re not what books and plays say we are. We’re not in the movies and we’re not on the radio. We’re not what you’re all told and what you think we are: We’re ourselves. And if any man find one of us he’ll learn why the whole universe was set in motion.
When do you think humanity is most aware of the passing of time?
When we come to an actual understanding that this life is finite. This world is finite.
What’s the best reason to see this play right now, other than it’s profound hilarity and it’s hilarious profundity?  
It’ll make everyone feel again. It will give hope to live and love despite all the turmoil we face in the world. It’s that powerful. It chokes me up just writing this, because I’m thinking about the end of the play and the fact that it feels like beginning again is actually possible.
Discuss the difference between allusion and illusion, and if that matters to this play. 
Allusion is referencing something in passing in a way that gives it substance in the subconscious. An illusion is a trick of the perception. This play is a pastiche of ideas and people and places and literature and imagery that live in our collective conscience. It’s as if they’ve bubbled to the surface – to the lips of characters in the play that have survived thousands of years. Imagine being 400 years old. Imagine all of the reference to life one would contain at that age. All of the allusions that would be part of your life, all of the most important impressions and experiences. They’d be part of your vocabulary. Now multiply that by thousands of years, and what kind of language would one have to draw upon? It’s a staggering idea. And it’s what we as a collection of human beings possess because of literature, oral tradition, painting, theatre, art, movies, architecture, science, the experience of millions of people staring up into the heavens, standing on bluffs looking across prairie grass or ocean vistas, BIG LIFE so precious it can’t help but be noted in some way.

*ACT 3: Infinity & Beyond*
Krista, distracted, imagines Morris interviews her.

Morris: How many times have you read the script, Kris?
Krista: At least once. Twice. I’m gonna go with 4.
Morris: Did this play get your motor running?
Krista: I always like a play with big ideas that you can’t quite “get” until it’s in front of you. It’s very rare to read a play that can’t be done for another medium… i.e., made into a movie. This is a PLAY. Capital P. Hardly anyone does that, but I think it’s what Thornton Wilder did best. He knows what theatre is capable of.
Morris: If you were to ask me more questions, what would they be?
K: Do you have any dialogue swirling around in your head that
you’re just waiting to put into a play someday?
M: An old man in a Massey-Ferguson cap standing on a prairie bluff – the grass around him rippled by the wind, his long white hair blowing, his nose hairs rippling like the grass with every intake of breath.
            K: That’s not dialogue.
            M: It’s more a story idea than dialogue.
            K: Images mostly.
            M: There’s just a lot of swirling.
            K: Do you ever imagine interviewing me?

Morris imagines a blog with questions for Krista.

It goes on and on, like this forever. Just go see the show. It's way better than this. Trust me. 

'The Skin of Our Teeth' March 31 - June 3. www.rosebudtheatre.com

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Inside 'The Skin of Our Teeth'

Opening our 2017 season is Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, which the playwright himself called “The most ambitious project I have ever approached.”

The original Broadway poster for The Skin of Our Teeth, 1942.
Relishing in staging the seemingly absurd and impossible, the play centers on an outwardly normal suburban family from the fictional town of Excelsior, New Jersey. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the world of the Antrobus family is anything but normal: dinosaurs prowl through the living room, characters address the audience, backstage crew enter and speak, and the set is disintegrating. This “so-called” New Jersey is merely the starting point for navigating 5,000 years of family antics and apocalyptic disasters. Through an Ice Age, Flood, and World War, the play’s title (Job 19:20  I am escaped with the skin of my teeth) makes the point clear: no matter how narrow the escape, the human race survives.

Simultaneously taking place in contemporary and prehistoric times, the set-up can sound confusing until considering another “modern stone-age family”. The Flintstones (1960’s) was a clear cave-man take on the popular family sitcom The Honeymooners (1950’s). Though the cartoon was both an absurd and satirical social commentary, it only takes the intro for The Flintstones to make sense. The Skin of Our Teeth invites audiences into a similar situation: Biblical archetypes mix with mid-century American dynamics to create something absurdly silly and still profoundly compelling. Instead of cartoons, the zaniness is theatre itself. The characters in The Skin of Our Teeth are actors putting up ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’, and regularly step out of character to complain about their roles or whenever the play feels particularly incomprehensible. With innocent and childlike disruptiveness, Wilder explodes ideas and characters not strictly confined to literal time. With little control over where we’ve been, where we’re going, or what might happen to us along the way, the audience (like humanity) is meant to hang on for the ride and get through it together.

Two of the play's famous leading ladies: (Left) Vivien Leigh in a 1946 production at the Piccadilly Theatre. (Right) Tallulah Bankhead originated Sabina on Broadway in 1942. Photo copyright First Night Vintage.

 When The Skin of Our Teeth premiered at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre on October 15, 1942, it received a notoriously mixed reaction (legend tells of patrons racing from the theatre at first intermission). At its New York premiere a month later, it received significantly warmer reception. In 1943, it won the Pulitzer Prize. Breaking nearly every established theatrical convention, the epic comedy-drama rightfully earned its place as the most unorthodox of classic American comedies and the assertion that “no other American play has ever come anywhere near it.” (James Woolcott, theatre critic).

Wilder had firmly established his literary reputation as a novelist with his immensely popular, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), which won his first Pulitzer Prize. In the 30’s, he began writing plays for Broadway and utilizing unusual structures and techniques. Our Town (1938), his best-known and most frequently performed work, broke ground with its bare stage setting and time navigating narrator. Earning Wilder his second Pulitzer Prize, it also demonstrates his long-standing fascination with the effects of the passage of time on individuals and societies. That preoccupation also surfaces in The Skin of Our Teeth, which emerged onto stages just as America (and Wilder himself) entered World War II. He later reflected that “It was written on the eve of our entrance into the war and under strong emotion, and I think it mostly comes alive under conditions of crisis.”

He was writing it as the world was descending into chaos. I think everybody was wondering: “Will we get through this? And if we do, what then? Will we learn anything? Will we grow or change or do it better the next time?"... The characters are continually hitting rock bottom and then finding a way – and it’s usually with the help of other people – to have the hope to move forward, despite the catastrophic situation that is facing them in that immediate moment. 
- Arin Arbus 

 In later years Wilder was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and his  novel, The Eighth Day (1967), earned the National Book Award. In 1975, Wilder died in his sleep in Hamden Connecticut, where he lived with his sister.

Three time Pulitzer Prize winning novelist & playwright, Thornton Wilder.

One of the toughest and most complicated minds in American Theatre, Wilder’s plays have so affected theatre tradition that few serious dramatists ignore them. Their singular humanity and artistic vision continue to resonate well beyond his time.

Any play with three apocalypses, talking dinosaurs, and characters who refuse to say their lines is clearly aiming high. But when that play has a housemaid tell us in her opening speech that it will address all “the troubles the human race has gone through,” it may seem destined for ambitious failure. The Skin of Our Teeth, however, succeeds. A vast, symbolic play about all of humanity, Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece is also a witty, compassionate look at the struggles of a single family. Sure, the Antrobus clan (whose name derives from the Greek for humanity) may weather the calamities of ice ages, floods, and wars, but they also face the struggle of raising children, going to work, and trying to stay faithful for five thousand years. With staggering imagination, Wilder reminds us that the destruction and rebirth on his stage take their shape from the cycle of our own lives. It’s no accident that Sabina, the saucy housemaid who directly addresses us with her analysis of the play, closes by insisting, “We have to go on for ages and ages yet.” Onstage or off, she’s telling us, we’re all enduing the same old thing. 
- Mark Blankenship 
Notes on the End of the World, The Thornton Wilder Society

Join us at the end of this month as we attempt to stage the survival of the entire human race. It's a rare and exciting opportunity to catch 'The Skin of Our Teeth', at Rosebud Theatre, March 31 - June 3. For tickets and further information, visit rosebudtheatre.com