Want to see a play, have a few drinks, and dance with cute strangers? Of course you do! Which is why you should check out the parties we're throwing at Berkeley Rep this week:
If you happen to be under 30 and a member of the LGBT community, I am hereby challenging you to come to both events. If you're up for it, send me an email at email@example.com and I'll prepare some kind of prize for you. No, seriously. I will. See you there!
Have you seen the two features about Lemony Snicket’s The Composer is Dead that came out over the weekend? Robert Hurwitt at the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed Jessica Grindstaff and Erik Sanko of Phantom Limb, who created the puppets, while Jackie Burrell at the Contra Costa Times conducted an irreverent interview with author Lemony Snicket’s stand-in, Daniel Handler.
I myself have been absolutely fascinated with the orchestra of marionettes in Lemony Snicket’s The Composer is Dead, and during tech week, I managed to catch up with Erik as well as the costume shop staff to talk about how they designed and costumed these marionettes.
The show is based on the book by the celebrated author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. At the top of the story, a composer turns up dead, and everyone in the orchestra is a suspect. But, these aren’t your everyday everyones.
“The Inspector interrogates the instruments,” says Erik, “not the musicians.” In fact, the musicians and instruments are essentially one and the same.
Erik’s marionettes are elegant human/instrument hybrids. Put simply, they’re instruments with faces, arms and hands, but Erik was careful not to “Disneyfy” them. The violins, for example, have an austere bone structure that’s not at all cartoonish. Erik created the heads and hands using Celluclay. “No one over age 8 uses it,” Erik says, laughing. “But I don’t use synthetics in my work.” The Berkeley Rep props department cast all the instruments over the summer.
While the marionettes were being made, the costume shop started working on their elaborate wardrobe. The fabric that makes up the brass section’s pinstripe suits is printed with the actual score from the show. Three different dye vats were used to create the parchment-colored clothes for the oboes. The violins wear corsets that form their body, while the ruffled fronts are the strings. “They’re my favorite,” says Kitty Muntzel, a draper in our shop. “They’re very girly.”
I asked Kitty how costuming marionettes is different from costuming actors. “Well,” she says, “you can stitch the costumes directly to the puppets!” We laugh. Another plus is that there’s hardly any tailoring and no intricate facing like functioning pockets.
One of the costume shop’s biggest considerations was the marionettes’ range of motion and where the strings are located. They also had to consider that the marionette’s bodies are fabric as well, so the costumes don’t slide over them the same way clothes slide when an actor raises his arm. Erik noted that the resistance of fabric against fabric was actually helpful when the puppeteers started working with the marionettes.
Most of the marionettes were dressed in rehearsal – after they had already been strung. So almost every morning, the costume department would arrive early to costume a section of instruments. Each section had to be unstrung, and the costumers had to dress each marionette in the quarters of their orchestra pit.
One of the biggest challenges in rehearsal was getting groups of marionettes, like all the violins, to stand up and sit down as a group. Each marionette is individually strung, so it takes an elaborate network of pulleys and expert puppeteers to make them all move the same way simultaneously while still being able to move individually.
The result, judging from the dress rehearsal I saw last week, is visually stunning. And we’re all looking forward to sharing it with you, so purchase your seats now before it’s too late!
Photo of Geoff Hoyle by kevinberne.com.
With the world premiere of Lemony Snicket’s The Composer is Dead mere days away, Lemony Snicket himself has taken the time to send you a curious dispatch in which he shares with you why theatre is important – and how you may find a more or less everlasting joy and peace.
Is theatre important to you? Make a gift to Berkeley Rep today.
If you've attended any number of theatrical events, you've probably seen this sign at one time or another:
"In this performance, the roles normally played by [person 1] will be played by [person 2]."
Now, sometimes, that's a real bummer -- you might have come to a show specifically to see person 1, for example -- but you should know that sending on an understudy is never something done lightly. Sending on an understudy is a Big Deal. And that's why I want to tell you a little bit about the last time that sign appeared on Berkeley Rep's stages -- partially to give you some insight into what's might be going on backstage while you're reading that notice, and partially to give a round of applause to some serious superstars who rarely get the limelight.
In one of the very last weeks of Compulsion, you might have seen that understudy sign in the lobby. Tuesday night, about 90 minutes before the first show of the week, puppeteer Emily DeCola recieved a phone call. There was a family emergency, and she needed to get home. This could have been a major problem -- we cast a full contingent of understudy actors for each show, but we don't shadow-cast the backstage crew or the puppeteers. We were about to be one man down for three days.
Rehearsals are underway, and Berkeley Rep's been overrun with marionettes. I had a chance to talk with the puppeteers for our upcoming production of Lemony Snicket's the Composer is Dead. I'm no expert on these things, so it was fascinating to hear them talk about their field. Here are some of the fun and interesting things I learned...
Marionettes have existed since ancient times. Of all puppetry fields, it’s the one that is fading most rapidly – not because audiences don’t love marionettes, but because they are the most difficult to work with. They demand specially designed sets, special lighting, and they are themselves complex to design and manipulate. Marionettes, which can have up to 20 strings, blend art, engineering and manipulation in a unique way.
Jessica Grindstaff and Erik Sanko of Phantom Limb (shown in this photo) both have art backgrounds, and they believe that marionettes are the most magical of all puppetry fields. As marionettes are not physically attached to the body of the puppeteer, they can appear to be fully functioning independent beings. Notes Erik, “Audiences are enthralled.”
Excitement is building up around here at Berkeley Rep as rehearsals start in earnest for Lemony Snicket’s The Composer is Dead. Yep, by the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events. In fact, we could think of no other person than the author himself to introduce this show perfect for the whole family:
“Once Berkeley Rep had a long and proud tradition of presenting some of the most exciting and engaging theater in the land, and Phantom Limb had a reputation as an emerging and dynamic force in the world of puppetry and design. I am sad to report that this new production brings these traditions and reputations to sorry ends. The Composer is Dead began its life as a composition for narrator and orchestra, written in collaboration with living composer Nathaniel Stookey and, to our surprise and horror, performed all over the world by various symphony orchestras who lived to regret it. One would have thought that would be the end of it, but Berkeley Rep, in a fit of madness for which the East Bay is well-known, has revived and reinvented this work for audiences of all ages, as all ages will be equally depressed over this sorry spectacle. Please join me in the cheap seats of Berkeley Rep’s crowded and crumbling theatre, so that together we, the audience viewing this sorry spectacle, might cry out the only thing that might save us: ‘Fire!’” –Lemony Snicket
Photo of Geoff Hoyle as the Inspector by kevinberne.com.
...it's not just a hometown thing.
This is Danny Rahim, one of the actors in The Great Game: Afghanistan. One of my favorite things about this cast has been how eager they've been to absorb local culture -- they've made a point each day of going out to experience the best that the Bay Area has to offer (you have to admit, our best is pretty darn amazing).
As a result, they've fallen completely in love. Last week, when the house managers were announcing the World Series' score before the start of the show and end of intermission, there were a few cast members backstage, whooping and clapping along with all of you out front.
So, Monday -- the theatre's dark day -- the company went over to San Francisco to sit in a sports bar, and cheer for the home team. And yesterday, sure enough, a group of them BARTed back under the Bay to soak up the celebration. Last night, Danny -- and Tom McKay -- came up to the production office to show off their new hats. New hats with one very special addition, so appropriate, I thought it was just a lucky buy:
I think we just turned these Brits into baseball fans.
Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.
It’s still a buyer’s market! Yesterday, Berkeley Rep announced the purchase of a 62,000-square-foot building at 999 Harrison Street in West Berkeley, which will house our artisans and administrators under one roof for the first time in decades—while cutting costs and supporting the local economy, to boot.
Of course, all performances will continue at the Roda Theatre and the Thrust Theatre—and the extra space means new amenities for our audiences in the future.
We’re thrilled that our offices and shops will be under one roof, instead of in five different locations in two cities. Our employees are coming back to Berkeley to a spacious, attractive new campus in West Berkeley, the city’s home for light manufacturing. And we’re owning instead of renting office and shop space, and gaining 50% more space while paying 50% less money. Score!