Peter and the Starcatcher: 8 Fun Facts

23899861173_2e884ef157_k

Faith Sandberg (Molly Aster), Steve Pacek (Boy/Peter), Nathaniel Stahlke (Prentiss) and Garrett T. Houston (Ted) in The Rep’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher. Just 12 actors play more than 100 characters onstage. Photo by Stephen B. Thornton.

We are in the middle of our run of Peter and the Starcatcher and to highlight some of the history and interesting trivia about the Peter Pan story, we thought it would be fun to share eight fun facts that you maybe didn’t know!

Here they are:

  1. One of the reasons that adult women played the role of Peter Pan in the first half of the 20th century was to avoid British child labor laws that prevented child actors from working on stage after 9 pm.
  2. Aerial effects company Flying by Foy earned its international reputation based on the flying effects it created for stage versions of Peter Pan, beginning in 1950.
  3. In stage versions of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell is often created only by a spotlight and the sound of bells.
  4. In Peter and the Starcatcher, 12 actors play more than  100 roles onstage.
  5. Jungian psychologists refer to the “Peter Pan Syndrome,” in which an adult male’s  mental maturity seems to be stalled in adolescence as Puer aeternus, which is Latin for “eternal boy.”
  6. In the 1978 dark comedy ‘dentity Crisis by Christopher Durang, the character of Jane delivers a monologue about attending an absurd, accident-prone production of Peter Pan in which the actress playing Peter Pan accuses the children in the audience of not clapping hard enough and, therefore, killing Tinker Bell.
  7. As Smee, Borle featured a tattoo on his left arm that is the Mandalorian crest from the Star Wars universe, which is the same symbol featured on bounty hunter Boba Fett’s armor in the Star Wars films.

Information compiled by Dramaturg Robert Neblett.

Read more about Peter and the Starcatcher in our Study Guide here.

Tickets to Peter and the Starcatcher are on sale NOW! Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. And it’s your lucky day– we’ve added two additional Tuesday night performances on Feb. 2 and 9!

 

Little Mermaid Monday: 8 Fun Facts

Happy Little Mermaid Monday!

We are in the fourth week of our blog series Little Mermaid Monday highlighting all-things The Little Mermaid. This week, we’re sharing a few facts you may not have known about the original animated film, music, author and more.

"The Little Shop of Horrors"

“The Little Shop of Horrors”

Here they are:

  1. If you compare “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors and “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, there is definitely a musical and conceptual similarity between the two songs. Writers Howard Ashman and Alan Menken noticed this and nicknamed the latter song “Somewhere That’s Dry.”
  2. Many of the shots of Ariel seated on an ocean rock in the film are modeled after the “The Little Mermaid” statue, located in Copenhagen, Denmark.
  3. It is believed that Ariel’s wedding dress at the end of the film is patterned after Princess Diana’s famous 1981 wedding gown.
  4. The Little Mermaid was the first animated fairy tale by Disney since 1959’s Sleeping Beauty.

    LM%20Statue

    “The Little Mermaid” statue in Copenhagen, Denmark.

  5. The Little Mermaid was the first animated film to ever receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture.
  6. Walt Disney first planned an animated version of The Little Mermaid in 1941. An animator’s strike and World War II caused him to shelf the idea, but it remained a passion project for the studio over the next 40 years.
  7. The Little Mermaid author Hans Christian Andersen was dyslexic and never learned how to spell correctly.
  8. If you say the names of four of the main characters in the Disney animated movie Frozen (Hans, Kristoff, Anna, Sven), you may hear a familiar name. They were all named after Hans Christian Andersen, the creator of “The Snow Queen.”
    1. For more information about the connection between Andersen’s story and Frozen, click here.

Information compiled by Dramaturg Robert Neblett.

Read more about the music and The Little Mermaid in our Study Guide here.

Little Mermaid Monday: Who are Howard Ashman and Alan Menken?

Ashman and Menken

Howard Ashman and Alan Menken

We are in the third week of our blog series Little Mermaid Monday highlighting all-things The Little Mermaid. Let’s just say, we are all excited about hearing our favorite childhood anthems being brought to life on The Rep stage.

So, who is behind the magical score that captivated children so many years ago and still resonates today? It’s Howard Ashman and Alan Menken!

A great deal of the success of Disney’s animated screen adaptation of The Little Mermaid can be attributed to the film’s infectious score by lyricist Ashman and composer Menken. Featuring bouncy production numbers such as “Under the Sea,” romantic ballads such as “Kiss the Girl,” and the ode to Ariel’s longing, “Part of Your World,” these musical numbers add tone and color to the story. But, more importantly they deftly reveal character motivation and the emotional undercurrents of the story.

Prior to The Little Mermaid, Ashman and Menken were best known for their 1982 sci-fi rock musical based on Roger Corman’s 1960 dark comic film The Little Shop of Horrors. The musical, which grounds the action in its 1960s time period by utilizing doo-wop, rock-and-roll, and Supremes-like girl group R & B numbers, was an overwhelming success Off-Broadway. It was later turned into a 1986 film musical starring Steve Martin, Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene.

Following the release of the 1986 film of Little Shop, Ashman was brought into Disney Studios to assist with the film Oliver & Company, when he was recruited (along with Menken) to create the score for The Little Mermaid. The film broke box-office records and ushered in what is known as the “Disney Renaissance” of the 1990s, a return to the quality and popularity of Disney’s animated features of several decades before. Their contributions to the film won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes and a Grammy.

Ashman and Menken collaborated on two more mega-hits for Disney: 1991’s Beauty and the Beast and 1992’s Aladdin. However, Ashman would not live to see the premieres of either of these films. Diagnosed with HIV in 1988, he passed away in March 1991. Beauty and the Beast was dedicated to his memory.

Broadway lyricist Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita) assisted Menken with completing the songs in Aladdin. Menken went on to compose music for Newsies (1992), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Hercules (1997), Enchanted (2007) and Tangled (2010).Kiss the Girl

In 2007, Disney Theatricals mounted a live stage production of The Little Mermaid on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, with an expanded score featuring the film’s songs by Ashman and Menken and additional lyrics by Glenn Slater. It was helmed by noted opera and theatre director Francesca Zambello and starred Sierra Boggess as Ariel, Tituss Burgess as Sebastian, Norm Lewis as Triton, and Sherie Rene Scott as Ursula. The original production encountered several script and technical issues and was reimagined in 2012 for subsequent performances, most notably updating the undersea effects with aerial flying technology.

Information compiled by Dramaturg Robert Neblett.

Hurry! Get your tickets to The Little Mermaid online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Read more about the music and The Little Mermaid in our Study Guide here.

Little Mermaid Monday: Q&A with Aerial Director Joshua Dean

Flying 1We are in the second week of our blog series Little Mermaid Monday highlighting all-things The Little Mermaid. One thing is for sure: this is going to be a musical that you’ve never seen before.

To create the movement you’ll see in this underwater adventure, Choreographer Adam Cates enlisted the help of 2 Ring Circus, a theatrical circus group out of New York City, to add aerial and groundwork circus acts. Our Dramaturg Robert Neblett interviewed aerial director Joshua Dean, who, alongside Ben Franklin and Lani Corson, will be a part of the ensemble in the show.

Find out what he had to say about how they got involved in the show, what magical elements you’ll see and more:

Q: Tell us a little about 2 Ring Circus.

A: 2 Ring Circus is a company of four friends who came together to create their own brand of circus. We all came from musical theater or dance backgrounds before becoming circus artists. Now, we try to combine the theatricality of those genres with the excitement of the circus to create a one-of-a-kind experience.

Q: How did you first become involved with this type of movement/aerial work?

A: I was asked by director Donna Drake to choreograph and perform aerial fabric in a show that she was directing. I began taking classes at once and it all grew from there. I spent several years working to become a professional aerialist and then began to teach. As a teacher, I began to train my friends and future company members.

Q: If a student were interested in “learning to fly,” what would you suggest they need to do to prepare and train for a career in this unique field?

A: Train, train, train. This is field that takes a lot of discipline. It is very dangerous and without Flying 2that discipline, you could get injured by an accident or fall. I do believe that anyone can do this. It just takes the drive and patience. It will take a while to build the strength and any type of conditioning can help.

Q: Is this the first time you have ever worked with the Arkansas Rep? Have you worked with any of the other members of The Little Mermaid’s artistic team?

A: This is my first time working at The Rep. Ben, Lani and I are all very excited to create the circus elements for the show. Ben has worked with our amazing director, Melissa, before. Ben and myself have done several shows with Adam, our choreographer.

Q: What attracts you to a project like The Little Mermaid?

A: As a company, we love to combine theatre with circus. Two of our original production show creations have a very theatrical feel. We like the challenge of making circus elements integral to the plot and finding apparatus and movement that can help forward the story without distracting unnecessarily.

Q: How is this kind of specific movement/aerial work integral to a musical like The Little Mermaid?

A: This show has the potential for lots of magic and spectacle. We are using circus elements to make the life under the sea even more exciting. This includes the various sea creatures floating around under the ocean and the drowning prince being rescued to a mermaid floating on an anchor. These are just a few examples of how you will see circus integrated in the show.

Q: The Little Mermaid is not technically a Christmas story. How do you think this piece, with its memorable music and the special performance aspects you will be contributing, will contribute to the holiday spirit in Little Rock this year?

A: The holiday season is about the joy and wonder of it all and I believe The Little Mermaid checks those boxes perfectly.

Q: What is your favorite moment in the show a) from a choreographic standpoint and b) from an emotional perspective?

A: My favorite moment to create in the show will be the transformation. It is the moment when Ariel first gets her legs. It is going to be quite tricky to get it all right, but that is what will make it worth it. In that instance, it will take every department: costumes, direction, choreography, lights, tech crew pulling lines, etc. Trying to make everything work as we have conceived it is the fun moment for me. It will take a lot of tries, but I am certain it will be worth it.

Q: What do you hope audiences will take with them from this production?

A: The joy of theatre. It is my passion and I am so blessed to be part of it. I hope we can inspire people not only to want to do this, but to want to come back and see another show. Without an audience, we do not have an art.

Q: What is the first instance of theatrical magic you remember? How has that moment shaped you as an artist?

A: The first time I saw a scrim, my mind was blown. I remember seeing a tour of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories brought to the stage on a school trip. When I was looking at a painted drop of a house and then saw an actor appear through it clear as day, I could not believe my eyes. I did not understand it, but I wanted to know more.

For more information about 2 Ring Circus, visit their official website here.

Hurry! Get your tickets to The Little Mermaid online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Little Mermaid Monday: An Introduction

LittleMermaidToday is a big day: We are kicking off our blog series Little Mermaid Monday highlighting all-things The Little Mermaid.

To get you in the mermaid spirit and as a refresher, we are taking look at the story and characters with a little help from our Dramaturg Robert Neblett.

Plot

Based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories and the classic animated film, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” is a hauntingly beautiful love story for the ages. With music by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater, and a compelling book by Doug Wright, this fishy fable will capture your heart with its irresistible songs: “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl,” and “Part of Your World.”

Ariel, King Triton’s youngest daughter, wishes to pursue the human Prince Eric in the world above and bargains with the evil sea witch, Ursula, to trade her tail for legs. But the bargain is not what it seems and Ariel needs the help of her colorful friends Flounder the fish, Scuttle the seagull and Sebastian the crab to restore order under the sea.

From MTIshows.com

Characters

(In Order of Appearance)

  •  ARIEL, a mermaid, King Triton’s youngest daughter
  • PILOT, helmsman of Prince Eric’s ship
  • SAILORS
  • PRINCE ERIC, a human monarch
  • GRIMSBY, guardian of Prince Eric
  • FLOUNDER, a fish, Ariel’s best friend
  • SCUTTLE, a seagull, expert in human artifacts
  • SEA CREATURES of various shapes, sizes and species
  • WINDWARD & LEEWARD, trumpet fish, heralds in King Triton’s court
  • KING TRITON, King of the Sea
  • SEBASTIAN, a crab, advisor to King Triton
  • MERSISTERS (Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Atina, AdelIa, Allana), daughters of King Triton
  • FLOTSAM, an eel, lackey to Ursula
  • JETSAM, an eel, the other lackey to Ursula
  • URSULA, the Sea Witch, sister of King Triton
  • GULLS
  • MAIDS
  • CHEF LOUIS, the Palace chef, a culinary perfectionist
  • CHEFS, sous staff of Chef Louis
  • PRINCESSES, potential mates for Prince Eric

The magical musical will run for five weeks with performances from Dec. 2-Jan. 3, Wednesday through Sunday, with special Saturday matinees on Dec. 5 and 26 and Jan. 2. Check out all of the fun surround events here.

Hurry! Get your tickets to The Little Mermaid online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Spelling Bee Thursday: The Spelling Bee in Popular Culture

We are in the fifth week of our Spelling Bee Thursday blog series highlighting all-things The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

To get you in the spelling spirit, this week, we are taking a look at spelling bees in popular culture with a little help from our Dramaturg Robert Neblett.

Spelling bees have become one of the most recognizable symbols of American education and have infiltrated many aspects of popular culture throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The bee represents hard work, ingenuity and even the democratic impulse of the American Dream. In addition to The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, many books, plays, TV programs and films have explored the quirky, cutthroat world of this academic competition.

CB Spelling Bee 2 Cropped In 1969, the Peanuts characters made their animated feature film debut in “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” which followed everyone’s favorite blockhead as he becomes an unexpected local celebrity by qualifying for the National Spelling Bee. One of the most iconic aspects of this movie’s portrayal of the bee participants is the way the spellers’ heads “pop” and disappear when they are eliminated, expressing the deflation and disappointment that accompanies losing the contest. Another classic sequence features Charlie Brown, Linus and Snoopy learning basic spelling rules through the mnemonic song “I Before E Except After C,” accompanied by the country’s favorite beagle on a twangy jaw-harp.

spellbound-contestant-1

The documentary “Spellbound.”

Season 3 of “South Park” parodied the Peanuts in the episode “Hooked on Monkey Fonics,” in which Cartman loses the bee to a pair of home-schooled siblings. The female sibling, Rebecca, is based upon the winner of the 1997 National Spelling Bee, whose idiosyncrasies included shouting out each letter of her assigned words and whispering into her hands before answering.

In 2006, the film “Akeelah and the Bee” featured Keke Palmer as the title character, who competes in the National Spelling Bee. The film also stars Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett. The film has been embraced by the Scripps National Spelling Bee and is recommended in a number of spelling-related activities on the organization’s websites as a way of raising awareness of the love of spelling.

In 2002, writer and director Jeffrey Bilitz released an Academy Award-nominated documentary called “Spellbound” that viewed the 1999 National Spelling Bee through the eyes of eight of its young competitors. The film exposes many of the quirky techniques employed by young spellers, some of which were adapted by characters in the Spelling Bee musical.

jason-bateman-bad-words

Jason Bateman in “Bad Words.”

In 2013, the dark comedy “Bad Words,” starring Jason Bateman, features an adult character who enters a fictionalized version of the Scripps National Spelling Bee due to a loophole in the rules which makes him able to compete because he dropped out of middle school and, therefore, never completed the eighth grade. During the course of the film, Bateman’s character befriends a young Indian-American competitor.

The 1992 play Eleemosynary by Lee Blessing features a character who was a spelling bee champion and struggles to aid her eidetic mother in caring for her grandmother, who has recently suffered a stroke.

In 1986, the ABC family movie “The Girl Who Spelled Freedom” tells the story of a young refugee from Cambodia who confronts the difficulties and prejudices of her new American home by competing in a local spelling bee.Simpsons Spelling Bee

Other television programs, such as “The Simpsons,” “My Name is Earl,” “The Proud Family,” “Family Guy” and “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide have featured prominent characters and plotlines revolving around spelling bees as well.

Have you seen any of these movies or shows?

Don’t miss the highly acclaimed musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee when it takes center stage Oct. 16-Nov. 8– book your tickets by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visit TheRep.org.

Spelling Bee Thursday: Bee Trivia

Photo of 1925 National Bee Finalists

The 1925 National Bee finalists

 We are in the fourth week of our Spelling Bee Thursday blog series highlighting all-things The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

To get you in the spelling spirit, this week, we thought it would be fun share a few fun facts about spelling bees and the Tony Award-winning musical with a little help from our Dramaturg Robert Neblett.

Here we go:

Why is it called a “bee”?

(Source: SpellingBee.Com, the official website of the Scripps National Spelling Bee)

The word bee, as used in spelling bee, is one of those language puzzles that has never been satisfactorily accounted for. A fairly old and widely-used word, it refers to a community social gathering at which friends and neighbors join together in a single activity (sewing, quilting, barn raising, etc.) usually to help one person or family. The earliest known example in print is a spinning bee in 1769. Other early occurrences are husking bee (1816), apple bee (1827) and logging bee (1836). Spelling bee is apparently an American term. It first appeared in print in 1875, but it seems certain that the word was used orally for several years before that.

Those who used the word, including most early students of language, assumed that it was the same word as referred to the insect. They thought that this particular meaning had probably been inspired by the obvious similarity between these human gatherings and the industrious, social nature of a beehive. But in recent years scholars have rejected this explanation, suggesting instead that this bee is a completely different word.

One possibility is that it comes from the Middle English word bene, which means “a prayer” or “a favor” (and is related to the more familiar word boon). In England, a dialect form of this word, been or bean, referred to “voluntary help given by neighbors toward the accomplishment of a particular task.”

Bee may simply be a shortened form of been, but no one is entirely certain.

Short History of the Musical

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee began as a heavily-improvised performance piece titled C-R-E-P-U-S-C-L-E, originally conceived by Rebecca Feldman and the members of her company The Farm, in 2002. After its initial success, the play was adapted as a musical in 2004 by Rachel Sheinkin and William Finn (the composer behind Falsettos and A New Brain). The musical originated at the Barrington Stage Company, then played off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre in 2005, transferring to Broadway at Circle in the Square Theatre later that year. Spelling Bee won two Tony Awards in 2005, one for Best Book of a Musical by Rachel Sheinkin and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Dan Fogler as William Barfée). Fogler is the only member of the original cast of C-R-E-P-U-S-C-L-E to remain with the show through the Broadway run.

40th Anniversary Season Connections

Did you know that Broadway’s original Olive Ostrovsky, played by Celia Keenan-Bolger, also played the female lead role of Molly in the original New York production of Peter and the Starcatcher?

2015 Spelling Bee Champs (2)Co-Winners

A tie can be declared if the national competition officials run out of words from the year’s approved list before one of the top two spellers are eliminated. In 2014 and 2015, the Scripps National Spelling Bee declared co-winners: Sriram Hathwar, an eighth-grader from New York, and Ansun Sujoe, a seventh-grader from Texas, in 2014; and Vanya Shivashankar (Kansas) and Gokul Venkatachalam (Missouri) in 2015. This has only happened five times in the history of the National Spelling Bee, and the last time co-winners were crowned prior to 2014 was 1962.

A-R-K-A-N-S-A-S

While the 1995 national champion was technically a resident of Arkansas at the time of his win, his official state affiliation was Tennessee. To date, no Arkansas resident has ever won the national spelling bee.

“Parent/Teacher Nights

Beginning with the original Broadway production, companies of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee often schedule adults-only performances of the musical, featuring risqué vocabulary words and blush-worthy definitions and sentence usage examples, provided by the character of Vice Principal Panch.

Sharpton Tony Awards (2)

Al Sharpton was one of the volunteer participants during a scene from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Tony Awards.

Audience Participation

More than 4,500 audience members joined the Broadway cast onstage as volunteer spellers during its original New York run. This aspect of the show adds an element of unpredictability to the evening’s festivities. One audience volunteer was a National Spelling Bee champion, and she lasted 14 rounds onstage before being eliminated. Another memorable audience moment involved a spectator who angrily accused the actor playing Barfée of misspelling words during the performance. A celebrity audience sighting saved one performance when an actor became ill onstage and Panch noticed TV star David Hasselhoff in the crowd and brought him onstage while the sick actor’s understudy was prepped to go on in her place.

The Cast is a Modern Family

The actor who originated the role of home-schooled speller Leaf Coneybear in the New York production is acclaimed stage and screen actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, best known as Mitchell on ABC’s popular comedy Modern Family.

Home-Schooled Champions

The winners of the 1997 and 2000 National Spelling Bees were home-schooled students like the musical’s Leaf Coneybear. It is unknown, however, if they were cape-wearing dinosaur enthusiasts.

Don’t miss the highly acclaimed musical when it takes center stage Oct. 16-Nov. 8– book your tickets by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visit TheRep.org.

August Tuesday: Q&A with Dialect Coach Stacy Pendergraft

Our final show of the 2014-2015 MainStage Season is upon us!

August: Osage County, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play that is finally taking The Rep stage, will open June 5. And to highlight this critically acclaimed play, we are starting a brand-new blog series throughout the run, showcasing the various aspects of the show.

In the second installment, I was able to talk with the show’s Dialect Coach Stacy Pendergraft on her approach with character dialects for a show like August: Osage County, her actual connection to the play, how she has helped provide more context to the play, plus more.

Here’s what she had to say:

Stacy Pendergraft_Headshot_ 7212

Stacy Pendergraft

Q: What is your background in theatre?

A: I am an associate professor of theatre at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I am the primary professor in the performance and directing track and have just finished my 13th year on faculty there. I came to Little Rock from American Stage in St. Petersburg Florida, where I was the Artistic Associate and Director of Education. I also acted, directed and developed new children’s works for their touring program.

Q: What piqued your interest in theatre and voice coaching?

A: Oh, I’m a lifelong theatre rat. It just so happened that my very small rural Oklahoman town had a vibrant community theatre and my high school had amazingly devoted and highly skilled theatre and music teachers. Also, even though my hometown is small, it is a college town with a strong focus on its performing arts programs. So, my exposure came early and deep both in theatre and music. I suppose my music background developed a real appreciation for diction and placement of speech and singing sounds. In my university training, I gained more specific knowledge about the vocal apparatus and this led to more specific training in voice, phonetics and dialects. So voice and dialect work became a sub-specialty in all of my subsequent professional and educational gigs.

Q: How do you approach being a dialect coach for a play like August: Osage County? Do you observe the rehearsals and work with actors individually on their character dialects?

A: What’s incredibly rewarding about this particular process is that Bob and I are defining a way of working together. It’s not always common to have a dialect coach, and so I am glad to be able to contribute to this production and this particular ensemble. When a dialect or voice coach works with actors, she has to know that any feedback has to take into account each particular actor’s way of working and be sensitive to the way an actor wants to incorporate voice work into their character development. I want to be in-tune with their rehearsal goals and not be an intrusion. So knowing the right way and right time to offer feedback is paramount. This cast has from day one, placed great trust in me, and it is not a charge that I take lightly. They are the ones in front of an audience each night and are the ones the audience will be listening to, and I want to guide them to the most authentic choices possible.

For our production, I started by giving a one-hour dramaturgical presentation the first day of rehearsal on Oklahoma and its dialect. And I should say that like any geographical region, there is not necessarily ‘one sound.’ Rural/urban influences, socioeconomic status, educational level, not to mention the psychology of the human being, all impact the way we sound and the way characters sound, too. I gave the actors a packet of listening resources and basic sound substitutions to help them begin their work. I sit in on rehearsals, tuning my ear to the actors and helping them find the music of the dialect on a day-by-day basis. I am available for individual coaching and questions as needed by the actors. It’s become a rather fluid process.

Q: What is your connection to the writer of this play in particular?

A: I am a native Oklahoman and grew up in roughly the same part of the state that Tracy Letts was raised. He was raised in Durant and I was raised in Ada. Both towns are small Oklahoma college towns. My mother actually went to college for a while at Southeast Oklahoma State University where Tracy’s mom and dad (Billie and Dennis Letts) taught. I also went to college at the University of Tulsa, which factors into the story of Bill and Barbara, characters in the play.

Q: How do you think your background in Oklahoma will help the actors as they prepare for their roles in the show?

A: Researching both the place and sound of Oklahoma, I’ve had to really rediscover my own sound and the place from where I come. I’ve discovered things about Oklahoma that relate to the play that have brought me to a new place of understanding. I think I can answer some specific questions about the play’s given circumstances and the rhythms and nuances of the language that are perhaps not as obvious if you’re not from Oklahoma.

Q: Why should patrons see this production on our stage?

A: August: Osage County is an American play that speaks to me on the same level as Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams. Along with Angels in America and Clybourne Park, it is, for me, one of the three most important plays written about the fabric of American life in the past 50 years. The characters are epic in scale, richly imagined and full in their powers of expression. The language of the play offers the kind of text actors spend their careers pursuing. And finally, the cast assembled for this production is one that you will remember for a long, long time. They are passionate about this play, and what they are creating with Bob and the rest of the production team at The Rep is not to be missed.

Check back every Tuesday throughout the run of the show (June 5-21) to get a glimpse into a new aspect of the show and get your tickets for the show by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visiting TheRep.org.

Mary Poppins Monday: Q&A with Elizabeth DeRosa

15961996754_f59f7b40bf_k

Elizabeth DeRosa (Mary Poppins). Photo by John David Pittman.

A new production is getting underway– Mary Poppins– and that means a brand-new blog series highlighting the various aspects of the show!

Our Dramaturg Robert Neblett had a chance to talk with Elizabeth DeRosa, who will be playing Mary Poppins on The Rep stage, about her preparation on her role, the importance of the story and the magic that Mary Poppins brings to all of our lives.

Here is what she had to say:

Q: How did you feel when you heard that you would be playing Mary Poppins in this production in Little Rock?

A: Well, I was excited, of course! I had heard lovely things about Arkansas Repertory Theatre. I couldn’t wait to meet The Rep family and get started. Mary Poppins is an iconic, demanding, vocally challenging, thrilling and wonderful role! She is a confident and other worldly woman who will not be ignored. She commands respect. She is loved and feared. She is one of the greatest female roles ever written for musical theatre and I am honored to be introducing my version of this character to the Mid-South!

Q: How do you approach an iconic role like this, which many audience members may not only be familiar with but have a deep emotional attachment for, based on Julie Andrews cinematic portrayal? As an actor, do you start from scratch and create your own character or are there moments of homage to Andrews performance in how you bring Mary Poppins to life?

A: I think, as actors, we are always beginning with a fresh palate. If I have learned anything in my 10 years working professionally, its that when I do get cast, it is for being MYSELF playing a role, my purely unique version of it. I think this holds true whether a role is iconic or brand new. It is one thing to honor a legendary actor’s portrayal and to layer that as a basis of who a character is, but if I simply parroted Julie Andrews’ performance I wouldn’t come across as genuine and authentic, i.e., as Mary Poppins!

Q: In the books by P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins can be described as more stern and aloof and less likable than the on-screen version presented by Julie Andrews. Does your portrayal of Mary Poppins borrow any of the original creation from the books?

A: I love P. L. Travers’ books. I have read all of them multiple times. The woman and her books are absolutely one of a kind! (Have you read her bio? Its awesome.) When Disney Theatricals and Cameron Mackintosh decided to create the stage version of the musical, P. L. Travers played a more vital role. This is why “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the park in “Jolly Holiday,” Miss Andrew, etc., are more closely matching the scenes/lessons from the books. Well, P. L. Travers changed the course of my life (obviously a multitude of other’s lives as well). So, I can tell you for this reason, with absolute certainty, not to mention she is brilliant, that my portrayal of Mary Poppins honors her creation. (Which is a British sensibility that can be lost in translation, if not approached delicately.) That said, of course we have the Disney movie that everyone knows and loves. So, I am also very aware of what an audience is expecting and hoping to see! (This isn’t all about me???) Lastly, I must also honor my director’s vision and cannot wait to find out what Donna’s is…then blend this all together for the Rep!

Q: What would you say to prepare audience members for this production? There are many moments and songs from the film that do not transfer to the stage version, as well as many added plot points (especially in the second act) that may seem unfamiliar. Should they leave their expectations at the door, particularly since this is a live play and not a movie?

A: I think you answered this question in the question! Yes, come for what you love and what you want your family to experience, a live production of a kid friendly musical…not to see the movie. You won’t see the movie, but, your family will be thrilled by our story telling. I can promise you that! Children need not be familiarized (although that CAN be more fun for them sometimes.) Children will watch and listen and be mesmerized by this story. Adults will be amazed at how closely they may identify with it! It is poignant and gripping for all ages.

Q: Describe an average day of rehearsal for this production.

A: An average day of rehearsal will include working with Helen Gregory, our musical director, to learn music. We may then move on to choreography with Rhonda Miller. The ensemble will often stay with Rhonda to learn the intricate dance steps and shapes of a large production number, i.e., “Jolly Holiday,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Step in Time.” During which time, the principal characters of our story will do scene work, learning blocking with Donna. The Rep has two rehearsal spaces which makes this possible! Each day a few actors will have costume and wig fittings sprinkled throughout the schedule as well. We work quickly and efficiently. Actors are responsible for writing down what we’ve learned and making sure it is in our bodies the next time we approach that part of the play in rehearsal. It’s a very large musical and we must always be moving forward!

Q: How do you strive to become practically perfect in every way, both onstage in this role and in your everyday life?

A: In my personal life I am always striving to be a kind, honest, loving and generous person with a positive outlook. I am also a healthy and fit person. I honor my body, mind and spirit by eating healthily and exercising daily. I treasure my life and the people in it as the gifts that they are. I know how to have fun and when are the appropriate times to do so. On stage I listen, watch and do. I am laser focused, knowing that we often have a limited amount of time to learn each section. I do my very best to immediately catch the choreography. Then I go home and drill it to perfection, so it is “in” my body. I always memorize exactly what the author wrote, never paraphrasing. I am kind to the children & cast as we work, but also serious and always lead by example.

Q: Is there any moment of the musical that means more to you on a personal level than any others?

A: I adore “Feed The Birds.” The song itself is stunningly crafted and beautiful. Apparently it was Walt Disney’s favorite song and he would ask the Sherman brothers to play it for him frequently! This moment/lesson in the show means so much to me when I play the role of Mary. The respect and care with which she treats all beings on Earth is a something I often have to remind myself to employ. We are all equal, valuable and worthy…if we can only remember to pause and see the beauty in everything, we would all be that much more peaceful and content.

Q: What is the most difficult moment to play in the show?

Madison Stolzer (Michael) and Elizabeth DeRosa (Mary Poppins). Photo by John David Pittman.

Madison Stolzer (Michael) and Elizabeth DeRosa (Mary Poppins). Photo by John David Pittman.

A: The most physically difficult moment to play in the show is “Step in Time. It’s a very long song, with intense choreography and staging. The cast must always be in sync as production numbers like this, with large set pieces and difficult choreography can be dangerous if not approached with caution and focus. The most difficult moment to play in the show, as an actor, is probably the relationship between Mary & Bert. What they have….what they are…what they could be…what they can’t be… And of course the answers to these questions are different depending on the director as well as the two actors playing Mary & Bert. It’s the “juiciest” part of playing Mary Poppins and I look forward to figuring this out for our production.

Q: This is a story about magic, the magic of the imagination, the magic of a kind gesture, the magic of dreams. Does that magic share anything in common with the magic of the live theatre?

A: I think this is a very personal question. For a woman who grew up loving theatre and great performances, the magic definitely translates for me. Then, I’ve always believed the theatre is a magical place. When I walk in, I am taken over by a sense of mystery, wonder and awe about what is happening, what could happen and what is about to happen!

Q: Without giving away any of the behind the scenes magic, describe the sensation of being given the opportunity to fly as Mary Poppins.

A: Flying as Mary is the most relaxed and peaceful moment of the show for me. There is no singing, no dancing, no changing costumes, just flying! It’s wonderful. I like the sensation of flying and the power I feel as I arrive and leave. This sense of strength and supernatural magic is very engaging for me as an actor. It helps me to realize and “wear” my role while giving the audience a visual of just how enchanted the character of Mary Poppins truly is.

Q: Did you have a Mary Poppins in your life? Who was it and what was their impact on who you have become as an adult?

A: I didn’t have a Mary Poppins in my life. I never had a nanny and my only babysitter was my Grandmother, from time to time. My example of how to be a grown up came from my amazing parents. They were there at every twist and turn, guiding me, supporting me, cherishing me, believing in me and loving me. I actually became a Mary Poppins! I started babysitting in my neighborhood at age 12. I babysat on the weekends, on & off, all through out middle school and high school. After graduating from college and moving to the city to “pound the pavement,” I became a nanny! I stayed with the first family I worked for, for 2 & a half years. I auditioned and did a few theatre jobs here and there. But I was with them for the entire beginning of my career. That job supported me while I was laying the foundation for my acting career! I absolutely fell in love with the children (a boy & girl). We all got very close and although we knew it was inevitable, it was still very difficult to say goodbye. After I came back to the city from doing a National Tour, I was with another family. I had to say goodbye to this little boy, after 9 months, to go do Mary Poppins on Broadway. As I began to learn the role of Mary, I was so touched by these little faces from my past. They are always there in my mind, giving an authenticity to my performance that is invaluable and that I could never repay them for. When I began to go on for the role of Mary on Broadway ALL of the children I had babysat for, and many of their friends and families, came to see me. I am speechless to this day about how that made me feel. I also have 7 nieces and nephews who I am with as often as possible and love very deeply. It’s all so appropriate. Sometimes I like to think, I truly am Mary Poppins. As a caregiver I am never too stern, but I suffer no nonsense. I am honest and kind. I am clean, sensible and full of energy. Of course, I also play all sorts of games!

Pulled from the Mary Poppins study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

Check back every Monday to uncover a new aspect of this magical production and get your tickets to our biggest show ever by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visiting TheRep.org!

Mary Poppins Monday: Did You Know?

Elizabeth DeRose (Mary Poppins) and Brian Letendre (Bert). Photo by John David Pittman.

Elizabeth DeRose (Mary Poppins) and Brian Letendre (Bert). Photo by John David Pittman.

A new production is getting underway– Mary Poppins– and that means a brand-new blog series highlighting the various aspects of the show!

To keep things rolling, we wanted to highlight some things you may not know about the original “Mary Poppins” film and books. Here are some interesting facts, courtesy of our Dramaturg Robert Neblett:

 

Film

  • Mary Poppins was the first film the Walt Disney Company ever released on DVD format.
  • The word “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” was officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986.
  • Julie Andrews was left hanging in mid-air during one particularly long camera set up. The stagehands unwittingly lowered her wire harness rather rapidly. “Is she down yet?” called a grip. “You bloody well better believe she is!” fumed Andrews. [From www.tcm.com]
  • The opening shot of Mary Poppins sitting on a cloud contains a gag originally used in Disney’s “Dumbo.” While Poppins checks her make-up, her carpetbag slides “through” the cloud. She catches it repeatedly just before it falls to oblivion. The stork delivering Dumbo does the same thing with his bundle. [From www.tcm.com]
  • Many of the nannies seeking an interview to replace Katie Nanna at the beginning of the film are men in drag.
  • The child actors who play Jane and Michael were not told that Dick Van Dyke would also be playing Mr. Dawes, Sr., in the bank scenes.

    Julie Andrews & Audrey Hepburn

    Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews

  • Van Dyke suggested to Walt Disney that he double in the role of Mr. Dawes, Sr. He even offered to play the role for free. Disney made him audition for the role, and when Van Dyke was cast, also made him make a financial donation to the CalArts film school.
  • Julie Andrews was hesitant to accept the role of Mary Poppins, hoping that she would be asked to recreate her stage performance as Eliza Doolittle in the film adaptation of the musical My Fair Lady, which cast Audrey Hepburn as the Cockney flower girl instead. Andrews went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role as Mary Poppins in a year that saw the two films competing for Oscars.
  • Interestingly enough, though she was not asked to play Eliza Doolittle, her performance in Mary Poppins is what convinced the producers of The Sound of Music (1965) to cast her as Maria von Trapp, another singing governess (with decidedly fewer magic powers).

Books

  • In the books, Jane and Michael have three additional siblings: the twins, John and Barbara, and youngest sister Annabel, who is born in the middle of the second book, Mary Poppins Comes Back. While Jane and Michael are the primary characters in the books, the other children do accompany M
    little-prince

    The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    ary Poppins on adventures as well.

  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was written in 1943 to compete with the publication of the third Mary Poppins book, Mary Poppins Opens the Door.
  • The illustrator of the Mary Poppins books, Mary T. Shepard, was the daughter of E. H. Shepard, the famous illustrator of the Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows books.
  • In 1981, the “Bad Tuesday” chapter of Mary Poppins was edited by Travers to alter some negative ethnic stereotypes that were deemed offensive in the latter 20th century. These characters were replaced by animals from around the world.
  • Emma Thompson, who stars as P. L. Travers in the 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks, also appears as a magical, Mary Poppins-esque governess in the Nanny McPhee series of films, based upon the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand.

Pulled from the Mary Poppins study guide, prepared by Robert Neblett.

Check back every Monday to uncover a new aspect of this magical production and get your tickets to our biggest show ever by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405 or visiting TheRep.org!