Friday, December 14, 2012

Get There Faster: Our Pair of Visiting Actors Talks About IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Todd Lawson and Katja Hill in
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

Returning to PlayMakers to play the role of Lana Sherwood in It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play has been both a pleasure and a challenge. It's Monday, our day off from the run, and it's startling how exhausted I am. With our busy schedule of eight shows this last week, resulting in two double-show days fraught with twice the amount of time wrangling elaborate victory rolls on my heavily gelled and ossified hair, the joy of acting has shown its flip side as quite a bit of hard work. It's impossible to do each show well without sufficient rest in between.

It may have something to do with the nature of the show itself. Frank Capra's famous film is episodic, with a seeming cast of thousands popping up in multiple locations that zoom in and out in quick succession. It's also longer than the runtime of our play, adapted by Joe Landry. Translating this vivid world to a single unit set of a theater -- with a shorter run time to tell the tale -- takes a great leap of imagination and careful choices. Our director Nelson Eusebio accomplished this task with a small cast of five actors, one foley artist, and a shrewd economy of staging with tireless attention to what is perhaps the least glamourous element of playmaking outside of the sheer slogging work of learning lines: those infernal transitions!

What's a transition? Well, that means any change from scene to scene. On any given page in Landry's script, we could be in the radio studio, heaven, Martini's bar, Nick's bar, the Building & Loan, 320 Sycamore, mean old Potter's office, Zuzu's bedroom, or half a dozen other places. And despite the beauty and careful detail of McKay Coble's art deco set, Burke Brown's magical lights, and Rachel Pollock's elegant, beautifully tailored costumes, we don't use much other than four chairs, a few microphone stands, and Mark Lewis's savvy sound effects to establish those worlds. The changes from moment to moment are very much actor-driven and therefore, subject to human error. And for a while there, it was usually mine. The success of it all depends on a nimble cast to zip through what our director calls "the tops and tails" of every scene. Without Capra's camera to direct the eye, any one of us could shake an audience's focus, attention and interest in a poorly wrought scene change. Staying ahead of the audience is vital, though extremely difficult with such a well-known holiday classic tale. 

For my part, the name of the game is always "Get There Faster!" In heels, no less. So much of playmaking comes down to utterly mechanical stuff that would bore most folks to tears if they had to sit through a cue-to-cue tech rehearsal.  No, it isn't sexy, but those matters present actors with countless opportunities to kill a show with their bare hands if they're not ready to pounce on the transitions. It's odd how this awareness has changed what I've learned to see as an audience member. The best directors are those who are able to be fleet-footed in the changes from scene to scene so that the show can literally get out of its own way, but few want to spend precious rehearsal time thinking such things through. Our audiences are fortunate that Nelson did. 

Katja Hill

Todd Lawson as George Bailey (center),
with Maren Searle as Mary and Brandon Garegnani as Clarence.

Hey there folks,

So I traveled down to PlayMakers Rep from Brooklyn, New York, on a chilly October day, not really knowing what to expect. I couldn't have asked for more. What a welcoming company and community.  The experience here has been amazing. I was thrilled to be able to play one of my favorite characters of all time, George Bailey. But, to then be surrounded by such talented and generous souls while doing it has been the icing on the cake. It truly is A Wonderful Life here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. If you haven't gotten a chance to come see the play yet, I hope you come share my joy for this wonderful story in this wonderful place during this wonderful holiday season. Thanks PlayMakers and Chapel Hill.  Hope to see ya again soon.

Todd Lawson

November 28 – December 16, 2012
Directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Studio Becomes Bedford Falls: Designing the Set for IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE

Scenic Designer McKay Coble on her set for PlayMakers' It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

The backdrop for It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play
I had mixed feeling about accepting this design assignment! While I grew up in a Miracle of 34th Street house, I married an It’s a Wonderful Life man. My husband Frank, is such a fan of the movie that it is a really big deal when we watch it. The house has to be decorated, smell like pine and cookies. I think the wind even has to blow in a certain direction before we are allowed to watch it. We all watch as a family almost like it is a ritual, and my now-college-age daughters have fallen under the same spell. It is a real part of our holiday. My girls vie for who will get to say Zuzu’s line about her flower.

Through McKay's sketches,
the set takes shape
I was ambivalent about whether I should be part of a project that my family would clearly see as alien but was then intrigued to see if I could get the same response from them through a live performance. I was also pretty sure that this would be a challenge for other It's a Wonderful Life fans, to see “their” story out of context. “Make Frank Cry” became the rallying cry for the production team as we tried to bring the classical tale to life with a fresh approach and with reverence for the iconic movie.

My idea started, as does the script, in the studio of a radio station. Using the mechanics of the studio I start to drop hints from the movie into the space. This ultimately changes the space from a studio to the layered world of Bedford Falls. I use iconographic images from the  movie and bring them in so the audience members catch them out of the corner of their eye. My favorite is the moon over Manhattan that starts to morph into the lassoed moon Mary draws for George.

Zu Zu Ginger Snaps
I also have some 1946 product placement at the front of the stage with an ad for ZuZu Gingersnaps. I never understood why George and Mary’s other kids had such regular names--Tommy, Janie, Pete---and then Zuzu.  I looked it up: it really is a gingersnap!

I loved working with Nelson, who was so creative in his use of props and staging to move us subtly from the black-and-white studio approach into the colorful world of It’s A Wonderful Life. I don’t like colorized movies. This time I think it works!

November 28 – December 16, 2012
Directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: Dressing the Players within the Play, Part III

As PlayMakers puts the finishing touches on it's on-stage reinvention of the holiday film classic IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, we go behind-the-scenes to see what inspired our creative team, beyond Capra's classic movie, of course.

We continue our look at the sources that inspired costume designer Rachel Pollock when creating the clothing for the two '40s-era actors tackling the iconic roles of George Bailey and Mary Hatch.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rachel looked to Jimmy Stewart for our own lovable George, Jake Laurents (played by Todd Lawson). Also included are some close studies of texture and neckties, as well as specific focus on getting exactly the right, scene-stealing hat.

Sally Applewhite (Maren Searle) plays Mary Hatch, and color is among the orders of the day. Rachel looked at many examples of stylish 1940s cuts and catalogues to come up with just the right tone for our clever lady from Bedford Falls.

November 28 – December 16, 2012
Directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III

Monday, December 3, 2012

PlayMakers Monday News Roundup

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a hit! The Daily Tar Heel today gave the show FIVE STARS,  saying it "breathed new life into both the classic story and the art of radio acting" and made this charming holiday staple, "once again, truly wonderful."

For those looking to go even farther inside the production, The Daily Tar Heel offered up a terrific preview of the show in Friday's issue, including interviews with actors and director Nelson Eusebio and a few glimpses behind the scenes.

Durham's Herald-Sun also interviewed lead actor Todd Lawson about the challenges of taking on the iconic role of George Bailey--if not Jimmy Stewart.

To hear Lawson's voice, as well as the voices of director Eusebio and actor Katja Hill, check out this interview with D.G. Martin for WCHL's "Who's Talking." They discuss the differences between this production and the original Frank Capra movie, as well as give you a small taste of the action you can see on stage.

Finally, for you radio lovers, tune into WUNC 91.5 FM tomorrow at noon and 9 p.m. as PlayMakers is featured on "The State of Things" with Frank Stasio.

November 28 – December 16, 2012
Directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: Dressing the Players within the Play, Part II

As PlayMakers puts the finishing touches on it's on-stage reinvention of the holiday film classic IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, we go behind-the-scenes to see what inspired our creative team, beyond Capra's classic movie, of course.

We continue with a look at the sources that inspired costume designer Rachel Pollock.

Lana Sherwood (played by Katja Hill) is sometimes sweet, sometimes seductive actress behind the voice of Violet. Rachel turned to '40s-era advertising to come up with a look suitable for a woman on the move.

And like all good '40s radio productions, we need a foley artist, the man behind the hundreds of noises and sounds that bring a radio production to life. Like Freddie Filmore, our foley's wardrobe aspires to Cary Grant, but not without a certain touch of the man behind the curtain.

November 28 – December 16, 2012
Directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III

Monday, November 26, 2012

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: Dressing the Players within the Play, Part I

As PlayMakers puts the finishing touches on it's on-stage reinvention of the holiday film classic IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, we go behind-the-scenes to see what inspired our creative team, beyond Capra's classic movie, of course.

For starters, the script is set in a 1940s radio studio on Christmas Eve, as five radio actors transport a live audience both to Bedford Falls and into this timeless story of family and redemption. Those five wartime actors have personalities and stories themselves, distinct and sometimes quite different from the familiar characters from the original movie: George, Mary, Clarence, Violet and more. PlayMakers costume designer Rachel Pollock went back to the '40s to come up with the clothes that make these players-within-the-play. Here, in the first of three segments to be posted this week, we look at the sources that inspired Rachel in coming up with the distinct, on-stage look for each character, as well as read her notes on these idea-generators.

Freddie Filmore (played by PlayMakers veteran Ray Dooley) is the boisterous radio announcer who takes on the role of the villainous Mr. Potter. No surprise that Rachel sought out the look of A-listers Cary Grant and Clark Gable--fittingly grouped with the height of 1940s tailoring--for this commanding personality.

Funnyman Harry "Jazzbo" Heywood (Brandon Garegnani) plays the beloved if somewhat bumbling guardian angel Clarence. He does so in a wardrobe inspired by jazz standout Dizzy Gillespie, with a sharp tie, loud jacket and perhaps larger-than-necessary pants.

November 28 – December 16, 2012
Directed by Nelson T. Eusebio III

Friday, October 26, 2012

Inside INVALID: Clothes That Make the Moment

PlayMakers is honored to host award-winning costume designer Sonya Berlovitz as she puts together the threads for our world premiere adaptation of Moliere's Imaginary Invalid, opening this weekend at the Paul Green Theatre, Department of Dramatic Art, UNC-Chapel Hill. Here's what she had to say about giving this classic farce a new sartorial spin:

I was very excited to work on PlayMakers' production of Imaginary Invalid – it being a Moliere play that I have always wanted to design. It is very exciting to prepare for a world premiere because there is a lot of freedom to conceive designs in an unexpected way since it is a completely new venture for the entire artistic team, and since everyone is on the same page you have the strength of the collaboration to support your efforts.

After some discussion with Dominique Serrand, the director, we wanted the show to be very contemporary (i.e. 2012), which actually is more difficult than it sounds. We wanted characters that were real, not cartoony, who could be both funny and potentially a little frightening.

The script provided valuable information in terms of the world we were in, both funny and tragic. I did some background research into the traditional design of the show to see how we could contemporize it.  I also looked at current fashion and medical and surgical professionals from today, as well as the red carpet for Klytemenestra, an egoistic character always on the move. For example, how Argo would look in a sickroom today or how a nurse and a bucket boy (characters not in the original version) hired by a wealthy person would appear. It meant details that said "2012" became important; see the silicone bracelets for the nurse. To poke fun at the pomposity of Dr. St. Judas and Dr. Wachauvia, I gave them matching Ivy League collegiate ties and lab coats, Wachauvia still in his golf clothes.

Photos: Sonya Berlovitz's original costume renderings for this production. From top: the characters Irving-Luigi, Klymenestra, Bucket Boy, and Dr. Wachauvia. Included courtesy of the artist.

IMAGINARY INVALID by Moliere; adapted by David Ball
October 24 – November 11, 2012
Directed by Dominique Serrand
Secure your seats now!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In the Words SYC Students - Bryce Bowden

Summer Youth Conservatory actor Bryce Bowden shares a little of his experience with the Conservatory and Urinetown: The  Musical and why he's an actor!

Urinetown: The Musical will be showing July 19 - July 22
Click Here for more information.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Exuberance in Urinetown

By: Mark Lewis, Music Director

"It's a show."
"Urine, as in, like ...?"
"Yeah.  The music's great." [Actual conversation I had.]

Today we're rehearsing "Snuff That Girl", so naturally everyone is in a good mood. The juvenile delinquent faction of the rebels has kidnapped the boss' daughter. She's tied up. A mean jazz beat starts.

"Cops will be here
Bustin' heads
Mighty quick
But we'll beat them to the punch
when we snuff out that chick"
Drum solo. 

Look! It's the hero. It's Bobby Strong. How'd he get here? We've moved on to "Run, Freedom, Run".

The hits just keep comin'.

The cast stands by while the director talks to the choreographer. Like me, they can't wait to do the song, a high energy gospel satire. I admire their patience. The cast is all high school age actors.

Oh no, it's hand claps in theater! They always get off the beat, it's inevitable.

I'm playing away, the cast is circling behind me chanting “Hallelujah!”

I was going to tell them to sing out with exuberance - but I wouldn't have been heard. Not with all this exuberance around.
Urinetown: The Musical will be showing July 19 - July 22
Click Here for more information.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Choreographing Urinetown: The Musical

By: Missy Barnes, Choreographer

Urinetown is one of my all-time favorite musicals. The first time I heard the cast recording, I laughed out loud. At first hearing, I was particularly amused by the musical references to such classics as Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, Les Miz, and The Threepenny Opera.

Inspiration for "What is Urinetown?"
Inspiration for "Follow Your Heart"
Inspiration for Act 1 Finale in Urinetown 
Inspiration for "Privilege to Pee"

On one level, Urinetown can be seen as a tribute to the well-structured musical of the mid-twentieth century. It contains everything you could imagine a good story needs: a hero, a villain, a love story, and a struggle between two diverse groups of people. The songs are evenly spaced throughout the play in the tradition of Guys and Dolls and Hello, Dolly! In addition to the great music, the script is witty and intelligent. It offers the perfect blend of comedy and social commentary, dealing with such issues as environmental concerns and social Darwinism. Unlike the classics of the American musical theatre, the play offers a plot twist toward the end of Act II which reminds us that Urinetown is indeed a unique piece of theatre

Working on the musical for the second time has been a great pleasure. I love the creativity and excitement that exists within the production team. It is such a joy to work with a group who constantly strives for excellence and is always open to new possibilities. The Paul Green Theatre offers a wonderful challenge in terms of creating choreography because there are so many areas in which staging can occur, including through the aisles near the audience. The cast is talented, enthusiastic, dedicated, and great fun to work with. I cannot imagine a more fabulous summer theatre experience than the one I have had working with PlayMakers SYC.
Urinetown: The Musical will be showing July 19 - July 22
Click Here for more information.

In the Words of SYC Students...

What is Urinetown?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Scenic Inspiration for Urinetown

So say some of the characters audiences will soon come to know and love when Urinetown: The Musical comes to the PlayMakers stage. As the production begins to take shape, we look at some of the influencing factors for the face of the show: architecture ranging from Art Deco, to Brechtian, to Depression Era.

An example of Art Deco style.

The Astrodome in Houston after its participation in relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina victims.

The set for a production of Bertolt Brecht's The Good Woman of Szechwan

Juxtaposition of the run-down countryside with the distant Capitol.

A sneak peek of the actual Urinetown set.

A close-up on the Urinetown set. This is the Urine Good Company logo with clear Deco influence.


Urinetown: The Musical will be showing July 19, 2012 - July 22, 2012
Click Here for more information.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Costuming Urinetown: The Musical

By Jade Bettin, Costume Designer

This is my fourth time costuming for the Summer Youth Conservatory and while I am proud of each of the others, I find myself incredibly excited to see the costumes for Urinetown: The Musical onstage. Perhaps it's because I've been incredibly fortunate to have such a great team ‑ talented theatre tech students and amazingly generous volunteers ‑ working in the costume shop to realize my vision for the show.

That vision began with a collection of images presented to me by one of the directors, Jeff Stanley. The pictures ranged from Depression Era images of men and women standing in bread lines to President Skroob from the Mel Brooks movie, Spaceballs.

Costume research materials
Mel Brooks as President Skroob in Spaceballs

Jeff, Adam Dill (assistant costume designer and costume shop manager extraordinaire), and I really focused in on the juxtaposition that exists in the play between the haves and have nots ‑ groups the directors had dubbed the "Cladwellians" and the "townies". It's a contrast that existed quite starkly in the 1930s and a reality that resonates today in the chants of "we are the 99%". So as a designer I was drawn to the silhouettes of the 1930s, but didn't want to make the look so foreign as to suggest that this was only an issue way back when.

Of course with the Summer Youth Conservatory, we're outfitting a cast of about 30 (if you include the costumed musicians). Consider that some of the actors play both townies and Cladwellians and you have a lot of pairs of shoes. (Or two miss-matched shoes in the case of Little Becky Two Shoes.) With the exception of a handful of pieces, most of what will be seen onstage is pulled from our own costume storage, altered to fit the actor, and then in the case of the townies, made to look as if they haven't washed their clothes in twenty years. All this definitely makes for a flurry of activity in the costume shop.

Costume fitting for SYC actor Bryce Bowden

Urinetown: The Musical will be showing July 19 - 22, 2012
Click Here for more information.

Costuming Inspiration for Urinetown

This year's summer youth conservatory production, Urinetown: The Musical, is a classic tale of the haves and the have-nots. Costumes have a Depression Era feel to them with added Brechtian comedy and caricature. When preparing for design meetings, co-director Jeff Stanley pulled these images to illustrate the look he and co-director Julie Fishell were hoping to communicate.

Yes maam. He were
Cartoon from the British satirical magazine Punch.

Inspiration for the more affluent cast members of Urinetown.

Inspiration for the less fortunate cast members of Urinetown.


Urinetown: The Musical will be showing July 19, 2012 - July 22, 2012
Click Here for more information.

Monday, July 9, 2012

SYC Is an Important Experience

So here we are a week away from tech for Urinetown: The Musical, and the young people who are part of this year’s SYC are doing a FANTASTIC job. Watching them intersect with our professional company of artists, artisans and stage managers has been incredible, and I am thrilled for the experience they are having.
We forget sometimes that the theatre can do for young people what we know that sports can also provide. Teamwork, collaboration, empowerment, time-management skills, preparation and discipline are all life-skills being developed through this program and will serve these young people very well in whatever career they end up choosing for themselves.
We have taken our time to figure out how best to serve the young people in our region, and after a year off to study how to be most impactful, we are excited for this year’s performance and the structure of the entire SYC program which includes Theatre Quest for younger students, and a rehearsal and performance component for the older students. We have combined this with a technical production unit, so that we are serving multiple groups in targeted ways.
The SYC is as important a part of PlayMakers work as anything else we do and I can’t wait to see the results of all of their hard work.
See you at the theatre!

Joseph Haj,
Producing Artistic Director

Urinetown:The Musical will be showing July 19, 2012 - July 22, 2012
Click Here for more information.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

SYC's Urinetown: The Musical is an NBC 17 "Hot Pick"

Our 2012 Summer Youth Conservatory's production of Urinetown: The Musical has been chosen as a "Hot Pick" for July. Fun for the whole family! Stay tuned to the blog for upcoming posts from PlayMakers Producing Artistic Director Joseph Haj, Costume Designers Jade Bettin and Adam Dill,  and Urinetown surprise guest bloggers!

Tickets for Urinetown: The Musical are on sale now. CLICK HERE to purchase online or call our Box Office (M-F 10-4) to purchase by phone. Adults $15; Children $10; PlayMakers Season Ticket Holders $13

Urinetown: The Musical runs from July 19-22. Thurs-Sat @ 7:30pm; Sun @ 2:00pm

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Tweet Seats at "Noises Off"

Earlier this week we hosted a Tweet Seats event at a Community Night production of Noises Off. It was a lot of fun, and we've shared some of our favorite tweets below.

For those of you that are new to Tweet Seats, at this one performance we invite a handful of audience members (discreetly placed in the back row of the theater) to "live tweet" the show on Twitter while they watch. It's a lot of fun, and it extends the conversation about the play from the theater to anyone out in the world of social media.

Here is a selection of tweets from #NoisesOff:

Noises Off is now playing through April 22. Learn more at

Friday, April 6, 2012

Production photos of "Noises Off"

Noises Off is on stage! Check out these fun photos we took at the final dress rehearsal this past week. It's a hilarious show!

(Click on the photo for a full size version.)

The cast of Noises Off

Susan Cella, Matthew Schneck, Katie Paxton & Kelsey Didion

The cast of Noises Off

Andrea Cirie, Scott Ripley & Susan Cella

Andrea Cirie, Jeffrey Blair Cornell, Brandon Garegnani, Ray Dooley

Noises Off is now playing through April 22. Click here to learn more!

Friday, March 30, 2012

New Season Announced!

We're thrilled to announce the plays (and musical!) of our upcoming 2012/13 season!

Who better to give you the inside scoop than Producing Artistic Director Joseph Haj, right? Watch this video to hear more about the plays and why you won't want to miss them.

If you just want to skip ahead and just read the titles, click here to check them out on our website.

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Closing the Henries"
by Kelsey Didion

Kelsey Didion
“…and so ends my catechism.”

I type this entry in limbo. Henry IV has just closed with a final matinee, and this evening will be the second-to-last performance of Henry V. It seems somewhat surreal that this massive journey is coming to an end. After 5 weeks of rehearsal, 6 weeks of shows, and what will be a grand total of 40 performances, these plays are in our bones. We’ve lived with these characters for so long, it’s hard to say goodbye to them.

Thankfully, these plays promise to have a lasting impression: the joy of witnessing Shawn Fagan follow Hal’s enormous journey; the privilege and delight of sharing scenes with Cody Nickell’s Hotspur; watching Jeff Cornell discover Pistol in the rehearsal hall; the music of all the different languages and dialects between these two shows; fitting two monarchies, a tavern, Wales, and various battlefields on our “wooden O”—and how could anyone ever forget Michael Winters’ Falstaff?

Saying goodbye to Henry IV and V leaves me with a great sense of pride in our company, our “band of brothers.” It’s been an incredible ride, one I am deeply grateful for and will always remember.

- Kelsey Didion

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"The Making of a King" Reading List

by Connie Mahan, Marketing Director

A select, eclectic and accessible pop culture film-bibliography:
or, a raft of film, TV and books in connection with our topic.
(Lord help me, I’ve read and watched all these and many more.)

  • The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933/Charles Laughton as a rollicking monarch, plus a flock of early British film stars)
  • Tower of London (1937/Boris Karloff, with Basil Rathbone as Richard III)
  • Henry V (1944/Laurence Olivier, 1998/Kenneth Branagh)
  • Richard III (1955/Laurence Olivier, 1995/Ian McKellen)
  • The Lion in Winter (1968/Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Katharine Hepburn his Eleanor of Aquitaine. The 2003 version with Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart is not at all bad either.)
  • Becket (1964/Richard Burton in the title role with Peter O’Toole, as a younger Henry II)
  • Anne of the Thousand Days (1969/ Burton as Henry VIII this time)
TV series:
  • "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" (1970 BBC)
  • "Elizabeth R" (1971 BBC)
  • "The Shadow of the Tower: The Rise of the Tudor Dynasty" (1972 BBC)
  • "The Tudors" (2007-2010 Showtime/BBC America)
  • "Terry Jones: Medieval Lives" (2004 BBC, fun semi-animated documentary by the former Monty Pythoner)
  • "Black Adder" (1982… BBC, Rowan Atkinson’s fractured history sitcom, the first of the four series is set in the British Middle Ages circa Richard III)
  • "A History of Britain" (2000-2002 BBC/The History Channel)
  • "Monarchy" (2004-2006 UK Channel 4)
Film and TV selections available on Netflix, among other outlets.

  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009) mega award-winning fictionalized bio of the rise of Thomas Cromwell in the reign of Henry VIII
  • The Women of the Cousins’ War, the Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother (2011), biographical compilation by Philippa Gregory and others
  • The White Queen (2009), The Red Queen (2010), The Lady of the Rivers (2011), The Other Boleyn Girl (2001), The Constant Princess (2005), The Boleyn Inheritance (2006), and other historical novels of the Wars of the Roses and Tudor Court by Philippa Gregory
  • Mary Queen of Scots (1969), The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (editor, 1975), The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in 17th Century England (1984), The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) by Lady Antonia Fraser (Pinter)
Could go on and on with works on Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc and others…but we’ll save those for another play/another blog post.

Connie Mahan

Anglophile, history and film maven

- - - - - - - - - -

The Making of a King: Henry IV & Henry V is now playing through March 4. Click here for more information and tickets.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Behind the Grime" by Rachel Pollock

by Rachel Pollock, Crafts Artisan

My favorite project on Henry IV is far and away the aging process for Falstaff's fiddleback leather coat, which was custom made for actor Michael Winters in the role. We brought on board tailor Kara Monroe (also a UNC alum from our costume production MFA program) to pattern and construct the coat from three hides of lovely buttery leather. (It had to be big to go over Mr. Winters' prodigious fat padding suit!)

Kara made a beautiful garment, but a just-made coat looks like exactly that: a new piece of clothes! Falstaff is not the sort of man who has a brand new anything in this play, unless it's maybe a brand new bottle of booze. Costume Designer Jennifer Caprio had very clear ideas about the nature of the coat--my notes from our discussion about the aging say:
  • his favorite coat
  • worn it for 30 years in battle/war/bar brawls
  • lays around brothels in it
  • drinks all night in it, passes out in it

Costume design rendering by Jennifer Caprio
Michael Winters as Falstaff in a fitting for the coat.
I tell my students that the nature of the aging process is twofold. There's breakdown, which might be as simple as laundering a new shirt with washing soda or might be as extensive as ripping a ragged hem or tearing holes in knees/elbows. And, there's pigment age, which might be dipping white shirt in a pot of tea or might be splattering it with paint or ink or dye. For the Falstaff coat, I did very little breakdown, only using a fine grit sandpaper on some of the flat-fell seams and across the tops of the shoulders, just to soften the leather and rough up the surface a tad. The majority of work involved pigment aging--in this case, application of leather dyes and French Enamel Varnish.

French Enamel Varnish, more commonly called FEV in our industry, is a medium that you mix yourself according to your needs. Its components are leather dye, denatured alcohol, and shellac, and your project determines the ratio. If you need something runny, use a minimal amount of shellac; if you need something thick, use a lot of shellac and not much alcohol. Use more dye for more pigmentation, less for lighter hues. Use gloves when you work with it and only apply it in a well-ventilated area. I cut on the big wall vents in my dye shop and, thanks to the mild winter, even opened the windows.

Application of FEV on interior of Falstaff coat.
I applied this treatment in four layers, and unfortunately it went fast enough and I was busy enough I only have the one process shot laying on the table. But I can tell you about it! First, I used a dauber to apply tan leather dye to all the seams on the coat. Kara and Jen had put a lot of thought into the construction of this coat and I wanted to highlight that fiddleback seam placement, and the number of gores in the frock. The tan leather dye served to pump up the eye's perception of those seams onstage.

Next, I used a toothbrush to flick the tan dye and some medium brown leather dye up from the hem like residual stains from ancient mud splatters, and also to drip it down from above (like drunk-guy spillage and rain-stain from some bad weather on an age-old battlefield) onto the lapels and chest. I also used a chip brush with the two kinds of leather dye and two related colors of FEV to paint a sort of ombre effect from the hem up, to create some sweat stains in the armpits and around the collar, and to do some allover dry-brush toning.

Front view on form.
Rear view on form.
Stage shot of ensemble by Jon Gardiner with Michael Winters as Falstaff in foreground.
Hope you enjoyed seeing "behind the grime," and if you are in the Triangle area, definitely check out these two plays. They are, quite literally, epic.

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The Making of a King: Henry IV & Henry V is now playing through March 4. Click here for more information and tickets.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Welding fit for a King"
by Trevor Collins

Trevor is a carpenter in the PlayMakers scene shop and is responsible for building the sets for Mainstage and PRC2 productions.

Big Bertha, the massive PlayMakers welder
In the PlayMakers shop there are three Lincoln Electric MIG welders, however only one of them has been given a name: Bertha. Big Bertha to be precise, and she is about two sizes larger than the other two newer welders in the shop. The graduate students, both past and present, remember her fondly. Despite her larger size, given a choice, Bertha is the welder we reach for nine times out of ten.
For the set build of Henry IV and Henry V, Bertha saw a lot of action. Since the set is predominantly made of steel, we required a larger number of crew members in the steel section of the shop than usual.  With so much steel in the production, all three welders have been employed, but Bertha has remained the favorite.

“Welding” or steel work is about 70% preparation, 10% welding, and 20% clean up. After all of the work of cutting the numerous pieces, setting up the countless jigs, bending all of the trussing and double checking everything a multitude of times, having Bertha at your side, to assist in creating one of the nicest welding beads you’ve ever produced, is icing on the cake.

What sets Bertha apart from the other MIG welders in the shop is that the black box housing the welding wire is removable. It can be rolled around about 20 feet away from where the rest of Bertha is. Once we moved the set into the Paul Green Theatre, we were able to keep Bertha at the back wall of the theatre and weld anywhere on the set, saving us lots of time and energy in not having to lift one of the welders onto the stage.

Bertha is a vital piece of equipment in the scene shop enabling us to complete our sets in time for tech. She is one of those tools that makes you wonder how any shop could survive with out having a Big Bertha of their own.

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The Making of a King: Henry IV and Henry V runs January 28 to March 4. Click here for more information and tickets.

Monday, February 6, 2012

From Sketches to the Stage

Costume designer Jennifer Caprio has generously shared some of her design materials with us to give an inside look at the design process. Here are a couple of her beautiful watercolor "renderings," shown alongside actual production photos that show how the final costume came together.


Falstaff Costume Rendering
Falstaff, played by Michael Winters, with young prince Hal (Shawn Fagan)

Hotspur Costume Rendering
Hotspur, played by Cody Nickell (R), with Worcester (Ray Dooley)

Costume design images courtesy of Jennifer Caprio.
Production photos by Jon Gardiner.

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The Making of a King: Henry IV & Henry V is now playing through March 4. Click here for more information and tickets.