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Meet the Cast of THE ODD COUPLE

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Finding Our Way

Since writing the last part of Installment #1, we’ve hired a new leading man, fired the production manager, and opened Iron Curtain to rave reviews. As the song says, “We’ll Make It!” and we did. Prospect Theatre Company is not unlike Village Theatre in that they are passionate about telling stories. Story tellers are a rare breed. They are devoted to creating something out of nothing. Shakespeare’s King Lear said, “Nothing comes from nothing” so perhaps I am wrong in saying that we make something out of nothing. But what is nothing? Nothing is something, right? After all there is a word for it, so it must be something. Wait – am I getting existential? Do I even know what that means?

I just know that I experienced a phenomenon during our three and a half days of technical rehearsals. Tech is where the actors work for the first time on stage and incorporate all of the designer elements: costumes, wigs, lights, sets, props, and sound. The actor’s performance is usually enhanced by the addition of these technical elements. I say usually, because this tech was wrought with problems. After three days of waiting for the set to be completed, the production manager was fired. So, the day before our first preview, we were faced with some very difficult situations: no set for Act II, costume quick changes unrehearsed due to lack of set, and lights were unable to tech due to… you guessed it, the lack of a set. But with determination, hard work, talent, newly hired carpenters, late nights for our tech crew, and a good sense of humor, we made it through.

Witnessing the strength of character and commitment to this project in this remarkable group of administrators, designers, technicians, and actors, I believe that something comes from nothing. On Saturday afternoon, we quickly ran through Act II so that the lighting designer was able to at least give us some sort of light so the audience could see us. The multi-level, moveable platforms had been built sometime between 11PM-2AM on Friday night, but we had to cut them for the evening’s preview performance as they didn’t move safely nor did the brakes work. For that evening’s performance, we reverted to the choreography used in the rehearsal room – levels were only imagined in our heads and the audience saw a more horizontal version of the choreographer’s design.

Saturday, November 5th – First Preview

No one Died.

We performed for our first preview audience without having to stop and without injury. That is a blessing because the adrenalin has been pumping constantly through the actors & technicians veins during this tech process; our bodies have been on fight or flight for four days straight. We are tired, scared, and angry. For three weeks, we have been working in the rehearsal studio to create a specific, unique, and believable story, but when the visual element of the story is left undone, we are forced to work even harder to convince the audience that they should listen to us. If we are performing in an environment that is not complete, then we have to not only create this crazy world of Iron Curtain, but we have to overcome visual obstacles that the audience constantly is forced to endure. Theatre is a group effort and when one person fails to do their job, everyone else is affected. First preview down – no one died – excellent.

Sunday, November 6th – Tech in the afternoon and Second Preview in the evening.

New Set Piece Revealed – Oops

Repairs have been done to the ACT II moving platforms; they still don’t work right. We do the horizontal version of the choreography again. The audience seems to love the show and no one dies, however, there was a new set piece that was added in ACT I, but we didn’t rehearse with it. During the preview, one of the dancers didn’t know it was going to be there and proceeded with her usual track and danced right into it. It fell over. Thankfully she was not hurt and our sense of humor dominated the situation. That humor has been our saving grace; the tech process has been so full of problems that we decided to laugh instead of cry. These people are beautiful to work with.

Monday, November 7th

Day Off for Actors

The actors are off, but the crew will be working to fix the tech problems. We are all on vocal rest. My family comes to town to visit and see my Off-Broadway opening. I cannot talk much as I’m on vocal rest, but it is so good to see them and be in their loving company. We tour NYC by walking through central park, going to Top of the Rock (viewing the New York skyline from the top of Rockefeller Center) and learning all about Mr. R’s philanthropic vision for New York City.

Tuesday, November 8th – Afternoon rehearsal and Third Preview in the evening.

More Set Pieces

The platforms work and they are put into the show for tonight’s final preview. We get through it. The audience enjoys the show.

Wednesday, November 9th – Afternoon rehearsal and Opening Night.

Is It Playtime Yet?

We continue to rehearse rough spots from last night: set change transitions, new choreography is added, costume changes are rehearsed, and set issues are addressed. The 8 piece orchestra is behind the stage and the sound designer wants to hear them more acoustically. He takes away the heavy black curtain that has been separating them from the stage and adds a lighter drop so we can hear them better. Fingers are crossed that nothing goes wrong tonight. My family is in the audience tonight; some of them haven’t seen me perform since 1980. I hope they like what they see.

We got through the show without mishap. We can hear the orchestra now. No more rehearsals in front of an audience; we can now begin to find our rhythm and play. My family is here for my off-Broadway opening night. I see them afterwards and they are proud of me. My picture taking brother-in-law is taking photographs of everything he sees. The best shot is blurry, but it’s of my sisters and I (Karen is in green, Lorraine is on the right). A union of souls and blood is a powerful experience. I am deeply happy to share this night with them.

November 25, 2011-Black Friday (for retail) Nineteenth show (for us).

I am travelling back to NYC on a peaceful and smooth Amtrak ride. I had the pleasure of spending two days of the Thanksgiving holiday with my sister, Karen, and her family in Myerstown, Pennsylvania. It feels so good to be here on the East coast – so near family and so close to a vibrant city full of top theatrical talent.

Potential Producers are coming to the shows so that it can go further and perhaps get a Broadway Run. I hope Iron Curtain gets its chance on The Great White Way*; audiences will love it. We are getting great houses and are granted an extension through December 4th. This gives a chance for more potential producers to see this show. Reviews have been extremely favorable. I get first mention in the New York Times review and am called “Uproarious”. Wow. That was unexpected. I will have that vote of confidence in my life forever now. It feels so good.

*The Great White Way was a nickname originating in the headline “Found on the Great White Way” in the Februrary 3, 1902 edition of the New York Evening Telegram. The journalistic nickname was inspired by the millions of lights on theater marquees and billboard advertisements that illuminate the area. (Wikipedia)

We had the distinct pleasure of receiving critical feeback on the new musical TAKE ME AMERICA from a veteran of the Canadian refugee/aslyum process — for ten year’s, this person served as a “judge” and Member of the Immigration and Refugee Board. This person saw the show a few weeks ago and had this very insightful, interesting feedback to share. Enjoy.

————-

The asylum process is not an easy subject to treat through this medium — as it is never easy for the actual participants in real life — and I applaud the courage and creativity that has gone into the Village Theatre production…and the film on which it was based. What came through clearly was the authentic and over-arching desire of the refugees to find new lives in America, whether or not their stories were truthful or met the official criteria for asylum. The gay character, Jean, who tried repeatedly to succeed by changing his claim, epitomized this in a disarming way. The same theme was beautifully expressed by Asif, in the song, “Surfing in Gaza.”

I felt the motivation of the decision-makers was portrayed less sympathetically and the characters seemed comparatively superficial. Their musical numbers, “I Just Work Here,” “Gotta Get’ Em”, and the refrain, “punch a clock, save a life,” gave me a chill. That’s not to say such attitudes don’t exist, but this is a sort of trite characterization of government officials. The new agent on the job did illuminate the struggle to show compassion while still assessing credibility and applying the legal requirement for a “well-founded fear.” The challenge to communicate and avoid misunderstandings (without an interpreter present) also got some deserved attention.

I’m very grateful for this whole experience and throughout I kept wishing that I had been able to make a contribution when the musical was being developed.

Please keep up your good work at the Village Theatre. I hope to sample more during future visits to Seattle.

Humanities Washington

Humanities Washington is launching Beyond Talking Points, an ongoing discussion program examining headline issues from various perspectives and promoting shared understanding. The new program debuts with the three-part event “Perspectives on (Im)Migration,” taking place Oct. 11 and 25, and Nov. 16 in Bellevue.

“Beyond Talking Points aims to bring community members together to learn about and discuss controversial topics in a civil manner,” explains Executive Director Julie Ziegler. “Using the humanities as a tool, we hope to promote shared understanding and critical thinking on issues that divide us, enabling us to move beyond sound bites and slogans.”

The series got underway Oct. 11 at Bellevue City Hall with a screening of the award-winning documentary The Other Side of Immigration, and continued Oct. 25 at the same location with a discussion about immigrants as job creators. The final installment takes place Nov. 16 at the Bellevue Arts Museum. That session will feature a discussion with refugees from several different countries who now reside in Washington state, along with the screening of clips from the award-winning documentary Rain in a Dry Land.

If the topics and ideas portrayed in TAKE ME AMERICA interest or interested you after seeing the show, we hope you’ll consider attending the final installment tomorrow.

We’re a little behind schedule with posting Bobbi’s happenings in New York, but here we go! Follow Bobbi (who you know as Mrs. Potts or Hildret Heinz in IRON CURTAIN) as she makes her first Off-Broadway appearance as Hildret at Prospect Theatre Company!

Getting  Lost. I’ve always been a person who follows my gut instinct. Sometimes, however, my gut wants to take the long way.

I flew out of Seattle at 3:00PM on Friday, October 14th on my journey to New York City to work Off-Broadway. I still am unable to wrap my head around this incredible blessing. I look for wonders along the way; it starts with meeting a friend on my flight and one of my seatmates knows a fellow Village Theatre donor and friend, Maggie Pehrson.  I feel uneasy about the challenges ahead, but I know that these connections are sign posts for me. I sense that I’m in the right place, but I am still reaching for courage. I grew up in Pennsylvania and took multiple trips to New York City, but found that New York is a city that has a beat or a pulse that forces me to cocoon. My soul closes up, I become frightened, I feel invaded by the incoming energy. It makes me want to run away and hug a tree.  I reach out to find strength and I receive a feeling that I need to allow my roots to grow far and deep. I go with this. Like I said, I follow my gut instincts.

I arrive at Newark Airport at 11:00PM. Prospect Theatre Company has arranged for me to be picked up by Carmel Car Company. My bags made it safely and I call the car company and I’m told that I’ll be “picked up at Level B, Station 5 in 7 minutes.” I grab my four bags (Hey, I’m here for a month through three seasons!) and I look for the Level B, Station 5 sign. I see it across the roadway right next to the parking lot. I wait but no car shows up. 10 minutes later, I call the car company, “He’ll be there. Look for a black town car!” It’s now 25 minutes later and I call a third time. As I’m on hold with the dispatcher, I turn around and see a black town car across the roadway right where I came out. I see the driver standing outside his car, talking on the phone, and making gestures of frustration. I decide to get his attention by shouting across the driveway, “Hey mister, are you waiting for me?”  Just then, the dispatcher gets on the phone and I ask him if he’s on the phone with the driver and sure enough – the driver has been waiting for me at level B, station 5.  I inform the car company, that there are two Level B Station 5’s. Like I said, I go with my gut but sometimes, I have to take the long way home.
I arrive at my new home for the next two months and am greeted by my kind friends, David Austin, Tim Wilson & their dog, Bodie.  I have to quickly settle in because I need to be at rehearsal at 10AM the next day. First night in NYC; I sleep like a cat in winter and am up early raring to go.

How do I get to rehearsal? I’m used to driving an hour to work every day, but I also know where I’m going. I’m living on the upper west side. Rehearsal is on the lower east side. How in blazes do I get there? I take a taxi. $15.00 and 20 minutes later, I’m at The Baruch Performing Arts Center to start rehearsing my first off-Broadway show.

More from Bobbi next week!

Last season, Village Theatre’s audiences learned that ‘there’s no communism like show communism’ when Iron Curtain took the Mainstage. This November, audiences in New York have a chance to see the hilarious commie-dy when it moves on to an off-Broadway production with Prospect Theater Company at the Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City.

It’s always exciting when one of Village Theatre’s new musicals finds success, however in this case it is particularly wonderful. Bobbi Kotula, the individual Giving Manager in the theatre’s development department and local actress who originated the show-stopping role of Hildret Heinz in Iron Curtain, will be traveling to New York to reprise the character.

By Jeff Church.

Bobbi’s experience with the role goes way back to Village Theatre’s production of Once Upon a Time in New Jersey in 2007 when she met author’s Susan DiLallo and Stephen Weiner. Though she was playing the role of a mother in …Jersey, DiLallo and Weiner saw something in Bobbi that convinced them she would be the ideal person to play a German dominatrix/ film director in another musical they were working on. Sure enough, when Iron Curtain came to Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals, Bobbi took the role of Hildret Heinz and never looked back.

Bobbi recalls singing Hildret’s solo musical number, “A Frau Divided,” for the first time at the reading. The director urged her to tell the story with her voice, thus no dancing was included, a choice that continued even in the Mainstage production.  “I was never asked to do so much with my voice, but I knew I could handle it. The song makes note of different musical genres, so I tried to match my voice to the genres. I’d never experienced such a wave of applause after singing on stage as I did at that first reading, and then again when the show opened on the Mainstage. I was just in awe,” she remembers.

Having followed the development of Iron Curtain since it left Village Theatre, Bobbi was excited to learn that it would take the stage in New York. “Hildret Heinz is a once-in-a-lifetime part. I’ll play her as many times as I can,” Bobbi explained.  She emailed the director about her interest in the part, and before long she was making arrangements to spend a few months in the city.

Bobbi Kotula in Village Theatre’s 2011 production. Photo by Jay Koh.

This will be the first time Bobbi will appear in New York, and she looks forward to facing some of the fears that come with performing there. “The New York theatre community has a reputation. I want to get over the fear that I am not good enough for New York audiences or critics, to prove to myself that I can do it. I’m going to enjoy the moment and find peace and joy in the experience,” she says.

As many Village Theatre patrons know, a new musical is constantly evolving. Since it appeared on the Mainstage, the script has changed a little. One of Hildret’s songs has been cut from the first act; however the character is more visually throughout the play. And of course, this production will feature a new production team, so costumes and sets will be a little different too. While Bobbi loved her experience with Iron Curtain at Village Theatre, she looks forward to seeing how the musical will continue to evolve.

Having been a part of Iron Curtain for the last five years as it developed from a reading all the way to a Mainstage production, and now beyond, Bobbi isn’t planning to forget about Village Theatre. “I’m excited to get there, invest myself in their process, and let people know there is great theatre outside of New York as well. We’re doing exciting things over here too,” she says of her plans.

As she prepares to join Iron Curtain on its journey, Bobbi encourages everyone to dream big. “I can’t believe this is actually happening. It’s such a blessing. It’s important to imagine your life and make space for these big things. Life is not a rehearsal.”

To learn more about Iron Curtain’s newest production, visit http://www.prospecttheater.org.