Monday, March 28, 2011

The Joy of Teaching

Will Windsor Erwin, the author of the following post, is currently leading a Young Actors Workshop class and will be teaching the Young Actors Company class that is enrolling now.

“Boppity Bop Bop Bop!”
“Zip! Zap! Zop!”
“Teapot. One, Two, Three!”
The combination of words may sound odd to some, but these are just some examples of the strange games played within Montgomery Theater’s youth theatre classes… and I couldn’t be more thrilled to help lead them.
After spending the last two years earning my MA in Theatre, up to my ears in theatre theory, writing, acting, and defending a thesis, and applying all I’ve learned in actual practice I was burned out. I spent all-nighters creating production histories, visual files, annotated bibliographies. I wrote papers, papers, and more papers.
I didn’t hate graduate school. I loved it, in fact. I made some amazing friends, worked with talented professors, designers, and directors. I participated in a play that took place in and around a water-filled pool. I even shaved my head.
All in the name of theatre.
And after the whirlwind was over, after all the Pomp and Circumstance, after the degree arrived (much mangled) in the mail, I felt like a piece was missing. And suddenly… the piece arrived.
My time at Montgomery Theater has reawakened everything about theatre I thought I’d lost. I am free to imagine again and can play these games with a refreshed view and vigor. And it has come to me through the excitement of the children I work with in Montgomery’s youth classes.
I have two rules when I teach a class:


I implement these rules because I want to create a positive learning atmosphere. How can ANYONE let go and be free in the fear of someone laughing at them? With so much negativity out there, theatre is the one safe space I have left… and I wanted to make sure the space was there for the young ones willing, eager, and able to learn.
As much as I try to teach my students about the aspects of theatre:
about vocal control, working as a team, about being fearless to try new things, and, most importantly, about OWNING POSITIVE SELF ESTEEM… they have taught me more.

I had forgotten what it was like to let go of everything. I had forgotten what it was like to first learn about theatre. What it was like to let my imagination run wild. What it was like to be a kid.
I cherish the time here at Montgomery because I am constantly surprised at the students’ continued wonderment within each class I teach. I am inspired to see the shy student break out, or the “bossy” student take the step back into the ensemble. And I am empowered knowing that every ounce of self esteem I have helped plant and nourish will aid my students in every step of their lives.

- Will Windsor Erwin

Monday, March 21, 2011

How Not to be a Doctor

By Kristin Heckler, Production Associate/Box Office Manager

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love theater. Like most people involved in theater, I started as a performer and have always been involved in any school activity remotely related to drama. In middle school and high school, my closest friends were my friends from the musicals or choir. I always felt happiest when working on a show, rehearsing or performing.

I attended Duke University and began as a Pre-Med student. I wanted to be a doctor for a long time and although my parents supported my love of theater, they always insisted it was a hobby. That didn’t stop me from getting involved in theater at Duke and soon after arriving, I auditioned for Hoof ‘n’ Horn, Duke’s completely student run musical theater organization. It was very exciting to get back into the theater scene and I quickly found my true friends among their ranks. As soon as I joined Hoof ‘n’ Horn, my happiness with Duke increased dramatically (no pun intended) and I knew I would invest a lot of time in the organization.

The spring show that year was Guys and Dolls, which I had already performed in at Pennridge. As fun as the show is, I wasn’t looking forward to wearing an ugly dress and singing “Follow the Fold” for the rest of the semester, so I volunteered to be the Props Mistress for the show. It was a very difficult and thankless job, but it was the first real exposure I had to working behind the scenes and I liked it better than I thought I would. I was just focused on my part of the production running smoothly and fastidiously checked the prop table before each performance.

Although I do not aspire to a life in props, this job is an important part of my story because it was the first time I realized I was good at work behind the curtain. I also learned to appreciate all of the designers, run crew, stage managers and everyone else that contributed to the production. Well eventually I left Pre-Med and wandered around through my Spanish and Women’s Studies classes for a couple more years, never really feeling at home or spurred to start my career in any specific field.

Fall semester of senior year, several things happened at once. First, I was in a musical theater class. The professor (whom I developed a wonderful relationship with) assigned the class to create a musical revue of the history of musical theater, rather than having a final exam. Although my fellow students were not performers and we had limited time for rehearsals, I dove right into the project and contributed more hours than anyone else in my class. Working on the revue never felt like work. I found myself putting off my other class work just to make schedules and coordinate between producers, writers, accompanists and performers. It never felt like work and I could spend hours on it without even realizing time had passed. The second thing was planning my following semester. I was planning to audition for a show, costume design the Hoof ‘n’ Horn spring show and direct a cabaret for Hoof ‘n’ Horn. I realized all of my time was going to be spent working on shows and it excited me and sort of confused me. I still wasn’t planning to work in theater and yet I would be spending all my time there? The third thing happened to me while I was home on Thanksgiving break. I saw I Love My Wife at Montgomery Theater and decided during intermission that I wanted my career to be in theater (basically aspiring to be Tom Quinn, watch out TQ!) and I would love to be involved in a theater like this one.

Well, six months later I was graduated, jobless, relatively unconcerned about it and my dad and I had lunch with Tom Quinn to discuss how he got to be the Artistic Director of Montgomery Theater. At lunch, Tom mentioned they would be having a job opening as Production Associate/Box Office Manager. Well that sounded pretty great to me since I was spending every minute looking for unpaid internships in New York. So I applied and the rest is history. Here I am, Production Associate/Box Office Manager and loving every minute!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Everybody Loves Sets

Hi everyone, Cameron here, Technical Director for MT

It’s been a little while since we spoke (Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been….”
Anyway, since I last posted, there have been a couple of interesting sets, with their own interesting challenges to face and overcome. Everybody Loves Opal comes to mind. At face value, a rundown Victorian-style house, described by the playwright as an “ode to the jigsaw”. That means lots of scrollwork, intricate moldings and the like.

A challenge in itself. BUT. Add the topper at the end of Act one, when the second floor comes crashing down in a Rube Goldberg/Mousetrap kind of sequence of events, depositing about 200 pounds of debris on the stage floor. There’s a musical carousel, a winding string, a pulled pin, a careening wagon on the stairs, a toppled support post, a cracked header beam, and a torrent of falling items from “upstairs” including yellowed newspapers, an old iron that swings like a hanged convict, handfuls of clattering silverware and an unfurling oriental rug that manages to conceal the secret escape of Opal, who we all assume is buried under the pile of rubble.
If this works, there should be a link to the youtube video of a rehearsal of this event. Trust me, when we got it up to full speed, with all the real debris falling, and the precision timing, it was awesome to see. And it took about three miles of rigging rope, about 25 pulleys, springs, lynch pins, synchronized communication on headsets and a LOT of faith from the director, Tony Braithwaite. Oh, and there was a lot of experimentation to get the right “falling dust” effect. Too dusty, and it would form a cloud that would hang for an hour. We ended up with a mixture of scoopable kitty litter and baking soda sprinkled on top of everything that fell, so there was a nice rain of dust for realism. Ultimately, I stayed on to crew with the ASMs to make sure it ran flawlessly every night. So, for four weekends, my social life consisted of sitting in a dark hallway, whispering off-color jokes and singing through a headset to my friends Nancy, Tom, Tina and sometimes Brian who just couldn’t stay out of the booth.
It was one of the best times of my life. (inside joke: How deep is your well?)

Cameron Purdy
March, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Trailer Park Party

This post by Montgomery Theater Board member and hostess extraordinaire Laura Heckler illustrates perfectly her talent for bringing the excitement with her wherever she goes. I hope you enjoy reading about the memorable Trailer Park after party.

Did you know that you can rent the upstairs rehearsal hall at Montgomery Theater for private parties? When I heard that MT was producing “The Great American Trailer Park Musical”, I was inspired. We had to have a Trailer Park Cook-off! I would invite my guests to get a ticket to the show and afterward we would go up for a tasting of some “fabulous” food. You know… those kinds of recipes made with Velveeta, Cream of Anything Soup, Jello or Lipton Onion Soup.

I thought that it would be fun if everyone dressed the part. Guys could wear flannel shirts, camouflage, work boots or anything with a NASCAR logo. Women should wear anything tight & made up of a flammable, polyester material with tons of blue eyeshadow and mall chick hairdos. Fantastic prizes would be awarded in many categories.

Last Sunday the big day arrived. Over 60 friends hooted and howled at the uproariously funny “Trailer Park Musical” and then headed upstairs to continue the fun. The stairway was posted with “Top Ten Ways To Tell If You Are In A Trailer Park”. (My personal favorite was number 1 “If you let your 12 year old daughter smoke at the dinner table in front of her children.”). The room was decorated with a clothesline full of hunting clothes and gaudily colored lingerie. The mirrors were framed with glowing Luau Flip Flop lights. Mismatched napkins left from bygone Birthday, Easter and Christmas parties were handy on every table. Trash bags and duct tape served as tablecloths. We had a blow up “Ducky” pool Filled with Boone’s Farm, Budweiser and Mad Dog 20/20 on the bar. The Jell-o shots were lovely shades of lime green, electric raspberry, glow in the dark blue and school bus yellow.

The food, boy was there food. Guests were really into finding the perfect recipe for the competition. Aluminum sterno trays were laden with everything “Tan”. Potato Chips topped chicken and cheese casseroles. We had the old favorite green bean casserole, broccoli soufflĂ©, sloppy joes, and pulled pork. Some of the more unusual entries were: Frito Pie made with Hormel chili, cheese and…Fritos; Henny Penny Chicken Salad made with Old English Cheddar Cheese (yes it comes in a jar); “Is it really better than sex?” cake – some said yes!; and the grand prize winner, Kitty Litter Cake. It was hilarious, the cake came in a kitty litter pan with a scoop and tootsie rolls on top. It took a while for people to be brave enough to try it!

Next were the prizes. The maker of the pretzel jell-o salad (made by sautĂ©ing the pretzels in butter before adding the jell-o) won a redneck wine glass – a mason jar on a stem. She happily exclaimed “Look it has a lid so it can be a to-go cup!” Another guest won a camouflage six pack holder/fanny pack. He was seen on the way out wearing it fully loaded with Budweiser. Another coveted prize was the floating, flamingo wine coasters. Everyone agreed that this was the best way to beat the winter blues!

Laura's right - if you want to throw your own party (for a birthday, an anniversary or just for the fun of it), you can rent the upstairs rehearsal hall after a show. Call (215) 723-9984 x11 for more information.