Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Theatre For/With/As Young People

by Michael McElroy (aka Principal Grimm)

The young middle and high school-ers who make up 16/18ths of the Fairy Tale High School cast are getting a pretty unique opportunity for young actors. The have the privilege of getting a first-hand glimpse into the world of professional theatre. Most young actors are brought along slowly. They begin their acting journeys with school productions, parent volunteers and watered-down scripts. But these 16 talented kids are getting an opportunity most others do not. They are working at a professional theatre company, on a stage built, lit and designed by professionals, where they are performing a play written by an emerging playwright and theatre professional. Not too shabby.
When I was a kid, slowly realizing that my loud and vibrant personality could be honed into a talent that could carry me far in life, I would have loved an opportunity like Fairy Tale High School. Instead I would just perform in whatever play my school decided to put on. I had a blast, for sure, but I didn't have the faintest idea what it meant to be a theatre professional. When the time came to go to college and figure out my life's direction, I still didn't have a full understanding of where this career could take me. How great would it have been to get some professional experience before even having to make such big life decisions?
These students are getting just that. Whether it is learning the theatre lingo (it is called "rehearsal", not "play practice", as director Tom Quinn loves to remind them,) or just getting experience with all of the other common procedures of professional theatre (getting off book, call time, costume fittings, production photos, etc.)
The Montgomery Theatre has given these young people a tremendous gift. The gift of a first experience. And it has been an absolute privilege to play my role in these new beginnings.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fairy Tale High School!

by Liz McDonald
Once I completed my theatre studies at Loyola University Chicago, I decided to stay in the city for 3 additional years to pursue a career in comedy and the stage. When I returned home in 2009, I didn’t know anything about the Philadelphia theatre scene, so I turned to my high school director and friend, Tony Braithwaite. The first thing he said to me was, “Go audition for Tom Quinn at Montgomery Theater.” With his advice I got online to see what the Theatre Alliance call board had to offer and to my delight there was an announcement for Montgomery Theater’s Project Stage production of Stuart Little and a second call for their Main Stage musical: I Love My Wife. I vowed in that moment to get cast in a least one of those shows. With my freakish ability to emulate a bird and a lot of hard work (and by that I mean a serious diet – TQ had us audition for I Love My Wife in bikinis!), I was cast in both shows and finally had my foot in the door of professional theatre in Philadelphia.
Working on shows in both Montgomery Theater spaces at (almost) the same time taught me the absolute best thing about The Project Stage. It is, without a doubt, professional theater. Tom Quinn conducts his rehearsals, notes, costume, set and props designs, techs, and even rehearsal breaks exactly the same upstairs as he does down. That having been said, he perfectly casts his Project Stage shows with the same meticulous precision as he does his Main Stage shows, but, with an exception for a couple adults, only with teenage and child actors. I don’t know how he does it or where he finds these kids either, but they are incredible! […he must spend his off time stalking around Merrymead Farm or Souderton High School’s cafeteria during lunch. I bet the kids are drawn to him because he comes across as a younger, hipper, Santa Claus in penny loafers, but instead of toys, he promises stardom and a career path of excellence. That’s why I was drawn to him anyway…]
A few months ago, I was thrilled to receive a call from TQ asking if I would “accept the role of the Fairy Guidance Counselor” in Fairy Tale High School. “Accept the part?! At this point in my relationship with Montgomery Theater, I’d figure out how to walk on water for you, Tom! Yes, please cast me in this incredible world premiere script!” I was so excited.
On the day of the read through, I sat down with my new cast mates, ready to hear the script for the first time in its entirety and I was immediately reminded of the level of excellence that is inherent on The Project Stage. In college, I was taught that at the first read through, one should really just focus on the words and hearing the story as a group for the first time and not to worry about using accents or anything of that nature. Right out of the gate at this read – BANG! There were 10 year olds Steven Rimdzius and Allison Lacianca giving voices to the Turtle of The Tortoise and the Hare and Goldilocks of The Three Little Bears that made me, at 28, quake in my boots and realize that I had to go home and really work on my character if I wanted to keep up with these kids! And for the past 5 weeks that’s exactly what I have been trying to do.
TQ says he hires a couple adult actors for the Project Stage shows to help “teach the kids the ropes” of professional theatre, but after working on Fairy Tale High School, I can honestly say that I learned from them (especially after Prince Charming, Brooks Inciardi, told me I was a bad influence for talking back stage… Whoops!). At all of our rehearsals, every one of the show’s 18 actors has been stepping up to the plate with new hilarious character choices to make playwright, Bill D’Agostino’s already brilliant script come to life. I couldn’t possibly be more excited for this show to open. I hope you all get a chance to see this outstanding and professional new work. You will all be in awe of the talents of these child and teenage actors and from them, much like I did, you might just learn a little about yourself in the process.
As for me and my time spent on The Project Stage, I will leave this show even MORE in love with Montgomery Theater and Tom Quinn. …but not like that! EW! He could be my father! …wait….my mom loves him too … I don’t THINK he’s my father…