Dear Diary LOL- AntiGravity Theatre Project and Fringe Arts

The Take Away

  • Earnest, exuberant, and fun performances

  • Centering the narrative on budding female sexuality from the actual words of pre-teens

  • A nearly all white writing base, and all white performers made for tidy white feminism

 

In Our Pockets

 

 

Linor

I’m a white lady who kept a lot of diaries as a girl, I’m straight, so I thought a lot about boys as a kid, and I had a glass of rose in my hand. I think that oughta cover it.

 

Nan

I’m also a white/ish/passing lady who kept a ton of diaries as a kid, and though I’m not straight now I also thought a lot about boys as a kid, because you know, society. I was on my second beer.   And I know a couple people involved in the show, and went to the performance with a friend who had seen an earlier iteration and enjoyed it.

 

Design

Nan

I love it when FringeArts produces the work of little guy companies that are actually local and actually little. My first impression was that though they had moved up into FringeArts territory, it seemed like they still had small budgets and a very DIY aesthetic.

Were they also giving out or selling box wine in the house? 

Linor 

Oh they were giving it out! Hence the rose in my hand. I thought it was a nice touch. Made me feel like I was at an adult sleepover.

 

Nan

For a show that focuses on gaining perspective and the ability to laugh at our groan-worthy teenage actions, I think adding alcohol to the equation was a really wise choice.

Linor

Absolutely. I think it also gave us the sense that even if we didn’t know the performers, we should feel like we were in on the joke.

Nan

They definitely gave us permission to laugh throughout.

 

Linor

 That’s often a problem I have with tightly-knit devising communities here in Philly.  I feel that unless I’m buddies with some of the artists,  I’ll be missing out on all the jokes. But I didn’t get that here. 

 

Nan 

The frames were cool. The actors had a little difficulty getting their heads in far enough to not cast a shadow on their faces. The runway on the set was fun, and the simple dragging on of the mattress– there were some difficulties with the sparkly streamers and the poles falling over when I saw the show, but for a DIY style show, I think it worked.

LINOR

Those problems didn’t happen when I saw it. The costumes ROCKED it- but no designer was credited. 

 

Nan

I wondered if the actors just brought together their own costumes? They clearly had so much fun with them.

Linor 

It was perfect! I saw myself either in those outfits at 12 or coveting the outfits on the girls I admired at 12.

 

Nan

The sound designer also had a ton of fun with throwbacks I think. It was a really solid mix tape.  I think in retrospect I may not have been a cool enough kid in the 90s to fully appreciate the references though.

 

Linor

Yeah I’m also in my mid 20s so my frame of reference is a couple years behind them.

Devising

Linor

There is something universal about a tween/teen whose idea of “high stakes” is totally warped.

 

Nan

Yes, that was the heart of the show for me. The utter commitment of each performer. High stakes is exactly the phrase. It was a really interesting ensemble– I felt like they were trying to represent different kinds of girls, but there was just slightly uneven distribution of juicy content.

Linor

Yeah, I agree with you. I did find it really fun and exciting to watch these super heightened moments where it felt like life or death to have sex, romance or wild intrigue. That felt so relatable to me. Also, the cadence and tone of the tween friendships/relationships was spot on. I have to commend the makers. When Michael T Williams scooted by on his scooter and scared all four girls by shouting something nonsensical I had such middle school flashbacks.

Nan

I enjoyed that the guy is basically a prop, and Williams played that up. The performers presented this content with as much zeal as it was felt at that age, plus a touch of retrospective grownup wisdom.

Linor

I thought the ending was a little hasty and trite.

Nan

I don’t know if there was a tidy way to wrap the experience up. But I also felt the first ten minutes of the show were a bit awkwardly structured. I wonder if they might have benefitted from a writer to help organize things.

Linor

Yeah, I think it could have been about ten minutes shorter. I was curious about the role of the two silent stage hands – the two women dressed in pink.

 

Nan

They were meant to be fun, and took a bit of focus on occasion, but then were basically glorified run crew. It was hard to tell where they belonged in the story.  I wondered why they didn’t just let the cast do it.

 

Accountability

Linor 

This experience was particularly middle class and for the most part white.  I couldn’t help but wonder how the content might have changed if there were girls of color represented in the show.

 

Nan

It was a very limited depiction of experiences. I expected that but was somehow still surprised they didn’t have even one queer moment or any outliers of identity at all– the closest was one mention of Judaism.

I wonder how this ensemble came to be, and why they didn’t think to bring POC or any other kind of minority experience into it at all. In that was it was a coming of age story for the Hilary age I think. It did nothing to separate itself from the narrow experience of white feminism.

In the end, though, I was enough outside the target audience in terms of age and also minority status that I felt left out.

 

Linor

It is refreshing to see a totally earnest portrayal of young female sexuality. So I appreciate that in a time when the politics of sex are being so violently and publicly negotiated. Like, sometimes it’s nice to watch young girls want to experience sex with no darker underbelly – they are sexual creatures, whether they’ve had sex or not.

 

Nan

Earnest is the perfect word. I also feel that it’s really rare to see preteen girls’ experiences articulated by actual preteen girls, and that was lovely to see.

That said, it also felt pretty myopic in its exclusion of pretty much every kind of minority .

 

 

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Fashion Machine- Theater SKAM and Fringe Arts

The Take-Away

  • Radical, inclusive applied theater education

  • Inventive audience participation opportunities

  • A cross-generational party

 

In My Pockets

In addition to being a theater maker, I identify strongly as being a teaching artist, so part of the reason why I wanted to attend and review this experience was because I wanted to bring more attention to performances that feature kids as makers and participants. I did end up knowing three of the kids in Fashion Machine, from previous projects, although I didn’t know that when I arrived.

 

Design

The program doesn’t list any designers, but the core artists of Fashion Machine are Pamela Bethel, Ingrid Hansen, Matthew Payne, Pauline Stynes, and Shayna Ward of Theatre SKAM, a group out of Victoria, Canada. When you walk into the Fringe space, first you see a spread of food available for audience members young and old, and then seven sewing tables with machines lined up against a catwalk. The audience sits or stands around the tables, but as the action quickly gets underway, it’s clear that we are encouraged to move about the space just as much as the artists do.

 

The conceit of Fashion Machine is, as described in the digital program on FringeArts’ website, “part installation, part performance, and all fun.” As an audience member, you are asked to pick one of two stickers; one that says “I’m In!!” or one with a giant chicken on it, if you’re chicken. When the young artists are introduced and pile out from backstage, they are asked to identify a brave audience member with an “I’m In!!” sticker on and ask them if they will be their model; the kids take your measurements, ask you questions about your style, and then totally re-make the outfit you wore to the show. They have 50 minutes to cut, add, swap, and accessorize your clothes, while you watch in a fluffy white robe. The piece ends with a fashion show – models and their designers walk down the catwalk together.
Talk about the performances:

I can tell that this piece is made by non-American hands, because its treatment of these kids as contributors is honest, supportive, and refreshing. Theatre SKAM Artistic Producer Matthew Payne kicked off the event by thanking the Lenape Delaware and Susquehannock First Nations for being the original caretakers of this land, asking the audience to honor them as well before the piece begins. This kind of no-shame, no-shaming tribute is the same earnestness and radical care-taking that the adult artists exude when they walk around the space, jumping in to help kids thread needles or take measurements. There’s no pandering or belittling of the kids; they are there to help, but the outfits will be totally of the young artists’ making. There’s also a lot of dancing – Theatre SKAM’s playlist while the piece goes on is totally groovy and the core artists made sure people got moving.

I, of course, chose an “I’m In!!” sticker, and one of the girls I knew from a previous piece asked me if I could be her groups’ model. The experience of being measured and interviewed by three tiny girls before they asked me to go backstage, put all the clothes I wanted altered in a box, and come back in a fluffy robe was both terrifying and hilarious. I had a moment of panic about the possibility of them “ruining” the $14 sweatshirt I bought online, but through the guidance of the adult artists, who took the kids totally seriously, I as a participant, adult, and audience member, was able to do the same.

Not all of the models were adults – only three were over the age of 18. It was a sweet experience to be able to take part in a performance piece that asked all ages to come and support artists who are usually asked to subscribe to an “established” model of education and art-making before they can invent their own. But not at Fashion Machine. The young artists spent an accumulative 12 hours with the Core Artists learning about sewing and fashion design, sure, but also about team-building, art-making, and leadership. This kind of process-based theater education gives kids the tools to make their own work without it feeling prescriptive or annoying, and without asking the kids to make the work you want them to make first.

Accountability:

Although all the core artists present at Fashion Machine presented as white, the piece included a more diverse pool of artists and audience members in total than I’m used to seeing in FringeArt’s space. I saw kids whose parents are not American, kids whose parents are not white, and other adults who came not because their kid was in the show, but because they’re curious and/or trust FringeArts enough to see something they’ve curated. I’m happy that FringeArts asked Theatre SKAM to come back, because it legitimizes a kind of art that I feel the American theater landscape needs. Theater and art-making is an incredible process that teaches kids sensitivity, resourcefulness, collaboration, and problem-solving, but the process that builds those skills take time, and more and more now we see professional theaters sacrificing that time for the “good” of their show. The irony is that your show won’t be good unless you take that time, because actually, when you give kids the tools to make something on their own, they end up creating something really beautiful, affecting, and fun.

I’m probably not going to wear the skirt the girls made me, but I will definitely continue to wear my sweatshirt (they cut off the hood and added a pink panel in the back). The thing is, I don’t really care about the clothes they made me. That we made something “together” was more important, and that they took the lead was even better.

The Sabbatical- Bright Metal

The Take Away

  • Skilled Performances

  • Simple, effective and cohesive design

  • Important meditation on white culture and isolation 

 

In Our Pockets

Cara

A weird thing to take out of my pockets is that I am a member of a church that has an interim pastor right now, so the plot was strangely relevant to me. I should also say that I am a pushover for any play whose set can fit in the back of a taxi.

 

Plotz

As a judgmental clown who went through a different program, I was interested to see what the people coming out of the Pig Iron program were going to make. I’m picky about things like movement. Also I was hungry. 

 

Design

Cara

Amanda Jensen’s lighting, overall, was beautiful. She held us in the mood, moved us from place to place and created some beautiful looks without ever being intrusive. The soft, atmospheric lighting was perfectly for the tone of the play.

 

Plotz

I agree, although I didn’t like the use of the windowpane gobo in the pastor’s office. I think that trick is a little overused.

 

Cara

I disagree. I think it got the job done. I particularly loved the moments when people were alone in the church, surrounded by a thin outline of light. It supported the themes of isolation and personal gifts.

 

Plotz

I’m a sucker for live music, and this group did an amazing job of using music to tell the story. I think that the bits where Jeanette is playing her violin with Ruth are a great example of that. The humor called in instead of pointing out. With slightly different choices, that would have been making fun of Jeanette, instead it was a clear description of a situation that both women were in together.

 

Cara

Church music is very evocative.

 

Plotz

For some people.

 

Cara

I guess I mean that it’s differently evocative for different people. Some remember it from childhood, or still hear it now. It might bring up trauma or anger, or it might bring comfort. But regardless of whether you already have a connection to it the words chosen to be sung in the piece were, again, perfectly aligned with the story and the tone. I think the same was through of the costumes.

 

Plotz

I agree, they were simple and clear. I know you’re just waiting to talk about the set, so let’s get to it.

 

Cara

The best sets leave the most to the imagination. These benches were used to their full potential, and met all the needs of the story.

 

Plotz

So terrifying when actors sat up on the highest one with their legs dangling. 

 

Cara

As it should be! Those were terrifying moments in the story!

 

Plotz

What I liked most is how much space they made for movement, and how integrated the benches were into that movement. For example, Dell’s moving benches while Sarah instructs him was a wonderful visual story about their relationship. Similarly the two women stacking up the benches, and putting them down again evoked the very specific feeling  that comes with setting up and breaking down a room for an event, and the way that people who don’t like each other can still work together when there’s a tangible goal.

 

Cara

I was very touched by the movement pieces about Ruth and Ken’s physical relationship. Each movement in their pattern was a specific choice. The chain of movements served two purposes. Firstly, it showed us a typically complicated marriage, with all the feelings and role reversals involved. Secondly, because it was a ritual, it let us know when something was different or wrong in the marriage in a way that speaking could not.

 

Plotz

That’s clown at it’s best. It boils everything down to the essence. Which brings me to my favorite part of this piece. The tupperwares.

 

Cara

I know that hot dishes and tupperwares of cookies are a big part of social life in the midwest, and while that is not my personal experience, the image of people cradling tupperware, offering tupperware immediately hit me right in the chest. A perfect metaphor for the ways that we contain and offer ourselves.

 

Plotz

The choice to have clear tupperware, too, gave it a vulnerable feeling, that made you worry about it when it was held away from the body or into the light. Such a simple and brilliant choice.

 

Performances

 

Plotz

This was a very strong ensemble. Nobody stood out because all of the performers were equally skilled, equally tuned in to the others and deeply giving. The devotion of each performer to the larger whole was one of the most magical things about the piece for me. I want to take time to really call out how skilled in movement and voice each performer was. These characters were deeply felt and fully lived.

 

Cara

I was so open to this story because the performers were brave enough to be gentle with their characters. As you were saying about the violin playing scenes, any of these characters could have been played for laughs which is very typical and something I hate.  

 

Plotz

Caitlin Erin Collins’ Jeanette is a good example of that. The difference between her being a lame SNL bit and a beloved character is in the earnestness with which she was played, but it’s also in the way that the other characters treat her. It’s a testament to the whole ensemble that we as the audience were laughing with her and not at her. The same is true of Michaela Moore’s Sarah.

 

Cara

Fred Brown’s understanding of Pastor Ken was deep on both a personal and a symbolic level. His minister’s cadence was uncannily perfect. His certain but awkward stride gave us the whole character in just a few steps. Martha Stuckey’s Ruth also walked and moved with a soft determination that echoed her role as the Pastor’s wife.

 

Plotz

Dan Higbee’s distress was contained to just the level that we habitually ignore. Really, these were such honest, giving and compelling performances, and they represent the best of an ensemble that balances passion and professionalism.

 

Direction

 

Cara

So this is devised work, created by the ensemble.  There are so many pitfalls to creating this way.

 

Plotz

And Bright Metal has avoided almost all of those pitfalls. The story is cohesive. The performances are tight. The structure is strong. It’s the right length.

 

Cara

Yes, I agree. However, if there’s one weak spot in this show, it’s that the culminating events fall just on the wrong side of ambiguous. I get the sense that the ensemble wanted to leave what happens open to interpretation, but with such a clear storyline right up until the end, the final events feel unsatisfyingly confusing.

 

Plotz

Do you think that what happens is too big an event?

 

Cara

I don’t know. I think my bigger issue is I’m not sure how it answers the questions that the play asks so well. I’m torn, because this is a skilled ensemble, but this one small issue stems from the absence of a director.

 

Plotz

You’re obsessed with directors.  You don’t trust the ensemble.

 

Cara

I can’t help it.  I think it’s an important role for clarity of message.

 

Script

 

Plotz

So what questions do you think that the play is asking?

 

Cara

I think this is a play about failing institutions. It’s not about the church, it’s about every institution that is meant to offer meaning and community. I see it on a meditation on the hypocrisy of American institutions, not in the inflamed way that we’re used to allcapsing about on the internet, but in the way that our individualism leaves us incapable of breaking out of isolation or caring for each other, even within groups that are meant to be our communities.

The repetition of “How are you/I’m good/See you Sunday.” Is a concise summary of how performative those communities are. A series of actions, a series of words but no actual connection or care offered.

 

Plotz

And the institution of marriage. Both marriages in the play are routinized but not supportive.

 

Cara

Right! It’s a play about loneliness, but a specifically American loneliness. The way we walk around with our tupperwares. The fools among us embarrass ourselves by offering them to those who don’t want them. Our real selves end up discarded or pitied like a snickers salad.

 

Plotz

There are so many instances of people going uncared for here, and the script offers so many insights into the ways that we fail to care for each other.

 

Cara

So many of us try to make big, important plays about this terrifying cultural and political moment, but this play succeeds by going to the heart of what brought us here, which is isolation and loneliness.

Accountability

 

Plotz

And racism and misogyny and and…. I think that assessment might be a little myopic. 

 

Cara

I don’t think so. But I did make a mistake. I said that this was about American loneliness, but I think it’s specifically about white loneliness. This is a play with only white people, which is appropriate because this is a play about white culture, and it’s a deft criticism.

All of the characters in the play look to their white male pastors to help them out of suffering and loneliness, when these men are the least equipped to make things any better. Their leadership is ornamental and unhelpful. Pastor Ken holds forth about his role as a good shepherd, even as his “sheep” bleat in pain around him and get lost. While the most vulnerable struggle to get their basic emotional needs met, Pastor John takes more time to write his book, and Pastor Ken practices his sermons.

Still, the women and Dell don’t know how to reach out to each other. The only versions of love they’ve been offered is God’s love, represented by these indifferent men and totally useless, and sexual/romantic love.  Sarah and Dell have these moments of connection that the misconstrue as sexual because they literally can’t envision any other kind of caring relationship.  They’re too isolated by trauma and petty hierarchies and politenesses.

Plotz

But how is that not just focusing on white people’s stories and ignoring, say queerfolk as this play does?

Cara

I hear you. But I think the difference is consciousness. To throw a poc into this play would either be dishonest make it a very different story, because this is the isolation that happens among white people. This hierarchy, where all need is sacrificed to a patriarch’s ego and the only love is either divine or sexual is not working.  I think interrogation of issues in white culture is valuable.

 

 

 

Ravished & Ophelia: Mz. Prospective Series

The Take Away:
Interesting art instillation.
Brave and emotional performance.
Needs to be tightened to avoid emotional exhaustion.

In My Pockets

I’ve played Ophelia quite a few times. I have never seen a Mz. Initiative show, and do not know any of the artists involved, but I am a champion of personal solo pieces and new work. Also, I was not in a great mood, but ready to enjoy some theatre.

I also want to say that I feel torn while writing this. I love when folks throw themselves into roles with abandon and passion and I always want the best for them. That being said, personal and brave storytelling does not always lead to driven or riveting theater. Which is tricky, right? It’s hard for devisers to find the balance between structure and freedom. 

Ravished

Jess Otterbine as Lavinia (who also wrote the piece) and Ian Agnew (playing a Nightingale/the toxic masculine body) are trapped in a room with nothing but each other, a phone, and a bunch of plants because Lavinia loves botany.  Lavinia is angry and trapped and somebody keeps calling her, which is weird. It’s a cool setup. 

Unfortunately the piece falls into kind of disconnection that devised/new works usually fall into. When moments aren’t filled between interpretive movement and text, we (devisers) can often fail to give our words and movements meaning. The piece is messy (which is fun) and Otterbine moves with abandon, falling to her knees and on her back quite a bit (this made me nervous with no fight choreographer credited). However, because of the messiness, a 20 minute intermission was needed to reset the stage for Ophelia, which made an already long night longer. Ravished was a complete piece, so to travel through that journey and then have 20 minutes to kill before beginning another was too much, even though I see the connection between the stories. 

I love that we, as a society, have become so infatuated with these Shakespearean heroines who don’t seem to have any agency. Lavinia (the subject of Ravished) and Ophelia (the subject of, well, Ophelia) are our favorite sad Shakespeare characters, right? One is a virgin who is silenced and crushed by literally having her tongue cut out, and the other is destroyed by the men in her life because she is the most pure person onstage.

Ophelia

Otterbine (again, the writer performer) takes her second highly emotional subject with nothing more than a baby pool and a large mirror. Ophelia is a much stronger piece and in another iteration, the best ideas from Ravished could be rolled into Ophelia. The tone is stronger and Otterbine appears more at ease with the material. It imagines Ophelia as a brilliant writer who was in on the King’s murder and feigned her madness to trick Claudius and Gertrude before committing suicide as an honorable act.  This idea combines a lot of  story with a lot of big emotions and I think that Ophelia would be better served by moving all of the action into the present, as making it a memory piece steals some of the action.

Ophelia’s madness is heartbreaking because those who could help her just watch her get swallowed up and spit out. Otterbine forces us to reflect on our passive role as Ophelia turns to the audience for help, in the most emotionally poignant moment of the evening. But her fate is sealed, and we do nothing but watch and pity as she weeps and pleads.

Both pieces explore a woman gaining or losing her voice, and death is the only option in the end, and they are the beginnings of a really powerful statement about our cultural obsession with watching women cry. (Seriously. Watch clips from Oscar nominated performances, it’s embarrassing),

Ravished and Ophelia have the potential to become one really great work with tightening and shaping. The visuals and performance were inspiring, but two extremely emotional solo pieces with complete arcs by the same performer in one night is a lot on both a  performer and an audience. I am interested in the work Mz Initiative is doing and I hope they continue to produce this kind of work boldly.

Bonaly Interviews: Tiger Style

For the last four years Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists has been working to empower and support Asian and Asian American Philly artists through partnerships with theatres that include workshops and mentorships. Now, they’re fulfilling more of their mission statement by providing the performing opportunity by producing their first full production of Tiger Style! by Mike Lew,  a “spirited, fast-paced, colorful, funny and entertaining romp” play that also deals head on with stereotypes faced by Asian Americans.

 

BONALY members sat down with the cast and some of the production team to talk about Tiger Style!, Asian representation in Philly theatre, and what it’s like to work in the room of PAPA’s inaugural production.

 

Present were:
Daniel Kim, cast member

Stephanie Walters, cast member, founding member of Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists

Richard Chan, cast member, founding member of Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists

Anita Holland, cast member, member of Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists

Cat Ramirez, producer of Tiger Style!, leadership in Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists

Melody Wong, stage manager

 

BONALY: What made PAPA want to produce Tiger Style! at this particular time?

 

CAT RAMIREZ: Between April and June of 2017, we had a short list of seven to eight plays for this season. As this was the maiden voyage of a full production, we wanted to come out with a bang, and we couldn’t think of anything better than Tiger Style!: it’s raucous and hilarious, and really, really poignant. That became so clear in the first read we had back in September. There’s a final scene with a customs agent in it that talks about immigration that rang particularly true to me about today.

 

Just to follow up—there was always a plan for PAPA to produce—but was there anything that precipitated that now was the right time to start?

 

CR: I think it was a lot of things falling into alignment. Last year, I worked at InterAct Theatre as a National New Play Network producer in residence, and in December I was at an NNPN showcase in Austin, where I met [Director of Tiger Style!] Jeff Liu, who is still part of the National New Play Network Directing Fellowship. So, we started talking and it became clear that Jeff was really interested in Asian-American theatre on a national scale. We’d been talking for about a season, along with InterAct Theatre artistic director Seth Rozin and Rick Shiomi in particular about the next season being PAPA’s first full production, and meeting Jeff was a really great push to do that. Additionally, for the past three years, we’ve been lucky enough to have funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as part of a three-year Theory of Change grant, which is given to different arts organizations throughout the country to work on, particularly, growing new audiences from different communities—ours is focusing on Asian-American artists and Asian-American audiences. This was the last year of that particular project, so we wanted this production to be a culmination as well.

Following up on producing Asian-American art for Asian-Americans, I want to go back a little bit into the history of PAPA: it was formed out of the controversy relating to Lantern Theatre Company’s production of Julius Caesar. Since then, including with this show, how do you feel that representation of Asian-Americans in Philadelphia theatre has changed?

 

Richard Chan: In the beginning, with the Philadelphia Asian Theatre Project, it kind of jump-started it a little bit, where eight theatres said they would produce an Asian play—whether it has Asian actors in it, or Asian characters, or Asian playwright but not necessarily with Asian characters—that kind of started it. But then you’d also have instances like People’s Light’s Aladdin, or A Single Shard where only one Asian actor was cast. Well, actually, two technically at the time, but then one actor dropped so it ended up with only one Asian actor and the rest is not Asian.

STEPHANIE WALTERS: Which is a Korean folktale, people may not know.

 

RC: Yeah. So, it’s been ups and downs, for me personally. But there is definitely an awareness.

 

SW: I think the change—and if I were writing this, that word would be italicized—I think the italicized change comes from a good place, right? A good, wholesome place of theatres, producers, casting directors, even audience members to an extent, wanting to see the world they see every day, the world they revolve in, reflected on stage. Whether that always happens, I think, is where we hit a rift. Through the Philadelphia Asian Theatre Project, we have other Asian-American actors in town that are showcased in other work. My heart is telling me, “but surely we don’t book these roles just because we’re Asian, and you need an Asian body to fulfill this thing, this thing that you have to check off this box, right? Surely it’s because we’re talented humans, and we’re trained, and we’re professionals, and we were the best person for this job, in many of these cases, where maybe the character isn’t specified as Asian or Asian-identifying.” What’s exciting about Tiger Style! is that, not only are the characters Asian-American, but they’re also talking about a really specific life that a lot audiences can relate to, whether they are Asian-American, Asian immigrants, or are just other people who have crazy parents, right? Because the idea of the family unit is something that’s universal. That’s what I hope to see and create and put out into this world: that these stories can be universal, but here’s a look into an Asian-American family.

 

Melody Wong: I think the forming of PAPA has also allowed a lot of Asian-American artists to connect. So, since then, we had also reached out to Opera Philadelphia when they did Tirandot, which helped lend ourselves a voice to pointing out the things that traditional theatre hasn’t seen in representation of Asian-ized plays or from a very white lens. To echo Stephanie’s and Richard’s point: there have been a lot of plays that have been produced based on Asian folktales or with Asian characters, but without an Asian-American voice. So, with the forming of PAPA and with the coming-together of these Asian-American thespians that are actually in town who have been overlooked or haven’t had a voice in the past, it’s given us a platform to discuss these issues. Having this platform from PAPA has also led to the conference Beyond Orientalism where we could talk about yellowface and representation. I think producing this play at this moment is also important, because the political climate has definitely change. We live in a very different era of who is telling which stories.

 

CR: The connection is definitely a big part of something that has changed in this community. As somebody’s who’s been doing a lot of communication for PAPA, it’s been really exciting for me, particularly seeing Asian-American university students who are getting out have a place to reach out to and say, “hey, I’m Asian-American. I’ve been studying theatre. I see your group, can you tell me about what it’s like to be Asian-American and making work in Philly?” I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks like that. Our set designer for Tiger Style! is just out of school, as is our assistant stage manager and props designer. PAPA is also doing a mini-residency program, which Steph is also a part of, in the spring and summer, and one of the members of our residency program is also just out of school. So I think it’s also really important in that it’s encouraging folks who are in these great programs at Temple and Penn to stay in Philly, and that there’s a space for you here.

 

Speaking to that, do any of you want to speak about the experience of working on a play where you are not in a room that’s predominantly white, or that the top of the hierarchy is not a white individual?

 

DANIEL KIM: Hmm. Well, for me I had the good fortune to work at East-West Players in Los Angeles, which is a long-established Asian-American theatre. For me personally, what I like about it is that a lot of issues just aren’t there. It’s like an absence of, you know, wondering if someone is judging you or making assumptions about you. And then if you’re in an environment where you have an Asian-American director, producer, and fellow actors, then it’s just on a different level, because you just don’t even think about it. You don’t even care. And if someone asks you a question, you don’t have to think, “well, what are they really thinking?” You just have enough of a shared experience and enough confidence in each other that it’s just really freeing. It’s just very pleasant not to have to wonder and not have to be guarded, like “should I say this?” or “will I be perceived as” whatever. It’s just really great to be able to do your thing, and if people don’t like it, they’ll tell you. And you don’t have to worry like, “oh my gosh, is there some racial element to this expression of disapproval?” That just drops out of the equation, and I just think that’s terrific.

 

[a pause]

 

SW: There’s certainly a lot more food.

 

[laughter]

 

SW: There certainly is. Don’t you think?

 

ANITA HOLLAND: There’s also lot more tea.

 

[more laughter]

 

SW: There’s a lot more tea.

 

AH: There is a lot more food.

 

SW: But now maybe we’re just playing into the stereotype, huh?

 

DK: Well, playing into the stereotype, I will tell you that Asian-American casts are much better prepared!

 

[yet more laughter]

 

AH: Well, that’s just it, like, this conversation is very much that the elephant in the room of race is not an elephant. Race is just immediately, well, one, it’s something we’re talking about in this piece, but, two, when we run into issues like that, of any kind, we can just talk about it and not be afraid or walk on eggshells, or stuck being like, “ah, am I disrespecting somebody?” But disrespecting somebody from a point of being a minority is like, “why? how? wait, what?”

 

RC: It’s a very different experience for me, because I think this is probably the first time I’ve ever been in a production where it’s primarily Asian—besides actors, even in the production team. And it’s very humbling to be a part of this, considering I come from Virginia. A lot of shows, I was in a primarily black team or primarily white team, so I’m very happy to be here.

 

MW: I think there’s also something to be said where having leadership that’s Asian makes things easier. I’m a stage manager, so I stand between both worlds. Not having to explain three-fold about why something is how it’s said or why something might be problematic or why it connects, it makes it very freeing, it makes it a lot less taxing for a middle person having to explain. Seeing more diverse leadership is also very important in showcasing.

 

There’s big a discussion of who is allowed to direct what stories, and if everything is universal, doesn’t that mean that anyone can direct or produce anything? What’s really interesting to hear is that when you’re allowed to talk about the specifics right away, there’s less of a concern of making sure that someone directing universally is communicating efficiently.

 

SW: Yeah, and I think there’s something to the old adage of “nothing about us without us.” That’s something I love to live by and hold really close to me, especially as a creator and an artist. In rooms that align myself with or groups I interact with, that’s really important to me. Yes, there are stories that are universal—the idea of the family is universal, fighting siblings, and all these things. But I think when you have this space that is truly created by and for and with these people, that’s when the process becomes not only easy, or easier, but it also becomes really beautiful and magical. My gosh, it was the end of last week and we had run through the whole play, and we were like, “holy crap, it’s only been a week!” And so when you cut through a lot of that extra, it really allowed everything to flow in a really easy way.

 

CR: I also want to add to what your first point is: just because something is seen as universal doesn’t mean that it’s not delving into specifics. There are times when I’ve had conversations with white directors who have wanted to direct an Asian play before who have said things, when talking about the play, they’ll say something that is a very generic thing that’s touched them about the play. Things like, “This is really funny! I want to direct this thing because it’s really funny.” And that’s something I can see very easily about Tiger Style! because it’s hilarious. But why is it not a longer statement of, “This is really funny because it is highlighting the struggles to have an Asian-American identity and what the differences are between Eastern and Western culture, especially when you don’t feel quite at home having grown up in the West.”? And I think having Asian-American director, leadership, actors, allows to see both sides of that coin.

 

SW: I’m gonna steal that. Universal, but specific. Wait, say it again for the people at home?

 

[laughter]

 

CR: Just because something is universal doesn’t mean it’s not delving into specifics.

 

SW: Hope everybody put that in their dream board!

 

CR: You can post all about that on Facebook!

 

[laughter]

 

MW: Yes, a lot stories are universal, but about delving into specifics: if you do your homework, yes, I believe everybody has the wherewithal to put on a specific play, but a lot of theatre companies don’t have the funding or the time to do the homework. Not every company has a dramaturg. If you’re doing a specific play, there are some things that are specific particular backgrounds of family. But if you don’t have the people to do that research, who’s going to do it? And if not everybody’s on the same page of the language—not specifically in, like, Chineser—but the language of that world, that experience, then it doesn’t ring true. It’s about funding!

 

[laughter]

 

AH: It is a little about funding, but it’s also about who’s your audience.

 

SW: Well, then that circles back to this idea of cultivation of young artists, right?

 

MW: And the accessibility of having young Asian-Americans coming in to say, “oh yeah, I could relate to that,” or, “I see myself represented on stage,” which is very important. I work at Asian Arts Initiative and with a lot of youth in Chinatown: they don’t come to see theatre, because they don’t see people who are like them. So, seeing yourself is important. Representation is important. And then they will become patrons, or they will be more free to work in the arts, because we all know our parents tell us not to work in the arts.

 

[laughter]

 

CR: To expand on that point, from a different side: I’m mixed-race, white and Filipino, and I grew up in a majority-white neighborhood. I can’t remember having an Asian person who I went to school with, until maybe when I hit high school. And having media that was very clearly not produced by Asian-Americans, while I was really trying to search for some kind of representation there, and what we were left with were very stereotypical things. The Yellow Ranger is the first and only thing I can think of, and they had Trini [an Asian-American character] playing the Yellow Ranger, and that’s not okay. But from my end, I grasped onto really stereotypical and not okay things because that was the only form of representation I saw. A lot of my journey has been a lot unlearning of these things, because I thought, “Oh, well this is the only way I can feel connected to my community.” And it’s been really quite amazing to be producing this piece, having never been—save readings I’ve directed—involved in productions where it’s majority AAPI cast, designers, director, volunteers, you know? And I think it’s important for all AAPI folks, no matter where you’re at, because you’re always still searching.

 

There’s something really interesting in that. [Potential spoilers for the plot of Tiger Style! ahead] We have Albert and Jennifer who are trying to overcome something similar to what you’re describing, which is: this internalization from the messages they’ve been given as Asian-Americans, from their parents, from Western society,while trying to figure out who they are just as people.

 

SW: There’s poem that basically says, “Being a child of an immigrant, being born in America, is like being expected to know an entire book but only reading one chapter.” And that’s something that I personally really identify with, this idea of, “My family expects me to know this whole book about Korea, but all I got was the Spark Notes on one section.” And society sees me as another thing, and they expect me to know this whole book, but I don’t even know that book because that’s just what they want me to know! So I think Albert and Jennifer’s exploration and process is similar to that idea of finding your own book, and writing your own book, so you don’t have to fit into anybody’s.

RC: I don’t know what else to say, because you put it so well together.

 

SW: Well… you’re welcome.

 

[laughter]

 

SW: My sweet brother.

 

RC: In my personal life, I went to Hong Kong last year, and it was actually very eye-opening for me. My dad is the first of eight, and I’m the first, so there’s a line of firsts. I thought that when I went to Hong Kong, my Cantonese was enough. Because compared to other kids in Virginia, my Cantonese is so much better than them. And then I went to Hong Kong, I was shocked, I was like, “oh shit, I can’t even talk.” I read signs better than a lot of people, I was able to read my way out, but if you have American sensibilities you would think Hong Kong people were rude. Like if you go to a restaurant, they’ll just throw your food right. They won’t say, like, “here’s your steak and mashed potatoes.” They’d just throw down your food. It was a little bit of a shock for me. And then visiting other people’s houses, they were very small, and my grandmother would ask, “Doesn’t my house look big?” and I was like, “Yeah, bigger than the rest… but not like Virginia?” [laughter] So, entering this play and how Albert and Jennifer get culture-shocked: it’s like, oh damn, it’s not what I thought of, because of how the West sees the East, and how the East sees the West. And when I went over there, they were just, “oh, you’re not really a big deal, you say you’re an American,” and they’d ask all these questions about how I think about Trump and how I think about guns, and it’s just [a laugh] very, very interesting. So, jumping into this process, I feel like I already have a lot of connections to build off of, because I’ve been there. I went to where my family’s from, and well, it looks like I’m ill-equipped! Because I’m expected to know everything, and I don’t know shit.

 

SW: But you’re so lucky, Richard. I’ve never been to Korea, and I feel sometimes like I’m homesick for a place that I don’t even know.

 

CR: Richard, I agree with a lot of your sentiment. I’ve gone back to the Philippines several times, and it’s always been a huge shock. My family gets stared at anytime we go back, because, one, we’re all really tall. It’s me and my four siblings who are all mixed, and I’m the shortest member of my nuclear family. And so, we’re all walking down the street, and we’re 5’8” to 5’10” in terms of my siblings and kind of look Filipino, but might not? And there’s my dad who’s full Filipino but is 6’3”, and he’s huge. My family has played in the Filipino national basketball league; there’s a long line of athletes in my family. And then, there’s my mom—I love her, she’s so white—she is brunette, freckles, blue eyes, and I felt like an anomaly when I was there. Being mixed-race as well, that identity is really messy, and it feels like an anomaly while I’m here as well, with the constant barrage of, “oh my god, you’re the future, where are you from?” If another person tells me I’m the future? I don’t, I’m just a person.

 

SW: I’m, like, literally in the present.

 

CR: I’m right here! And I’ve had the very similar experience of talking to folks and them being like, “You’re American? This is not as exciting as I thought.”

 

RC: Yeah!

 

CR: And seeing how your family in the East lives is really interesting, and really, really poignant. A lot of the stories from the Philippines has have made me check my privilege more than anything else.

 

RC: Privilege is definitely one thing I’ve noticed when I went to Hong Kong. We were exchanging red pockets—if you don’t know about red pockets, it’s a monetary gift that’s in a red envelope, and usually the rule is married-to-unmarried and older-to-younger, I think. But I went there, and since I don’t know my cousins that well, I decided to give them red pockets, even though some of them are older than me. And some of them were like, “No, you can’t do that,” I was like, “No, no, no, pretend this is a gift I’m giving from America, but I don’t know what you like. So, I can’t just show up with an X-Box or anything, so I will give you this.” And the exchange, when I gave them my money versus what they gave me, I was like, “Hong Kong dollars? Okay, this is three bucks in America!” Versus what I gave them, a hundred, fifty, which means a lot more. Looking at how I live here versus how they live there, and appreciating why my dad had to come. He had to come.

 

SW: Which is a large theme in this play, which everyone should come see. Asian or not!

 

RC: Yes, Asian or not.

 

CR: I think it is a really universal immigrant story, though. Not just Asians immigrate here, and I think it speaks to a lot of those feelings. I’ve talked to first-generation folk who aren’t Asian about the play, and there’s always immediate interest.

 

Without giving too much away, if you could pose one question to every audience member who walks in here, to think about, what would it be? For example, I’m really interested in the intersection of what Albert and Jennifer think their biggest roadblock is, what do their parents think their children’s biggest roadblock is, and where is the middle part? Is there anything about that in this play that you found really interesting that you’d like audience members to keep tucked in the back of their brains?

 

SW: I think Jennifer perceives her roadblock to be her romantic life. (I’m looking at Jeff like, “Am I doing this right? Am I getting this in?”) [group laughter] And something that I spoke to Jeff about and want to bring to Jennifer is the arc of her realizing that romance isn’t the thing that establishes her as a human being. She can be successful in whatever her path in life is, regardless if there’s a romantic relationship associated with that. Because that’s important for me as an individual, and that’s something I personally struggle with all the time. My worth is not determined by a man. Which, if my mom were sitting here, she’d smack me across the face and yell at me, “I’ve told you that for years!

 

[laughter]

 

SW: But that would be something I hope an audience looks out for, that female trope of “I need a man to survive!” and how that can be overcome or challenged.

 

RC: One thing for me, in reading through the play, something that really connected with me is something my brother is going through. He’s the person who’s, essentially, supporting the family. He makes a lot more money, but money does not cancel out racism. And that was something I immediately recognized in Albert and Jenny, that they are, essentially, high up there. And just because you make it through academic achievement and make a lot of money, it does not mean that racism does not exist. And it might even be worse, being up there. They intersect, but they’re not, oh what’s the word? They don’t directly—

 

SW: Mutually exclusive?

 

RC: Yeah, that’s where I’m at.

 

DK: I think the play is very subversive. I mean, there are lots of things in the play that are tongue-in-cheek or playing with various concepts, but underneath it all there’s a reality, there are truths that are buried in there. So, I would say, can you sort out for yourself what’s really going on in the emotional lives of the characters, and what truths lie underneath the surface? Because on one level, I mean, it’s funny because there are so many clever references. Underneath that, there’s a very serious intent, saying something about Asian-American identity and about human identity and the need to feel like you belong, but not knowing how to do that. So, I guess that would be what I would hope an audience member would think about: what is just comic, and what is he basically rejecting, and what is the underlying truth that he is trying to explore or elucidate?

 

AH: So I’ve been thinking about a lot of words like frames and expectations and perspectives and hearing truths. And I suppose to an audience member, I’d say: ask yourself what your truths are, ask yourself what the lenses, what frames you see through in your life, and then let those fall away and see this play, and ask yourself if that’s a different frame from the one you see, and can those two things exist, and how do they exist?

 

CR: For me, it’s a series of questions, but: what is the relationship to belonging and self-worth? what is the relationship to belonging and systematic oppression? And then, draw a Venn diagram and look at the intersections of those, and does it point out to anything that needs to be changed in society?

 

SW: [snapping fingers in agreement] That’s why she’s the producer!

 

[laughter]

 

Tiger Style! begins Wednesday, January 24, 2018 and opens Friday, January 26, 2018.  All performances are being held at The Louis Bluver Theatre at The Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street 19102. Tiger Style! By Mike Lew is produced by Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists and directed by Jeff Liu.

 

Tiger Style! follows the trials and tribulations of star students and squabbling siblings Albert and Jennifer Chen. Thanks to diligent work (and parental encouragement that borders on overbearing) they reached the pinnacle of adolescent achievement. But when it comes to adulthood, they’re epic failures. Albert has just been passed up for promotion and Jennifer’s been dumped by her loser boyfriend. So they do what any reasonable brother and sister would do — go on an epic Asian Freedom Tour!

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.  

Aladdin: A Musical Panto- People’s Light and Theater

 

The Take Away

  • We are so fucking angry.

  • I wish we could have paid more attention to the talent used in this show (Shout out to Samantha Funk whose vocal range is to die for), but all the offensive material was entirely distracting.

  • Aladdin: A Musical Panto is blithe white supremacy, boldly produced. It is violent, and it is cruel.

In Our Pockets

Sarah

I’m a white, which I’m increasingly embarrassed about thanks to shows like this. I’m not a man. I worked very little for PLTC several years ago, but have no other real affiliation. I purposely didn’t read all the pieces about this before I saw it, but I did read Melody and Gina’s pieces. Honestly, just the promotional photos had me worried and apparently for great reason!

Elias

I’m a Vietnamese-American cis man from Houston, TX. I have read both Melody Wong’s and Gina Pisasale’s pieces surrounding the controversy in the Broad Street Review. I admittedly came into this show with low expectations.

Design

Several racist choices were made in sound and music. The use of gongs was the most obvious.  Also upsetting was the Arab-sounding version of the Oriental Riff that is normally used to mock East Asia.

Rosemarie McKelvey’s costumes mixed motifs of all Asian and Arab cultures together in classic Orientalism.

Choreography by Samantha Reading showed disrespect to the long tradition of belly dance, an established and formalized tradition by opting instead for an imitation in which performers shimmied and and waved their arms with their bellies showing.

We’re unsure why was the Taj Mahal was depicted in a desert landscape in a video projection. There is no credited video designer, so we are unable to place accountability for that additional Orientalist move. The Taj Mahal, a real building, is a tomb and a mosque and not a palace. It was ransacked by the British during colonialism and carvings and stones were literally pulled out of the walls of the tomb and never returned, so in a way, I guess it is appropriate for this show.

Overall, it’s as though the production design took Disney’s uncritical Orientalism and ramped it up to 11.

Direction

Pete Pryor’s creation and direction of the show upheld white supremacy and uncritically delighted in Orientalism at every turn. It appropriated from numerous cultures in an ignorant and harmful way, and it showed to us that Pryor has no understanding of and definitely no appreciation for the cultures from which he cribbed for this overall direction.

On top of the virulent racism and Orientalism and pervasive sexism, the production also employed this bizarre and (within the context of this awful show) troubling trope where characters would, on occasion, bring up hot-button topics like global warming, gentrification, displacement of minority groups, and even the #MeToo movement, as if to secure its own “liberal cred” to say “we totally get it,” but then would completely sidestep tackling the issue in even a remotely substantive way with a snide joke about something else completely irrelevant. Ultimately, this watered-down pale imitation of The Daily Show comedic critique is actually dangerous, because it implies response to these hard issues is futile or unimportant, essentially saying that those things don’t really matter because it’s just time to laugh now.

As has been well established, we at Bonaly just can’t take a joke.

It’s Just for Fun

If I hear one more company/director/person saying “Hey, we just all need a silly laugh sometimes,” I will legitimately scream. Again I find myself asking, whose laughter are we securing? Whose comfort are seeking to ensure? And at what cost to the people you are denigrating? The answers to me are self-evident, that such laughter and comfort is for the white suburbanite moderate Democrat who thinks they are “a good person” and therefore, having done enough for “the resistance” by not actively joining the KKK are above reproach and just deserve a good old time at the the-a-ter. All the while, people of color bear the yoke of racism for the sake of white comfort.

 

Is this the Best We Can Do?

Bafflingly, the director’s note in the program says this is the “reexamined” version of this show due to the “current state of affairs.” PLTC produced a version of Aladdin in 2012, and they made the decision to produce it again, taking the current buzzwords, but not the current zeitgeist into account. Further, they chose to revamp it with no apparent awareness of Orientalism and cultural appropriation which Philly’s artists of color have been working hard to resist and educate about since the racist travesty of a production of Julius Caesar by Lantern Theatre Company three years ago. We know that the moral arc of the universe is long,  but how shitty is this learning curve?

Pete Pryor’s director’s note says that PLTC does this “ridiculous yearly tradition” of the Panto “to create a community.” But for whom? Who is included in this community, and who is not only left out, but violently rejected from it? What community can you build for 2017 if you are ignorant of or incapable of knowing the history of white supremacy’s violence and the Orientalism that flows from it?

It’s for Kids

Perhaps worst of all, the show is for children.  Mostly white suburban children, but we saw multiple ethnicities represented in our audience, and all of them received the sexist and racist messages in this show in a fun, lighthearted package. PLTC’s lack of reflection or apology are extra troubling because this is a moment in America and in Philly Theater where it’s no longer possible to claim ignorance. 

This is how things don’t change. Adults with “good intentions” reveal their true colors when they refuse to listen to those who are harmed. They place their “fun” above the pain of others and they teach the next generation to do the same.  Seeing the show, and the response to it honestly makes me hopeless about the future. Those who suffer the exclusion of racism, sexism, transphobia and othering keep hoping the problems will die out or lessen with the oldest generation, but this production seemed to solidify the fear that they will continue.

 

Examples of why we are calling this show racist: 

-Use of gong at top of show

-Poor imitation of belly dancing to open the show

-Poor imitation of Bollywood choreography (again, a real style with real steps, reduced to othering imitation) in final dance

-Turbans on Morris the Mantis and Manny the Monkey, Aladdin’s best friends. Presumably, to other them as animals and foreign as they both had accents/funny voices. (Turbans are worn by Sikhs and some Shi’a Muslims today, and were worn in the past to denote high status. Here, they are soley meant to denote otherness.)

-Morris the Mantis’s cartoonish Latinx accent, random Spanish with jokes about how many siblings Morris the Mantis has

-Villain, called Fu, (Fu Manchu is the archetypal evil Asian) is in yellowface

-All the F-U jokes, which  Melody Wong  reports brought painful reminders of ching-chong mockery in her childhood

-Orientalist costuming throughout: Mughal clothing, Egyptian clothing, South Asian details, Middle Eastern/Arabic details mixed together, for example

-Japanese architecture on the “house dress” costume for Widow Twankey, further conflating East Asian and Middle Eastern cultures

-Arabic/Chinese-y imitation font

-Evil henchmen song “Step Right Up” featured step and rapping by all white people (we long for the day when this trope is put to bed)

-Princess Mai Tai’s disguise as “Intern Moses”, a stereotypically Jewish man

-Literal Magical Black Person (only Black person on stage was Genie of the Lamp)

-”I wish I had your freedom” says Black character to white character, to which white character responds “I wish I had your magical powers.”

-Using Asian YouTube personality/viral video as a joke, which within the context of the rest of this play is galling, and MORTAL KOMBAT fight scene/videogame music wouldn’t be awful if not for everything else. Within the context of white people’s total disregard and disrespect for Asian people, these jokes just pile on

-The name Princess Mai Tai, a double-feature of racism and sexism, and part of a long tradition of food jokes with Asian names

Examples of why we are calling this show sexist, homophobic and transphobic:

-Men dressed as women presented as hilarious- this is cheap and outdated and it demeans women and especially transpeople. Please stop.

-Lady dressed as man is not presented as a joke, making the first genderswap joke worse

-Jokes about consent of Princess being required for marriage

-Sultan’s jokes about how the key to a good marriage is: women don’t try to change the man, and in exchange, the man agrees to not literally kill the woman, perpetuating stereotypes about “Oriental” attitudes towards women, and making light of real violence

-Transitioning directly from #MeToo references to jokes about how hot Princess Mai Tai is

-”Don’t try and fix anything; all they want is to talk out loud about their problems” A sampling of hilarious jokes about women

-Princess Mai Tai disappears for half the show when she is no longer a viable plot point

-Female interns (evil henchpeople) turn into belly dancers at end of show. Male intern stays in his suit. Again, in context of all the awful, continues to be awful

  • Note: The original posting confused the words “Arabic,” which is the language,  and “Arab,” the adjective. The post has been edited to fix the mistake after we were corrected in the comments

 

 

 

Peter Pan- The Arden

The Take-Away

  • Strong design elements.

  • Great ensemble work.

  • Peter Pan, as a story, doesn’t really hold up.

  • Children are a joy to watch theatre with.

In Our Pockets

Emma

Big thing for we was that I totally messed up and showed up about 20 minutes late. I missed the first half of the first scene and was a little flustered. Also know and have worked with some of the cast before.

 

Lola

I know some of the cast members and tend to really enjoy the Arden’s TYA shows. Also, I love student matinees with all of my heart. It’s an honest and beautiful place to be at 10am.

 

Emma

Very, very true. I am a huge sucker for watching kids watch theatre.

Design

Emma

I felt that one of the big strengths of the show was the way that many of the set elements were used in a lot of different and sometimes very surprising ways.

Lola

Yeah! I didn’t love the “camping” framing device, but I loved watching characters fly in from different parts of the campsite. And the use of trap doors and underground tunnels was pretty brilliant. When the mermaids popped out of the ground, I felt like a little kid, I was so giddy.

Emma

Yes! And the mermaid costumes were really great too. I think Olivera Gajic did a great job differentiating the TONS of different characters that each actor played without making quick changes too complicated.

Lola

Just simple hats and sweatshirts! Super effective costumes. The lights were also appropriately foresty. The light up gloves for Tinkerbell didn’t work as well. Philly Shakespeare used the same light fingers for the fairies in their production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream a few years back, and it was more atmospheric and strange.

Emma

I liked the gloves having not seen the effect before–I think the throwing of Tinkerbell between actors’ hands was fun and mostly well-executed. Shoutout to Eliana Fabiyi for the live sound effects and music on the violin.

Lola

Oh yeah. What a wonderful musician! It did leave me wishing for more instrumentation and music onstage. Eliana played so well, that it made the few songs without a live instrument onstage feel empty.

Emma

Yeah, the live sound also felt more in line with the cozy, story-telling around the fire feel of the show.

Direction

Lola

Whit is incredibly inventive and moves things pretty quickly, but 2 hours and 15 minutes is too long for most theatre.

Emma

Yeah, I agree about the length–I think that because it was a pretty well-paced show and there were these really surprising bits of staging, I didn’t necessarily feel the length as much. Still I think that as a play and as an adaptation of Barrie’s story, more could be done to the actual script to make it a little shorter.

Talk about the performances:

Emma

Really great ensemble work, especially from Brandon Pierce, Leah Walton, and Eliana. They made a lot of weird and delightful character choices and watching them transform over and over was a joy

 

Lola

And so consistently different! Sometimes actors doing ensemble tracks can bleed their characters together, but they all did a great job making clear, and distinctly different, characters.

 

Emma

Also loved Catherine Slusar as Hook. Watching the kids react to her first entrance may have been the highlight of the show for me.

 

Lola

Slusar is so strong onstage, she made an exciting Hook. And the choice to rock her beautiful baldness, and not give her a wig, made me weepy.

 

Emma

She also handled a talk-back question about it with so much grace.

 

Accountability 

Emma
In terms of “why this show, now,” I realized watching this really well-done production that I don’t really care about Peter Pan as a story at all. Ultimately, it’s a story about a boy who wants the women in his life to just take care of him without really giving much support in return, and that feels kind of shitty.

Lola

I also don’t understand the Peter Pan appeal, but I know people love it and feel very precious about the story. I guess Neverland offers and escape in some way, but it was always icky in my head to watch Wendy get thrust into a mother role. 

Emma

I felt that too. Because the Neverland rules that work for Peter (ie. We get to be kids and have fun forever) don’t really apply to her. They want her to immediately be the grown-up.

Lola

Only boys get to be lost. And they say that quite a bit. And Tinkerbell, the only other female presence, is kind of a jerk. Having a gender-queer Peter and a female Hook was an interesting idea, but I’m not certain it was fully explored.

 

Emma

Right. And then there is Tiger Lily, but she hardly appears in this version.

 

Lola

But at least they edited out the offensive language about her. I was interested in seeing if they would cutesy the story up too much. And they didn’t, but this show did feel the most like a “children’s show” of everything I’ve seen at the Arden.

 

Emma

I hear that. I ultimately really enjoyed the experience, but for SURE catch a weekday matinee if at all possible.

 

Lola

Absolutely.