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…

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fairy Tale High School - First Reading!

Last Monday we had the first reading of Bill D’Agostino’s new children’s play Fairy Tale High School, which Montgomery Theater, Too, will be producing this October. This reading used adult actors even though the play will be performed by student actors in production. We felt that adult actors would be better able to ask Bill the more crucial questions that are valuable at this stage in development. Several alums from Villanova’s M.A. Theatre program and current members of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s Acting Intern Company lent us their time and talent for the evening. The reading was followed by a talk-back with the playwright and dramaturg Mark Costello.

Principal Grimm – Luke Moyer
Turtle – Daniel Bound-Black
Gingerbread Boy – Chris Serpentine
Freddie (aka Prince Charming) – Will Erwin
Brian (aka the Boy who cried wolf) – Adam DeLancey
Milly – Patti-Lee Meringo
Holly – Kimberly Reilly
Pinocchio – Daniel Bontempo
Goldi (aka Goldilocks) – Kimberly Reilly
Fairy Guidance Counselor – Stephanie King
Witch – Katie Wexler
Coach – Patti-Lee Meringo
Jack – Jacob Dresch
Jill – Abbie Richards
Morty the Giant – Will Erwin
Wolfman – Will Erwin
Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty) – Jessica Joy Satryan
Cindy (aka Cinderella) – Amanda Healy
Ben Smallen read Stage Directions

A very special thanks to all who helped make the reading a success!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Theater Looks Forward

by Linda Plank Montgomery Theater Board Member and Development Committee Chair

Montgomery Theater performances take me back to my childhood!

I remember at age 10 being taken to a performance of Yul Brynner in “The King and I.” Watching a stage performance was mesmerizing and I still feel the same way about live theater.

My professional life has been all about non-profit organizations. I love the way that the best non-profits become such a part of the community that you can’t imagine the town without them. That’s what I want for Montgomery Theater. As a board member and subscriber, I believe that MT is important to the quality of life in our area. “The Arts” add such a human and entertaining touch to Main Street!

As the Development Chair, I am proud to say that we have launched a 3-year operating support campaign for the theater. Please consider joining us in raising $320,000 over the next three years. These operating funds will strengthen the theater’s financial position and stabilize our plans to produce the very best local theater.

The best time to raise funds is when things are going great! I’m thrilled to say that we are in a positive position to move forward boldly. Attendance is at record levels, the renewal of subscriptions is extremely high and the board is engaged and leading the charge that will continue into our 20th anniversary year.

Rob Wonderling and Binny Silverman are the campaign co-chairs and represent the best of Bucks and Montgomery Counties. Their enthusiasm alone will help us reach our goal!

As we approach the 25% mark, I am planning on following up with many of our friends who have received information about the campaign. If you have questions, please give me a call (215-345-2122).

Monday, June 27, 2011

And The Winner Is. . .

I know everyone has been waiting with bated breath since I announced the finalists for Montgomery Theater Too’s Adaptation Competition last March. Well, it’s June now and as promised we’ve got a winner: Fairy Tale High School by Bill D’Agostino! Bill isn’t exactly new to the MT community - he served as Tom’s dramaturg on last year’s production of Alice in Wonderland – but this is the first time he’s lending us his playwriting skills. So without further ado, ladies and gentleman I give you an interview with Bill...

Q: What is your hometown?
A: Chappaqua, NY, a New York City suburb. It used to be known (when it was known) as the worldwide home for Reader’s Digest. Now it’s where the Clintons live.

Q: Current Town?
A: Byrn Mawr, PA.

Q: Tell me about Fairy Tale High School.
A: Fairy Tale High School imagines what it would be like if all your favorite fairy tale characters - Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jack, etc. - were all in high school together, taking classes and getting into trouble. The witch teaches students to cook children who eat their house, the track team run laps around a beanstalk, and everyone (predictably) lives happily ever after.
FTHS began life as a sketch for a class of youngsters I taught in Harrisburg, when I was a company member for Gamut Theatre Group. The kids at the time were obsessed with High School Musical, and I wanted to write them something they’d be excited about reading. At the same time, I was also performing in funny and quick fairy tale adaptations with the company.
When Montgomery Theater announced its playwriting competition this year, I knew it was time to expand that initial germ of an idea until it became a full-fledged disease.
The play also owes huge debts to Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods, which was one of the first Broadway shows I ever saw.

Q: Who is Bill? Are you an actor? Playwright? Performer? All of the above?
A: I’m just the boy who can’t say no - to theatre, that is.
I got my BA from Brown University with a theatre concentration and my master's degree in theatre from Villanova University. For theatres across the country, I've acted (mostly playing clowns and pompous anti-heroes), directed (mostly new plays), taught and written.
Currently, my day job is the Communications and Education Director for Act II Playhouse in Ambler, where I also serve as dramaturg for many of the productions. That means I help do research, gathering background material to inform the work of the director, actors and designers. Last year, I was the dramaturg for Montgomery Theater's production of Alice in Wonderland, helping director Tom Quinn with his adaptation, and I’ll also be dramaturg for Montgomery Theater’s upcoming comedy Big Boys.
I was also a professional journalist for seven years, which I mostly did because I wanted to know more about the world to write better plays.

Q: How did you start writing?
A: My freshman year at Horace Greeley High School, I fell in love with theatre while playing Wally Webb in Our Town. Later that year, I asked my mom to enroll me in a summer theatre camp for high school students at SUNY Purchase. In selecting classes, I had to choose between musical theatre and playwriting. Since I couldn’t sing, I chose the playwriting class, and a new lifelong obsession was born. So really, I owe my love of writing to the fact that I’m tone deaf.

Q: If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?
A: The fact that most of my friends in theatre can’t afford to pay off their college loans. Theatre is chronically underfunded in this country, which is why in curtain speeches we are constantly thanking our generous donors.

Q: Who are or were your theatrical heroes?
A: In no particular order: Tony Kushner, John Guare, Anton Chekhov, Paula Vogel, Suzan Zeder, Bertolt Brecht, William Shakespeare, Michael Hollinger, Charles Ludlam, Thornton Wilder, Oscar Wilde, Moises Kaufman and Tectonic Theatre Project, Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard, Mary Zimmerman and a bunch of others I'm probably forgetting right now.

Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Theatre that’s original and fun. Theatre that gets my pulse beating. Theatre that's REALLY well constructed. Or really messy and exciting. Theatre that questions why things are the way they are.

Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: See lots of theatre. You learn just as much from bad plays as good ones. In fact, the bad ones will probably boost your confidence as you think, “I can write something better than this.”

Q: Plugs, please. Any other upcoming projects?
A: I’ll be serving as dramaturg for Act II’s Fall production of Sylvia by A.R. Gurney, directed by Harriet Power. It happens to be starring the lovely and talented Jessica Bedford, Montgomery Theater’s Director of Education and a classmate at Villanova University’s Masters of Theatre program. She plays an adorable stray dog. (For reals!) So I’ll be driving up to Souderton for Fairy Tale High School rehearsals while she’ll be riding down here to Ambler for Sylvia performances. We’ll probably pass and wave on Route 309.

Monday, June 20, 2011


by Tony Braithwaite
Growing up, I learned that nothing is ever, "merely," funny. To my family, funny is a commodity, funny is an ace of trump, funny is a defense mechanism, funny is a gift, and funny is a life force. Then, and even now, my family members and I don't say I love you to one another very often. Rather, we try to make each other laugh. If we can make each other laugh, we can make each other feel loved. In short, we say, "I laugh you."
When I was a little boy my mom and dad came home from seeing Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs and said I should play Eugene Morris Jerome one day. When I was in 8th grade I saw my first Broadway non-musical, The Odd Couple (Female Version) with Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno. And when it was clear during my adolescence that I was a hypochondrical neurotic neat freak, I realized that Neil Simon had written the role of Felix Ungar for me 17 years before I was born.
Prisoner of 2nd Avenue marks the 4th time in my career that I have actually been in one of Simon's plays. In the fall of 1997 I was in Biloxi Blues at the Hedgerow Theatre in Media (where I did get to tackle Eugene Jerome, albeit in Brighton's sequel); a year later I played Lenny in Rumors at the same theatre; and just 2 years ago at The Kimmel Theatre I played Felix Ungar at last (having done scenes from The Odd Couple in college and a reading of it for 1812 Productions).
In short, I've been a huge fan of Neil Simon for many years.
I laugh his plays a lot.
Every time I am lucky enough to be in a Neil Simon play I am always struck by the same things: how relatable and familiar his characters feel (is it any wonder that Jack Lemmon, known for decades as the American Everyman, played so many Simon roles?), how perfectly crafted his writing seems (It's often compared to symphony music), and of course how damn hilarious he is.
I'd venture to say that no one in the history of the American Theatre has written as many laugh lines as Neil Simon. There's just been no one funnier. Theatre snobs often decry Simon's plays as trite populace fare, "merely," because he's funny. (Ironically they're often the same people who often ascribe to the theatre mantra, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.") This always amazes me because no one would ever look at Jerry Seinfeld or Johnny Carson and say the same thing - that they were, "merely," funny. In fact, when Seinfeld 's tv show went off the air it was uniformly lauded for being so ground-breaking and successful even though it was, "just a bunch of neurotic New Yorkers sitting around an apartment; just a show about nothing." The New York Times helpfully countered by pointing out that Neil Simon had been writing plays of that exact ilk for years.
From Vaudeville on, so much in American comedy is based on rhythms. A lot of American comedy today (stand-up, sit coms, and even things like South Park) is based on not only on the comedic situations involved but, perhaps more importantly, on the economy of words and the rhythm of the punch lines. There's a science to this, and Simon gets that. Too many syllables and the joke falls flat. Change just one word in the sentence and it triggers a laugh not present before. Simon has even said that some words may be considered inherently funny. Consonant plosives - that is words that start suddenly or "explosively" - p, b, t, d, k, and g - are often considered the funniest sounds in the English language. In the 1996 video Caesar's Writers, Simon discusses writing for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, and a skit in which Imogene Coca places a bet on a roulette wheel. For an hour the writers tried out various numbers before deciding "32" was the funniest number Coca could say. With such craftsmanship, how could any of that be considered merely funny?
In that great tradition Prisoner of 2nd Avenue is very non-merely funny, in part because it's also surprisingly moving and very timely. You'll see echoes of The Out of Towners, The Odd Couple, and maybe even Barefoot in the Park, and you'll also see some of the darker themes present in Simon plays like Lost in Yonkers and The Dinner Party. At its heart, Prisoner is about the struggle of a man and his wife to cope with the pressures of the day - finances, employment, marriage, family, and even noisy slash nasty neighbors. The couple uses humor as one of their great unitive resources and as one of their best defenses.
That's something I imagine many of us relate to.
I know I laugh it a lot.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Working With the Guys and Dolls of Montgomery Theater, Too

by Nora Algeo

When one thinks of gambles, sinners, and hotbox dancers it’s doubtful that the image of a 12 year-old comes to mind. However, with sincerity, determination, and a light-hearted spin the cast of Guys and Dolls Jr. has proven to me that young actors could actually run New York City! When Tom Quinn offered me the role of General Cartwright I was so excited to get back to work at Montgomery Theater. Little did I know that at my ripe old age of 22 I would become over-powered by a slew of extremely talented youngsters. These kids can do it all, and then some! The most rewarding part of this experience was watching the kids grow and evolve as they developed their own individual characters. We all learned so much throughout the rehearsal process and in the end we truly came together as an ensemble. Aside from the back-stage shenanigans (we are kids after all), what you see on stage is wonderful and unique product that is never to be seen again. There’s an old saying in theater that one never wants to work with kids and animals. Yet, I couldn’t image better working conditions.