Camp Premiere! Camp Premiere! Read all about it!

So we’ve been gearing up for Camp Premiere for some time now (it’s a full-time job!) and just cannot wait to start seeing students arrive.  Clare and I (Frank the super awesome education assistant) have been sifting through applications, building our curriculum, and getting to know the lucky campers who will be spending two weeks of their summer with the dream team.

We have some pretty exciting things planned for the middle school camp.  As camp’s theme is “Let’s Put On a Show” we want the students to write and act in their own devised piece (of course with help from the wonderful staff).  A lot of our students haven’t done theatre before so we have quite a few games, activities and lessons planned to help give them a leg up on creating a show from the ground up.  But just how do we do this in two weeks?  Well, we have some planned seminars with industry professionals who will come in and work with the campers.   Campers will gain invaluable skills on how to structure a show and how to work on their acting skills.  We will also dissect other works created by playwrights to get a handle on the literary elements that form the basis for dramatic structure.

The wonderful Julia Frieri and Ellen Beattie will run the high school camp guiding campers through more advanced acting techniques and helping them “Take The Stage” this summer.  They will be exploring various vocal techniques, repertoire preparation and auditioning techniques.  Julia is a wonderful up and coming director/actress who’s worked Off-Broadway and all over the New Jersey area.

I know I’m really pumped to kick this off!  If you haven’t signed up yet, you’re in luck because there are a couple of spaces still available in the high school camp.  Are you the next Camp Premiere star?

If you are interested in the camp feel free to email me or call at:

premiere@kean.edu

908-737-4092

— Frank, Education Assistant


Career Development Seminar

So, last weekend the interns were given a seminar on career development by John Wooten, the artistic director of Premiere Stages. I’m not sure if this was an intentional effort on Clare (the producing associate/resident dramaturg) and John’s part when they interviewed candidates for the position in the spring, but this summer’s interns are really a strikingly diverse group. Take myself, for example—I have almost no formal experience in theatre, save for some marketing internships I did last year, and I’m primarily interested in dramaturgy, though I could also see myself in casting or production. Frank is an actor who’s majoring in theatre education, Julia is a jack of all trades who can see herself as an artistic director or writer, Kate enjoys acting as well as the technical side, Diane is a Russian major who wants to go into adaptation, Rachelle is an aspiring actress who’s looking to also get her cosmetology degree, Julie is a stage management intern who sees herself running a production company for the arts, Wil works on the technical side of theatre in several capacities, and Zac is currently employed as a lighting tech. As you can imagine, it’s hard to tailor seminars to the group’s multifarious interests! I think John’s presentation, however, was successful in that respect; everyone seemed to be really intrigued by his explanation of the different theatrical unions, strategies for effective networking, and—of course—horror stories of some very unprofessional people (who shall forever remain nameless!) he’s encountered in the business.

I’ve always felt a little anxious whenever I envisioned a possible future in theatre for myself, mostly because I don’t act, write, or direct, three skills possessed by, it seems, most people in theatre-related vocations. Our seminar certainly managed to help assuage this nagging anxiety, if only because John implied that everyone is equally at a disadvantage when seeking a career in the business! It’s incredibly hard to break into, for sure, but (just as in any field) people who demonstrate exceptional intelligence, common sense, respect, and perseverance certainly stand out. While those things obviously don’t guarantee a successful career with longevity, they definitely help make a positive first impression when you’re just starting out. Hopefully I’ll be able to remember this in the future instead of focusing on any applicable skills I have yet to acquire!

— Olivia, Marketing/Box Office Intern


Summer Lovin’ (Premiere Stages 2012 Season)

The 4th of July seems like the perfect time to kick back, stay cool, and update Premiere’s playblog! While America is celebrating its birthday at the ripe old age 236, Premiere is just about to launch the first mainstage of our 8th season. Summer at Premiere is a yearly culmination of our adventures in new play development and I’m excited to share the details of our plans for summer 2012!

We kicked off this season with our annual staged reading. Each year, we offer a playwright (selected through our Play Festival competition) twenty hours in a room with a cast and director to work on a new script and then present three free readings open to the public. This year featured Michael Dowling’s Tamarack House, directed by Anders Cato. The play is a funny, moving piece that follows a group of misfits living at a boarding house in the Berkshires. Caught in the shifting economics of recession-era America, the men struggle to save their boarding house home and redefine the definition of family. The readings ran June 22-June 24, 2012 and featured a cast of Yuval Boim, Gretchen Egolf, William Hill, Richard Kline, Larry Mitchell, Marcus Naylor, and Rik Walter. Each reading was followed by a talk back and we hope the audience was left wanting more!

From Tamarack House it’s on to our full production of 2012 Play Festival Winner, Handicapped People in Their Formal Attire, by Kathryn Grant. We are in the midst of rehearsals (and taking a breather on the 4th) and the show begins performances next Thursday, July 12th. Set in 1968, the play takes place at a black tie fundraiser for people with disabilities. The evening’s honoree is Agnes Sheehan, a woman with cerebral palsy, who is escorted by her non-disabled sister, Theresa. The siblings make the most of the celebration until unforeseen events force them to examine how fragile the bond is between them. Infused with humor, this moving story explores the true meaning of sacrifice. The inclusive cast includes actors with and without disabilities and features Lori Hammel, David Harrell, John McGinty, Rachel Pickup, Roland Sands, and Ed Setrakian. The run will feature talk backs with playwright Kathryn Grant (Sunday, July 15th) and Christine Bruno from the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts (July 22) and a sign interpreted performance (July 21st). We also have a great dinner deal event at Kean’s new Ursino restaurant for our July 13th opening night. For more details, visit our website: http://www.kean.edu/premierestages or call our box office for tickets at 908-737-7469.

But that’s not it for the summer; we also have two summer camps, a presenting series of children’s theatre, and more! With all that’s going on, it’s all hands on deck, which means the arrival of our summer staff and amazing intern crew. You’ll actually be getting to know a few more of the folks here over the summer as they take over the blog and we give you details on all the goings on at Premiere. Hope to see you at the theatre soon!

(Posted by Clare Drobot–Premiere Stages Producing Associate and Resident Dramaturg)


Follow Me to Nellie’s – Video

http://ktn.kean.edu/mediaplayer-5.3-viral/player.swf


Based on a True Story

I think I’ve mentioned before that Follow Me to Nellie’s is based (loosely) on the life of the playwright’s relative, Nellie Jackson, who ran a house of ill repute in Natchez, Mississippi. A quick online search yields interesting results – scandalous rumors, X-rated memoirs, and even Follow Me to Nellie’s T-Shirts.

And, I suspect there’s a lot more information out there, if you know who to talk to. Clare spent some time trying to find information on a baseball team that’s referenced in the play, and she called some very friendly Mississippians for help. When she explained why she was looking for the information, it seemed like everyone was familiar with Nellie. Many were eager to tell their own Nellie Jackson story – including one of Natchez’s former mayors. I’ll leave it to Clare to tell the story, when she has a free moment.

In the meantime, here is an excerpt from Nellie Jackson’s obituary:

“If you wanted a girl at Nellie Jackson’s place, you arrived before midnight and you arrived sober.

They were simple rules, but effective ones. For the better part of 60 years they had helped Nellie Jackson stay in business as the best-known madam in this Mississippi River town.

For that long, the city fathers – police chiefs, mayors, aldermen – had turned a blind eye to the goings on in the nondescript frame house with the red striped awnings on North Rankin Street.

In that time, Nellie Jackson, with her heart of gold, bug white Lincoln and small French poodles, became arguably the most colorful and best known person in town, loved by mayors and doctors, saloon owners and neighbors.

Last week, at age 87, they laid Nellie Jackson to rest. They laid her to rest because a 20-year-old kid would not play by the rules…”

Houston Chronicle


Voting Rights – Then & Now

One of the central themes of Follow Me to Nellie’s by Dominique Morisseau is the disenfranchisement of African Americans. The play takes place in 1955 in Natchez, Mississippi. The central character, Madame Nellie Jackson, lived on a tightrope – running her business (and keeping her home) required tremendous diplomacy and finesse, so when Ossie, a young voting rights activist, needs a place to stay, she is reluctant to risk her livelihood.

Premiere Stages staff and interns have been researching the history of Natchez, and what Mississippi was like in 1955. Information is compiled and the actors are given a packet, a quick guide to the culture in which the characters of the play live. I’ve always been interested in the women’s suffrage movement, and even wrote a paper about the 19th Amendment in college, but I was surprised by how much I didn’t know about the “unofficial” disenfranchisement of African Americans.

Here is a quick quote from one of the items included in the packet:

Mississippi adopted a disenfranchising constitution in 1890. The state then proceeded to systematically purge blacks from the voter rolls through new requirements of poll taxes and literacy tests, as well as through old standby methods of intimidation and fraud… Until the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, no more than 12 percent of [Adam’s] County’s black voting-age population would find their names in the poll books.

Race Against Time: Culture & Separation in Natchez Since 1930 by Jack E. Davis

The racist political climate of 1955 Mississippi is hard for me to imagine. I can’t fathom what it would have been like to live under segregation and Jim Crow. It has been fascinating to research a way of life so radically different from my own. It has also inspired me to research modern controversies in voting. I found this remarkable information on the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey website:

  • At least 4.7 million Americans cannot vote because of felony convictions.
  • 13 percent of African-American men are barred from voting forever because of felony convictions. In the South, 30 percent of black men cannot vote.

Sad, but true.

Premiere Stages wanted everyone who attends a performance of Follow Me to Nellie’s to have the opportunity to register to vote. To that end, volunteers from the League of Women Voters of New Jersey will be in the lobby half an hour before the performance with materials and information.

It’s easy to take the right to vote for granted, or to think that one vote matters. But when you consider the sacrifices that were made on behalf of the disenfranchised, and the battles still being fought for universal suffrage, voting takes on a new significance.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this quote from the script. Nellie has just refused to give Ossie a place to stay, and this is how he responds.

OSSIE:

I understand, Madam. I do. I know that everyone will have a part to play in this movement that is coming. Even something as simple as an invitation in… it’s action. But you’re right, ma’am. Action means danger. And I don’t want to cause any of that for you or your… girls. I just know that it has to be done. And if that means sleeping in the yard, or going sleepless, I know it will be worth it.

Follow Me to Nellie’s by Dominique Morisseau


What makes you see a show?

I’d like to do a little informal research, if I might. I have a question for anyone who might happen to be reading this. How do you decide whether or not to see a play? Particularly a new play. If you aren’t familiar with the show, the writer, the director, or anyone in the cast or crew, what will make you decide to see one show instead of a dozen other options?

What are the factors you consider? Ticket prices? The reputation of the theatre? Do you only see a show if it’s received a good review? How much information do you need, and where do you go to find it?

Personally, I try to see everything that my friends direct or act in, and that fills my calendar pretty quickly. I’ve been “brand loyal” to a few theatres in my life (particularly KNOW Theatre in Binghamton, New York – they do amazing work).  I belonged to several theatre’s e-mail lists. I’d glance through and if something sounded interesting, I’d look at the dates and prices and see if I could talk someone into going with me.

What “sounds interesting” to one person might not be the same for someone else. My personal bias is for straight plays (not musicals), dramas and dark comedies, female-dominated casts, female playwrights and directors, sex-drugs-and-rock-n’-roll subject matter, and cheap tickets – under $20 a person. A play doesn’t have to have all these things, or even any of these things, for me to want to go to see it, but a lot of my favorite plays share these elements.

So, please, leave a comment and tell us – when it comes to new plays, what gets your attention?


An Exciting New Season – and we’re not just saying that

People toss around a lot of subjective descriptors when they’re working in marketing. They use adjectives like “interesting” and “incredible” and “inspiring” – and “in-demand”! When it’s your job to sell something, you’ll sometimes say things you don’t mean.

I should know. I’m Kellie Powell, and I’ve been working in theatre publicity for over two years professionally and for about ten years independently. And I’m this summer’s Marketing and Box Office Intern. And I have to tell you: Working at Premiere Stages, when I use those words, I mean them.

Here are a few of the highlights, the things that I’m most excited about:

  • Full houses for staged readings of Egyptian Song by James Christy. No joke, we had to start a waiting list for Sunday’s performance. As much as I hated to have to tell people, “I’m sorry, I can’t guarantee you a seat for today’s performance,” I loved the way I finished that sentence: “because so many people wanted to see the readings that we’re at maximum capacity.” (Damn those fire codes.) I finally got to see the performance by sitting on the steps of the lighting and sound booth – it was not the most comfortable seat in the house and I was aching by the end of the show. But it was totally worth it. The actors did a fine job, and the story is quite poignant. James Christy made my list of Playwrights To Watch. If you missed the show, you can check out these photos on Premiere’s facebook page. And next time you have a chance to see Egyptian Song, do it.
  • The winner of the 2011 Premiere Play Festival, Follow Me to Nellie’s by Dominique Morisseau. The production runs July 14-31, and personally, I can’t wait. I’m hoping to describe the new play development process in several entries between now and opening night, but I’ll just tell you this for now: It’s going to be awesome. People in the audience are going to cry. The script is incredible, the actors are super-mega-talented, and if you can see it, you should see it. I’m not in the position to offer a money-back-guarantee, but that’s approximately how confident I feel that if you have a heartbeat, you will love this show. If the fact that the show is set in a brothel in 1955 in Mississippi somehow doesn’t pique your interests, be assured: this is a play that has something for everyone.
  • A beautiful story of a woman who sacrificed to make the world a better place: Hannah by John Wooten is based on the true story of Hannah Senesh. I had never heard of her before I read the script, but she’s quite a role model. The play takes place in a jail cell during World War II, with flashback scenes of Hannah’s mission to evacuate Jewish people from Hungary and her capture at the border. She was a poet-turned-soldier, and she is remembered as much for her writing as she is for her tragic death. My internship will have ended by the time this play opens on September 1, but I will be helping Premiere Stages market the event, and hopefully I can write more about it when rehearsals begin.
  • Bringing in student groups and new patrons, and getting people to wake up and realize how awesome live theatre is.
  • Outreach to voting organizations, women’s empowerment groups, civil rights advocates, jazz and blues enthusiasts, other theatre companies in New Jersey and NYC, and anyone else I can think of between now and August 5.
  • Two camps, one for middle school students and one for high school students, which were so in-demand that I didn’t even have to publicize them. I arrived, and they were already fully booked. (I’ll admit, part of the reason I’m excited about this is because I found out that one of the students last year chose a piece I wrote for their monologue project!)
  • Working with, and learning from, a group of people who are as excited about theatre as I am. I’ve been working with Clare, Amber, two of the other interns Robyn and Kate, with the Producing Artistic Director, John Wooten, and Paul, the Audience Services Coordinator. Plus, since I’m living in the provided free housing on the lovely Kean University campus, I live with three production interns, Rachel, Mara, and Hannah. Hopefully I’ll have time to introduce each of the interns to you, but in the meantime, you can check out some pictures from our field trip to New York City.

So, you’re probably asking yourself – how do I know that you are serious about this theatre being awesome? How do I know that you’re not just an employee trying to create good buzz for a theatre that is paying you to do that? This is my evidence: I went from being a Marketing Manager upstate to being an intern. I won’t get in to details, but I will say, I’m definitely not doing it for the money. At 27 years old, you don’t sign up for an internship so that you can work with a group you don’t believe in. At least, I didn’t.


And we’re back

Ah faithful blog readers, we have been amiss in our writing. You might have noticed that the playblog has lain dormant for these past few months. And you would be quite correct in reprimanding your errant blog hosts. But never fear! We are back and better than ever!

The past months (though woefully lacking in blogtasticness) have been filled with behind-the-scenes goings-on at Premiere as we prepared for our 2011 Season. We kicked off 2011 with our staged reading of Egyptian Song by James Christy and have just begun rehearsals for our Play Festival Winner Follow Me to Nellie’s by Dominique Morisseau. We are beyond excited for the season and promise to fill the playblog with backstage details and an in depth look at our season shows and the process of bringing a new play from page to stage!


Five Questions for Follow Me to Nellie’s author Dominique Morisseau

1. How did you get your start as a playwright?

Funny thing is, I’ve been a writer since 2nd grade (it all began with what I titled, “The Cabbage Patch Kid Mysteries”- but that’s a story for another time. Ask me about it and I’ll tell you more. lol), but playwriting didn’t come until college. I was studying Acting in the Theatre Department at the University of Michigan, and I was feeling unhappy with the lack of diversity in casting. So I decided to write a play that was to star myself and the other two actresses-of-color in the department at the time. Because the play was the first Black play produced in the Student Theatre for as far back as any of us knew, it quickly became a big event, and brought out a surge of Black students from all fields of study to the Theatre Department. It sparked a huge movement of support from the student body. I began to recognize the urgency in challenging the theatre to represent more under-heard voices. Playwriting became an important calling for me….

2. Can you tell me a little about your writing process–what is new play development like for you?

New play development is about community to me. I treat a play like a child, and the development process is like raising your child in the right community. I truly adore the collaborative process of theatre. It’s frightening and exciting. Usually, I begin writing with an idea or a concept that I want to explore. Almost all of my work is inspired by music. I listen to the music of the time period that I’m writing in, and it helps to inform me of the culture and the language of the time. Then when I’ve completed a draft, I invite my closest and most trusted peeps around a table or around my living room floor, and we hear the baby out loud and discuss. From there, I share the script with trusted mentors and dramaturgs, and seek readings with companies that will help to foster the play and move its development further.

3. What inspired Follow Me to Nellie’s and what are you looking forward to hearing in the reading?

Follow Me To Nellie’s was inspired by my Aunt Nellie Jackson, who was a Madame in Mississippi, and who-during the Civil Rights Movement, would assist the activists with brothel money. I knew her well, and she did many things for many people, but this aspect of her life was one I never knew about and was intrigued by. During the time when Obama was running for President, I was particulary struck with various people’s attitudes about voting and race. I am proud of the progress we’ve shown throughout history, but also concerned with the things that we have not yet healed from or fully confronted. So, I wanted to re-imagine my Aunt’s world within the context of Voting Rights activism, and pay homage to the people at all levels – big and small, who have sacrificed their lives for our right to do something that we often take for granted. I also wanted to recognize that even the most questionable of our society still have the power and the spirit to contribute something beautiful to our social progress.

4. What’s next for you?

I am developing a three-play cycle on my hometown of Detroit, called “The Detroit Projects” which looks at three iconic periods in Detroit’s history: the 1949 jazz hubs at the dawn of urban renewal, the 1967 riots, and the present day foreclosure crisis. DETROIT 67 is my piece on the riots, and is currently being developed in the Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater. The other two pieces are in early stages of research. The final piece is also being developed with Vicious Bear Theater Company’s Inaugural Development project called “Hometown”. I am very excited to explore this cycle, and hope that it sheds some necessary insight on the often mis-understood Detroit:)

Follow Me to Nellie’s by Dominique Morisseau will be performed July 14-31, 2011 at the Zella Fry Theatre. For more information, visit Premiere Stages.