Psychologist Ken Corbett, Biologist Stuart Firestein and Playwright Anna Ziegler discuss gender identity, the biology of sexual differences, and BOY in a post-performance talkback on March 31 by Keen Admin

From left, Ken Corbett, Anna Ziegler, Stuart Firestein

From left, Ken Corbett, Anna Ziegler, Stuart Firestein

On March 31, following the 7:00 PM performance of BOY, the acclaimed new play by Anna Ziegler, Ken Corbett, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy at New York University and author of A Murder Over a Girl; Stuart Firestein, former Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University and author of Failure: Why Science Is So Successful; and Anna Ziegler, author of BOY, will gather for a lively discussion about the personal and social issues the play raises concerning gender identity, the biology of sexual differences, how psychologists treat – and how society views - children of ambiguous sexuality.

Inspired by a true story, Anna Ziegler's BOY explores the tricky terrain of finding love amidst the confusion of sexual identity, and the inextricable bond between a doctor and patient. In the 1960s, a well-intentioned doctor convinces the parents of a male infant to raise their son as a girl after a terrible accident. Two decades later, the repercussions of that choice continue to unfold. A story of the blinding power of love and the complicated mystery of one’s perception of self, BOY is a moving play that calls into question how we become who we are.

The World Premiere of BOY is a co-production between Keen Company and The Ensemble Studio Theatre through the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology."

About the panelists

Ken Corbett (Photo: Matthu Placek)

Ken Corbett (Photo: Matthu Placek)

Ken Corbett is Clinical Assistant Professor at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy and has a private practice. In his review in the New York Times Book Review, Robert Kolker finds “powerful insights” in Corbett’s new book, A Murder Over a Girl: Justice, Gender, Junior High, about the 2008 murder of a transgender teen, and writes “Corbett’s relentlessly open mind is rewarding for the reader.” Playwright Tony Kushner describes the book as “magnificently written, shattering, original, and immensely valuable.” Corbett is also the author of Boyhoods: Rethinking Masculinities (2009).

Stuart Firestein

Stuart Firestein

Stuart Firestein is the former Chair of Columbia University's Department of Biological Sciences where his laboratory studies the vertebrate olfactory system, possibly the best chemical detector on the face of the planet.   Aside from its molecular detection capabilities, the olfactory system serves as a model for investigating general principles and mechanisms of signaling and perception in the brain.  His laboratory seeks to answer that fundamental human question: How do I smell? Dedicated to promoting the accessibility of science to a public audience, Firestein serves as an advisor for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program for the Public Understanding of Science.  He is the author of Failure: Why Science Is So Successful (2015) and Ignorance: How It Drives Science (2012).

Anna Ziegler

Anna Ziegler

Anna Ziegler’s plays include Photograph 51 (directed on the West End by Michael Grandage and starring Nicole Kidman; previously produced as the 2010 EST/Sloan production at Ensemble Studio Theatre; Seattle Repertory Theatre and Theater J, among others), The Last Match (recently produced at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, CA and upcoming in April at City Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA), Boy (currently at Keen Company/Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City), A Delicate Ship (The Playwrights Realm at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, New York City; Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), Another Way Home (coming in June in Washington DC at Theater J; previously produced at The Magic Theatre, San Francisco, CA), Dov and Ali (Theatre503; The Playwrights Realm at the Cherry Lane Theatre), The Minotaur (Rorschach Theatre; Synchronicity Theatre) and BFF (WET Productions at the DR2 Theatre, New York City). Anna is a graduate of Yale College and holds an M.F.A. in dramatic writing from the Tisch School of the Arts. You can read a recent interview with Anna about BOY on this blog

BOY opened on March 10 and will run through April 9 at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row.

Sociomedical Scientist Rebecca Jordan-Young, Biologist Darcy Kelley, and Director Linsay Firman join Journalist Robin Henig on March 24 for a post-performance talkback about BOY by Keen Admin

From left: Rebecca Jordan-Young, Darcy Kelley, Linsay Firman, Robin Henig

From left: Rebecca Jordan-Young, Darcy Kelley, Linsay Firman, Robin Henig

On March 24, following the 7:00 PM performance of BOY, the powerful new play by Anna Ziegler, Rebecca Jordan-Young, Tow Associate Professor for Distinguished Scholars and Chair of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College; Darcy Kelley, Harold Weintraub Professor of Department Biological Sciences at Columbia University; and Linsay Firman, Director of Play Development at EST, Associate Director of the EST/Sloan Project, and Director of the current production of BOY, will all join journalist and moderator Robin Henig for what promises to be a lively discussion about the issues the play raises concerning gender identity, the sexual development of children, and how the treatment of children of ambiguous sexuality has changed since the time of the play.

Inspired by a true story, Anna Ziegler's BOY explores the tricky terrain of finding love amidst the confusion of sexual identity, and the inextricable bond between a doctor and patient. In the 1960s, a well-intentioned doctor convinces the parents of a male infant to raise their son as a girl after a terrible accident. Two decades later, the repercussions of that choice continue to unfold. A story of the blinding power of love and the complicated mystery of one’s perception of self, BOY is a moving play that calls into question how we become who we are.

The World Premiere of BOY is a co-production between Keen Company and The Ensemble Studio Theatre through the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology."

About the Panelists

Rebecca Jordan-Young

Rebecca Jordan-Young

Rebecca Jordan-Young is the Tow Associate Professor for Distinguished Scholars and Chair of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College. She is the author of Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences (Harvard University Press 2010), and more than three dozen articles and book chapters at the intersection of science and social differences, especially gender, sexuality, and race. Jordan-Young holds a Ph.D. in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University. She teaches such courses as Science and Sexualities; Introduction to Women and Health; Pleasures and Power (an Introduction to Sexuality Studies); and the Senior Seminar in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Darcy Kelley

Darcy Kelley

Darcy Kelley is the Harold Weintraub Professor of Department Biological Sciences at Columbia University. Dr. Kelley’s research focuses on the sexual differentiation of the nervous system and the neurobiology of vocal communication. Her laboratory studies the South African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, a species with a particularly rich vocal repertoire that is specific for each sex. Females sing to males, and males sing to females and to other males. She seeks to determine how these vocal signals are produced by the nervous system and how acoustic information is decoded and acted upon. Professor Kelley has a strong commitment to bringing science to the general public through public lectures and via consulting for The EST/Sloan Project and science-themed films sponsored by the Sloan Foundation.

   Playwright Anna Ziegler and Director Linsay Firman (Photo: Walter McBride)

 

Playwright Anna Ziegler and Director Linsay Firman (Photo: Walter McBride)

Linsay Firman is Director of Play Development at EST and Associate Director of the EST/Sloan Project. In addition to BOY, at EST she has directed the World Premiere of Lucas Hnath’s Isaac’s Eye and the NY Premiere of Anna Ziegler's Photograph 51, as well as EST Marathon plays by Rachel Bonds, Garrett M. Brown, Darcy Fowler and Jose Rivera. Other NYC productions include Chairs and a Long Table by Han Ong (Ma-Yi Theatre), Perdita by Pierre Diennet (Lion Theater), Anne Washburn’s Apparition (chashama), Joy Tomasko’s Unfold Me, Catherine Trieschmann’s Crooked and Heather, Lynn MacDonald’s Pink (all at Ariel Tepper’s Summer Play Festival). Linsay began working in new play development as the Associate Director of Soho Rep, where she was a founder and chair of Soho Rep's Writer/Director Lab.

About the Moderator

Robin Marantz Henig

Robin Marantz Henig

Journalist and science writer Robin Marantz Henig is the author of nine science books and president of the National Association of Science Writers. A contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, Robin has also written for Scientific American, The Washington Post, Discover and numerous women’s magazines. Her book on the first test-tube baby, Pandora’s Baby (2004), won the Outstanding Book Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Most recently, Robin collaborated with her daughter Samantha Henig to write Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? (2014).

BOY opened on March 10 and will run through April 9 at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row.

Prize Drawing! by Keen Admin

At the beginning of January, we asked all our email subscribers to update their preferences. We don't want to clutter your inbox. We want to communicate with you - in the way you prefer, about the things you prefer. And by updating preferences, we can streamline the conversation.

Everyone who submitted updates were entered into a drawing and today we're announcing the big winners!

CONGRATULATIONS!

Each of the 200 entries were numbered, four numbers were randomly selected, and then prizes were drawn right in front of your eyes!

Jeannie won the John & Jen Cast Album!
Mo won the Keen Teens Volume 1 & Volume 2!
Mark won 2 tickets to Boy running February 23rd to April 9th!
Toni won the Marry Me a Little Cast Album!

All winners will be contacted separately to claim their prizes.

Thank you to everyone who helped us communicate just a little bit better!

Still want to update your preferences? You can do so anytime here.

Closing Night Post by Keen Admin

Friday November 13, 2015

The final blog post!  Sad to say goodbye to this one (and that is not always the case). Travels with my Aunt has been a remarkable, incredible experience from beginning to end. To end this blog I asked everyone from the Travels family for a favorite memory or specific thought to share. Couldn’t be happier to share these.

Kara Kaufman- Stage Manager

I've never experienced a rehearsal process during which the entire room dissolved into laughter so intensely and so frequently; the material is funny, yes, but this ensemble gelled so thoroughly from day one that the offhand jokes during breaks were just as infectious as the scripted ones. I literally laughed to the point of abdominal pain more than once, and that is just the best feeling to have. Nothing generates closeness quite so effectively (and enjoyably) as a shared sense of humor, and I am endlessly grateful for the one this cast brought into my life these past few months.

Joanna Muhlfelder- Assistant Stage Manager

Alright this was tough but I really have to go with Tom's invented line of "and he had three tooth in his head" instead of "and most of his teeth were missing" - you can give as much back-story as you'd like* But I honestly have heard him say that line in my head ever since and I laugh to myself every time. Just one example of the many, many laughs we've had during this process

*as far as back-story…we all have greatly enjoyed some of the ‘rewrites’ that have happened on occasion. This is live theatre after all. Tom, in particular, has had some doozies- When he describes Mr. Visconti in Act 2 he says “he was short, bald, fat and most of his teeth were missing”. On the night Joanna is speaking of he said “and he had three tooth in his head”. That was a favorite. Though I also loved the night he said, “he was short, bald, fat and none of his teeth were missing”.

Jonathan Silverstein – Director

It is hard for me pick a moment in something that has been so joyous from start to finish, but if I must:

In Brighton, Aunt Augusta tells Henry: "I was very fond of Wordsworth but my emotions are not as strong as they once were. I can support his absence, though I may regret him for a while tonight. His balls were superb."

Tom Ryan was concerned that "balls" might be too on the nose, so he had used (with Giles permission) the word "nuts" or "knackers" throughout rehearsal and early previews. One night in the second week of previews, he decided to substitute the word "balls" back in.  I am not sure if the cast knew or not (we didn’t, JR), but I was completely unprepared and howled with laughter. For anyone who knows me, my laugh can be loud and can last a while. I believe I had to cover my mouth. Jay had a particularly memorable expression on his face -- indeed, when he was supposed to be surprised he WAS. The audience loved it and it was clear it was the best choice. It never changed from that day.

It remains one of my many favorite moments throughout the process and I am delighted every time we get there in the show.

Rory Kulz – Actor

I think, more than anything, I'm going to retain a series of culinary memories of this show. The first day I was in rehearsal, Jay brought some delicious cake he had baked. Then followed Jonathan's copious backstage leavings of M&M's and Swedish Fish (of which I ate 90%), not to mention the odd performance days when the smell of barbecue would inexplicably waft into the theater. And finally, of course, Dan's homemade pork shoulder feast, which we will all remember fondly in our hearts and on our waistlines. 

Daniel Jenkins – Actor

As our skit draws to a close, some familiar dynamics surface.  The onstage life continues to be rich, and even gains a bit of vitality and discovery as we finish the run, but it is the offstage life that I get a bit misty about.  Dressing together, joking and debating current events, sharing challenges and victories great and small -- you know, life.  In the end it is the very small things I miss the most: the gentle touches of reassurance, the stream of small generosities exchanged in such an intimate space.  And, of course, the permission and fulfillment of much open-throated laughter.  What a great gift to be part of a community like this.  Much heartfelt thanks.

Thomas Ryan- Actor

These days, plays are put in front of preview audiences fairly quickly.  TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT had a few delays in getting started (including my missing the first 3 days of rehearsals because I was on holiday in Italy!), so really I felt ill equipped to be performing the play on September 29.  Learning my lines had always been the easy part, but with this play it became a problem for the first time.  I’d never before been on stage performing a scene with absolutely no memory of what scene came next!  Nerve wracking.  And I daresay we were all in the same boat.  Thank god, these three actors were there and between the group of us we got through it that first night and have become stronger every subsequent performance.  Many pieces of theater are referred to as “ensemble plays”, but I have never experienced that quite so literally as in my glorious experience on TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT.  Thanks, guys, for saving me more than once.

Jay Russell – Actor

Well, you’ve been hearing memories from me on this blog from day one but as the official blogger of Travels I will take the last word. I wholeheartedly agree with everyone regarding the incredible amount of laughter & delicious food we have shared, along with the terror of the first week of previews. But, I have to say the thing that comes to mind that really stays with me is a moment that I share onstage with each of the other actors. It is pretty much verboten among actors to discuss ‘favorite moments’ or ‘things other actors do that you love’ as it can often make the other actors self-conscious and take them out of the play. From that moment on they think, “this is that moment that so and so loves” So, usually if you are ever going to say something you wait til after the show closes. Not sure when Alejandro will post this final blog entry but if we are still running then I warn you Rory, Tom and Dan to skip this part.

I love looking deeply into the other actor’s eyes in this play and there are three moments in particular that I won’t soon forget.

At the very end of the play when Aunt Augusta and Mr. Visconti dance we all join together in a small circle- four Henrys together as one. I am across from Rory and I love that moment. Rory is such an incredible focused presence throughout the play but doesn’t often get to really interact with us. In that moment he is so moved and so present and I love connecting with him there each night. 

When Dan is playing Miss Patterson in the cemetery she grabs my hand and looks so deeply into my eyes- we’ve never talked about it but it is clear to me that she is seeing my father (the man she loved) in my eyes and it is just one of my favorite moments in the play. I completely lose Dan and see this small elderly woman so clearly in his eyes. Extraordinary.

Also near-ish the end of the play Tom and Dan and I are all sitting together in a row- Tom is Aunt Augusta and both Dan and I are dual Henrys in that moment with Tom going back and forth between us. There is a section where Tom is speaking to Dan for a few sentences and I am just looking at the back of his head (well, his bowler hat). Then he turns around and says to me “Why do you think I came to the funeral?” Because of what is happening in the play at that moment it is always a moment I, as Henry, both look forward to and dread at the same time. He slowly turns his head and his eyes meet mine. Again, like in the moments with Dan and Rory, his eyes are so clear and open and he looks at me with such a great depth and every night it moves me so deeply. I will never forget it.

So, with that I sign off for the very last time. Thanks readers for following the bloggy adventures of this journey with Travels. I have loved sharing them with you.

Until the next time….Much love and many thanks,

Ciao for now,
JR

Final Weeks post by Keen Admin

Monday November 9, 2015

In denial that we are in our last week of Travels. I think we will all truly miss this one. I am in love with the piece and the company from top to bottom. It has been a great lesson as an actor as well. I have talked about this earlier but it continues from show to show. The tone and nature of this play is so unlike anything I’ve ever done. The unique mixture of comedy & drama, lightness & darkness makes every single show so incredibly different. Not that we are so enormously different but the audience receives the play so differently from show to show. There are very few ‘guaranteed laughs’ like in so many comedies. And there are so many serious moments that have a tinge of comedy to them as well that we are never quite sure how an audience will respond.  On Saturday we had a riotous response from the matinee audience. Hysterics from beginning to end. Then in the evening they were quite quiet without much laughter. I had friends at both performances and they all loved it. So, we as actors have to accept each performance and the energy the audience gives us and try not to judge it and step out of it to question whether we are succeeding or failing.

Travels asks a lot of its audience. It is certainly not one of those “sit back and let the entertainment wash over you”. It asks you to sit forward and listen as you go on this wild and crazy ride with these complex and unusual characters.

Since Giles the adaptor took pretty much all of the text directly from the novel the language is not like many other plays. A friend of mine was there at the matinee yesterday and she said with a huge grin on her face, “It was like reading a fantastic novel! Now, that I have an infant I never get to read anymore, and I loved that I was seeing a wonderful live play as well as feeling like I was living inside a great book.”

I do have a lot of folks come to the show. The cast kids me that we would have closed long ago if not for all the friends and family I pull in to the performances.

I have certainly used facebook to spread the word but I truly am so proud of the work we are all doing that I just want to share it with as many people as possible- my family, my friends, alumni from Syracuse University, my exes, my dental hygienist, my acupuncturist, my neighbors… the list goes on and on. Plus I have done so much work outside of New York that folks are never able to see, so when I have the chance to do something in NY that I love I want people I love to be there.

 I, myself, see a lot of theatre- some actors actually don’t and I have never understood that. I love going to the theatre, whether I know people involved or not. When I am in a show I don’t have as much of a chance to see things so I will certainly be catching up on a lot once we close. Looking forward to View from the Bridge, RipCord, Ugly Lies the Bone in the coming weeks.

The question of course every person asks at this point when you are close to closing is “What’s next? Do you have another gig lined up?”  Honestly, it is about the worst question you can ask an actor but we all do it. Time and again. Tom has a bit of a break and then will be on Broadway in The Crucible in the new year. Dan has a workshop coming up at a university.  Rory works at Google and has been throughout our process (he’s young so he can handle the insanity of the schedule). Both our stage managers have gigs lined up right away. Jonathan will be busy at work prepping for the spring show at Keen. A world premiere called Boy by a wonderful playwright named Anna Ziegler. I am really excited about that one.

And I’ll continue teaching at New York Film Academy.

And auditioning. And more auditioning. And hopefully some exciting new project in the not so distant future. It’s a very strange career being an actor. Very high highs and very low lows. And pretty much every job ends. So, you are constantly starting all over again.

I feel very lucky that I got to be a part of this one though. Will treasure it for many years to come.

Onward and upward. We’ve got seven performances left. If you haven’t come to the Clurman to experience the wild travels of Henry and Aunt Augusta you have til Saturday to get there. Or if you have seen us, come visit us again. We’d love to have you.

Ciao for now,
JR

Post Opening Night Post #2 by Keen Admin

Friday October 30th, 2015

Howdy again blogosphere! Another week has flown by since my last posting. Show is plugging along and I honestly think it gets better and better. The more ease and confidence we have in it, the more the audience seems to love it. Live theatre is like nothing else. We love our audience but sometimes it gets a bit nuts. You've all probably heard of some recent audience moments in the news- Patti Lupone stopped a performance when a cell phone went off to 'school' the audience. And during the Broadway play Hand to God someone from the audience got up onstage and tried to charge their iphone using one of the outlets on the set. It is a set so the outlet wasn't real.

We’ve had a few crazy moments of our own. Last Sunday matinee (I think it was Sunday matinee) when the four of us came out in the blackness to start Act 2, I follow Rory and we rush to our places before the lights come up. Well, a few steps in I bump into Rory who seems to have bumped into something himself. I hear him mumble, “What is going on here?” and I assume he bumped into a chair or something. The lights come up to start the act and we find, no, he hasn’t bumped into a chair….but a lady. I guess she was chatting with another friend a few seats away from her in the front row and when the lights started fading she (are you ready for this?) climbed onto the stage as she thought it would be easier to get to her seat by GETTING UP ONSTAGE! Well, our blackouts are pretty dark so when she couldn’t see where she was going she decided to (here it comes!!) SIT DOWN ONSTAGE! So, then we entered and Rory not seeing her walked right into her. Lights came up and there was this woman on the ground center stage and everyone was confused. Danny, gentleman that he is, helped her to her seat. The audience was all abuzz and wouldn’t seem to settle down so finally after a few moments when things seemed back to normal I said “We all good?” and we started Act Two. Live theatre folks! There is nothing like it.

Speaking of live theatre, I went on Wednesday to the matinee of Therese Raquin at the Roundabout. My mom was in town and wanted to see it so I got us tickets. I am not going to talk about the play itself but the experience of being in the audience was truly mind-blowing. I could not believe the amount of talking, whispering, candy wrappers, movement, and enough coughing to fill up a tuberculosis ward!! It was so incredibly distracting. I really felt bad for the actors. Not the mention the fact that the theatre there at Studio 54 must have thin walls since throughout the performance we could hear cars, trucks, people talking on the street, etc.- tough to do a play set in the 1800’s while you are hearing the BOOP BOOP BOOP of a truck backing up outside.

But, the whole thing got me thinking about audience etiquette. We LOVE our audiences and certainly those of us who make most of our living doing live theatre would be nowhere without them. BUT I do think that people could use a reminder about how to behave in an audience. Remember we onstage HEAR EVERYTHING! Every cough, sneeze, movement…EVERYTHING!

We understand that people have to cough sometimes or move a bit in their seats or open a candy wrapper. But here’s some advice as someone who has trod the boards for a while-

1. If you have a cough or cold when you come to the theatre try having water or lozenges ready and nearby. If you have to open a candy or lozenge wrapper do it quickly. Rip that band-aid off! Trying to do it slowly may seem like a good idea but it doesn't work. Trust me!  

2. If you have to take off or put on a jacket try to pick a time when there is a lot going on onstage. Ideally a tap number. Or if there is no tap number try to avoid the quietest moment of the play.

3. If your cough becomes really bad just go out of the theatre to the lobby until you feel you are able to return. There was a woman at Therese Raquin who must have hacked up both lungs and probably some other internal organs. I'm hoping she survived. What can I say...? I'm a worrier!

4. Don’t talk. Don’t whisper. We can hear you. And your neighbors can too.

Don't be that guy on your phone in the theatre.

Don't be that guy on your phone in the theatre.

5. Turn off your cell phone. Most nights now either a phone goes off or someone gets a text and we all hear the little tune. If you turn on your phone at intermission, then please remember to turn it off at the top of Act 2. Or just turn it off and put it away for the evening. The actors, director, designers, stage managers, crew, etc.. all have worked so hard to transport you to another world for that few hours and when your phone goes off it jolts everyone from England 1969 (or wherever that play takes place) and back into 2015.

6. Turn off your phone’s screen well before the play starts. We come out in the darkness at the beginning of the play and almost every night there are cell phone screens lit up in the audience of people finishing a text or email or just trying to figure out how to turn it off. I treasure that first moment of darkness- whether I am onstage or in the audience and I hate to lose it.

I don’t mean to scold or pull a Patti Lupone but I just love the theatre so much. I love going as much as I love performing in it. It is that rare, live experience where a group of strangers in a dark room get transported to another world. It’s different than movies in that way in that it is completely live and never to be exactly the same. And it’s certainly different than TV where you can pause, go to the john or get a pint of ice cream. Every person in that particular crowd onstage and off plays a part in that particular evenings live event. And I think if everyone took just a moment to think of all of the other folks involved in that experience we could potentially have nights of cell phone free, quiet, focused, thrilling theatre. Great moments when you can truly and literally hear a pin drop. To me there is nothing like that.

That is all my ranting. If you ever see me at the theatre and I am talking or texting or opening a candy I hope you will remind me.

See you at the theatre soon!
Ciao for now, Jay

Post Opening Night post by Keen Admin

Thursday October 22nd, 2015

Hi blogosphere! Been awhile! I’ve missed you. After the insanity leading up to opening night I took some time off from writing to catch up on life and just focus on doing our lovely show. The audiences have been great and I’ve been having lots of friends and family coming, which has been wonderful. As actors we often work out of town where friends and family are not able to see our shows so it is always a great treat to work in town and have folks come out and support you.

We are all just loving doing the show. It continues to be such a great challenge on so many fronts. Though it is often hysterical it is not the kind of comedy with guaranteed laughs at the same places every night. Talked about this a bit last time with the whole ‘asking for the cup of tea’ example. Because we never leave the stage and when we are not central to the scene happening we are right there watching (sometimes mere inches away from the action) this play continues to demand a sense of commitment from the actor. A commitment to being present and to listening and participating whether you are speaking or not (just ask Rory. He only has a few lines but has to be present & focused at every moment.)

Graham Greene's Travels with my Aunt Commercial

Take a sneak peek at the show critics and audiences are raving about, Graham Greene's TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT! Now through November 14! More info at www.keencompany.org

Posted by Keen Company on Friday, October 23, 2015

All the ‘scenes’ in Travels are quite short as the action changes so rapidly. Probably the longest scene in the play is about 2 pages long. Some performances for whatever reason (contact lens drying, lips chapped, dry mouth, or disruptions like audience member coughing or cell phones going off) a scene or a moment is thrown and a laugh or a beat is not fully realized. In this play there is no licking your wounds in the corner and coming back for a redo-I think of it very much like competitive ice-skating. Everyone is watching and waiting for your leap or your jump- rooting for you to make it (or in some cases to fall on your ass). However, when a skater falls on their ass and misses their jump they don’t crawl off the ice and give up. No, they get back on their skates immediately and continue their program with even more vigor and commitment. Also, when a skater lands his or her leap they don’t stop and congratulate themselves. They are on to the next leap. Acting in a play like this is the same. When I don’t get a laugh or someone sneezes during a poignant moment or I just get distracted there is a part of me that wants to stop and redo (or cry or scream) but instead I get back on the horse and commit even more to the next moment.  

Our play is complicated and asks a lot from our audience. And the energy of each audience is always different (see an earlier blog post). But, just because one night feels full of big raucous laughters and the next night is full of quiet, smiling listeners it doesn’t mean one is better or more successful than the other. It is LIVE theatre. LIVE in that moment, that evening, in front of that group of individuals. And then it’s gone. Until tomorrow and another group of individuals appear to watch it.

A bit esoteric perhaps…but for an actor that is our life. The candy wrappers and the standing ovations, the snorers and the Bravos, the coughers and the moments when you can hear a pin drop. We’ll be putting on our skates again tonight at 7:00 for a new group of folks. Come on and join us!

Ciao for now,
Jay

Opening night Post by Keen Admin

Friday October 16th, 2015

The cast, director, stage manager, and assistant stage manager at last night's opening night reception.

The cast, director, stage manager, and assistant stage manager at last night's opening night reception.

Still reeling a bit from last night’s opening. A long road to get here but really was a triumph on all counts. I so enjoy doing this play and adore sharing the stage with Tom and Dan and Rory and am so thrilled that audiences are liking it so much. I know I said that reviews aren’t that important but happy to report that the New York Times and Ben Brantley himself gave us a rave! And we are a critic’s pick (which I guess is a big deal..honestly I didn’t even know what that was I’m embarrassed to say). Hope that means we will have full houses for the next month.

 It was great to celebrate last night after the show and meet folks on the Board of Directors at Keen as well as to meet friends and loved ones of everyone involved.

As cheesy and cliché as it always sounds we do create a sort of strange dysfunctional family when you do a show and the relationships are forged very quickly and intensely. So it is fun to meet the husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, siblings, parents, agents…etc.. of this new strange family of ours.

So, now we enter a new phase of the show. No more rehearsals. In the biz we say the show is ‘frozen’ though not in a negative way. The goal is to keep the show alive and fresh night after night. By frozen we mean there are no more changes the director and designers can put in. It now belongs to us under the care and maintenance of our Stage Manager Kara. Often the director disappears at this point never to be seen again. Since Jonathan is the Artistic Director at Keen we will still (thankfully) be seeing lots of him and I imagine from time to time he will give us notes on our ‘improvements’. It can be a real trap for an actor (especially with comedy) to push things over the edge. It’s the feeling of “Well, if you liked THAT how about THIS?!?!?!”  But what happens is you may briefly get a bigger laugh but then one day you push it just too far and the laugh is gone completely. Plus it may also just throw off the balance of the scene, the show, the storytelling. Particularly with this show...the tone and care of the storytelling is so delicate that anything that veers off of the tracks could have disastrous effects on the whole piece.

Here is my favorite story about comedy. Most actors have heard it until they are blue in the face but a. many non-actors haven’t and b. actors can NEVER hear it or be reminded of it too much.

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne

Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were at a time our country’s greatest living actors. Sadly many folks do not remember them as they made their living and their careers almost entirely on the stage. I know there is a film version of The Guardsman (one of their signature pieces) that I have seen but otherwise if you weren’t around then to see them onstage you may not know them. They do have a theatre named after them but with the way they keep renaming theatres who knows how long that will last. Anyway, they were old school actors who did a new season of shows on Broadway every season and then immediately took them out on the road and toured them throughout the country. They were buddies with some of the greats…Noel Coward, Helen Hayes…etc.. etc..

So the story goes that one night Alfred came offstage after a scene and said to Lynn

“I don’t understand Lynn. I used to get that laugh every night when I asked you for the tea and lately I just don’t get it. I don’t feel like anything’s changed or I’m doing it differently. What is wrong?”

Lynn’s response was right to the point.

“Darling, I know exactly what it is. You are asking for the LAUGH. You are not asking for the TEA!”

So for those of you who don’t understand that exactly it is really about truth. Being honest and truthful in the moment each and every time. For the first time.

Each audience (assumedly) is seeing the show for the first time. Experiencing what the characters are going through for the first time. And audiences are smart. Smarter that we often give them credit for. They can read falseness like nobody’s business. What made the audience laugh in that particular moment was the way Alfred’s character asked for the cup of tea. Not the way he hammed it up with the expectation of making them laugh. BTW I have no idea what show this particular ‘tea’ bit was from or even if it was from a show or if the story is true. But I do know that, as an actor who has done primarily comedy that asking for the laugh is a bad road to go down.

Makes me think a scene in the play with Tom when I am playing Miss Keene. We are actually having tea and I am preparing it for him and at the end I ask him if he would like sugar and most every night it gets a nice laugh. If ever there was a moment to really enforce and learn that famous lesson it is in that scene. So, when you come to Travels I hope you’ll enjoy me asking Henry if he takes sugar and NOT asking the audience to laugh at how funny I am doing it.

Ciao for now,
JR

Previews Post #2 by Keen Admin

Saturday October 10, 2015

I start to feel that I am sounding like Little Mary Sunshine but I am truly having the time of my life doing this play. The initial terror of not knowing what is coming next has turned to a sense of exhilaration. Still occasionally not sure what comes next but I feel such incredible trust with my fellow actors that no matter how far we might swerve from the rails that we will eventually get back on track.

The play gets better every night. It is incredible in such a short amount of time how the audience response continues to grow with each performance. I think quite a bit of that is our relaxation and confidence in what we are doing.  It’s such a unique and strange and often complex set up and I think an audience wants to feel that even if they are confused at first, that they are in good hands and eventually their initial confusion will pay off and have some clarity. 

A still from the show that show's one of Rory's more interesting characters that he gets to portray.

A still from the show that show's one of Rory's more interesting characters that he gets to portray.

It’s so interesting to speak to friends and audience members after each performance and listen to their thoughts about the story, the characters and how it all comes together. For example I love hearing what people think about Rory’s character (Actor #4). We have spent a lot of rehearsal trying to figure out what and who he is. He has so few lines, yet like us, is onstage throughout and wears the exact same suit and bowler hat. Is he a younger version of Henry? Is he an all-seeing version of Henry? Is he just there to move chairs and move the story along? Honestly I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. I love that we leave it to each audience (and each audience member) to work it out on their own.

The 2013 West End revival of Travels With My Aunt at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

The 2013 West End revival of Travels With My Aunt at the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Big night last night as our writer/adapter Giles Havergal was here from London and saw our production for the first time. We were all nervous, as actors and directors are always nervous when the writer is in the house. That’s why so many of us prefer to do plays with dead writers (no offense Giles) but Dead Writers Can’t Give Notes!
However, a relief for one and all…Giles seemed very happy with the production and our take on it. He initially adapted and created the piece in England over 20 years ago and played Tom’s role in the original production. It then played in New York and internationally for years and years. In the past few years there was a big revival in London and now we are the first big New York revival of the play.

Will be anxious to hear from Jonny when we get to work today more of his specific thoughts but he couldn’t have been more of a gentleman and more complimentary to all of us last night after the show.

We are entering those few shows prior to opening night (on the 15th) when we know that there will be critics in the audience.  No one speaks of this as many actors don’t want to know ANYONE who is in the house, particularly critics but it remains a fact of life. I think in the old days critics ALL used to come on opening night but now at least they are spread out over many performances.

With a non profit theatre company like Keen Company and a play with a set closing date good reviews are not crucial but they certainly help- not only to spread the word and get butts in the seats (always important) but to celebrate all the good work put in to make our production come to life (actors, director, designers, etc..) There is so much work that goes on in the weeks and months leading up to the two hours an audience spends with our play each night. Though every theatre professional will tell you “If you believe the good reviews, you’ve got to believe the bad ones too”, it is always nice to get good ones. I am extremely proud of this production and am hopeful that we will get plenty of ‘butts in the seats’ to enjoy it between now and November 14th. If you are reading this blog and haven’t bought your tickets yet...WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!!!  Come to London, Brighton, Paris, Istanbul, Paraguay, and many other exotic locales with Henry, Aunt Augusta and the rest. You will be very glad you did!

Ciao for now,
Jay

Previews Post #1 by Keen Admin

Sunday October 4th, 2015

Well, we survived the first week of previews. Actually, we thrived. With each performance the terror level has decreased a smidgen and our confidence has increased.  I think we are actually in very good shape. We have learned an incredible amount from each audience- the quieter ones and the more boisterous ones.

A sidebar on actors and audiences. All actors have their theories about audiences. 

“Matinee audiences are the best!”
“I hate matinee audiences!”
“Friday nights are always quiet because they are tired from the work week!”
“Saturday night audiences have had a few drinks so they are up for anything!”

I’ve heard it all. And probably said it all. Every actor has their opinions and they rarely coincide. We all “feel” each audience in such an individual way.

What it feels like sometimes when the audience is a quiet one.

What it feels like sometimes when the audience is a quiet one.

“We lost them during that scene!”
“They loved the broad humor!”

“They were really listening!”
“Why do they hate me and only me?!” 

And yet, anytime I’ve met a friend or family member after a show where I have had a very strong opinion about their particular audience they will usually say something that will completely contradict it.

What do you mean we weren’t laughing? I was laughing my A$$ off!”
“I don’t know what you are talking about…I didn’t notice when the set collapsed..or when you’re pants fell down, or when the guy in the front row coughed up a lung!!”

 Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit…but trust me. A few decades in this business and I have literally heard everything!!

A still from the show of Tom and I enjoying ourselves onstage

A still from the show of Tom and I enjoying ourselves onstage

All I know is that I am exhausted and relieved. We got through it and people are really enjoying it. And the terror we were feeling early on as previews approached has lessened. I actually feel like I can breathe onstage (kind of essential) and spend a bit less time worrying about what is next and a bit more time truly enjoying being in the moment. I feel so incredibly lucky to be onstage with Tom, Dan & Rory. We have a wonderful rapport and trust and I thank the Theatre Gods that I am on this ride with them. Onward and upward!  But for now, SLEEP, sleep and a bit more sleep!

Ciao for now,
Jay