A lot has been happening at Hedgerow Theatre recently, especially in the education department. One of the most recent Hedgerow Theatre School projects is Godspell, for which we just began rehearsals last Saturday. Godspell was written by John-Michael Tebelak, and Stephen Schwartz wrote the lyrics as well as composed the music. Godspell is an amazing musical about affection, devotion, and love. The show tells the story of Jesus’ disciples, who, under the guidance of John the Baptist and other great historic minds, follow their savior on his journey towards his eventual betrayal and crucifixion. Although the basis of the musical is the Gospel of Matthew from the Bible, the story stretches beyond one of religion – Godspell tells a tale of friendship, loyalty, celebration, and love. Almost every single production of this show has been interpreted differently, and that’s just one of the reasons why this musical is so unique. The music is so individualistic because it’s very soulful, despite being a gospel piece.
Everyone in our approximately 20-person cast is super excited to start blocking and singing. We held auditions yesterday, which consisted of reading and performing the parables from the story and singing an excerpt from “O Bless the Lord My Soul.” The cast was split up into five groups, and each group took turns performing the aforementioned tasks. Overall, it was a very relaxed audition process, giving us great hope for the upcoming rehearsals and productions. We are all sure that director Penelope Reed, music director Shaun Yates, and area professional Robert Pellechio will make amazing decisions regarding the production. The cast looks forward to next week, when we will get our casting and begin making headway towards working on the show!
The “MerryMonarch”, King Charles II, had a strenuous rule. After the execution of his father King Charles I at the end of the English Civil War, Charles II was declared king. However, the Commonwealth of England seized his power, leaving England without a monarch for the first and only time in its history.
The Cromwell Regime ran the Commonwealth from 1653-1659, when Oliver Cromwell was named Lord Protector of England and ended with the overthrow of Cromwell’s son, Richard, in 1659. Though Oliver Cromwell served as leader of a supposed English Republic, he was afforded many of the same luxuries as the royals that predated him, living in the same palaces and holding sole power over the government – even being offered the title of King, which he turned down.
Cromwell’s rule over the Commonwealth brought about many reforms congruent with his Puritan beliefs, which included stricter observances of the Sunday Sabbath. No stores or manufacturers could do business on a Sunday, and even travel was forbidden without a writ from a justice attesting to its necessity. He instigated greater punishments for swearing, and charged adultery as a capital offense. Further acts were passed to punish actors, minstrel performers, fiddlers, gamblers, and other “vagrants” with the severity of rogues and thieves.
Despite the severity of the acts passed, much of the more drastic legislation went heavily ignored. Juries refused to convict adulterers, and it is unlikely any capital punishments for the offense were ever handed down. This resulted in Cromwell’s establishment of the Major-Generals in 1655; police magistrates whose purpose was to suppress crime and immorality in their respective districts. Major-Generals achieved these goals by ending bear-baiting by killing the bears, or cock-fighting by wringing the necks of the roosters. Though the Major-Generals were disassembled two years later, their acts had revitalized the new administration, which acted under Cromwell’s legislature for the rest of the Protectorate.
In 1660, Charles II was reinstated as king, and the Restoration period began. It was under his rule that Charles reopened the theatres that Cromwell had closed, allowing the King’s and Duke’s companies to form, and permitting both companies to hire women for the first time. Nell Gwynne, the young daughter of a brothel madam, sold oranges at performances at the King’s Company theatre. Within the span of a few years, Gwynne became the lead actress and most famous comedic performer in the country. Her fame earned her the attention of the King. Gwynne soon became one of his many mistresses and bore him two illegitimate sons. Gwynne is hailed as a folk heroine. She embodies the rags-to-riches character who was born poor and fatherless under Cromwell’s strict regime, only to rise to fame and money through her talent as an actress, and later by becoming lover to the king himself.
“Pleasure,” is the one word actor Kittson O’Neill uses to describe the “heart” of Liz Duffy Adams’ farce Or, in which O’Neill plays the pioneering female playwright Aphra Behn (1640-89) a wise-cracking poet with men and women under her thumb.
The play is set in Restoration England in the 1660s, after the Puritans were pushed out of England, the theaters reopened and women were finally allowed to pursue careers as actors. The wit and high comedy of aristocratic manners created during this reconstruction of English theatre came to be known as Restoration comedy, and out of this sensation came the first female playwright, Aphra Behn.
The madcap rush of antics, gender bending, and passion takes place during one night in the life of Aphra: poet, spy, and libertine. Behn is sprung from debtors’ prison after a disastrous overseas mission, and is attempting to write a play for one of only two London companies, despite interruptions from celebrated actress Nell Gwynne (Bloechl); her complicated royal love, King Charles II (Vickers); and her very dodgy ex-love, double-agent William Scott (also Vickers)—who may be in on a plot to murder the king in the morning.
“It’s very rare as an actress to play a character who is driven by her sexual desires and ultimately triumphs because of them,” O’Neill mused. “She’s basically the anti-Blanche [from AStreetcar Named Desire]. Liz’s take on Aphra dives deeply into the dilemma of being a woman who loves her life, her lovers, and her freedom, but lives in a world that is constantly boxing her into a role she just doesn’t fit. That’s a recipe for tragedy, but in this play it’s a farce.”
Asked to describe the play, O’Neill said, “‘Or,’ is smart and entertaining. It gives you a belly laugh and turns on a light bulb. If you bring a sense of fun and curiosity to the show, which is exactly what Hedgerow’s audiences bring, you will love it.It reminds us that new plays are fun, history is fun, ladies are fun. Comedy is the secret weapon of big ideas. If I told you you were going to see a feminist play about a 17th-century woman playwright you would probably fake a stomach ache. If I told you you were going to watch a sex-farce crossed with a political spy thriller you would hop right in the car.”
O’Neill is a Philadelphia based actor, director, and dramaturg. She last appeared behind the scenes here as the director of the 2015 Barrymore Recommended production of On the Verge, and has since worked on The Winter’s Tale for Shakespeare in Clark Park, and Three Christs of Manhattan for InterAct (co-directed with Seth Rozin). Up next she is directing A Knee That Can Bend and is reviving her performance in Being Norwegian for A Play, a Pie and a Pint! O’Neill has worked as a dramaturg for both Playpenn and The Kennedy Center and is the Artistic Associate of Interact Theater Company, a graduate of The Shakespeare Lab and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s internship program.
“I actually directed a reading of Aphra’s play The Rover for the Philadelphia Artists Collective.
O’Neill recalled. “It was incredibly useful to dive into her theatrical brain and it really gave me some insights into her world and her survival techniques. Some of those insights will definitely show up in the rehearsal room. I’ve been doing some research about her and this tricky point in English history. I like to start rehearsal with all the “what does this mean?” questions answered so I can focus on playing.”
Adams’ history-based fiction occasionally takes liberties with the facts, but rolls through 1666 England with cartoonish, yet deeply fleshed out characters, and an eye towards a love of theatre. Her mastery of language rivals that of Behn herself, her characters are full of spark and life, and her story interweaves biography and wit through each scene.
“I did a reading of a different Liz Duffy Adams play at the Jean Cocteau Repertory in New York,” O’Neill related, “a now defunct victim of gentrification. It was a mad wild play about lady pirates called, We, Or Isabella the Pirate Queen Enters the Horse Latitudes. I loved it and have been a fan of Liz’s work ever since. I try to read everything she writes.”
An intricate play such as Or, (the comma is part of the title) will be in the hands of a capable director, as friend, and fellow artist Aaron Cromie takes the helm of the production. O’Neill pitched the play and the director to Artistic Director Jared Reed after the success of last year’s production of On the Verge.
“Aaron and I performed The Body Lautrec in the Fringe two years ago and it was a huge hit,” O’Neill said. “I ended up doing a lot of the puppetry, which included a full body doctor puppet who did a live dissection on stage. It’s a strangely intimate act, to animate another person’s artwork and he and I discovered that we were real art partners. He designed the set for On the Verge last year and created a massive bear puppet for my production of The Winter’s Tale this past summer. He has never been my director before and I’m very excited to explore this sexy-mad play with him!”
Adams’ play premiered Off Broadway at Women’s Project Theater and has been produced numerous times since.
Director Aaron Cromie sits down with Brock Vickers after rehearsal to talk about inspiration and the most important lesson to pass on to young artists. Previews for Or, by Liz Duffy Adams begin January 28 with opening night set for Saturday January 30.
David Titus, narrator and head which wayer of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, willingly sits down at the Esherick table, surrounded by the smiles of actors long gone, to talk about, sort of, the inner workings of Adams’ insanely clever and complex, Universe. So sit back, if you dare, and listen to the ramblings and ravings of David and Brock.
Space and time are relative, and on January 8, 2016, Hedgerow Theatre Company will set out to prove this point with Douglas Adams’ beloved sci-fi comedy, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. With director Jared Reed at the helm of this production and the cast of the Hedgerow Theatre Company at his disposal, the Hedgerow stage will stretch to the ends of existence and back again with the help of artist Phoebe Titus.
“The great thing about this project is that there are such wonderful characters and descriptions of visual gags in it,” Titus said. “Working from the radio script is especially fun because it’s a blank slate and visuals can be reimagined from the ground up.”
Originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has since been adapted to other formats, including six novels, a film, and a television series. With numerous additions and re-writes over the years, it gradually became an international multimedia phenomenon. Hedgerow will bring Adams’ original radio play to the historic grist-mill stage, and use Titus’ artwork in storyboard fashion to prove that scale is everything.
“When it comes to creating visuals to go along with Adams’ world, there’s also an aspect of the specific time and place they’re coming from,” Titus explained. “I’ve been working to pull them all together in a way that is fun, relatable, and relevant. Visuals give context for stories. They bring color and inflection to the stories. Stories have to be told, and that takes time. Pictures help fix that time into one, clear thought. In this project, the goal is to have the pictures highlight, punctuate, and augment the narrative.”
The title of the show is the name of a fictional, eccentric, electronic hitchhiking guidebook to the Milky Way galaxy, originally published by Megadodo Publications, one of the great publishing houses of Ursa Minor Beta. The narrative of the stage play is frequently punctuated with excerpts from TheGuide commenting on life, existence, and the frailty of human knowledge.
Throughout all versions, the series follows the adventures of Arthur Dent, a hapless Englishman. The story also follows the adventures of other major characters: Ford Prefect (who named himself after the Ford Prefect car to blend in with what was assumed to be the dominant life form, automobiles), an alien from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and a researcher for the eponymous guidebook; Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford’s semi-cousin, notorious awful dresser and the Galactic President; the depressed robot Marvin the Paranoid Android; and Trillian, formerly known as Tricia McMillan, a woman Arthur once met at a party in Islington and the only other human survivor of Earth’s destruction.
“One great thing about science fiction worlds is that they can hold a mirror to the good and bad things about our world,” Titus related. “The great thing about Douglas Adams’ world is that it holds a mirror to the humorously mundane, contradictory, and marginally annoying aspects of our world. I read the script several times, talked with my husband, David Titus (the technical director,) and we just had fun together thinking about the characters and visuals.The fabulous thing about coming to this project is that it’s funny; it’s fun to talk about, and fun to think about.”
The first radio series comes from a proposal called “The Ends of the Earth”: six self-contained episodes or “fits”, all destroying the Earth in a different way. While writing the first episode, Adams realized that he needed an alien to provide some context, and that this alien needed a reason to be there. Adams decided to make the alien a researcher for a “wholly remarkable book” named The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. As Adams writing progressed, the Guide became the center of his story, and thus the series was born, with the destruction of Earth being the only holdover.
“Adams also makes excellent use of logical fallacies; bringing them to their most ludicrous conclusions with insightful little gags.” Titus commented. “It’s really funny to think about a tiresome, depressed robot, a bureaucratic, green alien, and just a regular guy whose house, then entire world, gets destroyed on a one particularly annoying day.”
Get ready for the Universe to be at your fingertips, as a comedic journey through time and space will land in Rose Valley in time for the near year; but be warned, this production ends as quickly as Dent’s time on Earth as it closes on January 17.
Kittson O’Neill is a Philadelphia based actor, director and dramaturg. She was last seen on stage in Arcadia at The Lantern. Her most recent directing credits include The Winters Tale for Shakespeare in Clark Park, Three Christs of Manhattan for InterAct (co-directed with Seth Rozin) and On the Verge for Hedgerow. Other favorite Philly performances include: The Body Lautrec(Cromie and Tuomanen), New Jerusalem (The Lantern), Down Past Passyunk (InterAct), Behind the Eye (Gas & Electric), The Pride of Parnell Street (Act 2), Lidless (Interact), and The Early Bird (Inis Nua). In NYC: You Are Dead You Are Here (HERE Arts), The Darker Face of the Earth (TWAS Productions). And Regionally:Eggs (People’s Light & Theater), Maggie Rose, An Unhappy Woman & October 1962 (New Jersey Repertory), Jigsaw Nation (The Playwrights Center, South Coast Repertory, Curious Theater). She has worked as a dramaturg for both Playpenn and The Kennedy Center. She is the Artistic Associate of Interact Theater Company, a graduate of The Shakespeare Lab and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s internship program. Up next she is directing A Knee That Can Bend , a world premier by Emma Goidel, for Orbiter 3 and reviving her performance in Being Norwegian for A PLAY, A PIE AND A PINT!
Hedgerow Theatre fellow Mark Swift sits down before Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and tells us his favorite part of the story. Ever wanted to hear the original script? Ever wanted to be a hitchhiker yourself? Come to Hedgerow and be a part of the Universe.
Theatergoers are advised to stay calm and bring a towel as they are taken on a tour of the universe at Hedgerow Theatre’s production of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from January 8 to 17.
Hedgerow will be using the British playwright’s original radio play, which first aired on the BBC in 1978, and launched a popular science-fiction comedy series of books that were later adapted into a TV series, a computer game and a movie. The story begins shortly before Earth is set to be demolished to make room for a galactic highway. Hapless Englishman Arthur Dent is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect, an alien from a small planet near Betelgeuse who’s a researcher for the title publication. They set off together on a journey through space, where they encounter a number of unusual characters.
It will be done as a multimedia spoken-word performance directed by Artistic Director Jared Reed. Hedgerow Fellows Josh Portera, Allison Bloechl and Mark Swift will read from the script, each playing several roles, with illustrations projected on the walls behind them and special sound effects to enhance the storytelling. The storyboard art was created by Phoebe Titus and animated by her husband, technical director David Titus. The Lansdowne-based couple own OrganicInOrganic Visuals, a production company.
“The great thing about this project,” Phoebe Titus explained, “is that there are such wonderful characters and descriptions of visual gags. I read the script several times, talked with David and we just had fun together thinking about the characters and visuals.” Adams’ words offered plenty of inspiration for her. “Douglas Adams’ world holds a mirror to the humorously mundane, contradictory and marginally annoying aspects of our world,” she added. “When it comes to creating visuals to go along with his vision, there’s also an aspect of the specific time and place they’re coming from. I worked to pull them all together in a way that is fun, relatable and relevant.”
There are eight performances scheduled, on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
All tickets for this special engagement are $20. To reserve seats or for more information, call 610-565-4211 or visit www.HedgerowTheatre.org. Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media.)