Fall Activity – Video Production

Every other fall we do a course in video production. This fall we had 11 new faculty, and the class assignment was to create an interview package with each of those faculty members. Here is the first of those:

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A Triumph of the Theatre

We made it.

Friday night we had about 80-85% of our words be MacLeish’s words. Saturday, it was somewhere in the upper 80’s – though we took some liberties with MacLeish’s structure and dropped a few parts of a few scenes. Skipped them. Made the play shorter.

Overall it was a fine piece of work. The setting, as built mostly by Professor LeGault, was marvelously functional, but demands that we now do shows with 4’6″ rises – or a multiple thereof – it could be 9′ total rise with a platform in the middle. We have great staircases, built for us by maintenance. We can also do another show with a circus motif – we’ve got three “circus” banners (though I want to purchase one for office decoration).

jb cast 4

Back row: Liz Ford, Katia Matter, Tina Beasley, Carl Isaacson, Greg LeGault, Phoenix Hutchinson, Joel Weide. Front row: Dayna Mannebach, Katie Mannebach, Jed Duarte, Julee Freeman, Peyton Truitt, Katy Tioni

The cast was a dream. A nightmare at times, but a dream overall. They worked hard and after it was over, cleared the stage in record time. Liz Ford, as Sarah, in particular found characterization that was extremely moving. In both Friday and Saturday’s shows I was moved nearly to tears by her lament for the loss of her children. At intermission in Saturday’s show Jed, as J.B., had to take some time to calm – he was so taken by the death of the youngest, Rebecca (Peyton Truitt) that he almost couldn’t go on.

I was also very proud to work with Julee Freeman. This was the second production I’ve worked with Julee. I don’t know if she finds my methods frustrating – I ask actors to do the work of creating character and argue with them about the direction they’re headed – but she found character in Nickles that I hadn’t imagined. It was a great part of the process. And she was so solid in her lines that it made my job as Zuss more challenging. I couldn’t let her down or attempt to improvise. I had to know my lines too. Thanks to Julee for that challenge.

Overall, it was a good show that could have been a great show if we had had two more weeks like the last week of rehearsal.

My only sorrow is that we didn’t have the audiences these guys deserved. We had forty on Friday and thirty five on Saturday and a half dozen at preview. Not bad for a serious play on this campus, but a bit disappointing. I’m particularly disappointed that we didn’t have more support from faculty and staff. Thanks to those who did come. We appreciate your support. Those of you who didn’t make it – well it’s your loss.

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Is This Play Plagued?

They say you shouldn’t mention the name of the Scottish play if you’re playing the Scottish play. The play is, they say, cursed, and all sorts of bad things will befall you if you mention the title of Shakespeare’s Scottish play.

I’m not sure I believe the tales of Macbeth mania. I played in the show – in fact it was the first play I ever appeared in – and we said the name of the play on a daily basis. It was the hippy play – with lots of hippies playing lots of the parts. My room mate, John Greenwood, had one line – “The Queen my lord, is dead.” He couldn’t get it out. I had several lines as Malcolm. We weren’t good, but we weren’t cursed.

Now to J.B.

Is this one cursed? Last night we were missing four cast members. Tonight we were still missing one – Miss Mabel is out with severe problems and might have to have a walk on to take her place. Tonight, I fell on my face twice. The microphone that was supposed to carry God‘s off-stage voice kept on cutting out. I forgot lines from scenes that I know so well that I can recite them in my sleep and often do.

I told the cast tonight – “We’ve made all our mistakes tonight – so we won’t be making any more.” But is there something trying to keep us from performing this piece? Is it really that important to us that something is trying to keep it from happening? What kind of sense would that make?

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Progress But

We’ve made incredible progress in preparations for J.B. this week. But we still have a long way to go.

So far, thanks to Greg LeGault and Phoenix Hutchinson we’ve got:

Heaven and Earth built and painted.

Lights refocused and cues written. (it took a while because I had to learn how to wirte cues and kept on forgetting parts of the cue writing process and didn’t have an accurate plot of the instruments and circuits.)

Almost all the sound cues ready to go (I need military music or marching boots or something).

A_roast_turkey_with_lemon_slices_101015-193020-549009One of the big things I’m missing is the turkey. I’ve got a video on how to construct a stage turkey from wires and cheese cloth – and I think I could do it. But I’m seriously considering using an actual cooked turkey, and then having it for turkey sandwiches at strike. I think we can get a nice golden bird prepared for Friday next – opening night – or maybe for Thursday, our dress rehearsal – stow it in a cooler at the end of the scene, keep it cool and keep it from getting beaten up. But does Scott’s even have turkey at the time of year? Have to check that out before I make the decision. I’ve got space in my beer fridge that I could use to store it.

The last item that needs to be worked out is the circus side show posters. Dirt Cheap Banners is doing the banners and we will have a ten foot by 5 foot upstage left wall of circus posters. It’s going to be the best backdrop I’ve ever made. And it will only cost about $180.

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Adding the Lights

Thanks for Phoenix we have a basic light plot established. Neither of us knows how to patch missing circuits into the board, so we have to get either LeGault or Whetstone to show us what to do. If we can get to rearranging the patch panel, we might get some of the lights repatched to other dimmers.

But we’ve got enough lights in place that with a little refocusing we’ll be able to accomplish what I hope we can accomplish with the light plot. Of course, this is a part of the process that I’ve never done before. I’ve always had someone else design lights for me. I’m up for the challenge, just wish I had a smidge more knowledge to work from.

LeGault has finished building the two platforms. They are remarkable. The new stair units are likewise remarkable. I’ll be able to get up and down the stairs just fine – though I feel a little unsteady in Heaven.

Tomorrow morning – read the text again before going in to do more work on the lights.

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Getting Better

Aimee Semple McPherson

A popular evangelist from the 1910’s and 20’s, McPherson founded the Four Square Gospel movement.

We worked on the two crucial scenes from Act II tonight. One of the best parts of this was Katie Mannebach’s work as Zophar. 

I hadn’t originally conceived of Zophar as an Evangelist like Aimee Semple McPherson, but since I ended up casting a female as Zophar, the idea dawned on me last week as we were rehearsing. I’m trying to get Katie Mannebach to play the part like a cheap evangelist out to save Job’s soul – regardless of what has happened to his body, his family, his material possessions and his life.

McPherson was a popular preacher and a powerful one. Her power as a preacher led to her being parodied, along with Billy Sunday, in Sinclair Lewis’ novel Elmer Gantry. 

I’m trying to get Katie to preach to the crowd, not to J.B. Even while she’s preaching to the suffering Job, I want her to think about converting the crowd, getting them to come to the stage, throw their crutches away and proclaim their healing with lots of Glories and Hallelujahs. Even if it is Lent. 

Katie got the idea and it worked. The cast began to play off one another and the whole scene worked better. We still have a ways to go. Katie was going to look for pictures of Aimee – and here she is. 


This is Jean Simmons as Sister Sharon Falconer in the 1960 feature Elmer Gantry. Burt Lancaster plays Elmer Gantry, a character loosely based on Billy Sunday, another evangelist of the era. Sunday was a ball player who made his name by sliding into home for Jesus, and and tossing Satan out of the ballgame.

What I want though is that egoism that makes the sermon a great performance piece and motivates the search to come forward – a performance that might do good for God, but is more likely to do good for the preacher’s ego.

Katie’s problem is that she is such a humble kid that being egotistical is almost impossible.

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MacLeish and Sunday’s Sermon

Image of Archibald MacLeishYesterday morning, third Sunday in Lent, I preached on Luke 13:1-9, those whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices, and those killed by the tower at Siloam. 

I used the occasion to talk about the themes in J.B., and to expand upon the idea that I’ve discovered in that final scene. There Sarah comes back to him and after all his suffering – after she has left him at his lowest point – he accepts her back – loves her anyway.

“We cannot know,” he says finally. We can’t know why we suffer. We can’t know what it is that the divine would do with us or why. We can’t unravel the mysteries of the universe. But we can choose to go on.

We choose to go on and to thus to risk being crushed again because we are human. And if we are human, fully human, we can love despite the risk of loving.

That was not quite the theme of the Gospel. But the Gospel does, it seems to me, have Jesus telling the people who want to know why “some of them” were killed by Pilate or crushed by the falling tower were asking the wrong question. You have a choice before you, Jesus says, and you cannot evade the choice by being philosophical.

And in that I think MacLeish and Jesus are at least going in the same direction.

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