Monday, December 29, 2014

Roshamon, March 1991

Our first show in 1991 was Roshamon, a play based in part on a 1950 Japanesse movie directed by the famous director Akira Kurosawa and staring the well known actor Toshirô Mifune.
The story of the play was the retelling of a murder and rape by several witnesses who each have a different story.

Traditional Japanese theatre includes several styles including Kabuki, Noh (and Kyōgen) and Bunraku.
Our guest director wanted to incorporate parts of each style in our production.
Most traditional Japanese productions would not use a blend of styles but we had them all in our show.
We had hired a temporary costume designer that year and she was chosen in part because she had experience in Japanese costume design and she did created very beautiful costumes for the show.
We also had to make Bunraku puppets, a life-size horse costume and a very stylized set which included a Hanamichi, a ramp that ran out into the audience.
Although a mixture of styles the play looked nice and came off well.

The biggest problem during the production came on the Sunday night of the first weekend of the show with the start of the Ice Storm of 1991.
The storm caused major powered outages and closed the school for several days and delayed the second weekend of the show.

Many branches and whole trees fell that night and a tree fell across the front of my car.
As luck would have it, the tree did no damage to my car it except bending my radio antenna.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Stamping, Shouting & Singing Home, Dec1990

Directed By: Suzanne Sturn
Scene Designer:  Drew Francis
Costume Designer:  Madeline Huggins
Lighting Designer:  Gary Thomas Musante

 Stamping, Shouting & Singing Home was a collection of three one-act plays written by women.
The plays were: A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell also known as Trifles, A Chat with Mrs. Chicky by Evelyn and Stamping, Shouting & Singing Home by Lisa Evans.

Links to more information about the plays:

The three plays were acted on a unit set that was a large raked stage that had translucent panels flown in for each play.
The stage floor was covered with many lauan ply planks that made a large parquet pattern on it.
It was very time consuming but looked great when it was done.
The flooring for the just completed The Cripple of Insihmaan might have been more complex and certainly took many more staples to finish and when done it took two days to remove them all.

The Cripple of Inishmaan, 2014

Taking out the staples.

The large panels were simple and covered with a spun mesh fabric that was very expensive had to be shipped in from Germany.
With some changes we re-used the panels again the following year for A Christmas Carol.
We got the material from Rosco but the closest thing to it that I could find today comes from Rose Brand.

So what do I remember most about this production?
The actors, crew or plays themselves?
Nope, something else.

When we came in one morning we found that the main stage curtain had fallen down on the stage.
It appears that the tie lines had rotted away over the years and one finally broke and the slight shift in weight snapped others and started a cascade of broken ties and the whole thing fell down.
As the curtain fell it ripped itself apart and we had to buy a new one.
Few people would miss the old purple curtain.
Fortunately the only other item that was a damaged was a golf club that had been leaning against the proscenium.
What it was doing there I do not know, it was just a toy that someone had been playing with most likely hitting tape balls around the theatre.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

The Day Room, 1990

The Day Room the first play written by Don DeLillo a noted author of unique novels.
Perhaps his first novel of note was White Noise a book which I have read and really enjoyed.
I have also read some of his other book including End Zone, Mao II, Libra and Falling Man.

The show title for each program was hand-lettered in crayon.

Act I of the play is set in a in a psychiatric hospital and we see some really unique characters and we are not sure who is the staff and who are the patients.
Our set seemed  simple, a white hospital room.
At intermission there is a set change from the hospital room to a motel.
To make the change one of our very tall actors playing an orderly came onstage and just leaned into the side of the set and the walls of the room shifted angels and  a previously unseen window appeared.
Of course what really happened is that about 6 stagehands behind the set helped move the walls when the cue was given.

The Day Room, Act I

The cast was a mix of faculty, adult and traditional students.
I really enjoyed the oddness of the play.
There were some fun, odd, surprising and unique moments in the play.
In the second act on of the actors is brought in a straitjacket and chained into an alcove in the set and became a television set.
Using different voices and noises the actor became various  television programs as another actor used a TV remote to change the channels.
I am sure that many of the audience did not follow the absurdest structure of the play but it was still interesting.

The Day Room, Act II

At the end of the play instead of a curtain call the actors ran off the front of the stage, up the aisles and out into the lobby.
When the audience got up to leave when they got to the lobby they found themselves surrounded by or 7  or 8  stage hands holding  4' x 8' white flats just waving them side to side.
One of the crew was "little person", or dwarf, who was very game and he was OK with it when he was given a  smaller flat, maybe 3' x 5'.

After a few moments of the waving flats the cast appeared on the upper level of the lobby and repeated the first line of the play and then everyone ran off.
As the audience left to go the parking lot or back to the dorms they passed by the stage hands with their flats dancing  around a bright light on a stand the was set out in the lawn outside the building.
This was all done in support of one of the themes of the play in that the play never ends.
Many students had a hard time writing their critiques for this play.
Absurdest drama can be hard to explain, even for those working on it.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Story of Jumping Mouse, 1990

Twenty-four years ago today I helped work on a production of The Story of Jumping Mouse produced and performed by Das Puppenspiel Puppet Theatre.

Das Puppenspiel was a well know puppet touring company that closed down in 2010.
The Department had brought them in to perform and they were fairly self-contained so I had little to do except help them set up and then sit back and enjoy the show.

I enjoyed the show but even more I enjoyed the performers as they were all fun and one guy in the company was truly nuts.
After the show I went out with them to eat.
While at the restaurant as I was talking with one of the puppeteers he took out a small finger puppet and put on a show for a little girl at the next table but all the time still talking with me.
Of course the little girl was captivated by the puppet and laughing the whole time.

The 1990-91 season had the normal for plays and four music events but that year we had several extra plays and music events.
Our plays that season were The Day Room by Don DeLillo, a collection of three one-acts by women writers, Roshomon by Fay and Michael Kanin and Dark of the Moon by Richardson and Berney.

Additionally we did an original production of Jacob’s Ladder written by one of our staff and the cast included Taye Diggs and his very talented mother Marsha Berry.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Geoffrey E. Guja, a 9/11 Hero

As we come to the thirteenth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 I think it is important to take a moment to remember all of the heroes that we lost that day. 

I found out a few years ago that I had once met one of those heroes thirty-eight years ago while I was still in college.

He was the twin brother of one of my friends and I enjoyed a few beers and some laughs with him during a visit to Buffalo.

I recently asked my college freshmen if they remembered 9/11 and they said that they did, but they were only about 5 years old at the time. Soon we will have a generation who does not remember the world before that day.

* * *
Please take a minute to remember him and all of those who we lost on 9/11.

Geoffrey E. Guja

Age: 47

Hometown: Lindenhurst, N.Y., USA

Occupation: Firefighter, New York Fire Department

Location: Ground, World Trade Center

Sunday, August 31, 2014

42nd Street, Summer 1990

42nd Street, Summer 1990

42nd Street, TD and Lighting Designer, 1990

42nd Street is a big, fun musical based on the 1933 movie with songs added from other movies of the period.
Of course it was hard for me to jump right back into the swing of things when I returned from my mother's funeral, but once I did get back to work there was something comforting about being back in the Theatre.
Drew had design a nice set that was a mixture of all new construction with a few pieces re-used from other shows.
We had a good crew including a former student who that I was able to hire as my assistant who  had come back home to Brockport after finishing Grad School.
Like most sets we re-used some pieces, altered some stock pieces and made some from scratch.

For one scene we re-used some of the mirrors from A Chorus Line from the year before.
The mirrors were hung in a semi-circle for one song in  42nd Street.
We also re-used some of the Rosco silver slit drape that I had used in Anything Goes a few summers before.
We did some welding of several step units, which yes we still have and I just used in our last production.

In building the train for the Shuffle Off to Buffalo number my assistant Jim suggested using stress-skin platforms something I knew about but never used before.
The platforms worked out well and I have used stress-skin platforms many time since then.
As with many productions there are always a few small set pieces that are difficult to construct.
For this show it was large coins that are carried in and then danced on.
After several tries the finished coins were made of several layers of foam with 1/8" Masonite on the tops and bottoms, or should I say the heads and tails.

We're in the Money!

My crew, especially the guys, enjoy this shows as there was lots of naked girls running around back stage.
Sitting out front setting the lighting for the show I did not get to enjoy the view but I heard all about it.
As there were many quick changes the chorus girls would run off stage and into the back cross-over hall where they would disrobe, many time just wearing their panties.
As they ran along the hall they would pick up the next costume and run back onstage.
This happened mostly in the sequence starting in the train station with the Lullaby of Broadway and ending on the train for Shuffle Off to Buffalo.

As I was told the girls would run off stage and strip off most of their clothes and just put on a trench coats, go back onstage and do a number, again run off stage, drop the coats and this time put on 1930's nightgowns and underwear and then run back onstage and sing again.
My crew, always trying to be helpful, were always at the door to hold it open as the girls ran through.

Playing a smaller part in the show was the college-age son of one of our talented students.
Back then he was Scott L. Diggs but today he is Taye Diggs.
I remember a bit he did with an older character actor in the show.
We needed more time for a set change and the tow of them did a few minutes of improv about miss-matched socks or other earth shaking stuff.




Friday, August 29, 2014

Things Change---The Grapes of Wrath, 1990

My vacation in May of 1990 started out just like the previous eight years.
After the last show of the school year was done and school was over for another year I took a few weeks off and went back to Long Island to visit my family.

As I had done most years before I came home to relax, visit with family and friends and maybe go into the City and see a Broadway show.

That May I saw The Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of The Grapes of Wrath with Gary Sinse as Tom Joad.

It was a great play but I was stupid and bought box seats on the side.
I could see backstage and saw how things worked but still I wish I had a seat more to center.
I was not impressed by the stagehands in shorts and a printed t-shirts walking on the stage at intermission.

Also while back on Long Island there were several used book stores that I liked to visit and of course I had to get some Pizza.
I am a bit of pizza snob.
I like New York Style Pizza and although I had some favorite places to go I found that almost anyplace I went on Long Island I would find better Pizza than I could back in Brockport.

This trip was different because my mother was sick.
She had seemed to have a cold or flu that had gone on for months.
My mother was in good spirits but her voice was going and she found it hard to talk.

After two weeks it was time to go back to Brockport and start work on the summer musical 42nd Street.
When I got back to Brockport we got right to work on the play.
It was going to be a big show but we had a good crew and I was happy because I able to hire on a former student who just got out of Graduate school as my assistant.
Things on the show were going well but each time I called home my mother’s voice got worse and after a while see could not talk loud enough to use the phone.

In early June I got a call that my mother was in the hospital for tests but she was doing OK.
At first they said she had Lyme Disease
It seemed to fit some of her symptoms but not all of them.
After a week I got a call, my mother had cancer, but it was the “Good Kind”.
I did not know that there was a “Good Kind”.
It did not sound good so I made plans to go home.
The play could wait.
The Scene Designer and ATD said that they would take care of things while I was gone.
The day before I was leaving for home I got a call, it was too late, my mother had passed away.
She had insisted on starting chemotherapy treatment but it was too late and too much for her.
So now I was driving home for a funeral, not a visit.
Needless to say it was trip that I do not remember making.

My mother was a member of the local volunteer ambulance company and they were great in helping with everything.
There were people in uniform standing as an honor guard each day at the funeral home, EMT’s, firemen and police.
Funerals by their nature are not funny but some things do happen that can make you laugh.
I drove my father to the church and the cemetery after the mass.
Instead of a hearse the coffin rode in a box ambulance along with a police escort.
My dad smiled a bit when he saw the motorcycle cops block the entrance to the highway so that the funeral procession could get on.
As we were nearing the cemetery another funeral procession was pulled over to the side of the road so that we could go past.
The other people in the other funeral procession had seen the police with lights on and the ambulance so off course they pulled over to the side to let them by and we just drove right by them all.
This made my father laugh and said something about how my mother would have liked what had happened.

This has been hard for me to write and what makes it more poignant for me is that my mother was just 58, the age I am now.

A few days later I returned to Brockport and got back to work on the summer show.
Everyone was nice and had kind words of support when I got back and although it was hard it nice to have something to take my mind off of what had happened.
It was good to get back to work but of course my mother was still on my mind.
Somehow we all pulled together and got the show done and managed to have some fun doing it.
Unfortunately a few weeks later the mother of one of my student workers was killed in a car accident and everyone was numb for a while again.

After the show was over I went home again in August for a visit.
It goes without saying that it was hard to go home but I wanted to support my dad and sister who also lived there.
Of course this was a major milestone event in my life and these events, both good and bad,  happen on their own schedule and never seem to happen when it is convenient.

Back in college my grandfather died during the blizzard of ’77 and there was no way for me to get home for the funeral.
My one grandmother died when I was a senior in high school and her funeral was the day I was supposed to take the NYS Regents Exam, similar to the SATs, that was used to award scholarships.
After talking with my family it was decided that my grandmother would have wanted me to take the test and take care of my future and somehow I was able to do well and I even got a scholarship.

Working at a college and also in Theatre sometimes I feel a bit insulated from the real world and unfortunately it take something like my mother’s passing  smack me in the face and make me see the real world.
I am sure that everyone’s parent’s passing is hard and affects each person in a different way.
For me getting back to work was just what I needed at the time, but even today 24 years later there are times  that my minds wanders and I think of my mother and have to stop and reflect for a few moments.

 * * *