Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Signature Marks Progress on the Signature Center at Ceremony with Mayor Bloomberg

For more information on the Signature Center, please visit www.signaturecenter.org


City Announces $25 Million Contribution to New Home for Signature Theatre within $800 Million, 1.2 Million-Square-Foot LEED-Silver Complex with More than 800 Housing Units and Hotel

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Signature Theatre Company Founding Artistic Director James Houghton and Related Companies Executive Vice President Bruce A .Beal Jr. today announced a $60 million partnership to create a new home for the theater company. The Frank Gehry-designed Signature Center will be part of Related Companies’ $800 million, 59-story, residential building and hotel on 42nd Street and 10th Avenue in the heart of the theater district. The building will provide more than 800 new housing units, including more than 160 that will be targeted to low-income families. The performing arts center will feature three intimate and distinct theatres, rehearsal studios, a café, bookstore and administrative offices, and will allow Signature to more than double its audience, with anticipated attendance of more than 80,000. The LEED-Silver building will create 700 construction jobs and is expected to be completed in 2011, with the Signature Center expected to be completed in 2012. Joining Mayor Bloomberg at the announcement, which took place on the construction site of the new complex, were New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin, and Signature Theatre Company Playwright-in-Residence in 2010-11 Tony Kushner, Executive Director Erika Mallin and artists-in-residence Bill Irwin, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Hallie Foote, John Guare and Edward Albee.

“Signature Theatre Company is one of New York City’s most successful and fastest growing cultural groups, and its spectacular new home will allow it to continue to expand,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “The $25 million commitment, combined with a $35 million private investment, will result in a new, world-class performance venue in the heart of the City’s theater district. The fact that Related Companies is moving forward with the major development project now is great news and will have a profound impact, not only on the cultural industry and the City’s skyline, but also on the local economy. There was a period when the future of the project was in question – as were its 700 construction jobs and hundreds of units of much-needed housing. But the construction unions, contractors, architects and engineers worked together to reduce costs, and today it’s serving as a prime example that – despite the national economic downturn – large-scale projects are still happening.”

“The Council has a long standing commitment to the visual and performing arts of this City,” said Speaker Quinn. “We recognize that in order for the city’s theatres to thrive we need to invest in them. I am very happy the city was able to participate in this public private partnership. With the incredible new space that the Signature Theatre Company is acquiring, I look forward to not only the many exciting projects that are sure to come, but the jobs it is creating for our city particularly during this difficult time.”

“It is thrilling to watch our future home materialize in front of us, and we are honored to have Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Christine Quinn, our Board of Trustees and so many of Signature’s artists here to celebrate the progress we have made,” said Signature Theatre Company Founding Artistic Director James Houghton. “Since its founding, Signature Theatre Company has been making an extended commitment to a playwrights’ body of work, championing the playwright’s singular vision, and involving the playwright in every aspect of the creative process. The Signature Center will be a home for many diverse writers to create work that engages even more artists and audiences. The collision and interaction of multiple distinct voices reveals the greater power of our collective stories. We are honored to have the extraordinary support of the City of New York and the Related Companies as we bring Signature’s artistic vision to life on an even larger scale.”

“The American playwriting community has never been more thriving with talent and interest, and no theater serves our community better than Signature does,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, who will be Signature’s Playwright-in-Residence in 2010-11. “It’s one of the very few essential institutions in the American theater.”

“Related has a long-standing commitment to supporting the arts from our partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center to Symphony Space and we are incredibly proud of the public-private partnership we have formed with the Signature Theatre Company, a great New York arts institution, to create a world-class theatre complex on 42nd Street in the heart of the theatre district,” said Related Companies Executive Vice President Bruce A. Beal Jr. “We are also grateful to our entire development team, contractors, architects, consultants and members of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York who are working hard to ensure that this large scale development project can continue to move forward in challenging economic times and as many other development projects remain stalled.”

“We are happy to be part of creating a new home in the New York City theatre district for the Signature Theatre Company,” said Architect Frank Gehry. “I believe in Jim Houghton’s mission of creating innovative theater and our goal was to design the spaces to support that mission. We’re all very excited about the direction we’ve taken and are looking forward to watching the first performance.”

“This new home for Signature will build on the company’s success, expands its commitment to public accessibility, and serves both the local neighborhood and the city’s entire cultural community,” said Commissioner Levin. “By bringing together artists and audiences in a wonderful new space, Signature will enhance its contribution to the city’s identity, economy and quality of life.”

“I don’t expect in my lifetime to run into too many opportunities where I have the ability to participate in something that will be a lasting legacy for my community,” said Signature Theatre Trustee and Co-Chair of Capital Campaign Edward Norton. “I strongly believe that the Signature Center is one such opportunity where we can make a significant contribution to the future landscape of the arts in New York City.”

The City is contributing $25 million to the Signature Center. The theater company has raised $16 million for the project and plans to raise an additional $19 million. The Signature Center will feature three unique programs: the continuation of the Master Playwright Residency, which explores the works of playwrights with major bodies of work; the expansion of the Legacy Program, which celebrates the lifetime achievements of the artists who have previously worked at Signature, and the introduction of a new Emerging Playwrights Residency, which will feature early and mid-career playwrights, and guarantee them three full productions over the course of a four-year residency.

The entire 59-story complex will be built to LEED Silver standards. The building will incorporate smart design measures and premium efficiency systems that will save over $800,000 worth of energy each year, resulting in less of a draw on the City’s energy infrastructure and lower energy bills for each of its tenants and over 1,800 anticipated residents. The project also anticipates another $100,000 worth of electricity savings by using fluorescent lamps instead of incandescent bulbs for the building’s temporary lighting during construction. While Frank
Gehry is designing the theater center, Arquitectonica and Ismael Leyva are designing the rest of the building.

Founded in 1991 by James Houghton, Signature is the first theatre company to devote an entire season to the work of a single playwright, providing audiences with re-examinations of past writings, as well as New York and world premieres. Since 2005, Signature has been committed to presenting its world-class programming at an affordable price: the Signature Ticket Initiative, with major support form Time Warner, offers subsidized $20 tickets to all performances. Signature’s initiative has become a model in breaking down price barriers to theatre, helping to attract younger and more diverse audiences.

Signature is currently running the critically acclaimed, sold-out The Orphans’ Home Cycle by Horton Foote, a nine hour, three-part theatrical event and the company’s most ambitious programming to date (22 actors, multiple set locations). Signature will celebrate its 20th anniversary in the 2010-11 season by presenting a season of works by Pulitzer-Prize winner Tony Kushner, including the first New York revival of Angels in America. Signature, its productions and its resident writers have been recognized with a Pulitzer Prize, eleven Lucille Lortel Awards, fifteen Obie Awards, five Drama Desk Awards, and nineteen AUDELCO Awards, among many other distinctions. The National Theatre Conference recognized the company as the 2003 Outstanding National Theatre of the Year.

Photos: Celebrate Christmas with the Cast of Orphans'

The cast and crew of The Orphans' Home Cycle is getting into the spirit this year, and Henry Hodges, who plays Horace Robedaux at age 14, captured some of that goodwill backstage and at a recent party for the cast at James Demarse's home. Enjoy the photos, and have a happy holiday!

Bill Heck's imitation of The Grinch

Hallie decides to go with a different hat for this show

Cole Bonenberger, our Production Stage Manager and fearless leader!

Henry Hodges steps out from behind the camera.

Crew members Maggie, Kara and Bridget in the house, wondering what gift they will get under the tree

Dylan and Emily sign in as elf #1 and elf #2

Gilbert Owuor hopes he is not on the "naughty" list

It's a jolly holiday with Maggie, Henry, Marisa, Christina, and Cole!

The ladies man has arrived! Here's Lucas Caleb Rooney and Maggie Swing

Look at that tree!

Bill Heck makes a friend

This kitten wants a Horace for Christmas

Thanks for being part of The Orphans' Home Cycle!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Actor's Diary: God's Country

Bryce Pinkham plays the roles of Brother Vaughn, Pete Davenport and Felix Barclay in The Orphans' Home Cycle

Bryce Pinkham, Maggie Lacey and Bill Heck on the porch swing at the Vaughn (Brooks) family home (Courtship and The Death of Papa)

“Well son, how do ya’ll like God’s country?” The man addressing me is Harry Goudeau. He is a hay farmer from Hungerford, Texas. He wears a weathered khaki shirt, brown work pants, and carries a loaded 20-gauge shotgun. Down here, where people are ‘tough as boots,’ Harry is steel-toed. Secretly shaking in my city shoes, I reply “We like it… We like it real well.” Shortly after dispatching, with military precision, numerous clay pigeons to their maker, Harry concedes, “I’m glad y’all had a chance to come down here and see how the real people live.” Harry Goudeau is not a man to disagree with; luckily I concur- I’m glad we’ve come too.

It is our week off from the plays and alongside Bill Heck and Maggie Lacey, our Cycle’s leading duo, I have made a pilgrimage to Horton Foote’s hometown, the place that nurtured the real life versions of his characters from cradle to grave. We arrive well past midnight in Wharton on the nimble heels of a temperate breeze, a friendly ‘heads up’ from the Gulf. The town is quiet and dark as we search North Houston Street for the Foote family guesthouse. “It’s the one with the red door,” we’ve been told, probably built before the need for an address. As we settle in for the night I am confronted by the simple calm of this place, a far cry from the city atmosphere we have inhabited for the past four months. I am beckoned to sleep by the somnolent holler of the late night train whistle and the early patter of Texas-size rain drops slapping high fives with the Pecan trees in the yard. For the first time since we started rehearsals in June, I feel myself relax.

Our first stop the next morning is thirty steps away. Other than a modest plaque outside, Horton Foote’s childhood home is as simple and humble as any other on the street. I feel an odd sense of déjà vu entering the house whose onstage avatar we inhabit in the plays 1918 and The Death of Papa. Across the threshold, we are immediately drawn to the mantelpiece. Having recently toured the Connecticut home of another treasured American voice, Mark Twain, I can’t help but draw immediate parallels and note particular contrasts between the two houses. It is said that Mark Twain used to tell stories to his children every night, inventing characters and situations based on the various bric-a-brac and bagatelles that resided on his famously ornate mantle. Horton’s mantle, like the rest of his house, politely declines such Twainian ostentation, but indeed has stories of its own to tell. Home to more than precious curios, it shelves the very people who inspired so many of Horton’s plays, particularly his Orphans’ Home Cycle. Among pictures of Horton with Presidents, movie stars and grandchildren are family portraits of generations past. One of my favorite moments of the entire trip is watching Bill and Maggie discover and comprehend a framed picture of “themselves” (they play Horton’s parents.) As we explore the rest of the house in silent reverence, I can just imagine the sounds of children scampering down the hallway, around the sunlit kitchen and out through the backyard. It strikes me as the perfect family home: the living spaces are open and connected, and yet there remain plenty of places to disappear to, plenty of spots to curl up with a good book.

My boon discovery for the day is Horton’s study, the room where he would retire to read and write. The entire length of the room on one side is home to a collection of books and plays that would make any theatrical bookworm jealous. Kitty corner to Horton’s personal library, among a flotilla of awards, medals and memorabilia, I discover a pair of unassuming relics. The first is a bible that appears to have belonged to Albert Horton Foote, Horton’s grandfather and the patriarch whose death occurs in the first act of The Orphans’ Home Cycle. Right beside it is another bible that once belonged to Tom Brooks, my character’s father, and the patriarch whose death ends the cycle. It is easy to imagine Horton in his chair, cloaked in the afternoon sun, leafing through the worn pages of the two books and contemplating the next family story to resurrect for the stage. It won’t be the last time on the trip I am reminded that these people we have done our best to bring to life were not just characters to our playwright, they were his flesh and blood.

Our gracious hosts on this visit, the proud Whartonians Charles Davis and Betty Joyce, are friends of the Foote family and, thankfully, everybody else in town. It only takes a quick spin around the block for them to prove themselves vast repositories of knowledge for everything Wharton. Over the next few days we will be treated to a whirlwind tour of the town and the many landmarks that bear relevance to the plays and our playwright. We will see Horace Sr.’s dry goods store, The Vaughn family home, the courthouse square, the convict farm, the train station, and the boarding house. One of our first stops, in between diagonal blankets of cozy gulf rain, is the Wharton graveyard. Amid strong gusts of wind, rebel shafts of sunlight occasionally sneak past their storm cloud captors to warm a few lucky headstones. Sleuth-like in our search, we eventually find Albert Horton’s actual tombstone, the one that Horace spends the entire cycle saving money to buy. At its base it reads ‘erected by his son’. We visit everyone from Mrs. Cookenboo to Bobby Pate to the entire Vaughn (or rather Brooks) family lot. With the help of our erudite guides we discuss the various characters, the odd web that connects them all, and how each met his or her demise. Someone asks if it is odd to stand in front of our own character’s graves. Admittedly, the feeling is somewhere between macabre admiration and shuddersome pride. We can only hope that what we have been able to do with the plays is a fitting homage to the group of eternally reposed beings couched at our feet. Finally, we stop in front of the graves of Horton and Lillian Foote and are silent. It is in this moment that the whole experience becomes entirely real. Within minutes of us standing there, the wind resumes its previous bluster and the sky releases squadrons of grape-size pugilists, pelting us back to the cars.

It seems to me that the opportunity is rare for an actor in our country’s predominant theatrical model to conduct what I would call primary research. Our trip to Wharton is a chance for us to talk to real people, visit real places and tap the literal source of our playwright’s inspiration. It has added an entirely new dimension to our work, one that will make itself known in obvious ways (nothing helps dialect work like talking to a native), but also in ways that are untraceable, but nevertheless perceived. While our opportunity has indeed been unique, it has further convinced me that as actors we must take responsibility and ownership of our roles as creative detectives if we aspire to obtain the artistic agency that our current model sometimes seems to deny.

On our final day in Wharton we enjoy a picnic by the river, (I now know what Barbeque is supposed to taste like), a skeet shoot (I think my shoulder is still bruised from an exhilarating first experience with a firearm), and a Texas sized bonfire under the stars. In five short days we have been welcomed into this place in a way that feels like family. It’s true what they say, everything is bigger here, even the mosquito bites (which I have managed to limit to under one hundred). As our return flight circles New York, the city’s neurotic rush waiting for us below, I feel fuller, better equipped, dare I say- prepared for rehearsal the next day. I anticipate the return from Wharton’s profoundly spacious landscape to the cramped and crowded streets of the city may prove to be a bit of an adjustment. Nevertheless we are all looking forward to bringing a little Wharton to the Signature Theater Company, our hearts, minds and sleep schedules full of Texas.

Click here for more photos from Bryce, Bill and Maggie's Trip

Photos From ORPHANS' Actors trip to Horton Foote's Hometown of Wharton, Texas

The Orphans' Home Cycle actors Bryce Pinkham (Brother Vaughn), Maggie Lacey (Elizabeth Vaughn Robedaux) and Bill Heck (Horace Robedaux) took a trip down to Wharton, Texas during their week off to visit Horton Foote's hometown, and the inspiration for Harrison, Texas, where Orphans' is set. Below are some photos of their trip.

Be sure to check out the latest entry of Bryce's Actor's Diary, "God's Country," where he talks about their amazing trip. Click here to read.

On the road to Wharton

Bryce's first firearm experience... enjoyment level: alarmingly high.

Bill Heck in front of Albert Horton's grave

Bill Heck and Maggie Lacey pay their respects to the real Horace and Elizabeth

The porch swing at the Vaughn (Brooks) family home (Courtship and The Death of Papa)

The porch swing at the 1918 house (Horace and Elizabeth's home in 1918 and The Death of Papa)

The reviews are in for ORPHANS' HOME CYCLE: Part 2: The Story of a Marriage!

The Orphans' Home Cycle, Part 2: The Story of a Marriage opened at Signature Theatre on December 17, 2009, and the critics received it just as rapturously as they did Part 1!

An Insignificant Riddle and the Other Women in an Orphan’s Life

“Roberta!” the drunken man calls out in his sleep, his voice as lonely as a train whistle on a prairie. A little boy who overhears him thinks it sounds as if somebody were being murdered. But the man’s roommates in a small-town boarding house in Harrison, Tex., are more perplexed than alarmed. “Who’s Roberta?” they ask one another.

The answer (to be revealed at the end of this review) is inconsequential to the central story of the exquisite “Widow Claire,” the first of three short plays in the second part of Horton Foote’s ever more engrossing “Orphans’ Home Cycle” at the Peter Norton Space on West 42nd Street. The restless dreamer is a minor character, and I suppose you could say that his nightmare — if that’s what it is — is an exceedingly minor event in the so-far splendid production of nine interconnected dramas by Foote, from the Signature Theater Company and Hartford Stage. (The third installment of three plays opens next month, and will continue in repertory with the other two.)

But minor events set off major ripples in the minds of those watching “The Orphans’ Home” plays, which follow the deracinated life of Horace Robedaux, a character based on Foote’s father. Seemingly unimportant moments acquire talismanic significance when you look back, the way small details from your own past loom large and revealingly in memory.

“Roberta,” that repeated cry in the night out of nowhere, comes to feel like a theme song for “The Story of a Marriage,” the collective title for this trilogy about the mystery, salvation and randomness of love, which opened on Thursday night. (Besides “The Widow Claire,” the others are “Courtship” and “Valentine’s Day.”)

Horace, who was introduced as a boy in “The Story of a Childhood,” the cycle’s first chapter, is now a man (affectingly played by Bill Heck), possessed of a hungry ambition and an undermining passivity in equal measures. He is looking to recreate the home he lost — if he ever had it — when he was 12, the year his father died, and his mother moved out of Harrison with Horace’s sister, leaving the boy behind. Finding a home means finding a mate, a pursuit that gives shape to the “Marriage” plays, which cover five years of Horace’s life in Harrison, from 1912 to 1917.

Though these works present what is, on some levels, a conventional love story with a happy ending — inspired by the elopement of Foote’s parents — they never shake off the haunted chill that runs through all his work. For the characters created by Foote, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Young Man From Atlanta,” permanence in relationships is a pipe dream. And the folks, young and old, who inhabit the “Marriage” trilogy are forever asking, “What if,” in a fretful litany:

What if the person you love dies tomorrow? What if love fades or turns sour? What if you were never really in love at all?

Directed by Michael Wilson with assured understatement, and acted by a consistently convincing and versatile repertory cast, these plays flow with a sense of everyday life accelerated, moving by us in a blur of dramatic happenings lodged in the fine grit of the ordinary. The stories swapped here include tales of madness, alcoholism, suicide and deaths in childbirth.

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle, Part 2: The Story of a Marriage


“The second part of "The Orphans' Home Cycle," Horton Foote's family album of plays about a turn-of-the-century Texas family and its struggles with the coming of modernity, has just opened at Signature Theatre Company. It upholds the immeasurably bright promise of the first installment. Not since Tom Stoppard's "The Coast of Utopia" has so self-evidently significant a large-scale theatrical endeavor come to New York.

Horton Foote died last March, immediately after putting the finishing touches on "The Orphans' Home Cycle." Could it be that he brought his long and illustrious career to a triumphant close by giving us the Great American Play? Come to Signature Theatre and see for yourself.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Give ‘Home Cycle’ a Spin
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NEW YORK POST

“Horton Foote's "Or phans' Home Cycle" is an oxymoron: an intimate, sprawling piece. It's made up of nine plays spread over 26 years, with a cast of characters hanging from extensive family trees, yet each show feels like the snug snapshot of a particular, small-scale moment.

It's not a fanfare Foote has written for the common man, but a series of chamber pieces.

The cycle is such a vast undertaking that the Signature company is unveiling Michael Wilson's production in successive installments of three plays each. The new one, "The Story of a Marriage," follows last month's "The Story of a Childhood," with "The Story of a Family" due in January.

Rarely has everyday life been so modestly inspiring as it is in Foote's hands. The worst part is that we have to wait another month to see how it all ends.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Horton Foote epic gets exquisite treatment
Joe Dziemianowicz, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

“Five stars (out of five)

Based on size alone, "The Orphans' Home Cycle" would qualify as the year's big theater event.
This final work of Horton Foote, who died in March, is a three-part series whose running time adds up to a whopping nine hours.

But those are just numbers.

The real reason Foote's drama is so big and important is because it's so exquisitely realized — the writing, acting, direction and design.

So far, it's a home run for its presenters, the Signature Theatre Company and Hartford Stage.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Horace Robedaux journeys into adulthood, marriage

“Horace Robedaux continues his journey into adulthood in Part 2 of "The Orphans' Home Cycle," Horton Foote's masterful examination of one man's life in small-town Texas in the first decades of the 20th century.

For those who are jumping in midstream, Horace has grown up. An unsettling childhood and the beginnings of maturity were the centerpiece of the cycle's opening trio of plays. Now, in the middle section of Foote's mammoth nine-play marathon, the man, portrayed with a touch of melancholy by Bill Heck, is searching for stability — and a wife.

Part 2, which the Signature Theatre Company opened Thursday at its Peter Norton Space, celebrates that quest, first with "The Widow Claire," the title of the evening's touching curtain-raiser. Heck projects a mournful rootlessness even as Horace courts this lonely young woman (Virginia Kull) who is faced with raising two children alone in rural Harrison, Texas.

Part 3, in which Horace moves into the role of family patriarch, opens Jan. 26. We can't wait.”

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle, Part 2: The saga continues

“Five stars (out of five).

In accordance with the Law of Trilogies (which I last invoked for The Coast of Utopia), the second part of Horton Foote’s immensely satisfying Orphans’ Home Cycle is fraught and full of darkness.

Director Michael Wilson works wonders with an adept 22-person ensemble. His actors achieve a fascinating blend of wistfulness and stoicism: Even the craziest and most inebriated characters in Harrison, Texas (the primary setting), avoid hammy excess in favor of poignant restraint and clarity. And while most of the tales’ ugliness and violence occurs offstage, there’s a palpable tension on the Signature’s intimate stage, as Horace and the others engage in a pitched moral battle between kindness and cruelty. We have to wait until the final chapter, in late January, to see who wins.”

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle, Part 2: The Story of a Marriage
Robert Feldberg, BERGEN RECORD

“The plays are superbly acted by a large cast, and have been directed by Michael Wilson with uncommon sensitivity.

The last part of the trilogy, "The Story of a Family," will pick up Horace's and Elizabeth's lives a year later, in 1918. It's something to be eagerly anticipated.”

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle, Part 2: The Story of a Marriage
Erik Haagensen, BACKSTAGE

“As with Part One, three hours fly by as this utterly engaging and deeply compelling work unfolds. At the center is Bill Heck's superb Horace. Graceful, handsome, impeccably mannered—it's clear why the ladies take to him. But Heck never forgets Horace's inner core of self-doubt, fueled in part by the pain of his mother's neglect. Darkness is always simmering under the surface. Bring on Part Three."

Click here to read the entire review:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Text Summary of The Orphans' Home Cycle, Part 1: The Story of a Childhood

Missed The Orphans' Home Cycle, Part 1: The Story of a Childhood, or want to catch up on what happened before you see Part 2: The Story of a Marriage? Here's a summary of what happened:

Act I, Roots in a Parched Ground, takes us to Harrison, Texas in 1902. Horace’s father, Paul Robedaux, a once prominent lawyer, has succumbed to alcoholism and is on his death bed. Horace’s mother, Corella Thornton, who separated from her husband before he died, has been working in Houston. Horace’s extended families, the Robedauxs and the Thorntons, once occupied a prosperous place in the antebellum Southern aristocracy, but have failed to recover from the devastation of the Civil War and are struggling to make ends meet. The Robedauxs, grief-stricken after Paul Horace’s death, sell their house and move out of Harrison. Corella returns to Houston with Horace’s younger sister Lily Dale and remarries Pete Davenport, a railroad man who “has no bad habits.” Mr. Davenport refuses to take Horace, believing that a boy his age should be put to work. Horace stays with his mother’s family, quits school, and sets off on his own to work full-time, with the hope of saving enough money to buy a tombstone for his father’s grave.

Act II, Convicts, takes place on Christmas Eve, 1904. Horace is working at a dry goods store on the Gautier plantation, which is worked by black convicts. The plantation owner, Soll Gautier, is an alcoholic and delusional confederate war veteran who continually defers paying Horace his salary. Instead, he enlists Horace in accompanying him throughout the night while he hunts convicts and painfully recalls his troubled past. Back at the house, Soll senses that his time has come, and asks Horace to stay with him until he dies. By the morning, Soll is dead, and Horace is out of a job. Asa Gautier Vaughn, Soll’s niece and the inheritor of his estate, refuses to pay Horace for his work.

Act III, Lily Dale, brings us to Houston in 1910 where Horace has come to pay a visit to his mother and sister. Lily Dale shows off her piano skills to Horace and secretly confides in him that she has a suitor named Will Kidder, whom she hopes to marry. The visit ends abruptly when Mr. Davenport, who believes more than ever that Horace should be fully supporting himself, comes home early. Corella asks Horace to leave, but a debilitating fever confines him to the Davenport home until he regains his health. Corella works to maintain an amiable environment as tension festers between Horace and Mr. Davenport. Horace had hoped to get a job working on the railroad with Mr. Davenport, but Mr. Davenport gives the job to Will instead. After hearing about them from Will, Horace decides to attend a business school in Houston, so that he will be able to advance beyond being a store clerk. Lily Dale is pleased by Mr. Davenport’s approval of Will, but she becomes frustrated with Horace’s curiosity about their late father. When Horace is finally healthy enough to leave, he sets off for Harrison, knowing that a home does not exist in Houston with his mother, sister, and step-father.

See you at the theatre!

Catching Up on Part 1 of The Orphans' Home Cycle

Missed The Orphans' Home Cycle, Part 1: The Story of a Childhood, or want to catch up on what happened before you see Part 2: The Story of a Marriage? Check out the video montage below, created by our friends (and co-producers) at Hartford Stage, or click here for a text summary.

See you at the theatre!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Orphans' Home Cycle, Part 1: The Story of a Childhood Production Photos

Henry Hodges and Dylan Riley Snyder

Check out these beautiful production photos from The Orphans' Home Cycle, Part 1: The Story of a Childhood. All photos by Gregory Costanzo.

Jenny Dare Paulin and Bill Heck

Leon Addison Brown, Charles Turner, Henry Hodges and James DeMarse

Pat Bowie, Charles Turner, Henry Hodges, Leon Addison Brown and James DeMarse

Bill Heck and Pamela Payton-Wright

Bill Heck and Annalee Jefferies

Henry Hodges and Gilbert Owuor

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Critics Rave About ORPHANS' HOME CYCLE, PART 1!

THE ORPHANS’ HOME CYCLE, PART 1: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD, the first part of the world premiere, three part theatrical event by the Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winning playwright Horton Foote, opened last night at Signature Theatre Company at the Peter Norton Space, 555 West 42nd Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues – and the critics are cheering!

Here’s a sample of what the critics had to say about THE ORPHANS’ HOME CYCLE, PART 1: THE STORY OF A CHILDHOOD:

Heart of a Small Town, Vast in its Loneliness
Ben Brantley, NEW YORK TIMES

“Two fresh-faced fishermen, wearing solemn expressions and suspenders, sit on a riverbank, looking as if they were waiting for Norman Rockwell to show up with his easel. “You’re on your own now,” one of them says.

“I’m on my own,” the other answers, staring straight ahead. He is 12, and his father has just died. He is not kidding. He is also absolutely right.

This sun-clouding moment of perception, in which an all-American idyll takes on a mortal chill, occurs in the opening chapter of what promises to be the great adventure of this theater season: the New York premiere of “The Orphans’ Home Cycle,” Horton Foote’s heart-piercing, nine-play family album about growing up lonely in Texas in the early 20th century. The boy who sees his future with so little mercy one afternoon in 1902 is named Horace Robedaux. And though he is hardly what you would call a happy lad, he is unusually honest, and I think you’re going to want to spend as much time in his company as you can.

That means sitting for roughly nine hours at the Peter Norton Space of the Signature Theater Company, where the three three-play installments of the cycle will be playing during the next four months. But on the basis of the first part, which opened on Thursday night under the umbrella title “The Story of a Childhood,” nine hours may not feel like enough.

Directed with cinematic fluidity and novelistic detail by Michael Wilson, “The Story of a Childhood” leaves you as eager as a kid who has just started his first fat work of fiction by Charles Dickens, say, or Mark Twain, when putting down the book, even for an hour, feels like punishment. Written in the 1970s by Foote, the theater’s great chronicler of existential sadness in small-town America, “The Orphans’ Home Cycle” has never before been produced as a whole, though most of its plays have been seen separately in stage or screen versions. Foote was editing and revising them for this production, which originated at the Hartford Stage, when he died in March at 92. And as interpreted by Mr. Wilson, the first part of this tale of a life based on that of Foote’s father isn’t a stately memorial to an eminent dramatist; it’s a thrilling demonstration of an artist long regarded only as a miniaturist soaring into the realm of the epic.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Horton Foote Chronicles a Man’s Search for Identity
Michael Kuchwara, ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Don't be fooled by the deceptively gentle way Part 1 of Horton Foote's extraordinary "Orphans' Home Cycle" initially unfolds.

Twenty-year-old Horace Robedaux is on a train heading to Houston from Harrison, Texas, the epicenter of many of the playwright's best works. Horace is traveling to visit his mother, sister and stepfather for what turns out to be a troubling reunion.

But make no mistake. Part 1, which the Signature Theatre Company has opened off-Broadway at its Peter Norton Space, is not standard family soap opera. It's an impressive introduction to Foote's three-part, nine-play marathon. The other parts will arrive later in the season, although all three already have had a critically acclaimed run at Connecticut's Hartford Stage, which is co-producing this mammoth project.

If Part 1 of "The Orphans' Home Cycle" is any indication, we are in for a remarkable journey. It appears Foote, who died earlier this year at the age of 92, couldn't have had a better legacy.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Horton Foote: ‘Home’ at Last

“Horton Foote, who died in March at the age of 92, had to wait until the very end of his life to win general recognition as one of America's greatest playwrights. The tide was turned by a sterling pair of Off-Broadway revivals, the Signature Theatre Company's 2005 production of "The Trip to Bountiful" and Primary Stages' 2007 production of "Dividing the Estate," that opened the eyes of a new generation of theatergoers to Foote's low-key mastery. When "Dividing the Estate" transferred to Broadway the following year, he scored his first commercial success on the New York stage—just in time for him to revel in it. Would that Foote could have lived to attend the New York opening of the first part of "The Orphans' Home Cycle," co-produced by Signature and Connecticut's Hartford Stage, where all three installments were seen earlier this year. It will, I suspect, be remembered as the most significant theatrical event of the season, the kind of show you tell your grandchildren you saw.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Horton Foote, Tarell Alvin McCraney tell family stories
Linda Winer, NEWSDAY

“The first three of Horton Foote's last nine plays have his customary ease, elegance and deceptive simplicity. This is straightforward storytelling, inspired by the life of the playwright's father. It is mostly set in the playwright's favorite hometown surrogate, the fictional Harrison, Texas, and features, in a number of roles, his daughter and worthy flame keeper, Hallie Foote.

This part of the cycle begins in 1902, when Horace Robedaux, 12, (an astonishingly poised Dylan Riley Snyder) endures the death of his kind but alcoholic father and the realization that his mother's new husband will only support Horace's bratty sister Lily Dale. The evening ends in 1910, after Horace (the engaging Bill Heck) has endured a Dickensian series of picaresque affronts. Twenty-two actors play multiple roles under Michael Wilson's loving direction.”

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle: Part 1
An American Classic Begins

“Five stars (out of five). Director Michael Wilson and his versatile, highly talented ensemble (including the radiant Hallie Foote, the late author’s daughter) wrestle their material into shape, delivering three hours of episodic narrative spanning 1902 to 1910 without a dull moment. Two more parts of this trilogy remain, and we shall see if Horace fnds his place in the world. Foote’s understated epic is an authentic American classic about the birth pangs of the 20th century. It’s told with humor, deep sadness and great writerly craft. I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle: Part 1 – The Story of a Childhood

“Happiness is illusory and joy fleeting, but there's much melancholy beauty to be found in The Story of a Childhood, the first third of the late Horton Foote's nine-play Orphans Home Cycle at Off Broadway's Signature Theatre Company.

With its tales of harsh times, social and economic change, Reconstruction, education, and industry in small-town America, The Story of a Childhood heralds the beginning of something extraordinary. And you'll be waiting with baited breath for Foote's next chapter. Grade: A–“

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle: Part 1 – The Story of a Childhood
Erik Haagensen, BACKSTAGE

“From the moment the redoubtable Pamela Payton-Wright settles into her train seat and, as an enthusiastic elderly Southern Baptist, engages the young male stranger seated before her with ladylike aggression, you know you are in the best of hands. By the time director Michael Wilson's bone-deep production of the first part of Horton Foote's "The Orphans' Home Cycle" is over, nearly three hours have passed in the blink of an eye. I wanted the second part to begin immediately.

With two installments still to come, it's premature to characterize the complete work. But if they live up to the first part, what we are being served here is nothing less than an American masterwork.”

Click here to read the entire review:

The Orphans’ Home Cycle: Part 1

“Before passing away earlier this year at the age of 92, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Horton Foote edited down and combined nine of his plays into a three-part opus, collectively called The Orphans' Home Cycle, and now being presented by the Signature Theatre Company in a co-production with Hartford Stage. And the overall fine quality of the two hour-and-fifty-minute first installment makes for an excellent start to this epic undertaking.”

Click here to read the entire review:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Behind the Scenes Video -- The Road to New York

Performances of The Orphans' Home Cycle, Part 1: The Story of Childhood began last week at Signature Theatre Company, but that hasn't stopped Bryce Pinkham from continuing to bring you a behind the scenes look at the world premiere of Horton Foote's trilogy! Check out the video below for footage of the cast and crew preparing for the first preview at Hartford Stage back in September, as well as celebrating their accomplishment after the show. And stay tuned for even more glimpses at what the backstage happenings of this massive theatrical event!

Dramaturg's Diary: Running the Orphans' Marathon

Saturday, October 17th, marks the world premiere marathon of Horton Foote’s The Orphans’ Home Cycle at Hartford Stage. I have actually never participated in a theatre marathon of this magnitude and intensity before, though I do know the basics of marathon-watching. Eat protein. Hydrate. Stretch at the intermissions. And, according to Will Cantler, our Casting Director and an experienced marathon-watcher, “Don’t over-caffeinate.” Caffeine aside, there is a definite buzz of anticipation in the lobby of Hartford Stage, as HS staffers hand out marathon badges, pins, water bottles, peanuts, and other accoutrements to aide us on our epic Orphans’ journey.

At 11AM we take our seats for Part One of the cycle, The Story of a Childhood, which consists of the acts Roots in a Parched Ground, Convicts, and Lily Dale. Having seen this section performed a little over a month ago, it is exciting to see how it has progressed. Even though I have been reading, eating, breathing, sleeping these plays (as has everyone else involved in this project, both on and offstage) I still see new resonances every time I watch them. At one point in Roots in a Parched Ground, I catch my breath when one character says a – seemingly innocuous – line and the impact of what will happen to him five plays later hits me with full force.

After a boxed-lunch arranged by Hartford Stage at the Hilton Hotel, we resume with Part Two: The Story of a Marriage (consisting of The Widow Claire, Courtship, and Valentine’s Day) at 3PM. At this point in our journey, we firmly plant ourselves in Harrison, Texas and get to know a new generation of residents, as well as follow up with some already familiar from previous acts. Although Horace remains the central character, we meet some very strong, complicated women who drive the action, in the form of his two love interests, Claire Ratliff and Elizabeth Vaughn. I find this section unabashedly romantic and yet the more I see it, the more I recognize how Horton has woven bittersweet truths about family, adulthood, and sacrifice, amidst the joy and exhilaration of finding one’s soul mate.

We return to the Hilton for dinner after the close of Part Two and sit down to Elizabeth’s Crowd-Drawing Mac and Cheese, Miss Ruth’s Pecan-Crusted Tilapia, and Ed’s Ganado Barbequed Beef Brisket (all of the menu items for both lunch and dinner are named for characters in The Orphans’ Home Cycle). Everyone is dying to talk about Orphans’ with the first person they see. They have become quite attached to and invested in all of the characters, whom they have come to think of as friends or even family. After dessert, as we ready to return for Part Three: The Story of a Family (1918, Cousins, and The Death of Papa), someone says, “I hope no more bad things happen to Horace!” I just take a final gulp of my Admiration Coffee (“A cup of Southern Hospitality!”), knowing that Part Three is actually a particularly turbulent time for Horace and his family, as they face war, disease, and a harsh economy.

The breadth of this journey, both Horace’s and ours’, really hits home for me in this part. My head spins a bit when I see the matriarchal Corella Davenport and Inez Kirby (Annalee Jefferies and Pamela Payton-Wright) in their twilight years, sitting together on Horace’s porch in the final act, The Death of Papa. I recall them in Roots in a Parched Ground, which suddenly feels like a lifetime ago, when they were Corella Robedaux and Inez Thornton (Virgina Kull and Maggie Lacey) sitting on the Thornton porch, playing guitar and singing “Beautiful Dreamer,” with little idea of what the next twenty-six years would have in store for them.

Part Three also heralds the arrival of Horace, Jr., (Dylan Riley Snyder) the character Horton Foote modeled after himself. He appears only in The Death of Papa, but his birth is announced in 1918. When Mrs. Boone asks Mr. Vaughn, “Was it a boy or a girl?” and he replies, simply, “A boy,” I get chills, as even though we are nearly at the end of the cycle, one feels the beginning of something else. It is a boy, and he is going to tell all of your stories, I think.

And then it’s over. The giddy excitement of the occasion has transitioned into a sense of awe and profundity. I can’t help remembering the first reading of Parts One and Two at Lincoln Center Theater in January 2009, when Horton was still with us. I have been told that at that reading he knew for the first time that he had something, and that these nine adapted plays would work. Now we have proven him right. Yet although we feel this immense sense of accomplishment, we still have a long road ahead of us, as in two weeks the company arrives at Signature for their five month residency with us. But if Horton and The Orphans’ Home Cycle marathon have taught us anything, it’s that the journey can be as rewarding as the destination.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Orphans' Home Cycle in the News

With performances starting last week, the buzz is growing on The Orphans' Home Cycle! Check out these press features:

Variety Review of The Orphans' Home Cycle, by Frank Rizzo:
“A tranformative work! A stunning achievement! The Orphans’ Home Cycle is an intimate American epic that’s at once personal and panoramic. In his final gift to the theater Foote has created a work of gentle existentialism…as quietly profound as a zen master’s prayer. Michael Wilson helms the staggering project with loving care and a sense of rich theatricality, humor and
history. The suberb design team also echoes the Foote ethic with grace and care.”

Read full review here

"Orphans' Home Cycle Actors Visit Foote's Home Turf of Wharton, Texas"
Photos of Orphans' actors Bill Heck, Maggie Lacey and Bryce Pinkham visitng Horton Foote's hometown of Wharton, Texas

Click here for article

"Horton Foote, An Appreciation: A Playwright for the Common Man," by Gregory M. Lamb
"As a playwright, Horton Foote grappled with the great themes of human existence: love, despair, home, family, identity, redemption. And he often found them all in the lives of people in the little town of Harrison, Texas, the fictional setting for many of his works..."

Click here for full article

Also check out John Lahr's critic-at-large piece on Horton Foote in the October 26 issue of The New Yorker.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Video Interviews with Bill Heck, Maggie Lacey and Hallie Foote

Portraying characters in The Orphans' Home Cycle based on playwright Horton Foote's parents is no easy feat -- just ask actors Bill Heck and Maggie Lacey! Lacey is playing a part originated on stage and film by Hallie Foote, Horton's daughter, who herself is playing a character inspired by her own grandmother. What a complicated family tree!

Check out actors Bill Heck, Maggie Lacey and Hallie Foote talking about Horton and the mammoth Orphans' Home Cycle.

Bill Heck:

Maggie Lacey:


Hallie Foote:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Behind the Scenes Video -- Welcome to Tech...

As if Bryce Pinkham isn't busy enough acting onstage in the three-part The Orphans' Home Cycle, as well as writing the Actor's Diary for the Signature blog, he's also been capturing and editing backstage footage of the show. (If you haven't done so already, be sure to check out his first video in the series, One Week Until Tech.)

Below is Bryce's latest video in the series, documenting the always exciting (and sometimes chaotic) tech week experience. Watching this video you'll get a good idea of the sheer magnitude of the production -- there's a whole lot of people working on bringing this thing to life!

Enjoy the video!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Actor's Diary: Family Business

Bryce Pinkham will be playing the roles of Brother Vaughn, Pete Davenport and Felix Barclay in The Orphans' Home Cycle

I’ve been thinking a lot about families lately. I guess it should come as no surprise considering our playwright and the content of these plays. I find a delightful irony in our situation here: twenty-two actors who, for the most part, have left their permanent homes and in many cases their own loved ones to bring to life this incredible story about family and the journey to find a home. Furthermore, the entire experience, onstage and off, is having the effect of bringing us all together as a theatrical family. This is not unique to our production of course, it’s part of what we get to do in the theater- form little families for a few months at a time. We eat and drink together, take trips to the movies, play poker, celebrate birthdays, talk politics, grocery shop, bake cookies, ride bikes, take yoga, and sometimes even talk about the plays. Our dressing areas become living rooms where we share stories of our own families, seek professional and personal advice, and build the companionship and camaraderie that we otherwise lack being away from home. For many of us, even pursuing a career in this profession has meant some amount of personal sacrifice to our own families. During one of the many hours of technical rehearsals, I listen as two of the men in our group discuss missing their sons’ recent tours of prospective colleges. I figure it must be hard being absent from family trips such as these and I ask what it’s like having to be away from home so much. “It’s hard,” one concedes, “especially when the kids are young. You want to be able to pull your weight and send money home, but it also hurts to miss things like family summer vacations.” Father number two chimes in “One thing working on these plays makes you realize is that family is the most important thing.” “Did you ever consider doing something else professionally once you had kids?” I inquire. “Yeah, I tried for a year, but I realized acting was the best chance I had to make money for my family.” Father number two is surprised when I tell him I hope to have a family some day. He says he doesn’t run into too many actors my age who are looking forward to that already. He surprises me by asking how many children I want. “It’s important to think about,” he rejoins in response to what must have been a wide-eyed expression of terror on my face, “especially if you are going to be an actor and do this.” His gentle interrogation strikes at the heart of what I find most terrifying about starting a professional stage career.

Considering the difference in earning potential, I find it no wonder that the theater loses many of its finest talents to its younger, more popular artistic siblings, film and television. To be sure, the financial allure of those media is hard to ignore, especially for the domestically inclined actors among us. However, it seems to me as well that what the process of doing a stage play may lack in fiscal incentives it makes up for in espirit de corps. It seems to me that there has always been something inherently familial about the theater. I am reminded of the Italian Commedia families who not only made their living traveling the countryside in search of their next stage, but who literally passed down the portrayal of certain characters to their children. Likewise, it surely must have felt like joining a family to be admitted into Shakespeare’s The Lord Chamberlain’s Men or Moliere’s Troupe du Roi. Be it literal or fostered, the bond forged between actors on the stage often has the strength one associates with family; out there under the lights, we depend entirely on one another, and I find this dependence usually makes its way offstage as well.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately depending on your take,) theater and the process that brings it about mirror life in many ways. Change, both expected and otherwise, is simply always part of the equation. Our families, both biological and artistic, are inevitably affected and transformed by that unapologetic plodder, time. Having recently been caught unawares by this unalterable truth, I have found comfort in the words of none other than our playwright. In the penultimate play of his cycle Horton writes, “A family is a remarkable thing, isn’t it? You belong. And then you don’t. It passes you by.” I believe Horton’s words certainly speak to the families we all come from, but also the ones we form in and around the theater. The transient nature of rehearsing and performing a play (or 9), each night a little different than the next, each moment passed in due time, is part of what appeals to me about the theater. It is this impermanence that television and film will never be able to offer. It is this mortality that calls for us to enjoy every fleeting moment with the plays and with those around us that in turn forms such lasting kinship among us. I am truly beginning to cherish our ad hoc family here and am constantly reminded why I have chosen to be a part of this crazy caste (pun intended). And yet, as Horton reminds me, like an actor’s work in a theater, this family will not always be. That’s just the way it goes. You belong. And then you don’t. I think there’s something beautiful in that.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Behind the Scenes Video -- One Week Until Tech

In addition to our Actor's Diary with Bryce Pinkham, Dramaturg's Diary with Literary Associate Kirsten Bowen, and photos from the rehearsal room, we'd like to give you even more of a glimpse of what goes into putting together a mammoth production like The Orphans' Home Cycle! We gave actor Bryce Pinkham a flipcam, and the result is the video you see below, shot the week before tech rehearsals began at Hartford Stage. Enjoy!

Keep checking back for more ways to find out what's happening with The Orphans' Home Cycle!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dramaturg's Diary: Catching Up With Orphans'

Kirsten Bowen is Signature Theatre Company's Literary Associate, and the Signature dramaturg for The Orphans' Home Cycle

Well, when I last posted a “diary entry,” the crack dramaturgy teams of Signature and Hartford were hard at work researching the world of The Orphans’ Home Cycle. Since then, we table-worked and work-shopped all nine plays over the course of three weeks, leading up to a “marathon” reading of all nine plays that brought the entire staffs of Hartford and Signature together (a day which Orphans’ actor Bryce Pinkham reported on in his diary and which was also photographed). Following the marathon reading, which marked the official start date of rehearsals, director Michael Wilson began the complicated process of staging the plays, working sequentially from the first play, Roots in a Parched to Ground, to the last, The Death of Papa.

Meanwhile, back at Signature we’ve been supporting the process by researching questions from the rehearsal room (if Claire is sending a wire at four o’clock in the morning, would she send it from home or would she have to leave the house?) as well as preparing for when we take over hosting the cycle. For me, this includes assembling material for Signature’s elaborate dramaturgical lobby displays, writing and editing our quarterly newsletter, Signature Edition, and for the interns, crafting the three-part video that will honor Horton Foote and run on the television in the Peter Norton Space’s lobby throughout the season.

Periodically throughout the summer various members of the Signature staff and I have been leaving New York very early in the morning, either via train or ZipCar, to attend rehearsals in Hartford. I was most often in rehearsal during the first three weeks when the company was still reading the plays around the table and making initial investigations into the world and their characters. In addition to asking practical questions such as which neighborhood of Houston do Horace’s mother and sister live in, and how were lawyers educated in the late nineteenth century, Michael impressed into the actors the key themes Horton explored in all of his work, and which re-surface throughout The Orphans’ Home Cycle: the search for home and identity, how some people actively choose to remember while others choose to forget, and what makes some of us survivors and thrivers and others doomed to failure and disappointment?

Many of these characters are based on Horton Foote’s family – not only do his father and mother have alter-egos, but so do his grandparents, great-grandparents, and numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins, some of whom have morphed into a character representing a combination of several people (for example, Brother Vaughn, one of Bryce Pinkham’s characters, is a composite of three of Horton’s uncles). Although many events within the cycle did not happen in real life, and these characters were created to stand on their own, separate from their real-life counterparts, we do a lot of digging into Horton’s family history in order to find a model for these people’s histories. His memoir, Farewell, is an invaluable resource, but even more helpful is Horton’s daughter, actor Hallie Foote. Hallie has appeared in the majority of her father’s plays over the past thirty years and is known as the premiere interpreter of his work. Of everyone in the room Hallie’s involvement in The Orphans’ Home Cycle goes back the furthest – not only did she witness her father write them when she was a teenager (and help type the scripts), she created the key role of Elizabeth Vaughn when the plays were first produced on stage at New York’s HB Playwrights’ Foundation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in their film adaptations in the 1980s. Now Hallie will play Elizabeth’s mother, Mary Vaughn, among other roles. In addition, since Horton’s passing Hallie has taken on the stewardship of his work and continues to collaborate closely with Michael on bringing the cycle to life.

Another challenge we faced during those early weeks was working on the plays out of sequence. We began with Lily Dale, the third play of the cycle, and for the most part jumped around, working our way towards the larger cast plays as more actors joined us throughout the three-week workshop period. While it was incredibly beneficial to be able to focus in-depth on one play at a time, it was tricky exploring these characters whose journeys had begun several plays ago. We couldn’t help but reference plays that we had not discussed yet, with characters (and actors) whom we hadn’t met.

What’s interesting however, is that although Horton wrote the basis for the first play, Roots in a Parched Ground, in the early 1960s, a decade later when he set out to write The Orphans’ Home Cycle as a whole he also wrote them out of sequence, beginning with 1918 (which is the seventh play and will begin Part Three of our cycle) and ending with The Widow Claire, the fourth play in the sequence (which is the first play of our Part Two: The Story of a Marriage). But despite the fact that Horton didn’t write them in order, all nine plays still follow a very lucid and consistent journey as events and themes of one play reverberate in another, sometimes three plays later. Recently, on a trip to Hartford to watch a run-through of Parts One and Two, I interviewed Michael for Signature Edition, and he commented on the cycle’s seemingly seamless ebb and flow, “Now that we’re at the point in the process when we’re beginning to put the plays together, we’re seeing characters an hour later in another act referring to an event that happened a couple of years ago. Those echoes, both thematically and emotionally, are very, very moving. It’s mind boggling how he created that, especially the way he wrote them out of order. It’s almost like he was a vessel, like he was channeling some kind of divine epic story that was coming though him onto the page.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Actor's Diary: Passion and Patience

Bryce Pinkham will be playing the roles of Brother Vaughn, Pete Davenport and Felix Barclay in The Orphans' Home Cycle

Constantly abandoning his chair to cavort around the rehearsal hall and joke with the company, Michael Wilson has an infectious energy that helps to drain any inherent tension out of the room. With seemingly unending patience he fields all questions and conducts rehearsal with a balance of tender admiration and boyish irreverence. Throughout each day, Michael somehow manages a ‘hey darlin’ or ‘hello sweetheart’ for everyone and succeeds in making every last one of us feel important to this project. In an effort to further understand Michael’s skillful métier as a director, I stir up a discussion among my peers about the inherently delicate relationship between actors and directors. In turn I am treated to several horror stories about directors who failed to win the admiration of their respective casts: “I had this one director tell me I was speaking like a movie extra, and then he asked me if I wouldn’t mind talking like a human being... ”


At our best, we actors are empathetic, generous and emotionally sensitive; at our worst we are temperamental, irascible and, well, emotionally sensitive. Direction like that provided in the above anecdote is sure to affect even the steeliest of our kind.


“…I took the note and walked away because you never questioned this guy. Your goal was just to get onstage and off without getting caught.” It seems to me that a successful director’s efficacy is closely related to his ability to set his or her actors at ease to fearlessly explore ideas and choices. To be sure, a certain amount of actors’ creative forays in our rehearsal room turn out to be dead ends, but an equal number of interpretive risks reward our director, and in turn our company, with a greater illumination of character and story. Recently, one actor is searching for a definitive sound for his character. By his own admission, his first attempt in rehearsal comes off as a bad Colonel Sanders imitation. But Michael is patient. He allows everyone to laugh about it, but then rather than immediately place the kibosh on this actor’s bold interpretation, he encourages further exploration of the idea about the character that lead to this particular vocal choice. Sure enough, within a few rehearsals this actor has honed and specified his vocal proposal and in doing so has opened up a whole new interpretation of his character that is delightfully revelatory. This instance is just one example of Michael’s ability to disarm the tentative actor in all of us for the benefit of our entire endeavor.

Fast Forward.

It is two days before we enter the theater to begin technical rehearsals for our first three acts and we are about to begin our final run-through of Part One in the rehearsal room. Naturally, we are all a bit anxious about moving to the theater in two days; the previously distant specter of a paying audience is suddenly beginning to take shape and loom on the horizon. Anticipating this swell of nerves that inevitably runs through any company at this point in the rehearsal process, Michael gathers us together.


A good director knows when to give a good speech.


“I love marathons. I think they are thrilling events in our theater that remind us what the theater does differently than television and film. They represent the pinnacle of the communal experience between artist and audience. I am deeply proud, honored and thrilled to make this distinctly American marathon happen with you all.” Michael’s rehearsal room valedictory is the perfect example of emotional and practical leadership. He reminds us that we are literally building our strength and endurance for a marathon and that individually we must remain focused, determined and supportive of each other. He also succeeds in unifying us as a company: “We are a family now, and there is not one day I regret being in this room or regret sharing this journey with you all.”


I believe we are all extremely excited to get into the theater, though we know not what challenges lie in wait. Regardless, we are comforted in knowing that our leader could not be more committed to us and our endeavor and at the very least, there is one thing he will always allow…


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Angels in America" Coming to Signature in 2010-2011!




Signature Theatre Company (James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director; Erika Mallin, Executive Director) is pleased to announce that the theatre’s 20th Anniversary season in 2010-2011, celebrating author Tony Kushner, will feature the first New York revival of Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning epic work, ANGELS IN AMERICA: A GAY FANTASIA ON NATIONAL THEMES. The production will be directed by Michael Greif with Part One: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES and Part Two: PERESTROIKA presented in repertory. Signature’s Tony Kushner season will also include two more works to be announced.

The production of ANGELS IN AMERICA is made possible by a $750,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, as part of a $1.25 Million grant to Signature Theatre Company.

“I'm very excited about my Signature season and of course I'm very honored to have been chosen,” Tony Kushner said. “I've spent some of my best nights watching the work Jim Houghton and Signature Theatre Company has produced. It seemed to Jim and me that this is a good moment to bring ANGELS back to New York, and I'm delighted that Michael Greif has agreed to direct it. Michael and I have worked together and known each other for most of our careers. He's a serious, generous, incredibly smart and superbly talented artist; I love his passionate commitment to actors, to plays, to the theater. I think the Signature's the perfect space for the demands of ANGELS, which is both epic and intimate. I can't wait to see how it all turns out!”

Michael Greif commented, “Mounting Tony’s exquisite play in the intimate Signature Theatre will be an extraordinary challenge but will offer even more extraordinary rewards. I know I’ll be aided by an astonishing group of actors and designers anxious to wrestle with this masterpiece. I cherish my continued collaboration with Tony and the Signature.”

“I still remember the thrill of encountering Tony Kushner’s ANGELS IN AMERICA for the first time nearly 20 years ago and being astounded by the sweep and theatricality of this brave and impassioned piece,” said Jim Houghton. “We are privileged to be celebrating Tony’s work in our milestone 20th Anniversary Season and we’re exceedingly grateful to The Mellon Foundation for its unparalleled support and for making this first New York revival of ANGELS IN AMERICA possible.”

ANGELS IN AMERICA was one of the most critically acclaimed and heralded plays of the 1990s and established Tony Kushner as a major new voice in world theatre. Frank Rich, The New York Times, praised it as “the most thrilling American play in years”. The plays were developed in productions in Los Angeles, San Francisco and London, before opening on Broadway in 1993. Part One, Millennium Approaches, opened May 4, 1993 at the Walter Kerr Theatre and Part Two, Perestroika, opened November 23, 1993, also at the Walter Kerr, with the two parts playing in repertory. Both parts of ANGELS IN AMERICA won Tony Awards in 1993 and 1994 for Best Play and Millennium Approaches won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Kushner adapted the plays for an HBO mini-series, directed by Mike Nichols, which premiered in 2003 and won Golden Globe and Emmy Awards for Best Miniseries.

ANGELS IN AMERICA, A GAY FANTASIA ON NATIONAL THEMES is set in late 1985 and early 1986, as the first wave of the AIDS epidemic in America is escalating and Ronald Reagan has been elected to a second term in the White House. The play’s two parts, MILLENNIUM APROACHES and PERESTROIKA, bring together a young gay man with AIDS and his frightened, unfaithful lover; a closeted Mormon lawyer and his valium-addicted wife; the infamous New York lawyer Roy Cohn; an African-American male nurse; a Mormon housewife from Utah; and a steel-winged, prophecy-bearing angel; as well as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, an ancient rabbi, the world’s oldest living Bolshevik and a Reagan administration functionary, among many others – all played by a company of eight actors. The lives of these disparate characters intersect, intertwine, collide and are blown apart during a time of heartbreak, reaction and transformation. Ranging from earth to heaven, from the political to the intimate to the visionary and supernatural, ANGELS IN AMERICA is an epic exploration of love, justice, identity and theology, of the difficulty, terror and necessity of change.

Through The Signature Ticket Initiative, which seeks to make great theatre accessible to the broadest possible audience, all regularly-priced single tickets ($65) during the initial announced run are underwritten and will be available for $20. The Signature Ticket Initiative continues through Signature’s 20th Anniversary Season (2010-2011).

The Signature Ticket Initiative is made possible by the lead sponsorship of Time Warner Inc. Generous support for The Signature Ticket Initiative is provided by Margot Adams, in memory of Mason Adams.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Actor's Diary: Off the Page

Bryce Pinkham will be playing the roles of Brother Vaughn, Pete Davenport and Felix Barclay in The Orphans' Home Cycle

“Well that was a cluster$^@&!” quips Michael Wilson, our director, after an initial pass at a particular scene in the first play. So far, we have more questions than answers. The first two of our nine plays have never been given a stage production. As a result we have been spending the majority of rehearsals helping these plays take their first steps off the page. For Michael Wilson and many others in our company, this rehearsal process sadly marks the first time that Horton Foote has not been in the room to lend his insight and clarity to the work. We halt often to interpret and clarify the subtleties in his writing. The majority of this interpretive responsibility lands on our director as well as Horton’s daughter, Hallie. Every few minutes in rehearsal these two huddle to discuss what Horton’s intentions were with a particular scene or storyline. They often consult the book containing Horton’s full-length plays, which we have affectionately begun to refer to as “the Bible,” as well as the Foote family photo albums and scrapbooks that now live in our rehearsal room.

Michael Wilson and Hallie Foote consult the script in rehearsals for Orphans' Home Cycle

As an actor, it is easy to feel intimidated at this point in the process. Respect and reverence for our playwright’s words can easily turn into a fear of “getting it wrong.” It is easy to forget that at this early stage there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and that any choice is better than none at all. I am told that when Horton was in the room he was always encouraged by what each particular actor brought to his plays. “It felt like he was in the trenches with us,” one actress tells me, “and he loved nothing better than watching a group of actors take a scene above and beyond where he ever imagined it in his head.” Originally an actor himself, Horton surely would have enjoyed, as I have, watching the veteran actors in our present company begin to take responsibility for more than just their parts.

In a recent rehearsal, one actor stops a scene to raise a question about a particular line: “Our best friend is dying, why am I talking about the weather?” Twenty minutes later, the entire room is engaged in a heated discussion about the subtext of a particular scene that involves two feuding families. As actors begin to side with their characters, the feuding Thornton and Robedaux families of Roots in a Parched Ground suddenly come to life: “Everything is going to shit for us! We’re talking about a quaint veneer over total chaos and panic!” I am fascinated as actors not even involved in this particular scene begin to chime in as well: “There is nothing more boring than general bullshit- the stakes are so high in these people’s lives!” Soon, the discussion of our trilogy’s first act has given way to an even greater examination of human truths: “How many people get to the end of their lives and are happy with the way things went?” Audible exhales escape from several around me. I think we all realize we’ve tapped into something essential about Horton’s plays- and all from an initial question about the weather.

Upon reflection, I am reminded of the importance of “speaking up.” Too often I think actors, especially of my generation, are afraid of what one of my teachers would call “disturbing the air” in the room. Yes, our playwright’s words are sacred, but as I learned from watching my more experienced peers today, we as a company must take ownership of what we are saying and not be fearful of disagreement. At the end of our lengthy deliberation, Michael Wilson assures us that we have not wasted our precious rehearsal time: “These are the discussions we must have- they make the play get to the center of your soul.” It’s nice to be reminded that we are not just here to say the words, but that our agency as actors is not only real, but in fact necessary.