Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Artistic Director Art Rotch's Musings on This Wonderful Life

Before getting involved in theatre, I was a student of history. As a young man I learned about my grandparents- who passed when I was young- from stories I heard, and in the case of my father’s family history which was well-documented, books I read.  Reading those books led to others and today, I still have a soft spot for plays that are set in the past, involve colorful characters, and tell us something about who we are. 

This Wonderful Life is set in the 1930s and 40s, the time of what Tom Brokaw dubbed ‘The Greatest Generation’. This  generation of Americans survived the great depression and then fought the Second World War. It was a time of ‘can do’ and the era of American exceptionalism. When my friend Ed Christian first looked at this part, he said George Bailey reminded him of his own father, also of that generation.

In my family, it was my grandfather, Arthur Rotch, who lived during that time. He has a story of missing his generation’s war, though it gets a little goofy:

He served in ROTC during World War I and graduated in 1918. He spent the summer of 1918 trying to get overseas in time to serve, but a balky appendix kept him out of action till after the armistice. Family lore describes this young man trying as hard as he could to get assigned to a unit that would be sent into action as quickly as possible. Much later, he served in a naval reserve unit and told tales of escorting destroyers down the Quincy river before they headed into action – usually commanded by young captains who drove much too fast for close waters.  I heard most of these stories in my father’s voice, who passed them on with mix of humor and pride in my grandfathers’ stubborn commitment to serve as best he could, while still filtering in some of his regret that he had to stay home.

What my grandfather did was not as glorious as leading men over the wire in France, or commanding a destroyer in the pacific, but like George Bailey, he did what he could, and is remembered proudly by his family for it.

I thank Ed for his remark that reminded me of my family’s connection to Frank Capra’s characters and their time. Ed plays so many different characters so well tonight, as Terry Cramer describes in her director’s note later in the program, I’m sure you will see someone you love rendered in his performance. Maybe it will be Mary, or ZuZu, or Martini the bartender, or Uncle Billy. Like listening to my father tell the story of my family, you can sit back and hear Ed tell you this story of an iconic American family.

What Ed does tonight is one of the hardest, and most rewarding things for an actor: To tell an entire story himself, with no castmates to catch him if he drops a line, and no breaks while others are on stage. It is a remarkable theatrical achievement for one of our most stalwart company members. When I lose myself in the play, which happens every time I’ve seen it so far, I always at some moment remember my father’s voice. It is pitched differently from Ed’s, and the accent is northern, but I remember it because it was the voice that told me those stories of my grandfather.

May you remember your favorite storyteller and your favorite stories tonight, as you listen to one of Juneau’s most gifted tell you one of America’s best holiday tales.

Art Rotch
Artistic Director

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Note on This Wonderful Life from Director Terry Cramer

Welcome to the quirky world of This Wonderful Life, where versatile actor Ed Christian plays a guy who wants to tell us the entire story of the classic Frank Capra movie, It’s a Wonderful Life all by himself, and does. And Ed is so convincing that there are times when I’d swear there were several people from the Bailey family on stage at the once.

This production owes its genesis – its shape and heart – to the work that Tim Hyland and Ed did for last year’s performances at Thunder Mountain High School. Together Ed and Tim discovered the characters, the rhythm, and the technique essential to telling the story of the movie with one actor and a limited set. They brought the magic of this much-loved movie into being. For this year’s journey, Art asked if I would shepherd the play into being, and I was delighted at the chance to work with Ed on this project. Our task was to build on last year’s wonderful production, to bring the story to the more intimate, differently-shaped stage at Perseverance, and to take the opportunity to explore the play again.

Watching Ed work the characters with their signature postures – sitting back in the chair, his fingers in a steeple for Mr. Potter, and leaning forward, adjusting his legs and arms slightly, and there’s George Bailey, the vamp-ish flick of the blond hair of Violet Bick, the demure strength of Mary Hatch – has been instructional. It takes very little to transform from one character to the next and Ed makes it look easy, natural. But almost always, the turn of the head, the step forward or back, is so precisely choreographed that a variation – a look back instead of forward – leads to confusion. It’s a very precise dance for the actor. I am amazed at Ed’s understanding of how to put it together and how easy he makes it appear. 

As we’ve worked on this story of one person’s place in a community I’ve thought about George Rogers, who was a supportive, creative presence for Perseverance from the beginning of it’s life and who died earlier this fall. George appeared on stage in 9 or 10 productions, ranging from the crusty father in On Golden Pond, to the venal sheriff in Front Page, and to Firs, the aged family servant in Cherry Orchard. He brought a warm heart to all his roles, and to his life as well. He has left us richer for his presence in our lives.

Terry Cramer, Director

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Road Not Taken

George Bailey never got to live the life he wanted and wonders what would have happened if he had made different choices as a younger man. In This Wonderful Life -- opening December 3rd on the Mainstage -- George Bailey gets to travel the road not taken and see what his home town of Bedford Falls would be like if he had never been born.

What about you? Do you have a road not taken? At some point in life, did you flirt with leaving home for something new, something beyond the horizon, but then you never ended up going down that road? How would your life be different had you taken that path? Like George, how did things turn out by not taking it?

We want to hear from YOU: Please share your story by clicking on the Comments link below. Selected entries will be posted in the Perseverance Theatre lobby throughout the run of This Wonderful Life.