Arvada Center Blog
A Q & A with The Electric Baby director Rick Barbour
What makes you excited to direct The Electric Baby?
I’m excited about working with some of Denver’s best actors and designers on this beautifully-written play. It requires and celebrates great ensemble acting and the simple, honest, transformative power of theatrical storytelling. Some contemporary plays read and feel and expect to operate as film or television does. Trouble is, when we try to produce camera-centric stories on stage, it usually doesn’t work out so well – theatre’s storytelling language is distinctly different than film or television’s. The stage is the place for metaphor, for heightened language, for poetry, if you will, and The Electric Baby was built for it. Bottom line: I get to work with great collaborators on a great script at a company that is dedicated to the power and beauty of actor-driven storytelling, on a schedule that is uniquely generous in supporting a depth of process unlikely to be encountered elsewhere. I’m in heaven.
What do you look forward to sharing with audiences?
Great acting within the intimacy of a black box space. Experiencing the power of this at the age of 15 propelled me into the theatre in the first place, and has sustained and driven me ever since. From the first time I read it and through each rehearsal, I’ve been deeply moved by The Electric Baby. It is not a heady or intellectually analytical play, it is very much an intuitive, heart-based play that works its magic in visceral ways. I’m eager to enjoy the play in live performance with our audiences – my hope is that we create a memorable experience of surprising, delightful, and emotionally powerful one-ness for our audiences with each and every show.
How does the idea of storytelling impact your vision of this production?
My vision of this or any other play is based on what the playwright gives, or suggests, or implies to us, through the writing on the page, through the actions of the characters. The Electric Baby is all about storytelling – it’s built on the strong and comprehensive use of folk lore, folk tales, parable, and metaphor, yet is simultaneously rooted in the painful realities of its contemporary, fully-dimensional, all-too-human characters – characters that we initially meet in varying degrees of emotional isolation, yet who wind up unexpectedly interconnected in ways that invite resurrection. My goal is to communicate the soul of the play as clearly as possible by fully embracing its nature, its structure, and by encouraging our actors and designers to breathe into each moment of the text with full attention, empathy, emotional courage, and intuitive confidence.
How does having stories within a story make it more challenging to direct?
I’m not sure that having stories within a story make it more challenging to direct. All the stories related or revealed in the play are, like all human utterances, based in need. That is to say, each story is expressed in the pursuit of a specific character need – no one is “telling a story” just for the sake of doing so. There’s motivation, purpose, and intent behind it. In rehearsal, our basic assumption has to be that the story is the best and most effective way for the character to get what they need from another person in that particular moment and situation. We do this all the time in real life. A well-constructed play like The Electric Baby uses this fundamentally human impulse in ways that might be more heightened than may be expected of most moments in our everyday lives, but that’s what dramatic writing is supposed to do – distill and elevate the truth of our shared humanity in ways that, at their most potent, invite catharsis.
This play has elements of magical realism. What are the important things to consider when directing a play with fantastic elements?
That what we may call fantastic elements are in fact expressions of the play’s essential DNA. That these elements are the defining features of the play’s world, its logic, its power and truth. That they are as “real” as any other element that defines the specific world of the play, and almost always more “real” than anything our everyday reality could possibly evoke. Theatre is at its best when it unapologetically embraces metaphor as its way of telling us the truth. As long as we are consistent in how we employ and relate to a play’s essential conventions, no matter how fantastic, an audience will follow us anywhere. With The Electric Baby, the playwright isn’t concerned with explaining how or why a baby that “glows like the moon” is the central presence, crossroads, and catalyst for the action of this hauntingly beautiful play. It just is. We are given it as fact. And as the play unfolds in delightful and unexpected ways, as we witness the struggles of its characters, as we are swept up in events that affect us and reward our faith in the power of story, The Electric Baby offers us a beautiful and desperately important reminder that only by opening ourselves to another can we possibly begin to heal. If metaphor and magical realism can open the way to truth such as this, then all of us – artists and audience alike – have cause for celebration.
The Electric Baby is open now and runs in repertory until May 4.
This holiday season the Arvada Center produced a brand-new musical work – the first in our 41-year history. Arvada Center Artistic Producer of Musicals Rod A. Lansberry and I’ll Be Home for Christmas co-creators, David Nehls and Kenn McLaughlin offer their perspective to what it takes to build a new musical from the ground up.
- Describe what it feels like to create a new musical like I’ll Be Home for Christmas from concept to completion?
Rod Lansberry (RL): The idea to have a world premiere on the Arvada Center stage is something we have worked on for many years, and we are happy to have this chance to bring something new and fresh to our audience.
Kenn McLaughlin (KM): It is a very hard thing to describe! Rod and (director) Gavin Mayer have been champions of the work from the start and have offered great direction and feedback that have helped shape where we are.
David Nehls (DN): Creating a new work for musical theatre is one of the most thrilling journeys in the arts. To be in the room to see the final result with an audience is both exciting and terrifying because you are experiencing all the elements coming together for the first time in real time. It is truly like nothing else.
- This musical draws on an old holiday tradition, but it’s also rooted in a specific time (1969). What was the inspiration for the setting of a Christmas variety show? What about this point in history?
KM: Both David and I grew up watching these shows. When we started talking together about our memories of the shows it was clear they had had a deep impact on us.
DN: The TV variety shows of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s honed my sensibility for what I liked as an artist and helped encourage me to go into the arts as a career. Plus, the idea of family is the cornerstone of I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and my family came together to watch these shows.
KM: The idea of the turmoil of the late 1960’s gave us a way to bring in more powerful social themes and put those up against the traditional ideas of an American Christmas. The collision of these ideas is what gives the show its voice. People who have read it or heard it remark how it feels very relevant to our circumstances today and that was the biggest of our goals.
- How long did the development of this musical take?
KM: The first time we even discussed it was December 2012. At that time David and I had just finished work on a holiday pantomime for my theatre in Houston, and we were looking forward to what else we might work on. He called me as I was about to board a plane and laid out the idea. I wrote the first treatment of the show on the plane
DN: When Rod reached out about the show after this past Christmas, we jumped on it completing a first, readable draft by March.
RL: The actual production has been in process for almost a year, It went from rough drafts of the script and music to table readings and a staged reading for an invited audience in June.
- What phases did the musical go through in development? How did it change?
KM: The biggest change came late in the process with a different approach to Simon’s journey through the play. He now gets more caught by surprise by several things and that sets him on his path. It is much more playable for the actors, and I think much more interesting for the audience.
DN: Dialogue shifted in places, strengthening characters here and there, but the basic structure remained.
5. The Arvada Center held a workshop with actors and a live audience in June. Was having an early audience to hear the words and music helpful?
Rod Lansberry: Actually getting live feedback led us to many insights and ideas that only helped to solidify and improve the piece.
KM: Based on the response we got that day, we knew that the characters and the core story mattered to people. We got to hear where the audience got lost and we got to hear what moved them and all in all it was a remarkable and important day for the play.
- What was the collaboration process like, particularly with one of the creators living in Houston?
DN: Working with Kenn is always a joy! He is so smart and fresh and has a great sense of how the process works.
KM: David and I spoke on the phone several times a day during creation – he’d write something he was excited about, and he’d send it, and I’d write something I was excited about and then we’d get on the phone and work it out. David and I think a lot alike about theatre so it was an easy process for us and the distance was not a problem at all.
RL: Kenn and David have a great working relationship that has served to make the entire project an enjoyable and creative process.
- What is the biggest challenge?
RL: Creating a piece that will artistically fit the reputation of the Arvada Center and enlighten while entertaining an audience – especially a piece that fits the theme of the holiday season.
KM: This is a play of extremes and getting that just right is a challenge. It’s a musical comedy with a very powerful story about a soldier and his return from Vietnam. Balancing the power of that story and making sure we honor all the voices of that story while we surround it with some joyful singing and dancing– it is a great and thrilling challenge indeed.
DN: And casting these specific roles with such specific talents is a bit of a challenge.
- What’s most exciting to you personally about presenting a world premiere at the Arvada Center?
RL: Bringing a fresh new holiday production to our audience and producing our first new work.
DN: This has been my home theatre for 14 seasons and to have my own work premiere here for the first time is a big thrill. My shows have now been produced all over the country, but we have never produced one here. So to cross this off the bucket list is great!
KM: The fact that Rod challenged us to go deeper and to find the darkness too – I can’t be more excited about that. I think it has made the play very special and in fact more joyful than I could ever have imagined. I cannot wait to share it with people – I just can’t wait!
I’ll Be Home for Christmas runs until December 23. Tickets are available online!
What happens when classic Christmas carols, the Vietnam War and an old-time variety show all share the Arvada Center stage?
It’s called I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and it’s the first world premiere musical produced by the Arvada Center. The cast and crew gathered yesterday to prepare for the brand new production of the musical, and rehearsals begin this week!
Set in 1969, the musical focuses on the Bright family as they prepare for their annual Christmas variety show, one of the most-watched and anticipated television events of the year. In the midst of rehearsals, they welcome their eldest son home from the war. A decorated hero, and former teen idol, Simon is challenged by his return to civilian life and the expectation and anticipation of performing again.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas is set in the hours leading up to and during the live TV broadcast, featuring rich costumes, great dance numbers and exciting new music along with many seasonal favorites. It’s a family friendly show that people of all ages will enjoy!
Original music and lyrics were written by the Center’s longtime musical director David Nehls. Kenn McLaughlin wrote the book. Gavin Mayer is directing, and Rod Lansberry is producing.
The historic setting – a throwback to variety shows of the 50’s and 60’s – was inspired by Nehls and McLaughlin’s nostalgic love of television from that era. They began playing with the idea in 2012, and have been doing writes – and re-writes – and more re-writes – for the past nine months. It mixes beloved holiday music with original tunes and choreography.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas Cast
Noah Racey – Dana Bright
Megan Van De Hey – Louise Bright
Jake Mendes – Simon Bright
Kim McClay – Maggie Bright
Andrew Diessner – Len
Sharon Kay White – Carol Marie
Darius Jordan Lee – Sandy
Sheryl McCallum – Ruby
Women’s Ensemble: Norrell Moore, Maddie Franke, Rae Case, Rachel Turner
Men’s Ensemble: Jean-Luc Cavnar, P. Tucker Worley, Benjamin Roeling, Darrell T. Joe
The musical opens November 18. Preview performances take place November 15 – 17, and it closes December 23. Tickets are on sale now!
A workshop performance for the Arvada Center’s first original musical brought Christmas to the Center — in the summer! On Wednesday, June 29, a cast of actors staged a workshop for I’ll Be Home for Christmas for Center donors and VIP’s.
This was the first time the show’s producers saw their work come to life on stage. Actors auditioned to perform in the workshop, and rehearsed for two days before the performance.
The musical features original music and lyrics by the Center’s longtime musical director David Nehls, and an original story written by Kenn McLaughlin. It will be directed by Gavin Mayer, with choreography by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck. The Producing Artistic Director of Musicals is Rod A. Lansberry.
Set in 1969, I’ll Be Home for Christmas tells the story of the Bright family as they prepare for their annual Christmas variety show, one of the most-watched and anticipated television events of the year. I’ll Be Home for Christmas is set during the live TV broadcast, both on-stage and off.
Presented as a peek into the Bright family’s famous variety show, the musical features clever takes on familiar holiday songs, along with never-before-heard music!
Following the performance, audience members gave their feedback to the writers, producers, director and cast during a Q&A.
This feedback is an important step in the development process of this play, and now they’re working to polish the script before the show’s world premiere.
Stay tuned for more on the show as it takes shape! Single tickets go on sale on August 1. Don’t miss the world premiere of I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Nov. 18!
Happy *New* Year!
Welcome to 2013!
The Arvada Center is ready to tackle 2013 with a new art exhibition, a new children’s theater musical,Â a new teen Theater Academy, and new education classes!
Art of the State: A Juried Exhibition of Colorado
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities is proud to presentÂ Art of the State: A Juried Exhibition of Colorado. This statewide juried exhibition garnered 1,635 entries from 588 artists living and working in Colorado. Selections were made by Arvada Center Exhibition Manager and Curator, Collin Parson, and the Clyfford Still Museum’s Director, Dean Sobel. Parson and Sobel chose 191 works by 160 artists that represent a wide range of approaches from traditional to experimental.
Emphasizing the Arvada Center’s commitment to supporting Colorado artists, this exhibition will showcase the quality, depth and diversity of works being created in the state by emerging and established artists. This juried exhibition was open to all Colorado artists in all media. For the first time, all three of the Arvada Center’s galleries, over 10,000 sq. ft., will be dedicated to one exhibition, and there will certainly be something for everyone to enjoy.
No Dogs Allowed!
Written by “Maria” from Sesame Street – Sonia Manzano
Music by Stephan Lawrence
Lyrics by Billy Aronson
Leaving the Bronx for a day at the lake is a real treat for Iris and her close-knit, extended family. Despite Papiâ€™s instructions to pack light, Mami brings enough food for the tri-state region and Iris sneaks in the family dog.Â After all, El Exigente is part of la familia. The trip is marked by memorable misadventure, but the family finally arrives at the lake, only to discover there are â€¦ No Dogs Allowed! Humor and cooperation save the day in this warm and cheery family venture.
The Arvada Center Theater Academy offers talented youth, ages 13 â€“ 18, a small-enrollment, high-level, in-depth program of theater instruction. This program is designed for serious actors who are interested in progressing as an artist and who desire a career in acting. Theater Academy Company actors perform in two productions each year and deepen their skills and knowledge in the areas of character work, scene study, auditioning, and production training.
Winter Education Classes
Enroll yourself, your family or a little one in one of our new arts education classes. We offer classes for ages 18 months and up! Choose from classes in pottery, dance, singing, improv comedy and more! And register now for our Spring Break Camps – these fill up fast!
and visit http://arvadacenter.org/education for more info!