Arvada Center Blog

Kate Gleason on creating and performing multiple characters in Plaza Suite

By Leslie Simon

Three marriages in turmoil. Well, two marriages in turmoil, and one marriage that might not even happen if the bride-to-be doesn’t come out of the bathroom! Suite 719 at the Plaza Hotel sees a lot of activity, from the absurd to the dramatic. Traditionally, the play is cast with the same actors playing different characters in three one-acts, a sort of mini-repertory, and Plaza Suite’s Kate Gleason spoke with us on preparing and playing multiple characters in the same play.

In Plaza Suite, you play a different character in each of the three acts. As an actor, how do you prepare for multiple roles like this?

The great fun of developing a character, no matter what project, is finding out what makes them tick. I usually start at the beginning of the script with specific questions: Where do they come from? What brought them to this particular moment? What do they want? How do they get it? What are the stakes at any given moment? The added bonus in doing three one-acts is that you get to do this detective work three times, and you find out what connects them and what makes them distinct from one another. The fun lies in the investigation.

What makes playing Neil Simon characters special?

I am an unabashed fan of Neil Simon. I consider him a true artist, in league with Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Jonathan Swift. I’ve directed two of his plays, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound, and also taught a Neil Simon scene study class for DCPA Education. What I found was a master of the comic drama. The comedy lies in reality and it is always character driven. It’s what makes GREAT comedy- the laughs emerge from the truth in the moment. It’s a kind of heightened non-fiction and a joy to play. Simon said every play he has written was a drama with “comic moments.” When warned by Lillian Hellman not to mix comedy with drama, Simon replied, “if it’s mixed in life why can’t you do it in a play?” As an audience, we see ourselves up there on stage and we share in the experience because even in the absurdity, it feels real.

You will also be a part of our Black Box repertory company again next spring. What is that like to work with the same people for three overlapping plays?

It all comes down to trust. The plays are all different but the faces are the same. You start counting on those faces. We develop a shorthand with each other. We PLAY. We are allowed to be creative and messy because we are all in this together. Some of these people I have known and worked with, some are new faces, some are fellow artists I have admired but never worked with, but when we all get in the room at the beginning of that rep season, we know we are all on the same team. We are all in this together for the long haul. It’s a rare and extremely valuable experience, and I feel VERY lucky to be on the team.

What has acting and directing taught you about life?

Well, this is a BIG question… I suppose the best answer I can think of is something that was told to me by my friend, Allison Watrous. She was working with some teenagers, and they said acting was like learning how to be a “professional human.” What they meant, of course, is that as actors and directors we step into someone else’s shoes (sometimes literally) and we tell their story. That’s what we do: we are storytellers. And in the telling of the story we can, and often do, learn something about ourselves and others. It can be a noble adventure. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s enlightening. Sometimes it’s hilarious. But it’s NEVER boring. Kinda like life.

 

 

 

Talking abstract: A Q & A with local artist Heather Patterson

By Leslie Simon

This fall, the Arvada Center and Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art are proud to partner to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the seminal 2009 book Colorado Abstract: Paintings and Sculpture with exhibits highlighting the history and continuing tradition of abstraction by local artists in the state. The Arvada Center exhibit Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey highlights the work of 70 local abstract artists, and opens September 12 with a reception and exhibition discussion with book co-authors Mary Voelz Chandler and Michael Paglia. In the first installment of a series of conversations with featured artists, we spoke with Heather Patterson about her influences, process, and advice for young artists.

  1. What was your journey to abstract art like?

Growing up, I had a fascination for water, and the ocean in particular. In high school, I painted very realistic looking dolphins underwater. When I went to college, I quickly learned that this was very kitsch and not going to cut it for art school! My professors introduced me to the Abstract Expressionist movement. One of them gave me a 5-foot-long bamboo stick and a jar of ink on the ground and told me I was only allowed to learn to draw with that. I quickly fell in love with gesturing and letting drips happen, and it all went downhill from there. The sloppier and thicker the paint, the better. I used to go through entire tubes of oil paints on one painting! Some of the guest artists that came through our studios didn’t even want to walk on my studio floor because it was always so saturated with wet oil paint. I loved it. It’s interesting looking back over the years that water and the landscape still certainly play into my work, but in a completely different and more evolved way.

  1. What is your process in creating new work?

I always work on several things at once…usually about 5-7 large panels at once. One reason for this is that I absolutely can’t stand waiting for paint to dry.  I like the immediacy of going from one to the next. Also, by working this way, I build up a body of work together and can see how each piece relates to the next. It’s nice to have time to look at them all together and see how I can finish each one uniquely.

Heather’s work was part of our Summer 2018 exhibition – In Sight In Site: Murals.Watch her in action!

  1. Who are the other artists that inspire you?

So many!  When I was in school I really fell in love with de Kooning, Anselm Kiefer, Rauschenburg, Eva Hesse, Rothko, Lee Krasner, Alice Neel. Now I’m loving Heather Day, Inka Essenhigh, Tara Donovan, Dana Schutz and so many others that I know I’m forgetting at the moment.

Heather Patterson, “Sediment”

  1. What do you want people see when they view your non-objective art?

I think that’s one of the great things about non-objective art, people can see or feel what they want to.  The longer a collector owns and lives with a piece, the more they see in it. I personally really enjoy when someone is talking with me about the work and totally explains the elements I was trying to portray. Even though my work is abstracted, I get a lot of my imagery from realistic images of topographic maps, weather patterns, climate systems, animal migration patterns, and elements in nature (water, lichen, plant life).  Some people may just see color, patterns, and shapes and that’s ok! But I really love when someone is able to get something from my work on a deeper level that speaks of our environment.

  1. What cool projects do you have coming down the pipeline? 

Well, I just finished a 200-foot linear mural in Boulder commissioned by the city that can be viewed at Broadway and Basalm. I also just finished another mural that I collaborated on with fellow artist Kelly Peters in the main lobby of the newly renovated bus station and One Snowmass luxury condos in Snowmass Village. It was commissioned through Styleworks Interiors and Walker Fine Art. Upcoming, I will be a part of the Loveland Open Studios for two weekends in October if you would like to stop by!  Then in February 2020, I will be in a three-person exhibition at Space Annex with (Arvada Center Director of Galleries and Curator) Collin Parson and Jodie Roth Cooper. We will have our individual work on display as well as some experimental collaboration work which will combine light, sculpture, and painting.

  1. What advice do you have for new artists out there?

Work hard, play hard! But seriously hard work and dedication will get you where you want to be.  The art world is a tough one- don’t give up- just keep doing what you love and working for it. Having some sort of business sense also helps.  It’s about as foreign to most artists’ nature as can be, but if you have some business sense, it will make this “art life” so much easier. Also, play hard because it’s only going to work if you are happy doing what you love to do.

Read more about Colorado Abstract +10: A Survey. 

Building the world of Bright Star

Building the world of Bright Star

By Leslie Simon

How do you transport audiences from a wooden stage in Arvada to different locations and decades in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina? Award-winning Scenic Designer Brian Mallgrave puts deep thought and colorful imagination into creating immersive environments, something he has done for over 100 Arvada Center productions.

Brian’s latest work is for our fall musical Bright Star, by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. His designs for this musical take the audience to a specific place – Appalachia – and portray the passage of time as the musical flashes back and forth between the 1920s and 1940s.

Brian Mallgrave – Bright Star set color rendering

“The main vision of the setting envelopes the story through the use of a vintage 1930s map wall to “marry” all periods and locations- ascending into a silhouette of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The flooring is representative of the porches and decking attached to our various cabin dwellings, grounding all moving scenic elements.”

Brian uses the floor to create various locations as well as add extra symbolism. “The flooring creates the symbol of a connecting star in the center- as all characters connect and grow- and starfields illuminate the sky areas above to encompass our Bright Star theme.”

In general, the set is representational – meaning it creates an illusion of reality rather than fantasy. Lighting creates an extra dimension in the two-dimensional buildings and cabins.  “Much of the play is memory, and the cabin slatwork, being semi-transparent, offers interesting opportunities for lighting, representing the layers of transparency and fragments that our story often revisits.”

This use of light and movement works with the movement and passage of time in the musical. It covers a span of over 20 years – moving back and forth in the story. “There are many moving parts in the line set (used to move things up and down), background structural elements, and castered (rolling) furnishings that move to parallel the storyline as it seamlessly transitions through time periods.”

Based on music, book and lyrics written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Bright Star’s bluegrass and Americana-tinged sounds influenced the stage design that Brian created. “The musical style is a big motivator and regional influence, thus the band is featured onstage, to reinforce the impact of this element.”

Whether you are a lover of bluegrass or just a fan of a good story, there is something for everyone in Bright Star. Tickets are on sale now – it opens September 6! 

7 Arvada Center classes you’ll fall for this season

7 Arvada Center classes you’ll FALL for this season

By Leslie Simon & Amberle N.

All photos in this blog post by Matt Gale Photography 2019

 

Classes for adults

1. The Cup Challenge

Monday, November 25 – December 16, 1:00 – 4:00 pm, 4 weeks

This workshop focuses on the endless design possibilities of the thrown cup. Students are challenged to develop ideas for form, function and surface, and create 20 unique cups from clay.

2. Hot Class Pumpkins

Saturday, October 5, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm / Saturday, October 19, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm

Held at The Furnace, A Glassworks

Celebrate autumn in this class where you make your own glass pumpkin while working with professional glass artists. Color and sculpt your creation to your desire, no prior experience necessary.

Classes for adults and children

  1. Caricature Workshop

Saturday, November 2, 9:00 am – 3:00 pm, One-day workshop, ages 14-adult

Join us in this one-day workshop, conducted by caricature artist and illustrator, Jason Sauer and learn how a professional caricature artist draws those funny pictures of people!

  1. Wearable Technology for Costumes

Wednesday, October 2 – October 23, 5:30 – 7:30 pm, 4 weeks, ages 12-adult

Students design and fabricate wearable technology components for their favorite Cosplay or Halloween costumes learning how to make costumes come to life with light and sound.

  1. Teen/Adult Contemporary Dance

Monday, November 4 – January 20, 6:30 – 7:30 pm, ages 14-adult

A fusion of lyrical, jazz, hip hop, modern, and ballet, Contemporary Dance allows students to explore organic powerful and emotional movement.  For teens and adults with just a year or more of any style dance training.

Classes for children

  1. Theatre Explorers

Sunday, September 15 – November 17, 1:30 – 2:30 pm, 10 weeks, ages 4-6

A great beginning class for creative kids to discover theatre. Students are led on an imaginative journey each week, creating environments and characters.

 

  1. Cartooning: Anime and Manga

Tuesday, September 10—November 12, 4:00—5:30 pm, 10 weeks, ages 9—15

In this class, students delve into the world of sequential art and animation, bringing life to their own ideas and stories through the art of Japanese cartooning.

The Making of Bright Star

The Making of Bright Star

By Amberle N.

The story of the musical Bright Star begins with garlic crackers. 

Steve Martin met a rather shy Edie Brickell at a dinner party and offered her some, causing the renowned comedian and the indie music legend to become fast friends that night. Such a small story of breaking the ice set the stage for their friendship. In 2011, after listening to Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers’ album Rare Bird Alert, Brickell praised his songs and proposed writing music together. As Martin would admit to Stephen Colbert – though he’d written songs on his own and played banjo for other people’s songs – he had no idea how to write a song with another person from scratch but he went ahead and said yes. 

Martin and Brickell

Their musical partnership resulted in the 2013 album Love Has Come For You. In 2014, the title song won the Grammy for Best American Roots Song – a vindication of Martin’s musical talent with the banjo and Brickell’s return to the music scene after a long hiatus.

The idea for the musical came while Brickell and Martin were composing the album. One of the banjo compositions they created inspired the writing of a “train song,” and Brickell’s curiosity led her to discover a fantastic event in the history of the Iron Mountain Railroad. The traditional folksong “The Iron Mountain Baby” inspired Bright Star and forms the core of its narrative – an ideal story for the event of a lifetime.

Describing her appreciation of the Iron Mountain Baby to CBS, Brickell said “I love miracles and I read that story and said, it’s such a beautiful miracle and it’s so weird that anybody can do such a thing. And it just did – it sparked my imagination.” 

“So Familiar” Album Cover

The songs of Love Has Come For You are themselves a set of tiny stories, some funny and some serious. The album’s songs heavily inspired Bright Star, capturing the adventuresome highs and lows of the setting and serving as a point around which many characters were crafted. 

In a 2016 interview with Steven Colbert, Brickell described her experience of Bright Star’s lyrics as “singing a character’s heart,” in terms of who they are and how they feel. Martin sent her banjo compositions and she would sing to them until a song solidified, and that spirit carried into Bright Star as the two of them composed songs around the characters.

One of the first lines from the musical is, “If you knew my story, you’d have a good story to tell,” and the entire narrative occurs as a deeper look into the lives of characters who are stepping out of a background role as writers for others to tell their own story. It’s a story that does the work of paying attention to love, and the musical carries a sweetness that is rooted in tradition and the optimism of post-war America.

Bright Star plays at the Center from September 6 – 29.

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