October 27, 2010

Royal Gambit Opens This Weekend

Christopher Graham

Regent's Second Stage season opens this weekend with the production Royal Gambit, written by Herman Gressieker, translated and adapted by George White.  Royal Gambit is the exciting legacy of Henry VIII as told by his six wives.  Hailed by the New York Times as "an original, stimulating and...well-written play..." , Royal Gambit is being directed by 2009 MFA in Acting graduate, Christopher Graham.  Since graduation Christopher has had the chance to perform locally for Virginia Stage Company and multiple productions with the Virginia Musical Theatre.

Here's what Christopher has to say about working on Royal Gambit:

There are not too many characters in history more infamous then King Henry the VIII. From his legendary affair with Anne Boleyn, to his conflict with the Bishop of Rome, Henry helped bring about one the greatest upheavals western civilization had ever known. Surrounding him were six fascinating, yet rather unfortunate, women: “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived” is the rhyme that English school children learn to describe the fate of the six wives of King Henry VIII. Royal Gambit is on the one hand a historical drama, but on the other hand is something else completely. It’s a thinking kind of play. You’ll be rolling along very happily through the middle of the 16th century when all of a sudden you’ll hear Henry reference the Second World War. You sit back and scrunch up your forehead, but you’ll soon realize that Royal Gambit is not just about a man who cannot find rest in the world that he has created, but a mankind who cannot find rest. Henry ushers in an age that is “not to be God’s, but man’s.” This is a far cry from the strictly religious battles of the 16th century, but a battle for the very heart of faith itself. Who is God and what is our relationship to Him? Where does man’s power stop and God’s power begin? How far can we make it without Him? Is there even a God?
These are the questions of the modern man and Royal Gambit uses the story of this very flawed King to ask them. So I hope that you will be willing to put on your “thinking cap”, come with us, and explore. You may even find some answers, but it depends on Who you ask.

Royal Gambit runs October 29-30 and Nov. 4-6 at 8:00pm; October 30-31 and Nov. 5-6 at 3:00pm.  The performance is being held in Com 128 and seating is limited.  Call 757-352-4245 to reserve your tickets now!

October 15, 2010

Our Town Offers Perspective on Life

cast members Amy Dunlap, Jared O'Dell, and Tiffany Evans.
L-R: Amy Dunlap, Jared O'Dell, Tiffany Evans

Our Town Offers Perspective on Life

By Rachel Judy

Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town, is no doubt familiar to theater-going audiences for its simple, yet profound commentary on the complexities of human life. Hoping to capture the elegance of the early 20th century while appealing to today's audiences, Regent University Theatre will present Our Town on Oct. 15-17 and Oct. 22-24 in the Communication & Performing Arts Center's Main Theatre.

Divided into three acts, Our Town tells the story of the Grover's Corners, N.H., residents through the eyes of the stage manager. The stage manager's role is to create the scene and establish the character background; the other actors rely on mime to tell stories of daily life, love and marriage, and death.

Regent's production is directed by guest director Marianne Savell, an actress and playwright who previously directed the 2009 Regent theatre production Dancing at Lughnasa. "Our Town may be the great American play," Savell says. "No matter your history with it, this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama has the power to rattle and shake you to the core again and again."

While many will remember Our Town from their required literature classes in middle and high school, Savell's approach with the Regent production is to honor the classical play with a modern twist. "The play sticks with you and yet, reintroduces itself masterfully every time you engage it," she explains. "A friend of mine wonderfully described it this way: 'Thornton Wilder is radical and reassuring in the same breathless breath.' This couldn't be truer."

The opportunity for the Our Town cast to work with Savell is significant, explains Eric Harrell, chair of Regent's theatre department. "Affording our student actors the opportunity to work with highly accomplished directors from the professional theatre is of tremendous educational value," he says. "Their technique work is challenged and refined when they work with an artist of Marianne's caliber. It's important for them to hear the language of craft reflected in the voice of an industry professional as well as resident faculty."

MFA in Acting students Joseph Martinez and Tiffany Evans will perform their thesis roles in Our Town as Doc Gibbs and Emily Webb respectively.

Savell is an adjunct professor at Vanguard University, an associate artist with Taproot Theater Company and a member of Directors Lab West. She received her MFA in Acting from the University of Illinois and has been a guest artist at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She served as producing director of Actors Co-op in Hollywood and on the advisory board of Provision Theater Company in Chicago and was invited to the prestigious New Harmony Project to direct Margaret Hunt's new play And the Ravens Feed Us in 2008.

Purchase tickets for Our Town through the Regent University Box Office.

October 12, 2010

Meet Marianne Savell, Director of "Our Town"

Regent Theatre welcomes Marianne Savell, guest director of Our Town and last season's production of Dancing at Lughnasa. Marianne is an accomplished actor, director and teacher coming to us from Seattle & Los Angeles. She is an adjunct professor at Vanguard University, an associate artist with Taproot Theater Company and a member of Directors Lab West. She received her MFA in Acting from the University of Illinois where she graduated with highest honors and was a guest artist at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. She served as Producing Director of Actors Co-op in Hollywood and on the advisory board of Provision Theater Company in Chicago and was invited to the prestigious New Harmony Project to direct Margaret Hunt’s new play And the Ravens Feed Us in 2008.
Marianne’s professional directing credits include the critically acclaimed Jeff award-nominated Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (Victory Gardens, Chicago), the world premiere and LA Weekly award-winner Gulf View Drive, the StagesceneLA award-winner Wit, The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, Shadowlands, the world premiere Yours, Isabel, Angel Street, Translations, the West Coast premiere of As It Is in Heaven, The Crucible, Hamlet, God & Shakespeare and Molly Sweeney.
At Vanguard, Marianne directed the American College Theatre Festival finalists The Lion in Winter and As It Is in Heaven as well as Saint Joan, America’s Broadway and Three Sisters. Her professional acting credits include A Streetcar Named Desire (ACTC), The Seagull (LA Weekly award for Best Featured Actress), As You Like It, The Voice of the Prairie, The Hasty Heart, All My Sons, Uncle Vanya, Twelfth Night, Bullshot Crummond and Henry V.
Marianne has a few new plays in development and is conducting research in the Virginia Beach area for her new play on generals Lee and Grant. We came to know about Marianne when she directed one of our own MFA in Acting alumni, Dan Roberts (’07) in The Crucible at Actors Co-op, a professional Christian theatre company in Los Angeles. Both Marianne and Dan were nominated for LA Weekly awards for The Crucible. We’re glad to have her here!

Marianne’s Thoughts about Our Town
"So many of us have a history with Our Town. We read it in high school, or we played Simon Stimson in college or we saw it at a community theatre in Clinton, Mississippi. Recently, Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer-prize winning play has had a resurgence off Broadway with a beautiful production by The Hypocrites out of Chicago. What is striking about this play is that memory softens what is actually a sharply insightful and brutally honest play about our humanity. A friend recently joked with me that Our Town is a zombie play. I had to kind of agree with him. It is a play about what it means to really live, to die, to be the living dead. If we're really honest with ourselves we sometimes feel like we're more dead than alive. And it scares us. But do we change? Do we make the effort to really live? This play delights me and terrifies me. Challenges me to do better. Come with us to Our Town, and stay awhile..."

Working with Marianne
“It was such a pleasure to work under the direction of Marianne Savelle in Regent’s production of Dancing at Lughnasa last year! She worked tirelessly and patiently to turn this sow’s ear into a credible Father Jack. Imagine my excitement, then, to learn that I would have the opportunity to reprise the role of Professor Willard under Marianne’s capable direction! Marianne is adept at bringing out the best in each actor, no matter the size of the role, and integrating each role into the balanced whole of a piece. She also brings such a wide and current connection to the professional world and plugs us into that connection as well. It is equally encouraging to hear her share the many opportunities she has to integrate her faith with her art. She has become not only a director with whom I enjoy working but also, I am happy to say, a colleague and friend” – Mike Salsbury, 2nd-year MFA

“I felt like the entire production (Dancing at Lughnasa) was put together through one big conversation. Marianne has the perfect mix between letting you explore your character freely and pushing you to limits you didn’t even know were possible. Some of my best show experiences have been with her because I felt like I left the process a better, more inspired actor.” – Jeff Fazakerley, 2nd-year MFA

“Marianne has a beautiful grasp of how to communicate the important story of Our Town in a startling, enlightening manner. She has made many subtle choices in blocking and the use of sound to compel thought. She triggers thought within her actors. She challenges and provokes the character but never diminishes the actor. Her goal is the story. She is always asking the question, ‘What is the best choice to honor the story?’ We trust her. We value her insights. If she asks us to do it, we do it with conviction. We are a cohesive group that takes risks and is unafraid to venture into the unknown with Marianne as our guide.” – Brittany Baird, 1st-year MA

Come and see what all the buzz is about! Our Town opens October 15th and runs through October 24th.

October 7, 2010

Dr. Michael Hill-Kirkland Appearing in VMT's "Man of La Mancha"

Regent Theatre’s own Professor of Theatre and Head of the MFA Acting Program, Dr. Michael Hill-Kirkland, will be appearing as Sancho Panza in Virginia Musical Theatre’s upcoming production of Man of La Mancha! According to the VMT website, Man of La Mancha is “deemed one of the all-time great musicals of the American stage. This is a brilliant theatrical adventure that looks at life not as it is but as it should be. The inspiring score features The Impossible Dream. Winner of five TONY© Awards including Best Musical."

Regent Backstage asked Dr. Kirkland to share some thoughts about the upcoming production…

Regent Backstage: How did this performance opportunity come about?

Dr. Kirkland: VMT sent me an audition notice requesting that I make our students aware of auditions for the production. I told them I would and queried them as to whether they had anyone to handle the combat in the show, if not, that I would be interested. Mark Hudgins, the managing director, responded that they did not and that Jeff Meredith, the artistic director, was interested in engaging me to do so. I had worked with them once before on The Scarlet Pimpernel. I accepted, and informed them that I had done the show six times before…sometimes in the role of Sancho, sometimes as fight director, and sometimes as both. That led to an invitation to audition for the role. I made sure they knew I was a member of AEA before accepting the invitation to audition. I thought it would be pointless unless they were ready to commit to a union contract. They responded that they had not really considered a union contract for Sancho, but that they were open to it. I auditioned…and they offered me the role.

Regent Backstage: Can you elaborate on your past experience with Man of La Mancha?

Dr. Kirkland: My experience with the show is fairly extensive. I’ve done this show more than any other over my career. I’ve performed it in a variety of venues: academic, community, and professional. I’ve played Sancho. I’ve played the Barber. Over the years I’ve staged the fights a number of times under a wide range of conditions both amateur and professional. My feelings for the show are immensely affectionate. It’s a character driven show perfectly made for actors. The plot hinges on a play-within-a-play and serves as an example of the power of theatre to change lives. And the themes. I love the themes. Belief in dreams and in one’s self. Service to the quest—a lofty goal, committing to something larger than one’s self. The belief that some things in life—some dreams--are worth fighting for even when you know that you are destined to defeat; that sometimes you must “march into hell for a heavenly cause.” These are ideas that have profound resonation for me.

Regent Backstage: What do you hope to get from the experience this time?

Dr. Kirkland: The last time I performed Sancho was about twelve years ago. At that point in time I felt that I was probably ending my relationship with the little fellow with a belly full of proverbs. In truth, I was growing a little tired of him. Now, with twelve years having passed, I realized that I had grown to miss this guy. Time has a way of changing our perspective on things. I have a feeling I will see him, and the play, through different eyes. I believe that I have changed a lot on the inside over these twelve years, and I have a feeling I am going to connect with the emotional truth in Sancho, and in the play, in a much more profound way. I think I feel things more deeply now than I did then. Because of that, I have a feeling I’m going to feel this play much more deeply. It has been eight years since I last acted. At Regent, with our sizeable MFA Acting program, it is difficult justifying faculty taking roles in our productions. This makes it a lot more difficult, especially if you are a union actor, to find local opportunities to act. It’s going to be a challenge to scrape off the rust after eight years—but one I feel is both healthy and necessary. I have spent the last eight years primarily in the role of teacher/director. It will be nice to trod the boards again--on the other side of the footlights!

Performances of Man of La Mancha are one weekend only, October 22, 23 & 24

Virginia Musical Theatre’s box office number is757-340-5446.

Break a leg, Dr. Kirkland!

October 6, 2010

Leaving Iowa Receives Accolades in Veer Magazine

"When Regent University Theatre gets it right - as they most certainly do with Leaving Iowa - their shows belong at the head of the local AAA League, only a notch below the big-league pros."

Read the rest of the review HERE!