November 19, 2010

Theatre Explores Faith and Family

Nathan Scmidt as Peachy and Tabitha Ray Strong as Lala
By Rachel Judy

Set in 1939 Atlanta, The Last Night of Ballyhoo tells the story of an upwardly mobile German-Jewish family searching for a way to find acceptance within their southern community. Regent University's theatre puts its own spin on the semi-autobiographical play beginning on Nov. 19.

Written by Alfred Uhry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Driving Miss Daisy, the story takes place during the Christmas season. The Freitag family is struggling to blend in with their community until a transplanted Yankee from Brooklyn, Joe Farkas, arrives on the scene. The idea of rejecting religious beliefs in order to blend does not sit well with Joe, but he's enamored with one of the Freitag girls. Winner of the Tony Award for Best Play of 1997, The Last Night of Ballyhoo combines a pre-World War II romance with Uhry's exploration of a society on the verge of change.

Following the extended Freitag family in America's isolated days prior to World War II, Uhry's work attempts to showcase the last days of innocence for a generation. But, that innocence is overshadowed by the play's exploration of the intercultural bigotry that existed between German and Eastern European Jews.

Mark Paladini, theatre department artist-in-residence and the director of The Last Night of Ballyhoo, explains the term "ballyhoo" and how it relates to Uhry's story: "Ballyhoo was a three-day event created by German Jews in the South as an attempt to copy the cotillions held at restricted country clubs in the South," he said. "Alfred Uhry's father was involved in the organization of Ballyhoo according to programs found by students researching the play. Students also found pictures of Alfred Uhry with his Christmas tree as a child, which drove home the fact that many elements of the play evolved from Uhry's own experiences (and those of his parents) growing up in the South."

The story of a generation on the brink of war also hits home for Paladini. "Knowing what happened to the ancestors of my wife and children (and through marriage, my family), I can't help but be moved by the plight of Joe Farkas," he explained. "My goal is to share my warm feelings about this family with our audiences and to create a common bond of love for all those who attend this very special production."

In Regent's production, MFA in Acting students Tabitha Ray, Hannah Hughes Nathan Schmidt and Chad Gilliland present their thesis roles.

The Last Night of Ballyhoo runs Nov. 19-21 and Dec. 2-5.

Purchase tickets through the Regent University Box Office.

November 16, 2010

The Last Night of Ballyhoo Opens This Weekend!

Mark Paladini

A Word From The Director:

The Last Night of Ballyhoo lovingly captures the plight of Jews in the South searching for a way to succeed and find acceptance as an integral part of the community in 1939.

Alfred Uhry’s frequently autobiographical look at the extended Freitag family captures the irony of their behavior with compassion, love and a post-Civil Rights Era wink. Ballyhoo transports us to a more innocent moment in time, a time when escapist entertainment on live radio and the movie screen insulated Americans from the sound of German troops marching into Poland.

Some scenes in our play take place on a famous train known as the Crescent Limited. The train brought travelers from New York to New Orleans via a crescent shaped route that stopped in major cities along the way, including Atlanta. Hop on that train with me and go back to a time when the crescent moon was a symbol of romance. This trip reminds us that we are all on this journey together.

The author also wants us to identify with the fears that Jews in Atlanta experienced in this period. The Freitag/Levy family lives in a city where a Jewish man named Leo Frank was unjustly lynched* in 1915. This event, though unspoken, helps us understand how the characters in this play have valid fears in regard to practicing their religion openly at this time in history in the South.
Tabitha Ray Strong as Lala
Come back with us to a time when there were Jews named Adolph, and many popular Jewish performers hosted Christmas specials on their radio shows. Some Jews in the South had never even seen a yarmulke (or kippah), the skull cap Jewish men wear for religious celebrations. Many Jews would light Shabbat (Sabbath) candles at sundown on Friday night prior to eating ham hocks and shrimp, decidedly non-kosher menu items. One might say that the dining car on this train has plenty of portions of humor, assimilation, romance, fear and warm memories.

Enjoy this nostalgic train ride and all the ballyhoo that comes along with it!

*Chronicled in the musical PARADE, book by Alfred Uhry, whose great-uncle owned the factory that Leo Frank managed

The Last Night of Ballyhoo runs
Nov. 19 - 21 and Dec. 2 - 5. 
Call the box office for tickets at 757.352.4245.

November 5, 2010

Focus on Design

The Theatre Department recently completed a major overhaul of one of our rooms. Known as the Acting Lab, or COM128, this space has always been in high demand as a classroom, rehearsal and performance space. Now the space will have even more versatility. Regent Backstage spoke to Design Professor Mike Burnett about how the decision to convert COM128 came about.

Mike Burnett: “We've been producing Second Stage shows in the Studio Theater for the past few years. With our intense production schedule, high production quality, and minimal technical/design staff, we either had to find another space or cancel the Second Stage shows. We decided that since Lab shows were successful in COM128, we would move Second Stage in there, and give them a little bit of budget and staff support.”

Regent Backstage: “What were the deciding factors that contributed to the current design?”

Mike Burnett: “Flexibility. Since four days a week COM128 is a heavily used classroom, plus still has to handle rehearsals, we had to create a space that had minimal impact on all that.”

Regent Backstage: “Can you describe the changes to the space?”

Mike Burnett: “COM128 now has permanent seating, which leads to a higher seating capacity. Previous capacity was thirty bodies (audience, actors, techs)...we are now at sixty. We also invested in new lighting equipment - light board, light fixtures. All the lights are installed in a ‘rep’ plot. This means that the lighting gels can change per show, but adding/taking away lights and refocusing the bulk of the lights will not happen. This allows all shows in there, as well as classes, to always have multiple lighting areas with multiple colors without having to go thru the process of hanging, circuiting, and focusing. There is also a new sound system complete with speakers, amps, CD/iPod/Computer playback capability. We added new floor surfacing. Previously, there was a really old Marley dance floor. We replaced it with masonite hardboard which allows us to tape and paint it. Finally, there is a new emergency exit door.”

Regent Backstage: “What are the biggest pros and cons of the new design?”

Mike Burnett: “The biggest pro is all the flexibility and ease of use. Now any student production, with minimal instruction, can have a higher quality production. Since we now can bring in larger outside audiences, they can expect higher quality productions.

The biggest drawback is how the audience accesses the space. We had intended for the audience to enter and exit through the new door to the outside. This isn't happening now, so they will enter and exit through the old doors, which means they come through a backstage space. It’s not ideal, but it’s something we'll figure out. It also means that dressing room access and bathroom access for actors and audience is something we're still feeling out. Another con is how the changeover from classroom to theatre happens. There are lots of props and class furniture to move around.”

Here are a couple of pictures from Royal Gambit - the first production to utilize the new COM128 space.  The show runs Nov. 5-6 at 8:00pm and Nov. 6-7 at 3:00pm.  Call the box office for tickets at 757.352.4245. Come see a performance of Royal Gambit this weekend and check it out! 

Cast and Crew of Royal Gambit

Tim Stanlake and Megan Friberg in Royal Gambit

November 4, 2010

Royal Gambit Runs One More Weekend

Second-Stage Telling of Historical Tale

By Rachel Judy

The tale of England's King Henry VIII and his six wives is familiar to even casual students of history. While Henry's perspective is familiar, it is his six wives who take center stage for Regent University's Second Stage production, Royal Gambit, which premiered on Friday, Oct. 29.

In his quest for a male heir to secure his family's succession on the throne, the king sifted through his wives looking for one who would produce an heir. The fate of the women is perhaps best described in the rhyme taught to English schoolchildren: "divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived."

In Regent's production, the collective stories of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Katarina of Aragon, Anna of Cleves, Kate Parr and Kathryn Howard are portrayed by a combination of undergraduate and graduate theater students.

As the wives' collective story unfolds, it becomes a compelling metaphor for the transformation of civilization's age of faith to the age of reason and the central moral issues involved in that change.

"It's interesting because the play is not just a historical drama, but makes Henry the prototype for mankind as he journeys through various ages of thought," explained Christopher Graham, the play's director and also a 2009 graduate of Regent's MFA Theatre program. "This play has 500 years of drama, comedy, philosophy, theology and history all rolled into about two hours."

"The six women, their lives and unfortunate deaths, make up the meat of the story," Graham added. "Each has her own struggle as she attempts to survive in a world revolving around the willful king. Some survive better than others."

While providing a look at the wives and their stories, Royal Gambit challenges the audience to consider God's existence, His power and His relationship with man.

The play runs from Oct. 29-31 and Nov. 4-7.

Purchase tickets at the Regent Box Office.