Hello. My name is Che’Rae. And… I am a Pippa-holic….Hi Che’Rae!
I recently realized that I’m addicted to Pippin by Stephen Schwartz. I see every single production that I come across, in Los Angeles and otherwise. I don’t care if it is part of UCLA’s Reprise series, The Mark Taper Forum’s season or at a local high school. I can’t help it! After all, they’ve got magic to do! Just for you!
I have asked myself the question many times-Why must I see this show no matter who produces it or how poor the quality may be? Basically they could throw poo on the show and I would still give it a standing ovation. I realize now that I must seek help with this addiction or it could effect me for the rest of my life!
It turns out that the first step in my recovery is admitting that I have a problem. That is the easy part-I admit it! The next 12 steps were a lot harder. I even got a sponsor. It turns out that one of the steps is reaching into my past and discovering the deep rooted reasons that I have to see Pippin. As I reached back, a suppressed memory was revealed. When I was in Jr. High School, I was invited to see a production of Pippin by one of my best friends, Zirka Keske, who was an inspiring dancer. In the dark recesses of my mind, I could barely make out flashes of the brightly colored costumes, sexy dancers, and fabulous music. There was slight of hand, a duck puppet, and people of all ages in the show! There were even half naked cute boys, especially the one who played Pippin! In fact, I think I might have kissed him after the show at the cast and crew party as I hung out with Zirka who was just fabulous in the chorus!
This early memory of Pippin, might explain where the roots of my addiction lie. Afterall, Pippin is not only for all ages, but it has characters of all ages, ranging from 10 years old to 60. Everyone can relate to the story, because it has a fairytale structure and it has a sense of humor about itself. The music is unforgettable and timeless, a true masterpiece by the author of Godspell and Wicked. The title song “We’ve Got Magic to Do” symbolizes what I think the theatre is all about-the ability to transport the audience to magical places just for them.
We’ve got magic to you, just for you
We’ve got miracle plays to play
We’ve got parts to perform, hears to warm
Kings and things to take by storm
As we go along our way
Pippin’s solo “Corner of the Sky” has been done to death at every musical theater audition in the country, but it has a special place in my heart as an anthem to self awareness, prosperity and growth.
Rivers belong where they can ramble
Eagles belong where they can fly
I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free
Got to find my corner of the sky
The entire concept of the show hinges on the actors as “players” which is a nice echo to Shakespeare’s famous idea that “All the world is a stage and we are merely players”. But by far the most poignant part of the script is when Pippin decides that he wants his life to be “something more than long” and is offered the chance to make a real difference in the world if he sacrifices himself by jumping into a pit of fire. Pippin discovers in that moment that life is to be shared with someone you love and who loves you, and does not necessarily need to be “extraordinary” to be fulfilling.
Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Deaf West’s version of Pippin at the Mark Taper Forum. Who would have thought that the added layer of ASL would resonate with me so much? It makes perfect sense actually-what better thing to take away from Pippin in the end but his voice? The concept of two Pippins, one deaf and one hearing, allowed for Pippin to have moments where his inner conflict was literalized. In the end, this production of Pippin fed my addiction because it is everything that I feel theatre should be-magical, sexy, wildly entertaining, and in the end, it gives us something to think about.
Written by Che’Rae Adams for NOHOARTSDISTRICT.COM March 2009
Public speaking makes me want to pee…
I drove down to Cal State Fullerton last week to speak on a panel at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. I was on a panel with a colleague of mine, Ann-Giselle Spiegler, who is a “first call” director for new plays. She is smart, witty, eloquent, and full of life. It makes perfect sense to me why she would be on a panel. However, why I am asked to sit on panels eludes me. I am always nervous, sweating even, terrified that I will have little if nothing to say. And I always have to pee right before the panel starts, why is that? Plus, I have no witty repartee and nothing that comes out of my mouth is planned, rehearsed, or lets face it, even thought about. It’s not that I don’t want to be there, it’s just that by the time the dreaded day arrives, I have barely had time to eat breakfast that morning, let alone prepare for the panel. On the way down to Fullerton, I am feeling guilt ridden about my perpetual state of unprepared-ness, and I am praying to God to let me get through the panel without incident.
This particular panel was on “directing new plays” which is something that I have a lot of experience doing. However, I have absolutely no idea how to articulate that experience into any kind of cohesive sentence. Thankfully Ann started the conversation, which I was then able to dove-tail off of. As usual, Ann spoke eloquently about directing new plays and working with the writer in the room. She expressed her passion for the work she does, and explained her process with ease.
“There is no way I can do that!” I thought silently to myself. I wonder if this is a common thing? Do other artists have this affliction or is it just me? I find it nearly impossible to explain how I work or what I do in a rehearsal room. Partly because I think it changes depending on the play, the playwright, the cast, the material, etc. The work is almost always instinctual, there is no plan really, no rhyme or reason to the process, but more of a reaction to what is happening in the room. Oh shit! Ann is done speaking and it’s my turn to speak…here goes nothing!
After I stumbled over my words, and recited some sort of basic idea of what a director does in a rehearsal room, Ann suggested that we open up the room to questions for the panel. Ah ha! At last! Questions are good-I can handle those! Then, out of nowhere, a sudden stroke of panic hit me! “What if I don’t know the answers to the questions” I thought to myself. Once again, thank God Ann was there to make the question and answer section go a lot smoother. There was one question however, that resonated with me-it came from an older woman who was having her play produced at the festival for the first time. Her question was rather simple-“How do I get my plays produced?” Hmmmmm, that is a good question. Based on my blank look, Ann jumped in and attempted to answer her, while I was having a sort of surreal flashback…
Post Traumatic Theatre Disorder…
I suddenly flashed to almost 16 years ago when I and some other colleagues founded and ran a small theatre company in the valley dedicated to producing new work. Some of the playwrights that I still work with today were produced in that theatre back in the early 90’s. Talented local writers like Jon Bastian, Tim Toyama, Ken Hanes, Dale Griffiths Stamos, Leon Martel, and more. Despite the risk of producing new work, we supported their work. Our passion kept us going and we pushed through the lean times and made sure those controversial shows were mounted no matter what! We even got good reviews! Eventually The Road Theatre Company grew into one of the best 99 seat theatres in Los Angeles. And then it hit me-could it be true that I have known and worked with these writers for over 15 years now?
I thought about the upcoming production that my current theatre company, The Syzygy Theatre Company, is scheduled to produce. Written by Jon Bastian, Syzygy and the Los Angeles Writers Center have been developing this 6 hour epic for over 2 years now. And then it hit me-could it be true that Jon and I have maintained a relationship for over 15 years? Does that really happen in Hollywood? I mean who does that? Maybe that is what happens when you find your tribe? I quickly realized what the answer to the question might be….
Finding Your Tribe…
When it was my turn to reply, I was able to say without any doubt, “I think it is about the relationships that you form early on in your career that build a firm foundation for friendship, trust, and like mindedness.” The students looked at my blankly. I continued, “In other words, work with people that have an investment in you, in your talent, your friendship, and your success. Playwrights-find a director who believes in your work and let them champion it. After all, it is directors who push new work into production because of their passion for the writer and the piece. Without the director’s passion, new American plays might not get produced!” They looked confused, but my spark was ignited, and now I could not stop talking! “Plays are not to be hung on Museum walls, they should reflect the concerns of the present time!” Even I was shocked by how passionate I was becoming, but now I was on a roll! “Write about what concerns you! Write to discover the truth! Then, find someone who believes the same things you do and partner with them. Find your tribe. You are the future of the American Theatre!” Ok, even I knew I was getting carried away, so I turned the conversation back over to Ann.
After a slight pause, one of the student writers raised his hand and asked “but what if I don’t know any directors?” I thought about this question for a moment and then said with confidence, “Well, now you know us.” After the panel was over, the student came up and asked for my card. I handed it to him knowing that even though I barely have time to eat breakfast, I would read his play.
written by Che’Rae Adams for NOHOARTSDISTRICT.COM March 2009