‘Wig Out!’ At Muhlenberg

Allentown, PA — Muhlenberg College takes a stroll down the runway and into drag ball culture, as the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department presents Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Wig Out!,” March 30 – April 2. Rarely produced since its 2008 premiere, “Wig Out!” offers an outlandish and high-style glimpse into the tight-knit world of Harlem drag balls. Muhlenberg theater professor Troy Dwyer directs.

“I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like this on our stage,” Dwyer says. “It’s going to be an extremity of design — and a leap-of-faith undertaking for the department. It’s also an opportunity to accommodate our population of truly gifted students of color, who aren’t just actors, but a variety of theater-making artists.”

“Wig Out!” focuses on the intense personal connections of  “houses,” the family units at the heart of drag culture — families that typically include a mother, a father, and a group of “children,” while also upending traditional nuclear family roles in favor of something richer and more complex. At the core of “Wig Out!” is the fictional House of Light, with mother Rey-Rey (Cameron Silliman) and father Lucian (Alan Mendez).

“’Wig Out!’ is a quick Alice in Wonderland trip into this topsy-turvy world that’s nothing like ours but very much like ours,” McCraney says. “One of my professors who saw the original run said, ‘I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.’”

Drag balls trace their roots to Harlem in the 1860s, flourishing during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s. Today’s drag ball culture took shape in the 1960s, as black drag queens began hosting predominantly black drag events. In 1990, the drag scene achieved mainstream recognition with the release of the documentary film “Paris Is Burning,” along with pop star Madonna’s drag-inspired hit “Vogue.” The balls themselves are extravagant competitions, in which contestants “walk” and are judged on a specific set of criteria, including the “realness” of their drag, their movement and dance abilities, and their fashion choices.

“What I think is so vital about ‘Wig Out!’ is that it not only makes visible sides of queer culture that aren’t typically part of mainstream culture,” Dwyer says. “It shines a more inclusive light than, say ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ which is about the extent of many people’s familiarity with drag culture.”

“Wig Out!” was first produced at the Off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre in New York City, and the same year at the Royal Court Theatre in London. It has been fully produced only once since, in any venue.

Playwright McCraney’s film “Moonlight” received 2017 Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was written by McCraney and director Barry Jenkins, based on McCraney’s unpublished semi-autobiographical play. McCraney was also recently appointed chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, beginning in July. His plays have been produced by Steppenwolf Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, among others.

McCraney got together with the Muhlenberg production’s cast and creative team in February, via Skype. He shared some insights, answered questions, and engaged with the actors’ responses to the play.

Dwyer has surrounded himself with an accomplished creative team — which he says has somewhat allayed his concerns as a white director about taking artistic leadership of this project, in which most of the characters are people of color.

“What feels risky to me is making sure my white male privilege doesn’t upstage the heart of the story,” Dwyer says. “I was committed to having the story told, thinking it was probably okay for me to be a creative leader, but not by myself. I’m so fortunate to have some really brilliant, passionate artists of color around me, who are significant creative leaders on the piece.”

The production team includes managing dramaturg Dr. Sharrell Luckett, a Muhlenberg theater professor; accomplished costume designer Andy Jean; and Broadway wig and hair designer Bobbie Zlotnik. Samuel Antonio Reyes, who choreographed last summer’s acclaimed Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre production of “In the Heights,” and a veteran of the ballroom scene himself, has created the show’s extensive choreography.

The show also features makeup design by Joe Dulude II, who designed make-up for the Tony Award-winning Broadway productions of “Wicked” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Dulude is the Baker Artist-in-Residence for the 2016-17 academic year, thanks to a grant from the Dexter F. & Dorothy H. Baker Foundation. He says his own involvement in the drag scene heavily influences his approach to the work.

“My drag is often about playing with the masculine and feminine,” Dulude says. “Since my own experiences in drag and working with other drag queens is so diverse, that’s what I’m bringing to the show: not just one style of drag but a combination of styles.”

Muhlenberg Junior Evan Brooks, who plays Ms. Nina/Wilson, one of the children of the House of Light, says the production is a vital performance opportunity for theater students at Muhlenberg.

“At this moment in our nation’s history, being able to participate in this production is nothing less than a gift,” Brooks says. “I think it’s essential to provide theatrical and educational experiences for under-represented artists, who aren’t acknowledged in the same way as majority-identifying students — and that’s what the production is doing.”

Dwyer says the show’s second act will feature a drag ball performance for which audience members will be invited onstage to serve as the crowd for the ball. The production also will feature a lobby display about the history of drag, coordinated by Luckett, and a uniquely interactive intermission.

“We want the audience to leave with an appreciation for drag culture, in all its spectacular diversity,” Dwyer says. “The mainstream gets an exceptionally narrow version of queer culture, when they get any version at all — and often it comes at the expense of other, more marginalized versions. We want to broaden their horizons a bit.”

“Wig Out!” plays March 30 – April 2. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Regular admission tickets are $15. Tickets for youth and LVAIC students and staff are $8. The production is recommended for mature audiences.

Tickets and information are available online at muhlenberg.edu/theatre or by phone at 484-664-3333. Performances are in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg College is a highly selective, private, four-year residential college located in Allentown, Pa., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, sciences, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.

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‘New Visions’ Directors’ Festival At Muhlenberg‏

Allentown, PA – An evening of visionary experimental theater will be on display in Muhlenberg College’s “New Visions” Directors’ Festival, Feb. 24-28. The festival features plays directed by three gifted senior directing students in the College’s Department of Theatre & Dance.

Each of the three one-act plays offers a fresh perspective on contemporary social issues: “Terrible Beautiful Bodies,” written by Muhlenberg alumni Ben Nassau ’15 and Moriah Benjoseph ’15 and directed by Amanda Nell ’16; “Hello Out There,” written by William Saroyan and directed by Philip Kaufman ’16; and “The Exception and the Rule,” written by Bertolt Brecht and directed by Lauren Goldberger ’16.

“Terrible Beautiful Bodies” asks important questions about the bodies we inhabit, Nell says, and examines the shape and stigma that is often attached to the human form. The play consists of vignettes and monologues taken from real interviews about how people view their bodies.

“I am looking to create a very collaborative environment within my cast, where each actor feels supported and can have their voices heard,” Nell says. “I’ve gotten the sense that people don’t have the best relationship with their bodies, and it is important that we bring this to light in a public setting.”

“Hello Out There” tells the story of a professional gambler who is falsely accused of rape and held in a backwater Texas jail cell. While in custody, he meets the love of his life — but his accuser’s husband is armed, furious, and on his way.

“My plan is to direct a political commentary on the current environment of our country, specifically addressing black lives,” Kaufman says. “I have been working with professors and the Black Student Association on campus in order to make a contribution through this play to the community’s ongoing dialogue.”

German playwright Bertolt Brecht explores issues of class warfare and privilege in “The Exception and the Rule” through the grimly ironic story of a merchant and his porter, who find misfortune on a journey across the desert. The play was originally part of the Lehrstücke cycle, a series of plays used to educate the German middle class about oppression and classism in the 1930s.

“I’m hoping to look at interactions between social classes that happen around us all the time, but go unnoticed,” Goldberger says. “We become numb to these interactions, and I want to bring out how they are relevant in everyday life.”

“Each piece in this year’s festival addresses contemporary issues that are relevant in the community,” says Charles Richter, who serves as director of Muhlenberg’s theatre program and the festival’s artistic director. “The plays are each very different in form, and each has so much to offer in terms of performance experience for the cast and community content for the audiences.”

Performances of “New Visions” are Feb. 24-28. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for LVAIC students. Each “New Visions” performance includes all three short plays. Tickets can be purchased online at muhlenberg.edu/theatreanddance or by phone at 484-664-3333. Performances are in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. For mature audiences.

More People Moving Into Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Region Than Out

Locator map of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metro...

Locator map of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metropolitan Statistical Area in the northeastern part of the of . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

PLAINS TOWNSHIP, PA — More people are moving into the region than leaving.

Migration into Luzerne and Lackawanna counties is on the rise and much of the immigration is coming from New York, New Jersey and elsewhere in Pennsylvania, according to the 2014 Indicators Report from the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development at Wilkes University.

The report, unveiled Thursday morning to business and civic leaders who filled the convention center at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, analyzed 120 indicators in areas such as demographics, population and migration, jobs and the economy. It was the ninth year for the event, said Teri Ooms, executive director of the institute.

Ooms highlighted the 2010 Census, which shows a growing population for the first time since the 1950s. Some are from the low- to moderate-income demographic and some earn a middle- to upper-middle income, the report showed.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/more-people-moving-into-region-than-out-1.1690955

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Census: Asians Fastest-Growing Group In Berks

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Berks County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An increase of Asians in Berks County is now outpacing a persistently booming growth of Latinos while the number of non-Latino whites has decreased.

With a growth rate of 8.7 percent between the April 1, 2010, Census and estimates taken July 1, 2012, Asians were the fastest growing minority nationwide and in Berks, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Click here for charts showing population growth in Berks County, Pennsylvania and the nation

Berks reflects long-standing state and national trends of rapid growth among Asians and Latinos.

Read more:  http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=484432