‘The Cherry Orchard’ At Muhlenberg

ALLENTOWN, PA — Anton Chekhov’s prescient drama “The Cherry Orchard” will soon take the stage at Muhlenberg College, illuminating the class struggles that permeated early 20th century Russia — which, in turn, illuminate the class struggles of today.

“‘The Cherry Orchard’ captures the full complexity of progress and what it means to live through changing times,” says director and Muhlenberg theater faculty member Matthew Moore. “It is at the same time ordinary and supremely poetic.”

The Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department will present “The Cherry Orchard,” in a new version by American playwright Stephen Karam, in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, April 26-29.

“I think the play is ultimately about the human condition and our resilience in the face of life’s disappointments,” says Holly Cate, another theater faculty member, who plays the role of Lyubov Ranevskaya.

As Russia hurtles toward revolution at the start of the 20th century, a widowed aristocrat returns home after years abroad to her family’s estate, which is on the verge of financial ruin. Faced with the prospect of losing their beautiful cherry orchard and the world it seemed to represent, she and her brother cast about for a path forward — but they are too deeply immersed in memories and lost dreams of their youth to take control of their shifting fortunes.

A bittersweet story of love, loss, and social change, Chekhov’s last play offers a rich tapestry of characters, interwoven with poignant nostalgia and wry commentary on a society on the brink of upheaval.

“Chekhov plainly foresaw the coming revolution,” Moore says. “His characters encounter the coming change with different attitudes — some with naive optimism, some with an entrepreneurial spirit, some in mourning.”

Moore believes the anxieties at the heart of this play are contemporary.

“This feels like today’s America in many respects,” Moore says. “It’s hard to know if things are getting better or if everything’s going to hell in a handbasket. Progress and catastrophe seem intertwined.”

One of Russia’s best-known playwrights, Chekhov wrote “The Cherry Orchard in 1903. It premiered in Moscow the following year, after his death, helmed by renowned director and theatrical innovator Konstantin Stanislavski.

Chekhov pioneered theatrical naturalism — having his actors perform the everyday instead of the fantastic; the Russian public was used to romanticism, in which a more fantastical style of performance was much more common. Chekhov wanted audiences to experience honesty and realism when they came to the theater.

“The idea that nothing happens in Chekhov’s plays is totally false. Everything happens,” says Cate. “It’s life onstage. Affairs begin and end, familial relationships are torn and then repaired, people die, they are mourned, and communities rebuild.”

While Chekhov incorporated elements of his own life into all of his work, “The Cherry Orchard” is his most autobiographical play. When he was a teenager, his family’s beloved cherry orchard was cut down — his mother was tricked by contractors into selling the family territory.

“Every day in rehearsal you discover something true about the play that you didn’t know,” Moore says. “There’s no imagining circumstances here, only excavating truths.”

The production uses a celebrated new version by award-winning playwright Stephen Karam, written in an American vernacular and style, which debuted last year on Broadway. This is the first collegiate production of Karam’s adaptation.

“It’s so much funnier and more alive in the body than it is on the page,” Cate says. “I hope people understand how amazing it is that we are able to work with this new version.”

Karam won a Tony Award for Best Play for “The Humans” in 2016 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for “The Humans” and “Sons of the Prophet.”

“‘The Cherry Orchard’ deserves a fresh presentation,” says Cate. “We are very lucky to be able to give it new life.”

“The Cherry Orchard” runs April 26-29. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Regular admission tickets are $15. Tickets for youth and LVAIC students and staff are $8.

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

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‘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.

‘Moving Stories’ At Muhlenberg College, Nov. 10-12

‘Moving Stories’ dance concert showcases innovative work by student choreographers in a nationally acclaimed program

 

Dance performance Nov. 10-12 displays talent of nine young choreographers and faculty member Teresa VanDenend Sorge, with more than 60 dancers

 

Allentown, PA — Muhlenberg College dancers tell their stories through movement, as the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department presents “Moving Stories,” a showcase for dance works created by emerging choreographers, Nov. 10-12 in the College’s Baker Theatre.

 

Artistic Director Megan Flynn says the program represents a diverse and sophisticated approach to dance-making.

 

“Drawing from their liberal arts education, the choreographers have created innovative dances that deeply examine and illuminate the human experience,” Flynn says.
The concert will showcase the work of nine student choreographers as well as guest choreographer and faculty member Teresa VanDenend Sorge. It will feature more than 60 dancers from the department’s dance program, which is among the most highly regarded programs of its kind. The concert features costume and lighting designs by the department’s acclaimed professional staff.

 

The ten original dances include contemporary jazz, tap, modern, and hip-hop infused works that investigate, among other things, memory and nostalgia, the cycle of life, the concept of waiting, and the experience of distrust. Choreographers have drawn inspiration from such sources as their dreams, their interpersonal relationships, and experiences abroad.

 

Choreographer Marissa Finkelstein ’18 worked with her cast throughout the rehearsal process, pulling from the dancers’ own memories to create a personal narrative behind the movement.

 

“Through discussions of our experiences, my cast and I have been working to build a collective memory,” Finkelstein says. “The dancers will fade in and out of this collective memory throughout the piece.”

 

“Moving Stories” runs Nov. 10-12 in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

 
Performances are Thursday and Friday, Nov. 10-11, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 12, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for patrons 17 and under, and $8 for students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges.  For groups of 15 or more, tickets are $13. Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or http://www.muhlenberg.edu/dance.

‘In The Heights’ Brings Latin Rhythms, Stories To Muhlenberg Summer Stage

Allentown, PA — Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights” — the precursor to his blockbuster Broadway hit “Hamilton” — runs July 13-31 as the second production of the Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre season.  The show tells a story that many of its cast hold close to their hearts: the story of families and cultures that have been transplanted from far away.

Many of the show’s 20 actors and dancers can tell you a story about their families coming to the mainland United States from Puerto Rico, or Cuba, or the Dominican Republic. For some, that story is not so long in the past. Wilma Rivera, for example, is a professional actress, a Muhlenberg College alumna, and a first-generation American. She says “In the Heights” is the story of her family.

“When I saw ‘In the Heights’ on Broadway, there was this moment when the music of the first number started, and it captured so beautifully the experience of what it’s like to be a Latino,” says Rivera, who plays Camila. “It’s that struggle to maintain an identity and also to assimilate — especially in New York City.”

“In the Heights” was a hit when it opened in 2008, running more than a thousand performances and bringing its composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, to the attention of theatergoers. Miranda’s innovative score melded the rhymes and rhythms of hip-hop with the Latin-style music of salsa and merengue, and, together with Quiara Alegría Hudes’ book, captured the sights, sounds and stories of the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.

The show won the Tony Award for Best Musical and was short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize the following year. Miranda also won the Tony for Best Score. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and musical director Alex Lacamoire also won Tony Awards for their Latin- and hip-hop-inflected choreography and orchestrations. The three would reunite with director Thomas Kail to create “Hamilton.”

“Miranda is deeply versed in ’90s hip-hop,” says James Peck, who directs the production for Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre. “He picks up beats and rhythm structures and song structures from hip-hop, and he incorporates salsa, merengue, and other Latin styles — but he’s also a musical theatre fanboy from the age of five. The results are really a musical tour-de-force.”

MSMT’s production features choreography by Samuel Antonio Reyes and musical direction by Ed Bara. John Raley designed the set, Lex Gurst designed costumes, John McKernon designed lights, and Patrick Moren designed sound.

Peck credits choreographer Reyes as a driving force behind bringing the show to the MSMT stage.

“Sammy is a hip-hop dancer, a theater artist, and a Puerto Rican. He has a deep understanding of the cultural dynamics at work in this piece,” Peck says. “I wouldn’t have had the temerity to the play without him. It was Sammy saying, ‘I’ve got to do “In the Heights”‘ that made it come together.”

 “In the Heights” tells the universal story of a vibrant community in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood — a place where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind.

Miranda himself was born in Washington Heights, and grew up in Linwood, one neighborhood over. His parents had moved to New York from Puerto Rico, and every summer, he visited his grandparents back on the island.

Wilma Rivera’s classmate at Muhlenberg, Gabe Martínez, also remembers feeling like he was watching his own family’s history on stage when he first saw “In the Heights.” Martínez saw the show for the first time a year to the day after his grandmother passed away.

“The actress who played Abuela Claudia was the spitting image of my abuela,” says Martínez, who stars as Usnavi, the role that Miranda played on Broadway. “As soon as she walked out on stage, my father and I started weeping. We were at the matinee; I bought the cast recording on the way home and had it memorized by the time I went to bed.”

Martínez’s grandparents moved from Puerto Rico to New York in the 1940s, shortly after his grandfather returned from service in World War II.

“They wrote to each other every day, planning their move to New York, the American dream,” Martínez says. “When the war was over, he hadn’t been home a week when they bought a plane ticket and headed to the Bronx.”

Rivera has a similar connection to the material. Her father immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the early 1970s. Her mother was born in East Harlem, but moved to Puerto Rico as a small child. Both came from poverty, she says. Her mother was the only one in her family to go to college. When Rivera went off to Muhlenberg to study acting, she was the first in her family to attend college on the mainland — and, like Nina in “In the Heights,” she almost gave it up after her freshman year. Department chair Charles Richter talked her into staying.

“‘We need you here,’ he told me.”

Rivera and Martínez were the only two Latino students in the theater program at the time. Neither of them ever had the chance before now to play a Latino character on the Muhlenberg stage — and the opportunity is what drew them back. Both of them have worked steadily as actors since graduating — Rivera in 2009, and Martínez in 2010 — but they have had to be flexible in order to do it.

“I’ve spent my entire professional career praying to see a casting call saying ‘ethnically ambiguous — slash — Latino,'” Martínez says. “We were the only two Latino kids in our class, and now there are lots of kids, and this is their first professional gig, and we’re just so happy for them to start out this way, that these kids are having this opportunity.”

Rivera echoes his enthusiasm.

“This department has really embraced students of color and encouraged their talents, and really raised them up,” she says. “I’m very proud of this college and to be an alumna of this college, and I just hope it continues to grow.”

Martínez and Rivera’s deep connection to “In the Heights” is a common thread through the entire cast, Peck says.

“When people have a chance to be part of a show that speaks to their own experience, they make a significant personal investment in that show,” he says. “It’s rare that these stories get told, and when people have the chance to be a part of these stories, they grab onto that chance.”

In fact, Rivera’s connection to the show runs so deep that she got a tattoo of one of its lyrics, “Paciencia y fe,” a song sung by Abuela Claudia. The lyric reminds her of her own abuela, who died in January.

“It’s heartbreaking to lose that matriarch of a Latin family,” Rivera says. “She’s the stone and we’re all the ripples of what she leaves behind. It holds weight, I think, in this world, that we remember who we are and where we’re from. Gabe and I are very lucky that we have that image of our parents and remember the struggle.”

The actor who plays Abuela Claudia in the production — jazz vocalist, scholar and activist Roberta Meek — agrees. Meek had only one grandparent growing up, and ike Abuela Claudia — and like Rivera and Martínez’s abuelas — she was the keeper of the family’s stories.

“My grandmother was literally the historian of the family,” Meek says. “Her father was born into slavery, and he had been searching for his mother ever since. My grandmother was the griot,” the person who maintains the oral history tradition in many West African cultures. “You came to her for school.”

“In the Heights” is Meek’s first musical theater performance, although she has been performing as a jazz vocalist in the Lehigh Valley for more than 20 years. She also contributed stories and songs to the Touchstone Theatre project “Another River Flows: a Celebration of the Lehigh Valley Black Experience.”

One of the things that “In the Heights” gets right, Rivera says, is the sabor — the flavor of Latin culture and of the Washington Heights community.

“This show is packed full of sabor,” she says.

Some of that flavor is visual; much of it comes from the rhythm and choreographic energy that choreographer Samuel Reyes has brought to the project.

“The blend of salsa, hip-hop and contemporary movement is very exciting for me as a choreographer — and we have found such a dynamic, crazy talented cast,” Reyes says. “This show is going to punch a hole in the wall, both visually and emotionally. I’m just so damn proud to be part of it.”

“In the Heights” plays July 13-31 at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre. Performances take place in the Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Ticket prices for the first four performances are $33 regular admission; seniors, $29; students and children, $18. Prices for the rest of the run are $39 regular admission; seniors, $36; students and children, $20.

Tickets and information are available at http://www.muhlenberg.edu/smt or 484-664-3333.

‘Gypsy’ Kicks Off Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre Season, June 15 – July 3‏

Allentown, PA — Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre’s 2016 season will feature some familiar faces for fans of last summer’s “Hello, Dolly!” Mia Scarpa and Jarrod Yuskauskas return this summer for “Gypsy,” the beloved musical the New York Times calls “the greatest of all American musicals.” The show runs June 15 through July 3.

“Gypsy” kicks off a summer season that will also feature the 2008 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, “In the Heights,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer of the current Broadway smash “Hamilton,” playing July 13-31. The season also features the world premiere family musical “Growl!” an irreverent adaptation of the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, created by the theatre company Doppelskope. “Growl!” plays June 29 through July 30.

Arguably one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, “Gypsy” adapts burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee’s sensational autobiography into a sultry, campy tour-de-force about show business, ambition, and motherhood. The score, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, features such classics as “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Together Wherever We Go.”

Mia Scarpa returns to the MSMT stage to play Mama Rose, the most notorious of all stage moms, after an acclaimed run in the title role of last summer’s “Hello, Dolly!” She plays opposite Jarrod Yuskauskas in the role of Herbie. Last summer, The Press Newspapers noted that “the repartee between Scarpa and Yuskauskas is priceless.”

In the starring role of Louise — based on Gypsy Rose Lee herself — recent Muhlenberg graduate Lillian Pritchard takes the stage following a turn as Roxie Hart in this season’s sold-out run of “Chicago” on the Muhlenberg stage.

The production also features MSMT mainstay Neil Hever, returning to the role of Pop that he first played in the 1993 MSMT production of the show.

Also featured in the cast are six young actors from the Lehigh Valley Community: Jenna Seasholtz as Baby June; Anna Edwards as Baby Louise: and ensemble members Elijah Albert-Stein, Aaron Finkle, Robert Pierno, and Robert Stinner.

“Gypsy” also reunites the production team from “Hello, Dolly!” — director Charles Richter, choreographer Karen Dearborn, and musical director Michael Schnack. Richter, the founding artistic director of the Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre, is in his 36th season with the festival.

Audio Description and Open Captioning will be available at the Sunday, June 19 performance of “Gypsy.” Call 484-664-3087 for tickets in the accessible section of this performance. Open Captioning displays lyrics and dialogue via electronic text display visible to the side of the stage, for the benefit of patrons with hearing loss. Audio Description uses the natural pauses in the play to provide a narrative that translates the visual image into an audible form for patrons who are blind or low-vision. Patrons use headsets to hear the audio description.

“Gypsy” runs June 15 – July 3; “In the Heights” runs July 13-31. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Both productions are in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance.

Ticket prices for both “Gypsy” and “In the Heights” are as follows. For the first four performances: $33 regular admission; seniors, $29; students and children, $18. For the remaining 11 performances: $39 regular admission; seniors, $36; students and children, $20. Subscriptions to both shows are available.

“Growl!” runs June 29 through July 30 in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance. Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m, and Saturday at 10 a.m. only. All tickets to “Growl!” are $10 for June performances and $12 for July performances.

Tickets and information are available at www.muhlenberg.edu/SMT or 484-664-3333.

‘Passion Play’ At Muhlenberg College, March 31 – April 3‏

Allentown, PA – For more than a millennium, the Bible has been the source of some of the richest veins of theatrical history — a tradition that playwright Sarah Ruhl explores in depth in her 2008 drama “Passion Play.” The play opens March 31 at Muhlenberg College.

“It’s a play about the power of theatricality,” says Muhlenberg theater professor Beth Schachter, who directs the production. “It’s an opportunity to enjoy the ways in which the theatre process can be both funny and an expression of faith — of all sorts — within larger themes of love and forgiveness.”

“Passion Play” plays March 31 through April 3 in the college’s Baker Theatre. Tickets and information are available at muhlenberg.edu/theatre and at 484-664-3333.

Hailed by New Yorker magazine theater critic John Lahr as “extraordinary,” “bold,” and “inventive,” “Passion Play” takes us behind the scenes of three communities attempting to stage the death and resurrection of Christ. From Queen Elizabeth’s England to Hitler’s Germany to Reagan’s America, Ruhl’s exploration of devotion takes a humorous yet unsettling journey filled with lust, whimsy, and a lot of fish.

Ruhl dramatizes a community of players rehearsing their annual staging of the Easter Passion in three different eras: 1575 northern England, just before Queen Elizabeth outlaws the ritual; 1934 Oberammergau, Bavaria, as Hitler is rising to power; and Spearfish, South Dakota, from the late 1960s through Reagan’s presidency. In each era, the players grapple in different ways with the transformative nature of art — and politics are never far in the background.

The production itself is a work of fiction, and not a passion play — but the audience does see segments of the passion story performed in each of the three historical eras, and Schachter says the play approaches the story of the passion with “a certain reverence, as a story that holds a sublime significance for many of the characters.”

Schachter says that, for her, the play’s most interesting question has to do with the role of the individual in determining the course of history — “the responsibility of everyday people.” In 1930s Germany, for example, we see the choices of individuals shaping Hitler’s rise to power, as his fascist ideology creeps up through the population.

“People look for a leader who reassures them and tells them everything is going to be all right,” she says. “And those choices have palpable consequences — consequences that I think are worth examining in the present moment in our own history.”

The production features scenic design by Stephan Moravski, costume design by Liene Dobraja, and lighting design by Gertjan Houben. Muhlenberg senior Alan Mendez serves as musical director and musical dramaturg, and he has found appropriate popular music from each era to accompany the action. Senior Patrick Moren designs sound.

Performances of “Passion Play” are March 31 through April 3: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for students. The production is intended for mature audiences. Performances are in the Baker Theatre in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance at Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 and http://www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre

‘Moving Stories’ At Muhlenberg College‏

Allentown, PA  — Muhlenberg College dancers tell their stories through movement, as the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department presents “Moving Stories,” a showcase for dance works created by emerging choreographers, Nov. 12-14 in the College’s Baker Theatre.

Artistic director Karen Dearborn says the 10 choreographers selected for the program have created sophisticated and innovative dances, informed by their liberal arts education, and intended to probe and illuminate the human experience.

The concert will showcase over 60 dancers from the department’s dance program, which is among the most highly regarded programs of its kind. The concert features costume and lighting designs by the department’s acclaimed professional staff.

The ten original dances include contemporary jazz, pointe, and modern works that investigate gender norms, addiction, body image, our sense of time, and trust as a struggle rather than a surrender. Everything from books and superheroes to interpersonal relationships and experiences abroad struck inspiration for the choreographers.

The Mainstage performance series is produced by Muhlenberg College’s acclaimed Theatre & Dance Department, The Princeton Review consistently ranks Muhlenberg’s production program in the top 20 in the nation, including a No. 6 ranking in its current college guide. The Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theatre and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States.

“Moving Stories” runs Nov. 12-14 in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Performances are Thursday and Friday, Nov. 12-13, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 14, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for patrons 17 and under, and $8 for students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges. For groups of 15 or more, tickets are $13.

Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or http://www/muhlenberg.edu/dance.

To arrange an interview or photo opportunity with Karen Dearborn or any of the student choreographers, please contact Scott Snyder, at 484-664-3693 or scottsnyder@muhlenberg.edu.

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.

‘Dance Emerge’ At Muhlenberg College

Allentown, PA — Muhlenberg College dancers tell their stories through movement, as the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department presents “Dance Emerge,” a showcase for dance works created by emerging choreographers, April 16-18 in the College’s Baker Theatre. Jeffrey Peterson is the artistic director for the concert.

“Choreographers in this year’s ‘Dance Emerge’ are honoring their own unique voices as they create personal dances which celebrate the joys of life and unearth the depths of their souls,” Peterson says. “The journey for the audience will undoubtedly juxtapose the human experience with quirky character-driven studies and more intimate work — all blending physical skill with choreographic imagination.”

“Dance Emerge” will showcase 12 choreographers and 60 dancers from the department’s dance program, which is among the most highly regarded programs of its kind. The concert features costume and lighting designs by the department’s acclaimed professional staff.

The 12 original dances include contemporary jazz, dance theater, and modern works that investigate such topics as platonic love, the grieving process, and the individual vs. the whole. Choreographers drew inspiration from such diverse sources as dance history, travel, personal relationships, and college experiences.

Muhlenberg College’s Theatre & Dance Department offers one of the top-rated college performance programs in the county, according to the Princeton Review rankings.  Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. It has been named annually among The Fiske Guide to Colleges’ top 20 small college programs in the United States, and the American College Dance Festival Association has consistently recognized dances premiered on the Muhlenberg stage for excellence in choreography and performance.

“Dance Emerge” runs April 16-18 in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Performances are April 16-18: Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 12, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for patrons 17 and under, and $8 for students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges.

Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or muhlenberg.edu/dance.

‘Moving Stories’ Dance Concert Showcases Innovative Work By Student Choreographers In Muhlenberg’s Nationally Acclaimed Program

Logo of Muhlenberg College

Logo of Muhlenberg College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown, PAMuhlenberg College dancers tell their stories through movement, as the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department presents “Moving Stories,” a showcase for dance works created by emerging choreographers, Nov. 6-8 in the College’s Baker Theatre.

Artistic director Karen Dearborn says the 10 choreographers selected for the program have created sophisticated and innovative dances, informed by their liberal arts education, and intended to probe and illuminate the human experience.

“‘Moving Stories’ is designed to inspire and challenge audiences,” Dearborn says. “These visually lush dances offer a view of our present and future through contemporary eyes. It is always exciting to be enveloped in these kinetic and symbolic works of art — to be moved by the movement.”

In addition this year, Muhlenberg will present “Dance On: Moving Stories Part II,” a free 40-minute concert, Nov. 8 and 9, also in the Baker Theatre.

“Moving Stories” will showcase over 50 dancers from the department’s dance program, which is among the most highly regarded programs of its kind. The concert features costume and lighting designs by the department’s acclaimed professional staff.

The ten original dances include contemporary jazz, tap, and modern works that investigate female competition, the images in dreams, personal tragedy, architecture, consciousness and fear. Everything from wildlife, interpersonal relationships, a cappella, nightmares, and the interworking of the human mind struck inspiration for the choreographers.

“Moving Stories” features the choreography of Samantha Chu, Allison Conley, Shayna Golub, Tyler Holoboski, Courtney Hunsberger, Emily Lombardo, Zoe Papaeracleous, Krysta Parker, Kelley Romanuski, and Kylie Sickler.

“Dance On” features pieces by Sarah Braviak, Natalie Coy, Noah Dach, Paige Klibanoff, Liz Spilsbury, and Elizabeth Thompson.

Muhlenberg College’s Theatre & Dance Department offers one of the top-rated college performance programs in the county, according to the Princeton Review rankings.  Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. It has been named annually among The Fiske Guide to Colleges’ top 20 small college programs in the United States, and the American College Dance Festival Association has consistently recognized dances premiered on the Muhlenberg stage for excellence in choreography and performance.

“Moving Stories” runs Nov. 6-8: Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for patrons 17 and under. Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or muhlenberg.edu/dance.  

“Dance On” runs Nov. 8-9: Saturday at 5 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Admission is free, and tickets are not required.

Both concerts will be performed in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

‘Moving Stories’ Dance Concert Showcases Innovative Work By Dtudent Choreographers, Dancers In Nationally Acclaimed Dance Program

Logo of Muhlenberg College

Logo of Muhlenberg College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown, Pa.Muhlenberg College dancers tell their stories through movement, as the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department presents “Moving Stories,” a showcase for dance works created by emerging choreographers, Nov. 14-16 in the College’s Baker Theatre.

Dance Program chair Karen Dearborn says the nine student choreographers selected for the program have created sophisticated and innovative dances, informed by their liberal arts education, and intended to probe and illuminate the human experience. This season, the show also will feature a premiere piece by Muhlenberg faculty member Teresa VanDenend Sorge.

“‘Moving Stories’ is designed to inspire and challenge audiences,” says Dearborn, who serves as artistic director for the performance. “These visually lush dances offer a view of our present and future through contemporary eyes. It is always exciting to be enveloped in these kinetic and symbolic works of art — to be moved by the movement.”

The concert will showcase 56 dancers from the department’s dance program, among the most highly regarded programs of its kind. The concert features costume and lighting designs by the department’s acclaimed professional staff.

The ten original dances include contemporary jazz, jazz styles and modern works that investigate female body image, women’s power in the Roman Empire, self-discovery and empowerment, exploitation of female sexuality, and time and memory. Choreographers drew inspiration from everything from poetry and paintings to the relationship between a magician and his assistant.

Muhlenberg College’s Theatre & Dance Department offers one of the top-rated college performance programs in the county, according to the Princeton Review rankings. Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. It has been named annually among The Fiske Guide to Colleges’ top 20 small college programs in the United States, and the American College Dance Festival Association has consistently recognized dances premiered on the Muhlenberg stage for excellence in choreography and performance.

“Moving Stories” runs Nov. 14-16 in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, MuhlenbergCollege, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Performances are Thursday and Friday, Nov. 14-15, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 16, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for patrons 17 and under, and $8 for students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges.  For groups of 15 or more, tickets are $13.

Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/dance

‘Moving Stories’ Dance Concert Showcases Innovative Work By Student Choreographers In A Nationally Acclaimed Program

Logo of Muhlenberg College

Logo of Muhlenberg College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown, Pa.Muhlenberg College dancers tell their stories through movement, as the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department presents “Moving Stories,” a showcase for dance works created by emerging choreographers, Nov. 15-17 in the College’s Baker Theatre.  Artistic director Karen Dearborn says the 10 choreographers selected for the program have created sophisticated and innovative dances, informed by their liberal arts education, and intended to probe and illuminate the human experience.

“‘Moving Stories’ is designed to inspire and challenge audiences,” Dearborn says.  “These visually lush dances offer a view of our present and future through contemporary eyes.  It is always exciting to be enveloped in these kinetic and symbolic works of art — to be moved by the movement.”

The concert will showcase 50 dancers from the department’s dance program, which is among the most highly regarded programs of its kind.  The concert features costume and lighting designs by the department’s acclaimed professional staff.

The ten original dances include contemporary ballet, jazz styles and modern works that investigate perpetual motion, the fight or flight response, trust in relationships, and a neuroscience take on active/passive brain and body activity.  The dances range in tone from the comedic to the serious.

Muhlenberg College’s Theatre & Dance Department offers one of the top-rated college performance programs in the county, according to the Princeton Review rankings.  Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance.  It has been named annually among The Fiske Guide to Colleges’ top 20 small college programs in the United States, and the American College Dance Festival Association has consistently recognized dances premiered on the Muhlenberg stage for excellence in choreography and performance.

“Moving Stories” runs Nov. 15-17 in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, MuhlenbergCollege, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Performances are Thursday and Friday, Nov. 15-16, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 17, at 2 and 8 p.m.  Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for patrons 17 and under, and $8 for students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges.  For groups of 15 or more, tickets are $13.

Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or http://www.muhlenberg.edu/main/academics/theatre-dance/

Muhlenberg College Theatre And Dance Department Presents “Moving Stories

Allentown, Pa. (Nov. 2, 2011) — The Muhlenberg College Theatre and Dance Department presents “Moving Stories,” a dance concert showcasing world premiere dance works by advanced student choreographers, Nov. 17-19 in the College’s Baker Theatre.

Artistic director Karen Dearborn says the 13 choreographers selected for the program have created sophisticated and innovative dances, meant to probe and illuminate the human experience.

“‘Moving Stories’ is designed to inspire and challenge audiences,” Dearborn says. “These visually lush dances offer a view of our present and future through contemporary eyes.   It is always exciting to be enveloped in these kinetic and symbolic works of art — to be moved by the movement.”

The concert will showcase more than 50 dancers from the department’s dance program, which is among the most highly regarded programs of its kind. The concert features costume and lighting designs by the department’s acclaimed professional staff.

Highlights include: a tap piece featuring a live deejay, created by “So You Think You Can Dance” alum Jeremy Arnold; a modern work in which the dancers hang upside-down on bars, to “navigate a world literally flipped upside-down”; and a comic dance inspired by the antics of silent film stars Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Other themes range from faith and philosophy, exploring various cultures’ physical gestures of prayer, to an investigation of the mockingbird myth.

Nationally acclaimed, the Muhlenberg College dance program is among the highest-ranked collegiate dance programs in the country. It has been named annually among The Fiske Guide to Colleges’ top 20 small college programs in the United States, and the American College Dance Festival Association has consistently recognized dances premiered on the Muhlenberg stage for excellence in choreography and performance.

“Moving Stories” performances are Thursday and Friday, Nov. 17-18, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 19, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for youth. Tickets for all students, faculty, and staff of LVAIC colleges are $7. Performances are in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew Street, Allentown.

For tickets: 484-664-3333, Monday through Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. or http://www.muhlenberg.edu/tickets.  More information about the dance program at Muhlenberg College is available at http://www.muhlenberg.edu/dance

History And Gender Are Up For Grabs In Muhlenberg’s Joyful ‘Orlando’

Virginia Woolf‘s groundbreaking tale takes the stage April 28 to explore what we mean when we talk about identity, gender, poetry, and love


Allentown, Pa. (April 12, 2011) — “Orlando,” the final play in Muhlenberg College’s Mainstage Theatre & Dance season, traverses three centuries of European history—doing so through the introspective lens of a would-be poet who changes gender and lives for hundreds of years. Based on the influential novel by Virginia Woolf, the play tackles difficult issues of gender and of how we create art, says James Peck, who directs the production.

“But it will also be a rollicking good time,” he says.

“It’s incredibly funny and beautiful,” says Peck, chair of Muhlenberg’s Theatre & Dance Department and professor of theater. “It’s very emotional, a great love story.”

Adapted for the stage by Sarah Ruhl from Woolf’s 1928 “Orlando: A Biography,” “Orlando” tells the story of an ageless, privileged man who begins life in 16th century England. He lives through the 17th century, falls asleep, and wakes up in the 18th century as a woman.

“She is still Orlando in the mind, just in a new body,” says Anna Gothard, a senior at Muhlenberg who plays the title character.

“Orlando” runs April 28 through May 1, in Muhlenberg’s Baker Theatre. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m.

As a young man, Orlando desperately wants to become a poet. However, he is called to serve in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. After a series of lovers, including an intriguing Russian princess, Sasha (played by Rachel Berger), Orlando escapes to Constantinople. There, in the midst of political turmoil, Orlando falls into a deep slumber, waking several days later to find that she is now a woman.

“The message is quite serious and political,” Peck says. “It is a very feminist play. When she becomes a woman, she loses the privileges of masculinity, but she gains greater sensitivity to life’s struggles. This leads to her becoming a better writer, worth other people hearing.”

The play encourages audiences to examine which social roles are determined by biology and which have been constructed by society.

“It will hopefully make you leave the theater with a new attitude on gender or art,” Gothard says. “What is gender? What is woman, man, and in-between?”

Woolf’s novel is based loosely on the life of her lover, Vita Sackville-West. The book’s genre is difficult to place, Peck says. Woolf referred to it as a biography, but its fanciful elements—Orlando’s centuries-long lifespan and overnight sex change, for example—keep it on the shelves of fiction.

The novel was adapted into a play in 2003 by Sarah Ruhl, a Tony Award-nominated contemporary playwright, recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist. Muhlenberg’s production of the play is among the first ever and is a regional premiere.

In addition to the characters of Orlando and Sasha, the play features about 20 other characters, portrayed by a chorus of nine actors. Each chorus member portrays multiple characters, often bending the constraints of gender. The entire cast is on stage for most of the play, which has proved to be an exciting directorial challenge, Peck says.

“They are the most professional chorus I have ever worked with,” Gothard says. “They are just as important as Orlando in discovering things about love, gender and sexuality—both as characters and as actors.”

The cast’s greatest challenge, according to Gothard, has been to carry Orlando and the rest of the characters convincingly through more than 300 years of history. The actors have been working with Marla Burkholder, a Philadelphia-based dialect coach, actor, and teaching artist, who has helped them to make clear choices about how they walk and talk from one era to the next.

“We’ve been doing a lot of research on how people moved through the centuries,” Gothard says. “Our inflections have to change as our costumes change.”

The set for the production is designed by Curtis Dretsch, professor of theater design. It includes a teardrop-shaped platform that rotates to show the passage of time, and curtains made from more than four miles of rope.

“There is great with mobility and fluidity in the set,” Peck says. “It will be very beautiful.”

Also helping to show the passage of time is an original musical score, composed by Muhlenberg music professor Doug Ovens.

“Doug’s music carries the play through the centuries,” Peck says. “He has created a procession of musical styles that conjure the sound of each century. He samples, imitates, rewrites, and combines motifs from Monteverdi to Beethoven to Ellington. But in the end the music is all Ovens—full of wit, intelligence and feeling.”

Orlando will be the final role of Gothard’s college acting career—the Bangor native graduates this May. It has also been her most difficult role, she says, and her most satisfying.

“It’s the biggest part I’ve ever had,” she says. “It has the most to think about, but it’s the coolest challenge in the whole world. Every day, after four hours of rehearsal, I feel so rewarded.”

Peck says Gothard has more than risen to the occasion. “It’s a tour de force role for her,” he says.

A film version of “Orlando” was produced in 1992, directed by Sally Potter and starring Tilda Swinton and Billy Zane. Unlike the film, which focused on the darker aspects of the tale, Peck says the play adaptation is cheerful and bright.

“It has love and sex and joy and life,” he says. “It’s the perfect play for spring.”

“Orlando” performances are Thursday through Saturday, April 28-30, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 1, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. The production is recommended for mature audiences. Performances are in the Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

“Orlando” performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or http://www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre.