‘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.

‘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.

Muhlenberg Stages A Brisk ‘Winter’s Tale,’ Nov. 20-24

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean...

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean phrases (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown, PA – Toward the end of his career, Shakespeare broke away from the conventional rules of play writing and wrote a series of plays that featured wild dramatic verse and then-contemporary humor. The epitome of this defiantly innovative approach was “The Winter’s Tale,” written around 1610, and coming to the Muhlenberg College mainstage Nov. 20-24.

“The play has a real spirit of experimentation and rebelliousness,” says Troy Dwyer, who directs the production. “When they go see Shakespeare, many audience members brace themselves to do a lot of work. And often enough, modern productions make them.”

Dwyer’s aim, he says, is to allow the audience to relax and enjoy the playfulness of Shakespeare’s writing.

“I want the audience to let us do the work,” Dwyer says. “I want them to experience a strong sense of joy and understanding that they don’t have to labor for. That joy can come from comedy or it can come from the thrill of genuinely absorbing drama.”

“The Winter’s Tale” is the story of two intertwined kingdoms gripped by an icy prophecy. A demon bear hunts its victims along the tree-lined shore of Bohemia. Hundreds of miles across the ocean in Sicilia, something just as nightmarish stalks a young queen – her husband’s jealous madness. As both monsters pounce, Shakespeare’s unpredictable fantasy is set into motion.

Part suspenseful tragedy, part rollicking comedy, part grisly fairy tale, the play defies convention while showcasing what Dwyer calls “some of the most breathtaking language ever heard on the English stage.”

The show runs Nov. 20-24 in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance at Muhlenberg College. In the interest of expediting the action, Dwyer has cut the play to a brisk two hours.

“Modern audiences are very different from 1610 audiences,” Dwyer says. “They understand stories differently, and I think if you’re going to do Shakespeare in 2013, you have to adapt to that different sensibility. That doesn’t mean dumbing the play down or stripping out historical context. It just means being thoughtful about pacing and emphasis, and working to develop relatable characters.”

Dwyer has also added choreography by Allison Berger and an original score by Sean Skahill for an enhanced multisensory experience.

“I want the audience to be pulled away from the dependence on language and narrative by providing other textures of experience,” Dwyer says. For example, the play’s infamous demon bear is depicted not by a large fuzzy costume but by the actors, through movement and music.

“The music and choreography makes it a more holistic and engaging experience for audiences,” Skahill says. “Music can express what you can’t get out through just talking.”

Dwyer says the play closely examines the institution of marriage with its inherent issues of power and parity. He expands that exploration to modern-day issues of marriage equality by gender-swapping certain characters.

“The play is partly about marriage and who has a right to it,” Dwyer says. “It’s about the ways that marriage is both a privilege and a peril — about the mythic demands that get mapped onto the institution of marriage. The play’s young lovers believe that marriage is something worth fighting for, which is a refrain we hear all the time in current discourse. I think the play helps us to disentangle some of the more oppressive threads woven into marriage vows.”

Muhlenberg College’s Theatre & Dance Department offers one of the top-rated college performance programs in the country, according to the Princeton Review rankings. Muhlenebrg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and dance. It has been named annually among the Fiske Guide to Colleges’ top 20 small college programs in the United States.

“The Winter’s Tale” runs Nov. 20-24 in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 orwww.muhlenberg.edu/theatre&dance.

Fourth Annual ‘8×8’ Art Show And Sale To Raise Funds For Allentown Arts Academy

img8x8-2smAllentown, Pa. — Eight-inch-square canvases in a wide variety of styles and media will be on display Nov. 13 at “8 x 8,” the fourth annual art show and sale sponsored by the Allentown Arts Academy Alliance. Funds raised at the event will support the Allentown Academy of the Arts, at William Allen High School.

The show will include more than 50 works of art in a wide array of styles and media, created by the Arts Academy’s students, teachers and alumni, as well as artists from the community. Most of the artworks are paintings; however, some artists have mounted handcrafted jewelry or pottery on an 8-by-8-inch base. Artists this year include Nancy Bossert, Lee Butz, Fran Ackley, Claudia McGill, Jon Roylance, John Gaydos, Dana Van Horn, and many more.

The event will also include performances by Allen High School’s Chorale and Double String Quartet.

The event will be held at Muhlenberg College, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, on the south side of Chew Street between 24th and 26th streets, Allentown. The address is 2400 Chew Street. The show takes place from 4 to 6:30 p.m., and purchases may be taken at 6 p.m.

The Academy of the Arts, William Allen’s magnet school program, offers studio instruction to Allentown School District students in theatre, dance, visual art, and music.

‘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

Muhlenberg’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ Brings Beaumarchais’s 18th Century Comedy To A Modern Audience

Logo of Muhlenberg College

Logo of Muhlenberg College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown, Pa – “The Marriage of Figaro” is known worldwide to opera aficionados and Bugs Bunny fans from the opera composed by W.A. Mozart. Less well-known to modern audiences is the 1784 comedy by French playwright Beaumarchais, upon which Mozart based his opera.

The Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance Department will present the Beaumarchais play as the finale to its 2012-13 Mainstage Series, April 25-28. Directed by Francine Roussel, the production will feature an original score by composer and musician Mike Krisukas, known to Lehigh Valley audiences as the guitarist and lead songwriter for the band Zen For Primates.

“‘The Marriage of Figaro’ is so well built, the characters so real, and the spirit of the play so uplifting that it deserves exposure to an American audience,” Roussel says. “Opera buffs may know the Mozart classic, but less often the play on which it is based. On Beaumarchais’ behalf, we hope to rectify that inequity.”

Writing a few years before the French Revolution, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais pours his rage at the aristocracy into “The Marriage of Figaro,” which manages equal parts hilarity and outrage. First produced in 1784, the play was a sequel to “The Barber of Seville,” picking up three years after the wedding of the Count and Countess that concludes that play. Now Figaro, the Count’s valet, plans to marry, but the Count has tired of his lovely Countess and lusts for Figaro’s bride-to-be, Suzanne. He determines to revive the ancient “droit du seigneur” — the lord of the manor’s right to bed any new bride on her wedding night.

Figaro, Suzanne and the Countess concoct a counter-plot, but the Count’s page, Cherubin, makes hash of it through his passionate crush on the Countess. The multiple layers of misunderstanding yield what Roussel calls “one of the most perfect farce scenes of all time,” in one of the most scathing critiques of aristocratic privilege ever written.

“Le droit du seigneur — while anathema to modern sensibilities — was the ‘natural order’ for the aristocracy in much of 18th century Europe,” Roussel says. “Beaumarchais had the temerity to write a comedy about this shocking practice, subtly undermining class privilege, exposing gender inequalities, and revolutionizing the condition of women. Danton claimed that ‘Figaro killed off the nobility.’ Perhaps — but with laughter, not the guillotine.”

Krisukas says his starting point for the show’s original score was his and Roussel’s mutual interest in Spanish flamenco styles.

“Part of the excitement in entering a new artistic project is the opportunity to be quickly thrust into a new world,” Krisukas says. “It’s like going on a journey and immersing yourself in some new land with its own culture, language, history and artistic perspective.”

The production also features original choreography by Nina Pongratz, scenic and lighting design by Curtis Dretsch, and costume design by Liz Covey.

“All Will End with Joyful Songs: A Panel Discussion” will be held Thursday, April 25, at 12:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall, Baker Center for the Arts. This discussion will provide unique perspectives on the content and context of “The Marriage of Figaro.” Theatre professor James Peck and French professor Kathy Wixon will moderate the discussion. The panel will include Roussel, Krisukas, Pongratz, and students of Wixon’s French Theatre of the Resistance course.

Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The college offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review consistently ranks Muhlenberg’s production program in the top ten in the nation, and the Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States.

Performances of “The Marriage of Figaro” are April 25-28: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for LVAIC students, faculty and staff and for patrons 17 and under.

Performances are in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or http://www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre.

Dance Performance April 18-21 Displays Talent Of 14 Young Choreographers, 60 Dancers

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 “Dance Emerge,” a showcase for dance works created by emerging choreographers, April 18-21 in the College’s Dance Studio Theatre. Jeffrey Peterson and Teresa VanDenend Sorge are co-artistic directors for the concert.

“The choreographers have developed mature works that ultimately explore elements of the human experience, including themes of loss, community, and celebration,” VanDenend Sorge says. “An eclectic array of innovative choreography, the concert will run the gamut from contemplation to exaltation.”

‘Dance Emerge’ will showcase 14 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.

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 18-21 in the Dance Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Performances are Thursday and Friday, April 18-19, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 20, at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 21, at 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 ttp://www.muhlenberg.edu/main/academics/theatre-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/

Hilarity Heats Up The Harmony In MSMT’s ‘HMS Pinafore’

Pop-Art inspiration highlights the humor In Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s first big hit, running July 11-29

Allentown, Pa (June 30, 2012) – When Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore” opens July 11 at Muhlenberg College, aficionados will see the 19th century operetta they know and love, says director James Peck. But they will also see the bright colors and bold lines of the Pop Art era of Warhol and Rauschenberg, from which the production draws inspiration.

“The show will appeal to traditionalists and satisfy them. It’s a faithful production,” Peck says. “But it will also definitely win new fans. It’s a 134-year-old Victorian show filled with comedic and melodious moments, and we’re color-washing it—making it Technicolor.”

Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre, now in its 32nd season, presents “HMS Pinafore” July 11-29, in the Baker Theatre. Peck, chair of the Theatre & Dance Department, will direct the show; Ed Bara and Muhlenberg alumna AlexJo Natale will provide musical direction and choreography, respectively.

“What makes ‘Pinafore’ so unique and special is the pure humor rubbing up against some of the most beautiful music,” Peck says. “It’s simultaneously absurd and beautifully serious.”

Librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan’s first big hit, “HMS Pinafore” is full of hijinks and silliness, as well as the pair’s trademark wit, satire, and melodic songs. Ralph Rackstraw, a sailor aboard the HMS Pinafore and “the smartest lad in the fleet,” is in love with the ship captain’s daughter, Josephine — but her father has a more sophisticated suitor in mind: The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter, K.C.B, First Lord of the Admiralty.

Will true love prevail? Peck says they audience will just have to attend to find out. “Though let’s be honest,” he says. “They can probably guess.”

“Pinafore” was first produced in 1878 at the Opera Comique inLondon, where it ran for 571 performances —the second-longest running operetta up to that time. Some of the show’s best-known songs include “I’m Called Little Buttercup” and “A British Tar.”

“In fact,” Peck says, “the start of American musical theatre owes a lot to this show. It became an international sensation — and when it crossed over to theUnited States, it helped set the stage for the form of the American musical.”

Peck has directed the show before, many years ago. “Actually it was the third play I ever directed,” he says. “So I was so young; I was going by instinct. Now I have a tool bag, tricks of the trade, 25 more years of experience, and of course a great cast.”

Peck brings a Pop Art sensibility to this classic musical theatre masterpiece by playing with the typical production design to create something novel but still rooted in history.

“Imagine what Andy Warhol or Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns might have done with ‘Pinafore,’ and that’s where we’re headed,” Peck says. “The show takes place on a warship painted to look like the Union Jack in bright reds and aqua blues. It feels like a toy boat.”

MSMT’s second production of the season reaches new technicolor heights with the help of faculty members and Muhlenberg alumni. Peck and Barra are joined by faculty member and professional actor Troy Dwyer as the dialect designer for the show. Also joining the production are Muhlenberg alumni Lauren Curnow ’96 as Little Buttercup and Matthew Allar ’00 as the scenic designer.

Allar and costume designer Kevin Thacker look to bring a sense of flourish to the show — reflective of the flourish of the music and lyrics — by brightening the costumes and set.

“We are embracing the late 19th century Victoriana setting, but in a pop contemporary way,” Allar says. “I am working to update the Victorian aesthetic typically seen in ‘HMS Pinafore’ with heightened shape and color to reflect the heightened music.”

Similarly, Dwyer, is crafting dialects not commonly used for “Pinafore” — but which he says are more truthful to the setting of the show. The characters are of British descent, but from the coast, resulting in more of a Hampshire and Portsmith accent which Dwyer says sounds “more pirate-like” than the English Cockney accent usually used

“This show takes a bold, colorful, vivid approach to the world of ‘Pinafore,'” Dwyer says, “but with no sacrifice of human reality, thanks to Jim. There are complete, whole characters — performing absurd humor.”

The accents Dwyer is designing signify more than a truthful locale, they also signify status and class within the world of the play. The more “pirate-like” the accent gets, the lower the class of the character speaking.  All of this intense focus on dialect specificity works to solidify Peck’s creation of absurdity still rooted in reality. Although Peck draws from a pop contemporary style, he still hopes to get at some important themes of class and true love. The show is anchored (pun intended) by these realistic themes.

“The theme of war between classes in this opera is as relevant today as it was when the show was written,” says actress Lauren Curnow, who plays Little Buttercup. “What’s great with this piece is that Gilbert and Sullivan composed text and music to complement each character’s absurd, but very serious, take on where the class lines should be drawn.”

“HMS Pinafore” plays July 11-29, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., in the Dorothy H. Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance.

For the first four performances, July 11-14, tickets are $32 regular admission; seniors are $28; students and children are $18. For shows beginning July 15, tickets are $38 regular admission; seniors, $35; students and children, $20.

Sundays are Family Matinee day; tickets for children ages 5-18 are just $10 when purchased with a full-price or senior ticket. (Limit two discounted tickets per full-price ticket.) Group discounts are available for groups of 15 or more.

Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/SMT.

Muhlenberg’s ‘Three Sisters’ Looks For Common Ground Between Audience And Characters

Logo of Muhlenberg College

Logo of Muhlenberg College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New adaptation of Chekhov’s classic concludes

Muhlenberg mainstage season, April 26-29

Allentown, Pa. (April 15, 2012) — Holly Cate has been teaching Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” in her acting classes for years. So when the opportunity arose to direct the play for the Muhlenberg College mainstage, she knew what she wanted to do with it: get the audience past their preconceptions to find the universal appeal of the play.

“I wanted to move us away from the response of ‘This is what happens to these crazy Russian people,’ and find the common ground between the characters and the audience.” Cate says. “I’ve lived this play so many times in my life. I’ve been every character.”

“Three Sisters” runs April 26-29 in the Dorothy S. Baker Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance. It is the final play in the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department mainstage season.

Cate says that audiences tend to have a lot of misconceptions about Chekhov, particularly that it’s humorless or that nothing ever happens in his plays.

“There are a lot of very funny moments, and of course some beautiful moments of tragedy as well,” she says. “Chekhov is so generous with his characters. He never lets anybody be the villain or the spotless hero. These are people I know.”

A new English language version of the play by American playwright Sarah Ruhl has been particularly instrumental in helping the actors find the humanity and the natural rhythms of their characters, Cate says. Ruhl’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf‘s novel “Orlando” was presented last season on the Muhlenberg mainstage.

“This translation is just so human and so elegant” Cate says. “Ruhl understands the rhythm of Chekhov. These characters interrupt each other all the time and hardly ever finish a thought, and the writing makes it easier for the actors to find the rhythm of events crashing into one another.”

Also vital, Cate says, have been the contributions of Sioned Papparotto, a senior dance major, whose official title on the production is “choreographer,” but whose contributions are a little harder to characterize.

Cate started the production process working with dance faculty member Corrie Franz Cowart, with whom she has previously explored the movement aspects of the play in her acting classes. Cate and Cowart had some fairly well developed ideas of how movement might play a role in the staging of the play. But then Cowart had to leave the project for another sort of production entirely — triplets, born March 30.

Enter Papparotto, a veteran dancer and choreographer, who brought her own approach, and who took the play in some unexpected directions.

“I thought that adding the element of choreography to the play would be mainly about rhythm, and that hasn’t been the case,” Cate says. “Rhythm has definitely been an important element in Sioned’s work, but her contributions have even more to do with her amazing sense of space, and of bodies flowing through space. The piece is always moving. It’s never still. And that’s what Sioned’s work brings to the production, that sense that the house is humming with life.

“I staged the play,” she says, “but Sioned made it flow.”

This is by no means Cate’s first foray into incorporating movement into theatrical performances. She has previously performed in the dance theater productions of colleagues Troy Dwyer and Charles O. Anderson, including their original production “Caw” and last season’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” in which she played Prospero. Dwyer returns the favor in “Three Sisters,” playing the role of Chebutykin, an old army doctor and friend of the family.

“I’ve called in some chips for things I’ve done for him on his productions,” she says with a smile. “He has to be drunk and dance and sing in Russian; he said, ‘You can’t possibly want me to do this.'”

His more profound contribution, though, has been in bringing a deeper understanding to his character and to the play.

“I have always know that, if I ever directed this play at Muhlenberg, I would want Troy to play that role,” Cate says. “I played Prospero for him, and now he’s playing Chebutykin for me — two characters whose journeys are at least in part about confronting their own mortality.  He’s been willing to wade into some pretty dark territory in this role, and I am forever grateful.”

Ultimately, Cate’s goal for the production is that audiences will see past the play’s Russian-ness and “classic” status, and that they will find and relate to its essential humanity.

“We’re trying to tell a story that people can relate to,” she says. “Maybe they’ll see these characters, and they’ll say, ‘That’s my friend up there,’ and maybe forgive the person a little. Or they’ll say ‘That’s me up there,’ and maybe forgive themselves.”

The play features costume designs by guest artist Liz Covey, scenery by Timothy Averill, lighting design by Curtis Dretsch, and sound design by guest designer Kristian Derek Ball. Jonathan Phillips is the production stage manager.

Muhlenberg College’s Theatre & Dance Department offers the top-rated college performance program in the country, according to the Princeton Review’s 2012 survey report. Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance.

“Three Sisters” runs April 26-29. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m, and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under, $7 for students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges. Performances are in the Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Tickets and information: 484-664-3333 or http://www.Muhlenberg.edu/theatre

‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Explores Power And Love, But Also Looks For Fun

Allentown, Pa. (March 12, 2012) — In staging Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” opening March 28 at Muhlenberg College, director Beth Schachter says she is looking for the play’s “critique of power” and its commentary on marriage — but she’s also looking to create a good time.

“This is a play which has a tremendous amount of fun in it,” says Schachter of Shakespeare’s most popular comedy, which was first produced in the 1590s. “The lovers’ plot, and the fairies’ manipulation of the lovers and their affairs, all add up to highly comical miscommunications and misunderstandings. And chase scenes. It’s fun stuff!”

The Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department will present the play, the fifth of its 2011-12 main stage season, March 28 through April 1, in its 100-seat Studio Theatre. Schachter is an associate professor of theater in the department.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” begins with four hopelessly entangled young lovers, adds a royal wedding and some traveling thespians, and then sends everyone off to an enchanted forest, where they get caught in the crossfire between the King and Queen of the Faeries. It’s a story of love, magic, mistaken identity, and Nature gone mad — as well as some of the most enduring poetry the English language has to offer.

Schachter says that much of the spirit of the production comes from the fairies — both their magical qualities and their ethereal dance-like movement.

“The fairies are something that we, in the contemporary world, can be drawn to,” she says. “There’s something still pleasurable, I think, about their ‘hand-made magic,’ and we’re trying to tap back into that pre-modern sense of magic.”

Choreographer Robert J. Wagner, a Muhlenberg alumnus and professional teacher and performer, has worked with the cast to create a vocabulary of movement based on contact improvisation — an approach designed to give the choreography a sense of spontaneity and flight. Schachter has also incorporated contemporary music, to give the audience a more direct association with the characters’ emotions — for example, their discovery of love, and their sense of confusion.

“The songs tap into a sensory experience of the play, which I think that Shakespeare would be after,” Schachter says. “There are hilarious rhymes and even bad rhymes in the fairies’ spells, and Shakespeare obviously enjoyed the clunkiness of off-rhymes. He took pleasure in sound and music.”

On the more serious side, Schachter says she is interested in the play’s critique of power and exploration of freedom. She suggests that power and freedom don’t always correlate as closely as might be expected.

“We go from the highest reaches of power to the lowest reaches, both in romantic relationships and marriage, and in creative pursuits,” she says. “The play explores who has the most freedom, and it turns out that the Mechanicals — the wandering, largely unemployed troupe of part-time performers — have perhaps the most freedom to genuinely create. There is a sense that their imagination does vault them over certain physical limits and power limitations.”

Helping to create the production’s sense of magic will be scenery by set designer Kina Park. Her ambition, she says, is to transport the audience from the present time and place into a timeless realm.

“The set features vibrant colors, oversized flowers and trees, and a hill covered with funky textures to help emphasize the fun and whimsical mood,” Park says. “As in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ the scale of the object is a key to the magical world. Giant flowers will make the audience feel all of a sudden small, and will help them to be a part of the world of the play.”

Muhlenberg College’s Theatre & Dance Department is the top-rated college performance program in the country, according to the Princeton Review’s 2012 survey report. Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” runs March 28 to April 1. Performances are Wednesday through Friday, March 28-30, at 8 p.m; Saturday, March 31, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 1, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under, $7 for students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges. Performances are in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Tickets and information: 484-664-3333 or Muhlenberg.edu/theatre

Sam Shepherd’s “Curse Of The Starving Class” At Muhlenberg College

Allentown, Pa. (Nov. 17, 2011) — Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Sam Shepard delves into the darkest corners of the American family in his 1978 play “Curse of the Starving Class,” opening Nov. 30 at Muhlenberg College.

Part of Shepard’s series of “family tragedy” plays, “Curse” continues the playwright’s exploration of the death of the American family—embodied by the Tate family, whose personal and financial struggles have pushed them to desperation. The New York Times called the play “Shepard’s most comic and most excoriating study of the indomesticity of the American household.”

“Curse of the Starving Class” plays Nov. 30 through Dec. 4 in Muhlenberg’s 100-seat Studio Theatre.

The production marks Muhlenberg faculty member Larry Singer’s return to the stage after 20 years. Singer teaches acting as a visiting assistant professor in the Theatre and Dance Department. He made his Broadway debut in 1980 and worked as an actor for the next decade, but since 1988 has worked primarily as a teacher and director.

A poll of Back Stage magazine readers named Singer the best scene study teacher and acting coach in New York City, in the magazine’s 2011 Back Stage Choice Awards. Singer says that “Curse of the Starving Class” has provided a challenging return to the stage.

“Shepard writes completely with his heart, trying to bear and expunge his own demons,” Singer says. “You just sense that as an artist, he’s not holding back, and he’s unequivocal in his determination to do that, and that inspires me as an actor to follow suit.”

Director Francine Roussel, also a faculty member in the Theatre and Dance Department, says the play has particular resonance now, in the wake of recent financial scandals and what she calls America’s growing distrust of the elite.

“The greed of American culture is a dominant theme in the play—how that greed overwhelms the characters’ sense of family,” Roussel says. “The play is talking about the dysfunctional family, but it also has the bigger context that is the crisis of capitalism, and the risk of the excesses that are beyond the individual crisis of this family.”

“Curse of the Starving Class” tells the story of the Tate family, barely subsisting on a scrap of a California avocado farm. The son, Wesley, stands on the precarious edge of manhood, his prospects dim, while his sister Emma immerses herself in 4-H projects and horseback fantasies. Their father Weston, played by Singer, has driven the family deep into debt, but he’s got a scheme to sell the place and start fresh. He has no idea that his wife Ella is cooking up a scheme of her own.

Roussel says the Tates are doomed from the start—by Weston’s alcoholism, by greed, and by their inability to come together as a family.

“The parents are behaving more like children, and the children are being forced to grow up very fast and to try to be responsible,” she says. “But of course they haven’t been given the tools to do that, to grow up. The family members cling to each other and claw at each other at the same time; they feel like they need each other to survive, but like they’re trapped.

“There’s a beautiful image at the end of the play,” Roussel says, “of an eagle who is flying in midair with a cat hanging by its claws from the eagle’s chest. They are destroying each other. And even though they’re trying to survive, both of them will eventually fall to their death.”

Singer says that, besides the playwright’s brutal honesty and excoriating, dark sense of humor, what most distinguishes Shepard’s writing is its sense of rhythm.

“The rhythms are challenging at first,” he says, “but after a while you feel like you’re galloping along with a horse. It’s a great feeling. Sometimes you fall off, and it hurts, but otherwise galloping is a great rhythm.”

The play presents some unique production challenges—chief among them, that it calls for a live lamb to join the cast.

“We have to make sure it’s not too big, make sure it’s used to being handled by humans and not just wild in the fields,” Roussel says. “That remains our number one concern.”

Muhlenberg College‘s Theatre & Dance Department is the top-rated college performance program in the country, according to the Princeton Review‘s 2012 survey report. Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa, offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance.

“Curse of the Starving Class” will be performed Nov. 30 – Dec. 4: Wednesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.    ***For mature audiences***

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

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

‘The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot’ Brings Courtroom Drama To The Next Level

The trial of Judas takes place Dec. 1-5
on the Muhlenberg Mainstage

Allentown, Pa. (Nov. 9, 2010) — When audiences arrive to see “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” they will be thrust into a “transformative world,” in which a courtroom in Purgatory has been conjured from an abandoned junior high school gymnasium.

“The show is a flashy romp through history – which happens to take place in Purgatory,” says Jenny Lerner ’11, who plays lawyer Fabiana Aziza Cunningham.

Director Beth Schachter describes the show as a “fascinating version of a courtroom drama.” Schachter is an associate professor of theater at Muhlenberg College and teaches classes in acting, directing, and the history and theory of theater. She is also the director of the College’s Women’s Studies Program. The play runs Dec. 1-5 in the College’s 100-seat Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance.

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” by Stephen Adly Guirgis, takes place in the precinct of Hope, in downtown Purgatory. A trial has begun to determine the culpability of one of Western culture’s most notorious villains: the betrayer of Jesus himself, Judas Iscariot. A parade of famous and infamous figures takes the stand: Mother Theresa, Sigmund Freud, Satan, Pontius Pilate (who pleads the Fifth). They debate with the two lawyers, arguing their points with a ferocious combination of biblical metaphor and urban trash-talk.

“Guirgis has taken historical figures that presumably none of us have met before and made them interesting and funny – and actually very modern,” says Lerner. “Every character in the play is someone who doesn’t love themselves and feels that they are inadequate in some way. They are in Purgatory, but still grappling with issues from the past that are unresolved, and that is why they can’t move on.”

Guirgis’ scathing examination of faith, free will, and forgiveness explodes with unforgettable characters – cultural icons that appear not as figures in a storybook but as people trying to cope with the big questions, when no big answers are forthcoming.

 “The play is full of laughs and really interesting characters,” says Lerner. “But it also has deep heart and deep emotion and asks the question of how our actions affect us.”

Schacter says the combination of humor and challenging subject matter drew her into the play. She also likes that, while the play focuses on Judeo-Christian history and events, the themes are much broader.

“The play is less about particular sets of religious beliefs, practices, and history, and more about cultivating hope, faith, and the spirit of forgiveness,” Schachter says. “People who see this show have the opportunity to consider how necessary but painful forgiveness can be.”

Physical comedy plays a key role in this production of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” Schachter says — although often in surprising ways. For example, there is a Keystone Kops–style scene with Roman soldiers and Judas that shifts suddenly and shockingly from slapstick to violence.

“The show seems to be very self aware of theatre conventions,” Lerner says. “And it plays with these conventions and bends the rules in many ways.”

Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The college offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. Princeton ranks Muhlenberg’s theater program sixth in the nation, and The Princeton Review and the 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.

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” performances are Wednesday through Friday, Dec. 1-3, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 4, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 5, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for patrons 17 and under. Performances are in the Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. For mature audiences.

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre/

‘Moving Stories’ Concert Showcases Innovative Work By Student Choreographers, Dancers

Dance performance Nov. 18-20 displays talents
of 11 young choreographers, more than 50 dancers.
 

Allentown, Pa. (Oct. 28, 2010) — The Muhlenberg College Department of Theatre and Dance presents Moving Stories,” a dance concert showcasing the new works of advanced student choreographers, Nov. 18-20 in the College’s Baker Theatre in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance.

Under the artistic direction of Sarah Carlson, lecturer in dance at Muhlenberg, junior and senior dance majors and minors will premiere original works that represent issues that are important to each choreographer. Each dance presents a unique movement statement, displaying a wide array of movement styles and ideas. The concert represents the culmination of a semester-long choreographic process.

“‘Moving Stories’ is a physical embodiment of the questions that are on the minds of the student body,” Carlson says. “Each dance presents another vibrant way of understanding these questions, prompting further inquiry, and an experience of these issues on a kinetic, visceral level.”

The student choreographers draw deeply from personal life experiences in creating their pieces — as well as from their diverse liberal arts education — finding inspiration from a wide range of disciplines.

“Many of the pieces are tackling how our world is changing and how we connect as a society,” Carlson says. “The choreographers are using their pieces as a means of presenting these questions and prompting the audience to come to a new understanding of these issues.”

“Moving Stories” reflects the unique dynamic of the Muhlenberg College dance program, among the highest-ranked programs of its kind in the country. The Fiske Guide to Colleges names both the theater and dance programs among the top 20 small college programs in the United States; Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed for both theater and dance.

Most of the pieces are in the modern dance style, but Jeremy Arnold ’12 is one of the few students to choreograph a tap piece for “Moving Stories.”

“I am thrilled to have some incredible feet at my disposal here,” Arnold says.  “I am excited about this piece because the outlet for tap in the real world is relatively limited, and exposing people to my choreographic process, improvisation, and performance experience will be thrilling for me and hopefully will make for a great piece.”

Senior Katie Fierro ’11 uses sound effects and voice-overs to enhance her piece, “A Beautiful Passing,” about her grandfather’s battle with Parkinson’s disease.  AlexJo Natale ’12 and her trio of dancers explore schizophrenia through a childhood fantasy world.

In her piece “Face to Face(book),” Ashley Sleeth ’11 explores the changing dynamics in dating that have occurred because of Facebook. Sioned Papparotto ’12 works with 1950s gender stereotypes, using a ’50s television commercial as the soundtrack.

“Moving Stories” also showcases the works of Brittani Maglio ’11, Christine Pepin ’12, Lynn Lisella ’11, Krista Bacchieri ’12, Maggie Griffin ’11, and Jeanette Meibach ’11.

“Moving Stories” performances are Thursday and Friday, Nov. 18-19, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 20, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for youth. Performances are in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew Street, Allentown.

Call 484-664-3333, Monday through Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. for ticket reservations, or online at www.muhlenberg.edu/tickets. For more information about the dance program at Muhlenberg College, visit www.muhlenberg.edu/dance

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

 

Muhlenberg Theatre and Dance Department

Allentown, Pa. (Sept. 6, 2010) – The Muhlenberg Theatre and Dance 2010-2011 Season opens Oct. 6. The season will include six theater productions and three dance concerts. Highlights include the mainstage musical “The Pajama Game,” opening Oct. 29, and a new dance theater adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” opening March 31, 2011.

“It’s an exciting, diverse season,” says James Peck, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance and associate professor of theater, who will direct the final show of the season. “It spans a broad range of styles and genres, from intimate black-box productions to large-scale song-and-dance musicals, and from student-choreographed explorations to professionally created, formal dance compositions. I hope you’ll join us.”

The season is as follows:

Theater:
– “Polaroid Stories” — Oct. 6-10
– “The Pajama Game” — Oct. 29 through Nov. 7
– “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” — Dec. 1-5
– “La Dispute” — Feb. 24-27
– “The Tempest” — March 31 through April 3 (a dance theatre production)
– “Orlando” — April 28 through May 1

Dance:
– “Moving Stories” — Nov. 18-20
– “Master Choreographers” — Feb. 10-12
– “Dance Emerge” — April 14-17

Polaroid Stories
Oct. 6-10, 2010

Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance
By Naomi Iizuka
Directed by Zach Trebino, Class of 2011

Times: Wednesday through Friday, Oct. 6-8, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 9, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 10, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Adults, $15; youth 17 and under, $8. For mature audiences.
   
A visceral blend of classical mythology and real-life stories told by street kids, “Polaroid Stories” journeys into a dangerous world where myth-making fulfills a fierce need for transcendence, where storytelling has the power to transform a reality in which characters’ lives are continually threatened and devalued. Not all the stories they tell are true; some are lies, wild yarns, clever deceits, baroque fabrications. But whether or not a homeless youth invents an incredible history for himself isn’t the point, explains one diarist-of-the-street: “All these stories and lies add up to something like the truth.” Inspired in part by Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” “Polaroid Stories” takes place on an abandoned pier on the outermost edge of a city, a way-stop for dreamers, dealers and desperadoes. The play is their story — heartbreaking and celebratory, all at once.

The Pajama Game
Oct. 29 through Nov. 7, 2010

Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts
Music and Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross
Book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell
Based on the Novel “71/2 Cents,” by Richard Bissell
Directed by Charles Richter
Choreographer, Karen Dearborn
Musical Director, Ken Butler

Times: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 29-30, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 31, at 2 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, Nov. 3-5, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 6, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 7, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Adults, $20; youth 17 and under, $8. For all ages.
   
From Broadway’s Golden Age comes a classic song-and-dance musical by the creators of “Damn Yankees,” about love behind the picket lines.

Conditions at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory are anything but peaceful, as sparks fly between new superintendent Sid Sorokin and Babe Williams, leader of the union grievance committee. Their stormy relationship comes to a head when the workers strike for a 7-and-a-half-cent pay increase, setting off not only a conflict between management and labor, but a battle of the sexes as well.

Winner of three Tony Awards in 1955, including Best Musical, and two more in 2006, including Best Revival, “The Pajama Game” features such memorable hit songs as “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.” But every number makes a splash in this jazzy, snazzy musical.

Moving Stories
Nov. 18-20, 2010

Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance
Artistic Director, Sarah Carlson

Times: Thursday and Friday, Nov. 18-19, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 20, at 2 and 8 p.m.
Tickets: Adults, $15; youth 17 and under, $8.

“Moving Stories” features original choreography by the department’s senior dance majors, in every genre and style. This is dance as storytelling, narration in human form, addressing themes as broad-ranging as the students’ own diverse backgrounds. Some of their pieces are introspective, some lighthearted, some cheerful, some profound; all represent the work of talented students finding expression in collaboration and movement.

The American College Dance Festival Association has consistently recognized dances premiered on the Muhlenberg stage for excellence in choreography and performance. Witness the creations of talented young choreographers from one of the top collegiate dance programs in the country.

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
Dec. 1-5, 2010

Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Beth Schachter

Times: Wednesday through Friday, Dec. 1-3, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 4, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 5, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Adults, $15; youth 17 and under, $8. For mature audiences.
   
In the precinct of Hope, in downtown Purgatory, a trial has begun to determine the culpability of one of our most notorious villains: the betrayer of Jesus himself, Judas Iscariot. A parade of famous and infamous figures takes the stand: Mother Theresa, Sigmund Freud, Satan, Pontius Pilate (who pleads the Fifth). They debate with the two lawyers — defense attorney Fabiana Aziza Cunningham and prosecutor Yusef El-Fayoumy — arguing their points with a ferocious combination of biblical metaphor and urban trash-talk.

Guirgis’ scathing examination of faith, free will, and forgiveness explodes with unforgettable characters – cultural icons that appear not as figures in a storybook but as folks trying to cope with the big questions, when no big answers are forthcoming.

Master Choreographers
Feb. 10-12, 2011

Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts
Artistic Director, Karen Dearborn

Times: Thursday and Friday, Feb. 10-11, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 12, at 2 and 8 p.m.
Tickets: Adults, $15; youth 17 and under, $8.

A spectacular evening of ballet, contemporary dance, tap and jazz, “Master Choreographers” showcases exciting new dance works choreographed by nationally and internationally acclaimed guest artists and faculty.

This season’s “Master Choreographers” concert will feature works by: Charles O. Anderson, artistic director of the Philadelphia-based dance theatre X; Heidi Cruz-Austin, alumna of the Pennsylvania Ballet; Corrie Franz Cowart, co-artistic director of Co-Art Dance; Shelley Oliver, director of Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers; Trinette Singleton, protégé of ballet icon Robert Joffrey; and New York-based multidisciplinary performance artist Nicole Wolcott. The evening also will feature a live musical performance by the David Leonhardt Jazz Group.

La Dispute
Feb. 24-27, 2011

Baker Theatre
By Pierre de Marivaux
Directed by Francine Roussel

Times: Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 24-26, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 27, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Adults, $15; youth 17 and under, $8. For mature audiences.

What would happen if you raised four children, two boys and two girls, in complete isolation from each other and the rest of the world — and then introduced them to one another? Would they fall in love? Promise their loyalty? How long would it take before the betrayals began? And who would be first to stray: — the women or the men?

Just such an experiment is at the heart of Marivaux’s mischievous 1744 comedy “La Dispute.” Things start out well enough; the four subjects pair off, fall in love, and swear their eternal devotion. But all too soon, the couples face their first temptations. Marivaux’s philosophical tale is wild and charming, profound and subversive, with a wit and flair for language that delights modern audiences.

The Tempest
March 31 through April 3, 2011

Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts
By William Shakespeare
A new dance theatre adaptation by Charles O. Anderson & Troy Dwyer
Faculty Performance Spotlight: Holly Cate as Prospero

Times: Thursday, March 31, through Saturday, April 2, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, April 3, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Adults, $15; youth 17 and under, $8.

Shakespeare’s fantasia of magic, power and revenge finds new inspiration in this world premiere dance theatre adaptation. Twelve years ago, the sorceress Prospero was overthrown and cast adrift by her rapacious brother, Antonio. She washed up on the shore of a remote island, with just three souls for company: her beguiling child Miranda; Ariel, a mischievous sprite; and the bitter “monster” Caliban. When Antonio strays near the island, Prospero conjures a perfect storm to wreck his ship and exact her vengeance. But the vessel crashes ashore bearing much more than Prospero could have anticipated.

The creative team behind 2009’s groundbreaking “Caw” reinvent one of the great stories of the theatre, featuring some of Shakespeare’s most memorable characters in a bold and incisive new dance theatre production.

Dance Emerge
April 14-17, 2011

Dance Studio Theatre
Artistic Director, Corrie Cowart

Times: Thursday and Friday, April 14-15, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 16, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, April 17, at 2 p.m.
Tickets: Adults, $15; youth 17 and under, $8.

The intimate Dance Studio Theatre is the backdrop for some of the most innovative, imaginative, explorative dance you’ll see. Spanning every genre from classical to hip-hop, “Dance Emerge” showcases the ideas and talents of our brightest young choreographers. This concert provides students the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of dance composition, as well as exploring themes of culture, society and life in the medium of dance.

The choreographers whose work is chosen for “Dance Emerge” spend a semester devoted to finding and polishing the essence of the pieces they will present. The work that arrives on the stage is mature, insightful, proficiently crafted and expertly performed.

Orlando
April 28 through May 1, 2011

Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance
By Virginia Woolf
Adapted by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by James Peck

Times: Thursday through Saturday, April 28-30, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 1, at 7 p.m.
Tickets: Adults, $15; youth 17 and under, $8.

“It is enough for us to state the simple fact: Orlando was a man till the age of thirty, when he became a woman and has remained so ever since.” Virginia Woolf’s acclaimed, vaguely autobiographical novel defies easy description, but this is its premise. After a couple hundred years at the edges of history, an English nobleman awakens one morning to discover that he has become a woman.

Adapted by MacArthur Award-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl, “Orlando” spans four centuries in pursuit of its memorable central figure. Funny and bittersweet, literate but highly accessible, the play examines the options available to men and women in the arenas of literature and romance, and invites us to ask what we mean when we talk about identity, gender, poetry, and love.

Guest artist performances:

Je Suis Dead
By Fool’s Proof Theatre
Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 8 p.m.

Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance
Free Admission

Fool’s Proof Theatre is an international company based in Liverpool, founded in 2005 by Ben Phillips (UK), Britt Jurgensen (Germany), and Mary Pearson (USA). “Je Suis Dead,” which they will present Sept. 21 at Muhlenberg, is the company’s second piece in a proposed trilogy about identity and the invisible ties that bind us.

Three modern day people are thrown together in the aftermath of a near fatal train crash. Yet unbeknown to them the crash also brings back to life other parts of themselves, which manifest as strange characters from the past each with their own story to tell. In the midst of it all the three strangers are forced to deal with their rapidly changing perceptions of reality.

“Je Suis Dead” is a thought provoking exploration of the multiple selves existing in each of us, and the interconnectedness of the stories we contain. Recommended for ages 16 and up.

Urban Bush Women
Monday, March 14, 2011, at 8 p.m.

Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts
Tickets: $15

Urban Bush Women, founded in 1984 by choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, seeks to bring the untold and under-told histories and stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance. They do this from a woman-centered perspective and as members of the African Diaspora community in order to create a more equitable balance of power in the dance world and beyond. They do this by facilitating the use of art as a means of addressing issues of social justice and encouraging civic engagement.

This year, Muhlenberg is proud to host Urban Bush Women as Baker Artists-in-Residence. The company will serve as guest artists for the American College Dance Festival, Northeast Regional Conference, on campus March 9-12.

Box Office Information

Subscription rates are available for tickets to four or more performances in the season, at a price of $12 per ticket. For the entire nine-show season, the price is $99 for adults, $63 for youth ages 17 and under.

Group rates are available for groups of 15 or more, at $15 for “The Pajama Game” and $13 for all other shows. Group leaders should contact boxoffice@muhlenberg.edu or 484-664-3087. Payment in full is due two weeks before the show.

The box office is open Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m, for sales by phone, at 484-664-3333, or in person, in the box office lobby of the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance. Tickets can be purchased online 24 hours a day, at http://www.muhlenberg.edu/tickets.