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Student Production Workshop

Student Production Workshop: Kingdom Come Ensemble Day

Posted on: December 16th, 2016 by Sarah Kutnowsky

 

Playwright Jenny Rachel Weiner speaking with the SPW ensemble

Playwright Jenny Rachel Weiner speaking with the SPW ensemble

Student Production Workshop, Roundabout’s youth ensemble, came together last month to explore Kingdom Come through a pre-show workshop and a discussion with playwright Jenny Rachel Weiner. After dinner, the ensemble attended the evening performance of Kingdom Come.

Roundabout Teaching Artists Elizabeth Dunn-Ruiz and Jason Jacobs led a workshop that explored how playwrights can use a state of being, in this case loneliness, to inform a play. “The show seems to address questions of connection and loneliness, so working with teenagers, we thought that was something they could relate to. We wanted them to think about not only the feelings that are associated with loneliness, but also the behaviors that come from loneliness,” said Elizabeth of their goals for the day.

The ensemble began the workshop by competing in an alphabet relay, where they wrote out their responses to the word “loneliness”. They then created tableaus, from which they wrote monologues. After sharing their monologues in a small group, the students worked together to write a play inspired by the characters they had created. Kingdom Come playwright Jenny Rachel Weiner arrived just as the students were presenting their plays. “Loneliness is such a cross-generational topic, so it was amazing to see their take on loneliness, and their experience of it. It was really moving to see their work,” said Jenny of the students’ writing.

Students competing in the alphabet relay exercise.

Students competing in the alphabet relay exercise.

After their presentations, the ensemble had the opportunity to sit down with Jenny and talk about Kingdom Come and her career as a playwright. The students asked her about collaborating with designers on the show, writing relationships that exist only online, and how she, as a female playwright, remains persistent without being labeled as “pushy”.

Students took away new insights from their conversation with Jenny, both personal and academic. Feleesha, a member of SPW’s acting ensemble, realized something new about the challenges of playwriting, “Jenny talked about the arch of a story, as well as the arch of the characters. I didn’t realize that individual characters have their own arches too. As a playwright, not only do you have to worry about the story being cohesive, but you also have to see that the individual characters are growing within the story, along with the storyline. I had never thought of that before.” Tamia, another acting ensemble member, was particularly excited to learn more about the successes of a female playwright “I like that she was motivated to make sure that the play was what she wanted it to be and how she wanted it to be. I really admire the drive that she has.”

A student sharing her monologue with her peers and Teaching Artist Elizabeth Dunn-Ruiz

A student sharing her monologue with her peers and Teaching Artist Elizabeth Dunn-Ruiz

Jenny felt similarly inspired after their meeting, “It always feels so special and really important to me to be able to talk to young people who are interested in theatre, because I so deeply remember being that age and being so excited and passionate about having a life in the theatre.” The students definitely had an evening that they won’t soon forget.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Kingdom Come, Roundabout Underground, Student Production Workshop


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Interview with Teaching Artist Daniel Robert Sullivan

Posted on: August 16th, 2016 by Abby Case

 

Daniel at the Student Theatre Arts Festival in 2012.

Daniel at the Student Theatre Arts Festival in 2012.

Master Teaching Artist Daniel Robert Sullivan has been on Roundabout’s Teaching Artist Roster for the past sixteen years. Daniel just returned from a long run as Tommy DeVito in the Las Vegas production of Jersey Boys, but spent much of his time out West coordinating the rolling world premiere of Prospect High: Brooklyn, a play he conceived and co-wrote with a team of New York City teenagers in Roundabout’s Education Studio.

Through Roundabout, Daniel has served New York City students and educators in multiple ways. He has served as the director for Roundabout’s annual Student Theatre Arts Festival and trained educators through Roundabout’s Theatrical Teaching Institute. He’s also facilitated multiple classroom residencies in Roundabout Partner School classrooms.

Educator Program Manager Abby Case spoke with Daniel about his career and work at Roundabout.

Abby Case: Tell me a bit about yourself and your artistry.

Daniel Robert Sullivan: I'm an actor, writer, and teaching artist trying to keep my feet firmly planted in all three disciplines.

AC: How did you come to be a teaching artist? Could you share your first arts education experience?

DRS: While student-teaching in Rhode Island during college, I was tasked with introducing Julius Caesar to an English class. The traditional lesson plans used during this unit had much to do with analyzing the text and working through the meaning of words, and very little to do with the raw emotional power of performance. I thought, “Well, shoot, I can get these kids to like Shakespeare way more by showing it to them...live."

I asked a fellow actor to bust into the classroom at a particular time and begin a speech from the play, which I then countered with another. It was wild and completely effective. The 'bust-in' is teaching artist technique...I just didn't know there was such a thing as a 'teaching artist' until the following year when I moved to New York. A friend introduced me to Roundabout's Education program, I was mentored and inspired by its early leaders - Margie Salvante and Renee Fleming - and I've been attached ever since.

AC: What is your favorite part about working as a teaching artist?

DRS: My favorite bits are usually those that follow some kind of sharing event, much like my favorite part of performing is often the moment immediately after the curtain call. After the work has been presented, it is then time to reflect on how it has changed you. And it always, always changes you. Having students articulate this change is my favorite part.

AC: What is the most challenging part about working as a teaching artist?

DRS: Working in the room is fulfilling, but scheduling the work in the room is the hardest part. We all must balance our own creative work with the creative classroom work, and the classrooms we work in are all over the city! So piecing it all together remains a challenge.

AC: Could you share a memorable lesson or moment from your time as a teaching artist at Roundabout?

DRS: The very first Student Theatre Arts Festival stands out as a moment to remember. Students from all over NYC gathered together to perform short scenes on Broadway. Not only did they meet and connect with each other, but the legitimacy of their stage gave them confidence and the respect of their peers and family who had come to watch.


Related Categories:
Education @ Roundabout, Student Production Workshop, Teaching Artist Tuesday


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SPW ensemble members performing a scene from the play at the Student Theatre Arts Festival

SPW ensemble members performing a scene from the play at the Student Theatre Arts Festival

Student Production Workshop’s summer production She Was as Beautiful as the Moon follows two strangers, Luna and Alexander, who spend the evening recounting the moments, good and bad, that made them who they are. At the heart of the production are playwright Hanako Montgomery, and director Kayla Arvelo. The two have continuously collaborated throughout the play’s development, dating back to the play’s first reading, directed by Arvelo.

Education Coordinator Sarah Kutnowsky sat down with the pair to discuss their partnership and bringing the play to life.

 

Sarah Kutnowsky: What was the inspiration for She Was as Beautiful as the Moon?

Hanako Montogomery: There were many different things, but one of the key things was the short story Wunderkind by Carson McCullers. It’s about a little girl who was a musical prodigy. Her parents and her teacher applied a lot of pressure on her and made her amazing technically. But through that, striving for technical perfection, she lost the beauty of her playing. In She Was as Beautiful as the Moon, there is a lot of violin imagery, pursuit of being amazing at one thing, and the loneliness that comes out of that.

 

SK: What was the process of developing the play?

HM: I developed this play through the playwriting [track] at SPW. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write until two weeks before the deadline. I was actually on vacation when I had to submit it. So I sat down on the plane, and I just started writing. I wrote the first draft of She Was as Beautiful as the Moon non-stop. I didn’t really determine the structure beforehand, and I had a vague idea of who the different characters were and their relationships, but I didn’t really know what the central theme was going to be. But from that script I worked with Elizabeth [SPW’s Playwriting Mentor] a lot, and I narrowed down the message of the play. There was a really messy editing process that I’m glad to say, but also sad to say, is over.

 

SK: What has the rehearsal process been like? How have you two collaborated on this play?

Kayla Arvelo: For me, it’s mostly hands on. It’s about painting the picture in my head and putting it on its feet. I was always open with Hanako and told her “if you want something, let me know and I can do it”.

 

Kayla and Hanako in rehearsal with the cast

Kayla and Hanako in rehearsal with the cast

SK: So you consult Hanako?

KA: Yes! She doesn’t even notice, but I look at her face while they’re rehearsing and if she makes a face I’ll say “no, do it again.”

HM: I really trust Kayla. She does ask me “is this okay? What do you think of this?” Sometimes, we’ll have to talk about it. The set was a challenge; we weren’t sure if we wanted to have a lot of pieces onstage.

 

SK: How did you two work with the design team to bring the play to life?

KA: When we first started, we had a meeting before we even spoke to the design team. We narrowed down what our vision was. We discussed a lot about what we wanted the audience to see. We got help from our mentors on how to share our ideas; we didn’t say exactly what we wanted, but we gave specifics that [helped the design team] get the big picture.

HM: The weekly meetings helped a lot. We met the different design teams to catch up on what they’d been doing the past week, and what else they planned to do. During that time, if we didn’t like something or were questioning something, we could ask questions.

KA: The two of us have our language. We’ll just tilt our head and everyone knows that means “no." Or we’ll squint our eyes, and that means “maybe." And if our eyes pop that means “yes!”

 

SK: What do you want audiences to take away from this play?

HM: One of the main things I want them to take away is the message of the play. The pursuit of being important, being great at whatever you do, and the loneliness that comes with it. The effects it has on different relationships, and the people in your life. I hope audiences can see that and think about what that means to them. How they’ve maybe abandoned their values or family members in trying to do something better for themselves, and how that makes them feel.

KA: I want [the audience] to take away the idea of not giving up on what you love, that passion. Not letting those around you affect what you love to do. I find that that’s a big part of this play, specifically for Luna and Alexander, they gave up on those priorities in their lives, and that has taken a toll on them. Especially for us teenagers, it’s important to know that we should go for what we want, and not let parents or friends change that idea for you. Even if it changes, let it change on your own terms.


She Was as Beautiful as the Moon will premiere at The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre on August 7.


Related Categories:
A Conversation with, Education @ Roundabout, Student Production Workshop


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