Fond Memories: Jerry Montoya becomes the Narrator

kings fantasy with chairs

As we get ready for the move of a lifetime, we thought it’d be nice to recollect the good, and often strange times at 2711 B Street. For the next few months, staff members, company actors, and others share their funny, embarrassing, and memorable times at B Street Theatre.  In this edition, Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill recalls the time Artistic Producer Jerry Montoya became the narrator for Robin Hood.

On a Tuesday morning, Fiona Robberson came in for a 9:30 show of Robin Hood with a bad case of the flu. Jerry Montoya, executive producer of the theatre and our director, joined us for fight call to see if she was able to perform. Her effort was valiant but it looked as  if she was going to faint.  It was clear that we would have to tell the story of Robin Hood without our Maid Marian. With a full house of kids waiting outside the theatre, the show would have to go on.

Jerry approached the cast and crafted a game plan. One of the teachers a part of the field trip had eagerly volunteered to help when we needed her, and Jerry would be the ‘narrator’ of the show, to fill in any of the gaps in the story.

Jerry, standing in one of the aisles, began, “Once upon a time in Sherwood Forest…” and we were off, all of us unsure of how it would go. Anytime Maid Marian or the boy Much appeared in the story, the volunteer teacher ran onto the stage with the energy of a first graders and would be fed a line or two by one of the actors.

There was a plethora of impromptu cutting, hysterical one liners from Jerry, and a good amount of giggling shrugs from Stephanie Altholz. Most of it honestly is a blur. But the kids had a blast and by the end of the show, our volunteer teacher had the confidence of Bette Midler.

Darek Riley, Winstone Koone, and I were all conveying our relief in the dressing room afterwards, when Jerry arrived, a smile on his face, and said, “We should do that again!”

Thank god Fiona came back the next morning.

Advertisements

Fond Memories: When the Gun doesn’t go off

Dave-Poison-Boot

AS B Street Theatre get ready for the move of a lifetime, we recollect our time here at 2711 B Street. So for the next few months, we’ll have staff members, company actors and others share their funny, embarrassing, and memorable times here at the old B Street Theatre.

Artistic Producer, Dave Pierini, explains what an actor has to do when a prop gun does not go off. 

There’s all kind of famous theatre legends about guns that don’t go off when they’re supposed to, and how actors deal with it. The most famous one of course, was in a production of West Side Story where in the final moment, Chino comes to kill Tony by shooting him dead, and the gun didn’t go off. So Chino came over and kicked Tony, who instantly fell, and screamed out, “Oh! He kicked me with his poison boot.” And the actress playing Maria, keeping her cool, would yell, “Is there a poison boot for me, Chino? Where’s my poison boot?”

So while we were doing “An Evening of One Acts,” we were swapping stories backstage and that crazy incident popped up in our conversation.

In one of the pieces in that production, I played a CHP officer narrating a piece about a crazy playwright, all in the style of the TV show, Cops. At the end of the piece, I’m supposed to shoot the playwright, who immediately drops dead. And of course, the gun doesn’t go off. Thankfully, because I was narrating, I was able to change the story, and the only thing I could think of was the incident that happened in West Side Story. So I walked over to the actor who was the Playwright and told the audience, “Unfortunately, my service revolver misfired. So I went over and kicked him with my poison boot.”

The actor to his credit, did his blocking perfectly: immediately dropping to the ground and pretending to be dead. The spotlight hit him, and the audience was going crazy. So everything seemed fine.

But then I realized, that I referenced the gun at least five times before the end of the piece. So of course, every time I mentioned the gun, I had to change the line to something like, “I never thought I’d have to use my poison boot in the line of duty.”

And not only would the audience lose it, but I could see the actor, playing the dead playwright, shaking on the ground because he was laughing so hard.

An Interview with the cast of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Wolf Play 1
L to R: Kurt Johnson, Jason Kuykendall, Elisabeth Nunziato, and Dana Brooke. (Photo by Rudy Meyers Photography)

It’s rare that the B Street Theatre brings an American classic like Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf to our Mainstage. But, in doing so it needed to be special. So we placed four of our long-time company members in the cast. These four actors have had a long history with B Street,  having worked as interns,  back when it was called an apprenticeship, and performing in a plethora of our productions. In a way they’ve been groomed by B Street for this moment. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill interviewed the cast to learn how they first met.

How did you all first meet?

ELISABETH: Well, I’ll tell you! I’ll start! So, I met Kurt first when he was an intern. It was the first year of the internship, and he was in the intern company. And he was standing behind the bar, and I went up to him, and I said, “Hey, I’ve seen you act.” And he barely spoke to me, never made eye contact, and now its 25 years later.

JASON: And he’s still the same way.

[Everyone laughs]

ELISABETH: I met Dana on 9/11.

KURT: Wow!

ELISABETH: Yeah. It was obviously traumatic for the whole country, but she had just flown in from New York the night before. It was a very stressful rehearsal day. But we bonded on that show. And Jason… I met two years later, and then I said I would marry him. And that’s my story!

He proposed that day?

ELISABETH: Of course, who wouldn’t?

KURT: Did Jason have a say?

[Everyone laughs]

KURT: I saw Jason do Last Train to Nibroc. I mean, I met him in the office one time, and I said, “HEY!” And… I think he said, “Hey…” back.

DANA: I met Jason working. We did a show together, Lobster Alice, that’s when we met. But Kurt…

KURT: You were an intern! When I was like, intern coordinator.

DANA: Oh yes!! That’s right! We did shows together. And you also did our showcase.

How excited are you all about the Sofia?

KURT: I mean, all the new technology will be amazing. The Outreach and Education Department will be able to expand, which I’m a part of [as director of the Summer Camp Program], which will be really exciting. I mean the B Street does great work: the new works, the intimacy. We won’t lose any of those elements. But we’ll be able to do so much more with the sound, and the lighting, and we’re gonna have a 10 foot clearance underneath the stage for the ghosts. And better showers.

ELISABETH: These actors haven’t showered in 25 years!

[Everyone laughs]

Virginia Wolf Play 3
Photo by Rudy Meyers Photography

So everyone knows the B Street Theatre Acting Company. What are the benefits of being a part of that select group?

DANA: The benefits?

KURT: This’ll be quick.

[Everyone laughs]

JASON: There’s a shorthand that happens with us. The ‘Getting-To-Know-Each-Other’ period of rehearsal, we don’t have to worry about that. So, we know each other very well. And we know what buttons to push at the right time.

ELISABETH: I keep coming back because of the food. The pretzels…
And because Buck knows us, and the audiences are so loyal, B Street is able to pull the trigger at the last minute. There has been a lot of inspiration, and a lot of wonderful productions that have happened at the last minute here, because with a year round subscription without a season announcement, Buck has been able to snag shows right off of Broadway or Off-Broadway while other theatres have had to wait a whole year. And that’s given us a lot of opportunities.

KURT: Yeah, I mean this show was done in 1962, so that’s a real quick turnaround.

JASON: I mean, we are so lucky to be company members in a theatre that employs us as much as we do. Most people have to travel around the country in order to work as much as we do. We get to work and live in the same town.

DANA: It’s not easy for me to leave home to come here, but I make a point to do it because it’s important to me. B Street is special. It’s good people, and good work. Period. That’s not as easy to come by as one might think.

JASON: Every time I work at the B Street, it’s like I’m coming back home, I’m coming back to family.

DANA: It’s a homecoming.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee runs until October 29.

Dave Pierini’s Favorite Play

Dogs of B Street

The last part of our series dedicated to Edward Albee is an explanation from our very own Artistic Producer Dave Pierini, who conveys why is favorite play is Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The play will be open on the B Street Main Stage this Sunday September 19 and will run until October 29th.

“What’s your favorite ___________?” How often do you get asked this impossible question? “ What’s your favorite movie, book, song, etc” is a great ice breaker, a way to get to know someone better and ultimately, a chance to start a conversation. But picking a favorite and then declaring that to be your truth is a risky proposition. You’re basically stating that a certain piece of subjective art is, to you, the best version of that art. This of course opens you up to argument, ridicule and the smug looks of those that disagree. I suspect the question is really just an opportunity to declare your own preference and many great debates have raged among friends to declare a winner.

More than two decades ago I decided my favorite play was Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf and that has been my response without pause for years. I made this decision when my pool of great plays was still fairly limited. As a young actor, I tended to read plays that had parts I could perform. There were no parts in Virginia Woolf that I could play. I was Nick’s age, but under no delusion that I would be cast as a handsome, athletic threat. I decided VW was my favorite play because until then, I had not had the experience of having my breath taken away by words on a page. I was well read for a 20something, and I had been moved by books, plays and poetry, but I never sat and read something that caused me to gasp audibly, or tremble as I turned the page, exhilarated and slightly fearful of what would come next. I realize now that I was floored by the sheer audacity of Edward Albee. The evening and early morning at George and Martha’s is a powder keg lit with an extremely long fuse. The dialog is natural and believable, but the extremes the characters are pushed to, fueled by alcohol and horribly human emotional defects, elevate the play to something very unnatural. We shouldn’t be watching this! These tragic beautiful people are exposed in a way that makes us very uncomfortable. This goes beyond simple morbid fascination, slowing down at a car crash or eavesdropping on a couple fighting. The lives of George, Martha, Nick and Honey are explicitly illustrated in a matter of highly volatile hours. What happens in VW doesn’t just draw our attention, it forces us to watch, to marvel, to wince and to ache at the God forsaken humanity of it all.

But how can I call it my favorite play?! How can I say that VW is better than any other play ever written? For me, it’s easy. I have read many plays in the years since I first read Albee’s masterpiece. I have loved quite a few. But almost 30 years removed from my first experience with Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, it still remains my favorite play. Nothing matches the audacity of it. Nothing matches the humanness of it. Nothing matches the theatricality and intoxication of hearing those characters interact. It is, to me, the pinnacle of this art form. For the record, my favorite film is the Graduate, my favorite book is The Virgin Suicides and my favorite song is You Never Give Me Your Money. Those are all open to debate. But when it comes to VW, there’s no contest.

A Letter From One Playwright to Another Way More Famous and Now Dead Playwright

Gregory-on-Albee
As we continue our series dedicated the legacy of Edward Albee, playwright Allison Gregory writes him a letter. Her plays include Wild Horses, Motherland, and Not Medea. Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf opens on Sunday at 7 p.m. on the Mainstage and runs through October 29.

Dear Dead Edward,

I know you were a jerk sometimes (aren’t we all, you just didn’t bother to hide
it). I never met you, but I heard stories from people who knew, people who were
there. Maybe you were just exercising one-man quality-control. Probably you
were a jerk. Anyway, I wanted to thank you.

When I’m working on a new play and I write myself into a sticky corner or an
impossible wall, I have found one sure-fire way to escape my stuck place. Read
Edward Albee. Doesn’t matter which play of yours or the content of mine. When I
sit with your spare, incisive, euphonious language and the worlds you created, I
become brave. I become terrified. I expand, I quake, I empathize. I understand.
Possibilities that weren’t visible appear from nowhere and make intellectual and
emotional sense to me — because you were a writer who imagined the sublimely
unimaginable, and who demanded that we, despite our discomfort, imagine it as
well.

MARTIN: I’ve never seen such an expression. It was pure… and trusting and… and innocent; so… so guileless.

I will never forget the first time I saw The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Unfamiliar with the play as I was, I sat in that theatre with my jaw in my lap. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing/hearing: a play about a grown, married man who falls in love with a goat — the audacity! It tore me apart. You made me fall in love with Martin’s love for a goat. You made me understand how something utterly unfathomable was possible, even probable, and how truly wrenching it was for everyone involved. Thank you for that, dead Edward.

You invented a new language, as Terrence McNally said. “He created a sound
world. He was a sculptor of words.” You beautifully and pitilessly considered
subjects outside our careful zones of comfort. You challenged audiences to
examine conventional suffering in unconventional ways. Sadism, violence,
identity, sexuality, and death — they were all there in your gorgeous plays,
cleverly disguised and then horribly unmasked. How did you do that? Damnit.
I would steal from you if I could figure out how to write that well.

I was twenty or thirty pages into my play (ICU) before I realized I was trying to write Three Tall Women. Not consciously, but after reading what you did with that remarkable play, how could I not be forever attempting to do the exact thing? Why wouldn’t I hope to achieve your level of truth and elegance when writing about dying? Why is it wrong to strive for the wicked, delicious humor that infiltrates your plays at inappropriate and perfectly placed moments? Tell me why.

I bet you can’t, because you’re dead. So I’m going to keep trying to write like you and you can’t stop me. You’re dead! See? I can be a jerk, too.

Thanks for everything, Edward.

Allison Gregory

Playwright Robert Caisley on finding Edward Albee

Caisely-on-Albee

As we lead into the opening of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf on the Mainstage, we spoke with several modern playwrights about their introductions to Edward Albee’s work and legacy. They wrote about discovering his work, the impact it played on their work, and what they’ve learned from him. We begin the series with Robert Caisley. His plays include Good Clean Fun, Letters To An Alien, A Masterpiece of Comic… Timing (a world premiere on the B Street Mainstage) and Front.

I write plays because I was born in England, and when you’re young and English, and aspire to a literary life, The Novel just doesn’t hold a candle to writing a play for The Theatre, our greatest National pastime. So, when the conscious thought first entered my imagination, “I want to be a writer,” the most accessible form to me was the form most available in my childhood home. My father was, and still is at 76, an actor—his scripts littered the house, replete with marginal scribbling recorded in that arcane language we use in the theatre (Enter UR, X to DL bar, pour whiskey; X to C for mono; Exit L on SFX.) That argot was irresistible to me. And for me, it was all about the “noise” a play makes. My youth was a steady diet of Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward, J.B. Priestly, Rattigan and Shaw. In those well-mannered plays, when a character launched an insult across the stage, it was done with teacup in hand, and such poetic delicacy that one could never be quite sure it actually was an insult. Then I discovered Albee’s malefic masterpiece with the funny title, and I was hooked from the very first line:

“Jesus … H. Christ … “

And then a few lines later:

“What a dump!”

In Albee, the teacup was traded for a cocktail glass, and the shattering evening unfolded one exquisitely devastating metrical line after another. I was spellbound. I still own that very first dog-eared, split-spined, Post-It note feathered copy of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It remains, one of the three most “marked-up” plays I’ve got on my bookshelf (the others being The Cherry Orchard and The Birthday Party.)

Theatre critic Mel Gussow, in his 1999 biography of Albee, A Singular Journey, offers a wonderfully revealing anecdote in which the playwright directs his biographer to a piece of Samuel Barber’s music based on a James Agees text “Knoxville: Summer 1915.” He instructs Gussow to listen to the music and read the text. “If you listen to the music and read that text, you will understand a good deal about me.” What’s noteworthy about that statement, for me personally, is that by spending time listening to Albee’s lyrical, raw, insistent, bilious, uncompromising music, and reading his blistering lines of dialogue—lines that are as horrifying as they are beautiful—I know I learned more about playwriting than any textbook or workshop could ever teach me.

I suspect that Albee looms large in many a contemporary playwright’s imagination, not just for his talent and technique, but for the singular vision he had for his work, and for his insusceptibility to criticism (of which he received far more than his fair share.) In the now famous interview in the Paris Review conducted by William Flanagan, Albee states, “… any writer, composer, painter in this society, has got to have a terribly private view of his own value, of his own work. He’s got to listen to his own voice primarily.” Albee said this in 1966, before so many in the theatre “turned” on him. It’s clear he genuinely believed his own advice even while he was still enjoying his celebrity status. But over his 55-year career, the American Theatre establishment seemed as intent on destroying Albee as they were deifying him. Albee took it all in stride—the lofty praise along with the most scathing derision—and just kept writing, writing, writing until well into his 80s. Remarkable. Albee provides us with an example of resilience, that most essential of qualities, if you also happen possess so much blazing talent that everyone eventually starts lining up to drag you down. His plays will continue to send shock waves of pure delight and devastation through audiences for decades to comes, while the de minimus of his sharpest (dullest?) critics vanished almost immediately after it appeared in print.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf opens on September 17 at 7 p.m. and runs through October 29 on the Mainstage.

Fond Memories: The Cake Lady needs a backstory

Alice-In-Wonderland
AS B Street Theatre get ready for the move of a lifetime, we recollect our time here at 2711 B Street. So for the next few months, we’ll have staff members, company actors and others share their funny, embarrassing, and memorable times here at the old B Street Theatre.

Company member Brittni Barger discusses a tech rehearsal during Alice in Wonderland and making Stephanie Altholz laugh, like she’s never laughed before.

When we were in tech week for Alice in Wonderland we would add different elements each day from lighting to sound to costumes, without an audience. There were a lot of treats in this show costume-wise, thanks to Paulette Sands-Gilbert. Techs are notoriously long days and it helped to have it broken up by John Lamb coming out onstage to show off his amazing and hilarious Caterpillar costume and the unforgettable pelvic thrust/scoot motion he paired it with or Amy Kelly getting dressed as a bright blue bird and squawking to no one in particular.

I was in a rather silly and hyper mood that day, as Amy had made the terrible decision of bringing us nitro brew coffee (which, if you’ve never had it, is a rollercoaster of emotions). My own treat of a costume that day was an actual treat- I played the cake Alice encounters when she first enters Wonderland. It was absolutely ginormous, covering my entire body except for the bottom of my legs, a little bit of my arms, and my lil pin head poking out. I loved it. The voice I was working on for Cake was inspired by Dame Edna Everage, very high and bumbly, with a propensity for saying “Oh Heavens!”

Alice-Brittni

While Steph and I were waiting on lights to be adjusted and cues to be uploaded, we started doing bits onstage, as we are wont to do, and I think we started getting into the history of the Cake Lady and for some reason that I can’t truly explain I just started singing in Cake’s voice, but in the vein of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” the words “In the Days of Judas Iscariot, the Cake People took their reveeeennnnnnge.” I have never seen Stephanie lose her sh*t more quickly or harder than I did at that moment. As she wiped away tears of laughter I took a mental photo of her, because I never wanted to forget how amazing it felt to make my incredibly intelligent and talented friend double over in agonized laughter. It remains one of my proudest moments in life.