B Street veteran Kurt Johnson is playing the role of a lifetime as Long John Silver in the classic pirate story Treasure Island, currently running in B Street Theatre Family Series. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill met with the actor to discuss the role and the ways in which he prepares.
When you found out you were cast as Long John Silver what was your first reaction?
[Sean and Kurt laugh]
No, it sounded really excited. It’s much more fun to play bad guys than good guys.
Because I don’t nearly as often kill people in real life.
What did you to do to prepare for the role?
I spent a lot of time playing with the voice and the accent. A lot has to do with the costume. The peg leg helps a lot, the facial hair helps a lot, the “pirate outfit” helps. Then there’s memorizing your lines of course. I will say, the time I spent learning how to sword fight on a peg leg was… good, and…well… interesting to watch.
What’s your morning routine before playing Long John Silver?
I need a few cups of coffee in the morning. A lot… actually. I practice my “arghs.” I get my voice warmed up. I want to do the traditional pirate gravelly voice, but that can harm your voice. So I practice my arghs.
I scare people a lot.
And what else?
Making fun of Sean helps me a lot.
How do you get the “argh” just right.
(As Long John Silver) arrrrrgh. AAARRRRRRGH! The thing is, the pirate isn’t just saying “argh”, he’s expressing frustration or anger. He’s not saying the word “argh”, that’s the noise that just happens to come out when he’s frustrated; and that’s the key to playing a pirate. You don’t play the ‘argh’, you play the objective. You’re letting people know your angry, or trying to exercise whatever demon is possessing your character at that moment.
How do your fellow pirates (Darek Riley and Melinda Parrett) help you into bringing this famous villain to life?
Well, Darek did a great job with the fight choreography, and Melinda is just an intimidating person all around. And they both sing really well. It makes my singing look like a choice.
[Sean and Kurt laugh]
When everyone else sings really well, and then I do really bad singing, it looks like a character choice.
Why is this a fun play to be in?
Well, the kids get a big kick out of it. And while Long John Silver is the villain, he’s also a bit of a clown. You can get away with a lot of stuff. I mean, he sings a song about his mom and spam. So… it gives me a lot of fun opportunities.
Treasure Island continues its run until November 4. Come see this adventurous, hilarious play that both children and adults love.
Last week at The Sofia saw the arrival of our new roommate, Tea Bar & Fusion Cafe, plus the continued run of Ironbound, and continued rehearsals for Treasure Island and Mathematical Madness. Scroll down to see all the great photos from this past week.
Tea Bar & Fusion Cafe officially opened on October 1 and the B Street Theatre cannot get enough of those scrumptious teas and delicious, healthy snacks! Come check out this amazing new restaurant in Sacramento.
B Street Theatre continues to bring a variety of programming to the Sacramento area. Next week, we’ll have three productions running: Ironbound on the Mainstage, Treasure Island in the Family Series, and Mathematical Madness touring hundreds of schools throughout the area.
Ironbound cast members Dana Brooke and Sam Kebede made a visit to Capital Public Radio and had a great conversation on Insight about the play and its significance in today’s world. Listen to the segment here.
Thanks @momokapeachy for coming to The Sofia on a rainy day. Wine from the Kelly Bar makes everything better.
Hungry when you come to the B Street Theatre? Go to T-Bar and get one of their amazing wraps or bowls for a very affordable price.
We’re so happy @pranajustin that you came to see Ironbound. It really is a wonderful play. Thank you so much for coming to The Sofia. We hope to see you again soon.
This week grab tickets to Ironbound and on Sunday join us on a paranormal investigation in the latest episode of Seekers of the Strange in Upstairs at the B. And as always, Like, Follow, and Tag us at @bstreettheatre on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We’ll share your experience on the blog.
Martyna Majok is one of the premiere playwrights in the country. Her plays Ironbound and Queens have received critical acclaim for their moral plurality and magnificent story telling. Recently, Martyna was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Cost Of Living. In this blog, we look at her fantastic career and how she came to write the stories for the stage.
Martyna Majok saw her first play at the age of 17, after winning $45 dollars hustling at pool. Living with her mother in Kearny New Jersey, Martyna went home to find a magazine advertising the musical Cabaret at Studio 54, starring John Stamos. Martyna decided to use her pool hustling prize on a night in a Broadway theatre. In an interview with the Chicago Maroon, Majok describes that first show:
It was just this beautiful, sexy, dark, funny-as-hell story, and it didn’t compromise what it was about, while still being a really generous and exciting experience for an audience member.
Born in Bytom, Poland, Martyna moved to Kearny at the age five. For the first couple of years, she and her mother traveled between her homeland of Poland and her new home in New Jersey. She told the New York Times:
I didn’t realize [it was] because of visa issues. My mother was always saying that we were going on vacation.
Eventually, they settled down in Kearny. Her mother did a variety of jobs, primarily working in a local factory and cleaning houses. Majok describes her neighborhood in an episode of One on One with Steve Adubato:
It was an immigrant neighborhood. Everyone was from somewhere else. When kids were learning to walk, their parents were learning to speak English. There are a lot of places where there is one specific immigrant nationality in place. Where I was from, everyone was from everywhere.
In high school, Martyna was working several part time job to help her family with bills. It wasn’t until November of her senior year that she even thought about applying to colleges. She found a list of the Top 50 schools in the country, which is when she discovered the University of Chicago. Talking to the Chicago Maroon, she described her reasons for going to U of Chicago:
I thought, ‘Oh, Chicago—blues and Polish people, that sounds awesome! I’ll apply there,’ not knowing anything about the school. Then I got the brochure and was like, seduced with the life of the mind. This creativity and weirdness, an embracing of many possibilities, that was just so thrilling—it’s like a geek paradise. I think one of my essay questions was “How do you feel about Wednesday?” Or like, “Wednesday. Discuss.” You could go any direction—an invitation to think so creatively that I responded to. I applied and was just floored that I got in, and the only reason I was able to go is because I was basically an entirely funded scholarship kid.
Martyna was the first member of her family to attend college. She was eager to participate in the theatre department immediately, however, her lack of experience compared with those of her trained peers kept her away for a year. But then, as she describes in an interview with the Chicago Maroon, something happened.
One day I was at the Reg and walking around, and I stumbled upon this collection of Sarah Kane’s plays. I was drawn to that amazing picture of the kid in Chechnya that’s on her collected works book, and I picked it up and started reading it right there. And there’s something about being a young woman in her early 20s that’s really important for you to find Sarah Kane at that time. Then I kept reading all these other new plays, and it was like a whole new world was opening to me in a certain section of the Regenstein Library. I was encountering all these plays and exciting work that I just didn’t know existed. Even though I lived 15 minutes away from New York in Jersey, it was still a world that was very outside. Nobody went to theater in my working class family—we were just trying to survive. So the next quarter, I saw that they were going to stage Crave in the UT season, and I was like, I’m gonna audition, dammit! I don’t care if I don’t belong! And I got in, and ever since then I was in a production of something every quarter. I started out as an actor I guess, which is sort of the gateway drug to theater, [before] you figure out where you actually belong!
In the Autumn of her fourth year, Martyna Majok wrote her first play, wander/standing as her thesis for her Bachelors in English. She received extra funding from the Merge Foundation for the American Dream, a foundation started by two Iranian immigrants who were looking to assist immigrant students achieve their aspirations. While studying and working as a cocktail waitress, Majok used the grant money to give her more time to read and write at the university library. After graduating from the University of Chicago, she applied for the Masters Program at Yale University. In the same interview with the Chicago Maroon, she says:
How will I be supported in some way in the theater? So I applied and I got into the Yale School of Drama on a tuition-free, stipend, free health insurance, so I thought, OK, I can be a playwright for three more years! And then I was like, well now it’s too late to be a lawyer I guess.
By the time she was 30 years-old, Martyna received multiple playwriting fellowships and her play Ironbound was produced in Bethesda, Maryland. Using her own life growing up in New Jersey as an influence, Ironbound tells the story of a Polish immigrant named Darja who desperately seeks a steady life. Over the course of 20 years, and three relationships, Darja negotiates for her future with men who can offer her love or security, but never both. In an interview with the New York Times, Majok discussed the things that influenced her to write the play:
A lot of the circumstances are hers [Majok’s mother], but Darja’s personality is more mine. My goal was to show a character who for the most part, in my experience of consuming American pop culture, has been seen as stupid and just walks around with a funny accent: these horrible caricatures of what immigrants and poor people are. Writing from that perspective, you’re constantly having to explain what living in that body is.
Ironbound would go on to several productions throughout the country, including an Off-Broadway run at the Rattlestick Playwright’s Theatre in 2016 that received rave reviews. In the New York Times, the reviewer comments, “Ms. Majok’s perceptive drama, with its bone-dry humor and vivid characters, illustrates how vulnerable people like Darja are, hostages to the vagaries of chance, unless they can manage to climb out of poverty.”
Ironbound gave Martyna Majok a presence in New York City as well as many regional theatres throughout the country. However, it was her follow-up that supplanted her as not only an up-and-coming playwright, but one of the most prestigious currently working in America.
Cost of Living was the 2018 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Drama. The play made its premiere at the New York City Center and was critically acclaimed by the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Rolling Stone.
The story follows two pairs of relationships between disabled and able persons: one between a graduate student with cerebral palsy and his female caregiver and the other between a quadriplegic woman and her ex-husband. In the New York Times Review, Jesse Green comments, “…it would be a mistake to see ‘Cost of Living’ as an identity play about people with disabilities. Rather, it’s a play about disabilities with people. In both of its stories, which eventually collide, the biggest handicaps are the universal ones: fear and disconnection.”
On April 16, 2018, the Pulitzer committee announced that Cost of Living had been rewarded the Pulitzer Prize. The committee commented, “An honest, original work that invites audiences to examine diverse perceptions of privilege and human connection through two pairs of mismatched individuals: a former trucker and his recently paralyzed ex-wife, and an arrogant young man with cerebral palsy and his new caregiver.”
In her interview with the Chicago Maroon, Majok remembers how blindsided she was:
My husband had the day off work, and we were planning on doing our taxes. He had been working nonstop, so he was taking a nap on the couch, so I started catching up on other work. At around three or so I got a phone call from my agent, and I heard screaming and my agent was like, “Well, you won the Pulitzer.” And I got so mad at him! I was like, how dare you, do you know much this means to me, this is not funny!
The B Street Theatre has a passion for presenting plays and playwrights that reflect today’s world. The 2018 season has been full of exceptional work from remarkable playwrights, and the recent production of Ironbound serves as yet another moving reflection of the present. We look forward to all the great work that comes from Martyna in the future, but if you want to see the play that put her on the map, than make your way to the B Street Theatre and see this exceptional story.
Ironbound runs until October 28th. Get your tickets here, and come see this remarkable work of theatre.
This past week at The Sofia featured two big openings: Ironbound on the B Street Theatre Mainstage and Sacramento Ballet’s 2018-2019 season opener, Telling Stories. Scroll down to see all of the amazing photos from these two shows.
Previews are very important to us at the B Street Theatre. We thank all of our preview audiences who come see a show in process. We saw great responses. Also @thepeterstory has some great photography skills.
Sacramento Ballet rehearsed all week for its 2018-2019 season opener, Telling Stories. It’s always inspiring to watch these phenomenal dancers go to work. Thanks @lowinternhalder for capturing this great photo.
B Street Theatre was picked as SNR’s Best Professional Theatre Company in Sacramento. Thank you to all who voted. It means a lot to us that our work is making such an impression on the community.
The opening of The Sofia has given B Street Theatre a plethora of exciting partners. We are so happy that Sacramento Ballet is among them.
Thank you @mlo1969 for supporting local theatre. It’s because of people like you that B Street Theatre continues to grow and thrive.
A great photo from @mekatcher of Sac Ballet’s world premiere of “Black Eyed Dog.” The lighting was great but the dancing was out of this world!
Ironbound has officially opened and is running on the Mainstage until October 28. Come see this funny, heart warming show featuring some of the best performances in Sacramento theatre.
Ironbound is running, while Treasure Island and Mathematical Madness is in rehearsal. Grab all the tickets you can here.