Monday, July 30, 2007

Building the "American Machine"

posted by Jim Lantz
Writer/Director, American Machine

Starry Night Productions and The Flynn Center present Jim Lantz's newest play, American Machine, in FlynnSpace September 25 through October 7.

Lantz is keeping friends updated about the play's progress through a series of e-newsletters, portions of which he has graciously allowed the FlynnBlog to reprint.

The following excerpts are from Lantz's July 29 e-newsletter, in which he shares some insights into the day-to-day challenges of producing an independent play and reminds theatergoers about Starry Night's opening night benefit for The Burlington Schools' Food Project. For even more information, visit American Machine's website.

What's our play about?

Part parable on the American dream, part cautionary tale taken from the headlines, American Machine tells the story of a great factory that once made parts for classic American cars. As a makeshift family of six friends come together each night to work, they're soon faced with rumors that their employer will be downsizing—or even closing altogether. As they begin working on a new order—making buckets and mops for Wal-Mart—the prospect of being split up looms before them, and their dedication to the once-proud factory is put to the test.

Where are we now?

Cast ... After months of auditions that have taken us from the far reaches of Vermont to Ellenville, New York, (where the TV antennae was invented, and Flynn Marketing Manager Lani Stack's familial seat), we're proud to announce our all-Vermont cast. We're glad to welcome back actors Dennis McSorley and Colin Cramer, who were part of The Bus [Lantz's last play, which was presented in FlynnSpace last fall]. As well as welcoming three very talented actresses joining us, Bridget Butler, Teresa Lorenco, and Chris Caswell. Seth Jarvis, who directed The Bus, is also a talented actor and has joined the cast, too.

... We've started building our sets which includes part of a working injection molding machine. We plugged it in last night—and it works! Normally an injection molding machine is about the size of a Winnebego and weighs tons, but between a set animator at the Shakespeare Theatre in D.C.; (thank you, St. Mike's grad Mark Prey); a plastics factory in Virginia, (thank you Valley Industrial Plastics); and a talented student from Cooper Union, (thank you Sam Rudy), our machine will be less imposing as we place it behind an open stage door to fit nicely onstage at FlynnSpace.

... It's hard to believe it's only eight weeks to the opening of our play, so rehearsing has already become part of our weekly ritual. We've moved to our permanent rehearsal home at The Soda Plant, (thank you Steve Conant!).

... By far the toughest part of putting on a play is raising our budget. We're lucky to live in a community where the arts are so generously supported, (for instance, I can't imagine producing The Bus in, say, Lubbock, Texas). ... As an independent production, our budget comes completely from corporate and individual sponsorships. So far, we've raised about half of our budget, but we've still got a long ways to go. If you'd like to become a sponsor of American Machine, shoot us an e-mail and we'll show you how!

Opening Night Benefit for Burlington Schools' Food Project
See a play and support a great cause! ... On Tuesday evening, September 25, the opening night performance of American Machine will benefit The Burlington Schools' Food Project100% of all proceeds from this show will go to the project to support healthy fruits and vegetables for students at Burlington schools and to support CSA farm shares for food service employees at Burlington school cafeterias.

Tickets for the benefit are $15 and may be purchased at City Market in Burlington after September 1. For more information, visit American Machine's website.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Making Movies with Kids

posted by Eva Sollberger
FlynnArts Faculty, Lights... Camera... Action! Summer Camp

Judith Kurtz and I have been co-teaching a summer camp at the Flynn all week called Lights, Camera, Action! We've been making movies with 16 boisterous 8-10-year-old boys and girls and a wonderful assistant/executive producer, Nora Cadwallader-Staub. I am pleased and amazed to say that we have managed to make a different film each day—you can watch the results below! The kids play ALL the roles except director, editor, and cinematographer. This means that they are the lead actors, supporting cast, assistant director, producer, assistant camera operator, set designer, sound designer, costume designer, and script supervisor.

The students take their roles VERY seriously and I have been amazed by the contributions of such a hard working cast and crew. A script supervisor will tug at my arm to ask me breathlessly, "Did we get the shot of the pirate battle scene yet?" A lighting designer will ask, "Do you think blue or yellow gels for the princesses' dream sequence?" A sound designer decides upon silverware to mimic the sound effects of sword fighting. A production designer uses gold tapestry and fabrics to turn a white room into a palace dining room and a costume designer turns colorful rope into prison handcuffs.

Each student’s contribution to the finished project is noticeable and shows impressive initiative. Every day they switch roles so everyone can try different sized acting parts and alternate crew positions. The students also wrote the scripts that we shot rough cuts of on our first day of camp. The difference between the rough cuts and the finished product is HUGE. But it is interesting to see that the "essence" still remains.

They chose the genres after I showed them clips from a ton of different movies. The winners were drama, adventure and suspense but there are elements of action, musicals and horror as well. They like to have battle scenes in every movie and a lot of death scenes, too. Here are the results of all our hard work—three of our four completed films (the behind-the-scenes documentary is still in post-production):

Today is our final screening, when we show the parents what we have been doing all week. There will be popcorn. We are also shooting a documentary and going on a field trip to Roxy Cinema's projection booth. I can't wait to see what these talented kids cook up next….

Parts of this blog post originally appeared on Sollberger's own wonderful blog, The Deadbeat Club. Thanks for letting us "reprint" it, Eva!

N.A.S.A. Awardees Take to the Stage (Again)

The Flynn Center is delighted to share wonderful news about two friends and awardees of the Flynn's N.A.S.A. Grant:

Spring 2006 grant awardee Kathryn Blume is back in FlynnSpace with a three-day run of her wonderful one-woman show The Boycott, first developed with the support of the N.A.S.A. grant. The show, which premiered to standing-room only crowds in FlynnSpace as a Vermont Stage Company production in January and February, is a powerful multi-character solo performance piece that tells the story of a world-wide sex strike aimed at stopping global warming. Blume will take The Boycott on the road this fall, with a six-week run at New York City's Arclight Theatre from Oct. 11 to Nov. 18. If you can't make the show tonight or tomorrow, be sure to check out her videos on YouTube.

Spring 2007 N.A.S.A. Grant awardee Selene Colburn, whose History of the Future Suite premiered in FlynnSpace on June 17, was one of 12 dance artists selected earlier this month for the first New England Dance Lab, a free eight-day residency and professional development opportunity. Created through the New England Foundation for the Arts, the New England Dance Lab begins tomorrow, July 28, Connecticut College in New London, CT. It runs through August 4 and culminates in an opportunity for participants to share their work with presenters and peers.

"The Flynn's N.A.S.A. Grant re-opened a door into making work for me, following a debilitating injury and the birth of my two children," Colburn said.

"Receiving the N.A.S.A. grant positioned me well as an applicant to the New England Dance Lab. After a performance hiatus of a few years, I know I couldn't have been competitive without it. More importantly, as a participant, I'll be coming to the lab with a work that's developed and ready for a longer performance life that can be shared with fellow dancers, mentors, and presenters."

She is also moving forward in developing the project supported by her N.A.S.A. grant, The History of the Future Suite. "I'm in the process of creating a companion film with Bill Simmon and Recon (Clark Russell and Tom Lawson) that will be seen in installation this fall at venues such as the South End Art Hop and UVM's Living and Learning Gallery, and will be performing live sections of the work at Bennington College in October."

The next N.A.S.A. Grant application deadline is Monday, August 27. Applications are reviewed twice annually by a panel of regional arts peers, based on the grant criteria below. Questions about the grant, criteria, and application are welcome and encouraged; please contact Tracey Gilbert Dengler at 802-862-6825 or or download a N.A.S.A Grant Guidelines & Application Packet.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

“You Must See Every Show!”

posted by A.J. Fucile
Flynn Box Office Manager

“You Must See Every Show!”

I hear that a lot. As manager of the Box Office, I do tend to work a lot of shows—but seeing them doesn’t go hand in hand with working them. That said, I am exposed to some interesting moments that I otherwise would not experience as an audience member. And even when I’m not personally interested in the performer on stage, I always appreciate the unique point of view.

The toughest shows to work sometimes are the ones that you would prefer to see as an audience member. But these shows do have their rewards. My favorite example is Trey Anastasio at Memorial Auditorium a few years ago during the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. With Phish recently returning from hiatus, Trey’s solo activities were generating all kinds of excitement, and I was particularly curious to check out his band firsthand. But of course, the Box Office had its hands full with the sold out show, making sure there were no ticket issues and that all guests to the event were taken care of properly. Sometimes this is challenging (when someone receives the wrong tickets) and sometimes it's rewarding (meeting Martin St. Louis, UVM hockey star and NHL Stanley Cup winner). By set break, I hadn’t had the chance to hear any of Trey’s show, and needed to prepare some settlement items with the promoter and tour manager. So I found myself in the dressing room reviewing numbers. And that, of course, offers a window behind the scenes. I was sitting at a table with the tour manager when the band left the stage to come back for their break. I got to see Trey greet Jon Fishman (again, Phish had just returned from hiatus, so this was particularly exciting to witness). I got to hear the band chat about the set they had just played—what worked, what didn’t, what they might play next set…. For most shows that require a high level of detail, I’m lucky to be able to watch the encore. In the case of this Trey show, I was lucky enough to watch the encore from the side of the stage, as Trey and Jennifer Hartswick played a cover of The Beastie Boys’ Root Down. They each had microphones in hand and were facing off center stage. From my vantage point, Trey was almost looking right at me. If I didn’t work here, how else would I ever have been able to witness this?

And then there are the shows that are hugely popular but may not appeal to me on a personal level. I’m always tickled by people who are so excited about the show they are going to see that they expect I am equally excited. The theater seems an extension of my office at times. It’s almost literally right outside my door. So, after a good eight-hour day, even when the show is one I might have an interest in, I usually prefer to go home, as opposed to stay at the theater another few hours, only to go home, sleep, and come right back in the morning. (You need the change of scenery.) A good example is this past weekend’s two James Taylor shows. One of our regular volunteer Spirits saw me and said, “Aren’t you so happy to be here?” I thought about it, and said, “I’m not unhappy to be here. But on a Sunday night, I’d probably prefer to be with my wife for the evening.”

Later that evening, the promoter requested that I go back to the dressing room to ensure there was no question with the settlement figures. I had to walk past the side of the stage, and paused a moment to see James Taylor working this elaborate contraption that I heard him refer to as a “drum machine.” Even though I’m not personally a fan of his music, I did find him to be a great entertainer. And that’s one of the benefits of this job—seeing performers you might not otherwise choose to see on your own, and being surprised by it.

Another example of wanting to see a show, but not ending up being able to, would be when B.B. King was here at the Flynn about five or six years ago. I had never seen him before, and I had every intention of watching the show after I got out of work, went home, ate, and then planned to come back. The problem was that there was a bit of an ice storm that day, and I spent most of it on the phone talking to customers, explaining that the show was not cancelled; the performer was here, the power was on, the roads were open, and the show would go on. (This was not always good news for those that lived a fair distance away and did not want to deal with road conditions.) So, after eight hours of frustrated customers, I decided I would have to wait and see B.B. the next time he came to town. (Which I did, about three years later.)

Sadly, I only see maybe one or two shows start to finish on our stage each year, and I happen to have graduated with a theater degree! But my degree continues to benefit from my arts education here at the Flynn. While I may not see every show, I do tend to step into the back of the theater for a few minutes when something comes through our doors that I am not familiar with. For instance, I have a much better appreciation for dance companies now than when I started work here—at that time, Twyla Tharp was not a name that meant anything to me. It does now. As do so many other touring theater productions that I am happy to be acquainted with.

I do sometimes quietly yearn for the day when I am just another member of the audience and can take my family out to the theater for a night out, including a dinner before the show and the ability to leave whenever it might suit me. But I still have a lot of shows to see in the meantime....

Monday, July 16, 2007

Losing a Friend

We were very saddened to learn today of the death of Alex Chirelstein, the former executive director of Very Special Arts Vermont and a great figure in the Vermont arts community. Alex passed away suddenly on Thursday.

Alex's legacy lies in the strength of the arts community in Burlington and throughout Vermont, especially through his work to include and empower the disability community in art making—which included collaborations with the Flynn.

Flynn Artistic Director Arnie Malina said, "The Flynn worked with Alex Chirelstein on a number of different projects when he was director of VSArts Vermont, most memorably the AXIS Dance Company residency and Bill Shannon's Crutchmaster dance. He also helped the Flynn get the METLIFE Access Award. We will miss his advocacy on many pressing issues, his sense of idealism and justice, and his pragmatism as well."

His obituary from the Burlington Free Press is below:

BURLINGTON — Alex Chirelstein, a teacher who for many years was executive director of VSArts Vermont, died Thursday, July 12, 2007. He was 48 years old. The cause of death was a heart attack. Chirelstein was born in New York City in 1959. He grew up in New Haven, Conn., and went to college at Boston University. He moved to Burlington in 1991, and for 10 years ran VSA, a nonprofit that provides arts education to disadvantaged people. He was a guitar player whose musical tastes ranged from Lowell George to Handel. He wanted to elect Barack Obama, to the presidency and worked to do so with the humor and zeal that characterized his endeavors. Alex had just completed his first year of teaching middle school, in Montgomery. He was devoted to his students and was to start teaching in Charlotte next month. He was cherished by his many friends, who will miss him everyday. Chirelstein is survived by his parents, Marvin and Ellen Chirelstein, of New York City, and his brother, Paul, of Hoboken, N.J. Contributions in his name may be made to the Obama campaign. For funeral time call Boucher & Pritchard at 862-2851.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Happy 60th, Arlo!

posted by Lani Stack
Flynn Marketing Coordinator, Editor

I can't listen to the radio while I work. As a writer, I inevitably end up typing song lyrics or news stories or even commercials instead of the brilliant copy I should be writing. However, my colleague, Tracey, has a less wordcentric position and often listens to Vermont Public Radio.

Thus is was that she heard the news that today is Arlo Guthrie's 60th birthday. In celebration, his record company, Rising Son Records, has released the folk legend's newest album, In Times Like These. We Flynnies were particularly interested to learn of both, as we'll be bringing Arlo to the MainStage on February 2, as part of our 2007-08 season.

Although Arlo's Burlington performance is ironically billed as a "Solo Reunion Tour: Together at Last" (i.e. nothing but a couple of guitars and a harmonica, something he has rarely done since his performance at Woodstock in 1969), the new CD features Arlo with the entire University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and conductor John Nardolillo. The retrospective recording includes such favorites as Darkest Hour, Last Train, St. James Infirmary, If You Would Just Drop By, Last To Leave Epilogue, In Times Like These, Patriots' Dream, City Of New Orleans, You Are The Song, Good Night Irene, and a bonus track: Can't Help Falling in Love. Do these familiar and beloved songs work in an orchestral arrangments? Arlo's CD notes explain that these aren't pop-fluff arrangements that can be played on any synthesizer, but symphonic arrangements arrived at over years of work that challenge the skills of senior orchestral musicians.

We look forward to checking it out... and we anticipate an unforgettable night with Arlo in February. Remember, you can get your tickets for the show through the FlynnTix Regional Box Office on or after Tuesday, August 14. (To get a head-start, find out how to become a Flynn member and order your tickets as early as Friday, July 27!)

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Dirt on the Flynn Garden Tour

posted by Gina Haddock
Flynn Development Director

One of the highlights of our summer, the annual Flynn Garden Tour, now in its 11th year, is an opportunity to visit exquisite gardens in the region.

This year’s tour (Sunday, July 8, tickets are still available!) features eight of the best private gardens in the Essex Junction area, including: the three-family Willey Farm compound, with many gardens designed by Zita Lee, long-time Vermont gardener whose own gardens echo the tenets of Gertrude Jekyll; the chance to see what landscape nursery/owners/interior designers do with their own house and gardens; and an urban landscape redefined.

The tour also includes the Ethan Boyers Memorial Sensory Therapy Garden at the home of Richard & Rachel Boyers. The garden was created in memory of the Boyers’ son, Ethan, who passed away in May 2005 at age 2 ½. According to his parents, Ethan was a gentle soul who found pleasure in simple things like lying on the grass looking up through the pine trees to the sky, feeling the wind blowing through his hair, and experiencing the sensation of water running through his hands.

The garden was intended to be the Boyer family’s Make-A-Wish Foundation grant for their son, but was instead transformed into a highly accessible garden that delights the senses. When Ethan died before the “wish” was granted and the garden constructed, his two older sisters, Talia and Maya, asked, “Mommy and Daddy, does this mean we won't be able to make the garden?” They had already become captivated with ideas of planting flowers and creating wind- and light-catchers and building fairy houses. ...Who could say no?

Rachel and Richard—both landscape architects who have studied as far away as Kyoto, Japan set to work creating a garden for other children with special needs to come and enjoy as they had hoped Ethan would have. The garden is a work in progress.

Rachel is also a Master Gardener who works with Vermont’s Family, Infant and Toddler Program, which serves children with developmental delays or special needs. Now her career paths seem to be converging, as she finishes the certification program in horticultural therapy through The New York Botanic Garden. Some day soon, she will be able to offer horticultural therapy programs in her own backyard.

The Boyers’ long, narrow back lot is accentuated by a low, curved retaining wall of Pennsylvania fieldstone. Richard found solace in the cathartic act of laying each stone. The wall raises the gardens behind it to wheelchair accessible height along a wide and level path. Under the shade of five Donald Wyman crabapple trees, Japanese bells ring softly in the breeze and thick healthy perennials and shrubs thrive. Potted plants sit atop the wall and can be brought closer to visitors who are not able to reach into the beds.

The perennials are grouped according to a particular feature such as texture (hens and chicks, sea thrift, sedum, dianthus), color (delphiniums, coreopsis, astilbes, geraniums), fragrance (roses, lilies, lavender, sage, rosemary, artemisia), and sound (grasses, pines, chimes). Delicate fairy houses created by Talia and Maya nestle among the flowers, waiting for nocturnal visitors who grace them with treasures. In the spring, 4,000 bulbs unfurl their blooms, and visitors are encouraged to take a moment to stop and smell the flowers—as well as to touch the feathery seed pods and fuzzy leaves, rub snips of fresh herbs between fingertips to release the scent and listen to the birds singing and water falling. The Boyers family believes that Ethan’s spirit will live on in this garden and continue to touch those who come to enjoy it.

· The New England Culinary Institute will cater the tour’s afternoon tea while harpist Maura Morse plays beautiful, soothing music.

· At the tea tent, we have added a silent auction in addition to our popular raffle. Several unique items are up for bid, including a chance to have your name or message on the Flynn marquee for the day!

· Word of the Flynn Garden tour has spread! This year we are delighted to welcome editors from two national gardening magazines. Editors from Garden Gate Magazine and Better Homes and Gardens will join us on the tour. Both editors are on garden scouting trips for their respective magazines.

photograph from last year's Flynn Garden Tour by Odele Peter