Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Berlin to Broadway: Composer Kurt Weill’s Musical Voyage

May 17, 2012

'Berlin to Broadway' poster

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The lights in the IAF Theatre were still on late Wednesday night. You could hear show tunes wafting from under the door, the clomping of dancing shoes, while orders were barked out throughout. These were the behind-the-scenes moments that the audience will never see. The final details of Idyllwild Arts last production of the year, “Berlin to Broadway,” being hammered out.

The 3-day show runs Friday and Saturday, May 18 & 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the IAF Theatre, and closes on Sunday, May 20, at 2 p.m.  Like all Idyllwild Arts productions, it is free and open to the public, but come early to get a good seat.

“No one does Kurt Weill anymore,” lamented Howard Shangraw, head of the Idyllwild Arts Theatre Department as he was shopping late at Fairway Supermarket one night. “I miss all of those songs from ‘The Threepenny Opera.’ You remember Mack the Knife?”

I immediately did a shark imitation with my hand. Who doesn’t love that song? But who the heck is Kurt Weill?

Like most composers, we remember their songs, but know little about their lives. Not this time, however. ‘Berlin to Broadway,’ gives us a musical glimpse into the life and genius of Kurt Weill.

A German Jew, Kurt Weill married the famous Austrian singer, Lotte Lenya. As their life in Germany became more precarious, they fled first to Paris, then the United States, where they were a success in New York and Hollywood.

Weill’s biographical journey (as told by a narrator) offers songs that have become standards in our Modern American Songbook, such as Mack the Knife, Lost in the Stars, Surabaya Johnny, September Song and My Ship, among others.

Lyricists Weill worked with include Bertolt Brecht, Alan Jay Lerner and Ira Gershwin, The student cast sings and dances excerpts from The Threepenny Opera, Happy End, Lady In The Dark, Street Scene, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and more.

All in all, there are more than 30 songs that are showcased in “Berlin to Broadway.”

“Not only does it demonstrate Weill’s extraordinary melodic gifts, but also his ability to transform his style to fit different environments,” Howard wrote in the program. “His music reflects both the influences around him and the moods of the times in which he lived and composed.”

Starting Friday, you’ll get the chance to know one of America’s most influential composers via “Berlin to Broadway” through songs and dances by the musical theater students. Then you’ll know why Howard liked him so much.

For more information, call (951) 659-2171 or visit The IAF Theatre is located on the Idyllwild Arts campus at 52500 Temecula Drive in Idyllwild.

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.


It’s About Time and Well, The Conways

April 26, 2012

The set was spectacular with built-in bookcases and tall windows

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Since Time, with a capital “T” got top billing in the Idyllwild Arts Theatre Department’s last show, “Time and The Conways,” (written by J.B. Priestly) you knew Time was going to be a big part of the show.

In fact, Time already mettled with the normal story sequence .

The time warp was outlined in the program featuring a sand timer on the cover: Act One began in 1919 at Kay Conway’s 21st  birthday party where you get to meet all of the Conways and their lovers. Act Two takes place 18 years later (after the Depression) when things went emotionally and financially haywire for the Conways. Act Three jumped back to later that same night of Kay’s 21st birthday, which helped to explain things.

Act One opens with a family game of charades, with Mrs. Conway, the matriarch (Jessie), and her daughters, Kay (Gemini), Hazel (Sasha), Madge (Emily) and Carol (Celeste), and her sons, Alan (Zen) and Robin (Daniel). Everyone is happy, and looking forward to the future, but without their industrialist father, who had recently died.

Alan, the eldest, seems to be apart from the rest of the family. To me, he appeared to be “slow.”

“He was the father’s favorite son,” explained Kent-Harris, who played Gerald, the Conways’ attorney. “We talked about this. Alan fought in the trenches during WWI, and must’ve had some trauma from it. And he was also devestated by his father’s death. He wasn’t ‘slow,’ his priorities had changed.”

As it turns out, Alan who comforts Kay when she awakes from a moment’s rest and is now aware of the family’s not-so-great future.

“Alan also received slights from his mother, who had definite ideas on the hierarchy of the Conway family,” said Kent-Harris.

Kent-Harris greets well wishers after the final performance Sunday

For his part, Kent-Harris said that it wasn’t hard to play the future and jump back in Time.

“Well, we had different clothes on, for one thing, and we practiced it at least six times before the dress rehearsal on Thursday night,” he said.

Rosanna, who played Joan Heiford, Robin’s wife, said that her character changed a lot, so it was easy to go back in Time.

“At first, I played Robin’s girlfriend, and was naive and idealistic,” Rosanna said. “But then, after years with an absent and alcoholic husband, you could say that I became a bitter woman.”

Time was not Rosanna’s friend.

An outsider, Joan was tolerated by the Conways, but Ernest Beevers (Lewis) was never fully accepted by them. He was poor and lacked social graces, but turned out to be the biggest surprise. Kent-Harris thought that Hazel, a great beauty, didn’t marry Ernest for money.

“He didn’t have any money in the beginning,” Kent-Harris said. “He only had one share of an old run-down paper mill. I think Hazel married him because of his persistence.”

(from L) Chase, Jessie and Sasha get tearful about their last stage performance

It appears that money was the motivating factor for Hazel, however. At the beginning of Kay’s birthday party, Hazel calls Ernest “a disgusting little man” and was rude to his face. However, only when Ernest manages to get a private moment alone with Hazel, telling her about his financial ambitions, does she start flirting with him.

But for Ernest, Hazel was not a person, but a prize to be won. She was the great beauty of Newlingham, and to obtain her, would increase his social status and lead him to financial success.

And when Ernest turns out to be abusive, Hazel doesn’t leave him. Why not? Because of the money of course! Since day one, Hazel was expected to marry a rich man and travel the world. Yet, in reality, it’s not always that easy to grab the Gadsby’s of this world.  And maybe she “could hear her biological clock ticking,” so she settled on Ernest, but will not leave–until the money runs out.

“I wish the play had another weekend run,” said Kent-Harris.

He said it just got better and better each time they performed it. After awhile, the actors weren’t just reciting lines or waiting on cues, but felt like actual family and friends talking to each other.

“What I would say next came naturally because that’s what I would say if I was Gerald,” Kent-Harris said.

(from right) Jesse greets a well wisher

He thought the British accent wasn’t difficult because he heard it firsthand during summer school last year in London. He also learned a lot from British actors. And his uncle is a British solicitor, but he didn’t base his character on him.

The day after the show, Kent-Harris was going with his parents to a Democratic fundraiser hosted by Nancy Pelosi. He said he didn’t have any immediate plans to get into politics.

“My parents support my decision to become an actor,” Kent-Harris said. “However, if I can’t make it as an actor, I can always become a politician. They’re pretty much the same thing, right?”

It would be wrong to sign off without mentioning the stellar set designed and built by Bonnie and Todd Carpenter. The set consisted of one large drawing room. It was opulant, with floor-to-ceiling windows, built-in bookcases and furniture that matched the maroon and green color scheme. In fact, it wasn’t wallpaper on the walls, but stenciling.

“At one point, it looked like blood had splattered on the walls,” Kent-Harris said with glee. “So that changed things. Carol didn’t die of TB, but was murdered!  Alan was the only one who could have done it! Which explains, in a sick way, why he kept flowers on her grave all of those years.”

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.







‘The Shape of Things’ Twists The Truth About Art

January 24, 2012

Edgy show poster

By Marcia E. Gawecki

The student reviews were out after Thursday night’s performance. “The Shape of Things,” a play by Neil LaBute and performed by the Idyllwild Arts Theatre Department, was a hit.

“Fast-paced,” “Edgy with good music” and “Everyone was good,” were some of their comments. Yet, the bloodstained poster with a scapel and a bare backed guy made this Midwesterner nervous.

There were big changes for this play. Could only four actors, with minimal staging and props, command our attention for two hours? And, this was to be held “in the round” at Rush Hall on campus, a departure from our comfy IAF Theatre.

“There’s no bad seat in the house,” exclaimed Elias, who had already seen it twice, including the Understudy’s Show on Saturday afternoon (Starring Omid as Adam, Alexandra as Evelyn, Daniel as Phillip and Samantha as Jenny).

“They took out all of the sex scenes because we’re teenagers,” explained Arthur. “but there’s still some suggestive language.”

“You have to sit in the front row,” suggested Cynthia, a vocal music major. “Then you’re at arm’s reach of the stage. The actor’s like it because then they’re ‘one’ with the audience.”

Walking into Rush Hall for the final performance on Sunday, Jan. 24 was like walking into a New York Dance Club. The curtains were drawn, the walls were all black, and the floor was silver painted “in the round.”  A bright light shone from above center stage, while human “guards,” dressed in black, stood around it. As promised, seating was ample on all sides. I sat in front–just beyond arm’s reach of the stage.

The music was edgy and loud. The darkness, noise, and unfamiliarity were all intentional. No fairytale ending for this show, but I wanted to get out unscathed (which I did), but not emotionally.

For this was a modern tale about power, deceit, lust and tyranny–all for the sake of art. It certainly was a topical subject for an art’s boarding school because nearly everyone in the audience was an artist. Could we all stand a closer look at ourselves?

Yet, this show, according to director Howard Shangraw in the playbill, “presents an intense and shocking look into art and the artlessness of people. ‘The Shape of Things’ provokes us, disturbs us and may even seduce us. It is all subjective.”

The darkness, noise and chaos was intentional

I looked around for the nearest exit.

In a nutshell, ‘The Shape of Things’ was about four students at a small midwestern college, who seduce and sleep with each other. Along the way, there’s jealousy, control and transformations. Yet, it wasn’t just another entertaining drama. There was a deeper level, one about morality with religious undertones.

Throughout this play, Neil LaBute, the Canadian playwright and filmmaker, who attended Brigham Young University, reveals many Adam and Eve metaphors, including the spray-painted statue with fig leaves, Adam’s total transformation, even his “EAT” tattoo.

“I don’t like art that isn’t true,” states Evelyn, a graduate art student (beautifully played by Tierra) as she edges under the guardrail with her spray can. “What are the fig leaves covering? His ‘cluster’?”

This was the first time that we meet Adam and Eve, or Adam and modern-day Evelyn. You know the old story in Genesis, Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge after God told them not to. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. They are naked before God, so they hide behind the fig leaves.

Strong-willed Evelyn spray paints a penis on God. What does that say about her? In the end, she claims she is someone who puts “art” above all else, including her fellow man, religion, family and community.

Yet, Adam (convincingly played by Dylan) falls in love with Evelyn, and miraculously changes before her. He exercises, lifts weights, eats better and tries new things, such as a haircut and contact lenses.

He doesn’t mind when Evelyn videotapes their sexual encounters.

He can’t believe that someone so beautiful wants to be with him. Typical guy, looking at the surface, or The Shape of Things, and not the psychopath that lies underneath.

Never mind that his best friends, Phillip (played by sophomore Dakota) and Jenny (played by Meghan, a senior), don’t like her. At first, they’re amused that he’s improving physically. Phillip is glad that he finally ditched his old corduroy jacket after three long years. Jenny, Phillip’s fiancé, loves the sparkle in his eyes that his new contacts bring. So much so that she sleeps with him. Yet, when Adam undergoes rhinoplasty (Evelyn’s suggestion), and lies about it, they become alarmed.

At their first group meeting, Phillip gets into a shouting match with Evelyn over the spray-painting episode at the museum. Evelyn defends the artist (herself), but never owns up to the deed. Why not? Especially since she felt so strongly about it. Likely, she didn’t want to get arrested before her “project” was completed.

“I knew what was going to happen,” stated Paul, a fashion major, after the show. “But I just didn’t expect it to be so cruel.”

(On right) Dylan, who plays Adam, is an experienced actor onstage and screen

Paul was among the many sullen faces in the audience during the final scene when Evelyn admits that she used Adam as her art thesis “sculpture.”

“As my grandpa would say, ‘He’s a real piece of work!'” Evelyn said as she unveiled photos of Adam’s transformation from nerd to stud.

Yep, she’s right. Adam looked better, was stronger and more confident. Yet, he was genuinely in love with Evelyn and wanted to marry her. He even put her initials on his hip, “E.A.T.”

“What? Could you not afford the word, ‘Me?’ Evelyn asked him earlier before the rhinoplasty.

“No, it’s your initials,” Adam said, unaware that he was being devoured.

Although there was a lot of dialog throughout the play, the best words came at the end.

“Sorry that you’re so upset,” said Evelyn, as she stood amongst her installation clutter, including the engagement ring and sex videos.

“You messed up my life and put it under glass,” shouted Adam. “F–k you, you heartless B–ch! You don’t see it as wrong?”

Evelyn claimed that she never loved him, and didn’t want a relationship. Yes, she seduced him, for art’s sake, but that was all. She should thank him, actually, because he’s better looking than before.

(At L with Sasha) Tierra showed her good-girl acting talents in "Jayne Eyre," but the darker side in "The Shape of Things"

Trying to force morality on someone who doesn’t have it is nearly impossible. All of Adam’s words were in vain. At the end of the play, he’s left alone, looking at their sex tape.

“That doesn’t surprise me that this play had a double meaning,” said Jesse, a theater major, after being told that the leads were named Adam and Eve. “All of Neil LaBute’s plays have duality.”

(Kat Factor, a poet and head of the Interdisciplinary Arts (IM) Department, mentioned the Adam and Eve connection afterwards. In turn, I told it to many of the students who saw the play, who all said, “Ahhh!”)

LaBute is known for his terse language (like David Mamet) and his cynical themes of love and lust.  In his first film, “In the Company of Men,” (1997) two men seduce and dump a deaf female coworker “for the fun of it.”

LaBute didn’t stray far from his cynicism and cruelty years later in “The Shape of Things.”

After the great performance Sunday, I was angry — at Evelyn, college boys and cynical playwrights —  for their unabashed cruelty. Not all artists are like Evelyn, so self-absorbed and mean-spirited, Neil.

But it also brought back a bad memory from my college days at UNL. One Saturday night, about 50 fraternity boys all went to the local bars. They were having a contest to see who could pick up the ugliest girl. Then they brought them all back to the frat house for a “party.” Left alone in a room for awhile, these ugly girls realized that their cruel “joke.” I wasn’t one of them, but I could have been.

Ah, The Shape of Things!

In this play, Neil LaBute shows us what one man was willing to do for “the sake of love,” or sex, and what one woman was willing to do “for the sake of art.”

That’s it.

It’s not about all fine artists everywhere. It’s just one person’s view. An entertaining and twisted view.

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Jan 24, 2012 @ 14:26

More than Just Pretty Costumes

January 14, 2012

(from L) Gracie and Minnie discuss outfit options for the next show

By Marcia E. Gawecki

One of her best-known student productions was “The Learned Ladies,” by Moliere, in which she painted French words in oversized script letters directly to the fishnet on the girl’s ball gowns.

“That turned out pretty well,” said Minnie Christine Walters, who heads up the Costume Shop (part of the Theater Department) at Idyllwild Arts. “Howard Shangraw was pleased.”

Over the past seven years, Minnie has created the costumes for comedies, dramas, period pieces and anything Howard Shangraw, head of the Theater Department, would throw at her.

“We work well together,” she said of Howard. “He doesn’t scare me.”

Most times for the student productions, she has a limited deadline, a small budget, yet she has access to many resources. She has worked in the business for more than three decades, and has earned three advanced degrees. Besides Idyllwild Arts, she teaches at the Art Institute in San Bernardino, and can draw upon many sources to get her costumes.

(from L) Minnie discusses the colors Kent-Harris' character, Phillip, would wear

“Did you see ‘For the Birds?'” Minnie asks. “There were some showgirl costumes that I borrowed from a friend of mine in New York. It’s good sometimes when you don’t have to start from scratch.”

One of her more challenging productions was for Redlands College in which she had to create 4,000 dance costumes.

Oftentimes, she said, the costume designer is brought in late into the planning of the production. For this one, she designed the dresses on paper, but had all of them made in China. It took about a month.

“It would have been impossible to pull off any other way,” she said.

For the next Idyllwild Arts production, “In the Shape of Things,” Minnie and her Costume Shop crew had it relatively easy.

“There’s only four actors in the play, so each of the students gets to focus on one actor,” Minnie explained.

She had her Costume Shop students,Tenaya, Grace, Bess and Kent-Harris, all create “mood boards,” of magazine cut-outs of what each of the actors would wear. They read the script and broke them down scene-by-scene.

Mood boards help students in the Costume Shop stick to the script

“For example, Tenaya’s character, Eve (played by Tara) is a controlling black widow of a woman,” Minnie explained. “So we’re dressing her in red and black tight-fitting outfits with stiletto heels.”

With their mood boards and calculators in hand, the Costume Shop crew and Minnie drove to Hemet on Tuesday, Jan. 10, to hit as many thrift shops and outlet stores as they could find.

They ended up going to four, including two different Goodwill Stores, Marshall’s, and Angel View Thrift Shop. On the list was the 9.99 store, Target and Kohls, but they didn’t need to go there.

Minnie’s budget for five outfits for the four characters, including shoes, jackets and jewelry, was only $300.

“Oh, we’ll make it,” she said, unnerved. “We’re going to thrift stores where you can get purses and shoes for under $10.”

At Marshall’s, the first stop, Gracie showed her outfits to Minnie. She liked that the student kept to the show’s color palette–muted purple, fuschia, gray, black and red. She showed her a little purple “balloon” dress for only $10, but Minnie refused. Too much bare shoulders for her character, Jenny (played by Meghan).

Tenaya came over with glitter stiletto heels for Eve, but was also turned down by Minnie. At $40 a pair, they cost too much.

“I love them so much, I just might buy them for myself,” Tenaya exclaimed. “But my mom would kill me!”

(from L) Tenaya and Bess wait in line with their costume selections at Goodwill

Kent-Harris found a nice blue polo shirt for “Phillip,” played by Dakota. He offered a selection to Minnie, who picked the muted blue over the periwinkle blue.

“I love this color, but it’s too bold for your character,” she explained to Kent-Harris. “And we don’t want him upstaging Eve.”

Throughout the day, Minnie was continually reminding the students about the characters, and the script.

One of their bigger challenges was finding two Rock Star type T-shirts that looked exactly alike. In one scene for the next show, one of the male characters goes to bed wearing the Rock n’ Roll T-shirt, and the girl wears it the next day.

“We need two exact shirts because it’s a quick scene change, and we don’t have time to switch over one shirt,” Minnie explained.

When Tenaya was looking for a purse for Eve at the Goodwill Store, she showed two options to Minnie. One was a fuschia bag with a stylish flower on the side, and the other was a glitter bag with a black strap.

“I like the fuschia bag because it matches her outfits,” Tenaya explained. “But the glitter bag has a velcro clasp, and it would be easy to open and close onstage.”

“Remember, Eve will be taking the spray paint cans out of the bag,” Minnie added.

Kent-Harris would add up all of the prices on his cell phone's calculator

“The fuschia bag also has a snap, so it’ll be easy to open and close too,” Tenaya said. “And then you wouldn’t have that loud velcro sound.”

They decided to get both and let Howard pick the one he wanted.

And so the day went, looking at clothing, matching the character, and sticking to their budget. At each store, they would gather together and show each other what they wanted. Then Kent-Harris would add up the total on his cell phone calculator.

Sometimes, they would have to toss things back because of the price or the faulty material.

At Angel View Thrift Shop, Minnie found a potential dress for Eve. It was black, form-fitting with man criss-crossed lines in the front.

“I like this dress because of the web-like criss-crossing in the front,” she said. “Eve is a black widow spider, and this might be perfect for her.”

While they were waiting for Kent-Harris at Angel View, Tenaya, Gracie and Bess all tried on prom dresses. They had a dance coming up soon and the prices were great. Bess and Tenaya bought theirs for under $20.

After five hours of shopping, they broke for dinner. The only item still at large was a leather jacket for “Phillip,” Kent-Harris’ character.

“I’ll ask Howard if we can go to the Help Center in town,” Minnie said.

She also has outfits left over from other productions that she might be able to draw from.

Students would ask each other for input. Here, Tenaya holds up a sheer blouse for Eve.

Minnie said that they measured the four actors, but didn’t ask for their imput on their costumes.

“I’ve learned over the years that actors’ imput can just put a wrench in things,” Minnie said. “One actor that I knew refused to wear a green shirt because someone told him that he didn’t look good in green. But the green shirt is for the character, not the actor.”

Minnie’s background is strong for theater. She has a Bachelor of Arts in fashion, a Master’s degree in Musical Theater with an emphasis on Acting, and an MFA in Costume Design. She says sometimes people treat her like a “dumb seamstress,” but she sometimes has to mention her advanced degrees and put them in their place.

She admitted that most Theater students at Idyllwild Arts are agreeable with her selections, but they sometimes complain about things being itchy. Some of their selections for “In the Shape of Things” was wool and leather.

“Would it be too hot for the actors onstage?”

“I never worry about that,” Minnie said. “That comes with the territory of being an actor. There’s going to be hot  lights most of the time. If they can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”

If anything Minnie and her crew have picked is ill-fitting for the actors, they can always sew it and make it right. When a jacket was the right style and the wrong color before, she’s spray-painted them.

“Some of the costumes end up not looking so great up close,” Minnie admitted. “But as long as it looks good to the audience, that’s all we care about.”

All the bags filled the back of the school van, and the students were giddy about their selections. Minnie advised them to arrange all of their outfits so that Howard could approve them the next day. However, as they headed for the Costume Shop (in the basement at Bowman), Howard’s car was parked outside.

(from L) Bess had to shop for a male character, Adam, played by Dylan.

“Guess we’re going to talk about the outfits tonight,” Minnie said.

During the “In the Shape of Things” set for next weekend, Jan. 20-21 and 22 at Rush Hall, Minnie and her crew will be in the basement, helping the actors with their costume changes.

“It’s a pretty sexy play,” Bess explained. “But Howard toned it down a bit because we’re teenagers. In my old school, they would never do that.”

“Yes, but we don’t want to embarrass the other students who are coming to the show,” Tenaya said.

Minnie just smiled. All of the costumes were nearly ready, but there was a lot more work to be done on show day.

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Jan 14, 2012 @ 11:22

‘Three Viewings’ Play Tonight

January 6, 2012

Three Viewings is a comedy made up of three monologues. Courtesy art.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Tonight at 7:30 p.m., the Isis Theatre Company will present, “Three Viewings,” a three-act play by Jeffrey Hatcher at the Quiet Creek Inn Gallery . Since this is a “Reader’s Theater,” everything is pared down to a minimal set, props and only three actors.

Yet, those three actors will make all of the difference. The show, directed by Suzanne Avalon, stars Isis regulars Howard Shangraw, Ann DeWolfe and Alicia Dufour. It’s a comedy set in a funeral parlor and comprised of three bittersweet monologues. Each of the three have just lost a loved one and talk about how they plan to cope with their lives.

They’ve lost, are longing and are uncertain. Yet, to pull it off, each of these actors must practice restraint.

For one, Howard Shangraw, will do a great job. He has to. He heads up the Theater Department at Idyllwild Arts Academy. A couple years ago, Howard wowed Idyllwild audiences in his portrayal as an East German transvestite in Doug Wright’s Pulitzer Prize Winning play, “I Am My Own Wife.” Onstage, Howard played multiple characters. Not an easy feat indeed.

Howard won’t have to play more than one person tonight, but you can bet that his performance will make you laugh, cry and cheer for him. After all, his theater students are returning from Winter Break this weekend, and this will be his last chance in the spotlight.

The Isis Theatre Company will present “Three Viewings” tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Quiet Creek Gallery, located at 54300 North Circle Drive (next to the Rustic Theater). The Quiet Creek Gallery grants its gallery space for free for community events such as tonight’s show. Tickets are $12 and seating is limited to about 50.

For more information, contact Suzanne Avalon at (951) 692-9553 or visit

Copyright 2012 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Featherbrained Comedy Set for Nov. 4

October 11, 2011

(from L) Idyllwild Arts students Paul, Jake and Chase pause before they hang show posters around Idyllwild.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“… for the birds!” the next comedy by the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department, may be director Howard Shangraw’s “feather in his cap.”

It’s a new adaptation of Aristophanes’ comedy, “The Birds,” an ancient Greek play from around 14 B.C. in which the birds build a city in the sky, in hopes of reclaiming their rightful status between the gods and the humans.

Before you start thinking that this adaptation is going to sound like old English Shakespeare, remember that “for the birds” is a modern take written by Howard Shangraw.

For one thing, Howard is a great writer, actor, director who heads up the Theater Department at Idyllwild Arts.

About three years ago, he wrote a comedy called “The People vs. B.B. Wolf,”(B.B. standing for “big” and “bad”) which was performed by the South Coast Repertory Theater and the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department. Howard received a Target grant that helped them tour 3-4 public schools.

“All the kids loved it,” said Nelms MacKelvain, who had helped Howard with the show’s piano arrangements.

“Expect the unexpected,” said Jake, a theater major, as he hung “for the birds” posters around Idyllwild. “It’s going to be fun, colorful and a modern take on the play.”

Naturally, the play is going to be about birds, but these birds will have flair and personality. Some might even resemble notable TV stars, such as Suze Orman and Judge Judy.

The stage at the IAF Theatre on campus is not set up for any flying acrobatics or trapeze stunts. However, Todd Carpenter and his crew will likely improvise.

Chase said that he jumps up and down on a mini trampoline, giving the impression of a bird in flight.

Jake holds up the show's poster

When it comes to costumes, “Think more a Las Vegas spectacle than Shakespeare,” offered Kimber, a junior in the chorus.

Paul, a senior fashion design major, plans to help out Minnie Walters, the school’s costume designer. Last year, he received a grant to host his own fashion show at Idyllwild Arts.

Although Paul has never sewn with feathers, he’s had some first-hand experience with birds.

“On Mother’s Day last year, Evie, my mom’s cat, brought in a dead bird,” Paul said. “My mom told Evie to get that disgusting thing out of the kitchen, so Evie flung it at her face!”

Paul said he’s looking forward to helping out with the costumes, but nothing has been decided yet.

Until modern times, Ornamental feathers were more widely used by males than females. Princes and nobelmen tried to outdo each other in finding the most colorful and expensive plumage to put in their hats.

Robin Hood, the famous outlaw, always had a feather in his cap.

Although it’s a comedy, “for the birds” will also have music.

“But it’s not a musical,” warns Kimber. “There’s a difference. It’s a comedy with music.”

She explained that, in a musical, the music moves the plot along, but in this comedy, music is just an “addition.”

Some favorite bird-centric tunes, such as “Rockin’ Robin” will be performed, but not Michael Jackson’s version, they all insisted.

They also let it slip that there will be a few guest appearances.

“We’re all sworn to secrecy,” they said. “Howard wants it to be a surprise.”

“for the birds,” a new adaptation of Aristophanes’ comedy, “The Birds,” will be performed by the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department Nov. 4-6 at the IAF Theatre on campus. Show times for Friday and Saturday will be at 7:30 p.m., while Sunday will be at 2 p.m.

Each performance is free and open to the public. For more information, call (951) 659-2171, ext. 2200, or visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Oct 11, 2011 @ 16:51







‘Our Town’ Play Opens Friday

July 7, 2011

Courtesy photo. Isis Theatre Company.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“‘Our Town’ is one of the most beloved American plays of all time,” said Suzanne Avalon, head of the Isis Theatre Company of Idyllwild. “We are Grover’s Corners.”

Suzanne was talking about a play which opens tonight, one that has many similarities to Idyllwild. It’s set in a small New Hampshire town and focuses on the daily lives of its residents. Although it’s set in 1901, Suzanne said it’s a timeless piece.

“Sure, we have a lot more technology now, but it’s about what we do in our everyday lives–our attitudes, how we cope and treat our neighbors,” she said.

“One thing that this play teaches us is that things go by quickly, and we forget to pay attention to how wonderful it al is,” Suzanne added.

The three-act play focuses on a young couple, as they go through life’s stages of falling in love, marriage and death.

“The playwright, Thornton Wilder, broke barriers with this play,” Suzanne explained. “He looked at things askew.”

“Our Town” is portrayed with minimal props and costumes, and audience members are not distracted by pageantry, thereby focusing on the words, she said.

Howard Shangraw (center) with Nelms McKelvain and friend

Gemini Anderson plays the female lead, Emily Webb. She is a current theater student at Idyllwild Arts, now on summer break. In fact, Howard Shangraw, who heads up the academy’s theater department, is also in the play.

“He plays plays Simon Stimson, a drunk choir director,” Suzanne said.

In the past, Howard has directed and acted in many Isis Theatre productions, including “I Am My Own Wife,” about an East German transvestite. However, this is the first Isis production for Gemini.

“Gemini is a treasure, and Rebecca, Zora and Chris,” Suzanne said of the young actors. “They found themselves and even though it’s a period piece, they have embodied their characters.”

In one rehearsal, Suzanne said she was so enthralled by their performances that she missed her cue. As a favor to the director, she’s going to play Emily’s mother. It’s also a tribute to her own mother who once played Emily.

There are 18 actors in the “Our Town” production, including many “extras” from Idyllwild.

“We had about a half dozen show up for the audition,” Suzanne said. “Some had never acted before, and wanted to try it and ‘see how it feels.'”

She gave many of them speaking parts, and only turned one or two away.

“I think it’s important to incorporate our town into ‘Our Town,'” Suzanne said.

Ana Lia Lenchantin, originally from Argentina, is in the cast of "Our Town."

Emily Heebner, a veteran Broadway actress, directs the show. Susan Hegarty is the stage manager and moderator. The cast includes Howard Shangraw, Suzanne Avalon, Marshall Smith, Chris Morse, Gemini Anderson, Jeri Greene, Jim Crandall, Duane Minard, Ana Lia Lenchantin, Chris Murphy, Zora Schoner and Chad Jones.

Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. this Friday, July 8 and run through Sunday, July 10. A pre-curtain reception starts at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $18 for general admission, or $15 for seniors and students. The Caine Learning Center is located at 54385 Pine Crest Avenue in Idyllwild.

For more information, call (951) 692-9553 or visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Published on: Jul 7, 2011 @ 23:35

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“Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” Incites Belly Laughs

May 30, 2011

(from L) Vic Sirkin, Betty Anderson and Lou Bacher play one murderous trio

By Marcia E. Gawecki

If you do anything in Idyllwild this Memorial Weekend, go see the final show of “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s.” It’s a fast-paced comedy about a love triangle between a married couple and their dentist. It promises an evening full of old fashioned belly laughs. The last show is at 7 p.m. Monday night.

“This is not high art,” quipped Connor O’Farrell, the show’s director. “Good plays have layers and depth, but this one just offers joke after joke.”

“Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” is about trouble in relationships. Anyone who has been married or has been in a relationship can relate, and laugh at themselves,” adds Conor.

As it turns out, Conor and his wife, Holly O’Farrell, both performed in the first act of Sunday night’s show.

As Doug Austin, the Master of Ceremonies, explained: “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” will be portrayed in three acts, with nine players, all in similar costumes.”

“The reason we’re using nine actors is because so many talented actors showed up at the auditions, and we couldn’t turn them away,” Doug said. “Actually, last year, everyone kept forgetting their lines, so we had to split it up!”

(from L) Last year's show featured Lou Bacher and Vic Sirkin as the "Odd Couple"

Doug’s reference was to last year’s comedy, the “Odd Couple” starring Vic Sirkin and Lou Bacher, two locals, who had to memorize 600 lines of dialog each. During their performances, they had their scripts on their laps and were calling for lines, Conor explained.

“Every now and then, they’d get this ‘deer in the headlights’ look, wait about five seconds, and then deliver their lines,” Conor recalled.

During Sunday’s performance, there were only two of those “deer” moments, but they recovered quickly and the audience laughed along with them.

“You end up memorizing the whole play, really,” explained Lou Bacher, president of the Idyllwild Help Center, who also plays one of the dentists.

“If Vic doesn’t give me the right line, I’m screwed,” Lou explained. “I don’t know where to go next. So you end up memorizing their lead-in lines, your lines, and basically the whole show.”

That’s a big bill for a man in his 70s, but someone has to do it.

Sunday night’s show could have been a bust because of the weather. It had been raining all day, with no sign of letting up at showtime. Yet, those hearty folks with tickets ate their spaghetti dinner in their laps, and didn’t complain about eating ice cream and cookies in chilly weather.

“Even if they cancelled the dinner, it wouldn’t matter,” said one part-timer from Carlsbad. “All of the proceeds go to the Help Center.”

Sunday night’s show was the third performance for the acting troupe with their final show tonight, Monday, May 30, at 7 p.m.

Ticket sales were going well. Before the show, Steve Taylor, a board member, said that they had already achieved $13,000 of their $15,000 goal. After the show, Lou said it was even higher at $14,000.

Lou Bacher, actor and board president, said the Help Center reached $14,000 by Sunday night

When I heard that nine actors would be playing three people in the same outfits and wigs, I was skeptical. But since there was only three characters in each act, it was easy to follow.

“I’m the only natural curly-headed redhead, so I don’t have to wear a wig,” claimed Betty Anderson, an Idyllwild newcomer with musical theater experience.

Speaking of wigs, the ones worn by the gigolo dentist were so cheesy that it was painful to watch. That shaggy, 70s Peter Frampton style wig was so ill-fitted and ridiculous on all three dentists.

Yet, it was the snappy dialog that carried this play. Written by Ron Clark and Sam Bobrick, it reminded me of those wonderful Neil Simon comedies set in New York. You’re just laughing and reacting to the first joke, when they’re onto the next one.

Conor, who plays Paul, the husband in the first act set on Christmas, is surprised to see his wife and dentist in the same room at the Howard Johnson’s hotel. Their affair surprises him, yet he has no idea about their dark and dubious plan.

“Didn’t I satisfy you sexually?” Paul asks Arlene, ignoring Mitchell (played by Frank Ferro, the dentist with the bad wig).

“A marriage is like baseball,” Paul explained. “Sometimes you pitch, sometimes you catch. Sometimes it goes into extra innings, and sometimes it’s rained out. But you love the game, so you’re in for the long haul.”

Arlene (played by Holly O’Farrell, his real-life wife), would hear none of that. She wanted sex, freedom and excitement. Nothing Paul, the hardworking husband and weekend couch potato, had to offer.

Yet, the banter between husband and wife, as they sort things out, is precious.

“Wait until you see how cleverly we planned this,” Arlene brags to her husband as they’re tying him up.

Later, she worries that he’ll catch a cold in the bathtub water before they drown him.

The second act is in the same hotel room six months later on the Fourth of July. Exit Conor, Holly and Frank Ferro. Enter a new trio comprised of Phil Drell as the dentist, Chris Singer as Arlene and Pete Caparelli as the husband.

Many Idyllwild homes are decked out for Memorial Day weekend

The wigs, costumes and dialog works. The audience is laughing out loud.

“It was a great way to handle the show,” said Trish, a local, who is also an actress with the Isis Theater Company. “That way, the actors don’t have to recite so much dialog, and no one gets bored.”

Trish went on to say that she liked the show’s reference to locals like Elaine Bacher and the Town Crier newspaper.

“We should do that with the Isis Theater,” Trish said. “It’s a great way to connect with a local audience.”

In the audience Sunday night were some actor’s own fan clubs. The group of five women sitting ahead and next to me came to see Chris Singer in a curly red wig. They were staying at her Silver Pines Lodge and laughed at every joke, except for a few by the show’s MC, Doug Austin.

“Did he really say that?” one of the women asked. “I thought this was a family show!”

For the second act set on the Fourth of July, Arlene used a ploy to get her husband and lover into the same room. Yet, clearly hadn’t figured out her loyalties. Both men longed for her, out of habit and lust. Her hardworking husband lacked excitement, yet her lover lacked his earning power.

What surprised me was both men were willing to resort to murder to keep this ditzy redhead. Conor said to take this show at face value, but you just wanted to shake those two men into reason! Yet, both blamed popular culture (namely newspaper and magazine articles) as the culprit for Arlene’s dissatisfaction with their flawed relationships.

Yet, Arlene didn’t appear to be the “evolved” woman she claimed to be. Like a bee, she’d flit from man to man, still trying to “find” herself.

The final trio, comprised of Lou as the dentist/lover, Vic as the husband and Betty Anderson as Arlene, appear in the same hotel room on New Year’s Eve. As a group, they’ve been through a lot together.

When Arlene and Paul attempt to murder Mitchell, he tries to wiggle out with his so-called sincerity. He opens the window and shouts, “Hey world! I love Mrs. Paul Miller!”

“I think he means it, honey,” Arlene says to her husband. “He needs an apology.”

The audience knows that “Mrs. Paul Miller,” is a trophy between two sparring men, but not a true declaration of love.

Besides snappy dialog, audience members can expect lots of physical comedy, such as jumping on beds and walking on skyscraper ledges. All are done exceedingly well with minimal props.

Was one acting trio better than another? You be the judge. As a cohesive play, it worked. The actors weren’t taxed out in rehearsals, yet the audience wasn’t bored.

Yet, it didn’t take a local to follow along.

Charlie and Linda, a couple from San Diego, were visiting Idyllwild Memorial Weekend. They heard about the play at their hotel, and decided to give it a try. Years ago, their son had attended Idyllwild Arts Academy.

From the back row, they laughed along heartily with everyone else.

“We just love local theater,” Charlie said. “This was a lot of fun!”

“I have two rules to live by,” Mitchell (played by Lou Bacher) explained. “No lipstick and no personal checks.”

Yet, seeing Lou in red lipstick sporting a Peter Frampton wig is well worth the $35 ticket price.

The show is MC’d by Doug Austin who tells corny jokes, but keeps the auction items going. A weekday getaway at Silver Pines Lodge (for two) garnered $150, while two photos of Frank Ferro (fully clothed in 70s attire) brought in another $50 or so.

By tonight’s show, (Monday, May 30th) it looks like the troupe will surpass their $15,000 goal. Which is a pretty incredible feat given our tough economy.

“We’re serving customers at the Help Center now who once donated to us,” Lou said pointedly after Sunday night’s show.

Besides the Mary Austin Scholarship Fund, the show had help from Sysco Foods, Cafe Aroma, Community Lumber, Isis Theater Company, John Simpson for graphic design, Linda Anderson for spearheading the meal and all of the Help Center volunteers.

Tickets to tonight’s show (Monday, May 30) are still available.  Get them at the Help Center, Silver Pines Lodge or by calling (951) 659-4335. Dinner will be held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Show starts promptly at 7 p.m.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Serving Up Murder, Mystery & Mayhem Memorial Weekend

May 26, 2011

(from L) Vic Sirkin, Betty Anderson and Lou Bacher play the leads

By Marcia E. Gawecki

If you’re up for a little murder-mystery-mayhem this Memorial Day Weekend, “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” offers your best ticket.

It’s put on by the same group of community actors that brought you “The Odd Couple” last year.

So before you begin groaning or giggling, keep in mind this troupe raised more than $11,000 in ticket sales and auction items for the Idyllwild Help Center last year.

And since this year presents an even greater need, their goal is now $15,000. To achieve this, Director Conor O’Farrell has expanded the performances from three to four, to accommodate everyone’s schedule Memorial Weekend. Dinner shows run from Friday, May 27 to Monday, May 31.

“We added another night because of the popularity of ‘The Odd Couple,’” Conor said. “For the last show, we turned about 20 people away.”

Town Hall has a capacity of 120 seats. An Italian dinner is included into the $35 ticket price and will be served on the grounds around Town Hall.  Sysco Foods, Café Aroma and Help Center volunteers all worked together to make it happen, said Lou Bacher, who is now president of the Idyllwild Help Center, as well as an actor in the show.

“But instead of 600 lines that I had to recite for ‘The Odd Couple,’” I only have 200 lines,” Lou said.

The combination of a light comedy dinner theater worked for the Help Center last year, so Conor has agreed to another show. He chose “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s for this troupe because he had performed 15 years ago, and local audiences loved it.

(from L) Lou and Vic brought the house down in "The Odd Couple" last year.

“It’s a silly play, really,” Conor said over coffee at Café Aroma. “Great drama has layers and texture. This has nothing like that. It’s just joke after joke.  But if you want to laugh and have a good time, then we’ll deliver.”

Conor added that during “The Odd Couple,” performance Lou and Vic had their books in hand onstage and were still calling for lines.

“We were entertained by their screw ups,” he said.

But this time, Conor isn’t going to tax out his actors by making them learn so many lines. He’s assigned different actors for each of the acts.

“Wigs and costumes will be the same to help clarify things,” Conor explained.

You see, the story centers around an unhappily married couple and their dentist. Scenes are set at a Howard Johnson’s Hotel on New Year’s Eve, the Fourth of July and Christmas.  Without spoiling the show, just know that two of the three main characters conspire to kill one other. Murder, mystery and mayhem ensue.

The cast includes Betty Anderson, Holly O’Farrell, Frank Ferro, Chris Singer, Phil Drell, Pete Caparelli, Lou Bacher and Vic Sirkin.

“Without naming names, there’s one actor who is really awkward onstage. It’s so bad it’s funny,” Conor said.

Vic bristled.

“We didn’t invite you here to put us down and steal the whole interview,” he said.

“I went into acting because it’s always about me,” Conor said, and reminded Vic that play practice started in 15 minutes.

It's all about having a good time and giving to the Help Center, Vic said

“What’s your first line?” Conor asked Vic, holding up a crisp piece of bacon.

Vic licked his lips and began panting loudly.

“Where are the towels?” Vic shouted.

“Good boy!” Conor exclaimed.

However, not everyone in the cast is a novice. Betty Anderson has been a model and actor for awhile. She and her family moved from San Diego to Idyllwild because her daughter, Gemini, is studying theater at Idyllwild Arts.

“Did Conor tell you about himself?” Betty asked.

Not only is Conor a good director, but an accomplished Hollywood actor. He’s appeared in film, theater and television. Some of the more popular TV shows include “NCIS,” “CSI,””Cold Case,” “The Mentalist,” “Star Trek: Enterprise” and “Without a Trace.”

“Fame aside, he’s just Conor, a crabby, egomanic director when he’s here in Idyllwild,” Vic reminded us.

One popular auction item will feature a semi-nude Frank Ferro, owner-manager of Cafe Aroma.

“Since the show uses lots of towels as props, we’re auctioning off a framed photo of Frank in a towel,” Conor said.

Last year, a photo of Frank in nothing but an apron raised $250 for the Help Center.

“Everyone thinks Frank is sexy,” Conor added. “They didn’t ask Vic or me to pose in a towel.”

Other auction items include movie box sets, a director’s chair and other autographed items.

Tickets for “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s” are available at the Idyllwild Help Center, Silver Pines Lodge and by calling (951) 659-4335. The $35 ticket price includes dinner, which will be served from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall. Shows start promptly at 7 p.m.

All ticket proceeds go to the Idyllwild Help Center. The show was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Mary Austin Grant & Scholarship Fund.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

‘Spitfire Grill’ Strikes Local Chord

May 22, 2011

'The Spitfire Grill' is set in a small town in the mountains, much like Idyllwild

By Marcia E. Gawecki

After the Saturday night, May 21st performance of “The Spitfire Grill,” the audience was on its feet whooping it up. One might expect that from an audience made up of family, friends and faculty, but this one was made up largely of Idyllwild residents.

“I was told to bring tissues,” admitted Beth, one Idyllwild resident who is also an actor.

Others were drawn to the theater for the first time. What was the attraction to this performance about a small town in Gilead, Wisconsin, that struck a cord?

Perhaps it could have been a tale about Idyllwild.

“Didn’t it remind you a lot of Idyllwild?” Beth asked at intermission.

Yep, there were lots of similarities, good and bad. Small town gossips, rigid folks unwilling to accept newcomers, those harboring deep secrets, homeless folks living in the woods and  those who couldn’t wait to leave. But “The Spitfire Grill” also touched on topics that would interest locals like lost logging, natural beauty and escapism.

The story is interesting enough. It’s about Percy (played by Melissa), a young woman who leaves prison to start a new life in Gilead. She had seen a newspaper clipping of the changing fall leaves along Copper Creek. It seemed as likely place as any, yet most of the townsfolk don’t share in Percy’s plan.

Even her new boss/landlord  Hannah (played by Becca), a grouchy, bitter woman (who harbors a big secret) is strict with Percy and holds her at arm’s length. In spite of it all, Percy doesn’t buckle. As a newcomer, she appreciates windows without bars and  the beauty of her natural surroundings, even from inside a greasy grill.

(from L) Leads Becca and Melissa at another event. Photo courtesy Idyllwild Arts.

Speaking of grills, The Red Kettle in Idyllwild got a callout in the program. It reads: “Special thanks to Martha and the gals at The Red Kettle.”

In fact, the three leads in the show, Melissa, Becca and Paulina, all went to The Red Kettle a couple of weeks ago for more than just lunch.

“We just ate and talked,” said Paulina and Becca sheepishly.

Likely they were talking to Martha and her waitresses about what it’s like to own and work in a local grill, day in and day out. Martha would give it to them straight.

Well, their research paid off. The show had a homespun feel to it. (Just like looking in the mirror, Idyllwild). There were likeable characters, like Shelby (played by Paulina), a shy housewife who is bullied by her husband. And Hannah, who took in an ex-convict without waitress or culinary skills. And Joe, the town sheriff, (played by Milan) who initially resents being Shelby’s parole officer, but later opens his to the natural beauty before him.

The annoying cast members included Effy, the nosy postwoman (played by Savannah), whose gossipy ways made everyone cringe, and Caleb, Shelby’s verbally abusive husband (played by Jake), who resents living in his cousin’s shadow.

(from L) Jake played Caleb, the controlling husband, while Savannah played Effy, the gossipy postwoman.

“Jake cut his hair short for the sake of the show,” said Will, Jake’s friend.

Jake’s preppy locks were cut military-style to fit his angry, rigid personality.

“I just hated your character,” one woman admitted after the show.

“That’s a sign of a good actor,” said Will, proudly.

Like others, 16 songs in a two-hour show sounded a bit too much. The storyline was serious enough. Did it needed to be punctuated with song after song?

Yet, they made the whole story about The Spitfire Grill in Idyllwild, er Gilead, even richer. Anyone can recite dialog, but it takes talent to sing your way though a play, and make the locals laugh, cry and stand up and cheer.

You’re going to love all the lyrics by James Valcq and Fred Alley. You’d swear they’ve visited Idyllwild before.

Like “The Colors of Paradise,” sung by Percy and Shelby, as they wrote an ad about visiting Gilead and The Spitfire Grill. “Ever want to lose yourself/Come to a place where you can grow/where there’s people that you know/Own a piece of heaven where hummingbirds sing/and roots so deep into the earth, they’ll never pull away.”

Paulina singing at another event. Photo courtesy Idyllwild Arts.

Or “Digging Stone,” the song sung by Caleb, that could also reflect local frustrations about work and the economy.

“They kick you hard and make you crawl/A man is more than just blood and stone.”

But “These Wide Woods,” sung by Joe and Percy sums it all up beautifully:

“If these woods were mine/Dreams would come to me.”

Of course, none of the songs in “The Spitfire Grill” musical would be possible without the music. Instead of canned music on disk, this Idyllwild Arts musical had a live band. Five staff members and classical music majors played each sound effect, intermission music, set scene music and accompanying numbers for two hours. The band included: Nelms McKelvain on piano, Keth McCabe on guitar and mandolin, Patrick Doran-Sheenan on accordian, and music students Manje and Miley on violin and cello. When you see their tired arms after the show, tell them to take a bow.

You have one more chance to see “The Spitfire Grill” on Sunday, May 22 at 2 p.m. at the IAF Theatre on campus. All shows are free and open to the public, but come early to get a seat.

For more information, visit or call (951) 659-2171.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me.  All rights reserved.

Published on: May 22, 2011 @ 0:07

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