‘Small Mouth Sounds’ Reading List


Thanks to the New Haven Free Public Library for curating the Micro-Branch in our lobby for Small Mouth Sounds. Stop and take a look at these titles before or after the show. Find one you like? Check out one of these books with our Box Office using any CT library card then simply return it to your local library!

A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings – Coleman Barks
The Essential Rumi – Translated by Coleman Barks
Radical Acceptance – Tara Brach, PhD.
The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy – Edited by John Brehm
Daring Greatly – Brené Brown, Ph. D. LMSW
Rising Strong – Brené Brown, PhD. LMSW
The Gifts of Imperfection – Brené Brown, PhD. LMSW
The Healing Power of the Breath – Richard P. Brown & Patricia L. Gerbarg
Comfortable With Uncertainty: 108 Teachings – Pema Chödrön
How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind – Pema Chödrön
Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change – Pema Chödrön
Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living – Pema Chödrön
Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears – Pema Chödrön
The Places That Scare You: A Guide To Fearlessness – Pema Chödrön
The Wisdom of No Escape And the Path of Loving-Kindness – Pema Chödrön
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times – Pema Chödrön
The Mind Illuminated – Culadasa (John Yeats, PhD.) and Matthew Immergut, PhD. with Jeremy Graves
Mind Over Mood Second Edition – Dennis Greenberger, PhD. and Christine A. Padesky, PhD.
Mindfulness in Plain English – Henepola Gunaratana
The Poetry of Zen – Translated and Edited by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton
Full Catastrophe Living – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth – John C. Maxwell
Make Your Bed – Admiral William H. McRaven
Carry On, Warrior – Glennon Doyle Melton
Being Peace – Thich Nhat Hanh
Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm – Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Eat – Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Relax – Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Sit – Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Walk – Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace is Every Breath – Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace is Every Step – Thich Nhat Hanh
Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise – Thich Nhat Hanh
The Art of Communicating – Thich Nhat Hanh
The Blooming of a Lotus – Thich Nhat Hanh
The Miracle of Mindfulness – Thich Nhat Hanh
Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day – Thich Nhat Hanh
You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment – Thich Nhat Hanh
The Happiness Equation – Neil Pasrich
Start Here Now – Susan Piver
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz
The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
Real World Mindfulness for Beginners – Edited by Brenda Salgado
Real Happiness – Sharon Salzberg
10 Minute Mindfulness – S. J. Scott & Barrie Davenport
Declutter Your Mind – S. J. Scott & Barrie Davenport
The Tao of Mindful Being – Konrad Sheehan
You Are a Badass – Jen Sincero
The Surrender Experiment – Michael A. Singer
The Untethered Soul – Michael A. Singer
Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down – Haemin Sunim
Sky Above, Great Wind – Kazuaki Tanahashi
Yoga Body and Mind Handbook – Jasmine Tarkeshi
Mindfulness – Time Magazine Special Edition
A New Earth – Eckhart Tolle
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
Breathe – Dr. Belisa Vranich

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Drama Notes: Playwright Bess Wohl

Bess Wohl

The six characters who gather at a silent retreat in Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds do so with an urgent, near desperate, need for change. Though what they’re searching for is different in every case—perhaps it’s enlightenment, or a sense of connection to something greater than themselves—they’re each committed to the elusive, heroic, deeply human need for transformation.
Bess Wohl’s near-wordless play Small Mouth Sounds premiered at Ars Nova (which also produced Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812) in early spring of 2015. After a critically acclaimed run, it transferred Off Broadway to the Pershing Square Signature Center, and is now launching a national tour starting here at Long Wharf Theatre. The production will go on to perform at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, as well as theatres in Santa Monica, Dallas, Miami, and Philadelphia.
Recently, Literary Manager Christine Scarfuto sat down with Bess Wohl to talk about the play.

Where did the idea for the play come from? What inspired you to write it?
I first attended a spiritual retreat several years ago, inspired by a close friend who invited me to come along with her. I imagined the experience as an opportunity to spend time with my friend—I hadn’t even realized we’d be in silence! After the first night, my playwright brain turned on and I started taking notes for a possible play. I kept going on retreats, not entirely sure if I was on a spiritual journey or on a playwriting one, although ultimately the experience of making the play turned out to be both. I was initially drawn to the challenge of trying to wordlessly convey the details of plot and character, but as I worked on the play, I realized that part of what characterizes a spiritual retreat is the fact that most people come on retreat with an intense need—for connection, for change, for enlightenment, for relief from pain—and those needs began to propel the play forward, into existence. In the play, I’d imagined the silence as an obstacle, resulting in funny and/or painful moments of miscommunication, frustration, thwarted desire, but as I worked I realized perhaps it’s also the only hope any of the characters have of stepping outside of themselves—even temporarily—and finding a moment of freedom from the stories they’ve all built up about who they are.

You’ve written a play with almost no dialogue. What was that like, and what sort of challenges did you face? What did you find yourself thinking about in terms of the way we connect with ourselves and each other without speech?
When I began the play, it was all a big experiment. I had no idea whether I would be able to communicate a story or character without a lot of words, and I had no idea how audiences would react. What I discovered was that that viewing the play became a sort of detective hunt, where the audience searched for clues and details that would elucidate character or plot. In that way, my hope is that watching the play becomes a very active experience, and you get out what you put into it. On another level, the silence in the play both allowed and required me to think very clearly about what the event of each scene is, without anything being obscured by the thicket of conversation. I found it was necessary to pare things down and look rigorously at each silent moment in a character’s arc to make sure I understood how it was advancing the story. One rule I developed was that even though often nobody is speaking, something is always, always happening. Silence does not mean nothingness. Finally, I found myself exploring, in silence, how we all project stories onto one another. I began to experiment with either playing into those snap judgments or dismantling them, questioning them, flipping them. It became so clear to me that most of us make up our minds about other people long before a single word is spoken. The characters in the play do it to each other, we do it when watching plays, and we do it all day long when we’re in silence—on the train, in a doctor’s waiting room, on the elevator. As I worked on the play, I started to find this idea resonating throughout my daily life.

So many of us define ourselves using narrative and language: it’s the primary way we try to connect with each other. Did you find that without the crutch—or the burden—of talking, that it was easier for these characters to connect with each other on a deeper spiritual level?
I think it was both easier and harder. On the one hand, I think there’s great relief in not having to make conversation—so often we’re scared of being at a loss for words, or a pause in the flow of dialogue, but when you can’t speak at all you can just let that fear go. So I do believe that being released from the responsibility of talking and thereby defining themselves does allow the characters a certain kind of communion that’s beyond narrative, opinion, “story.” That said, I also think there can be a great loneliness in silence. The voices in your own head can get very, very loud. I believe that words, when used truthfully, while totally imperfect, are also probably the best tool we have for bridging that loneliness. What I’m seeking to explore in the play is what happens when words are stripped away from people—what’s gained and also what is lost.

There is something deeply human in watching these characters yearn for change. What is at the heart of our deep human need for transformation?
Such a great question! Maybe it’s because we crave adventure, new things. Perhaps we’re unconsciously preparing ourselves for the ultimate transformation—when we die. I’m not sure I know, but I do find myself constantly exploring in my plays this question of how we change, do we change at all, and what it takes to change. I often find that the typical dramatic arc– a character going through an experience and being transformed by it– doesn’t always mesh with how I experience change. For me, change happens in a very non-linear, jumpy way. I’ll find a glimmer of change—then it’s gone—then suddenly I realize I’m completely changed—then I’m back to square one. I’m interested in looking at that kind of change in my plays: both the fitful, fragile changes—real or imagined—and also the total failure to change, the courage of continuing to go on, as best you can, being your old, flawed self.

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LWT Alums: 2017 Tony Award Nominees

John Douglas Thompson, Long Wharf Theatre

John Douglas Thompson in the LWT production of ‘Satchmo at the Waldorf

This Sunday, June 11, marks the biggest night of the year in American theatre: the Tony Awards! We all like to make predictions of who the winners will be and sit anxiously on the edge of the couch crossing our fingers that our favorites take home the prizes. This year we thought it would be fun to show you some of our list of favorites a.k.a the LWT alums on this year’s nominee list. Check them out below and join us in cheering them on Sunday!

Jefferson Mays – Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play, Oslo
Jefferson Mays has appeared 3 times on the LWT stage: in Misalliance in the 1993/94 season, The Importance of Being Earnest in the  1998/99 season, and in 2000/01’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead directed by Darko Tresnjak, who he would later go on to Tony Award success with in 2014 for his starring role in the Tresnjak directed A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.

Nathan Lane – Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, The Front Page
Nathan Lane is an LWT alum from wayback having performed in the American premiere of The Common Pursuit in our 1984/85 season.

John Douglas Thompson – Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play, August Wilson’s Jitney
John Douglas Thompson starred in the wildly popular LWT production of Satchmo at the Waldorf in the 2012/13 Season. He went on to win the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Solo Performance in 2014 for his role in that production.

Michael Yeargan – Best Scenic Design of a Play, Oslo
A frequent designer at LWT, it would be hard to list all the times this already Tony Award winning scenic designer has designed for our stage. He was responsible for the sets for two 16/17 season world premiere shows:Meteor Shower and The Most Beautiful Room in New York, and also recently designed 2014’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, 2013’s Curse of the Starving Class, 2010’s A Doll’s House, and 2009’s The Glass Menagerie

David Gallo – Best Scenic Design of a Play, August Wilson’s Jitney
Another Tony Award winning LWT alum, David Gallo designed the sets for Golden Boy in our 2000/01 season, In Walks Ed in our 1997/98 season, and the popular Al Pacino directed production of Hughie in our 1995/96 season.

Mimi Lien – Best Scenic Design of a Musical, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
New Haven, CT native Mimi Lien designed the beautiful set for our 2012 production of Macbeth 1969 and in 2015 we were so happy to see her become the first set designer to be named a MacArthur Fellow!

Santo Loquasto – Best Scenic Design of a Musical and Best Costume Design of a Musical, Hello, Dolly!
The only designer to be nominated in two different categories this year, Santo Loquasto also pulled double duty designing both the set and costumes for our 1993/94 world premiere production of Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass which later transferred to New York.

Jane Greenwood – Best Costume Design of a Play, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
A 20 time Tony Award nominee and winner of a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre, Jane Greenwood’s designs have appeared in a number of LWT shows. In the 2016/17 season she designed the costumes for the world premiere of Napoli, Brooklyn and also recently did costume design for The Killing of Sister George in our 2012/13 season, Uncle Vanya in 2006/07, and The Front Page in 2005/06.

Susan Hilferty – Best Costume Design of a Play, Present Laughter
Costume Designer Susan Hilferty has designed for two recent Athol Fugard plays at LWT: the 2014 world premiere of The Shadow of a Hummingbird and the 2010 east coast premiere of The Train Driver.

Toni-Leslie James – Best Costume Design of a Play, August Wilson’s Jitney
Toni-Leslie James designed costumes for our 2015 production of brownsville song (b-side for tray), 2012’s Macbeth 1969, our 2011 U.S. premiere of The Old Masters and 2008’s A Civil War Christmas and The Bluest Eye.

David Zinn – Best Costume Design of a Play, A Doll’s House, Part 2
David Zinn has designed costumes for our 2001/02 production of An Infinite Ache, the 2000/01 world premiere of The Third Army, the 1999/00 world premiere of The Good Person of New Haven, and our 1998/99 production of Abstract Expression.

Linda Cho – Best Costume Design of a Musical, Anastasia
Tony Award winning costume designer Linda Cho has designed costumes for our 2015 world premiere production of The Second Mrs. Wilson, 2013’s Clybourne Park, 2011’s Italian American Reconcilliation, 2006’s Durango, and 2001’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.

Paloma Young – Best Costume Design of a Musical, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Paloma Young designed costumes for our 2016 world premiere production of Lewiston.

Catherine Zuber – Best Costume Design of a Musical, War Paint
Catherine Zuber has designed costumes for 3 LWT productions: 2007’s Prayer for My Enemy, 1999/00’s Hedda Gabler, and 1998/99’s The Grey Zone.

Christopher Akerlind – Best Lighting Design of a Play, Indecent
Another frequent designer at LWT, Christopher Akerlind has designed lights most recently for our 2017 world premiere of The Most Beautiful Room in New York, our 2015 world premiere of The Second Mrs. Wilson, and the east coast premiere of The Train Driver.

Jane Cox – Best Lighting Design of a Play, August Wilson’s Jitney
Jane Cox has been the lighting designer on 2 LWT productions: 2006’s Rocket to the Moon and the 2001/02 season productions of Arms and the Man and Hearts.

Donald Holder – Best Lighting Design of a Play, Oslo
Donald Holder most recently designed the lights for the 2016 world premiere of Meteor Shower and the 2016 production of My Paris at LWT. Other Long Wharf productions include 2014’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, 1998/99’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and 1995-96 Al Pacino directed Hughie.

Jennifer Tipton – Best Lighting Design of a Play, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Jennifer Tipton has been the lighting designer for a number of LWT shows including the 2017 hit production of Endgame, 2009’s The Glass Menagerie, and 2004/05’s Moon for the Misbegotten.

Bartlett Sher – Best Direction of a Play, Oslo
Bartlett Sher has directed two shows on the LWT stage: 2007’s Prayer for My Enemy and the 2004/05 production of Singing Forest

Rachel Chavkin – Best Direction of a Musical, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Director Rachel Chavkin is slated to direct the opening production of our 2017/18 season: Small Mouth Sounds.

-Kimberly Shepherd

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5 Tips from a Chef to Cook Like a Pro

Chef Alex Blifford

The cast of The Most Beautiful Room in New York are talented actors, singers, and dancers, but a few of them have to show some culinary talent on stage too. To help the actors out director Gordon Edelstein asked the talented Alex Blifford to come visit rehearsal.

Alex Blifford and actor Matt Bogart

Alex instructing actor Matt Bogart

Alex is the Chef de Cuisine at Zinc, one of our restaurant partners. He was happy to give a hands-on tutorial on knife skills and share some other important pointers on how the actors can convince the audience they’re naturals in a professional kitchen. Edelstein and actor Matt Bogart who plays chef David Kaplan were especially appreciative of the expert guidance on such things as chopping onions and applying rosemary to roast lamb.

After his visit we asked Alex for some tips for all you aspiring chefs at home and this is what he shared:

#1 Mise en place
 It’s French for in its place. The most common mistake people will make is not reading the recipe through and organizing the ingredients before they start a recipe. Read the recipe a couple times so you’re familiar with it and have your ingredients ready to go and in order.

#2 Right tool for the right job
Some recipes call for a food processor. Others may require to clean and trim a very delicate ingredient. If you don’t have the right equipment odds are the recipe won’t come out right either. If you care about the quality of the end product then take the time to get the right tools.

#3 A good sharp knife makes all the difference
One of the biggest mistakes cooks can make is using a cheap dull knife. They can be bulky and cumbersome. It’s harder to cut through dense things with a dull blade and will ultimately take you much longer to prepare the recipe than it should. Find a good cutlery or kitchen store and go handle a few, see what feels good in your hand. Then you can always go buy it for less online if you have sticker shock. I guarantee you’ll notice immediate results.

#4 Read, read, read
All chefs need inspiration from time to time. The average person is not surrounded by amazing chefs on a daily basis. You need to search out sources to expand your knowledge. Culinary text books are great for learning the science. Cook books are great for expanding your depth of cuisine. Blogs and magazines can keep you up on trends and give you quick, unique ideas you can try.

#5 Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Not everything you make is going to come out perfect. Every recipe you try isn’t going to be a winner. It happens to the most tried and true professionals. Don’t shy away from recipes because they look too difficult. Make a dish a couple times if it’s not perfect at first. Use a recipe you’re comfortable with and switch up a few ingredients. You won’t be able to learn from errors if you are too scared to make a few.

You can learn more about Alex on Zinc’s blog and be sure to make reservations at Zinc to enjoy the result of all those killer skills: his delicious food.

-Kimberly Shepherd

 

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Joining the ‘Beautiful Room’ Family

The Most Beautiful Room in New York meet and greet
“This is a show about family,” explained Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein as he kicked off the meet and greet for The Most Beautiful Room in New York. Of course, he was referencing the story in the new musical, but if you didn’t know that you’d think he was talking about the dozens of people surrounding him in that rehearsal hall.

You may have heard how a new work is often called a playwright’s ‘baby’. It makes sense when you think of the amount of time (usually years) and nurturing they put in to creating it. But just like raising a child requires the help of an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc., developing a show for the stage requires the support of a slightly different, nonetheless necessary, family for it to be successful. From the director and actors to designers, production crew, and administrators, standing at a meet and greet for any show at Long Wharf makes it easily apparent how many individuals, all with specific skills to fulfill specific needs, it takes to make theatre happen. Being at a meet and greet for a new musical like The Most Beautiful Room in New York blows that out of the water.

The first production of any show usually has the writer in the room throughout the rehearsal process continuously providing guidance and rewrites. Add to that a musical’s need for a composer, music director, orchestra, etc. and you end up with a meet and greet room like that for Beautiful Room where 70 or so people crowd shoulder to shoulder to introduce themselves to each other. Some had joined this family years before when this musical was just a rough draft from the minds of its creators, others had been welcomed in along the way at a staged reading here or production meeting there, and still for others this day was their initiation into the family.

Those of us in theatre commonly refer to our co-workers as our ‘theatre family’ mostly because throughout the course of a show you can easily end up spending more time with these people than your actual family. But there’s also something familial feeling about being surrounded by a bunch of people who are all focused on one common mission. At first glance, that mission simply appears to be about making a show happen successfully, but there’s another element to it that’s of particular importance to the first production of a work. Standing with all the other members of The Most Beautiful Room in New York family at meet and greet the realization was that the family wasn’t complete. Starting at that moment our collective job was to be ready in six weeks to welcome the last member of the family: you, the audience.

-Kimberly Shepherd

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DRAMA NOTES: An Interview with Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik, The Most Beautiful Room in New York
Adam Gopnik, the writer of book and lyrics for The Most Beautiful Room in New York, is perhaps best known as a staff writer for The New Yorker, where he’s contributed fiction, non-fiction, criticism, satire, and memoir since 1986. He’s written numerous books during his tenure there, including Paris to the Moon, inspired by the five years he spent as the magazine’s Paris correspondent, Through the Children’s Gate: A Home in New York, which he wrote upon returning to and raising children in a post-9/11 New York City, and more recently, The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, which examines the true meaning of food in our lives. It is the latter two that Gopnik drew from thematically in writing The Most Beautiful Room in New York, which he’s developed in collaboration with composer David Shire (Starting Here, Starting Now; Baby). Long Wharf Theatre’s Literary Manager Christine Scarfuto sat down with Gopnik to ask him about musical theatre writing and the play itself.

Q: Beautiful Room is one of the first musical theatre projects you’ve taken on. What observations have you made about the process of writing a musical and how it differs from the other types of writing you’ve done over the course of your career?

A: Well, I have previously written a lengthy oratorio, on the life of Alan Turing, with Nico Muhly. But what was interesting in that effort for the concert hall, against this effort for the stage, was that Nico accepted in the text a certain amount of poetic ambiguity, of indirect narration, even laconic compression, all of which are verboten – or at least highly dubious – in the musical theatre. I used to joke that the difference between art (the oratorio) and entertainment (which Beautiful Room aspires to be) is that in art you expect the audience to do all the work for you, and in entertainment you are expected to do all the work for the audience. The ‘pop’ form, in other words, is much harder. More broadly, the difference is that in prose writing the effect of the whole, or at least of my kind of whole, depends almost entirely on the shape of the sentences and how they sit together. Forward movement and linear acceleration matter, of course, but a certain amount of beautiful meander is acceptable, even useful. You can dip into any of my books without the whole entirely eluding you. With a stage play, particularly a musical play, forward movement and propulsive story telling are nearly the whole of the enterprise. The great risk in a new musical is having songs that, however charming, comment on the action rather than advancing it. (One of the best actors in the show kept sweetly warning me to be sure that “the song’s not in the scene”, i.e. that the ‘book scene’ preceding each song doesn’t already contain the emotional information the song is about to deliver.) All Gordon and David and I have done – sometimes contentiously, not to say hysterically – is to monitor the linear inevitability of the storytelling in the show. Is this the next necessary thing? In prose, a certain amount of bagginess at the knee is not deadly, and can even be likable, more human, a kind of prose equivalent of Chaplin’s pants. On stage, I’ve learned, all bagginess at the joints, whether knee or elbow or intermission, is fatal.

Q: Did you have favorite musicals growing up? And, what particular musicals have you thought of while creating Beautiful Room?

A: The musical theatre has been a passion of mine since I was a little kid – but the funny, and predictably human thing, is that both my parents were (and still are) allergic to Broadway, associating it with the taste of their own parents. It was my grandparents who kept the collection of original cast recordings in their basement, and I would listen over and over to My Fair Lady and Camelot and The Music Man there, with the joy of the music having the added thrill of the illicit. Then, when I was in my teens, I became obsessed with the earlier generations of the musical theatre, particularly with Rodgers & Hart who seemed to me then – still seem to me now – much the greatest of all musical theatre teams. I would scour Montreal for scratched and barely listenable copies of old recordings of revivals of The Boys from Syracuse and Pal Joey, and would painfully pick out the melody lines and piano intended harmony of “My Romance” and “I Wish I Were in Love Again” on my folk guitar. But with a certain kind of cosmic kismet, the ur-text of Beautiful Room remains that of the first show I ever saw live, thanks to those grandparents: Fiddler on the Roof. For our show, like Fiddler, at however much lower a level, is about a hero who is trying to keep a world that he’s made (or, with Tevye, inherited) from the ravages of destruction, rather than trying to make a new world of his own, as so many musical heroes and heroines do. David Kaplan, our hero, like Tevye has a dream to keep, and he must adjust his vision to changing reality. “Sometimes you have to give up the things you love in order to keep the things you live for,” he concludes at the musical’s end, in a revelation not unlike Tevye’s as Tevye leaves his own little village. David, too, learns that he can keep what really matters to him intact even if he has to, so to speak, emigrate to do it. (Ironically, both Tevye, if a typical Jewish immigrant of his time, and our David probably end up in exactly the same place: the outer boroughs of New York City!).

Q: In the play, the central character, David Kaplan, is fighting for both his restaurant and for his family—and the two feel so intimately tied to each other, almost as if each is intrinsic to the other’s survival. In a broader sense, what is it about food that joins families together?

A: Food is family. That was the rule in my house growing up – where my six brothers and sisters and I would dine invariably every night with my cooking and talking mother and talking (and wine drinking) father – so much that the rhythm of setting eight places is almost attuned into my hand. I try to continue that tradition with my own two children. Certainly, the idea that tables are the places where everything essential in family life takes place is central both to my writing and to this play – but then it seems to me an obvious truth. “In every home I’ve ever known, the living room’s a tomb/ In every home I’ve ever known/ the dining room’s the room,” ran a lyric now discarded from the show, but still true. The kitchen table’s the place where big news (“I’m gay”; “I’m getting married”; “I’m leaving school”) is far more likely to land than it is on any sofa. And where does the real transmission of meaning in modern life take place save in recipes and remembered meals? The ambivalent role of the restaurant in this transmission – as a place at once commercial, out to make a profit, and in its way communal, there to provide a chapel – is also vital, and very much the subject of our show.

Q: New York itself is almost a character in the play, and the city’s raising rents make it nearly impossible for family-run restaurants (and really, middle-class families in general) to survive. As New York continues to evolve economically, what is gained? What is lost?

A: I have written a series of agonized essays over the past decade, and maybe even longer, about the ambivalence we all feel about the transformation of New York. On the one hand, we recognize a city safer and saner than the one many of us grew up in – when I first arrived in New York, the subway at 3 a.m. was out of Dante; now my teenage kids take it as unexcitedly as if it were a school bus – and on the other we see something duller and more monocultural than we can quitebear, or recognize as New York. “The middle is dropping out of the city,” our antagonist, Sergio, says at one point – he says it as a taunt to our hero, but it’s true. We need to recognize that changing is what cities do, and at the same time want to save our city from the wrong kind of change. This agonized and never-ending struggle is also a key subject of our play.

-Christine Scarfuto

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Why SMART PEOPLE?

Tiffany Nichole Greene, Ka-ling Cheung, and Sullivan Jones in SMART PEOPLE at Long Wharf Theatre

Tiffany Nichole Greene, Ka-ling Cheung, and Sullivan Jones in SMART PEOPLE at Long Wharf Theatre

Let me introduce all you smart people to Lydia Diamond’s provocative new play Smart People. Lydia is one of the most gifted writers of her generation.  Smart People is an intellectual, emotional and erotic wrestling match among four souls in an Ivy League college town very much like New Haven.  Race has been the most significantly constant theme in American history. It would be difficult to claim that the present moment is the most divisive in our history having survived a civil war and the race riots of the 1960s. However, certainly, our conflicts over race remain painfully in the forefront of our national conversation. And gender perception, rendered often somewhat more subtlety in our national and personal dialogue, remains in the front of the battle lines of our national and personal conflicts.

Where the personal and the political meet is where Smart People lives. Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me goes the school yard retort.  Never has a well-known epigram been so patently false. Bones that break will heal in time. But verbal cruelty can break hearts for a lifetime. And everyone reading this has known many times that they have been hurt accidentally by another’s careless words and concomitantly every one reading this remembers times that they themselves have injured others inadvertently by something they said.

When it comes to race and gender and politics, the land is covered with mines, and the mines are exploding all the time. Our national and college politics are battlegrounds of misunderstanding, offense, and rage over the words we choose and the iconography we love. The semiotics of our every gesture and sentence can explode with shrapnel injuring all concerned. The name of a residential college at Yale, rules of engagement on a date, nativity scenes, the Confederate flag, and so many more have been calls to arms in our volatile times.

Smart People is a look at our new world from the perspective of four intelligent and educated people in conflict and in close personal relations. Listen as closely as you can. Test your own intellectual and emotional responses to our quartet of smart people.

– Gordon Edelstein 

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A Letter from the Managing Director on Arts Funding

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Long Wharf Theatre has many funders which enable our success: foundations both in New Haven and from around the country, corporations both large and small, and thousands of individual donors, including many of you.  I would like to focus on two particular important supporters of our work – the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the State of Connecticut’s Office of the Arts (COA).

The NEA has been an important source of funding for Long Wharf since its beginnings in the 1960’s, and it has been critical in building regional theatres, as well as many other kinds of arts organizations, for decades.  Over the last ten years, the NEA has been a key supporter of new work, especially those projects which may be a commercial risk, yet have much artistic merit and could help us invest in an exciting playwright.  Some recent projects which have used NEA funding included development workshops of The Most Beautiful Room in New York, the final show of this season; our annual Contemporary American Voices Festival (which you might have seen this past September); and new plays by Dael Orlandersmith and Samuel D. Hunter.

In addition to financial support, NEA funding also serves as a “good housekeeping seal of approval” to other funders.  Our receipt of NEA funds is a signal about the artistic integrity and ambition of our work.  As a result, we are able to leverage our grant award with both local and national funders.

The COA, which is part of the Department of Economic and Community Development, is also a major funder of Long Wharf Theatre. It is one of the few sources of general operating support left for arts organizations like Long Wharf, allowing us to apply those resources to our greatest needs.

In particular, we apply our state funding to support the various production jobs at the theatre (you may have even seen some of the positions in December’s “Chairman Challenge” video).  State funding is a critical source of revenue for arts organizations all over the country, and Long Wharf is certainly no different.

I should also note that these two funding sources are related to each other.  While the NEA does give direct grants to organizations such as Long Wharf, it also provides substantial “block grants” to states which they include in their awards to their organizations.  Connecticut receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the NEA to regrant to arts organizations statewide.

Needless to say, Long Wharf and our peers would be diminished without these revenues.

All my best,
Joshua Borenstein

Managing Director
Long Wharf Theatre

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New Haven joins August Wilson Monologue Competition

Photo by Brandon Bush

Photo by Brandon Brush

It wasn’t nothing to you but it was something to me. To have you just up and walk out like that. What you think happened to me? Did you ever stop to ask yourself, “I wonder how Vera doing–I wonder how she feel?” I lay here every night in an empty bed. In an empty room. Where? Someplace special? Someplace where you had been? The same room you walked out of? The same bed you turned your back on? You give it up and you want it? What kind of sense does that make?

These are just some of the words you can hear bouncing off the walls of CO-OP High School’s black box theater on a typical Thursday afternoon. It is here that students are working with teaching artists from Long Wharf Theatre in preparation for the National August Wilson Monologue Competition.

The AWMC founded in 2007 by Kenny Leon and Todd Kreidler at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company in Atlanta.Through a series of partnerships between schools and regional theaters, students from across the country get to immerse themselves in all aspects of Wilson’s work. They then perform monologues from his plays at regional competitions in their hometowns. A select few are chosen from each participating city, and these finalists are then flown to New York for a final competition at the August Wilson Theater on Broadway. The program is now in ten cities nationwide, including Atlanta, Boston, and Pittsburgh among others. New Haven is currently in its shadow year of participation and will officially join the competition next year.

Photo by Brandon Bush

Photo by Brandon Brush

During the shadow year, Long Wharf Theatre and Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School have partnered to offer an after-school program focusing on August Wilson’s work. Once a week, CO-OP students work with Long Wharf teaching artists to learn about the plays, how to embody Wilson’s characters through acting exercises, and get to work intensely on performing one of his many monologues. “Students are able to receive insight on a playwright who not only looks like them but reflects their everyday lives or the lives of their parents.” says Treneé McGee, one of Long Wharf’s teaching artists. “It is more important now than ever that we spread artistic work and knowledge, educating individuals on how to become more productive in the lives of others. Wilson’s work will always be relevant to us, especially if we as a country want to grow.”

Photo by Brandon Bush

Photo by Brandon Brush

August Wilson was a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. His literary legacy is a series of ten plays, The American Century Cycle. Each is set in a different decade and chronicles the African-American experience. August Wilson’s plays have a particular home in New Haven. The late Lloyd Richards, former Artistic Director of Yale Repertory Theatre, directed many of Wilson’s plays from their first reading all the way through production. This year, Yale Rep produced Wilson’s Seven Guitars, which represents the 1940s entry of the Century Cycle. In 2013 Long Wharf Theatre produced Fences, which is set in the 1950s. “Wilson’s plays are told with rich poetic beauty and lyricism of language. Through his extraordinary gift of storytelling, we understand the history and the identity of black culture in America,” says Barbara Hentschel, another Long Wharf teaching artist. “I look forward to seeing the students every week. It is a privilege to witness their exploration of the complex issues of race, oppression and identity in the world we live in. They are teaching me more than they will ever know!”

In May, there will be a mock competition for the students that have participated in the program this year. The hope is to build excitement amongst the students as well as other New Haven-area schools for next year, when New Haven will officially join as a participating city.

-Eliza Orleans

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The Most Beautiful Room In New York | A Note On The New Title

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LEARN ABOUT THE SHOW

Titles are magical things made by mundane means. Authors work hard at titles, compiling lists and sharing them anxiously with friends, but when a title works it just works – though whether it works because the title brought grace to the project or because the project gave the title a grace it didn’t deserve is a permanent unknown. Scott Fitzgerald worried his titles perhaps more than any other American writer, seriously considering, for his crucial third novel, either “Trimalchio in West Egg or “Under The Red, White And Blue”, both of which he favored over his editor’s plain, preferred “The Great Gatsby”— a title that let itself be filled by the book’s poetry, rather than, well, over-egging it in advance. At my own more Lilliputian level, “Paris To The Moon”, a title which has now loaned itself to fashion spreads and California boutiques, was a close-run thing right up to publication with the more wistful “The Winter Circus”.  Sometimes, titles rise to meet their objects. David Shire, the composer of our new musical, which will open at the Long Wharf in May, recalls as a student at Yale being offered two tickets to a new show opening that night in New Haven. He rejected them; on the sane grounds that the show’s title was too pedestrian to be enticing. The show? (Or, rather, the title?) “My Fair Lady”.  And he was right – it is a terrible, or at least a fatuous title, raised in memory by the great show it graced.

Like giving a name to a baby, one can either do titles decisively in advance or wait to see what the baby looks like, and do it then.  Our show was, for a very long time in its gestation called “Table”, as much from monosyllabic habit  – David’s previous shows include “Baby,” “Big,” “Waterfall” as well as his newly launched “Sousatzka” – as from long deliberation.” “Table” did do some work that titles ought to do, stating evocatively, if a little obliquely, what the show is about, while referencing my book about the philosophy of eating, “The Table Comes First”. (Whose name derives from a British chef who wondered why a young couple would ever buy a sofa or bed to begin life; didn’t they know that the table comes first?)

“While our show is about tables and the communion they bring, it is even more about a family’s fight to keep intact their home, which they believe is the most beautiful room in New York.”

But “The Most Beautiful Room In New York” had long been the name of the most purely thematic song in our show – a song intended to be not so much what’s called in musical theater the show’s “I Want!” as its “Look At What I’ve Got …” For ours, we realized as we worked on it, is a musical about someone – like Curly with his Oklahoma morning and his fringed surrey, or Tevye with his town and his traditions, to cite the highest parallels – who is fighting to keep what he loves but, before the evening is over, will have  to learn to love it in a new way. While our show is about tables and the communion they bring, it is even more about a family’s fight to keep intact their home, which they believe is the most beautiful room in New York – and it is also about a man who has to learn a broader idea of beauty than the one he’s been fighting for for most of his life. David Kaplan, our hero, learns to change and adjust and see past his one restaurant- room to the beautiful growth of his wife and children into their maturity.

And then our show, more than anything needed “New York” in its title. It’s a musical about New York, and New York’s magical, endangered, enticing and frustrating marriage of opportunity, plurality and constant change. Almost every New York love story is a love story about real estate, and so is this one. (My own new book, cheap advertisement coming, “At The Stranger’s Gate” is the tale of a young couple becoming citizens, but their homes – an insanely small Yorkville basement room and then a lovely but rodent-infested Soho loft – are characters as much as the couple is.) Every room in New York is a character, the best of them are beautiful, and beauty, there more than anywhere, is not so much made in the eye of the beholder as something the beholder has to train his eye to see where no one else does.  The question of beauty, the necessity of New York, the desire to break the one-word title spell – all of these considerations together make us glad that our musical has, at last, the title it’s been asking us, querulously, to give it all along: The Most Beautiful Room In New York.

– Adam Gopnik

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