“Steppin’ Out of the Shadows:” An Interview with Murder for Two’s Kellen Blair

By KWAPI VENGESAYI, 5th Avenue Community Engagement Specialist

Murder for Two is a hilarious musical comedy to die for. It received rave reviews during a record-breaking run at Chicago Shakespeare Theater prior to a critically-acclaimed run Off-Broadway at Second Stage Uptown. Called “Ingenious” by The New York Times, it is the perfect blend of murder, music and mayhem! In an interview with lyricist and co-writer Kellen Blair we get a little bit more insight into the show’s creation and success.

Joe Kinosian (left) and Kellen Blair (right)

Do you have any prior connections to The 5th and/or ACT?
I grew up in Seattle and most of my family still lives here (all proud subscribers at 5th Avenue, thank you very much). And interestingly enough, my very first theater experience was at ACT. I was two years old and my parents took me to see A Christmas Carol. It was a terrible idea because the sight of Jacob Marley had me screaming my head off and made everybody hate us, I’m sure. But I’ve been back every year since (and the screaming has definitely mellowed since then). So you can imagine, having my show here, the first theater I set foot in, is extremely meaningful to me. It’s also meaningful to my mom, who has been waiting for this day since our first reading seven years ago. Actually, when I found out Murder for Two was going to New York, I told my mom, and her response was, “Does that mean it’ll be coming to Seattle anytime soon?”

Continue reading ““Steppin’ Out of the Shadows:” An Interview with Murder for Two’s Kellen Blair”

Volunteer Spotlight: Susan Jackson

This is the first in an ongoing series, shining a spotlight on our many amazing volunteers. As a non-profit arts organization, we truly would not be able to do all that we do without our fabulous volunteers. Continue reading “Volunteer Spotlight: Susan Jackson”

Q & A with The Pajama Game’s Trina Mills

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In this Q & A with the multi-talented Trina Mills, she tells us about what it takes to balance the three roles she fills in The Pajama Game: ensemble member, Associate Choreographer, and dance captain. Continue reading “Q & A with The Pajama Game’s Trina Mills”

iHeartMedia Interview with Pajama Game’s Greg McCormick Allen

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Greg McCormick Allen, who is portraying Hines in our production of The Pajama Game, recently did an interview about the show and the process with iHeartMedia. Take a listen below!


Originally broadcast on Recovery Coast to Coast via iHeartMedia. Thanks to Neil Scott for sharing.

Find out more about The Pajama Game and buy tickets here.

Behind the Curtain: Q & A With Pajama Game Costume Designer Rose Pederson

Rose Pederson is back at The 5th for The Pajama Game. She made her debut last season with another workplace musical comedy: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Rose’s designs have been seen in other local theatres, including 47 shows at Seattle Repertory, 28 shows at ACT Theatre, and productions at Intiman Theatre, New Century Theatre and Seattle Children’s Theatre. She has also worked extensively in regional theaters across the nation, including the Broadway production of Largely New York, the Kennedy Center, Arizona Theatre Company, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, Playmakers Repertory Company and The Merc Playhouse.

She took some time to answer a few questions about the costumes for The Pajama Game.


Tell us a bit about your vision for the costumes in The Pajama Game.

I originally talked with Bill Berry about the show and how we saw the “look.” We decided it would be real clothes, based on research of the period. I found many pictures of women working in factories in the Midwest in 1954. I also was able to use the Public Library picture file which has a collection of magazine articles, calendars, news articles, etc. from the period. Sometimes there are treasures there that can’t be found on the internet. My favorite finds were from the category of picnics.

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I chose a palette from car colors of 1954. They had such strong colorful and distinctive combinations. There are basically three looks for the show: The Factory, The Picnic and Hernando’s Hideaway.

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Costume design research for Factory Men costumes.
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Costume design research board for Hernando’s Hideaway costumes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you have any particular inspirations or influences?

My parents were both from the Midwest, so I actually attended many family reunions in parks there and have the photographs from those events during the same time period. I also have a collection of patterns that were my mother’s that we were able to use.

You also costume designed last season for How to Succeed…What are the challenges in finding and building period/retro costumes? What are the benefits?

With both shows, I was able to do vintage shopping in LA and also shop the LA fabric district, visiting stores like MOOD for vintage fabrics.

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PC Mark Kitaoka of Mark and Tracy Photography
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PC Tracy Martin of Mark and Tracy Photography
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PC Mark Kitaoka of Mark and Tracy Photography
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PC Mark Kitaoka of Mark and Tracy Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beauty is that we can still find original and sometimes brand new period pieces. The challenge is to mix modern clothes with the touches of the vintage clothes, such as the men’s cuffs or the shape of a skirt. Plus figuring out how the dancers can perform extreme dance moves in a period-looking piece that doesn’t have the stretch and flexibility of modern clothes.


Check out Rose’s phenomenal designs in The Pajama Game at The 5th Avenue Theatre from February 10 to March 5. Click here for more info and to buy tickets.

Spotlight on Beatsville

Beatsville, written by Wendy Wilf and Glenn Slater, appeared in the 2008 NAMT Festival. The show is now preparing for its world premiere in a co-production with NAMT member The 5th Avenue Theatre and Asolo Rep Theatre. This month, we caught up with the writers to hear about the work they’ve done on the piece since the Festival leading up to this premiere.  Originally printed in the NAMT New Works News.

What was the response to Beatsville like after the 2008 Festival?
We had a great Festival—our cast was spectacular, and made the show look fantastic—and we received a hugely gratifying outpouring of interest from various theatres and organizations who wanted to help us take the next step forward. We sort of fumbled the ball a little—we felt that we still had some writing to do, and weren’t sure what that next step should be, and then we got swept up in other projects. Luckily for us, when we were finally ready to move forward, there was still a lot of goodwill in the community from people who remembered it from the Festival, and they proved instrumental in helping us get the show back on track.

What work have you all been doing on the show since presenting it to the industry? Did the presentation at the Festival inform any of that work?
The version of the show we presented at the Festival stuck very close to our source material, and what we discovered there was that although that source was definitely a strong basis for a stylish musical, there wasn’t enough story to make it a satisfying evening. Through the Festival, we were invited to see a student production of the show at the Musical Akademie in Denmark—translated into Danish! We didn’t understand a word of it, but that actually helped us focus strictly on the architecture of the piece, and we realized that we needed to drastically re-think how the last two-thirds of it were structured.  We next spent some time at the Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat and a retreat at the Weston Playhouse in Vermont (again, both opportunities that stemmed from the Festival), where we broke the show into pieces and tried to figure out how to put it back together. It was in Weston that we had our big “aha!” moment, and we tested the result in another student production, this time at NYU Steinhardt (yet another Festival connection!). There, director John Simpkins was monumentally patient as we overhauled huge chunks of the show in rehearsal (we completely rewrote the last twenty minutes just two days before our first performance). We brought the resulting version to the 2014 NextFest at The 5th Avenue for a 29-hour reading, and while working there with Director Bill Berry realized that together, we had finally found both the right shape for our show, and the right home for it.

You’re preparing for Beatsville’s world premiere in a co-production with Asolo Rep and The 5th Avenue. What has that process been like, and what does your partnership with those two theatres look like?
We feel incredibly lucky to have two theatres standing with us on this. It means that we get to take advantage of the wisdom and experience of two fantastic creative staffs, each of which have unique viewpoints to share—Michael Edwards, at the Asolo Rep, has been the “big picture” thinker, challenging us to take bold strokes in re-thinking who our characters are, while David Armstrong and Bill Berry at The 5th have been instrumental in helping us tighten, streamline and polish each moment. It also takes some of the pressure off of us; knowing that we will definitely have two productions within a short time span means that we can afford to take some risks and do sweeping rewrites at the Asolo, since we’ll have a chance to consolidate what we learn at The 5th. Finally, having the resources of two theatres has been a godsend – we’ve been able to conduct not only 29-hour readings, but numerous table readings and a three-week lab as well, all of which have gotten us closer and closer to where we need to be.
 
What have been some of the joys and challenges for you as a writing team as you’ve continued to develop the piece?

We’re not just a writing team—we’re also married, with two school-age kids, and by far the biggest challenge for us has been counterpoising our artistic partnership with our home life; separating writing time from family time is always a delicate balancing act, as is maintaining our very different individual voices while also speaking for each other in both the rehearsal room and civilian life. Any good writing team gets at least some of its spark from arguing and clashing; we have to be especially careful not to let that kind of adversarial energy leak into our “real life.” But that’s also part of the joy for us—the alive-ness that we feel when we work on this piece also infuses our marriage, and having a shared dream makes every step forward extra sweet. In some ways, the show is like our third child. (Shh, don’t let our boys hear that.)

Why should people get excited about the upcoming chances they’ll have to see Beatsville?
Beatsville drops you into the bohemian world of Greenwich Village’s beatnik scene, sets your neurons vibrating to a fresh, frantic be-bop score, and does it with a wickedly dark satirical edge that literally draws blood. It’s a gas, it’s the most, it’s right-on…and even after all the time we’ve spent working on it, there still isn’t any other show that sounds or feels quite like it.

Spotlight on Hattie Andres: 2016/17 Directing and Artistic Leadership Fellow

When you ask Hattie Andres to describe the best part of being the first recipient of The 5th’s Directing and Artistic Leadership Fellowship, she responds with a cliché that is telling of a young disciple of musical theater:

“The best part is being ‘in the room where it happens.’ I grew up seeing so many productions on this stage and now all of a sudden I’m seeing it all come together—from the ground up.”

However, it hasn’t taken long for Andres to confirm that her fellowship entails a bit more than just being in the room. The fellowship, currently a pilot program at The 5th, seeks to provide an early-career creative artist with a unique growth opportunity while specifically addressing the inequities in access and representation. Andres’s first role this season in line with that fellowship was to serve as assistant director for Man of La Mancha.

“Allison [the Man of La Mancha director] had to step out of the room at one point to speak to someone. And the stage manager looked at me and asked what I wanted to do with rehearsal. I thought, “Whoa—this is me.” That was a thrilling, terrifying, awesome moment. So much of being an assistant director is sitting quietly and getting to know every single detail of the show—and writing down everything the director says so that you have it as a point of reference. But in that first moment— when you need to take all of that and actually lead the room—it’s very exciting.”

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The arts have always played an important role in Andres’s life.

“I started playing piano and violin and participating in choir when I was five. I had my first formal theater class when I was seven. And that’s just testament to having parents who are amazing supporters of the arts. My dad is a musician—it was always like, ‘Of course you’re going to sing, of course you’re going to play music.’ Now I think they regret it, because all of their children are going into the arts.” 

Andres lets a mischievous laugh interrupt her sentimental origin story. An interminable twinkle in her eye suggests that she is the kind of person who pursues her goals with passion and grace, but also humor. She discovered an interest in being a theater director by way of being a theater producer. By her junior year of high school in 2008, Andres had founded a theater company which is still producing and run entirely by young people between the ages of 14 and 21.

“Shout out to Young Americans’ Theatre Company!” By her senior year, she had self-produced a musical at her high school—a lesser known pop-influenced show called Zanna, Don’t which she championed in an effort to address issues that she cared about.

“When I was in high school, the majority of the student body still equated heternormativity and masculinity to ‘cool.’ I wanted to flip that upside down for people.”

When she speaks about her path toward artistic leadership and her aspirations of being a theater director, it is clear she is driven by an understanding of the potential impact that musical theater can have on today’s society.

“In The Age of Technology, or The Digital Age or whatever we’re calling it, musical theater has been able to retain its epic storytelling. We are constantly giving and taking things at face value. But I think musicals ask us to step beyond that, let that go and engage in a world that is real. I have a physical, visceral response to watching musicals up on stage. We can tell stories about real, pertinent things, but in a way that is different than just, ‘Here, this is what happened—and now you know it.’ Great musicals invite us to digest for ourselves and interpret for ourselves.”

Her faith in theater and musicals points her toward a horizon beyond her term with The 5th and into a future that she can contribute to in a meaningful way.

“My hope for musical theater is that we continue to be inventive in how we tell stories. And we continue to give more opportunities for all voices to be represented on the stage—voices that aren’t represented in mainstream Hollywood and haven’t been represented in theater in the past. I think that you can tell the same story from many different viewpoints and I hope that we continue to find the overlooked viewpoints—because that is how we better understand each other—and how we better understand the world around us, not just our position in it.”

More Than a Fairy Tale: An Interview with Diana Huey, Matthew Kacergis and Glenn Casale

By KWAPI VENGESAYI, Community Engagement Specialist

Disney’s The Little Mermaid has enthralled international audiences across generations and cultures. Its score is enchanting and visuals captivating, but it’s more than just a fairy tale about a beautiful princess who falls in love with a dashing prince. In an interview with Director Glenn Casale and actors Diana Huey and Matthew Kacergis, we discuss this beloved story and our own spectacular production.

WHAT DREW YOU TO DISNEY’S THE LITTLE MERMAID?

blog_qa_dianaDIANA HUEY (DH): Singing “Part of Your World” as a child is one of my earliest memories. I vividly remember knowing every word and mimicking each intonation while daydreaming that I was a beautiful mermaid princess. The opportunity to live out one of my childhood dreams is incredible!

Continue reading “More Than a Fairy Tale: An Interview with Diana Huey, Matthew Kacergis and Glenn Casale”

This Is 90: The 5th Commemorates the Anniversary of Our 1926 Opening

Compiled by JORDAN LUSINK, Communications Coordinator

THIS FALL, THE 5TH CELEBRATES ITS 90TH BIRTHDAY. Since the beautiful, historic theater opened in 1926, The 5th has reinvented itself several times, leading the nation today as a home for musical theater.

Our historic location was modeled after three of Imperial China’s most spectacular architectural achievements: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heavenly Peace and the Summer Palace. Designed and built a year before Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, The 5th has been called “the largest and most authentic example of traditional Chinese timber architecture and decoration outside of Asia.” From the lotus blossoms and phoenixes to the dragons featured throughout the interior—most notably the Great Dragon in the dome of the theater—The 5th has been celebrated for its exquisite design and authenticity.

Continue reading “This Is 90: The 5th Commemorates the Anniversary of Our 1926 Opening”

NextFest Artist Spotlight – Greg Schaffert, Line Producer

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  1. What is your job in NextFest? Explain for us.

I’m the line producer. Basically, I make sure the writers are happy and that they have what they need to do their work. I also work on dramaturgy and story structure with the writers, directors and 5th Ave team, and basically make sure everything keeps running on track.

  1. What are the aspects of your work that excite you?

Working with the writers. Asking questions that stir ideas and guide (gently) to help THEM tell the story they want to tell. Helping them discover their story.

  1. How does producing a festival like this differ from working on a fully-staged commercial production?

At a festival, you get to work on many different projects and with many different writers, of all ages, as opposed to putting all your efforts into one project. Every day, there are challenges that need to be handled when producing on the commercial level. Time is very precious (expensive) and you need to continue to keep everyone on task and working on the “same” show. To be successful, the entire team has to be focused on telling the same story. As a producer, you have to be everything for every team member. The conductor. Driving the bus.

  1. Why is a program like NextFest important for new works?

NextFest gives the writers of the future the opportunity to hone their craft and develop their shows and learn all the skills they need to tell a story. Developing new works takes years and Festivals are a way to move the shows down the pipeline. Invaluable. And exciting!


Interview conducted by CHARLIE JOHNSON, NextFest Media Manager

To find out more about NextFest, and other New Works programs at The 5th, click here.