APT: Holidames: Tangled In Tinsel

This was absolutely an hour well spent on a dreary December afternoon. While we are all safe at home and missing all of our seasonal favorites, Colleen Madden, Sarah Day, and Tracy Michelle Arnold are determined to make us merry, make us reminisce, and make us appreciate what we do have. And what we do have at hand in ‘Tangled In Tinsel’, is a unique and original and utterly entertaining virtual theater piece. As I have previously written, The American Players Theatre has taken the possibilities in Zoom and made them their own…and one of the pieces here even extols the ‘pleasures’ of Zoom.

But hopefully, I won’t give too much away here, but this is unexpected pleasure. A grab bag of original skits…some traditional…some very modern…and many very timely.

clockwise from top left: Tracy, Sarah, and Colleen!

This screen shot is from the opening segment where our actors lay the groundwork for their presentation…and share some comic and some poignant stories about their past lives in versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’! Oh what fun.

And interspersed we have a number of very effective readings of winter time poetry, ‘The Night Before Christmas’ (my favorite part), and the story of the Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus….and Christmas carols!!

Of course Scrooge makes an appearance engaged in conversation with his nephew, Fred. And you will easily forget that we have two women playing traditional male roles here. You are just mesmerized but the story and the presentation, and that old bias just slips away.

left to right: Scrooge and Fred!

And who woulda thunk, but with all of the time on her hands, Mrs. Cratchit now has a vlog and a very special guest in Mrs. Fezziwig! Hilarity ensues although there is some serious content here…although done in good cheer! And a surprise guest…who I won’t give away…they bring their whole here and the original ‘A Christmas Carol’ back to point.

And oh my goodness, you couldn’t ask for three more talented actors, who obviously enjoy working together…even though far apart…and I was just amazed as they all moved from conversation to drama to comedy to song…and excelled at each phase! Thank you Sarah, Tracy, and Colleen for your talents, spirit, and the willingness to bring this to us all.

As I said above, the APT has truly found Zoom to its liking and I could see this becoming a part and parcel of their future. So although I look forward to traipsing up the hill again next year, I could see spending another future winter day with the APT crew online.

The Holidames: ‘Tangled In Tinsel’ is available on line from now through December 29th. You can order access via the APT website to get a link to the video. Once you activate your ticket you have 24 hours to watch the presentation. Tickets run $24 but there is a discount if you also order the APT’s ‘This Wonderful Life’ at the same time.

In the meantime, here’s the trailer:

American Players Theatre Virtual Holiday Offerings!

It looks like the holiday season in Wisconsin has two additional bright spots as the American Players Theatre is set to offer TWO virtual holiday offerings.

The first one is a new take on a traditional holiday movie favorite, It’s A Wonderful Life. Titled This Wonderful Life, it’s an adaption of the screenplay. Here’s the details directly from APT:

This Wonderful Life

By Steve Murray

Conceived by Mark Setlock, adapted from the screenplay It’s a Wonderful Life by

Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, and Jo Swerling.

Directed by William Brown

All the characters of Bedford Falls wrapped up like a gift and presented by Nate Burger. He’s a man giddily obsessed with It’s a Wonderful Life and he’s thrilled to read us each and every part, adding sparks of wit and wisdom as he goes. Playing multiple characters is one (or a few) of Nate’s favorite things, and he imbues each role with the whole of his heart. A story for these times, and all times, kindling our hearts with gratitude for the treasures right in front of us.

And then for something completely different, APT offers this world premiere show!

APT’s Holidames: Tangled in Tinsel

Developed by Tracy Michelle Arnold, Sarah Day, Keira Fromm and Colleen Madden

Directed by Keira Fromm

Join APT royalty Sarah Day, Tracy Michelle Arnold and Colleen Madden for a world-premiere show. There will be singing. There will be celebration. There will be holiday hilarity, and poignant prose spun from Christmases past. It’s a patchwork quilt of seasonal cheer, each square a joyous celebration. We can’t think of a better trio to lighten your lockdown – sure to warm your soul like a fireside toddy.

And for a bit more insight on these plays and additional reasons to partake, here’s a note from Brenda DeVita:

Artistic Director Brenda DeVita said, “We’ve been working on these shows for a while, and pouring our hearts and souls into them. And I think they offer the perfect amount of emotional lift during a holiday season that’s going to be unlike any we’ve ever experienced. The artists are having so much fun with that you’re really drawn into this bubble of joy with them. Sarah and Tracy and Colleen, in Holidames – it’s got that old-school variety show feel. And it’s utterly ridiculous. And then it will move you to tears. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done – it’s candy, and we should all be able to have as much candy as we want right now, right? And Nate in This Wonderful Life, playing all the roles from It’s a Wonderful Life, and watching him switch from character to character seemingly effortlessly. And just putting his whole heart into this story; the one we watch every year because it tells us that our life matters – to us and to the people around us. And I think we should embrace as much of that feeling as we can this year.”

These shows promise to be a lot of fun and as we’ve seen this summer and fall, the APT has mastered the art of virtual theater, so I am looking forward to these. But these are APT’s first ticketed virtual events, so you will want to make plans to order tickets so that you won’t be disappointed! Here’s the basic information:

Tickets will go on sale online only on Wednesday, December 1 at 10 AM Central Time at americanplayers.org/tickets.

Once tickets are purchased, patrons will receive an email with a link to the play(s) and redemption code(s). Once the code is redeemed, the play will be available to view for 24 hours. The plays will be available on the Broadway on Demand website from 12:01 AM on December 2 until 11:59 PM Central Time on December 29, 2020.

For more information, click here!

And don’t forget to catch their fall Out of the Woods offerings that are still available for free via Wisconsin PBS: The Sins of Sor Juana, Nat Turner in Jerusalem, and Smart People.

Happy Holidays!

American Players Theatre: The Turn Of The Screw

As part of their Out Of The Woods Readings, the American Players Theatre presented a one day pop up reading of The Turn Of The Screw. This is an adaptation of the Henry James novella by Jeffrey Hatcher and was directed by James DeVita. There are five characters in the play but only four speaking roles…and two actors, Kelsey Brennan and James Ridge. I’ll describe how this all works out as I go along.

This was originally streamed on October 29th, 2020, just in time for Halloween. But obviously I have been tardy in writing this and apologize to you and APT if I have left things out.

First off, with a running time of an hour and thirty five minutes there isn’t time for Mr. Hatcher to cover every detail in the James novella. But he has done a masterful job of condensing the story and advancing the sense of dread and foreboding that the story requires. And he maintains a bit of the original conceit that we are getting the story from the diary or journal of a governess describing her experience at Bly, a manor house in rural England.

Most of us are probably familiar with the story since it is a staple of American Literature courses and high school English classes. At one time I was a Henry James aficionado but it’s been a while since I’d read this…so my imperfect memory was challenged to follow the plot as it unfolded. But Mr. Hatcher’s text is so precise in the language that you can feel the eerie run down your spine, not only from the story but from the writing of it.

Now this was a reading and it was in Zoom and we have two actors. Ms. Brennan who plays the governess and Mr. Ridge who plays everyone else. So this makes it easier to present on screen as we aren’t swapping out speaking roles as the story progressed, just watching the two principals side by side. And the APT has used their summer experiences to master the technology. The camera positions were exactly right and the lighting worked marvelously to mirror the events in the story.

courtesy of the American Players Theatre

Now, I don’t know if I could have picked two better actors for these roles. One of the major limitations of Zoom readings is we have to live with actors…well…reading. They don’t have the advantage of using all of the body to project their role…they don’t have dramatic lighting or fabulous costumes…nor the actual physical interaction with the other players to tell their stories. But Mr. Ridge and Ms. Brennan absolutely nailed the voice changes and inflections and particularly the facial movements necessary to tell the story. Key skills when looking directly into a camera rather than trying to reach the patrons in the 21st row. But they were marvelous…the sneering lip…the surprised eyebrows…the broad smiles…the suspicious tilt of the head.

And Mr. Ridge in particular was challenged to change character as he changed character…simply sitting back from the camera for a moment and then changing the head tilt or eyebrows or posture to let us know who he was now portraying…and of course the just ever so slight but clearly differentiated vocal inflections and tones as he moved from the Master to Miles (the male child) to Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper.

Flora, the little girl at the estate, was described as not talking to anyone although she was capable of doing so…which was one less speaking role for this adaptation.

And it’s a ghost story of the most classic type. Maybe not scary in the 21st Century but still with the necessary eerie and creepy to keep us in focus and on edge.

So I was mesmerized throughout…at times taken aback by the ability of the play and the players to move me from one event and emotion to another…with essentially just their voice and face. There were a few times that I thought, I’d love to see this on stage, and then recanted and realized it would destroy much of the magic that I was seeing here.

screen capture from the APT reading of The Turn Of The Screw

And it rekindled my interest Henry James…I have a number of his works on my book shelf and will dust them off in the new year.

One last thought about theater before I conclude. I don’t know when we’ll all be able to safely sit together in a theater and share the experience of live actors on stage. Not soon enough but not just yet. But even when we can do that again…I am thinking that there will still be a place for intimate small productions like this on Zoom or another platform…that we can experience individually…and I hope we very very soon can do both.