A Good Month for a Little Mystery

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Dear Friends,

This past weekend we said goodbye to the cast and crew of Wit and said hello to the first audience for Ira Levin’s fiendishly clever Deathtrap.  As expected there were more than a few screams as the evening progressed.  I’m happy to say the screams were from audience members and not the director.   We hope to keep audiences guessing, jumping, and screaming well into November.

October is always a good month for a little mystery.  There’s something about the chill in the air that seems to demand a chill to the spine.  Shorter days, early dark, and everywhere the dying of summer makes our minds turn to darker themes.  This is, after all, the month of Halloween and I noticed yesterday on my walk home from teaching a class at UNCG that skeletons were peeking out of a neighbor’s front yard and that a group of witches had taken up residence just down the street.

Truth be told, I think just about any month is a good time for a mystery.  I didn’t really discover this guilty pleasure that is my love for crime fiction until I was already in grad school.  Peter Jackson’s brilliant film Heavenly Creatures was playing at the York Square Cinema and since I was working a lot with Julie McKee, a great playwright from New Zealand, I decided to go over and check it out.  I was blown away.  The film is a bold, heartbreaking and visually stunning re-imagination of a brutal crime committed in New Zealand in the 1950’s.  I learned later that week that one of the teenage murderers, Juliet Hulme, had changed her name, was living in the UK and writing mystery novels under the pen name Anne Perry.  So, off I went– out of morbid curiosity– to Atticus Bookstore where I purchased The Carter Street Hangman.  I figured meeting Victorian sleuths Thomas and Charlotte Pitt in their first mystery would be a onetime thing but I’ve read 27 of the 30 books, and from Anne Perry I’ve made my way to any number of unputdownable writers like Ruth Rendell, Karin Fossum, and the granddaddy of them all—Wilkie Collins.

I mainly listen to them now as audiobooks.  After my stroke almost 5 years ago, I started walking much more.  I find that a desperate need to discover just exactly whodunit is perfect motivation to add steps to my daily routine.  I just downloaded Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling) new book last night at midnight and I may not stop walking for days to come.  All of these mystery novels are a true escape, but they also are expert lessons in the art of plot and craft.  Common Enemy was deeply influenced by the fact I was walking my way through Val McDermid’s Karen Pirie books.  They were a crash course in how to plot.

As a writer, I’ve never attempted a stage thriller, but I want to.  It’s an extremely tricky art form and common wisdom says that modern technology has made them nigh on to impossible.  You can’t dail “m” for murder on your cell phone and DNA tests would be rather boring on the stage.  But as a director, I love the art form.  Triad Stage has produced many of the great stage thrillers from Angel Street to Wait Until Dark and I hope there will be many more opportunities to scare you and perplex you.  Witness for the Prosecution anyone?  Or how about my favorite, the ever creepy Bad Seed.

Deathtrap is one of the best.  I’d love to tell you all sorts of secrets about how Bryan Conger and our wonderful company of actors, designers and production staff are putting it together, but I just don’t want to ruin the surprise.  The great joy of a good mystery is a delicate mix of chills, clues, red herrings, reversals, and unexpected events.  As I write this, the company is in rehearsal in the theater tightening the screws to make the tension even stronger.

I think there’s nothing more elemental to the incredible human experience that is live theater than the shared emotions that performance creates in an audience who have been united by their experience of the story.  Screams, tears, laughter and, yes,  even anger can remind us that we’re not so different from each other when we notice the people next to us—strangers, perhaps, until tonight—experiencing the same thing.  I think that’s what I love most about this thing I do.  At its best theater calls us to be human, to be fully alive, to be engaged with our self and with others, and to recognize how much alike we really are when we break through the artificial dividers and seek the essence of what is human.

Thanks,

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Preston Lane, Founding Artistic Director

P.S. – There are so many wonderfully talented professionals working on every Triad Stage production. See what our resident fight choreographer Jim Wren had to say about the art of stage combat and working on this production in a recent video.

What’s Hair Got to Do With It?

THE HEY DANI DIALOGUES:  An actor/director exploration of how shaving your head enlivens the world

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*Dani Keil (“W;t” Director):  Hey, Kate, what are your takeaways about shaving your head to play Vivian Bearing in “W;t?” Actresses are pretty protective of their hair; why do none of them hesitate to let it all go for this role?

*Kate Goehring (“W;t” Actor):  Hey, Dani, click here for my take on the superable barrier between an actor and a character – What’s Hair Got to Do With It?

Dani: Our collaborators at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center thought you’d gain a deeper understanding of what people with cancer go through as you walked through the community with a shaved head.  Have you found this to be true, and how has it helped you portray Vivian Bearing on stage?

Kate: It’s always a privilege to work for Triad Stage, and the inclusion of Wake in its planning is masterful; what’s revealed is the unparalleled level of openness and compassion community-wide. Winston-Salem’s audiences are showing me what true connection can be.  I have a crush on Winston-Salem.

Dani:  What kinds of reactions have there been?

Kate:  The bald look has stimulated insightful conversations in Harris Teeter and Starbucks, ranging from funny moments with giggling two-year-olds, to poignant, grownup conversations on families; transformative journeys, with regard to illness. It’s getting to be a part of Triad Stage taking what’s found onstage beyond the proscenium. The Medical Center’s potentiated that – bravo!

Dani: Well, we are privileged to have your talent onstage in the Triad.  And you look gorgeous!

Kate:  Aw! Definitely earrings that never made sense in the past now do.

 

Wonderment: An Exhibit

Here at Triad Stage, we are very proud to partner with Wake Forest Baptist Health to present WIT. They have been an invaluable resource to our artistic process during production. Two Wake Forest doctors also have a talent for the creative, and their talents are on display at the new exhibit “Wonderment” at the Hanesbrands Theatre, through the run of WIT.

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Kathryn Greven and Brandi Page are both cancer physicians and are drawn to express their feelings of the power and wonderment of the natural world through their art. They both believe that when we learn to view the natural world around us as mystical and meaningful that our lives are enriched in countless ways. 

In addition to academic pursuits in their field, Dr. Greven and Dr. Page have collaborated on artwork featured on the front cover of a scientific cancer journal, the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics.

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Dr. Kathy Greven

”Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love, to work, to play, and to look up at the stars.” - Henry Van Dyke 

Dr. Greven uses photography to capture some of the wondrous moments of the natural world. She has discovered that “the universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.” (Eden Phillpotts) As a cancer physician she has been able to witness miracles in healing and coping with physical and emotional illness. She believes that God provides us with daily occurrences of beauty in the natural world and that Nature can have a powerful healing influence on all of us. Her hope as she contemplates the world with camera in hand is to portray the magic and beauty of Nature in her photographs. Her hope is that these moments can endure so that they can be enjoyed and bring peace and joy to the viewer. Dr. Greven is a radiation oncologist and full professor at Wake Forest Medical School. Her involvement in teaching residents and medical students, cancer research and patient care was recognized by being elected to fellowship in the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

”Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.” – Stephen Hawking

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Dr. Brandi Page

“A horse is the projection of peoples’ dreams about themselves–strong, powerful, beautiful–and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence.” – Pam Brown

Dr. Page has been fascinated with her favorite subject, the horse which conveys the emotional qualities of freedom, happiness, and strength. Her sculptures start out as inanimate, dormant wire. Over time the wire seems to take on a semblance of personality, movement, and emotion, created in a space filled with music, most notably from Beethoven or Bach. It is the artist’s mission to feel the sleek edges of the metal in the hands, to understand its traction; its pull. To understand its resistance but pliability, continuously and carefully bending the unwrapped shiny wire, to allow the hidden spirit to emerge and come alive. The resultant lively horse is compiled in a continuous, uninterrupted fashion and is composed of several different colorful alloys. Having ties with the Winston-Salem, North Carolina community, Dr. Page completed her radiation oncology fellowship at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and has recently joined the radiation oncology faculty at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. 

“I saw the angel in the marble, and I carved until I set him free” -Michelangelo

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Creating a gift from the heart

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Pictured: Kate Goehring in WIT. Photo by Fred Kinney.

Dear Friends,

The first few weeks of a season can be some of the most promising and relaxing weeks of the year. Most of us at Triad Stage are focused only on the opening show and most of us still have some sense of calm thanks to a few weeks off in July.

I usually spend my downtime in the summer in the old part of Puerto Vallarta. It’s off-season, rates are cheap, and I accomplish an enormous amount of writing and reading done sitting on a balcony overlooking the Bay of Banderas.
My return to Greensboro always throws me instantly back into rehearsals, but thankfully there’s always Los Gordos, Greensboro’s best Mexican restaurant, to remind me of that Puerto-Vallarta-escape-from-it-all feel. I love the homemade care that goes into their food and the remarkable respect for authenticity.

Good food and good theater seem so much alike. Both are prepared with great love from the finest ingredients, made by hand and shared with their patrons as a gift from the heart. We can always go to a national chain or a national tour if we want something made for someone else, but if what we’re really hungry for is “homemade” buying local promises a level of care that values creativity far more than convenience. (And those homemade tortillas at Los Gordos keep me coming back for more.)

Soon after the Opening Night of the first show, the activity of the season explodes. We’re currently in rehearsal for DEATHTRAP and deep in preparation for two holiday shows and the first shows of the New Year. As many of our staff were toasting the final performance of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, I was in New York casting both VROOOMMM! (with director David Karl Lee, an old friend from grad school and one of the wackiest, funniest directors I know) and BEAUTIFUL STAR. We cast our shows by auditions here in the Triad and in New York. As a result, I spend quite a bit of time in New York — reminding myself why I don’t live there.

Our New York auditions happen at Pearl Studios, located in the mid-thirties on 8th Avenue. We have a New York casting director, Cindi Rush, who has worked with us from the very first show of our inaugural season. Cindi is, as my mountain relatives would say, just good people. She places talent before celebrity and values craft and dedication more than anything else.

She sends out a breakdown describing key characteristics of all the roles we will be casting and requests submissions from actors’ agents and managers. We then spend several days watching actors play scenes we have selected from the play with a “reader” — an actor who reads all the other roles. After the first auditions, we decide who to call back and then see another day of auditions with new material and a chance to revisit scenes from the first day. Once Cindi and I (and the guest director and/or the music director) have decided who we want to hire, we make offers through the agents and wait patiently to see if the actors will accept.

This waiting game can be nerve-wracking. No actor will ever get rich working in regional theater. We are often competing with far more lucrative film and television offers. Triad Stage is building a reputation as a place where actors want to work. Almost always we get our first choices.

Sometimes, we don’t audition a role at all. Sometimes, an actor I know and love is the reason we select a play. We call the agent directly to make an offer. Such was the case when we began the casting process for the first show of our third season at the Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem. I programmed WIT knowing that I could not imagine producing the play without a Triad Stage favorite, Kate Goerhing, in the lead role of Vivian Bearing.

Kate has appeared in numerous shows at Triad, from THE LITTLE FOXES at The Pyrle to UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL at the Hanesbrands and she is one of the most compelling and talented actresses I know. Working with an extraordinary cast including two recent UNCSA graduates and UNCSA legend, Lesley Hunt (the fabulous teacher who taught me how to breathe, stand up straight, take snuff, and dance the Gay Gordon).

Look, there’s no way to sugar coat this: Kate is going to rip your heart out. WIT is one of the most powerful theatrical experiences you will ever see in your life. If you have battled cancer or loved someone who battled cancer, you must see this show.

Even though there is lots of laughter along the way, I’m being honest when I say there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when we watched the final run in the rehearsal hall before moving to the theater to begin technical rehearsals. I’ve seen the play numerous times, I knew what was coming, and I told myself I wasn’t going to embarrass myself in front of the company — but a box of Kleenex later the only thing that mattered was the deep connection with community this remarkable Pulitzer Prize-winning drama creates whenever it is done with great love and truth. And Kate and company are doing just that!

I can’t wait to share it with all of you and look forward to seeing you in Winston-Salem.

Thanks,

Preston Lane, Founding Artistic Director