Two Weddings and an Engagement

by Bianca Morrison Dillard, dramaturg

Working on this romantic comedy has proven to be quite romantic for our cast and crew. Through the course of rehearsal and production we have had two marriages and an engagement. Here at BYU, we don’t waste any time–no need to wait until your plate is less full or there is a break between semesters; one long weekend, or a couple of days away from rehearsal is all you need.

Here’s a little more about the good news:

Taylor Warburton (now Fonbuena) was the first to get hitched.

She and her husband Ricky Fonbuena were married October 13th. She and Ricky have been friends since the age of three. Initially, Taylor didn’t think she could audition because of the wedding, but Ricky was the one to encourage her. He said, “What’s there to lose?” We are all grateful he did because Taylor has been an invaluable asset to the cast.

Heather Bosen our Stage Manager was next in line with an engagement.

Garrett Breeze proposed to Heather October 16. They met when Heather was a stage manager and Garrett a member of the Young Ambassadors band that played for BYU’s production of Love’s Labors Lost. It’s been fun for Heather to be engaged while doing a play about an engaged couple. She continues to see parallels to her own engagement–for instance, her parents are pushing for a long engagement, while Heather and Garrett want a short one. After they get married in January they will have the opportunity to tour together with the Young Ambassadors.

Last but not least, Magarin Hobson got married over the Thanksgiving break.

Magarin, our leading man, and his new wife, Leslie Hiatt, married  November 24th. They met here at BYU. Leslie recently graduated as an MDT major and Magarin will shortly finish his BFA in Acting. Working on this production came at an important time in his life. Magarin deeply related to his free-spirited character and now feels more empowered, hand in hand with Leslie, to live life as it comes and pursue his dreams.

There you have it, three snippets of three real love stories happening behind the scenes of our production of Holiday. This is Holiday’s last weekend–if you haven’t seen it yet this is your last chance. Who knows maybe, it could be the start of your own love story. . .

Here’s where to go for more information about ticketing and show times.

 

 

 

Fireworks, New Year’s Tradition, and Artistic Decision

by Bianca Morrison Dillard, dramaturg

Fireworks have been a New Year’s tradition in this country since I’ve been alive; we see them particularly on New Year’s and the 4th of July. They connote celebration, excitement, awe, the new year, love of country, and that excited feeling you get during a really great kiss! As a visual symbol, they are pretty packed when it comes to meaning.

Holiday is a play that rings in the new year on stage. Our director, Barta Heiner, was toying with the idea of “fireworks” being seen through a window on stage as the play clocks in the new year, so she asked me if the characters would have been able to see fireworks through their window in 1928.

Here’s what I discovered.

The text suggests that the family lives on 5th avenue in New York City. A Google search tells me they would certainly have been able to see the Times Square fireworks from their house, had there been any that year.

So the question remained: Would there have been fireworks in Times Square or elsewhere in New York City in 1928?

Here’s a little about what I discovered about the history of New Year’s Eve in New York City.

Before the New Year’s celebration was held at Time Square, it was hosted in lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church. In 1903, as a marketing strategy, Time magazine decided to host the celebration in their new building on Times Square. (This came as a great relief to the church, as the parties could get quite raucous–there was not only drunken, disorderly conduct, but one account I found reported that people would throw bricks in the air as part of the celebration.)

A fireworks display rang in the new year until 1906, when it was outlawed, as it posed a hazard for the spectators below. (Funny, there was no mention of outlawing the throwing of bricks–but then who am I to question tradition?) In 1907 the fireworks were replaced by the famous “ball drop.” When did the fireworks become legal again for commercial displays, and when did they re-enter the New Year’s scene at Times Square?

I found a source that suggested there may have been fireworks over Yankee Stadium on the 4th of July in 1927 and again in 1928 when the Yankees won the the World Series, though both of the sources I found were never quite clear as to whether the “fireworks” were the symbolic kind, made when something really exciting and magical happens, or the literal sort, where an explosion is intentionally set off for visual effect.

As Barta and I discussed my findings it seemed to me that the decision (fireworks or no fireworks on stage) was ultimately up to her–she should feel free to make this decision based on her artistic sense of the moment. I asked, “Is it a symbol that effectively communicates to our audience today what you want to communicate?”

This experience left me wondering, what if a historical answer was definitive? Would that decision, or the decision-making process have looked different? Would Barta still have felt empowered to make the artistic decision she felt worked best for a modern audience, or should she have felt constrained by historical findings? Should historical research constrain us in this way? What should be the most important considerations as we work to communicate an older text to a contemporary audience? Who ultimately has the final say, historical research or artistic choice?

These questions don’t have to be rhetorical. What’s your take? For those of you who have actually seen the production, does the choice she made work for you? What experience have you had with contemporary anachronism effectively or ineffectively communicating to you as an audience member or as a member of a production team? Have you seen contemporary anachronisms effectively communicate historical situations in a way that was easier for you to understand as a contemporary audience member?

For more reading on the History of New Year’s at Time Square click here.

To watch a fun video overview of the History of New Years at Time Square
click here.

To discuss click below.

Charity for the Rich? (Dramaturg’s Note Continuted)

by Bianca Dillard, dramaturg

Holiday was produced in 1928, just 9 months before the stock market crash. In a play that explores the effect of money on families and individuals, this detail seems particularly important. What could have happened to Edward Seton, big bank capitalist, after the stock market crash of 1929?  (For more info on this question as it relates to the characters of Edward as well as Johnny check out my dramaturg’s note page 11.)

“Any charity work I do from now on is going to be for the rich, they need it more.”
– Linda Seton, Holiday.

“The sick and the poor are cared for by everyone else now. Nobody has offered any refuge for people of this kind, and they need one more even more than other unfortunates.”
– Andrew Freedman

While Linda’s comment may have been in jest, there was a man who was quite serious about charity work for the rich. Andrew Freedman was serious enough in his belief that economic hard times would be harder on the rich than on the poor that he set up a retirement home where those accustomed to the luxuries afforded the rich could retire in style even if they lost their fortunes.

The idea was prompted by a financial scare in 1907 (a run on the bank that caused panic, but less widespread economic damage). As Andrew Freedman was confronted with his potential loss of wealth, he wondered what he would do in his old age if he were out of money, so he set up a trust fund to build a luxurious retirement home for folks who were accustomed to a wealthy lifestyle but happened to be out of wealth. 

Located in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in New York (1125 Grand Concourse in The Bronx),  the Freedman home’s residents would enjoy architecture reminiscent of an Italian Renaissance palazzo, well maintained English gardens, ornate interior design, grand dining, and servants–all at no cost. Open to a few in 1917, officially opened in 1924, and expanded in 1928 (the year our play is set and just in time for the Great Depression), it housed many of the formerly wealthy of retirement age who lost big in the stock market crash. At its height, the Freedman home housed 130 individuals.

All that is to say that if things had gone horribly wrong for Edward, at least he would have the Andrew Freedman House to cushion his fall.

The trust maintaining the house ran out in 1960 when the residents began to pay to live there. Since that time, the structure has gone through a number of transitions. It currently houses a daycare, and event’s center. It recently housed an art show that you can read more about here.

For more detailed reading about Andrew Freedman himself and his house. Here are a couple of places to go:

A Home for Bankrupt Millionaires (The Evening Tribute Nov. 23 1924)

Landmark Preservation Commissions Report–Andrew Freedman Home. (June 2nd, 1992) 

 

Transitions from Rehearsal to Stage

by Bianca Dillard, dramaturg

Our rehearsal process for Holiday has officially come to a close–last night was our last dress rehearsal and tonight will be our first preview. Now comes the part where we step out of the vacuum of rehearsal and on to the stage of performance where the interaction with the audience become real, and live, and tangible.

I would like to share a few last behind the scene photos to celebrate our rehearsal process and share a few production photos to whet your appetite for the performance itself.

 

In the coming days please stay tuned as I will be posting some material that will supplement the information provided in the Study Guide. In the mean time you are welcome to take a sneak peak at the Study Guide itself: here.

“Offstage”: The Real World of Rehearsal

by, Bianca Morrison Dillard – Dramaturg

At one of our first rehearsals for Holiday, Becca Ingram (Linda Seton) came to make her first entrance. As she entered, she puzzled as to where to put her coat in the scene. She pointed to a chair next to the “door” and said, “What is this, is this a coat rack?” to which the rest of us replied, “No, it’s a chair.” The funny thing is, it was a chair. Not funny? Let me see if I can explain. This story isn’t  funny because Becca doesn’t know what a chair is, it’s funny because in rehearsal things are not always what they seem. A chair can sometimes actually “be” a coat rack.

“Is this a coat rack?”

Some might see a play and only imagine the actors rehearsing on the ornate set complete with furniture, props, costumes, and fantastic lighting. Not so. Rehearsals almost exclusively take place in an entirely different  location and lack most of the trappings you see in performance. The actors rely heavily on imagination and pantomime.

This week will be the first time the actors have had access to the stage, set, props, costumes. As we move into this new stage of rehearsal, I thought it would be nice to share what the bulk of our rehearsal has looked like.

Empty Rehearsal Room

Our rehearsal space is in a large room where the floor has been outlined with colored tape to delineate where the walls, doors, and furniture will be, with different colors for each room of the set. The “set” is then furnished with chairs, tables, and theatre blocks–this gives the actors a sense of where things will be once they get on stage.

Rehearsal “set”

In production, the actors will have real props, including liquid to drink and sandwiches to eat. Now they employ pantomime, or use “hand props” (props that they use in place of their real props).

Andrew, Magarin, Becca & Taylor take “bites” of their “party sandwiches”

Eric “drinks” from a cup, not very authentic, but it take the place of the glass tumbler he will use in performance.

Often times, actors & actresses will wear shoes similar in feel to the shoes they will use in performance. This allows them to get used to the walk of their character. The color of the shoe is less important.

Character Shoes

In our rehearsal rooms there are no real walls to separate off stage from on.

Andrew reviewing his lines “backstage”

Eric & Mallory “offstage”

I hope that gives you a better idea of why a chair being a chair might be funny in the right context–in a world, strange though it may be, where chairs are sometimes coat racks and thin air can be anything you like.


Design Insights-Holiday Costume Concept

by Mallory Mckey, Co-Costume Designer

In the early stages of my design work as I was finding images and researching—I was trying to think of some way each character was connected. I was also trying to find my color palette. I’m a visual person and I love seeing color and texture.  I was thinking about gold and silver a lot for some of the characters, and then I realized that was the connecting piece. Gold, silver, and money!  Once I hit on that idea, there was no stopping me.  I immediately started looking up pictures of money and specific bills and coins.  The more I looked, the more I could visualize the characters and who they were.  Everything was clicking into place in my head.

I read the script again with the idea of each person representing a specific type of money.  How they presented themselves, how they saw the world, and how they related with people all made sense.  Now it was my job to show that in the clothes.  From the money, I got my color palettes for people, and from my research started my designs.  It’s not completely obvious, and people might not even see it at all.  But, through my perspective, each piece, accessory, and style was designed with this in mind.

Below you will find images that inspired the design for the Seton household.


Design Insights – Holiday Set Design

by Carter Thompson, Set Designer

In one of our first production meetings for Holiday, the director, Barta Heiner brought in an antique quilt that was somewhere around 100 years old. The fabric pieces which were made from wool and cotton fibers were remarkably well preserved, but all the pieces made from silk were brittle or shredded. Silk was sold to wholesalers by weight and in the 1800s silks were often treated with metallic salts (most commonly iron, lead, and tin) to increase their weight, thereby increasing their value. This treatment also improved the drape of the fabric. Over time, however, the metallic salts have eroded and destroyed the silk. Something which once gave the fabric value and beauty has destroyed it. An 1898 article from The New York Times even warns that, “These weighted silks are, however, of so combustible a nature that some have been known to take fire spontaneously…Spontaneous combustion is liable to break out—more especially in black silks.” This is where the concept for the set came from.

Holiday takes place in two rooms of the Edward Seton home. The home is from the Stanford White period (around the turn of the century) and is located on 5th Avenue overlooking Central Park. The action takes place between December 1928 January 1929. The wealthy Seton family—and the U.S. economy generally—has been weakened by excessive wealth. Grandfather Seton was a self-made man who went from nothing to become one of the most prominent financiers in New York. In the 1800s he amassed a great fortune which gave his family strength and power, but in 1929 that wealth is destroying his grandchildren as they race towards alcoholism and vanity.

The set is comprised of two rooms, a drawing room and a nursery room. The drawing room reflects some of the excesses of the family wealth, and it is a room which is splitting at the seams, like the antique quilt. The walls are treated with a segmented trellis wallpaper pattern which disappears into blackness. The corners of the walls do not meet as the room stretches upward. Their world is being pulled apart.

This room is guarded by an austere portrait of Grandfather Seton, the man whose wealth has led his family to the brink of moral collapse. The nursery room represents a return to virtue. The room was carefully prepared by their late mother and now serves as a sanctuary from the rest of the home. The style of the room is taken from the Art Nouveau period. It is soft and bright and gentle.

For the basic architecture of the home I drew inspiration from the Isaac D. Fletcher mansion, built in 1898, which is one of the few mansions still standing on 5th Avenue. The home was occupied by several millionaires in the first half of the 20th Century before becoming the Ukrainian Institute of America. Its longest occupants were Augustus and Anne van Horne Stuyvesant, an unmarried brother and sister who lived in reclusion, thus preserving the house in a beautifully unaltered state up to the present day.

What I have tried to capture in Holiday is a world of wealth, family, and changing relationships where some characters are really trying to find themselves in a world that is about to fall apart.

Set Design Model–Drawing room

Set Design Model – Nursery

Obscure Cultural References–Everyone a Dramaturg!

by Bianca Morrison Dillard, dramaturg

Every play is a product of a specific time and place and has references specific to that cultural milieu. As a dramaturg, these “little” references can prove especially difficult if the lingo from the time your play was set has not been carried down, or if it’s not something that was commonly enough referenced for the explanation to be written down.

And, unfortunately, so far, nobody’s put together The Complete and Annotated Works of Philip Barry (I guess he’s not as famous or important as Shakespeare), so all we have is the text itself, which means we have to look elsewhere to decode cultural references that are lost on us today. Below I’ve listed a few cultural references we were able to find enough clues to make sense of. My hope is that they will enrich your understanding of the play as you view it as much as it has enriched our experience in production.

But, the thing is, I’m stuck on a couple of things–and here’s where you can help. I’ve listed a few phrases that we were unable to find a definitive context for. If you have any ideas, please think about putting on your dramaturg hat and helping us out. After all, we live in the age of social media and needn’t be limited to the combined knowledge of a single production team. You can be a dramaturg!

Cultural references we were able to find clues to uncover their context:

“Dan to Beersheba” is a phrase used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to the Israelite nation–from Dan, at the Northernmost tip of the settled area, to Beersheba at the southernmost end.

“Hammacher Schlemmerr” was the first national hardware store in the US and holds the record for oldest continuously published catalog in the United States. See if you can spot the joke in the second act that relies on our knowledge that Hammacher Schlemmer is a hardware store and not a fashion designer.

“Grant took bourbon” Most people know that General Ulysses S. Grant loved his liquor. What we discovered is that his preferred drink was bourbon. He was especially fond of “Old Crow.”

References that, even with our combined wisdom, Google, and scholarly searches, still remain a mystery:

“ashman’s touch” One of the characters refers to another who ruins a party by taking it over as having the “ashman’s touch.” It’s not capitalized, leading us to believe it isn’t in reference to a specific person. Is he simply referring to someone who cleans chimneys and would have soiled things had he or she touched them? Or is there something we are missing? Have you heard or used this phrase? Have you read anything else with this phrase?

“Russian L” The line is “If you are so set on being violent get a few Russians in and talk life with a great big L.” Could the character be talking about Lenin? Is his name too horrible to be uttered and must be abbreviated? Was Lenin ever referred to as the big L, or just L?

So, my newly dubbed social media dramaturgs, have you got any ideas? Please share your thoughts, clues, and insights below in the form of a comment. Please take the time to help us follow your trail by including the reference that uncovered the information, even if it’s as simple as, “My grandma used to say that.”

Thank you and good luck!

Rehearsal Discovery: Social Registers

by Bianca Morrison Dillard, dramaturg

It’s always a little bit surprising and a little bit exciting when you come to a rehearsal for the first time and though you’ve read the script dozens of times, and you think your research has been exhaustive, there are always new questions that arise–things you never thought to question before. As a dramaturg I have the opportunity to help answer some of those questions, or at least offer some solid options or observations. One such questions arose last week.

The script mentions a “social register.” In fact the line is, “father if you reach for a social register I’ll cry out with pain.” We all had an idea of what a social register was, a sort of roster of people, their families and their social position. . .right? But when Barta (the director) had the great idea to actually have a social register on stage for the actors to look through the need to know the specifics became tangible–what did it look like–how did it function–how would you go about finding someone in a social register–who would be listed? As the rehearsal continued I started digging. Here’s what I found:

Social Register: think family tree meets ward directory, but only for the coolest, the richest ward members who’ve been in the ward the longest. The Social Register was interested in listing the families of the upper class, social elite, especially those with “old money.” “drawn from the country’s most prominent families, and many of those currently listed are direct descendants of the original members. Included are many accomplished individuals who have contributed greatly to their communities.”

It was organized according to families. The head of the family is listed first, then their children. The address to the family estate would be listed. Furthermore, it tells you, based on titles who’s married and who’s still on the market. Listed next to each name is a code to where they went to school, which degrees the earned, and to which clubs they belonged. If someone was married that year they would list the date, to whom he or she was married, and the location of the wedding. They would also mark “deceased” next to your name if you passed away that year. And don’t think that just because you belong to a prominent family you were a set-anyone could be dropped from the social register if you were involved in a scandal, married someone without proper social status, or for choosing a career that was undesirable. I found one source that suggested there were special listings for criminals, though how that was listed was unclear.

As I shared the info with the cast, we all found it a little hard to wrap our brains around the fact that in our recent past people were listed in a book based on social statues and family wealth and that anyone would pay attention to such things. Then I stumbled on to the Social Register’s official website. Yes, they have a website.They have a website because the Social Register is still in print. Today. This year. 2012. You could buy one. Now, you wouldn’t be able to register yourself–the rules are that five people already listed on the Register would have to nominate you, or the Social Register organization itself could request your information. I’ll be honest, it’s a little hard for me to imagine anyone paying much attention to this sort of thing these days (or those days, for that matter). But then I think about how we already have plenty of other ways to rank each other socially these days. For most of us it doesn’t take the form of a social registry book, but what about entertainment “news sources”–magazines, TV shows, blogs? Think about the multiple ways in which we judge people based on Facebook preferences–everything from music, movies, and book choices, to who their friends are and what pages they “like.” While these things seem more common place for us today, how different are these social rankings really? What other means do we have to tangibly rank each other? What about intangibly?

Holiday?

by Bianca Morrison Dillard, dramaturg

When people ask me what project I’m working on, I’ve gotten used to saying,  “Holiday—it’s by the same guy who wrote The Philadelphia Story.”  This statement is quickly followed by signs of recognition—usually an “Oh!” combined with a smile and nod of the head. Then I talk about how, like The Philadelphia StoryHoliday is a witty romantic sort of comedy, about the American upper-class. I mention how it too has some sweet-hearted and thought-provoking twists along the way.
Next, I usually remind them that Holiday is a Hollywood classic in its own right and that they may have seen the 1938 version starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

Like these classic movies, our production of Holiday will feature a star-studded cast of BYU celebs, and up and coming new faces. You see, Holiday is the annual BFA acting final production. A BFA is a Bachelors in Fine Arts and it’s a very concentrated study of acting. BFA acting students are taught by professional working actors and directors as well as scholars. They learn a myriad of different acting techniques from all time periods–they learn how to move, breathe, use their voices and stand. They learn accents, stage combat, and even how to juggle. Most importantly they learn how to communicate with each other and an audience. It’s a very competitive course of study and students are required to audition yearly to stay in the program.  The students have to continue to progress and meet standards of proficiency each year. Needless to say, it’s an intense program, and in a few short weeks you will have the opportunity witness the culmination of all their hard work.

Our production features a good mix of acting seniors who are about to enter the professional world of theatre and film and some brand new students who are working hard to make a good impression, all under the expert direction of veteran actor, acting coach, director, and head of the BFA acting track Barta Heiner.  Here’s a little bit about each of our stars.

Becca Ingram (Linda Seton): From American Fork, UT, a graduating Senior in Acting. Recent credits at BYU include Beth in Merrily We Roll Along & Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank. She recently received the National Classical Acting Award at the American College Theater Festival in Washington D.C.

Magarin Hobson (Johnny Case): From Grantsville, Utah. Senior in BFA Acting. Recent credits at BYU include Armado in Loves Labors Lost, Lord John in Elephant Man, & Keith in Stage Door, also Lachie in The Hasty Heart at Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley.

Mallory Gee (Julia Seton): From Elk Grove, California. Senior in Theatre Arts Studies. Recent credits include Becca in Rabbit Hole. Recently participated in BYU’s 24 Hour Theatre Project staring in Haystack, and she is currently filming in the Pick Your Own Adventure webseries.

Eric Gourley (Ned Seton): From Las Vegas, Nevada. Senior in BFA Acting. Recent credits include: Elephant Man, Scarlet Pimpernel, and Persuasion.

Alexander Trop (Edward Seton): From Salt Lake City, UT. Junior in Acting. Recent credits at BYU include Harun-al Rashid in Arabian Nights and Robert in Proof. Also appeared as Mortimer in The Fantasticks at the Brinton Black Box Theatre.

Andrew Joy (Nick Potter): From Clinton, Utah. Senior in Acting with a minor in Sociology. BYU credits include Mike in White Christmas, Babe in Babe the Sheep-pig, Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, and Bridegroom in Blood Wedding. He also produced Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along last year at BYU.

Taylor Warburton (Susan Potter): From Las Vegas, Nevada. A graduating Senior in Theatre Arts Studies. Recent Credits include Helena in Utah Shakespeare in the Park’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Maria in Love’s Labours’ Lost at BYU.

Billy Hagee (Seton Cram): From Mckinney, TX. Freshman in the Music Dance Theatre program here at BYU. Recent credits at BYU include Philips in Casey at the Bat. This is Billy’s second role at BYU.

Sarah-lucy Hill (Laura Cram): from Sacramento, California. Senior in the Theater Arts Studies. Recent credits: Ashera in A Roof Overhead ZIon Theater Company, Meructia in Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing Utah Shakespeare in the Park.

Jordan Nicholes
(Henry): From Fort Worth, Texas. Freshman at BYU studying acting. Recent credits include Mr. Smith in The Bald Soprano at BYU’s Mask Club, and Cristopher Columbus in Mariner at San Antonio College.

Michael Comp
(Delia): From New York City, NY. Freshman in Theatre Arts Studies. Recent credits include placing third in the New York Shakespeare Competition. This is Michael’s first role in a BYU production.