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Posts Tagged ‘The Ballad of Joe Hill’

Adrienne Mackey on Fear and Pleasure in Performance Life

Posted September 4th, 2015

stars surviveWe’ve been running a number of pieces on the artistic life lately, in the context of After the Rehearsal/Persona. To wrap them up, we reached out to Philadelphia’s own Adrienne Mackey, who’s been involved with all sorts of wonderful, adventurous, collaborative and indeed critical work on her own and with her company, Swim Pony. She wrote movingly for us about life as a theater artist and how theater forms and informs the lives of those who create it:

By Adrienne Mackey

There’s a common stereotype of theater artists as loud, brassy, attention-loving people. This image that those who would associate themselves with the stage must be naturally larger than life, filtered down from Broadway’s multimillion-dollar enterprise all the way through the nooks and crannies of high school musical theater, is a false one, I think. I think this size and showiness is a put-on. I think it hides a deeper layer, one that is common in a great number of theater makers, of uncertainty and fear.

For a lot of us who actually go on to make a career in the arts, theater begins as a kind of training ground for being human.

In middle school I was shy and intensely quiet. My mother likes to point out how all the pictures I drew of myself in this phase of childhood show a figure with massive eyes that take up half of my face and a tiny and tight little mouth. I was a thinker, an over-feeler, a not-quite-sure-how-to-connect-with-the-world-around-me-er. I was fundamentally uncomfortable in my own skin, uncertain about how to express the person I felt myself to be, afraid of showing too much lest I do it wrong.

After the jump, theater and transformation:

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If You Don’t Know Now You Know: Mini Artist Profiles at Philly Post

Posted September 3rd, 2013

sobelle-the-object-lesson-2Philadelphia magazine’s Victor Fiorillo runs down 10 notable FringeArts performers worth checking out this year.

It’s a pretty good quick guide to some awesome shows this year, actually: Martha Stuckey of Pay Up, Gunnar Montana of Basement, McKenzie Maula of A Doll’s House, James Michael Baker of Ballad of Joe Hill, Geoff Sobelle of The Object Lesson, Jess Conda of Eternal Glamnation and Pay Up, Scott Sheppard of Go Long Big Softie, Mary Tuomanen of St. Joan, Betrayed, Kevin Glaccum of Dutch Masters, and Brian Sanders of Hush Now Sweet High Heels and Oak.

If you’re looking for somebody to pick some especially adventurous shows for you, you couldn’t do much better than Victor’s list.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Photo of Geoff Sobelle by Lars Jan.

Changing Perceptions of Historical Truths: Talkin’ Joe Hill with director Adrienne Mackey

Posted August 9th, 2013

“There is a beautiful stillness that is oppressive.”

Joe Hill. (The original.)

Joe Hill. (The original.)

For the 2013 Fringe Festival, Adrienne Mackey and her creative cohort Bradley Wrenn are leading Swim Pony Performing Arts in the revival of their 2006 Philly Fringe hit The Ballad of Joe Hill. The show, while retaining its original infectious spirit, is getting a major updating, thanks in no small part to historical evidence surfacing that changed the creators’ perspective of Joe Hill’s story. Adrienne and Bradley had for years wanted to revisit this show that helped form Swim Pony’s identity and performance aesthetic. Partly this was a love for the show, but it has also been their desire to revisit the show with the artistic maturity—and confidence—they’ve acquired in the years since the original production. The following is an excerpted interview we had with Adrienne in the spring, when the company was  embarking upon the rehearsal and (re)creation process.

FringeArts: Why is the show title The Ballad of Joe Hill?

Adrienne: The show is named after a song of the same name written after Joe Hill was executed. The lyrics of the first verse:

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
alive as you and me
Said I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead.”
“I never died,” said he.
“I never died,” said he.

It helped inspire the image of the female narrator seeing a kind of ghost of Joe Hill many years after his death.

Adrienne Mackey directs! Photo by Jacques-Jean Tiziou.

Adrienne Mackey directs! Photo by Jacques-Jean Tiziou.

FringeArts: How did you stumble upon his story?

Adrienne Mackey: We originally heard of Joe Hill through Utah Phillips—another folk singer and Wobbly, or IWW member [Industrial Workers of the World]—who passed away just a few years ago. Hearing the story, the idea of Joe Hill dying for a larger cause just kind of stuck. It was hard for us to understand how, and why, someone would do such a thing. We began to look more into the music Hill wrote and read up on the story. The intricacies of the case seemed so of the moment Hill was living but eerily similar to today.

FringeArts: When did the show begin to form for you?

Adrienne Mackey: It was when we started playing with the vaudeville style that the two aspects of the show—the simple naturalism mixed with the bouncy cartoonish stuff—that the picture of what we’d be doing started to clarify. And then when we secured Eastern State the whole thing really started to form an image.

FringeArts: How will the show be evolving in this remount?

Adrienne Mackey: The narrative will be different based largely on expanded research about Hill’s guilt. Beyond that, the historical content will be much the same, but we may emphasize different aspects. In terms of approach, we will definitely be changing around the content to clarify the history content without some clunky devices we used in the first version. Like many original works, it was really once we saw the thing in performance for the first time that we saw which characters and scenes were truly vibrant in the first one, and our hope is to pull out more of these.

We’re also looking at bringing in more of the media presence, in the sense of newspapers of the time period, and how it informed the climate that surrounded Hill as he was convicted and going into trial. Like many major trials today, the media helped create an environment that whipped the public into a fervor.

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Talkin’ Lights With Maria Shaplin

Posted April 18th, 2013

 “I learned how to make the most out of twelve lights. It was the best possible lighting education.”

Where the hell . . . ? Maria Shaplin at work.

Where the hell . . . ? Maria Shaplin at work.

Philadelphia-based lighting designer Maria Shaplin has just finished a (second) run of Vainglorious with her company Applied Mechanics as part of PIFA. (You may have noticed a lot of photos of folks in Napoleonic outfits on PIFA promotional materials—all pretty much courtesy of Vainglorious!) This September she will be the lighting designer for The Ballad of Joe Hill, which Swim Pony Performing Arts is remounting and reimagining for the 2013 FringeArts Festival. Like the 2006 original, Joe Hill will be performed in Eastern State Penitentiary.

With a soft spot for new, experimental work, Maria is a member and resident lighting designer for The Riot Group and cofounder and resident production designer for Applied Mechanics. Chances are if you get out at all you have seen her work, which has included gigs with New Paradise Laboratories, The Berserker Residents, Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, Theatre Exile, and The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, and many others.

FringeArts: Where did you grow up and what was it like?

Maria Shaplin: I was raised in Burlington, Vermont. It is a small city with a thriving arts community. It’s a strange mix with a cold New England isolationist attitude, while we take things like recycling, organic food, and jam bands VERY seriously. For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to ignore someone you know quite well if you see them on the street. Even if you are the ONLY TWO PEOPLE ON THE STREET! I think there is an intense respect for other people’s personal headspace there. But when Jerry Garcia died it felt like the whole city was in mourning for a week, and City Hall Park turned into a public art project/love-in. Art, music, drugs, all-wheel drive, sensible shoes, and a working knowledge of how to build a good fire—these are all very important in Vermont.

FringeArts: What got you into lighting design? Were you on crew in high school? At what point did you turn from the functional to an artistic approach?

Sophie Gets The Horns by The Riot Group.

Sophie Gets The Horns by The Riot Group.

Maria Shaplin: I was in show chorus in middle school (two decades before Glee made it cool). I messed up a solo in a country music review show—totally mortified—forgot two whole verses to “I Was Raised on Country Sunshine” whilst dressed in pleather and fringe. Unrecoverable humiliation. Never went on stage again. The next day I joined set crew and never looked back. In high school I was the stage manager, ordering around a crew of young misfits, and also building sets after school. I was running sound for a community theater as well.

Theater was always extra-curricular for me. I never thought people actually had a career in theatre. But the real turning point was in college. My brother [Adriano Shaplin of The Riot Group] started writing plays and touring them to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the summer. He would alternately take my sister and I each year. It happened that the second year I went, his third play at the festival, we won all the fringe awards and got picked up by a touring producer. It really was the theater dream—we were NOBODY, and we used to put “Five Stars from the Scotsman” on our posters when in fact we had never even been reviewed. But then we actually GOT five stars, and we were touring on a world stage. In 2000 we had a month-run in London, and then the next play in late 2001 and 2002, we toured all over England, and had dates in Germany and New York and San Francisco. I was the sound and light board operator, but on tour we were cutting costs and our British technical director was like, “You are learning how to do a light plot so you can help me, goddamnit.”

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