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Holiday playbill

A round up of a few performances happening in December

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Christmas in Tuna, Texas

Two actors take on 22 different characters in FW Civic's holiday satire A Tuna Christmas

A Tuna Christmas has things to say about the true meaning of Christmas, about finding the joy in family and friends, about the holiday spirit, etc. But in the words of actor Michael Bartkiewicz, “If you blink, you’ll probably miss it. It’ll fly right past you if you’re not looking for it.”

That’s because the Fort Wayne Civic Theater’s production of A Tuna Christmas, opening December 2nd at the Allen County Public Library auditorium, doesn’t seem interested in slowing down the jokes to teach you something.

Centering around the holiday festivities in the small town of Tuna, Texas (the third smallest town in the state), A Tuna Christmas is a satirical look at the citizens of a very small town.

The cast of characters is big — 22 characters of both genders and different ages make their appearance on stage. But the cast of the play itself consists of only two actors. Bartkiewicz plays 11 of them. Nick Tash plays the other 11. Playwrights Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard wrote it that way.

And as you might expect, it keeps the actors on their toes. “At first I didn’t think it was going to be that hard,” Bartkiewicz says. “It’s fun, but trying to think of all these different mannerisms and voices, make them all individuals… it’s a little difficult. Plus there’s costume changes; some of them are less than a minute.”

A Tuna Christmas revolves around local DJs Thurston Whellis and Arles Struvie covering Tuna’s annual Christmas Yard Display Contest, but the story just serves as a framework to peer into the lives of the townspeople. “No, it’s not plot heavy,” laughs Jane Frazier, a frequent stage performer who is in her first stint in the director’s chair for Fort Wayne Civic. “It’s really kind of a kooky look into all of these different characters in this very small rural town in Texas. I told Nick and Michael, ‘it’s kind of like an episode of Mama’s Family meets King of The Hill’.”

Frazier explains that some of the characters pop up several times throughout the play, while others appear for a scene and only have a line or two. “Creating a voice, a tempo, a body movement to make each of these characters stand out as individuals is daunting,” she says. “But I think that’s one of the things we love about the play. Every night at rehearsal, I love watching (Tash and Bartkiewicz) make these characters come to life a little bit at a time.”

One of the toughest characters Barkiewicz has to portray is Didi Snavely — gun-store owner, chain-smoker, wife of Tuna’s resident UFOlogist R.R. “She’s very ‘butch,’ and it was hard to really grasp the character, because I wanted to keep her masculine, almost like a drill sergeant, but I also had to find those really ‘girly’ moments for her. I’ll probably be playing with that character right up until the first performance.”

Barkiewicz’s comments about Didi Snavely illustrate another challenge of A Tuna Christmas — striking that balance between cartoon and character. A Tuna Christmas is a satire, of course, played for laughs, and some of the characters really don’t need to be much more than a caricature, like Vera Carp, another of Bartkiewicz’s roles, who wins the Christmas yard decoration contest every year using real animals and giant figures on her lawn. But a few of the other storylines and subplots ask for a little more from the audience. “There are a lot of great moments in Tuna Christmas where you do get to see that more real aspect of these people,” Barkiewicz explains. “So rather than making them these huge, broad, over the top characters you have to remember that they have to be somewhat believable as humans that you can relate to.”

Frazier says she’s not worried about the performances being too broad — Tash and Bartkiewicz have a great instinct on how far they can go with their characters. Besides, just because a character might seem “over the top” doesn’t mean they aren’t believable. “As far out as some of them are, I know real people like this,” she laughs.

This is Bartkiewicz’s fifth production at the Civic, and Tash’s first. Both have performed in many other productions around town, especially IPFW. Despite the challenges of tackling so many characters, Berkiewicz says he’s really enjoying the working with such a small cast and crew. “It’s just me, Nick and Jane,” he says. “We get to talk, get to work together so we’re all on the same page. In larger productions, you don’t really get that opportunity, so it’s a really great experience.”

Fort Wayne Civic Theater “Off Main” presents A Tuna Christmas
Allen County Public Library Auditorium
900 Library Plaza

Friday, December 2 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, December 3 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, December 4 at 2:00 pm

Friday, December 9 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, December 10 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, December 11 at 2:00

Friday, December 16 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, December 17 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, December 18 at 2:00 pm

Tickets: $16/adult; $11/youth and student. Sunday matinees: $16/adult; $13/senior; $11 youth and student

Call: 260 424-5220
Or online at www.fwcivic.org


Six Little Journeys

Purely Dance 2011 showcases IPFW’s Dance and Technical Theater programs

From the seats in the Williams Theater on IPFW’s campus, audiences at Purely Dance 2011 will see six different dance pieces encompassing a variety of styles, moods, and tones.

But they’ll also be seeing the results of a collaboration between students, faculty, and community artists that began many months ago and has been put together piece by piece.

IPFW’s Purely Dance event — which returns for its 8th year beginning December 2 — is a showcase for the school’s Dance Minor and Technical Theater program, where the more advanced students in each field get the chance to spotlight the skills and talents they’ve been developing in the classroom and rehearsal hall.

It’s also an opportunity for those students to get together with IPFW faculty and members of the local dance community and see how all the elements of a performance production come together. Students gain some real hands on experience, learn from the “pros,” and actually work one-on-one with their instructors to take the theories and techniques they learn in the classroom and apply them to the stage.

This year Purely Dance 2011 includes the talents of six choreographers, three costume designers including one student and six lighting designers, five of whom are students. Each dance piece has its own unique style which often transforms during the rehearsal process. This requires the student designers to work closely with the choreographers
and become familiar enough with the piece to contribute to changes in the costume and lighting design to accommodate the journey each piece will take throughout the process.

“There’s really no theme, no common thread to this year’s show,” says Continuing Lecturer Brittney Coughlin, choreographer and artistic director for Purely Dance 2011. “We wanted to leave it open for each choreographer to really let their piece take everyone on a journey rather than try to make one overall theme that each choreographer to create something around, so each has gone their own route.”

Coughlin adds that the six individual pieces in Purely Dance are mostly based in modern dance. “But there are a few that have a theater quality to how they play scenes within the piece,” she says. “There’s one piece that’s just all out tap-dancing, for example.” Coughlin describes her own piece — “The tie that b(L)inds” — as having a more serious feel to it, but the mood of each piece is different. “Each piece really has its own little story around it, so there are six little journeys that the audience will go on during the course of the night.”

Mark Ridgeway, Associate Professor of Scenic and Lighting Design at IPFW, is heading up another very important aspect of the show — the lighting for each piece. This is the final project for the students in his THTR 362 lighting design course. “From the very beginning of the semester, as soon as the show is cast and they have the dancers in place, the lighting designers meet with the choreographers and talk about the piece and what they hope to achieve in the piece,” explains Ridegeway, who has been involved in all the Purely Dance performances. “The designers will usually sit through three to five rehearsals over the course of the semester to look at how the choreographer is using the space, what the dance looks like, and hearing the music to get the look of the piece.”

For the students, handling the lighting for Purely Dance is an excellent lesson in all the logistical concerns that happen backstage at any production. “They’re all individual pieces, all needing a completely different approach to the lighting design,” Ridgeway says. “Since we have six different designers, you’ve got a lot of lights you’ve got to hang and focus to be able accomplish that specific look for each piece. So we share some of them, and then we divide up the instrumentation so that they can hopefully get what they need to light the show with. It becomes a really difficult task in juggling who gets what and who is going to be able to use what, and how it’s divided up.”

IPFW Department of Theatre presents Purely Dance 2011

Fridays Dec. 2, 9 at 8 PM
Thursday Dec. 8 at 8 PM
Saturdays Dec. 3, 10 at 8 PM
Sunday Dec. 11 at 2:00 PM (sign language performance)

Williams Theatre – IPFW North Campus
2101 E. Coliseum Blvd
Fort Wayne, IN 46805

Admission for IPFW students with I.D. is free. All other tickets: $14

The Schatzlein Box Office in the Rhinehart Music Center is open Monday – Friday, 12:30 – 6:30 pm Patrons are encouraged to call in advance to reserve their tickets.
Box Office: 260-481-6555
TTD: 260-481-4105
For information call the Schatzlein Box Office at 260-481-6555 or ipfw.edu/theater

Gentler spirits. Plenty “Bah Humbug!”

Youtheatre offers up classic A Christmas Carol

In an age of fast-paced video games, violent cartoon images, and boy wizards fighting for their lives against the forces of evil, it’s probably strangely comforting for some parents to learn that kids can still get a little creeped out by ghosts.

At least that’s what Harvey Cocks of Fort Wayne Youtheatre found out. Cocks directs Youtheatre’s production of A Christmas Carol opening December 16, and wrote the adaptation of the Dickens classic himself. “I’m not really calling it a children’s version,” he explains. “Almost everything Mr. Dickens wrote is in there, with Scrooge and the Crachitts and all that, but the ghosts are now called ‘spirits’.”

Cocks explains that as he was adapting A Christmas Carol, he tested the story on some of the young actors during one of Youtheatre’s summer workshops. “The reaction I got was ‘oh, that’s a scary story’,” he says. “’There are ghosts in there.’ So I turned the ghosts into spirits, and they’re all kind of goofy.”

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come — usually portrayed as a mute, looming, cloaked figure that points with a skeletal hand — receives a major makeover. In Youtheatre’s version, she’s a chatty flower girl (played by Emily Dixon) who delivers the bad prognosis to Scrooge in a cheerful, happy manner that suggests an experienced nurse telling her patient that, yes, this next shot will probably hurt, but it’s for your own good. “She’s just bright and cheerful all the time,” Cocks says. “She says ‘I never said this was going to be easy…’ She warns him every time something serious is coming up.”

Not that Charles Dickens original story has changed all that much in the Youtheatre version. There’s miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Larry Bowers) with plenty of “Bah Humbug”; his long suffering assistant Bob Crachit and his family; and the four ghosts that pay Scrooge a visit and eventually lead him to change his ways. “Just a few minor details have changed,” says Cai Caudill, who makes his Youtheatre debut as Peter Crachit. “But it’s pretty true to the original story. Some parts are just a little less dark.”

“There’s not as much emphasis on Scrooge’s death,” adds Tatum Ellis (Martha Crachit). “I remember in the story there was a big scene at the graveyard, and that’s a little different in our version.”

Though neither Caudill nor Ellis recall A Christmas Carol as being particularly scary (“I think by the time I was old enough to see a movie version of it, it didn’t bother me all that much,” Ellis says), Brook Mullett, who plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, says she was in a stage version of A Christmas Carol in elementary school that pushed the envelope. “We made it really scary,” she recalls. “We did the whole ‘fog coming up from the graves’ thing, all the works. We did it for the rest of the school, and I think some kindergarteners cried.”

But ghosts and spirits aren’t the only thing that’s changed. Larry Bowers, who usually runs his own theater company Bower/North productions, but is playing Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, explains that Cocks adapted the story to be a play-within-a-play. “It’s a travelling theater company, and some of their cast can’t make it because they get held up in a storm, so they recruit some of the kids to be in the play,” says Bowers. “It sort of justifies the younger cast.”

Bowers wife Theresa is also in A Christmas Carol, as Mrs. Crachit, and son Andrew Bowers plays the ghost of Jacob Marley. They’re actually one of two families in the production — Todd Findley plays Bob Crachit along side his sons Sean and Stuart, who play Ed Crachit and Tiny Tim, respectively. “My dad plays my dad, and my brother plays my brother,” he says. “But I also like the play because I get to say one of the most famous lines in history.”

Fort Wayne Youthatre presents A Christmas Carol
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street

Friday, December 16* at 7 pm
Saturday, December 17 at 2 pm
Sunday, December 18 at 2 pm

Tickets- $15 adult & $10 children
*special $5 children tickets for all Friday shows!

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