…and now, for something completely different.

As you probably have noticed, Boston has a pretty rich theater community — and over the next few days, we’ll be focusing on a few local companies: friends of ours who are offering ticket discounts for members of the Emerson community!

Watch this space today, tomorrow, and Thursday. If folks are fans (like the links on Facebook, or leave a note in the comments), perhaps we’ll make this a regular series!

And now, we’re pleased to present our first featured production, from Puppet Showplace Theatre:

 

orphan2

The Orphan Circus”
by Les Sages Fous

Wed, Thurs & Fri, Nov 13, 14 & 15 at 7:30pm
32 Station Street, Brookline MA

Les Sages Fous are an award-winning company from Québec, Canada. Their celebrated “unusual” performance style combines puppetry, live acting, and ingenious production design.  “The Orphan Circus” is an awe-inspiring theatrical experience where two junk peddlers create a small circus of visual tableaux evoking the life of a cabaret troupe of derelicts and misfits — a place where the gruesome become the beauties and even impossible love can be fulfilled. Watch a short trailer about The Orphan Circus (NOTE: this link doesn’t include ticketing information)

“Imagine a close-up, dystopian Cirque du Soleil.” -Roxanna Myhrum, Artistic Director/Puppet Showplace.

“The Orphan Circus” is presented as part of the “Puppets at Night” series of evening puppetry performances for adults and teens at Puppet Showplace.

 

Special ticket offer for Emerson community: $10/ticket:
Use code 
EmersonNov2013 when you buy tickets online
LEARN MORE / BUY TICKETS

 

 

 

See ya there!

Meet the Characters of Lizzie Bright

This morning, at 10am, we kicked off our first performance of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. And it was great.

With the official start of the run here, we felt like it was a good time to introduce you to the characters of Lizzie Bright – a few actors even drop by in videos to tell you a little about their character and their experience.

This material was produced as part of the Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy education guide, by our education coordinator Bee Weinberg. Check out other educational resources here.

Want to learn more? Join us at one of our performances this weekend!

The Characters of Phippsburg

Turner Buckminster

A young boy, Turner feels out of place after moving to Phippsburg with his father. Turner’s high strung nature makes it hard for him to make friends, until he meets Lizzie.

Watch an interview with the actor who plays Turner here: Turner Buckminster Interview

Reverend Buckminster

Turner’s father, and the new preacher for Phippsburg, Maine. Having recently lost his wife, Reverend Buckminster is struggling to build a relationship with his son while establishing himself in a small  town.

Mrs. Cobb

An old woman, Mrs. Cobb teaches Turner piano lessons. She refuses to cow to the pressures of the townspeople, and sees the potential in Turner and Lizzie.

Deacon Hurd

One of the leaders of Phippsburg, Deacon Hurd is heading the movement to clear Malaga of its inhabitants in order to build a resort in town. Thinks the people of Malaga are dirty, stupid, and should be removed.

Willis Hurd

Deacon Hurd’s son. About Turner’s age, Willis doesn’t like Turner’s “big city” attitude. He struggles to decide which side is the right side on the Malaga question.

Sheriff

Working with Deacon Hurd, is trying to clear Malaga of the families that live there so the town can build a resort. Shares similar feelings with Deacon Hurd.

 

The Characters of Malaga Island

Lizzie Bright Griffin

A young black girl, Lizzie has lived on Malaga her entire life. She isn’t sure what to think of Turner at first, but her bright spirit and feisty attitude soon spark a friendship with Turner and Mrs. Cobb. Lizzie is fighting to protect her home and family from being taken from Malaga

Watch an interview with the actress who plays Lizzie here: Lizzie Bright Interview

Reverend Griffin

Lizzie’s grandfather, Reverend Griffin is a black man and a spiritual leader on Malaga Island. Old and of somewhat failing health, he helps Turner learn understand Malaga and what it means to the families that live there.

The Tripps

One of the families that lives on the island, the Tripps are a wild bunch that Turner meets when he visits the island. If Malaga is cleared, the Tripps will have nowhere to go.

 

Malaga Adventure: Why Lizzie Bright is a must-see

by Sarah Erkert, Production Dramaturg

Sometimes, as a dramaturg, you feel like much of the research you do on a play is for naught. The material can be dense and the relevance questionable, but you plunge through it hoping to find something that inspires you and that can inform the production. For Emerson Stage’s production of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, that inspiration came thanks to a visit that eighteen company members made in late summer to Malaga Island, the setting of our play. Thirteen-year-old Lizzie Bright Griffin describes the island she calls home as a magical place:

Malaga is the most perfect place God ever created. We have the tallest trees that if you climb ‘em, you can hide forever and we got all manner of birds and fish and the prettiest wild flowers and the prettiest wild natured children, at least that’s what the old folks say about us…. Malaga is a place, Turner the third, where every color of people, like every color flower live like one big family. You’ll never meet a stranger on Malaga.

Modern historians now believe that Malaga Island represented one of the most successfully integrated mixed-race communities in the United States until quite recently…but the people of nearby Phippsburg did not celebrate Malaga’s multiracial and multicultural heritage as Lizzie did. Driven by distrust — and economic interests — the more affluent community engaged in a public campaign of slander and yellow journalism against the island which ultimately culminated in the Malaga community’s eviction from the island in 1912. While Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy focuses more on the friendship between Malaga resident Lizzie and Phippsburg newcomer Turner, this historical conflict provides the backdrop for our play…and a reason for our pilgrimage.

As the fog cleared and our sea kayaks neared a small shell midden beach on the north side of the now uninhabited island, Malaga appeared exactly as Lizzie described it. Beautiful fir trees rose above us, and the opaque blue water met the solid rock cliffs of the mainland just a few hundred yards off the western edge of the island. We stepped onto the thin, moss-covered soil where Lizzie and the islanders had lived, and looked over to the neighboring town of Phippsburg, the town that had considered the shanties and mixed race community of Malaga an eyesore. It was hard to understand their point of view, as the place today does seem like “the most perfect place God ever created.” Though all the island’s structures were razed long ago, the spirit of its community still lingers.

Those who have read the young adult novel on which the play is based may recall how the wind is itself a character in the story, whispering at times, roaring at others, as it foreshadows and comments on the action of the story. Author Gary Schmidt must have visited the island, as the wind is indeed as ever-present as he describes it. It whistles on the windy shores, rustles through the tall firs, and carries the slightest hint of a musical tone. There is only one place on the island, not far from its eastern edge, where the wind is silent and respectful: the site of the community’s former cemetery. Its graves were long ago exhumed by the State of Maine, but the natural hollow where they had rested still seems to hold their spirits in peaceful silence. It’s just as Lizzie explains to Turner, “See, spirit never dies when it’s where it belongs.”

It’s hard not to feel connected to the community of Malaga when you’re standing in the middle of that silence, but with that connection also comes responsibility. The story of Malaga was brushed over and ignored for nearly a century. The descendants of Malaga were shamed for their heritage, and the neighboring communities talked of it in hushed voices. Thanks to the work of some Maine institutions, such as the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, WMPG-FM, the Maine State Museum, and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the legacy of Malaga lives on. Descendants of the families on Malaga Island have shared their stories and memories so the lessons of this time will not be forgotten. It’s just as Lizzie says: “How you going to remember what they meant to you if you don’t ever speak on ‘em?”

We will, and we are, this November in the Semel Theater.

For tickets, or more information about Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boyclick here.

An Actor Speaks: Malaga Adventure

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is the next show at Emerson Stage, with public performances in the Semel Theater Nov 1-3 (two school matinees, playing Oct 31 and Nov 1, are already sold out).

The show’s historical context comes from the true events that happened on Malaga Island, Maine in 1912 — which is why, in the first week of rehearsal, director Robert Colby took 18 designers and actors on a field trip to Malaga Island.

Reyn Beeler is a junior BFA acting student who plays Deacon Hurd in our show. Here, he shares a few thoughts about his experience of Malaga Island. 

Going to Malaga was a truly transformational experience. It solidified the ensemble nature of the cast and production team — but more importantly, it provided a lot of insight as to why we needed to produce this play.

The story of the people of Malaga and their struggle is a little known moment in history, even within the state of Maine itself. To actually see the island and walk on its shores and to see how the families could have possibly lived was inspiring.

When we were kayaking to the island there was a point during the journey where we could all see the juxtaposition of Phippsburg with the small island of Malaga. That moment, in my opinion, was the most informative moment for me as an actor developing my character of Deacon Hurd — the relationship between the two main locations of the play was awesome. Phippsburg had this gigantic American flag flying, and bunch of clean houses all neatly assembled near the shoreline in the middle of this beautifully maintained grass. In contrast, Malaga was a wondrous mass of fern, moss, uprooted and fallen trees, shells, and swamp.

Physically seeing the different atmospheres of each location helped me understand the possible perceptions the Deacon would have had of the two communities in his time period. I can only hope to translate even a fraction of the spirit that exists on Malaga to the stage when presenting its story.

Malaga Island: The Setting of Our Play

By Sarah Erkhart

This blog post was cross-posted from the Lizzie Bright Dramaturgical Blog.

 

Hello and welcome to the dramaturgical blog for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, the third show in Emerson Stage’s 2013-2014 season! I’m Sarah Erkert, the production dramaturg for this show, and I will be your guide to the history, social context and relevance of the play. But before we can dive into some of the larger social issues and understand why the story of Malaga is an important one to tell, it will help to understand more about the setting of the story.

The Founding of the Malaga Island Community

Malaga Island is located just off the coast of Phippsburg, a small fishing town 20 miles north of Portland, Maine. Though Native Americans inhabited the island for thousands of years prior to European settlers, the first modern settler of the island was Benjamin Darling. Rumored to be a freed slave after heroically saving the captain of a shipwreck, Darling bought the neighboring Bear Island in 1794. His son, Issac, later sold the island and moved to the unoccupied Malaga.

The Rooted Community of Malaga

By the early 1860s, the island began seeing permanent residents, with Henry Griffin settling on the east side of the island. In the next few years, other small families began moving to the welcoming sanctuary, including the Murphys, Dunnings, Johnsons, Easons, Marks, McKenneys and Tripps. By 1900, the island was called home by more than forty people, many of whom by virtue of race or poverty would have found it difficult to find community in the small fishing towns of mid-coast Maine. The Malaga community included African Americans, whites and several mixed race families, most of whom struggled with poverty.  They survived off the land, despite its thin soil, and by fishing and harvesting marine life to sell and eat. Many also worked odd jobs, including carpentry and laundry services, for those on the mainland, but in spite of their efforts, many were also recipients of Phippsburg’s pauper’s relief fund.

Tensions with the Mainland Community of Phippsburg

As the people of Phippsburg themselves were mired in economic difficulties caused in part by declines in fishing and shipbuilding at the turn of the 20th century, many began to resent the proportion of welfare relief that went to Malaga Island.  Some in the community proposed that Phippsburg should try to attract wealthy summer vacationers to the area by building a resort on the mainland near Malaga.  For that to be successful, they argued, the people and their shanties on Malaga Island would have to be removed.  The yellow journalism of the day and the rise of the eugenics movement fanned the flames of prejudice against the Malaga Islanders.

To decrease the impact on Phippsburg’s welfare funds, the town argued in court that the island actually belonged to the neighboring town of Harpswell.  But when their suit was unsuccessful, the State of Maine stepped in and declared the island to be under the control of the governor and its people “wards of the state.” On July 11, 1911 Governor Plaisted and other state representatives visited the island to assess the conditions of its people and their homes.  After the visit, the State declared Eli Perry, a resident of Phippsburg, the legal owner of Malaga, even though some of the residents of Malaga offered to buy the island and no deed was ever discovered under Perry’s name. Just three weeks after the Governor’s visit to Malaga, Perry ordered the people of Malaga evicted and demanded they vacate the property by July 1, 1912.

The End of the Malaga Community

After the Governor’s visit, the mental and physical health of the people of Malaga were assessed by the State of Maine to determine if they could care for themselves. The state declared eight of Malaga’s residents to be “feeble minded,” and they were placed in the residential School for the Feeble-Minded in New Gloucester. The remaining families were paid a small sum, and some moved to the mainland or other islands, though many of these families could never forget Malaga as their home. The State then purchased the island from Eli Perry to keep people from resettling Malaga after the eviction.

By July of 1912, the island was abandoned, and the remaining structures were razed, except for the newly built school, which was relocated to Louds Island in Muscongus Bay. The bodies buried in its cemetery were exhumed and moved to the cemetery behind the School for the Feeble-Minded. For many years, the history of the island was then forgotten.  One hundred years later, the Maine State Museum won several prestigious awards for its exhibit that brought this story back into the spotlight.  In 2001 the Maine Coast Heritage Trust purchased the island to keep the land as a preserve and to protect its history. Descendants of Malaga residents have come forward and shared the stories they were told of the island. These stories will help keep the lessons of the island alive for future generations.

 

– Sarah Erkert
Production Dramaturg

 

 

Works Cited

“Fragmented Lives.” The Maine State Museum. Web. 16 Sep 2013. http://www.mainestatemuseum.org/exhibits/malaga_island_fragmented_lives

“Malaga Island – Preserves.” Maine Coast Heritage Trust. MCHT, n.d. Web. 16 Sep 2013. <http://www.mcht.org/preserves/malaga-island.shtml>.

Rosenthal, Rob, and Kate Philibrick. “Malaga Island – A Story Best Left Untold.” malagaislandmaine.org. The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, n.d. Web. 13 Sep 2013. <http://www.malagaislandmaine.org/index.htm>.

 

Bloody Love

By Robert Onorato

 

Big Love is violent. There’s no way around it. You probably know this. You’ve read it, or heard about our production from an actor or production team member, or if nothing else have seen our poster, which makes it clear in no uncertain terms that blood gets spilled. In deference to the wishes of those involved, I’ll refrain from divulging too much about the specific mechanics of the plot which necessitated the creation of so many blood packs by our intrepid Props Master, Katharine Burkhart. Suffice it to say that Big Love is the closest Emerson Stage has yet come to a Tarantino film.

Violence onstage is a significant disturbance to an audience. Unlike in film, the stage magic required to execute an act of violence is complex, more dangerous, and cannot be manipulated through post-production, stunt doubles, or retakes. On film, an act of violence can be executed with stomach-turning realism. This is less often the case with stage violence. A punch or a slap is choreographed, and like any bit of stage business, relies upon a deception of the audience and a consequent understanding on the audience’s part that the violence is staged, and so the windup or recoil or sound effect might be faked. Sometimes this works, and sometimes this can take the audience out of the scene.

Occasionally, of course, an act of violence is accorded the full attention of multiple members of the production team, and some truly stunning stagecraft is employed towards the end of convincing the audience that an act of violence was wrought, irreparably, against the very living, breathing people we’ve been watching onstage for some-odd hours. This is the case with Big Love. Every design department had to collaborate to create the violent affects to go down late in the show. The scene is upsetting. The bodies remain onstage. Blood flies. The stagecraft pays off, in that we as the audience know that the actors aren’t dead…but the evidence before our eyes and the twisted excitement of the past five minutes discomfit us.

The sort of violence Big Love calls for has become more commonplace over the past few decades of Anglo-American playwriting. Sarah Kane’s plays are infamous for their shocking acts of violence, including the cannibalism of a baby in Blasted. Martin McDonagh has a reputation for shock-violence in his plays. His Lieutenant of Inishmore opens with a stage direction indicating that a character holds the corpse of a dead cat and bits of brain plop out onto the floor. Later in the play a scene starts with a tableau of a character pinioned to the floor via a crucifix stabbed in the back of his throat, and more cats meet their grisly ends. Kane and McDonagh, as well as writers such as Mark Ravenhill and Anthony Neilson, are part of an informal movement of British playwriting called “in-yer-face theatre,” wherein disturbing acts of sex and violence demonstrate troubling truths about the characters and, more largely, the society that commits them.

Acts of violence also bring the audience in proximity to disturbing sights and sounds in a ritualized way which allows a safe though nervy encounter with the mechanics and results of violence. I remember seeing Lynn Nottage’s Ruined at the Huntington several years ago. On several occasions actors pointed guns and waggled spears in the direction of the audience. The verisimilitude got me almost as terrified as the characters would have been. In this way, live theatre is different from film.

The presentation of violence onstage is in fact a recent phenomenon in drama history. Traditionally, violent acts in the ancient Greek plays – Oedipus’s blinding, Medea’s murder of her children – occurred offstage. The consequences were portrayed, not the acts themselves. In fact, the English word “obscene” has roots in the Greek word for “offstage.”

Big Love is, of course, a contemporary retelling of an ancient Greek myth, and so splits the difference between the ancient and contemporary laws of stagecraft. When you see our production, think about the benefits and risks, the power and the effect, of acts of realistic stage violence. How, when it comes right down to it, does it make you feel, as a member of the audience?

 

Big Love plays in the Greene Theater Oct 3-6. Learn more.