OCT’s Blog

‘columbinus’ Reading at Benson Sparks Discussion on Guns and Compassion

On the morning of November 21, several cast members from the upcoming Young Professionals play columbinus met at Benson Polytechnic High School to present a reading of three scenes to Mr. Weiner’s Street Law class.  The class had been learning about constitutional rights, so the scenes from columbinus presented a creative way to discuss the second amendment—which includes the right to bear arms—and its implications for our society and especially our students.

The class began with the introduction of the YPs and a reading of the scenes, which included a classroom scene where a student, “Loner,” presents an essay with violent content to his class, a scene where another student, “Freak,” meets with a counselor who fails to make a connection, and a scene in which the two students, who are revealed to be the shooters in the Columbine High School massacre, discuss the concept of death and their plans for the destruction of their school.  The script for columbinus excerpts text from the actual event, including journal transcripts from the shooters, providing a realistic frame for the staged depiction of the tragedy.

After the reading, the floor was opened to discussion between students, teachers, and actors.  The students were interested in how the actors prepared emotionally to take on these roles. Their responses revealed not only the preparation, but also why the work was important to them on a personal level and how they came to be actors:

“It’s actually stuff like this that made me want to get into acting, because I always saw theatre as a way to teach and learn—the power that these worlds and these stories have to educate is fantastic.  From the moment I first saw a staged production, I knew that I wanted to be a part of something this great.  It’s an honor for me to even be working on a production like this.”
- Emma Younger

“If you have that in you, that desire to tell stories like this that belong to people and that you know are going to be important to people, then that’s where it’s at.”
- Thom Hilton

The performers also highlighted the idea of compassion in the play; that any student could be pushed to the edge as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were when they killed their classmates and themselves in 1999.

“Throughout the show, we have all these monologues that not only give you an insight into who those characters are, but also emphasize the fact that being a teenager can be really lonely.  No matter what your social status is, you’re going to have those moments where you feel scared and alone and that can turn into anger.  That darkness is relatable, and it’s scary to think, ‘Wow, I was feeling lonely too, and if something had been different, this could have been me, where I felt like my only way out was to create something so horrifying—that I could only be relevant by doing this.’”
- Amber Mitchell

The conversation then shifted to gun access and the laws surrounding gun use in America. While opinions on gun regulation differed widely between students, guest teacher Joel Andrew, a law student at Lewis & Clark College, emphasized that the most important thing was that students strive to appreciate all perspectives and gather their facts before making a stand:

“Some people argue that [the right to bear arms] is directly related to school shootings, some people say that we should still own guns because we want to be able to stop these things—that by having guns they’re combatting school shootings. This is the dialogue.  But the goal of this whole thing is to bring home that rights affect your life.  Laws affect our lives daily.  And we can make changes—we voted just a few weeks ago.  We can affect these things, whether or not we should be allowed to bring guns into school.  Listen to each other’s perspectives, and ask why!”

Recent proposals to allow teachers to carry guns in schools evoked passionate response from some students:

“That’s a terrible decision—if there are certain students who feel so outcast that they think they have to make this big, violent statement to be remembered, they will know that teachers have guns, and they will find a way to get them and make the important mark they think they need to make. You can’t bring the thing that’s hurting people into the place where they’re supposed to be protected.”

“I’d rather ya fail me than shoot me.  I talk so much that my teacher would shoot me in my mouth!”

“It’s a real thing, we’re all people, and we can all have situations where we’re pressured to go to that limit, so a teenager in school is just as likely to get pressured and pushed as a teacher.  A person with a gun is a person with a gun.”

There were also questions raised about when gun ownership is appropriate: When you’re defending your home? As a soldier or police officer?  One student wanted to be able to defend his loved ones in a crisis if the police or National Guard couldn’t step in.  Another student said that she was so uncomfortable around guns that she wouldn’t come to school if she knew people had them.

Eventually, students circled back around the foundation of the play and agreed that violence is a problem for all of us to consider: not how to treat the symptom of gun use in violent acts, but to find a cure for the disease of stereotyping that makes students feel trapped in the first place.

“[In the show,] there’s AP, Prep, Rebel, Perfect, Faith, Jock, Freak, and Loner.  All these stereotypes are things that we see every day.”
- Isaiah Rosales

“It makes it instantly uncomfortable because we all know that these were people who existed, so to watch this play and say, ‘ these were people who lived this, who died through this’ and they’re just being labeled as the stereotypes that we’re confronting every day, is a really disturbing and interesting choice on the writer’s part.”
- Thom Hilton

“It pulls back the curtain, and you discover that all these kids are human, like you.”
- Emma Younger

Students expressed their desire to see a change, not just in gun laws, but in how they interacted with each other in the halls at school.  Even smiling at another person, or asking how their day is going, can make a difference and help students feel that others care about them. Students and actors alike hope to inspire others to look past the stereotypes and recognize that everyone deserves to be treated kindly.

***

columbinus opens on April 10, 2015. For performance times and tickets click HERE

If your school or classroom is interested in having a visit from the columbinus cast, contact Sharon at sharon@octc.org

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Ashlee Waldbauer on Choreographing for “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs”

You might recognize her as Annie from last year’s OCT production of Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans. This season, high school senior and Young Professional Company member Ashlee Waldbauer is taking on a new kind of role: choreographer for this winter’s Young Professionals Company production of The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs

With 3 Pigs opening on December 5, Ashlee shared some of her experiences working on the show:

OCT: What is your dance background like, and how has that influenced your choreography?

Ashlee: I mostly just picked up dance by being in musicals.  A lot of the dance that I have done in past OCT musicals has helped, and Sara Martins, who I've worked with on past shows, has inspired my movements a lot.  Children's theater choreography is very different than regular musicals.  It has to be upbeat and sharp.  So I tried to put some dance moves that could be really fun for the actors to play around and be silly with.

OCT: How did you come to choreograph for this show? 

Ashlee: I've been in the Young Professional program at OCT for four years now, and [Education Director] Dani Baldwin has really shown me all the areas of theatre, especially directing and choreographing.  I was also an apprentice to [Portland based choreographer] Sara Martins during Fancy Nancy last year, and I loved being involved with the dance side of musical theater.  I was very surprised that Dani asked me to do 3 Pigs, but I'm so glad she did.

OCT: What is it like working with the director? 

Ashlee: James [Sharinghousen] is really great, super funny, and he helps me a lot with the concept of the whole show.  We really have to work together to make it cohesive.  You can't just have the acting and the dance separate; they have to go hand in hand.  I have learned a lot from him.

OCT: How would you describe the music and dance styles of this show? 

Ashlee: The style of this show is very fun and big. The show itself has a lot of melodramatic comedy from the actors, and a lot of the music is in the rock genre. Many of the movements I have choreographed for The Big Bad Wolf are inspired by Elvis. We have a great upbeat cast, and the show is really entertaining. I think it is so cool that we can take an old story like The Three Little Pigs and put another twist on it.

OCT: What have been some of the challenges and rewards of choreographing for a Young Professionals Company show for the first time? 

Ashlee: When we first started, there were a couple of moments where I would doubt myself. I would think things like, "That move is too dorky – the actors aren't going to want to do that." But I've come to realize if the dance helps tell the story, then I am doing my job.

The most rewarding thing is probably working with the actors. I've known some of them for a long time, and I think it's really fun to come together to make this awesome piece of theatre for people to enjoy. And watching the dance develop--seeing the actors not just dancing but telling a story through song and dance.

***

Come see Ashlee’s choreography in The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, playing from December 5-20 (order tickets HERE) - and be sure to keep an eye out for her onstage in OCT’s Schoolhouse Rock Live!, opening in March 2015.

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Give the Gift of Theater and OCT Will Give Back to You!

Join the #GivingTuesday movement with Oregon Children's Theatre!

On December 2nd, we will be celebrating #GivingTuesday and encouraging our OCT family and friends to think about how they might give back to their communities. You could give of your time, give a high five, give a hand, give a hug, or give a bug! Consider giving the gift of theater for those who can't afford it, by making a donation to OCT.

We have a goal to get 50 gifts for 50 children. One gift of $10 will give a child an opportunity to participate in live theater for the first time! Change the world with us, one child at a time.

For anyone who gives to OCT on December 2nd, WE HAVE SOME GIFTS FOR YOU!

  • Everyone who makes a gift of any amount will receive one youth ticket to see any production in the 2014/15 season!
  • If you donate $100 or more, you have a chance to win a one week stay at a resort in Mexico! (Check out the details below)
  • For everyone who donates $10 or more, you will receive a signed photo of Ivy + Bean
  • For everyone who helps kick off #GivingTuesday early (before 10am) you will receive a letter or birthday card from a character of your choice from OCT's 2014/15 Season!
  • Anyone who donates during their lunch hour (noon - 1pm) you will be entered to win two tickets to the Oregon Zoo!

Details on the Mexico resort: The certificate entitles the bearer to a one-week stay (Hotel only) at any of the Villa del Palmar properties in Cabo San Lucas OR Puerto Vallarta in a unit for up to 4 guests. (One Bedroom based upon availability excluding holidays). Guest is responsible for any incidentals incurred during their visit to the resort. 

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New Professional Development Series Inspires Educators

Last month a group of Oregon and Washington educators arrived at OCT for a unique professional development workshop that demonstrated how theater can be used as a method of learning in the classroom.  The program focused on two main themes: improv comedy, taught in the morning by Acting Academy instructor Jake Michels, and dramatic storytelling, taught in the afternoon by Nancy McDonald, teacher of OCT residency programs Loud & Clear and Read, Write, Act.

Michels encouraged participants to “play in their work” through improv comedy games that they could also bring into their classrooms. This was the first time improvisation has been incorporated into a professional development workshop at OCT, and participants loved it! 

After a lunch break, McDonald shifted the focus to communicating stories verbally and working through the parts of a story “on its feet” — engaging kinesthetically with reading material, as well as practicing acting and speech-giving skills.  Sheila Sletmoe, a teacher at Horizon Christian School in Hood River, said that she planned “to use the storytelling materials to help students write historical fiction.”

At the end of the workshop it was interesting to hear the variety of ways participants planned to apply what they learned in their classrooms:

“I teach high school students with special needs.  Many of them need work on more fluid communication, understanding non-verbal and body language, and understanding motion in social interaction. This workshop offered tools for me to use in teaching these things to teenagers,” said Dominic LeFave, of Wilson High School in Portland.

Ann McDonald, of Hood River Middle School, appreciated the active nature of the class: “It is good to learn new techniques for breaking down barriers, and to laugh non-stop” in the hands-on style that breaks out of the customary sitting and listening.

Janice Venture, of Cascade Heights Public Charter School in Clackamas, “came to learn to be a better teller of stories’ and found “that even the smallest part of a story is, in itself, a great story.”  She looks forward to teaching her students to say “yes” to ideas, a central tenet of improvisation explored in the workshop.

   “There is no wrong answer or idea in this form of activity,” said Ian Terrell, library manager at Portland Waldorf School.  He and the other participants were inspired by the workshop to incorporate more active learning into their curricula.

LeFave added that he “would like to do some more work on connecting drama to all parts of the curriculum.”  As for Allison Davis, she is hoping to continue to develop the two-part in-service program into an annual opportunity for teachers and school staff to add more dramatic flair into their curriculums.


OCT provides free professional development workshops for teachers and for the first time is offering a program in two parts—part two will commence in January 2015.  Teachers who attend both sessions are eligible to receive continuing education credit through Portland State University. If you are a local educator interested in participating in the second session, please contact OCT School Services Director Allison Davis at 503-228-9571 Ext. 104.

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Portland Artists Live Sketch Ivy + Bean!

Last year when OCT presented the world premiere of Zombie in Love, we were thrilled to have the book's author and well known comic artist Scott C. attend the show. In honor of the occasion, we invited several other comic artists to come and live sketch the performance along with Scott.  It was a great success!  The families in our audience were fascinated to see how theater and drawing intersected.

We love this project so much that we've decided to invite artists to come and sketch each of our shows this year.  We kicked off the season with Ivy + Bean: The Musical

Our featured artists included both comic artists and children's book illustrators.  You can click on the names below to find out more about each artist's work.
Kate Berube
Barry Deutsch
Trillian Gunn
Becky Hawkins
Abigail Marble

The artists arrived early and got a glimpse of OCT's creative process by meeting with director Isaac Lamb and scenic designer Kristeen Crosser.  Then when the show began, they sketched the scenes that caught their fancy as quickly as they could.  This is a lot harder than it seems!  The play moves quickly and these intrepid illustrators did a great job keeping up.

After the show, they came down to the lobby to share their work with the audience.

Their drawings are on display at the theater for the run of the show. 
You can also see them HERE!

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Meet OCT Acting Academy Instructor Chelsie Thomas

OCT welcomes Chelsie Thomas as one of the newest members of our Acting Academy staff. Over the summer Chelsie taught the sold-out Page to Stage: Ivy + Bean class which has been brought back by popular demand this fall. We caught up with her to hear what 

it’s like working with 4-6 year olds to bring the story of Ivy + Bean to life:

OCT: You teach some of our youngest actors. What skills do students ages 4-6 take away from an acting class?

CHELSIE: I hope that they start to understand what it means to work together with a group of people, supporting and encouraging one another through: giving focus, being good audience members, listening, and learning what it means to be a part of an ensemble. I also feel my most important job is to encourage them to use their imaginations to learn about the world around them and to have fun! Today's world is filled with iPads, Internet, and the common core so I love breaking away from all of that and letting them get to the root of the way that they learn best —--  through doing.

OCT: What surprises you most about working with young students?

CHELSIE: I am always surprised by how quickly they learn big concepts. I always break things down for them, but they do understand and should be exposed to the same concepts we want the older [students] to understand.  I never "baby" young children, because I feel even if something appears to be over their heads, with enough exposure they will get it.

OCT: You are teaching Page to Stage: Ivy + Bean this fall. How do you incorporate the books into class?

CHELSIE: Well, I teach the basics of acting through the Ivy + Bean characters. Every day we read a chapter from a chosen Ivy + Bean book, and talk about the characters, what their relationship is to one another, what the different character's objectives are, and where the story takes place.  We also act out each chapter in class demonstrating what we have learned about the characters.

OCT: Are there any particularly funny, sweet, or endearing moments that stand out from your time teaching?

CHELSIE: I always love watching the children who feel shy and don't want to participate at first.  I encourage them to try everything once, and if they say no, we try again next time.  Usually, by the middle of the term, they are willing to try everything.  It is always great to watch them encourage one another, and to see the looks on the [faces of the students] who overcome their shyness and try something for the first time.

OCT: What advice would you give students or parents taking class for the first time?

CHELSIE: Short goodbyes, long hellos.  If your child has never been in a class before, s/he will probably beg you to stay.  However, it is much better for the child if you keep your goodbyes short and sweet.

CHELSIE THOMAS holds a Master of Arts in Teaching in secondary drama and language arts, and a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from SOU.  Chelsie has taught at the reggio emilia inspired preschool Growing Seeds in NE Portland.  She has acted with several companies throughout the Portland area, including: Sojourn Theatre, Lunacy Stageworks, Well Arts, and Curious Comedy Theater.

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Timmy Failure’s Debut

With works like The Giver and Zombie in Love, OCT has distinguished itself as a leader in developing new plays for young audiences. This summer we are preparing for the latest OCT original, Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made - based on the comic novel series about clueless kid detective, Timmy Failure, by Stephan Pastis.
OCT Artistic Director Stan Foote first learned about the work last October and quickly saw its potential to be developed for the stage. He reached out to the author’s literary agent to obtain the rights. Fortunately both the agent and the author were equally excited and an agreement was signed.

OCT’s Marcella Crowson (director of Zombie) has taken the helm to develop and direct Timmy Failure. Concerned to get the work, “in the hands of someone with a visionary approach – a playwright who could figure out how to treat the work conceptually so it captures the feel of the book without being just a page-to-page translation,” she reached across the globe to Hobart, Transylvania for playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer.

Finegan Kruckemeyer is an Irish-Australian playwright who has had 71 commissioned plays performed on five continents and translated into five languages.
…. Wow!

Needless to say we were thrilled when he accepted the offer.  And we were even more excited to have him in our studios last week listening to readings of his first draft. The days were intense with readings, meetings, and rewrites. A second complete draft was ready by the end of the week - a new work typically takes at least three drafts before it is final. 

The week closed with a special reading for local teachers and staff.  Judging by the reactions and laughter in the room, it is clear Timmy Failure will be another standout original for OCT. Or to paraphrase Timmy, “This play won’t fail, despite what the name says.” 


Timmy Failure will debut February 28th. Single tickets will be available December 1st, but subscribers can get best seats and prices NOW! Click HERE to read about our season and subscribe.

Unfamiliar with the Timmy Failure series? Click HERE for the book trailer.
PS - OCT can’t be held liable for your uncontrollable laughter and hiccups.

Pictured top left Marcella Crowson observig Timmy Failure reading. Lower right, Finegan Kruckemeyer in foreground, with actors Katie Michaels and Pat Moran.

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OCT Seeking Development Director

We are looking for a seasoned professional to fill an immediate opening as OCT's Development Director. This full-time leadership position is charged with planning and managing our year-round fundraising initiatives. We're looking for an enthusiastic and innovative leader with substantive fundraising experience and creative vision to help raise money needed to accomplish our mission.  If you're interested (or know someone who might be a good fit), take a look at the full job description HERE.

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Drawing Ramona Quimby: A Chat with Matt Phelan

Oregon Children’s Theatre recently asked illustrator and author, Matt Phelan, to create a drawing for our upcoming play, Ramona QuimbyWe first met Matt when we decided to adapt his graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn, for the stage and Matt came to Portland for the world premiere.  We have long loved his work and knew he’d have just the right touch to bring Ramona to life! 

OCT: When and how did you realize that you wanted to make a career as an illustrator?

Matt Phelan: After a dalliance with screenwriting (youthful folly) I realized that illustrating children's books was my true Dream Job. At the time I was working in a bookstore and pouring over the amazing picture books that were being published. I spent about five years building a portfolio before I had the nerve to show it to anyone. Luckily that someone (an art director at Simon & Schuster) thought I had potential.

OCT: How do you schedule your work? 

MP: After a sufficient amount of coffee and helping to see the kids off, I head out to my backyard studio to work on the project at hand. I have four magnetic bulletin boards on the wall, each for a specific book to keep me focused. I try to work school hours nowadays.

OCT: How did you feel when OCT asked if you'd be willing to draw Ramona?

MP: Thrilled. She is one of the great characters of children's literature. The prospect of drawing her was irresistible.

OCT: Were you familiar with the Ramona stories already?

MP: I hadn't read them when I was young but I was actually reading Ramona the Pest to my daughter when OCT contacted me. It was good timing.

OCT: What was it like to draw Ramona?

MP: Mostly a delight, but she did live up to her reputation as a bit of a handful for the final art. That hair can be tricky.

OCT: When you sent OCT a series of initial sketches for Ramona, we loved each one better than the last and it was very difficult to choose the final.  With a character like Ramona, there are so many different moods to her personality, how you narrow it down?  How do you know when a drawing is finished? 

MP: When I sat down at the drawing table, my only thought was: Draw Ramona. I wasn't trying for a particular mood at first, I tried most of them out. Ultimately, I thought we needed to see that boisterous side of her for the poster. Knowing when a drawing is finished is probably the greatest challenge in drawing. There is often only a split second between Looking Good and Ruined.

OCT: In 2012, OCT world premiered the play The Storm in the Barn based on your book.  What was it like to see your story come to life onstage?

MP: That remains one of the most wonderful and surreal experiences of my life. I loved every second of it. It is an amazing thing to see your work interpreted through the lens of artists in a different field. The music by Black Prairie is so perfect and extraordinarily beautiful. I listen to the soundtrack CD all the time. I wish I had it when I was working on the book!

OCT: What are you working on at present?  What's next?

MP: My first picture book as both author and illustrator, Druthers, will be published this September. Currently, I am finishing the art for a picture book called Marilyn's Monster by Michelle Knudsen which will be out next year. I'm also working on the preliminary sketches for my next graphic novel, which is a version of Snow White set in 1933 Manhattan. It's going to be like a black and white film noir and should be out in 2016.

OCT: What helps you be most creative?

MP: The moments when you can shut everything out except for the small glimmer of an idea that's forming in your imagination. It's a combination of being very still yet wildly excited in your mind.

OCT: What are some of your favorite children's books?

MP: Picture books: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and David Small, A House in the Woods by Inga Moore. Chapter books: The "Toys Go Out" books by Emily Jenkins and Paul Zelinsky, Jeanne Birdsall's Penderwicks novels, and the Ivy & Bean books by Annie Barrow and Sophie Blackall. Classics: Winnie the Pooh, Wind in the Willows (both with illustrations by Ernest Shepard, my favorite), and Ferdinand the Bull.

OCT: What do you like to do in your free time?

MP: Play with my kids and play the ukulele (I often accomplish these things simultaneously).


Matt Phelan is the illustrator of many books for young readers, including Flora's Very Windy Day by Jeanne Birdsall and The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal. He is the author/illustrator of the graphic novel The Storm in the Barn, which won the 2010 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. His second graphic novel Around the World received the 2012 Carolyn W.Field Award from the Pennsylvania Library Association and two Eisner Award nominations. His third graphic novel, Bluffton, is about summertime, vaudeville, and the young Buster Keaton. His latest picture book is Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park (September 2013). Matt lives with his family in Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

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Zombie in Love - Your Questions Answered

Zombie in Love has closed and summer is almost here, but OCT is still receiving letters from many of the 5,000 students that attended the show on a field trip with their school. We love hearing from them - especially when they ask questions about the production!

Blake Peebles, who played Mortimer the lonely yet loveable zombie, and Marci Crowson, Zombie in Love director and set designer, took some time to respond to students’ questions. These letters came from Mrs. Niktab’s 4th graders at Lincoln Elementary in Woodburn and Ms. Kingford’s 5th graders at Fir Grove Elementary in Beaverton.

Q: How long did it take you to learn to walk like a zombie?

Blake: Learn wouldn't really be the right word in this situation, I just kind of was able to because I sort of walk like that in normal life. I have pretty much been walking like a dead person from the day I was able to walk. My parents have videos of me running around with my knees bent weirdly and acting like nothing was wrong.

Q: How did you walk like that without spraining your ankle?
Blake: I got lucky, I guess! I have no idea how I wasn't injured during the run of Zombie in Love, and by all rights I should of been. The only thing that kept me in one piece was what I like to call "Blake's Golden Rule": If it hurts, or if it seems like it will hurt after doing it over and over, don't do it.

Q: Are you double jointed?
Blake: I'm not entirely sure, but if I wasn't before the show, I certainly am now.

Q: How did the characters look so real?
Marci: First, we cast amazing actors who really brought the characters to life in a totally believable way.  Weeks of rehearsing, finding their voices and figuring out how their bodies should move was a long process, but really paid off in how believable they characters were. 

We also had an awesome costume & make-up designer, Emily Horton!  We did a lot of make-up testing throughout our rehearsal process to get the zombies just right.  We experimented with lots of different colors, from green to grey to blue, and put a lot of attention on the eyes and the teeth.  Once they were under stage lights, we made more adjustments, until we landed on just the right look. 

We used the book as a reference constantly, striving to create characters on stage that were truly inspired by the illustrations created by Scott Campbell.  It's tricky taking a drawing and trying to make a human being look just like it, so in some ways we had to interpret Mortimer and Mildred in a slightly different way.  Locating the story in a school gave us some really fun costume choices to play with.  Dressing them all up for Cupid's Ball gave us the opportunity to find some super cute dresses, some snazzy suits, and lots and lots of color!

Q: Why did Mildred look better [i.e., less ‘zombie-fied’] than Mortimer?
Marci: This is one of the places where we departed from the book a bit.  For starters: in the book, we only meet Mildred at the very end, when she falls in the punch at Cupid's Ball.  We wanted the audience to get a chance to know Mildred, and understand she faces the same challenges that Mortimer does and feels the same loneliness.  We also decided Mortimer has been a zombie longer than Mildred, so he looks quite a bit more zombie-fied.  As we learn in "What's With That?" Mildred has friends who are still coming to terms with her recent zombie-fication, and how that has affected their relationship.  So she's a bit less clumsy, and looks less decayed.  We thought it was more interesting to see two people at different places in their zombie journeys, rather than having them be exactly the same.

Q: How long did the actors practice for?
Marci: We rehearsed Zombie in Love for about 5 and a half weeks, from 6p - 9pm Monday through Friday (not counting technical and dress rehearsals in the theater).  Some of the cast were also a part of a development workshop for 3 days during the summer, where they learned all the music for an earlier version of the play.


Did you see Zombie in Love with your family or school group?  Are you going to see The Giver or Fancy Nancy this spring? Write to us and tell us your thoughts and/or questions about the production.  We'll get you answers, and you may even find them posted here, on the OCT blog! For more information about OCT’s school field trips, visit http://www.octc.org/schoolservices.

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“Pedro’s Path to Power” Recharges

Oregon Children’s Theatre’s Pedro’s Path of Power! is charging up to tour schools around the Portland metro area. The interactive musical, sponsored by Portland General Electric, follows a young boy named Pedro as he learns about electricity and electrical safety. The play is bilingual, and includes songs and dances so audiences can join in.

The part of Pedro is played by Raphael Miguel. Cassie Greer has the monumental task of portraying every other character in the play including: Pedro’s friend, mother, teacher, the idea of Power, a kite, and a “wall outlet monster.” OCT’s Marketing & Communications Intern, Bryan Fernando, sat down with Raphael, Cassie, and stage manager Karen Hill to talk about the project.

OCT: Have you worked with OCT before?

Raphael: This is actually the first show I’ve done for OCT. I’m pretty excited. I really love kids, and I especially love acting like one. It’s always a good job to get.

Cassie: I actually did a few shows with OCT last season, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Gathering Blue, and I taught a workshop to the Young Professionals. I’m a Fitzmaurice voice work teacher, so I did a Fitzmaurice workshop for the YPs.

OCT: Raphael, you said that like Pedro, you are actually bilingual. Cassie, was there a huge language barrier for you to overcome? Did you have to learn the lines, and then learn what the lines mean?

Cassie: I was kind of doing both at the same time. I’ve had to say things in Spanish before, onstage, and I’ve often had to pretend like I can speak it - even though I can’t.  Often I would say a line and then wonder, “wait, what did I just say?” It was a hand-in-hand process.

OCT: Karen, what is the PGE connection to Pedro?

Karen: PGE approached OCT with this concept, and a partnership was formed based on a shared commitment to education through theater. Matthew B. Zrebski (director of OCT’s The Giver, currently running at The Winningstad Theatre) was commissioned to write the script. PGE funds the performances which are free to the schools. The initial production was a success with the students, and we have continued to partner with PGE on the project, which is now in its fourth year.

OCT: Does anyone have memories of seeing theater in their elementary school?

Karen: That’s one thing that PGE loves about plays like this. Not only is it a great way to teach kids from K-2 about electricity and electrical safety, but for a lot of them, it will be their first exposure to theater in any form. Often they’ll come in and see the set, and they have no idea what’s about to happen. The kids ask, “is this a magic show?” because they’ve never seen anything like it. That’s a really great feeling.

Cassie: I remember when I was in school, watching a lot of educational videos. And for us that was our big day, when the A/V people would wheel in the big TV and VCR.  I don’t know if I ever saw a play that was at this level. I wish we had.

This year Pedro’s Path to Power will reach 7,500 students with 44 shows at 36 different elementary schools in only four weeks! The 30-minute play is free to schools. For more information click HERE.

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The Giver Director Matthew Zrebski shares his vision for the show

Rehearsals are well under way at Oregon Children's Theatre for The Giver, opening April 26th at The Winningstad Theatre. Based on Lois Lowry's popular, and critically acclaimed, young adult novel, The Giver takes place in a society which is perfect. There is no pain or fear or struggle. But this peaceful existence comes at an enormous cost. When the main character Jonas turns twelve, he is selected to train with The Giver, the keeper of the entire community’s memories, both good and bad. Now Jonas must learn the harsh truths of what it means to live a life of sameness. 

We caught up with The Giver director Matthew Zrebski - who also directed OCT's popular production of The Lion Witch and the Wardrobe - to discuss his vision for this production.

OCT: Did you see the original OCT production of The Giver? What are you doing differently with the script, sets, and overall approach?

MZ: I did not see the first production.  I have seen some beautiful stills from the show, and wish I had!  But given I did not; I have deliberately stayed away from it as much as possible so as not to be too influenced.  I think it’s important to approach it with a fresh eye, and to offer the public a different interpretation. 

We are using extensive video in this show, as well as intense sound, and stunning stage imagery to illustrate the psychological journey Jonas goes on.  But it’s also quite simple with a fairly static set that allows the actors to move from scene to scene seamlessly.  I am a minimalist at heart, and believe in allowing the imagination of the audience to take flight. I hope to offer just enough literal imagery so that the mental imagery is most intense. A big focus is keeping these people “real human beings” as opposed to “symbols of dystopia”. The human need is a part of every conversation in every rehearsal - and not just that of Jonas, but of all the characters. This is not just about Jonas, but about how the events impact the entire community.

OCT: It must be challenging to convey Jonas' astonishment as he experiences such basic elements of life as seeing in color, snow falling or a sleigh ride for the first time. Have you given Tristan (actor Tristan Comella who plays Jonas) specific imagery to think of at the moments when the Giver shares these experiences? How will the video work to support the emotions we observe in the actor?

MZ: I have not dictated any specific imagery to Tristan.  It is every actor’s job to develop what is best for his/her process…on his/her own.  But I have certainly asked him to create such imagery – and to always find the internal visuals that most affect him emotionally.  I am pushing him to go to emotional/psychological extremes.  Tristan is an amazing young actor and is doing beautifully. In working with the designer, Jeff Kurihara, the video creations are being developed with the idea of “synapses firing”. We will be using a lot of flash imagery and quick cut sequences. The idea is not to literally represent everything, but to get the “feeling of it.”  It will be a mix of realism and metaphor/symbol.

OCT: The Giver is being released as a major motion picture this summer. How do you think OCT's live staged experience of the story will compare with watching the film? Are there elements of the story that can be communicated more effectively on stage vs. film and vice versa?

MZ: In watching the trailer and shots of the film, I can say that the OCT version is MUCH closer to the story of the beloved novel.  The film looks like an action blockbuster, and though that may be terrific fun, what the stage can do is offer a more intimate story, one where we follow Jonas from moment to moment as he discovers his truth.  Playwright Eric Coble has done a marvelous job of adapting the play so that we may do just that.

OCT: Do you have a favorite(s) moment in the show?

MZ: I certainly do not have a “favorite” moment.  But I am very excited by how we are handling the “playing war” scene, where all the kids of the community pretend to shoot each other and Jonas, not knowing what war is, is deeply affected by it.  As someone passionate about how easily we ignore violence in our culture, I think this moment is relevant in so many ways.

The Giver opens April 26th. Click HERE for tickets and show times. High School students can purchase tickets for just $10. Details HERE.

Pictures in this blog were taken during The Giver rehearsal with director Matt Zrebski and include: OCT Young Professional Actors Tristan Comella as Jonas, Nate Gardner as Asher, and Hannah Baggs as Fiona; and adult actors April Magnusson as the Chief Elder, Cecily Overman as Jonas' mother, and Andres Alcala as The Giver.

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ZOMBIE IN LOVE’s Illustrator Visits Portland for World Premiere

One of the key factors that sold OCT’s Artistic Director, Stan Foote, on adapting ZOMBIE IN LOVE for the stage were the book’s illustrations. Scott Campbell’s charming drawings made Mortimer the zombie come alive … again.  The production’s director, Marcella Crowson, and production designers were inspired by the illustrations when conceiving of the sets and costumes. The worms that form the chorus in our musical were modeled on the dozens of worms that appear throughout the original book.

So you can imagine our delight to have Scott C. (as he’s known in the comics world) come to Portland to see our world premiere last weekend.  After watching the show on Saturday, Scott stuck around to sign and illustrate books and programs for fans. 

We’re pleased to report that Scott C. gave our production an enthusiastic  review on his blog

In honor of Scott C’s visit, OCT invited a few local illustrators and comic artists to see the show with him.  The group got a pre-show backstage tour to learn how the show was put together and to see the sets and props up close.

We then encouraged our artistic guests, Lucy Bellwood, Mike Russell, and Graham Annable, to sketch their impressions during the show.  After the performance, the audience and cast members gathered around to gawk at the amazing results.  .

We will be hanging the original drawings in the lobby for the remaining two weekends of the run, but you can take a look them now by clicking on the artist's name below:
LUCY 
MIKE
GRAHAM

 Remember, these were all sketched quickly while the artists watched the show! 

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Meet “Zombie in Love” Illustrator Scott Campbell at this Saturday’s 5PM Performance!

If the title, “Zombie in Love,”  isn’t enough to make you smile, surely Scott Campbell’s whimsical illustrations for the book by Kelly DiPucchio will endear you to the book’s protagonist, Mortimer.

This Saturday, March 8th, OCT is delighted to welcome the acclaimed illustrator to Portland to see our world premiere adaptation.  Not only will Scott C. (as he’s known to comics fans) attend the shows that day, he’ll be sketching his take on the production during  the 5:00 performance.  Our friends at A Children’s Place Bookstore will be selling books in the lobby before and after both performances. Scott C will be on hand following the 5pm show to sign your copy!

Wait, there’s more!  We’ve also invited four of the top Portland-based illustrators and comic artists to join Scott C. for the live sketch-fest during the 5:00 show. You’ll get a chance to see what they come up with and chat with them after the show.  We’ll be posting their drawings on our website and Facebook page as well. Our guest artists are:

Scott C.  

Lucy Bellwood  

Dylan Meconis  

Terri Nelson

Mike Russell

Lucy, Dylan, and Terri are all members of Periscope Studio, a collective of cartoonists, illustrators, writers, concept designers, graphic novelists, and storyboard artists based in downtown Portland, Oregon.  Mike Russell draws the comic strip “CulturePulp” for the Oregonian, where he also contributes film and other reviews.

http://periscopestudio.com/

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From the Outside Looking In

FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
by Thom Hilton

Recently I got together with director Marci Crowson, music director Darcy White, and choreographer Sara Martins, the creative dream-team behind OCT’s premiere musical Zombie in Love to talk about the process of developing a brand new production.

Thom: First off, what is the editing process like from the first draft to the final product?

Marci Crowson [director]: We’ve gone through probably three or four different drafts and all of them have been pretty radically different. It's always been about going back to the book, and wanting to tell the story of Mortimer, and really keep the heart of the story authentic to what the book feels like.

Thom: What about the process of songs being cut, added, or replaced?

Marci: Those decisions about what songs went away were really the composers' [Michelle Elliott and Danny Larsen] choices … There was a song in an early draft at the very end of the play that was really, really funny and a great song … But it was one we ultimately concluded, " I’m not sure that that’s what we wanna say at the very end.”

(Marci then goes on to talk about a duet between Mortimer and Mildred that was cut after being used throughout the show’s audition process and developmental workshop.)

Marci: There was one song that we hated losing, called ‘Idaho,’ that is gorgeous. But Danny and Michelle created a new song that musically keeps a lot of those same tones, and emotionally is exactly what needs to happen at that moment. So I really applaud them for not being precious about their work … They’ve really been willing to make those hard decisions to serve the larger story.

Thom: What about from a technical standpoint? How do you figure out when it’s right to change keys and tempos?

Marci: There are always things that you can’t learn until you’re rehearsing, and until you have the show cast. Danny and Michelle have been really wonderful about working with Darcy to find moments where we can push Blake’s [actor Blake Peeble portraying Mortimer] range. But there are also moments we've made changes to get the best out of the song.

Darcy White [music director]: I started working with Blake a little bit before rehearsals officially started. We changed keys on a couple of numbers to sit better in his range [and] to make a positive impact for him and not affect the other singers. We discussed whether or not it would impact [the composer’s] vision of how the character would sing and when it was determined that it wouldn't, he made the changes. We have given input regarding hearing cues more clearly, some tempo change suggestions, transition music extensions, etc.

Marci: To their credit, again, they’ve been very receptive to saying “Oh yeah, let’s find a solution to that! Oh, you need transition music? Let me write something for you!”

Thom: What is it like watching the rehearsal process and communicating with the writing team to make this the best possible thing it can be?

Darcy: (who has worked with Marci and Sara before, says that they make a good team): We each bring a different sense to the production and communicate well together. Although as the director, Marci has the final say, Sara and I both are comfortable exploring ideas as a group and always feel heard and respected from auditions through opening night… Each of us watches the run with a different focus. We all see the big picture, but I'm listening intently for all four parts being sung clearly and in balance, Sara is watching movement, and Marci -- well, Marci just watches everything!!!!

For choreographer Sara Martins, it always starts from the ground up: Normally when we do a musical, the director and musical director have tangible source material to work with as both a starting point, and something to adhere to. There's a preexisting script and score. So while there is still a great deal of room for interpretation and artistic choices, they have existing material to work with.

With choreography, I always have to kind of start from scratch. There's no annotated movement vocabulary that gets handed to me, so it's always a matter of looking at the script, listening to the score, and working with the director to figure out what story needs to be told with the movement, what logistics have to happen in a musical number, and what we'd like to see stylistically. Then it's up to me to build the choreography and create a world within the play that tells the story, works well with the music, and provides visual interest.

Working on a new piece like Zombie is an adventure. Throughout the rehearsal process, the play continues to evolve as we see what works and what doesn't, and how improvements could be made. That's really unique. As a creative team, it means that our process is much more liquid, and even more collaborative than usual. It's such an exciting process.

Thom: Was there ever a specific style of music you really wanted to be established in this Zombie world?  
                         
Marci Crowson: We did not overly steer them about the style of the music. We knew that we wanted to use young performers. So we wanted it to feel exciting and relevant and modern and I think they’ve done a really good job of kind of blending styles of music in a way that feels really fresh. But you do hear influences from older styles. I have to give full credit to them for kind of tapping into the style of the music because we really let them run with that. … It’s an interesting piece because there is such pathos with Mort’s struggle to find love, but it’s also incredibly funny. The illustrations evoke emotion but they’re also hilarious in all their detail with the worms and arms falling off and things like that. You wanna serve the humor. With a play like this, and especially with zombies, which I have a special affection for, it’s really easy to kind of go with the sense of both the macabre and the hilarious.

Thom: Even in trying to describe the show I have a difficult time because it’s so intricate. It’s a show about zombies, but it’s not, because it’s a show about high school kids. It’s a rock musical, but it’s really not. It’s just so many different things and it’s so crazy-detailed, just  like the book. It’s so different and weird and fun and it resonates with so many different types of people.

The writing/composing duo behind it all, Danny Larsen and Michelle Elliott, have written a pretty broad range of musicals. Their previous work shows that they were the right ones to capture the story of Mortimer. Not only are they experienced in the realm of children’s theatre (Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly) but they also are getting a lot of attention writing for the contemporary young outsider. The protagonist in their musical The Yellow Wood is a high school student dealing with attention-deficit disorder, and their hit new musical web series The Hinterlands deals primarily with the topic of gay bullying.

Marci: They’ve also translated it into a new world, into a high school, which I think is really wonderful … As we’ve been in rehearsal, it makes so much sense in that world. There’s so much to say about young people, especially right now, feeling ‘other than’ and not really feeling accepted. Mort is such a great metaphor for that idea of being different. It’s not about him finding a date. It’s really about him finding acceptance and love. It’s a lofty thing for a story about zombies, but it’s really special that way. It’s something like Little Shop of Horrors. It’s about a guy trying to find love and acceptance who has been rejected for being different all of these years. It’s set in a world of classic horror and camp, but you go on an emotional journey as well. It’s about finding something real and authentic in that. They’ve struck a really interesting balance that way.


Zombie in Love runs March 1-23rd at the Winningstad Theater. Click HERE for show times and ticket information!

About Thom Hilton:
Thom Hilton is a first-year OCT Young Professional, and a member of the Zombie in Love cast. Previously this season Thom starred as Jack in OCT's West Coast premiere of The Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans and as radio announcer Raymond Leigh in the OCT Young Professionals production A WWII Radio Christmas. 

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Life As A Baby Spider

Oregon Children’s Theatre casts actors of many ages, and Charlotte’s Web features some of our youngest to appear on the main stage! The actors who play the baby spiders are the same age as many of the students who’ll be seeing the performance. We asked Ethan Thompson, a second grader at Corbett Elementary School, a few questions about what it’s like to be acting in an OCT show for the first time.

OCT: Had you done any acting before getting cast as a baby spider?

Ethan: Yes. I took a bunch of classes at Oregon Children's Theatre. I was in a play in Mrs. Lilly's Class [at Corbett Elementary] and I was in Footloose [at Corbett Children’s Theatre] but I didn't have any lines.

OCT: Tell us a little bit about rehearsal. How much do you rehearse before the play opens? How do you learn your lines?

Ethan: I rehearsed a bunch.  My lines were easy to remember.

OCT:  What part of being a baby spider are you most excited about?

Ethan: Being on the big stage, and I get to jump over a fence.

OCT: If you were Charlotte, what word would you decide to weave into your web and why?

Ethan: “Awesome” because Wilbur is awesome.

OCT: Who is your favorite character in Charlotte's Web?

Ethan: Wilbur.

OCT:  What advice would you give kids your age who are interested in getting involved in acting? 

Ethan: Work hard and take classes.

OCT:  Anything else you'd like to share with the teachers and students who'll be seeing the play?

Ethan: Thank you for coming!

Ethan Thompson is 7 years old and a second grader at Corbett Elementary School. He is very excited to perform on OCT’s big stage. In his free time, Ethan likes to play Legos and Pokemon.

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Behind the Scenes at Charlotte’s Web

Lava Alapai who directed Locomotion for OCT’s 2011/12 season, returns to the helm for Charlotte’s Web - opening January 18th at the Newmark Theatre. While observing a recent rehearsal, it was clear that Lava brings a refreshingly simple take on EB White’s classic tale. There are no zip-up pig costumes in this production. 

Actors use their physicality and voices to take on animal personas. Characters are framed with simple props – a nose, or wings, or combat boots.  The cast works in the spirit of a true ensemble, supporting each other as actors, and as members of a farm, several portraying multiple roles - animal and human. With a few delighted wiggles and a twinkle in his eye, JJ Pen [recently seen as James in NWCT's James and the Giant Peach] magically transforms into that affectionate runt of a pig, Wilbur. Appropriately the only extravagant characterization is of Charlotte herself, portrayed by OCT’s YP Company member Claire Aldridge. An accomplished aerial artist, Claire (Charlotte) will be spinning her magical messages suspended by silk fabric.

We caught up with Lava following rehearsal:

OCT:  What is different about this staging of the work? Is there anything unusual about the costuming for the animals, for example? Is there anything about the staging that connects to your experience as a puppeteer?

LAVA: I’m actually not sure what’s unusual about this staging since I have never seen it on stage before.
I think I like to include the audience when telling stories on stage. I am not big on hiding the fact that we are in a theatre. Characters will often transform into other characters on stage. I tend not to have black outs and the set and lights are often a character in the play. I think that part speaks to me as a former puppeteer.

OCT: Do you have a favorite moment in the show? 
LAVA: (laughs) Yes, I have a favorite moment...It changes as the actors change and develop the characters.

OCT: What messages do you hope audience members come away with from the
show?
LAVA: Messages? Life is beautiful. All of it. And magic and miracles exist all around us, all we need do is look.

Click HERE to see more rehearsal photos.

Charlotte’s Web runs January 18-February 16th at the Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland. Click HERE for showtime and ticket information

About Lava Alapai - Lava is originally from Honolulu, Hawaii and received her MFA at the California Institute of the Arts. Along the way Lava became proficient at puppetry. She finished a puppetry tour in Portland Maine, went home to Hawaii and applied for another job in Portland. She got the job and only then discovered she was going to Portland Oregon instead. Tears of Joy Puppet Theatre brought her here and she hasn’t left. Locally Lava has performed for Stumptown Stages (most recently as the lead in Rent), Portland Playhouse, Defunkt Theatre, Portland Center Stage and Many Hats Collaboration. Lava is "over the moon" about returning to OCT for this production of Charlotte's Web. 

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OPB’s Kayo Lackey Coaches YPs in Japanese Dialect for WWII Radio Christmas

In the upcoming OCT Young Professionals Company production A WWII Radio Christmas, several vignettes are performed depicting stories of people who were affected by the war. One such story is that of Pearl Saito, an American-born girl with Japanese parents who is forced to move into an internment camp.

Towards the end of the scene, the actors portraying Pearl's parents speak in Japanese while Pearl translates. To capture the authentic sound she needed for the production, director Sharon Mann looked to OPB's Kayo Lackey, who came in to work with the cast members.

Adie Fecker, who plays Pearl in the show, said that the session with Kayo was very helpful because she worked with the actors to understand “not just the language but the culture as well. There are a lot of nuances in the language that we'd be lacking if we simply memorized the lines. Even though I don’t speak Japanese [in the show] it was still very interesting to listen. It definitely helped me learn my cues to know what some of the words meant. That helped me connect more with what they were saying.”

“She was kind, patient, and very helpful,” says Maeve Stier, who plays Pearl’s mother. Maeve had had previous experience speaking Japanese, which “made the accent a lot easier and the sounds a lot simpler to master.”

For the three young actors, it was their first time working with a dialect coach. The unique cadence and inflections of Japanese definitely presented challenges. Jack Levis, who plays Pearl’s father, said that learning his lines was very hard at first, but that Kayo helped ease him into the language by reading the lines aloud and writing them out phonetically for practice.

  “The Japanese language is very flowing and smooth when you speak it,” says Levis. “(It) was very limiting when I was performing because there are not many ups and downs. But now that I've had some time to work with it, it is coming much more easily!"
 

Come see Maeve, Jack, Adie, Pearl Saito’s Story, and more this December in A WWII Radio Christmas. Click HERE for show times and ticket information.

photo: Actress Maeve Stier at a recent rehearsal for A WWII Radio Christmas

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OCT Bully Project Playwrite Workshop Highlights

The Bully Project, OCT’s anti-bullying playwriting contest for middle school students, is entering its second year. Middle school students are invited to submit original 10-minute plays with anti-bullying themes. OCT will select six finalists to work with local playwright mentors to revise and craft their scripts which will be performed as a staged reading at the Winningstad Theatre in May 2014.  Playwright Matt Zrebski with Max Morter, last year's first place Bully Project winner

Because the vast majority of last year’s contest entrants were first-time playwrights, OCT recently held an introductory workshop taught by professional playwright, director and educator Matt Zrebski. The workshop focused on the differences between writing a play and other creative writing, character development, crafting dialogue, setting, and how to incorporate social issues, such as bullying in meaningful and powerful ways.

Did you or a middle-schooler you know miss the workshop? We caught up with Matt afterwards and he shared some insights for first-time playwrights, as well as a writing exercise he taught during the workshop:

What advice would you give someone who’s writing a play for the first time?

The most important thing to consider when writing a play is that the action is happening on a stage.  In film or on television, it's easy to jump from location to location and moment to moment through editing.  On stage, it's best to keep things as minimal as possible. Only use what is absolutely necessary to tell the story.  For short plays, I always recommend a single theatrical setting.  This avoids scene changes and blackouts that often take the audience out of the story.  You want their attention the entire time, and you want your focus to be on the relationships between the characters - not on unnecessary location changes.

What’s a good way to begin writing?

To start writing, begin with a question.  For instance, what is a question that you have, surrounding the issue of bullying?  A straight forward example is:  "What makes a person behave this way?"  And then the play becomes an exploration of that question.  It's important to be curious about the themes you choose to explore.  When stuck, always ask a new question - about the theme, or a character, or about how you want an audience to react.  Questions always lead to more writing as you grapple with the many potential answers.

BUILDING A CHARACTER (writing excercise)

Consider the following list when creating a fictional character.  The goal is to know them as well as you know yourself or a close friend/relative.  The more you know about a character, the more easily they will "speak" when you write dialogue.  Not all the information will be in the play - but it's important you know all about them. Before you start writing your actual script, consider jotting down the following about one or more of the characters in your play:

1. Their name / age
2. Their occupation / education
3.  Describe their family life.
4. What are their joys?
5.  What are their emotional wounds?
6.  Describe a secret they think no one knows. 

Script submissions are due January 3rd, 2014. Click HERE for more information about the contest, the prizes, and to download your application.

Photo: Playwright Matt Zrebski with Max Morter, last year's first place Bully Project winner
 

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Meet “Magic Tree House” Music Director Mont Chris Hubbard

Oregon Children’s Theatre is thrilled to have Mont Chris Hubbard on board as the Music Director for our upcoming jazz musical production Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans. We caught up with him earlier this month to learn more about the very important role of the music director, what happens at rehearsal, and the play's jazz music, composed by R&B artist Allen Toussaint.

OCT: Tell us a little bit about what a musical director does for a production.

Mont Chris: Well, I'm responsible for every musical aspect of the show. I help choose the actors to hire, and make sure they learn the music. Even though the music is all written out by composers, I still have to make decisions about how to interpret the music to best suit our production. That can mean anything from singing a song faster or slower, cutting or adding bars of music, or changing the key of a song to make it easier for an actor to sing. For a production of our size, a music director also is responsible for accompanying rehearsals on the piano. Finally, I pick the musicians who will be in the band and rehearse them, both with and without the actors.

OCT: What instruments, musical effects and styles can students expect to see on stage?

Mont Chris: The band is a very standard small jazz combo: piano, banjo, bass, drums, trombone, trumpet, and sax/clarinet. The music is a blend of older jazz styles – there is some ragtime, blues, swing, and dixieland. The show takes place in 1915 New Orleans, so most of the music you hear will be in styles that were popular then and there.

Magic Tree House A Night in New Orleans Cast and Band from Oregon Children's Theatre on Vimeo.

OCT: Right now, we're about a month away from The Magic Tree House opening. What does your job look like right now to get the play ready?

Mont Chris: We are deep in rehearsals – I sit at the front, at the piano, accompanying. We are doing some full run-throughs of the show, and then we stop and focus on fixing problem spots. There are some tricky vocal harmonies, so we spend time really tightening those up and making them sound awesome.

OCT: Do you have a favorite song, instrument or moment from The Magic Tree House you’d like to tell us about?

Mont Chris: I think my favorite moments are the Dixieland tunes, when all the instruments are playing in a big joyous mix of melodies and timbres!

OCT: What’s the most challenging part about the musical direction for this play?

Mont Chris: Besides being at the theater at nine o’clock in the morning?

OCT: What instruments do you play?

Mont Chris: Piano is my main instrument – I’ve been playing for more years than some of your teachers have been alive! I play other instruments just for fun – accordion, baritone ukulele, and recorder. 

OCT: What are you up to when you're not rehearsing at OCT?

Mont Chris: I music direct at other theaters in the Portland area, and I also perform around town, both solo and with bands. I am currently producing a monthly variety show called the Mont Chris Hubbard Bonus Show that gives me the opportunity to push myself as a performer.

OCT: What would you tell students who are interested in pursuing a career in theater or music?

Mont Chris: If you want to have a career in music, I highly recommend becoming literate [in music]. Being able to read music will make your work so much easier – it will let you learn music faster, understand it better, and speak the same language as your musical peers. Basic/intermediate piano skills are also very useful for all musicians, not just pianists. The same is true of singing – if you can play and sing any melody put in front of you, you will have a huge advantage over other musicians.

The other recommendation I have is to listen to and see as much theater and music as you can! Go to plays, go to concerts, and expose yourself to new work!

---

Mont Chris is a composer, music director, and performer based in Portland, Oregon. His band Scotland Barr & The Slow Drags won the 2011 Portland Music Award for Album of the Year for their final offering, We Will Be Forgotten (http://www.scotlandbarr.com). Local and national recognition include a 2013 Portland Area Musical Theatre Award for his music direction of Little Shop of Horrors (Broadway Rose Theatre Company), and a 2011 Kennedy Center ACTF Meritorious Achievement Award for his original score and musical direction of The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Lewis & Clark College).

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Javon Carter OCT “Night in New Orleans” Star Visits King School

Recently Javon Carter, who stars as Louis Armstrong in the upcoming Oregon Children's Theatre production Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans, visited with students at his alma mater King School to speak about his experience preparing for the role. Javon who is also a member of the Grant High football team answered questions and sang to an auditorium full of wide-eyed 3rd-5th graders. Best of all he delivered over 200 free Magic Tree House books in anticipation of the kids coming to see the performance in a few weeks. The book giveaway was made possible by special arrangement between OCT and Magic Tree House author Mary Pope Osbourne.

OCT had a chance to catch up with King teacher Kayci Murray - who worked with OCT to coordinate this special event - to learn more about the students' reactions and how they are preparing to see the show. Here is what we learned.

OCT: Can you tell us about the reading challenge that you've asked the students to participate in?

Kayci: I challenged all of the kiddos to have read at least one of the books by the time we see the play in two weeks. I broke it down for grade level: students in 3rd grade to read one of the two books and the 4th and 5th grade to read both books. I encouraged the students to read them at school during their independent reading time.

OCT: Why do you think an event like that is helpful for kids before they come to see a play?

Kayci: I believe that it is important for students to add relationship to anything that they are a part of. It is developmentally crucial for them to continue to build positive relationships with people that come into their lives. Having Javon come in allowed our students to see the possibilities of what they can aspire to in high school. Javon is such a positive and well-rounded young man. He serves as a wonderful role-model for students younger than him as well as his own peers.

OCT: What kind of feedback did you get from the kids about either the Q&A with Javon or the free books?

Kayci: The kids really enjoyed spending the time with Javon. They all seemed star-struck and so intrigued with him. It was so sweet to see. They shared with me that they really liked that he talked to them for as long as he did and how cool they thought he was.

OCT: Do you have a sense for how many of the kids this will be their first theater experience?

Kayci: I would estimate that over 50% of our students have gone to no more than 1 play in their lives. However, we have a pretty strong drama department and a large amount of students have been involved in drama in some form or another.

OCT: Anything else you'd like to add?

Kayci: Thank you so much for working with us to make this event happen. It was really a wonderful experience to have a former student come in and pridefully share who he is and what he is doing with younger students. The book giveaway was icing on the cake to a fantastic field trip ahead. 

Thank YOU Kayci - we hope your students have a wonderful time at the show!

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Zombie Fashion - YP Workshop with Costume Designer Emily Horton

Oregon Children's Theatre's rigorous Young Professionals program introduces aspiring actors to all areas of theater production. In a recent 2-hour workshop, Costume Designer Emily Horton discussed the process for developing costumes for OCT's Zombie in Love. The YPs had a chance to test some costume ideas of their own using dolls and fabric swatches. 

Costume design requires many talents among them an artistic and collaborative mind, attention to detail, a love of history and the resourcefulness to create a professional looking production on a tight budget.

In the beginning Emily immerses herself in the script to get a sense of place, time and mood. She researches source material for the particular period and region. This initial exploration is followed by a meeting with the production's Director to understand her vision of the script - in this case Zombie in Love Director Marcella Crowson.

 

Following this preliminary research Emily begins listing materials needed for costumes and accessories, fabric sources, timeline and costs to set a budget. A color palette is created to define each character. Pencil sketches are then made for each character and there is another meeting with the Director to make sure the look is in line with her thinking. 

At last full color renderings are created and the process of fittings and constructing the costumes begins. More fittings and dress rehearsals may result in alterations to a look – lighting and set design can create unanticipated problems. At this stage a designer is never without a notebook, sewing kit, and a fresh mind to dream up creative solutions on the spot. To be at her best Emily stresses that “sleep is important!”

In the workshop the YPs used dolls and fabric swatches to create their own costume concepts for Zombie in Love.  Among them were several versions of the main character Mortimer which illustrate the impact of costume design on a show: a traditional take from the book Zombie in Love, a baroque era look, and even a 1970’s disco approach. 

What will the real Zombie in Love costumes looks like? The early sketches are currently being developed for the production which opens March 1st at the Winningstad Theatre. We plan to share the process with you right here as it unfolds. Look out for these wonderful dolls on display at the show!

 

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Free Lois Lowry Talk

LOIS LOWRY
FREE PUBLIC TALK
Sunday, April 28 at noon

Winningstad Theatre
 

Join acclaimed Newbery-Award-winning author Lois Lowry for a free public talk in conjunction with the world premiere of Gathering Blue.

Gathering Blue is based on Lowry's book by the same name and is part of the popular series of books that includes The Giver, Messenger, Gathering Blue, and Son.

Playwright Eric Coble and Director Stan Foote will also join Lois for a Q & A.

GET TICKETS TO SEE THE PLAY! There are is a Gathering Blue performance following the talk at 2pm. Additionally the play runs through May 19th.

Please note that Lois will not be available for book signing.

 

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Gathering Blue Book Group

Join OCT and Multnomah County Library for a Gathering Blue book group

April 20, 2pm - 3pm
Multnomah County Library - Central
801 SW 10th Ave, Portland, OR 97205

Gathering Blue, by acclaimed young adult author Lois Lowry, is part of the popular The Giver Series, and the play makes its world premiere on stage at Oregon Children's Theatre April 27 - May 19. Youth librarian Ruth Allen will lead the group in an hour-long discussion about the book's themes, characters, and reflections about society. Participants are also encouraged to read the other books in the series: The Giver, Messenger, and Son (just released). Participants will also be entered to win tickets to see the play.

To join the group, send an email to sharon@octc.org.

Learn more about the play here

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Pink Santa photos

If you had photos taken with pink Santa over Thanksgiving weekend, here's how to find them.

 

  1. Click here to go to the gallery.
  2. Enter the password "pink" -- all lower case.
  3. Find the date and time of the show you attended. Click on that gallery.
  4. Find your photo and click on the thumbnail image.
  5. Click add to cart
  6. To select the FREE download option → click on the "downloads tab" and select the "small" version
  7. To purchase prints or other gifts, click on the prints or products tab.

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