Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Some shots from the show

Here's a shot of Tateh (Paul Araquistain) and his little girl (Lauren Hart):

And a shot of Coalhouse (James Monroe Iglehart) and Sarah (Julie Valentine)

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Don't Forget the Musicians in a Musical

Actors may get the applause. Directors may get the glory. Writers may get the kudos.

But exactly where would a musical be without the musicians?

I've never seen an a capella musical (although it IS kind of an interesting concept!)

So one of our hardy musicians, Harry Johnson, wanted to pipe in and let everyone know how long HE has been climbing the stairs at Foothill:

"This will be my 8th summer musical at Foothill.  I’ve been lugging my cello up the hill since 1991 (that deserves some recognition – you should see my calf muscles!). Shows I was in the pit for include the following: Carousel (1991); My Fair Lady (1993); Music Man (1994); Kiss Me Kate (1996); Oklahoma (1999); Showboat (2001); On the Town (2002); and now Ragtime (2004).  I love doing shows at Foothill and feel that the Orchestra is a big part of what makes the shows so special."

Well, Harry is right, and he's right not to let us forget it!

Monday, June 28, 2004

Life Outside "Ragtime"

People often have prior commitments when they enter the rehearsal period for a show. Often for the summer show, it's a pre-planned vacation.

Well, one hardy cast member has a prior commitment, and the weekend before opening night, no less. I'm not sure you can call it a vacation. Nonetheless, it's a meaningful story.

Joe Colletti is going to be riding his bike from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon...that's 206 just two days!

Why? Well, it's not just that he's crazy, it's for a good cause. He is working with the group Team in Training to undertake the ride to raise funds that go to research Leukemia, Lymphoma and other related diseases.

Team in Training is an amazing organization because it takes people who are not athletes and trains them to undertake marathons, triathlons and this kind of event. Joe has actually done this before, so he's an old pro.

I have two friends who coach for this group, and it's such a win-win situation...contributing to a cause you believe in AND reaching some pretty incredible personal, physical goals.

Joe lost his dad at age 10 to Leukemia, so this has personal resonance for him.

If you'd like to hear more of Joe's story, learn more about Team in Training or help him reach his goals, check our his personal Team in Training page at:

Friday, June 25, 2004

Promo Code for Blog Readers

As mentioned early on, Foothill is changing online box office vendors. A lot of things are going to be much improved, like the fact that you can choose your actual seats online.

But you will need to use a promo code to get your $2 per ticket discount for "Ragtime."

The code will be, shockingly, I know, "BLOG".

And the site should be ready to take online orders any day now.

This is the box office link.

Don't forget to use your promo code!

That's BLOG.

In case you forgot.


In theatre there's such a thing as "type." An actor gets pretty used to hearing "you're not the right type" or "I'm looking for a different type" or "someday there will be an 'Elisa-type'."

Seriously I heard that last one! Of course it was from a director telling me he wasn't casting me in something, so you can consider that just so much smoke being blown up my audition dress.

Anyway, actors often fantasize about being able to shed their type and just play a great role. When I did cabaret I sang A LOT of songs that are performed in shows by male characters. And I'm sure some of Coalhouse and Sarah's songs in "Ragtime" are audition or concert staples for white singers.

In fact ensemble member Carly admits to having sung some of Sarah's material in various settings already!

So, I posed another question to the cast: if you could play any role in "Ragtime", unhindered by your race, gender or "type", what would it be?

Frankly I expected everyone to pick the same one, maybe two roles. People winning Tonys tends to get attention after all.

But the responses were spread amongst many of the roles, and for a variety of fascinating reasons. Here's a sampling:

From Ruthe (who wants to be a guy in her next life to tackle all those great male roles): I LOVE Tateh and would love to play that part. That character is precious-beyond-belief! And oh the many layers to peel back and expose.

From Doug (our most prolific Foothill performer): If I were to cross the gender line (yikes!), I would choose Mother because her character finds the most growth and awakens to a whole new existence in the course of the show. That role would provide the most opportunity to stretch as an actor.

From Andrew (our Little [& white] Boy): If i could play another role in the show, I would definetely choose Coalhouse, because his role is so deep, and he gets to sing some great songs.

And Steve says: I would love to play Sarah. Her storyline is so poignant, and the songs that she sings are absolutely spectacular!  Of course, I'd also like to play Bloody Mary someday, too, but we all know that that's not going to happen (well, we can hope, can't we)!

That's actors for you, somewhere inside always hoping to play the role they will never be cast in!

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Color-blind? Or Foot Fetish?

"Ragtime" deals with the issues of race and class. Due to the structure of the show, the ensemble is actually divided into three categories: the "Harlem" ensemble, the "New Rochelle" ensemble and the "Immigrant" ensemble. As you can guess that equates roughly to African-American types, lily-white types, and those of us, like me, of indeterminate ethnic background, most likely with dark hair.

Now, someone related the following story to me, positioning it as evidence that our production staff is truly color-blind:
Tyler, our choreographer, was working on the opening number, in which the cast is separated into those three major groups. All three groups were in their respective bunches, lined up along the downstage proscenium line. Tyler walked up to the Immigrant cluster and started giving them notes for the Harlem group. When the immigrants pointed out that they weren't the Harlem group, Tyler said 'Well, where are you guys?' This got a good laugh from the people who considered themselves to be rather obviously of color, clustered about 10 feet to Tyler's left.

I have another theory though. I'm not sure this proves Tyler was being color-blind. More likely, as a choreographer, Tyler may have been paying much more attention to everyone's feet than their faces. And since they were all wearing shoes, it was truly a level playing field.

Just my theory.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Foothill Loses a Friend

Once people work at Foothill, they tend to stick around. As you could see by my other posts about people being repeat visitors to the Foothill stage, lots of folks on stage and behind the scenes have been part of the Foothill Family a long time.

And our family lost a member recently, and I would just like to pay her tribute here.

Teresa Patrick was a big part of first the theatre and then the music department at Foothill. She was our pianist through many auditions, rehearsals and performances. More than simply a pianist. I mean, I'm a pianist, but she was an artist.

But many people will remember Teresa as much for her personality as her piano. She was this little (and coming from me that means something!) feisty person full of positive energy. When Teresa was around you just knew you were going to work on something until it was great, and you knew she believed it was going to be great, and, and she made you believe it too.

I remember almost a decade ago Teresa went through some challenging personal times. But her attitude was that this was just the start of a great new phase in her life, and that her life was going to get even better. And it wasn't some forced positive attitude where you imagined that someday she was just going to explode. Nope, you believed it. You believed she believed it.

Our production of "Ragtime" is going to be dedicated to Teresa. Teresa will join those other sorely missed members of our Foothill Family as they inspire us, even as they are no longer here with us.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

A Little Research Rivalry?

As "Ragtime" is based on a novel, and one with many historical references, there is ample opportunity for the cast members to further research their roles. And a little bird told me that some cast members are giving certain other cast members a slight research inferiority complex.

I've heard from many of the cast who are reading the novel. Some for the first time; some as a re-read after numerous years. While the musical is incredibly faithful to the novel, the novel definitely features some stronger sexual content than the musical. (Which may be why Andrew, one of our two 'Little Boy's told me: "I am not doing any research specifically. I don't think I am old enough to read the novel.")

Wise choice, Andrew. I read "Portnoy's Complaint" when I was way too young, and it scarred me for life!

Some of the folks playing historical characters, like Ray Renati [JP Morgan] and Cath Sheldon [Emma Goldman] are reading historical books on their characters, in addition to reading the novel. Cath has actually been visiting modern-day anarchist web sites that provide lots of info about Emma, but make her a little nervous that "if anyone at HP was watching my surfing habits I could get reported!"

But Paul [Tateh] has more practical concerns. He has to mime weaving at a loom, and no one seems really sure what that would look like. That's the research he's worrying about right now!

All of this just proves that there is always so much more to it than meets the eye any time you go to the theatre.

A New Winner of "Most Shows at Foothill"

Ensemble member Doug Brees was on a pre-planned 2-week vacation to the UK (rough life, you know?) and so wasn't able to pipe in until now and let me know how many shows he has done at Foothill.

And I hate to break it to Joe Colletti, but he has lost his briefly-held title as the one with the most Foothill shows under his belt.

Brees has been in an astonishing 15 Foothill shows, and even more impressive...this is his 10th summer production in a row!

I'll let Doug tell us why in his own words:

"While I didn't set out to be the guy in every summer production, it has just worked out that way. I come back because I feel that Jay puts together interesting ensembles every year, and that he basically does it from scratch because, while there are repeat "offenders" such as myself, he really doesn't have a repertory cast to pull from. The quality of the productions has been consistently high, and I pride myself on the awards we have won through our hard work. We are definitely a cut above the average theater, and we exemplify the fact that in non-profit theater, it is truly the heart that fuels the production, and not the motivation for profit (though that never hurts.)"

All I can say is 'Wow'!

Thursday, June 17, 2004

New "Ragtime" Web Site Up & Running

We have a new web site dedicated to the show online if you're interested in seeing comprehensive information about the show.

The site is at:

What you will find there:

1. A synopsis of the show, plus a message from dirctor, Jay Manley
2. Cast and production staff list
3. List of musical numbers
4. Publicity still photos from this production
5. And a link to the soon-to-be-activated online box office

Check it out!

One note of caution: When the online box office is up and running there will be a "blogger discount" of $2 off per ticket. This discount is available to people who click through to the box office via the blog ONLY.

Because you're special :)

Keeping it Fresh

Most people who don't do theatre have a very common question: how do you do the same thing every night and keep it the audience and yourself?

What you may not realize is that often you get all the way to Opening Night with some things still being really fresh.

"Ragtime" is a huge show, and it's telling multiple story lines with different groups of cast member involved with each story line. Those story lines do intersect, but most rehearsals are breaking the cast into different groups working on different things.

When we get to run-throughs and dress rehearsals, lots of the cast will be seeing lots of the show as though for the first time themselves.

And that is one way (and there are others we'll talk about some other time) that it stays fresh!

The Mood Onstage vs. Off

Interesting reports from rehearsals:

"Ragtime" is a show that deals with some heavy issues and highly dramatic story lines. not to give too much away, but we're talking life and death stuff here.

And apparently the way this cast is relieving the tension created by working on such intense material on stage, is to engage in what might be called "hi-jinks" off stage. Apparently there's "a lot of joking and laughing at rehearsals." And intense, dark moods while running scenes "morph into a pandemonium of comedy acts when we break."

I think having a big cast really helps with that. You are always going to have a few "class clowns" in a cast of 50! Apparently our 'Coalhouse', James Iglehart, is one of the ring-leaders of the off-stage circus.

Small casts, on the other hand, have a harder time pulling out of it. Which sometimes isn't good. When I was in college we did "A Streetcar Named Desire." By the time we opened, the woman playing Blanche DuBois was going all Val Kilmer on us, asking to be called Blanche or Miss DuBois off stage too!

I think the "Ragtime" cast has a slightly healthier approach.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Speaking of the book

As Paul ('Tateh') pointed out to me when we were discussing Terence McNally for the previous entry, the musical "Ragtime" is very faithful to E.L. Doctorow's novel, with much of the dialog and even lyrics directly lifted from it.

I had never read the book when it was originally a best seller, but after seeing the musical in NY back in 1998 I bought the book at the airport book store before boarding to come home. I read it in one sitting on that 5 hour flight, and then passed it on to the traveler in the next chair over.

It's actually a habit of mine to read books after after seeing the movie, because I know adaptations can rarely live up to your imagination! Take the recent musical adaptation of "Wicked" as an example. "Wicked" is one of my favorite books of all time. About 10 minutes into the musical, I just had to tell myself to let go. This wasn't the story of the book...not even close, but it was enjoyable in its own way.

"Ragtime" won't require that kind of attitude adjustment. While there is some slight softening of some of the harshest elements of the novel, it is mostly a spot on translation of both the events and the environment of the novel.

Our 'Tateh' is immersed In the world of Terence McNally

In an artistic coincidence our 'Tateh', Paul Araquistain, will be spending his summer immersed in the world of "Ragtime"s book author, famed playwright Terence McNally.

The New Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco received a grant to commission a new work from McNally, which is being worked on over the course of the next year with a cast of local actors, including Paul.

McNally is primarily known as a playwright of his own non-musical pieces, many of which are among the staples for theatre companies around the country. Currently, for example, Berkeley Rep is running a production of "Master Class" starring Rita Moreno. I have also seen local productions of "Lips Together, Teeth Apart", "Love, Valour & Compassion" and "Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune" advertised in recent years.

But McNally has also written the book for a select group of musicals. There's "Ragtime" of course, but he also wrote the book for "The Kiss of the Spiderwoman" and "The Full Monty." McNally is clearly a master of adaptation...taking works with which the audience is already familiar and adapting them for another media.

Since Paul is lucky enough to access to the man himself, he asked him about the process of bringing "Ragtime" to the stage. According to McNally, "Ragtime" was one of the most satisfying experiences of his professional life -- and a joy to work on.

Paul, himself, is living a rich, full life right about now. He lives in the City, but works in Milpitas. Luckily he can telecommute two days a week, but now he has rehearsals on those days, so he ends up trekking down to Los Altos anyway. And of course while rehearsing one of his dream roles in "Ragtime", he is also involved in this process of bringing an entirely new work by a renowned playwright to the stage...playing a character he knows will be essentially written with him in mind!

To mis-quote surprise Tony winning musical "Avenue Q", it doesn't suck to be him right now! Except, perhaps, for having to constantly fill up his SUV at these gas prices...which I'm sure he'll be so happy I brought up ;)

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Mark Your Calendars Now!

We're changing online box office vendors to provide a better audience'll get to choose your seats, for example. As soon as that's up & running, I'll be able to post the blogger promo code you use to get a discount.

In the meantime, mark your calendars:

"Ragtime" opens Friday July 23rd at the Smithwick Theatre.

It plays for four weekends, closing on Sunday, August 15th.

After Opening on a Friday, the rest of the weekends run Thursday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2:30 pm.

Parking Lots 1 & 7 are under construction, so there will be signs pointing you to alternate lots, including some that feature no stairs.

Don't worry...I'll keep reminding you (as if you had any doubt!)

And Who Has Done the Most Foothill Shows?

I also noticed a preponderance of folks who come back to work at FMT again and again. So Informally polled on that topic too.

The winner here must be Joe Colletti, as "Ragtime" marks his 11th show at Foothill!

His first show was "Boys from Syracuse" back in 1991 (and I was in that show with him, which dates us both!) Since then he has been a real Foothill trouper, playing everything from ensemble roles to principals like Zangara in "Assassins" and Henrik in "A Little Night Music"

There are other folks who are repeaters too...both Carly Ozard and Patrick Kelleher are on Show #6. We've got others like Doug Brees, Annette Stenger and the Stanford brothers who mtch them show for show.

Just like those who travel long distances to work at Foothill, these repeat "customers" cite quality as the draw. Knowing they're going to be in a high caliber (at least 3 people used that exact term) production makes all the difference.

Oddly one mentioned the great work-out attained by climbing the stairs at Foothill as a draw. Hmm.

I'd Walk a Million Miles...or at least drive 20

I noticed that a lot of "Ragtime" folks seemed to be coming from quite some ways away to do the show. So, I thought I'd do an informal poll...who comes more than 20 miles and why?

Well, I believe the winner is Wendell Wilson, who travels 60 miles each way for the show! He lives in San Rafael. Wendell originally was encouraged to audition by a friend who was auditioning, but he declined, as the distance seemed just too great. Although Wendell declined, his persistent friend gave Director Jay Manley his head shot and resume, and Jay tracked him down and said he was interested in seeing him for the leading role of 'Coalhouse'. That's when Wendell got hold of the CD...and fell in love with the score immediately. He decided that he just "wanted to be a part of the show, Coalhouse or ensemble." Well to quote Wendell further "ensemble it is, and I am thrilled."

The Runner Up is Jake, who alternates in the role of the Little Boy with another friend of his. Jake's parents drive him 45 miles each way from San Ramon! With a brother who plays hockey, it's clear that Jake's parent are going the extra (45) miles to help the boys do what they love!

There are also more than a few who drive from further up the Peninsula, from Wayne, 28 miles away in San Bruno to Paul (our 'Tateh') and others who come from San Francisco.

And we've got folks from the South and East as well, from the Silver Creek area of San Jose, through Fremont, even up to Hayward and San Leandro.

As for why, the responses were pretty much identical:

- To do this incredible show "Ragtime", which isn't produced too often due to its scope and difficulty
- To work with a professional-grade production staff, from director Jay Manley & Music Director Cathy Snider, to designers Joe Ragey & Kurt Landisman
- To work with a talented and generous bunch of actors, for which FMT is renowned in this area

So, when you're stuck in traffic for your commute of less than 20 miles...think of these folks...suffering for their art!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

"Ragtime" Alumni at the Tony Awards

There were a couple alumni from the original Broadway production of "Ragtime" on prominent display at this weekend's Tony Awards.

There was original "Sarah", Audra McDonald winning her 4th (!) Tony, this time for a straight play, "A Raisin in the Sun." She won her 2nd Tony for "Ragtime" back in 1998. And just in case you're counting, she's won 4 Tonys (out of 5 nominations) in 10 years!

And there was her leading man, original "Coalhouse", Brian Stokes Mitchell, introducing the nominees for Best New Play. Amazingly Mitchell was nominated, but did not win Best Actor for his role in "Ragtime", losing out to Alan Cumming in "Cabaret." Tony voters made up for it two years later by awarding him the prize for "Kiss Me Kate."

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Ragtime: A Bookend Musical of the 20th Century

I was having a little email exchange with FMT's Artistic Director, and Director of "Ragtime", Jay Manley. I was wondering if this production of "Ragtime" will be the biggest show that FMT has ever staged.

And it looks like it's in a tie with "Showboat" for that honor.

But the interesting comment Jay made was about how "Showboat" and "Ragtime" are "bookends of the American musical in the 20th century, both in development of the form, and in their treatment of racism."

Most folks think of "Oklahoma" as the break-through moment in musical theatre history when songs were extension of the scene and characters, not just excuses for singing and dancing. And it's true that "Oklahoma" may have been the first where every song reflected the characters' expression. But "Showboat" came first, and "Showboat" features such songs as well. Some of the songs were performances by the Showboat performers, but some were character driven.

Meanwhile "Ragtime" came at the end of the 20th century and seemed to recapture the glory of eras past in the musical theatre, while taking it to a new level of scope and sophistication. Time Magazine's critical appraisal following it's 1996 Broadway opening was that "Ragtime" was: "the last great musical of the 20th Century."

If you haven't seen "Ragtime", you can't miss this chance to see that, can you?

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Moral of the Story: Think Big!

A common way to start any rehearsal process for a musical production is to start with the music. Foothill usually spends at least the first week focused on learning the musical numbers, particularly the big choral numbers.

Most shows have maybe half a dozen choral numbers. "Ragtime"? It has 28. Yes, that's 28. The Vocal Book is 300 pages long! Let's just say that when the audition notice said "Ensemble will have a lot to do", it wasn't kidding.

So, that's where we are right now...50 people in a room trying to learn 28 numbers. And trying to memorize it. And sometimes memory does NOT serve.

Like last night, working through the big, inspirational number, "Wheels of a Dream." It's kind of hard to explain the whole story here, but the metaphor referred to in the title is a car, protagonist Coalhouse Walker's dream purchase.

Ensemble member Steve Completo was doggedly determined to sing through it without music, but admits perhaps he wasn't quite solid yet. So, when he got to the big soaring lyric: "And he will ride on the wheels of a dream", Steve sang: "And he will rise..."

Musical director, Cathy, caught it, stopped and pointed out that it wasn't a song about Jesus. Steve 'fessed up to his mistake, and they carried on. But at the break, he learned that he sang it so loudly and confidently that all of the people around him shamefacedly opened up there vocal books to review their error!

It goes to show you what most theatre people know...if you go big, people will go with you. If you've got the big smile, they won't notice you're dancing the wrong steps. And if you sing even jibberish really confidently, they'll figure the lyricist was going for something over their head!

Moral of the story.  If you make a mistake, make it big!

Bonus Points: I was trying to think of the aural equivalent of "eagle-eyed" to describe our musical director, but came up empty. "Bat-eared" just didn't have a ring to it. Any suggestions?

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