Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Consider the silent “b” in the word “doubt.” It is a little speck of dirt left over from the past--a quiet reminder that words have histories. The word shares a root sense with a cartload of words based on the notion of “doubleness.” “Doubt” describes the action of wavering between two alternatives. As the history suggests, this movement between two poles is a dynamic condition, not a static one. Contrarily, words such as “sure” or “certain” rise from roots that suggest stasis—something like “safe from cares” in the first case and “already decided” in the second. In this light, “doubt” might be seen as precondition for action or change, while “surety” suggests a hiding place from which one dare not move.

Shanley’s play Doubt is set in a Roman Catholic church and school in 1964. The plot treats the prospect that an adolescent boy has been abused by a priest. “Been there. Done that,” you say. Perhaps not. Shanley didn’t win the 2005 Pulitzer Prize by rehashing headline news. Here he seems almost disinterested in exposing failings of the Church or in flaying the priest. True to his title, he invites questions not pat answers: How does one make a moral choice in an uncertain situation? How many of the comforts of security can be risked in pursuit of an uncertain good?

Setting the play in 1964 is a canny choice since this was a hinge year in our contemporary history—a year in which the many comforts of the post-war and “Camelot” eras began to give way to the changes and uncertainties we usually associate with “The Sixties.” Civil Rights workers die. Race riots erupt. Viet Nam blows up. The Beatles go on TV. Bob Dylan sings, “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” As we recall the difficult but generative uncertainty of that time, we might recall, too, the wisdom of Voltaire: “Doubt is painful. Certainty is ridiculous.”

-Bruce Wheaton
Director, Doubt

Doubt at Riverside Theatre runs January 25 - February 17. Tickets are $24 and are available at the Riverside Theatre box office at (319) 338-7672 or online at https://amber.he.net/~riverdog/buyticketsnow.php.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Goats and Dreams

Ten years ago, I was in my early 20’s, just out of college and wanting desperately to do something more than just go to auditions and wait for my agent to call (typical daily life of an actor). goat show came out of an exercise in an acting class in which each person had to tell a story about their life. I had waited until everybody else in the class went, hoping that we’d run out of time before my turn came. My life was so boring – I hadn’t had any interesting adventures like these other people. When it came to be my turn I went up, not knowing what would come out of my mouth. What I said was, “I grew up on a goat farm…” And that was the beginning of a very long story.

Although I started writing the show about my own experiences, I soon learned that there was another story that had been going on around me that I, as a child, had been only vaguely aware of. The experience of becoming farmers and forming a goat’s milk company with their closest friends, and then having to leave all of that behind, has left an indelible mark on my parents. They are now in their 60’s, still married and still very invested in that marriage, but there are some scars and what is most important to me, not just as their daughter but as a person who also wants to have a long and satisfying relationship, is seeing how love can survive through those difficulties.

Ten years have passed since I first wrote and performed goat show and I am now the age that my parents were when their adventure in farming began. I am still pursuing my dream of being a theatre artist, a dream that has brought me to Iowa City from Toronto, Canada. While here I have met people that I want to form a company with, including the director of this show, Sean Lewis. Granted this is a theatre company, not a goat’s milk company, but in the large picture that seems like a small difference. The words I say on stage have developed another resonance; not only am I saying the imagined words my mother said to my father, I am saying the words I have said to Sean. To start a company in any business is a risk. It not only demands time and money (and lots of both) but a belief that all of this work is going to be worth something. This belief, this trust, is what will most likely to be battered by the realities of economics, trends, etc, but it is also this more than anything else that will get us through.

To a child, adults seem capable of anything; that they could doubt their decisions or make mistakes seems impossible. At the end of the show I talk about feeling “not grown up yet.” And that’s true – I still don’t, if feeling grown up is feeling sure. But I don’t know if I ever will feel grown up in that sense. Maybe being grown up isn’t about being sure; maybe it’s about believing in risks, in which case it’s closer to childhood than I thought. There’s a very satisfying circuitry behind goat show: to follow my dreams, I wrote a show about my parents following their dreams. Now I’m doing the show as part of a new company, as the next step of following my dreams. And maybe someday I’ll have a child who will be inspired by my story and will decide its worth the risk to follow their dreams.

-Jennifer Fawcett

goat show at Riverside Theatre runs November 23 - December 2. Tickets are $15 and are available at the Riverside Theatre box office at (319) 338-7672 or online at https://amber.he.net/~riverdog/buyticketsnow.php.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Show me show me show me....

I thought about what I would “blog” for Riverside, what aspect of creating and teaching puppetry would be most interesting or important to share. Most often when I try to write, it comes out like verbal vomit, I am much better at interpretive dance, hence why I am a movement theatre artist. But I realize what I do say a lot at rehearsals is for the students to show me the specific thought with the puppet. What we tell the students over and over is that the primary objective is to show the audience the puppet’s idea. Like in mask work, the movements need to be specific and economical in nature. If a puppet needs to hit another puppet, it can’t simply turn and smack quickly. That action would be too sudden and muddy for the audience to soak in, not because the audience is dim, but because the subtle nuances that humans can add to that action (furrowed brow, eyes widened, nostrils flared, snarl on face) is not available to the mask of the puppet. For this reason you need to break down the action beat by beat. In order for a puppet to hit they would need to, turn head to the other puppet, take a big “angry’ inhale, look at hand, pull that arm back followed by a slight twist in the torso, look at the puppet being hit, exhale as the hand leads elbow and shoulder towards the “soon to be hit” puppet. Then the puppet receiving the action needs to react to the punch to “sell” the hit. Easy right? Nothing to it. Actually it becomes second nature to break down the movements as you get used to the style. The students have picked up the physical timing and run with it.

There has been a world of change since the first week of rehearsal (and only 4 weeks in that is incredibly impressive). Every nudge, look, and tap is tied to a specific want. It is exactly what acting requires, but easier to see how necessary it is in puppetry. I feel I have become a better actor since studying puppetry, because it has taught me that every action has an absolute, required need of a reaction from the other actor in the scene. Now don’t go and tell my acting teachers that a puppet taught me what three years in their classes couldn’t nail into my noggin. It is simply that with a puppet you can’t fake it half way. It is all or nothing. The scene will scream that it isn’t working if the puppet isn’t specific in thought and action. Just a little bit of muslin and fiberfill can say it all…if that isn’t a title for a book I don’t know what is. Ahh, maybe it will make a blog entry one day instead (wink wink).

I want to thank Ron, Jody, and Mark for involving me in this wonderful opportunity and to the students who keep giving me nothing but their best and complete focus. They will knock your socks off…so wear shoes (my joke telling is another reason why I am a non verbal movement theatre artist-just ask my husband).

Enjoy the show,
Stephanie Braun Jacobson

Friday, August 31, 2007

If only life were a musical...

A young man steps out of Panchero’s and begins to bellow “Tonight, tonight, won’t be just any night . . .” Across the street a middle-aged banker hurries toward the ped mall holding forth with “I’ve grown accustomed to her face . . .” In front of Prairie Lights, a cop stops traffic with “I got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere . . .” And in a finale, the Hawkeye Marching Band pours out of the Union Bar playing “Seventy-six Trombones!”

If only real life was set to music.

In fact it is. All those people you see with their lips moving as they sit out a stop light? They are not ALL on cell phones or schizophrenic. Lots of them (us) are singing with the radio or are doing a mighty a capella rendition of “I Will Survive.” Or check out the urban kids that hang out doing beat box on street corners. Their musical predecessors were the do-wop quartets that sweetly harmonized under an overpass for that powerful reverb. Even those who are shiest among us sing in the shower. So why does it seem mysterious or unrealistic that people burst into song onstage?

When the human heart is so enthralled with emotion that speech is not adequate, there is no other choice but to sing. Still not convinced? Take this test: close your eyes and remember your first junior high dance, the people that were there, what refreshments were being served, what you were wearing and simplest and best of all – the music that was being played. Don’t resist. ADMIT IT! You want to hum or sing right now. You are 14 again, your heart is on your sleeve, ultimate truths are found in the top 40 and you NEED to sing to really express yourself.

I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE is all about the most basic need and joy of all – to be loved and love back in what is the perfect romance in that moment. Singing is not a choice but an imperative. Come sing along with us.

Ron Clark

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Most actors spend so much time and energy simply trying to get work, that when they finally do “book” a job, they often experience a surprising amount of panic. As the reality sinks in that they’re responsible for creating a character, and then translating that character honestly to an audience, an inevitable amount of self doubt usually begins to creep into the process. I had the privilege, when I was in college, to study with Philip Seymour Hoffman. He told our class that when he books a part, he spends at least one day worried, wondering why he was cast, sure that a mistake has been made. So, when I find myself in this position, I’m assured that even the best actors feel this way, that it’s not just me, and then, I go to the text. I really, truly feel, that the text can save you as an actor. The text is your safety net.

Before the first rehearsal I always read the play three times. Once for the story, once to achieve a better understanding of the relationships at work in the play, and once for my character. I try to have a sense for the play on multiple levels so that when I begin the rehearsal process I can make choices that are helpful not just for my character but for the play in its entirety. As rehearsals progress, I keep the script close. I’m constantly going back to the play, looking at each moment, discovering how my character moves forward. Why does my character say that next line? Is it inevitable? The rehearsal process always seems to fly by, so I try to take advantage of every available second. While I’m in the process of going through the script, and discovering things, I don’t try to memorize my lines. I try to learn them emotionally. It’s necessary to do this, I think, because it helps me find the important moments for my character, and justify the emotional beats.

Since, I’m an actor who works from the text, I feel privileged to be working on a Donald Margulies play. Collected Stories is an exceptional, complicated and thoughtful piece, and I was excited to tackle Lisa. My boyfriend is a writer at the Writer’s Workshop, so I had an immediate familiarity with the life of a writer. Still, I found the role fascinating and challenging, not simply for the moral questions in the piece, but because she is an interesting character who grows substantially during the play.

I’m thankful to the Riverside Theatre for allowing me the opportunity to play such a complicated woman in such a wonderful piece. I have had a fantastic time and I hope our audiences do too!

- Shamis Beckley

Friday, February 02, 2007

From Ron Clark (Marvin in Guys on Ice)

So the question arises from insiders as well as interested patrons: “Do you have to prepare as seriously for a comic role like Marvin in Guys on Ice as say the title role in King Lear? The simple answer is, “yes” and “no.”

I always think it’s a huge mistake to not think about the inner life of a character no matter what the genre. In a play like Guys on Ice it is essential that the actor find the heart of the character and explore it with as much empathy as you can muster. The temptation is to just play the jokes without thinking about the true life that generates them. Once you go over the top and lose the characters intentions, goals or objectives (choose your noun depending on where you went to acting school) the audience can tell and will no longer care about the stage action. As an old director/friend of mine used to say, “They’ll be playing mah jong in the back row if you keep that up!”

But doesn’t Lear require more truth? I don’t know – it requires a hell of a lot more work. He speaks over 20% of the lines in one of Shakespeare’s longest plays, so the sheer energy required is extraordinary; it’s even tougher than singing and doing a soft shoe number in L.L. Bean snow boots. Lear as a human being is certainly more complicated than Marvin the ice fisherman, but Marve deserves just as much truth in the telling of his story.

See ya on de ice.
Ron Clark

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dis ain’t yer basic buddy story, no sirree!
Riverside delivers buddy play with heart and humor
Theatre review by John Busbee - Art Scene

The formula is tried and true: begin with an easy-going script with all the charming appeal of a Currier & Ives snowfall, blend in some jokes, an instinctive trio of actors, and serve with well-crafted production elements. Serve on ice. Let the fun begin.

Riverside Theatre’s “Guys on Ice: An Ice Fishing Musical Comedy” reaches well beyond the guffaws and chortles its humor and jokes elicit, and delivers a harmonious buddy story that evokes as much warmth as a soothing cup of mid-winter hot cocoa – with an occasional shot of fortification. Achieving the same standards of excellence that any Riverside production achieves, “Guys on Ice” will surprise many, successfully straying from their more traditional fare of serious, classic and edgy material.

Longtime pals Lloyd and Marvin convene in their ice fishing shanty, keeping the northern chill at bay through their mutual appreciation for good bait, cold beer, and the Green Bay Packers. While Marvin awaits his fifteen minutes of fame in an on-location interview on a cable TV fishing show, both attempt to divert Ernie the Moocher from their beer stash and bait. Numbers like “Ode to a Snowmobile Suit” and “Fish Is de Miracle Food” add a charming musical zest to the show.

Director Sean Paul Bryan takes a deeper route than this show’s humor and jokes may tempt with other directors, drawing upon the natural stage chemistry of veteran actors Ron Clark and Christopher Merrill. The results are a delicious blend of belly laughs and richly intimate human insights. Tony Zabka provides a scenic palette upon which the action unfolds, with the centerpiece ice shanty interior that would make any ice fishermen burst with pride.

John Watkins as Ernie the Moocher – with a dead-on dialect straight out of the movie, “Fargo” – crafts one of the most original pre-show speeches ever seen. He continues his audience interactive shtick during the special intermission show. During the play, his delightful interludes pepper the script with outrageous behaviors, town gossip revelations and a gasp-producing “cold one” chug-a-lug.

The heart and soul of this show are entrusted to the masterful talents of Ron Clark (Marvin) and Christopher Merrill (Lloyd). Their lines are submersed in the dialectic lilt of the northern states. Their on-stage bond (this is their fourth Riverside show together) is rich, textured and sublime. In one scene, their reciprocal gifts of fish sandwiches (one walleye, the other trout) reflect their deep friendship. The long waiting for that big fish to bite is often punctuated by their love of the Green Bay Packers and their jokes, leading one to the correct conclusion that catching fish is perhaps not the greatest reward, or even goal, of ice fishing.

For a great escape, take time to experience the charismatic and comic “Guys on Ice.” You’re sure to catch your limit of laughs and rewarding storytelling, leaving you in a warm, feel-good comforter of time well spent.
Order tickets on-line at www.riversidetheatre.org
Call the box office at 319-338-7672