Thursday, July 23, 2009

Behind the Scenes of "A Dog's Life"

Looking for some behind the scenes information about our season opener, A Dog's Life? Enjoy this mini-interview with the playwright, Sean Grennan.

1. How did you get started as a playwright?

I was an English major in college but my father was a local Chicago TV personality so I kind of naturally drifted towards the performing side of things. Family business and all that. However, I'd always been interested in the written word and just started combining that with my stage work. At some point in there, about twenty years into my performing life, I was hosting a lot of open mics and writing material for benefits that actually seemed to work. I found that as or more gratifying than performing myself so I was hooked. My first show was a wild fluke of luck that turned out well called Phantom of the Country Palace. Once I saw things I'd written actually work on stage, I was off. By the way, this will seem snarky but another motivator over the years was that I'd acted in a lot of new and fairly awful bad plays. The kind of things where you're out on stage saying things that just don’t work. It actually gave me confidence to try my hand at what is really a pretty arrogant endeavor, imagining that what you write might be of any interest to anyone but you and maybe your mother. It kind of became a case of, "I could do better than this!"

2. Why a show about dogs?

I am, inarguably, a dog nut. Someone got a problem with that? I honestly don't think there are any bad dogs. Lots of bad, thoughtless, inconsiderate owners (let's get a drink and talk) but really OK, very few bad dogs. I know that doesn't make me at all unique. Lots of folks feel the same way. Dogs, pets generally, have a style of relating/communicating/showing affection that is completely unconditional and guileless that's beyond my small abilities to describe. So, I thought that despite this not being maybe the most "commercial" idea I've ever had, there might be something there that a fairly large group of folks could relate to. Experiences that I thought a lot of people would recognize. Besides, I had/have a huge crush on my guy Jack so this show is a sort of tribute to that as well.

3. Did you always intend to have a focus on the experience of one dog/one owner?

Leah Okimoto (the composer) and I talk about ideas for new shows all the time. Jack attended a lot of these meetings and quietly advanced his agenda. Or something. We decided that focusing on one dog and owner would keep things as simple and accessible as possible. We've also tended to write small cast shows so this made sense from that standpoint as well. The character of "Joel" of course, stands in for me but also for the rest of the audience. Keeping it mostly about them, with "Big Dog" and "Little Dog" for a little balance and comedy, seemed a good way to go.

4. Tell us about your experience writing lyrics… to be sung by dogs.

Lyrics for humans are tricky. Lots to get across in as unique, succinct, more or less natural a way as you can. Musical forms to observe and obey except when you don't. And oh, make it rhyme. I thought writing for the dog characters would be harder but it wasn't bad. The great thing about dogs is that they don't worry about their IRAs and they don't remember that mean thing that someone said to them in gym class 20 years ago. They're all about right now. We could all learn a great lesson from this. At least I could as soon as I get that kid back for calling me a "dork" during dodge ball.

So, for instance, Jack's song in the car, "It All Goes By So Fast" is, at least to me, the essence of what dogs think. It's all "Look at that! Let's go do that! Wow, everything smells so good and we could go chase something right now and isn't it all great!?" A lot of what he "talks" about is what's right in front of him now. You know, the important stuff we ignore while we worry or at least focus on everything else.

5. What’s the one thing the audience should know about the show?

That almost more than anything I've ever done in the theatre, this one is right from the heart. As I said, this is not our most lucrative piece but is nonetheless my favorite. (How un-American is that?) Leah and I wrote a show called Married Alive! about the institution of marriage that we feel pretty close to. So how could I put this above a show about my life with my lovely wife? (Please don't tell her...) Not to diminish Leah's and my respective marriages (no, we're not married to each other), while that show has great resonance for us, something basic and funny and touching about this show seems to have even more. And it pretty much wrote itself. Like the relationship with dogs itself, A Dog's Life is a little more straight-on honest, less complicated, simple, in the best way. We've even kept the form and the tone fairly light to reflect that.

(Another thing and this is an alert to stop reading if you already think I'm crazy about dogs cause it's just going to get worse...) My relationship with Jack is one of the more significant ones of my adult life. Just is, so get over it. From the moment I saw him at the shelter he seemed to say, "Take care of me and I'll take care of you too." He more than lived up to his side of the bargain. This show may be, in part, my way of trying to do the same.

Jack Grennan, the inspiration for the musical.

Jack and Sean enjoying a day at the beach.


For more information about A Dog's Life, at Riverside Theatre September 11 - October 4, call our box office at 319-338-7672 or visit our website at

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Announcing the 09-10 Season!

*drumroll* And now... the moment you've been waiting for since the Shakespeare Festival closed this past weekend... our 09-10 Gilbert Street Season! We've got it all. Dogs, a wedding, Jesus and even Stephen Hawking:

** A Dog's Life
September 11 – October 4

** The Diary of Anne Frank
October 22 - November 8

Walking the Wire: Monologues at Riverside
November 19 - November 22

The Tag Sale Project
December 12 and December 13

** End Days
January 29 – February 21

** Killadelphia: City of Numbers
March 5 - 14

** Mary's Wedding

April 1 – 18

It's also time to buy your 09-10 Riverdog Pass! This pre-paid season pass is only $99, and includes: one ticket to each of the shows above marked with an **, discounted tickets to the remaining shows, FREE coffee and discounted concessions, and perks at local Iowa City area businesses. Become a Riverdog today! Aroo!

For tickets, call the box office at 319-338-7672 or click here to order online.

For more information about the upcoming season or the Riverdog Pass, visit our website today!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Top 10 Shakespeare Quotes for the 4th of July!

Shakespeare loves the Fourth of July! If you want to sound smart at your Fourth of July party and impress your friends, commit a couple of these quotes to memory and break them out at propitious moments...

1. I am a foe to tyrants, and my country's friend.
Julius Caesar: V.iv.

2. I do love my country's good with a respect more tender, more holy and profound, than mine own life.
Coriolanus: III.iii

3. In right and service to their noble country.
Titus Andronicus: I,i

4. Who is here so vile not to love his country?
Julius Caesar: III, iii

5. I thank you all and here dismiss you all, and to the love and favor of my country commit myself, my person, and the cause.
Titus Andronicus: I, i

6. Having my freedom, boast of nothing else.
Richard II: I, ii

7. Gnawing with my teeth my bonds in sunder, I gain'd my freedom.
The Comedy of Errors: V, i

8. Let's all cry peace, freedom, and liberty!
Julius Caesar III, i

9. This liberty is all that I request.
The Taming of the Shrew: II, i

10. Leave us to our free election.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre: II, iv

**Text and graphic courtesy of
The American Shakespeare Center.