PHOTO GALLERY: Stockholm Syndrome

Here are my favorite photos from my time in Stockholm this summer. It was my first visit to Sweden and I was blown away by the distinctiveness of this country’s culture and it’s welcoming people. Click here to read full “STOCKHOLM SYNDROME” entry.

 

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‘THE NORMAL HEART’: A timely production brings civic engagement from national spotlight to local stage

Props, set design and production value were replaced by raw emotion and actors’ anguish in Glasgow Theatre Company’s production of “The Normal Heart.”

“The Normal Heart’s” regional premiere ran from Nov. 10 to Nov. 13 on Johnson City Community Theatre’s stage. The drama, which won three Tony Awards during its 2011 Broadway revival, fiercely addresses the HIV/AIDS epidemic that plagued New York City’s gay community in the 1980s.

The protagonist, Ned Weeks (played by Josh Cassels), struggles to establish an organization focused on raising awareness of the then unidentified disease killing off members of the city’s gay population. After convincing a few in his inner-circle to join the fight, Ned’s fiery personality becomes a double-edged sword. While he successfully spreads word of the crisis and puts the gay agenda into an unprecedented spotlight, he also severs crucial relationships with other organizers and former New York mayor Ed Koch, losing any chance he had at city funding.

Eventually, Ned and his band of activists make progress with independent funding and research, but lose many other friends and activists to the epidemic in the process—including Ned’s longtime partner Felix Turner, a then New York Times reporter. The heart-wrenching drama, based on a true story and largely autobiographical (the play was written by Larry Kramer, who Ned’s character represents), made waves in its original late-’80s production and did the same for Johnson City’s theatre community this weekend.

A production of “The Normal Heart” in Johnson City speaks volumes to national, and more specifically, regional progress surrounding the LGBTQ+ agenda. One could argue that five years ago, two men kissing on stage in a community theatre production would be desolate in Northeast Tennessee.

While the original production and its 2014 Ryan Murphy-directed film adaptation both received criticism for their provocative and raucous nature, Glasgow’s production dialed back on the provocateur and honed in on the tragic nature of the ignored crisis. In 2016’s age of social responsibility and civic engagement, it is hard to believe that an epidemic of this scale would be quarantined by New York City’s then “progressive” intelligence.

Joe Smith, director of Glasgow’s “The Normal Heart,” knew when and where the audience would be most vulnerable to the tragic nature of the play. The most out-standing moment in production value was a carton of milk hurled and splattered across the stage, but given the minimalistic nature of production value and set, the audience was captivated and even emotional at the protagonist’s own emotional brink.

Another standout moment was when Mickey Markus (played by Larry Bunton), a friend of Ned and volunteer working with the HIV/AIDS awareness cause, lost all faith in their efforts. He reached a mental and physical breaking point, and the almost four-minute monologue dragged audience members through a breadth of frustration and despair that only someone who had lost countless friends, or family, to a still unidentified malady could know.

As it is known, “The Normal Heart” addresses civil rights issues of the 1980s that are still in the forefront of the national discussion today. Following a notorious election cycle, a sense of social empowerment has been ignited across the country that was melancholically mirrored in this ever-so-timely production.

Published in The East Tennessean – November 14, 2016

‘Noises Off’ brings scandal of riotous laughter to Jonesborough

“There’s nothing so beautiful as working on a comedy for several months, and sitting in a room full of laughing people,” said Heather Knudtsen, director of Jonesborough Repertory Theatre’s production of Noises Off. “And not just giggling, or snickering. I mean belly laughing, laughing so hard they pitch forward in their seats.”

I, along with the entire audience at Jonesborough Repertory Theatre on Saturday evening, would fall into that pitch-forward-in-their-seats category of laughter.

Noises Off is a hilarious comedic farce, taking the audience behind the scenes of a play-within-the-play spinning rapidly out of control. Written in 1982 by English playwright Michael Frayn, the original production won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play.

“The playwright had a marvelous idea, making a comedy about the making of a comedy play,” said Knudtsen. “It’s a double dose of funny.”

Noises Off is currently in revival on Broadway, which gave the director an exciting opportunity to attend a Broadway production before bringing the show to Jonesborough. Knudtsen says that this was helpful in working out stylistic and technical kinks that Noises Off is chalk full of, especially considering the quaint size of Jonesborough Repertory.

“Traditionally, Noises Off is a two-story set, and we don’t have that height on our stage […] I had already studied the script before I went [to the Broadway production], so I knew there were specific problems I was eager to see their approach to,” she said. “Once we figured out a way that the set could possibly work, we went for it,”

This is a comedy about the theatre, and according to Noises Off, there’s no one who can make better fun of the theatre than the people of the theatre themselves. “Every good joke has an ounce of truth, and Noises Off contains more truth about theatre life than we’d like to admit,” Knudtsen said.

The play commences in the middle of the final dress rehearsal for “Nothing On,” a slapstick comedy fueled by on- and off-stage love triangles between the actors. Rehearsal has gone horribly awry thanks to scatterbrained and pensive characters, reluctant to direction from “Nothing On’s” director. Through these tensions, the intermingled relationships between the rowdy stage troupe eventually become evident.

The second act is the highlight of Noises Off. “Nothing On” is well into its run, at a tour stop in Ashton-On-Lyne (a fictitious English city based off Ashton-Under-Lyne). The set is flipped during intermission, and the entirety of Act II takes place “backstage,” with the fictitious audience facing opposite to the real one.

Side-splitting laughter ensues as the plot unfolds. The actors maliciously sabotage one another as they go on and off stage, as drama between them and their lovers continues to develop. Act II is almost entirely pantomimed and choreographed, showing this cast’s high skill level, precision and rigor.

Finally, Act III is the oh-so-anticipated downward spiral. “Nothing On’s” final performance is a disaster to say the least, leaving the real-life audience just as dazed and confused as the actors themselves. These poor characters get themselves into such precarious and painful situations, it becomes quite impossible not to laugh.

When casting, Knudtsen considered offstage personality in conjunction with on-stage talent, which was both apparent and quintessential to this production. The chemistry between cast members and character accuracy in each role is what made Jonesborough Repertory’s production of Noises Off so memorable.

“In the end, the actor wants to make the audience feel something,” Knudtsen said. “Getting to do a piece that results in such reaction is beautiful, because those of us on stage and behind the scenes can measure the difference we’ve made for that audience’s evening.”

Published in The East Tennessean – March 21, 2016

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that SWING!

Jonesborough Repertory Theatre brings the 1940s Harlem jazz scene to Main Street of Tennessee’s oldest town with their current production of Swing!

Swing!, a musical revue conceived by Paul Kelly in 1999, celebrates music from the swing era of jazz (1930s–1946.) The musical includes many well-known tunes by artists like Duke Ellington, William Basie, Benny Goodman and others.

The original Broadway production of Swing! received six Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical for the year 2000. Jennifer Schmidt, director of JRT’s production, says that Swing! is also a hit in Jonesborough.

“We performed Swing! eight years ago at JRT, and it has been our most requested show by patrons, cast members and band members to return to our stage,” says Schmidt.

The show opens with a not-so-gentle reminder that the jazz from America’s golden age of music is what the audience is there for.

“What good is melody, what good is music, if it ain’t possessing something sweet? […] There’s something else that makes the song complete,” sings Lucas Schmidt in the opening scene. “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!”

Only a few minutes into the show, the audience is captivated by intense stunts and choreography in “Throw That Girl Around,” a high energy number with, well, lots of girls being thrown around.

Scatting, another musical style from the era, is featured in Bli-Blip, a light-hearted number where very few audible words are sung. The song’s story of a first date almost gone wrong but happily reconciled is told through scatting, in a hilarious, animated fashion.

“Swing it, Brother, Swing” opens the second act on the right foot, quite literally, with a tap battle between dancers and the on-stage jazz band. The audience was nearly on their feet after this number during the opening weekend’s performance.

“Bill’s Bounce” is the dance highlight of the show. This number takes audience members on a journey through the various steps and styles of dancing from this period, said Lindy Ley, the show’s choreographer.

“Our most extensive and elaborate dance number in the show is ‘Bill’s Bounce,’ where we attempt to showcase a wide variety of styles into a ‘history of swing dance’ montage,” said Ley.

This show will be the fourth production of JRT’s 2015/2016 season. The cast of Swing! includes more than 30 local actors and a live band.

Published in The East Tennessean – February 8, 2016

PHOTO GALLERY: Honfleur, France

Here are my favorite photos from my trip to Honfleur, France this summer. Click here to read more about Honfleur.

Photo Gallery: Adam and Katherine’s Wedding

Hello blogosphere! I am ashamed to say that it has been almost two months since I have made a post. I would say that its because I am in school and I am excruciatingly busy (because I am), but I hate making excuses, so I won’t. Regardless, I’m back now! Hopefully there won’t another two-month long hiatus in the near future.

One of the things that I’ve been up to during this time is photographing my very first wedding. It was stressful, yes, but it was also such a great experience for an aspiring photographer like myself. And luckily, I had such a fun couple and wedding party to work with.

To be my very first wedding, I’m quite pleased with how the photos turned out. Here are a few of my favorite images from the shoot. Let me know in the comments which ones are your favorites! Congratulations Adam and Katherine!