Taking on Peer Gynt

April 16, 2014; by Rachel O'Hanlon Rodriguez

Ibsen’s Peer Gynt is often considered an unstageable play.  Along with Strindberg’s Dream Play and Maeterlinck’s Bluebird (EgoPo/Drexel 2010), it is a play that tempts directors, terrifies producers and fascinates audiences. It is a holy grail of theater – sought after by those brave, or misguided, enough to take on the challenge. 

All three plays are essentially dream/folk tales in which the inanimate Universe comes alive, and childlike magical realism takes hold.  These classics of the symbolist era (approximately 1860-1915) represent a new kind of storytelling that reflects our inner fantasy or dream life and is unified by visual and aural composition.  These plays would become the precursors of beloved fantasy writings such as Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

While prose and film are now the chosen medium for fantasy, there was a time when it was theater’s domain.  

I am again and again drawn to the “old fashioned” idea of storytelling in which an audience gathers, comes to silence, and is swept along on a fantastical journey that fully engages their senses and imaginations.  This is the kindergarten teacher reading to children sitting Indian-style, slowly displaying the pictures to communally absorb the children into the narrative.  But this is also hundreds of Javanese adults watching a 12-hour shadow puppet performance of the Ramayana, lulled into the story by wafting gamelan, strong tea, starry skies, and warm open air.  This idea of community storytelling has dominated since the Greeks and only in the last 100 years has begun to fade. 

I, along with many, still crave this communal experience.  I’m a life-long Eagles season ticket holder, love
July 4th fireworks, the mummers parade, and recently even horse races: moments where we cheer, gasp, and go on an emotional journey together; moments where we subsume our egos to the collective experience. Though these journeys are enjoyable, they do not have the depth of emotion that I experienced while living in Java or that I remember from childhood.  That is what I often seek to re-create with EgoPo.

Peer Gynt is the perfect vehicle for such a journey. The story of a young loner seeking affirmation and companionship; the more vulnerable he makes himself, the more ridicule he receives from his town.  The psychological pressure of rejection finally causes him to retreat deep inside himself and the fantasy journey begins. We travel with him as he encounters trolls, the amorphous Boyg, the button-molder (a god-like keeper of souls), the devil himself and so much more. This inner journey takes his entire life and once resolved he finds himself able to return to the one who loves him- or did he ever even leave?

Though the play fascinated me, I never considered pursuing this holy grail of theater, until I came across Romulus Linney’s brilliant adaptation.  At first glance, it seems like a radical re-write of the Ibsen – resetting a Norwegian folk legend to Appalachia?!  Upon closer examination, it shows itself to be one of the most faithful adaptations I have ever come across.  The first half of the play especially, is nearly line for line from Ibsen transposed to our, amazingly synonymous, American culture.

Appalachia is a culture in which storytelling is survival.  As Oldie Momma says “when a shiftless daddy walks out, you either drink and beat the child or do what we did – tell stories together”. It is a culture grounded in folk traditions and a strong sense of community.  Linney figured out how to reset this “impossible play” to make it believable, and most importantly accessible, to an American audience.

I decided to commit a year of my life to this play and have not regretted a single moment! Come May 2nd, audiences will gather at Christ Church for a community hoe-down. We will eat and drink, come to silence (music and beer helps calm the soul), and together we will be led into this fantastical, childlike, and now Americana, journey. 

Lane Savadove
Artistic Director
EgoPo Classic Theater
 

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Casting of Uncle Tom's Cabin: An Unfortunate History

January 30, 2013; by Lane Savadove

Dear EgoPo Audience and Friends,

There is a lot being written and discussed around our auditions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: an Unfortunate History, and I want to make sure that we openly and honestly share our intentions in staging this work.  We welcome the discussion and appreciate some of the smart comments and questions that have come as a result of the recent dialogue.

I hope that anyone who has seen our work trusts that we are putting on this play because we believe it has important social impact and because we truly believe in its value as a work of theater.  That said, it may be useful to share our thoughts and answer some questions that have come our way:

Why take on this novel?

In our opinion – which is widely shared - Uncle Tom’s Cabin is one of the most significant anti-racist fictions ever written.  Because of the novel, Harriet Beecher Stowe became an American hero and was lauded throughout the country at the passing of Abolition.  It is thanks to one of our leading African American political scholars, Henry Louis Gates Jr. , that EgoPo discovered this novel. 

Since James Baldwin’s denunciation of the novel in the 1950’s, it has become scarce reading in schools.  As Gates points out, this is a great loss and the novel is a critical missing piece of our history. Gates in fact published a new annotated version of the novel just 6 years ago that brought it to our attention.

Like many readers, I was shocked at how great a piece of literature it is, and most significantly by how well it strives to attack racism, slavery, and show how the institution of slavery is responsible for so much of our racial stereotypes.  I feel both driven and honored to present the novel to Philadelphia audiences for the first time in modern history, many of which will never have read this important piece of our history.

For more info., see Gate’s article in the NY Times book review.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/22/books/review/Gates.t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Why cross-racially cast the play?

a)      In our stage version of the novel, the world is flipped on its head and blacks become masters and whites became slaves.   Actors are remaining their own race – there is no makeup etc. – the characters are swapped, not the actors.  The goal is to reawaken the world of the novel which has taken on the sheen of history, give us a new objective view of the horrors of slavery, help us re-examine our own racial identity, and help us empathize with a race other than our own.  We will look for truth in our acting and avoid stereotypes at all costs.  We are very conscious of both the dangers of stereotyping, and the challenge of finding truth.

b)      While doing Uncle Tom’s Cabin today is important, casting the play traditionally means offering more slave roles to African American actors in Philadelphia.  This is professionally counter-productive (there are not exactly a plethora of great roles for actors of color).  Cross-casting the play creates significant leading roles for African American actors.  In general, I also don’t feel that having whites playing masters and African Americans playing slaves adds anything important to our community at this moment in time and in fact is probably a destructive gesture.

c)       Stowe’s goals were to get us to closely and soberly examine the institution of slavery in order to understand its mechanisms for creating racial stereotyping and intolerance.   I strongly believe that at this moment in our history, playing the novel as racially dictated would proliferate stereotyping, not diminish it.  By racially switching the novel, we can examine the affects of the institution of slavery with clear eyes. Let’s continue to deeply examine the mechanisms of racism, and strive to empathize with those who are racially different, so we can work to overcome racism.

d)      We have one central goal for producing this work:  to be part of the solution for creating an environment in this city where we can see past skin color, past the “otherness” of those of a different race or creed, and see the person.  This is the goal presented by candidate Obama in 2008 at our Constitution Center in his “More Perfect Union” speech.  Uncle Tom’s Cabin is about looking and seeing deeper than skin color.  It is about finding the humanity in ALL fellow humans.  By swapping the race of the characters in the novel, we are challenging the audience to see beyond skin color – and see racism as a lack of “humanism”.

In conclusion, we recognize that this subject matter is delicate in nature, and we are anxious about taking on the project.  We feel deeply, though, that this city is ready for a continued honest and smart look at race in America.   I cannot ask or expect everyone to agree with any piece of work, and this will be no exception.  I do hope everyone will be open to it, and not pre-judge it, and trust that we have only good intentions for this artistic endeavor.

Sincerely,

Lane Savadove, Artistic Director

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Alaina MabasoInteresting about the cross-racial casting and all, but for some reason what strikes me most about this blog post is a sense that you're patting yourselves on the back for introducing Philadelphia to Uncle Tom's Cabin in the first place. Did you really "discover" this novel only six years ago because of a contemporary scholar's annotation? I read this as a teenager (I'm in my 20's now). Is that early exposure really as unusual as you seem to think it is - a "missing piece" of history?

Jan 31, 2013 7:13PM
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Subscriptions Now Available for EgoPo's 2012-2013 Season

August 4, 2012; by Lane Savadove

We've very excited to announce that subscriptions are now available (Call  267-273-1414 / email [email protected]) for EgoPo's 2012-2013 season.  We're ramping it up even more this season with an impressive lineup, including:

The Assassination of Jesse James
Directed by Brenna Geffers

A posse of women takes on America’s most infamous outlaw in a deadly roadshow. There is an unnamed, unmarked, underground saloon where, between the dime shows and the strong drinks, the legend of Jesse James will be stripped down for your enjoyment. This will be a very environmental experience in an intimate setting.

The Life (And Death) of Harry Houdini
Directed by Brenna Geffers

The world’s greatest escape artist is about to perform his most complete escape yet. A mysterious magician’s assistant prepares the absinthe, the shackles and a séance. Venture behind the curtain where illusions can be explained, but faith not replaced. A magic show of life and death and beyond.

Uncle Tom's Cabin: An Unfortunate Melodrama
Directed by Lane Savadove

One man’s story of slavery unlocks the roles we chain each other to. America’s most well-known and controversial icon, Uncle Tom, is unmasked in a wild and beautiful deconstruction of our country’s most popular stage play of all time. Part dance, part theater but wholly unforgettable.

And let us not forget about our exciting Special Events this season, too, including a Poker Tournament on October 25th (Meet the cast and play them in cards), a Speakeasy (Available only to members -- you'll want to sign up and check this out), a reading of The Phollies  (Singing! Dancing! Burlesque!), and a performance of Vintage Nights (dress up and have fun with your friends in this period-piece).

We've got a very exciting season in store, and we hope you'll join us as we celebrate American Vaudeville at EgoPo Classic Theatre.  Call us now to subscribe at 267-273-1414 or email us at [email protected]

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Some very exciting news

May 8, 2012; by Michael Chittenden

EgoPo Classic Theatre is partnering with The Franklin Institute and the National Museum of American Jewish History for a very exciting deal. 

Starting now, you can purchase tickets for what we call the Jewish History Pass.  The Jewish History Pass is a great deal on several different attractions around Philadelphia.  For only $49.50 per pass, you can go and see:

Franklin Institute: The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times. This special exhibition is one of the most comprehensive collections of ancient artifacts from Israel ever organized. Don't miss out on this opportunity to explore the world as it stood 2,000 years ago. The Dead Sea Scroll exhibit runs from May 12th-October 14th. 

National Museum of American Jewish History: the first major exhibit devoted solely to the lives, experience, and history of Jews in North America. The Jewish History Pass vouchers to the Museum are valid through June 29th. Covering over 25,000 square feet, 3 1/2 floors, and the span of 350 years, this is a journey not to be missed! 

EgoPo Classic Theater: A Dybbuk adapted by Tony & Academy Award Winner Tony Kushner. A Dybbuk is considered one of the greatest Jewish dramas ever written. This magical play tells the story of a young bride-to-be who is possessed by the spirit of her dead beloved. Be sure not to miss this amazing tale of ghosts, love, and faith presented with EgoPo's signature staging.

Yes that's right, $49.50 for three fascinating and must-see events in Philadelphia! Interested? How it works is simple:

1. Visit EgoPo's online box office.
2. Choose your selected performance date.  This offer is valid only for Wednesday through Friday performances throughout the run.  There's lots of performances, though.
3. Your Dybbuk tickets will be reserved. And at your selected performance date you can pick up the vouchers for the Musuem and The Franklin Institute at EgoPo's box office.  As easy as that!

You can only use your Dybbuk tickets for the day that you specify when ordering.  Your ticket to the Franklin Institute can be used any time between May 12th and October 14th.   Your ticket to the National Museum of American Jewish History can be used any time until June 29th.

These are all must-see attractions.  Purchase your Jewish History Pass today!! 

For any questions or concerns about your Pass please give us a call at 267-273-1414 we're always happy to help!

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Elaine M. HymanA Dybbuk was an intense total immersion experience of theater. the mikveh on stage, the exorcism, the three ladies in the front row who didn't shut up their chatting so an actor had to shush them in the midst of a scene and a portion of the audience shouted their support but that didn't shushh them, the giant "Messenger," the rabbi's non-verbal gutterel utterance! Masterfully creative script, great execution. Oh, I forgot to mention the black-light effects! We stumbled down Broad Street, stripped of our usual shells, this play had cracked us open, we were more immediate to each other, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Jun 12, 2012 7:17AM
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Reflecting on The Golem

April 26, 2012; by Lane Savadove

As we prepare for A Dybbuk rehearsals I’m reflecting back over our last show, The Golem, and the Passover Seders we held in conjunction with it.  I am so very proud of the show.  The positive energy of the cast and audience each night was palpable.  There was something surprisingly joyful about exploring the myth and stories of the Golem.   I think Brenna Geffers gets lots of credit for this as she found a truly positive spin on the story and even its holocaust setting.  I think this came from the idea that even in the most difficult of human situations (or maybe especially during them) we have a profound need for company…community…family.  

This takes me to the Passover Seders.  I’m really excited that we had the courage, as an organization, to even attempt this.  As it turned out we were rewarded by an amazing turn-out and a wonderfully open minded audience. We fulfilled our goal of getting theater to expand beyond the boundaries of the stage.  Most importantly we created our own community with our audience.  It was incredible to watch a room full of strangers become a room full of friends. I enjoyed watching introductions followed by laughter and, of course, more wine. We ate together, broke Matzo together and created a special place for a few hours in which we could discuss spirituality and share culture.  What more could a theater want!!!???

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The Investigation: Depicting the Holocaust

December 2, 2011; by Lane Savadove

On the eve of our presentation of The Investigation, EgoPo Dramaturg, Glenn Odom, and I held a panel on The Holocaust and Theater at Rowan University this week.  We discussed and debated the purpose and efficacy of depicting, describing, dramatizing the Holocaust.  Should we attempt to make the Holocaust universal and relatable?  Should we be telling the same stories over and over?  What does the telling of these stories accomplish?...

Our conclusion (and what drives present our entire season): The Holocaust should not be diminished or packaged to make it digestible or relatable.  It is crucial that in describing the experiences of both victims and survivors, we maintain their individuality, their Jewish-ness, their moment in time.  We must maintain the details and specialness of their experience.  As both artists and audience, it is our job to make the leap through time and to stand in their shoes (both victims and perpetrators) not to imagine that their shoes are like ours.   The value of re-telling the Holocaust narrative is that we learn to experience it in our own bodies through imagining ourselves in that moment.  Theater allows us to transport ourselves, and for a moment, to become the other, then to return home and make sure we never become them in actuallity.  This is how we stop a Holocaust from ever happening again.

This Monday, Dec. 5,  we present Peter Weiss' The Investigation. This powerful script is rarely presented because of the intensity of the content (the Auschwitz trials) and the size of the cast (23).  EgoPo is proud to bring it to you at the beautiful new National American Jewish History Museum.  I welcome you to come and experience our theories in action. 

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Anne Frank is an artistic success

October 27, 2011; by Lane Savadove

Anne Frank is now open and I can sit back and watch the show and talk to audience members about their experiences.  I am struck by how proud I am of what we created. 

I believe the real success of this show lies in the moment to moment reality created by both the cast and designers.  In terms of acting, its one of the most meticulously acted shows I have ever seen.  At any one moment there is three, four, even five, different moments occuring on stage.  Each actor is fully filled by their experience of listening/living in the moment.   In each room on stage, a different scene is occuring that makes the scene of focus that much more rich.  The result is that the audience remains rivetted and absorbed by the resulting reality on stage.

More than anything, I wanted the audience to be able to imagine themselves in the attic: to think that this could have been, or might one day, be them.  I dreamed in the beginning of this process of a physical space that reeked of reality.  Matt Sharp (lights), Matthew Miller (set), and Jay Wojnarowksi (Tech Dir) gave us this.  This space textural, real, warm and human.  This is not easy to accomplish esp. with our budget.  But their meticuluous, uncompromising work paid off.

Our greatest risk, was the decision to put the play in an extreme thrust configuration, have no walls on stage, and most important that the actors would never exit the stage.  This is a very bold choice, very different than the average production, and very hard to execute.  Most of the credit here goes to Natalia De La Torre (costumes).   I asked her to make costumes another character in this play and she did just that.  Each actor has 5-6 changes at least and each change is a FULL change - meaning dozens of costume pieces - each kept on stage and changed in plain sight of the audience.  The result is a clutter of texture and colors that causes this play to burst to life.  I think the result is astounding.

The actors have fully taken on their characters, turned them into full 3-dimensional figures, and made them even more complex than they may have been in Anne's writing.  Sara Howard is seamless in the lead and does an amazing job alllowing it to be an ensemble play without ever being shy at taking center stage. 

The largest star though is the real Anne.  This is HER writing - HER story.  We are so very lucky that this document survived so that we may come to know the holocaust through a first person Jewish experience.  This diary is a treasure.  It needs to be shared over and over again for decades to come.  Ethnic hatred and anti-semitism are far from dead.  There is a signficant strain in american politics that looks an awful lot like the 1930's in Germany.  We must be vigilant.  And most importantly, we must share our stories with non-jews so that mutual-understanding and empathy can flourish.

-Lane Savadove, Artistic Director

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Connie SekarosThe play was a powerful experience, as are the other Ego Po plays I've seen. Philadelphia is fortunate to have so many small theater groups. I haven't participated in such a powerful theater experience in Philadelphia since the early 70s. I'm looking forward to the next two performances,

Nov 12, 2011 11:58PM

Lane SavadoveThank you for the kind words Connie. It means a great deal to all of us at EgoPo. I already miss seeing the characters every night. Anne Frank was a special play, I am glad you were able to be a part of it.

Nov 17, 2011 7:05PM

Elaine HymanThe Golem was really wonderful. I loved all the characters. I loved how the lady in the fur coat who could have become the enemy emerged as an expansive soul and an organizing, directorial personality. I loved the inclusion of actor-musicians, real music. I wanted to dance and clap with the klezmer music. I loved the structure of the play: the three tellings. At first, as soon as I realized it was a holocaust play, due to the train car, I was starting to cry and stop looking or listening--just naturally because it is too painful, just unbearably frightening---but the way the play evolved worked on the emotions, deepened thought. I loved the thoughts that I was left with: the meaning of the Golem, the meaning of the play. I took one meaning of the play as: Jews are just like everyone else, artistic, playful, loving, caring, sexual, sexist, angry, greedy, power-hungry----but that doesn't mean they should be killed, extinguished---unless you erroneously believe that you can locate all human badness in one group and eradicate all human badness by eradicating that group.

Apr 8, 2012 12:23PM
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The Diary of Anne Frank opens tonight!

October 20, 2011; by Michael Chittenden

Tonight is opening night for the first production of our 2011/2012 season: The Diary of Anne Frank! We're very proud of the work we've done on this powerful adaptation, and we can't wait to show it to you.

In this new and powerful adaptation by Wendy Kesselman, this Pulitzer Prize winning drama comes to life like never before. Enter into the lives of two families hiding from the Nazis in a tiny attic that is both their sanctuary and their prison. This deeply personal account of the Holocaust will bring you a story you only thought you knew with EgoPo's intimate and highly realistic staging.

Won't you join us?

Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank

Written by Wendy Kesselman
Directed by Lane Savadove

Running October 19 - November 6, 2011 at The Prince Music Theatre Cabaret

You can buy tickets at our box office or by calling (800) 595-4TIX.

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Welcome to the EgoPo Blog!

July 19, 2011; by Michael Chittenden

Quite a lot goes on "behind the scenes" here at EgoPo Classic Theatre, from the shows that you see onstage every year, even to this website, which very recently got a complete overhaul.  The overwhelming concensus seems to be that people are interested in all these "behind the scenes" elements...so we made this blog! Expect to hear a great deal from us in the future, by means of this very site.

Our staff is diligently working these days, getting ready for the upcoming season (and trying to deal with the heat!).  We've got a really exciting one coming up, starting off with the well-known and extremely powerful The Diary of Anne Frank.  Later in the year, we'll bring you the world premiere production of The Golem, a moving show based on stories, myths, and folkore, passed down by a group of Prague Jews, bound on a train to who-knows-where in 1940.  This new and interesting show will incorporate elements of movement, puppetry, and music.  And to close out our season, we have the not-to-be-missed A Dybbuk, a new adaptation of one of the greatest Jewish plays ever written, about a wedding celebration interrupted by a supernatural presence.

We're also bringing back a number of special events this year.  We're starting off in December with The Investigation, a staged reading of the Auschwitz Trials.  Then we'll be throwing a party in January with An Evening on the Other Side, where you're free to come and eat, drink, and have a good time.  You may even hear some behind-the-scenes information about The Golem! And speaking of The Golem...be sure not to miss our EgoPo Seders which take place concurrently with the mainstage show.  These Seders will of course take place during Passover, on April 6th and 7th.  Come celebrate with Jewish and non-Jewish friends alike in the theatre itself, then watch the show.  And what EgoPo season would be complete without our Annual Gala? Mark June 24th, 2012 on your calendars.  It's sure to be a fun night.

So as the world outside continues to change, EgoPo continues to stick to its one purpose--to bring cutting edge classic theatre to you, our audience, our family.  Thanks as always for sticking with us, and we hope to see you soon (at the shows and...of course...here now, too!).

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Maureen O'HanlonI'm so excited about your upcoming season!

Sep 4, 2011 5:28PM

Lane Savadove, Artistic DirectorThanks for the comment Maureen. I am equally excited! I actually feel privileged to be directing the two plays that I'm doing this year. Anne Frank feels like both an enormous responsibility and an enormous opportunity. We are bringing to Philadelphia the stories of her amazing journey and in doing so we are also telling about the suffering and courage of millions. We have already learned so much about the Frank family and I want to share with the audience their extraordinary journey. I want the audience to feel that what happened to the Franks can happen in any country if we do not learn our lessons and to make sure that Anne's message to the world left in her diaries is heard loud and clear. Thank you for being a part of this season.

Sep 14, 2011 4:26PM

K.O. DelMarcelleViewpoints... YES. Thank you.

Sep 22, 2011 2:31PM

SomeoneKeep up the good work! I can't wait to see your shows this season.

Sep 23, 2011 2:52PM

AhmadinejadVery excited for Anne Frank

Sep 24, 2011 12:29AM

Lane Savadove, Artistic DirectorWe are now a week from opening The Diary of Anne Frank and I couldn't be more excited and proud. The cast is wonderful and transforms the Franks, Van Daans and the others into incredibly believable and relatable characters. The story, the play and the reality of their Annex, becomes more moving every day we rehearse. We can't wait for an audience!!

Oct 10, 2011 7:39PM
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OTHER HAPPENINGS

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Thanks to our Sponsors & Funders

The Jacob Burns Foundation
The Independence Foundation
Joel and Bobbie Porter
The Philadelphia Cultural Fund
The William Penn Foundation
The June and Steve Wolfson Family Foundation
The Wyncote Foundation