Studio Tenn’s GREASE is Solid Enjoyment

It may be the word you’ve heard over a million times, but Studio Tenn’s Grease at the Factory in Franklin is surprisingly fresh and will remind you of why this cleverly subversive phenomenon became a household name. So let’s slide right into it.


© 2018 Studio Tenn

Melinda Doolittle easily steals the show as the Teen Angel. Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young make a smooth and dreamy Sandy and Danny, and Laura Matula and Liam Searcy make a rigid yet killer Rizzo and Kenickie. Talent is abundant throughout the entire cast. They really do go together like…well, insert whichever 1950’s scat lyrics here.

Matt Logan’s electric directorial vision and artistically minimalist scenic design are nothing to moon. Simple sets flowing through the space and the mesmerizing dance of cyan and magenta lighting create the dream-like atmosphere that is normally glazed over in other productions. After all, this play was never meant to be portrayed as “realism,” and Studio’s Tenn skilled production designers thankfully understand that.


© 2018 Studio Tenn

How about that song and dance! Stephen Kummer and his seven-piece band make Music City proud. While moving ever so slightly into genre-bending (I see you and your gospel, “Beauty School Dropout”), Kummer and his band remain hopelessly devoted to the music we love (even if it’s from the movie and not the original musical). Billy Ditty’s eclectic choreographer is novel and refreshing, adding zest wherever it goes.

Don’t waste your time comparing Studio Tenn’s Grease to the 1978 film or even past Broadway iterations (original and revival); such will only contaminate your chance to be present with this energetic and wonderful production. Additional performances have been added, so get your tickets now before they slip away.


My Month at Regent

“Instructions for living life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”
— Mary Oliver

Last month, I attended Regent University’s three-week theatre residency program. Monday through Thursday from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM was the Acting class, and Tuesday through Friday from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM was the Directing class. I was one of eight students in the program, and we are all stuck together during those three weeks. The training was intense – at times, abrasive and even sharpening – but looking back on it now, I am so glad I went.

The brightest point for me was getting to meet the professors. Both were (and still are) working professionals in the field, and both have let their love for God instruct their paths. April Poland (Acting) has been a professional actor in Seattle since 2003 and has somehow found the time to teach theatre at the College of William and Mary during the academic year in addition to teaching at Regent for the summer.

BUT! There’s also Dr. Gillette Elvgren, Jr. (Directing), who has been doing his playwright and directing across the world for the past thirty years, and even though he’s technically retired from teaching full-time, he still makes time to help out Regent whenever he’s called upon. It was a blessing to experiment under their tutelage, and I’m thankful for them.

First day of class, I thought April was a student, and then this five-foot-something ball of fire starts stretching and warming up. She began each class with a round of warm-ups; everything from stretching the facial muscles and vocal chords to rolling down the spine. April’s mission then was to get us to understand the difference between “action” and “tactics” and “being present in the moment” and “remembering to take time to be astonished in those moments” and that one of the harshest and cruelest things an actor can do to an audience is to expect them to overlook his or her not being in that moment.

To be honest, I think a lot of her words went over my head while I was there, but I think that now – since I’m a couple of weeks removed from the whole thing – it’s all starting to click. Then again, I can say that sitting down, but I won’t know until I get back up and start practicing what she preached. I want to play.

(One thing I think I’ve realized about myself during this month is that whenever I “learn” something new, I have to play it out without being enraptured within a flux in order to fully grasp it. Sixteen-week courses being crunched down into three-week courses – for me, at least – creates a flux. It’s an intense pressure…like the middle part of an hourglass – a bottleneck, if you will – and, again, for me, it’s difficult to soak in the knowledge without it being distorted by the time constraint.

BUT! That’s just me. Not making excuses, just giving the reason.)

TBB - Directing

Gil began each class with a Bible reading and a prayer. Then, it’s off on the Gil Train. Careful now, though: if you ain’t in the right car, you’re gonna get steamrolled. For my personal example, I thought I had a good concept for Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Well, it may have been decent enough for the scene I was assigned, but it would have not nor would it have ever been good for the rest of the play. Gil quickly told me to nix it and come up with something else. At the time, it hurt, yes, but I knew that Gil knew better than I did, so I trusted in him, and I actually came up with something that I personally think was better – more workable, more playable.

Gil’s got a certain quality, though, for encouraging what works and dousing what doesn’t. And whenever he saw something that did work on the whole but still needed some tinkering, he would gracefully explain what did work and why, then exclaim “BUT!”, and then proceed to mold and craft and elevate the scenes to new places. He’s an older gentleman, but that didn’t stop the gleam in his eye and the fire within him when he saw a good idea that needing prodding or a bad idea that needed quenching – when he saw something that “really cooked” and something that…well, didn’t.

Second best part was getting to know the classmates. Like I said earlier, there were only eight of us students in the program, and we all spent a lot of time together – class time during the day and self-disciplined rehearsal at night. Some I had already known (kinda-sorta) through the online classes I took in the Spring, and some I had met for the first time while there. For the ones I already *knew* from the online courses, it was nice to finally put a living face and a beating heart to those entities behind the discussion board posts.

And these fellow students hailed from all kinds of backgrounds. A stage director and a collegiate technical director came from Mississippi, a high school theatre teacher of twenty years came from Georgia, a recently made high school theatre teacher and a professional Michael Chekhov actor came from Florida, another high-school-age theatre teacher came all the way from Arizona, and a practitioner fresh out of Regent’s undergrad program. We were all strangers in the beginning, and now…well, we’re all Facebook friends…BUT! I know what while we were there, we were a family, and it was so refreshing to have all of them there.

To say that the whole experience was anything shy of a blessing would be a lie. I know I consider myself blessed and encouraged and even provoked to use these new storytelling skills and start implementing them whenever I can. And no, I still don’t know what form that will take, but I do know – now, with certainty – that I am closer to meeting that goal because of my month at Regent.

This is an image of an outdoor archery range in a wooded area.

Searching for Better Ways: A Reflection on Eugene O’Neill and Hitting the Mark

While working backstage for the Fly Arts Center’s most recent play Daddy’s Dyin’ Who’s Got The Will, I was aptly reminded of how creatively taxing and draining being in a production on either side of the curtain is.

For the actors on stage, they were telling the story by creatively blending the playwright’s words, the director’s blocking instructions, and their own vivifying actions. They were actively listening to and watching each other to ensure everything that needed to be said and done was in fact and indeed said and done. (If anything, this is another image of how engaging live theatre is for the players as well as the audience.) The story on the spectrum of “light” and “dark” spanned all the way from comical levity and lightheartedness to antagonistic gravitas. And it takes a deep well of creativity for an ensemble cast that can constantly vary and navigate its position on that spectrum, especially while maintaining that energy in front of an audience.

I was in a wholly different world backstage. My job wasn’t to entertain and divert the audience; instead, it was my duty to help the actors fulfill that role by providing them the property – simply, the props – with which to continue to tell the story realistically. I had cues just like everyone else, except my reactions to those cues weren’t spoken; instead, my response was handing from a cup of coffee to a full pot roast dinner to an actress so she could “act” like her character has just prepared it as if she were real person bringing these food items from a real kitchen. Very engaging stuff.

We closed the show Sunday. If you got a chance to see the show, I honestly hope you enjoyed yourself. For myself, the cast, and the rest of the crew, we are worn tired and are spending this week in recovery mode.

It’s here that I want to draw attention to the words of one of modern theatre’s founding fathers Eugene O’Neill.

A man’s work is in danger of deteriorating when he thinks he has found the one best formula for doing it. If he thinks that, he is likely to feel that all he needs is merely to go on repeating himself. I certainly haven’t any such delusion. And so long as a person is searching for better ways of doing his work he is fairly safe.

Eugene O’Neill was an Irish American playwright in the Golden Age of Broadway (late 1890’s to late 1930’s) who focused his work on the gritty fringes of society as opposed to the “high life” that the rest of the Golden Agers were highlighting in their plays.

O’Neill’s words here should resonate with Christians on several levels (unfortunately including the brief blip of braggadocio). I want to focus on emboldened phrase “searching for better ways.”

The phrase alludes to a true Standard that we – not just as people in general – will often fall short while trying to meet, even though we hope to meet it with every attempt.

Imagine an archery range. You’ve got the tools you need – simply the bow and the arrow – with you on your side and the target on the other. You know that you at least have to load the arrow in the bow, but from there everything is a technique. employed to hit the bullseye. How far back “should” you pull? How high “should” you tilt your bow? How much “should” I allot my actions for undetermined gusts of wind that may or may not affect my shot?

Finally you shoot, and you either hit the mark or miss the mark. Any more shooting after this point is then determined by either the hitting or the missing. When we miss, we subsequently strive to hit, and when we hit, we subsequently strive to keep hitting. Welcome to being human: the constant struggle between hitting the mark and missing the mark.

So let me encourage you here.

Remember all the times when you have missed the mark. Remember how bad it felt to miss and how guilty you felt for missing it. Bring that to God, and let him carry it.

Now remember all the times when you have hit the mark. Remember how good it felt to hit and how fulfilled you felt for hitting it. Bring that to God, and let him increase it.

This is a picture from WOOLFIE by Sybil St. Claire as produced by the Fly Community Theater.

Proclaiming the Gospel Through Live Theater

This past weekend saw the opening and closing for the children’s play at the Fly Arts Center here in Shelbyville. On the whole, it was a great run complete with all the triumphs and hiccups – and all the drama on and off the stage – one can expect from children’s theater. The super-critical side of me is butting heads with my other side that believes it’s nothing a few more weeks of rehearsals couldn’t fix. But the audiences really got into it and the kids enjoyed themselves, and that’s really all I wanted in the first place.

I can’t help but to feel somewhat proud because this was also my first time serving as an assistant director, and that’s what’s really special for me with this production. I’ve enjoyed getting to learn the mechanics of working with a director who’s been there and done that professionally (and has even been paid for it). I essentially count it as a stepping stone that will bring me closer to a career of my own. Directing scenes in school definitely helped me out in understanding how a director should prepare (keyword should), and being able to finally use those skills in a public setting is great.

I also loved getting to work with such cool kids. Siblings abounded in the cast, and it was very interesting to see how family ties stood out in the crowd at first but then opened up to allow healthier bonds of teamwork. That’s where the real magic of theater is, I think: taking complete strangers and uniting them with a purpose.

Most importantly, however, I got to see first hand how art can be used to bring people closer to God. Consider this my testimony.

The Message In Woolfie

The Fly Community Theater’s children’s production was Woolfie by Sybil St. Claire. As the action starts, the reputedly “Big, Bad” Wolf – whose real name is Woolfie – is being prosecuted for crimes including, but not limited to, “impersonating grandmothers, blowing down other people’s houses, and gobbling up little girls.” As it turns out, Woolfie is not as “big” and “bad” as everyone believes he is. It’s essentially a morality play that proves that you can’t judge a book by its cover nor a wolf by his fur…and his big eyes…and his big arms…and his big teeth…

Ultimately, the play taps into the universal law of Truth and how everything works out when we cling to the Truth instead our own misled notions. Woolfie is sentenced to death and would have died had not the Truth been revealed and set him free from those chains. Sounds a lot like Jesus own words, right?

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Of course, we all like to let pretense get in the way of understanding the Truth because pretense is the path of least resistance. In other words, it’s a lot easier to believe a lie than it is to accept the truth. And one of Old Scratch’s favorite tricks is using our own momentum against us. But we can battle this by not being swayed by this or that and focusing on God’s Truth – that He loves us and wants us back home with him.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Here’s looking to the next time this all happens again…either in this life or the next.