Friday, December 19, 2014

'Knuffle Bunny' - The Art Behind Bringing a Book to Stage

Behind the Scenes with Julia Lavigne

By Bonnie Lavigne

Julia Lavigne surrounded by her stage creations for 'Knuffle Bunny'

It wasn’t long after Julia Lavigne had returned to the area from art school in Savannah, Ga. that her talents were eagerly sought out by Slidell Little Theatre, first as a poster artist and then as a set designer.

“Julia was among the several artists who volunteered to design a main stage show poster for Slidell Little Theatre,” says Don Redman, SLT’s Vice President of Marketing. “Her credentials and sample pieces alone sold me, but the fact that she’s been with Slidell Little Theatre for years sealed the deal.”

Julia is a native of Slidell and has appeared on stage at Slidell Little Theatre in several YATS and main stage productions over the years. She graduated in 2013 from Savannah College of Arts and Design, with a BFA in Illustration and Communication Design. She currently lives in New Orleans where she is a freelance illustrator and private teacher. When time allows, she eagerly gives back to the community. “In my spare time, I like to volunteer with local organizations like Big Class and Slidell Little Theatre,” she says.

Julia was asked to design the poster for the Christmas show this season, A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas.

“I loved her work so much, I asked her if she would be willing to design our poster for Knuffle Bunny, a production of our Theatre for Young Audiences,” says Redman. “I later got a call from Josh St. Cyr asking me if I had someone to design a poster. I told him Julia was doing it and he just lit up. I think I gave him an idea.”

“I was first approached by Slidell Little Theatre last June to design the poster for the show,” she says, “a month later, the director for Knuffle Bunny, Josh St. Cyr, approached me about managing the set design and I couldn’t say no because I love this story so much.”

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical is based off of the popular children’s book, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems.

In the children’s book, the people are illustrated and the backgrounds are real photographs of Brooklyn, New York. Julia did not want to use the same illustrations as the book, so she decided to use her own artistic style and voice for the set design.

1. Lavigne's drawing of the neighborhood block near the laundromat
2. The inspiration page from Knuffle Bunny; 3. The fantastic fight with
boxer shorts to rescue Knuffle; 4. Julia's conceptual drawing of the
laundromat; 5. Dad and Trixie (Josh St. Cyr and Cara Duffaut)
washing clothes in Julia's 3-D art laundromat. 

Julia explained that she used various photos on the website Pinterest to get ideas on how she would illustrate the shop fronts, houses and other Brooklyn scenes. She used two screens that stayed on stage the entire show, which showed her illustrated background scenes.
 
Top: Julia's drawings projected onto screens from the rear to reflect the
neighborhood where Trixie and Knuffle Bunny live. The drawings were
inspired by Julia's research of typical Brooklyn neighborhoods (bottom)

Julia's images of the laundromat and cityscapes (left) were
projected onto screens onstage (right) seen here from the
back of the stage looking out toward the audience.

Another aspect Julia used to keep the same “children-friendly” theme was to make props with lots of color that looked 3-Dimensional. “We used cardboard and foam for the set pieces and props. All were cut out with a knife, painted white, and then I used those awesome bright colors for accents, so they would match the digital set.”

The making of the firetruck. Bottom left, Julia put final touches
to the paint job before assembling.


The actors carried all of the fun-sized set pieces on and off stage, so the materials used were light and easy to maneuver.

Large boxers used in the dryer fight scene.
("worn by" Mikey Willman)

Light cardboard firetruck "driven" by John Fitzpatrick.


“Julia’s creations were truly stars of the show,” says Josh St. Cyr. “Our community may not know how lucky we are to have a professional artist who grew up in the Slidell Little Theatre come back and lend such amazing talents to the children’s program.”


Julia's poster design for the play.


A behind-the-scenes look at Julia’s creation of the “Redneck Christmas” poster can be found here.


Julia lives on the web at www.Floating-heads.net.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

‘Nutcracker’ Ballet Takes to SLT’s Stage

Bonus production features new SATS holiday play


by Don Redman

The ballet performance of The Nutcracker takes center stage at Slidell Little Theatre in a special Christmas holiday event for the entire family featuring the Southern Youth Ballet and Ballet Esprit.

In addition to the ballet performances on December 19 and 20, audiences will be treated to the premiere production of Comfort and Joy: Toy Box Tale, written by local playwright Helen Joffe and performed by members of SLT’s Senior Actors Theatre.

Performance times for the combined production of Comfort and Joy: A Toy Box Tale and The Nutcracker are 7 p.m. on December 19, and at 3 p.m. on December 20. All seats are $10, general admission.
 
Kaley Pichon as Clara
(photo by Meghan Thomas)
A Southern Youth Ballet tradition for more than 15 years, The Nutcracker is based on the darkly romantic story The Nutcracker and the King of Mice written by E.T.A. Hoffman. On Christmas Eve, a little girl falls asleep after a party at her home and dreams herself (or does she?) into a fantastic world where toys become larger than life. Her beloved Nutcracker Prince comes to life and defends her from the Mouse King.
 
The evil Mouse King summons his minions to attack the Nutcracker Prince
and his beloved Clara in the fanciful ballet production of The Nutcracker.
The army of mice include: Rylee Galloway, Mei Protzel, Sara Cooper,
Ingrid Alexander, Emilie Schneider, Nhi Nguyen, Emma Ray Rawls
and Anna O'Banion. (Photo by Meghan Thomas)
Helen Joffe’s Comfort and Joy: Toy Box Tale is a fanciful story of neglected toys coming to life Christmas Eve after overhearing Grandma’s edict to the kids – clean out the toy box to make room for new ones. The heart-warming story reminds us all of the contrast between the comfort and joy of yesteryear’s toys and dolls against the cold and heartless electronic gizmos of today.

The play also features audience participation in singing Christmas carols and a reading of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Slidell Little Theatre is located at 2024 Nellie Drive, next to the Fremaux Town Center in Slidell.

Reserve tickets by emailing boxoffice@slidelllittletheatre.org or tickets can be purchased by contacting the Southern Youth Ballet at (985) 649-4792.

The Northshore’s premier community theatre since 1963, Slidell Little Theatre is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to engaging, educating, and involving members of the community in high quality theatrical productions.

Ballet Esprit is a non-profit company under the direction of the Southern Youth Ballet dance academy.

Senior Actors Theatre of Slidell (SATS) is a nonprofit community theatre company that provides an outlet to those over the age 50 who have participated in theatre, as well as those who would like to learn more, to promote and perform all types of live theatre in the community. SATS is a program under the direction of the Slidell Little Theatre.


Monday, November 24, 2014

An Interview with Playwright Kris Bauske

By Don Redman

Playwright Kris Bauske grew up in a rural town in Southwest Michigan and she credits years of hunting and fishing with her father for preparing her to easily write roles for men, especially country menfolk who play so prominently in her melodious comedy, A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas: The Musical, onstage at Slidell Little Theatre Nov. 28 - Dec. 14, 2014.

An avid reader and writer even at an early age, Bauske was involved in theatrical productions
Playwright Kris Bauske
Photo: Samuel French, Inc.
all during her high school and college years. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and went on to be a professional technical writer for many years until her children were born. 

“You may not believe this, but I believe I was told to become a playwright,” she says. “The entire story of ‘Redneck Christmas’ came to me in a dream, and I felt very much compelled to write it down immediately.  I had never written for the theatre before, so here I was, in my forties, learning things like proper play format and how to submit scripts for consideration.  It was a big learning curve, but it came pretty easily.”

While the entire story may have come to her in a dream, the initial inspiration came from an odd combination of a church sermon and a chance viewing of a TV comedy special featuring comedians Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy.

On a December night in 2007, Bauske had been flipping channels on the television set looking for an interesting Christmas show to watch with the family when she stumbled across the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.

“Sadly, it wasn't a Christmas show,” she says.  “I couldn't help but think they were missing out on a great opportunity by not having a Christmas special for their fans.  That same year, our pastor gave a sermon on how modern day Christians probably think we would be so much superior to the people who turned Mary away in Bethlehem.  Then he went on to remind us that Mary was an unwed teen mother, probably about 14 years old.  How many of us would take her in today knowing that?  Those two ideas intertwined in my head until the night I had the dream that became A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas.”

Bauske’s church – Ocoee Oaks United Methodist Church in Ocoee, Fla. – provided her with an opportunity to workshop the play in 2008 when it produced the freshly-written play over two weekends as a dinner theatre.

“Seeing a play on stage is the best way for a writer to see what works and what needs improvement, so I did some rewriting and kept working to make it better,” she says. “In the meantime, I had sent it out to two publishers to consider.  The first one turned me down, and then Samuel French, the one I really wanted, told me they wanted to publish the script.  I was delighted.  The play has been done all over the country and in Canada since then!”

The idea of making her play into a musical came later, after several performers from the straight version suggested it.

“Fortunately, I have a lot of musicians in my life, and I've been known to write a song or two,” she says. “I really took that suggestion to heart and started looking at sections of the original play that could be reworked as songs.  My husband and children are all super talented musicians, and I can sing a tune to at least get across the idea of what I'm hearing in my head.  I wrote all the lyrics and had the ideas for most of the music.  My husband then orchestrated the songs and played them into the computer so we could create an accompaniment CD and send it off to Samuel French for their patrons who prefer musicals.  It has been extremely successful.”

Bauske says the residents of her fictional town of Christmas really resonated with her audiences, many of whom clamored for more. She obliged by penning a sequel -- A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Wedding, which happens the Valentine's Day after the original Christmas story.

“I'm also working on another Redneck sequel having to do with Halloween,” she says. “Pretty soon, I'll have all the major holidays covered.  I would like to add music to the sequels too, but there are only so many hours in a day.  We'll see...”
Asked what has stayed with her since originally writing “Redneck Christmas,” she says it has been the audiences’ responses. “A lot of people have contacted me after working on a production and told me how much that production and the characters and story touched them; how it meant so much to them,” she says.  “That really stays with me and makes me feel great to have so many friends all over because of this simple little play… If my work gives people a little hope for goodness and sanity in this crazy world, then I'll feel I've done something useful with my life.”

Bauske's other plays include Chloe Nelson and the Remarkable, Unusual, Foolproof Retirement Plan, a top 10 finalist for the Reva Shiner Comedy Award; Simon Says, a comedy; Grandma’s Little Helper, a comedic drama named the winner in the Chameleon Theatre Circle’s 2011 Festival of New Plays; and a stage adaptation of the novel Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy. Her latest play, The Growers, is based on actual events during WWII and is being adapted for film.


Bauske continues to write from her home near Orlando, Fla., and mentors a number of writers and playwrights.


Artist Lavigne Deconstructs ‘Redneck’ Poster Design Process

Julia Lavigne
www.floating-heads.net
Julia Lavigne is a native of Slidell, Louisiana and has appeared on stage at Slidell Little Theatre in several YATS and main stage productions over the years.  After graduating from Slidell High School, she moved to Savannah, Georgia to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design to receive her BFA in Communication Arts.  She graduated with honors in June 2013. Now she lives in New Orleans; taking care of children and working as a freelance illustrator and designer. In addition to designing our poster for “Redneck Christmas,” Julia designed the poster for Knuffle Bunnya production of our Theatre for Young Audiences.

She tells us in her own words the process involved in designing the poster for A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas.






1 When I started my thumbnail sketches I gathered information about the play by reading through some of the script and listening to the music.  I wrote down words that stuck out and from there I generated thumbnail sketches for the poster.


2 Once I'm happy with the sketches I take my favorite and scan it into the computer and refine it a little bit.   This is also the stage when I play with color.  You can't go wrong with red and green for a Christmas poster!



3 Next I take my final sketch, print it out full size, and transfer it onto heavy watercolor paper.  For this poster I wanted all the type to be hand lettered with 1960s flair.  To achieve this I used a big type reference book.



4 Once I'm happy with how the poster looks in pencil I add ink and scan it back into the computer!  All the colors you see in the final poster are added digitally in Adobe Photoshop and a drawing tablet.





Final design ....


Discover more of Julia’s work at www.floating-heads.net.



Submitted by Don Redman.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Q & A with Director Scott Tramel

An Interview with Scott Tramel
By Don Redman

King Perseus XLIV Scott Tramel strikes a royal pose.
(Photo source NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)
From an early age Scott Tramel was a fan of acting from an audience members perspective, but  it wasn't until after college that he really got involved in theater.

“I was living near Laurel, Miss. and friends asked me to try out for a play,” he recalls. “It was Mister Roberts, which is a heavy male cast, and, as with most productions at little theaters, there was a lack of men trying out -so I easily got a part.”

He acted in a couple more plays, worked as an assistant director, helped with lighting and was even elected to the theatre’s board of directors. 

A change in jobs eventually brought him brought him to the Northshore.

“I worked with Gary Darnell, who was heavily involved with SLT and who produced some dinner theater.  I did a couple of murder mysteries with him, which is where I met my wife Christine (Barnhill).  She is a huge supporter of SLT- so that makes me a huge supporter. For a couple of years I was known as Mr. Barnhill because Christine is so well known in the area.”

Scott also acted at the former Ricky Luke's Brisket and Broadway Dinner Playhouse including a role in The Bible: Complete Word of God (abridged), and as a Spanish pilot in the female version of The Odd Couple. He also volunteered at SLT as a show producer and assistant director. But most of the time, he says, he was perfectly content to limit his theater participation as an audience member.
Scott Tramel, left, with Paul Page and Rickie Luke.

At his wife’s urging, he ran for a position on the board and served as the chairman of Hospitality and later as board president. It was sometime during that time, he says, that he “began to be called Scott Tramel instead of Scott Barnhill.”

Scott agreed to take a break from rehearsals for A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas, to tell us more about him.

Q: What was your earliest involvement in theatre?

TRAMEL: In 2nd grade there was a little presentation we did for the parents.  It was the typical thing with all of the kids standing on stage and singing. The theme was Hawaii and we sang about poi and grass shacks. Several kids had individual parts to say and I was one of them, I think because I pestered the teacher until she gave in. Well, I said my part and was so excited that I had finished it that I started applauding myself until I realized what I was doing. Quite embarrassing. 

Q: What attracted you to theatre to begin with? 

TRAMEL: By nature I am an observer and usually do everything I can to not volunteer but when there was a need for male cast members at Laurel Little Theater I joined in. I'm sure drinking was involved. My rationale was that if I was enjoying the plays then I should do my part to help out. So I got involved due to my twisted sense of community duty.

Q: What is it about theatre that holds your interest today?

TRAMEL: I like being entertained plus I'm incredibly lazy so my main interest comes from being in the audience. 

Q: What are five plays that you’ll never forget and why?

TRAMEL: I saw a production of The Bad Seed at Le Chat Noir that was mostly men in drag. They hardly changed a line but it was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. They over did all the acting and this play turned from being about a little girl that is killing people to a play about drinking and bad parenting. 

Spamalot. I am a Monty Python fan and this musical has some of their most clever and witty jokes. Christine is not a fan but it had Tim Curry in it so she agreed to go.  We both loved it. 

Peace, Love and Murder. It was a murder mystery and that was where I met my beautiful wife. I don't think it was a very well written play but it was one of those great pivotal moments of my life.

WOLF NOTE - Scott's wife Christine, far left,
in Donald G. Redman's adult comedy
Who's Afraid of Virginia's Wolf Note?
with David Jacobs, Fred Martinez and the late
Rita Stockstill O'Sullivan
Who's Afraid of Virginia's Wolf Note. This probably seems like a huge kiss up since the person asking me these questions wrote it. But this was the first play that I saw that was funny and entertaining that was written and performed by local talent. 

Wicked. I lucked into getting tickets 3rd row center on Broadway and it was impressive.  The costumes, sets and singers were incredible. That production really transformed the stage into a different world.



Q: What play do you think people should see, but probably haven’t?

TRAMEL: I guess I should say Waiting for Godot or The Birds by Aristophanes which are two very good plays but for me I think everyone should jump at the chance to see Shakespeare performed on stage. I know folks think that it is inaccessible because of the language but if it is well produced the language is part of the beauty.  If I have to pick one I would suggest Othello.  Iago is such a horrible manipulator, he lies and cheats and is so evil that you can't look away.

Tramel's humor is infectious
Q: What was the oddest play you ever saw, directed or starred in?

TRAMEL: I was in a play called Here We Sit that had one scene with a bunch of stuffed animals sitting on chairs facing the audience while classical music played. That was the whole scene.  Very strange. 
    
Q: What was the best advice you ever received about acting?


TRAMEL: Listen and react. Actors should hear the dialog like it is their first time and the reaction should be true to their character. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Redneck' Director Talks Vision

“Redneck Christmas” is this is the directorial debut for Scott Tramel. He jokes that while most directors have certain qualifications such as vision and storytelling ability, it appears that his main quality was his availability.
Scott Tramel
Photo by Paul Wood Photography

Actually, his playful good-naturedness and ability to find humor in almost anything is precisely why he was the perfect candidate to direct A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas: The Musical.  

We caught up with Scott during rehearsals for “Redneck Christmas” to learn about his vision for the show – and yes, his joking aside, he does have a vision.

Q: Tell us about your vision and inspirations for your production.

TRAMEL: I want the production to be funny, entertaining, and filled with Christmas spirit. The heart of the play is about relationships and there is a lot of humor to be had there. These characters are people we have met before and we have been in these types of situations so the play holds a mirror up to us and shows us how funny life can be. 

As I read the script I kept thinking of the sitcoms from the ’70s and ’80s. The humor comes from the situations and the characters. So I approached the directing of this as if it were a sitcom. This is one of the Christmas specials from one of those sitcoms.

Q: What are the challenges to staging this production?

TRAMEL: I really wanted a funny play and there were some areas in the script where I thought the humor could be amped up. Also, this is a musical and I have absolutely no musical ability. 

To boost the humor quotient, we put together a production staff and cast that are funny and they have responded perfectly. Everyone contributed to creating a production that draws out every bit of funny that the play has to offer.

For the music we had great people that are able to make up for me being tone deaf. We have some real talent at SLT and they helped out greatly. Also, to help make the songs more entertaining, we added dancing girls to the mix. Any song is that much better with dancing girls.

What can audience expect to see?

TRAMEL: A funny and sweet Christmas musical. In this production we really have some of the things that make community theater so great. We have experienced actors but we also have actors that have never been on stage before. We have people back stage that work hard together to bring the vision to the stage. All these folks put in long hours to make this production happen and all for the love of live theater. So expect to see a fun play brought to you by your friends at SLT.

A Good Old Fashioned Redneck Country Christmas: The Musical  is on stage at Slidell Little Theatre weekends November 28 - December 14.

Scott Tramel, center, helping with scene change.
Photo by Christie Roy

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Audition Tips for "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

Julie Generes, director of SLT’s production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, shares her Top 10 Audition Tips and a description of characters ahead of the upcoming auditions.


Auditions will be held on Sunday, November 30 and Monday, December 1, at 7 p.m. both nights, at Slidell Little Theatre. Auditions are open to the public and to all ages.

A rehearsal schedule will be available on the evening of auditions. Performance dates are January 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31 and February 1.

Synopsis:
Lysander loves Hermia, and Hermia loves Lysander. Helena loves Demetrius; Demetrius used to love Helena but now loves Hermia. Egeus, Hermia's father, prefers Demetrius as a suitor, and enlists the aid of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to enforce his wishes upon his daughter. According to Athenian law, Hermia is given four days to choose between Demetrius, life in a nunnery, or a death sentence. Hermia, ever defiant, chooses to escape with Lysander into the surrounding forest.  And then things get really complicated.

Top Ten Audition Tips

    1.        READ THE PLAY. If some of the Shakespeare-speak is baffling, No Fear Shakespeare online gives you modern text right next to the original text. It is MOSTLY accurate and will give you a feel for how to say the lines
    2.        Be prepared for cold readings from the script. No monologues required.
    3.        Don’t even show up to auditions if you like your Shakespeare stuffy. This is going to be fun. I mean it.
    4.        Please do not stab, gun down, or run over anyone with your car who you perceive to be your competition. I hate that.
    5.        We need lots of fairies. If you are not given a speaking role, please consider it. Fairies will be very busy in this show, If you have a young child who wishes to be a faerie,  they will not be required at all rehearsals, and will never stay late until tech week. Small children must audition, but I’m not telling ANY little kid they aren’t cast. So if they show up, they’re in. It’s up to you if you share that last bit with them.
    6.        I like to be told how pretty I am
    7.        I may ask you to stop and read something in a totally different way. This is not me messing with you. I want to see that you can take direction. I also have wacky ideas for this play
    8.        Consider smaller roles. ALL the roles in this show are fun. Even Hippolyta. Actually, especially her. Consider not just putting “Puck or nothing” on your audition sheet.
    9.        If you wear flip flops to auditions, I will make you take them off. Barefoot is preferable to that flappy noise
 10.        Dress comfortably (except for flip flops), try not to be nervous, BREATHE, come to have fun.

Midsummer Character Breakdown

Theseus - Duke of Athens. Age 20-50 Regal, full of himself

Egeus - father to Hermia. Age 35-100 Typical Dad who wants his daughter to marry who he tells her to – or die.

Lysander - in love with Hermia. age 16-30

Demetrius - in love with Hermia. Was in love with Helena, but that was like ages ago. At least a week or two. Age 16-35

Philostrate - Master of the revels to Theseus. Age -20-100

Quince, Snug, Flute, Snout, Starveling- These are the Mechanicals. Any Age. Their sole purpose in the play is to rehearse and perform a show for Theseus on his wedding night. They do this in an hysterical manner.

Bottom - Friend and fellow thespian of Quince, Snug, etc. Accepts fantasy as being just as tangible as reality. Any age

Hippolyta - Queen of the Amazons. Engaged to Theseus. Age 20-40

Hermia -daughter to Egeus, in love with Lysander. Age 16-30

Helena -in love with Demetrius. Age 16-30

Oberon- king of the fairies Age 20-100

Titania - queen of the fairies. Age 20-100

Robin Goodfellow (Puck) - Maker of mischief. Age 16-100

Peas-blossom, Cobweb, Mustard-seed - fairies with speaking roles. Will also dance. Age-10-100

Lots and lots of fairies- Boys, girls, men, women. Any age. Wear crazy costumes, irritate and entertain the audience. Throw candy, dance, acrobatics, silliness, and whatever else we think up.

The Northshore’s premier community theatre since 1963, Slidell Little Theatre is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to engaging, educating, and involving members of the community in high quality theatrical productions. SLT is supported by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the St. Tammany Commission on Cultural Affairs.

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