Category: CitySpeaks

CitySpeaks: PigPen Theatre Co. Brings Storytelling Back To Its Roots

November 20th, 2017

The Old Man and The Old Moon appeals to human nature’s need to connect with others and tell stories.

By Jillian Bradshaw
Artistic Intern

PigPen Theatre Co.’s The Old Man And The Old Moon at The Gym at Judson on Broadway.

When you hear the word “storyteller,” what comes to mind? A stand-up comedian? A wise old man who recounts stories of his past? Or a poet, perhaps? How about an ensemble theatre company that’s taken DIY (do-it-yourself) theatre across the country? PigPen Theatre Co. originated in 2007 when the creators met as freshmen at Carnegie Mellon University. Since graduation, the company has produced their original plays in New York City and toured them across the country, produced an album and EP, as well as made their feature film debut in Jonathan Demme’s Ricki and the Flash, starring Meryl Streep. As part of their creative methodology, PigPen is known to use found objects to create props. A sheet becomes ocean waves; a mop head and empty cleaning container becomes a shaggy dog; and a piece of cardboard lit with a flashlight creates a rickety old ship. In addition, the creative team behind The Old Man and The Old Moon provides indie-folk music and Foley SFX (stage reproductions of everyday sounds) to enhance the play’s sense of time, space, and movement. With the use of found objects, light, and music, PigPen Theatre Co. is able to bring this intimate story to life with some theatre magic.

“Our stories come from our lives and from the playwright’s pen, the mind of the actor, the roles we create, the artistry of life itself and the quest for peace.” ~ Maya Angelou

Whether teaching lessons and morals, providing inspiration, or preserving history, storytelling is innately human. In order to tell stories based in fact or fiction, you must have use of your imagination. That’s why children make the perfect storytellers. Although you may not fancy yourself a storyteller now, there is no doubt that as a child, you once dipped into your imagination to tell a story; if only for entertainment’s sake. When watching The Old Man and The Old Moon, you may be struck by the imaginative world and childlike essence of the production. PigPen has mastered the art of creating a world so fantastic, yet grounded in the tradition of storytelling.

PigPen Theatre Co. in The Old Man and The Old Moon.

The transition from oral storytelling to theatrically-staged performances has created a framework that deeply influenced the theatrical experience of PigPen’s production. Beginning as an oral tradition passed from generation to generation, folklore and stories developed into a theatrical form around the world. The roots of oral storytelling are evident in Japan’s Rakugo, a theatrical performance in which a single performer gives a complicated, yet comical performance by themselves while seated in front of an audience. The Old Man and The Old Moon shares similarities with the Japanese puppet theatre, Bunraku. In Bunraku, puppets act as the visual medium for audiences, while music and songs are provided by separate performers. Like this traditional form of theatrical storytelling, the characters in The Old Man and The Old Moon transition from being portrayed as puppets to the actors performing as the characters without a mask.

“There is no force on earth, be it electric, hydraulic, or whatever you call the other one for wind, that comes even near close to matching the power of memory.” ~ PigPen Theatre Co.’s The Old Man and The Old Moon

After observing a tech rehearsal for The Old Man and The Old Moon, I can say without a doubt that the story is transformed by the Foley SFX, folk music, props, and lighting. These tools help the story stay grounded in the concept of memory. Although not a memory play in the traditional sense, The Old Man and The Old Moon, uses memory to transport characters from one scene to another. In The Old Man and The Old Moon, The Old Man is on a quest to find his wife who is traveling to the end of the world searching for the source of a tune she hears calling for her. The tune she hears comes from a memory that both the Old Man and the Old Woman share but neither can remember. Their love for each other is tested and grows stronger through the journey they undertake, presenting a message of love and forgiveness, aligning this piece with stories that have been told since the beginning of time.

The guys of PigPen Theatre Co. from left to right: Curtis Gillen, Dan Weschler, Arya Shahi, Ryan Melia, Alex Falberg, Matt Nuernberger, and Ben Ferguson.

If you would like to see PigPen Theatre Co. give an in-depth interview on their approach to storytelling, check out their TEDxTalk presented at Columbia University in 2013:

The Old Man and The Old Moon runs at City Theatre from Nov. 11 – Dec. 3, 2017. Tickets for PigPen Theatre Co.’s, The Old Man and The Old Moon can be purchased here, or by calling the City Theatre box office at 412-431-2489.

CitySpeaks: Cancer on the American Stage

October 13th, 2017

While cancer is not an easy topic to tackle, it’s certainly a relatable subject. How has City Theatre managed this issue while working with A Funny Thing Happened…?

By Emily Ernst, Literary Intern

What do these statistics mean for the cast, creative team, and staff at City Theatre for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center of New York City? Comedies such as Halley Feiffer’s play seem as though they’d be a laugh a minute in rehearsal, but the personal realities surrounding these topics can be challenging to a theatrical team. I spoke with a few of the staff members here at City Theatre, and this is what they say about how their individual experiences with cancer have influenced their relationship to the script:

On the closeness of cancer…

Have you or have you ever known anyone that has fought cancer? Have those experiences influenced your work on the production?

Leah Blackwood, Scenic Artist

“My father was treated at Sloan-Kettering from 1996-98. It was exciting for him to know the hospital was world renowned and his doctors were at the top in their field. Sadly, they could not save him and he died in 1998. Also, only two weeks ago, I lost my best friend to cancer. She had been in Sloan-Kettering’s care for seven years fighting colon and liver cancer, and eventually lung and bone cancer as it spread… Working on this play has made me very emotional, from building Tony Ferrieri’s model to seeing the completed set. When Patti Kelly took the actors onto the set at the first day of tech in costume, I was swept over with emotion.”

Christina Bordini, Company Manager

“I’ve unfortunately known too many loved ones to be stricken by cancer. Some have survived, some have not. But nothing hits you quite as hard as when you find out one of your parents has been diagnosed. When I was a freshman in high school, my family found out on the day before Christmas Eve that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say, that winter break was not the most fun of my adolescence. For the next few months that turned into years, my mom fought her hardest, and thankfully, came out on the other end with a clean bill of health. But every year when she goes for her check-up, we all hold our breath… The word “cancer” itself is very scary, and it shakes you to your core when it’s in association with a loved one. That’s why I love that this play is a comedy; when you go through a situation like that, a good sense of humor and optimism can make all the difference… I believe it’s important to make our audiences laugh, while also dealing with a heavy subject matter like cancer. It’s a universal issue. I believe our audiences will appreciate the humor, while also relating to the nitty gritty of the down moments. All we have is each other. If we can’t laugh at the little things in our unfortunate times, all we’ll do is cry.”

Taylor Meszaros, Properties Assistant

“I have known many people who fought cancer, but the one person whose struggle impacted me most was my best friend, Meghan. From ages 21-23 she battled with two forms of cancer, and her journey greatly influenced me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young person accept their fate with such grace and strength as she did… I have not worked intricately with the script of A Funny Thing… but I do know that going through that experience of my best friend’s struggle and death has shaped the way I react to art. I cry more easily with heartfelt stories, especially those of a medical or illness-related nature. I can sympathize a bit more with people going through difficult situations.”

Clare Drobot, Director of New Play Development

“Table work for A Funny Thing… sort of caught me by surprise. My grandmother died of cancer when I was 17. It all happened very quickly; she was diagnosed in September and passed by December. It was one of my first real experiences with seeing death and caregiving up close. I remember driving home from rehearsal one night and feeling a little overwhelmed with all these memories. What it was like to go through that and not knowing how to be there for my parents at the time (or how to process what was happening myself). It really helped me to understand Karla’s character and appreciate how nuanced Halley’s portrayal of her journey and relationship to Marcie is.”

James McNeel, Managing Director

“During this production process, I keep harkening back that this play, and these characters, are given the much-needed voice of those that endure the disease. I salute Halley Feiffer for taking her own personal experience and making it universal. And, ironically, she has taken a singular word experience – cancer – and blown it up with a 22-word title. Those who are diagnosed, or have loved ones who are, deserve more than two syllables. Their journey needs to be told. And this is an example of that. With jokes. Because laughter can really be the best medicine.”

 

See A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City at City Theatre now through Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. Tickets are available here!

A Conversation with A FUNNY THING… Playwright Halley Feiffer

October 3rd, 2017

Halley Feiffer is a red-hot talent: she’s currently playing Karla in the Geffen’s production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit…, and her newest play Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow received its critically acclaimed world premiere at Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer. In the middle of all that, she and Director of New Play Development, Clare Drobot, caught up by phone to talk about the real world and comedic inspirations behind her unique blend of humor and pathos.

 


Playwright Halley Feiffer

Clare: What inspired the play? I know you have a personal connection to a family member with cancer.

Halley: The play is not inspired by true events. Nothing in the play ever happened. I wish I’d had a steamy sex scene in a bathroom. That has yet to happen to me, but it’s on the bucket list. Basically what happened was my mother, who is in wonderful health today, did have a hysterectomy to treat ovarian cancer a little over ten years ago. I was a college student at the time, and while I was in the hospital caring for her, I remember thinking, “I don’t know how to show up for my mother the way that I want to.” I was 20 years old, drinking really heavily, and just a profoundly selfish young person.

I remember looking at the curtain that separated her side of the room from her roommate’s and thinking, “God, wouldn’t it be great if there were some cute family member of her roommate, say her son, who I could flirt with and that would help make all this pain and fear go away.” And then because I’m not a 100% sociopath, I realized it was a very fucked up thought. But I filed it away to write about, because I did think it was a funny premise for a play.

In a way, that situation perfectly captured what that experience is like; that you at once want to show up and be useful for your loved one and, because we’re human beings, we’re filled with selfishness – we also want to escape.

There’s a wonderful dichotomy that exists in the script between dark, edgy comedic moments and moments of deeply human connection. How do you explore the relationship between laughter and grief?

It’s really interesting as you get older and meet more people and have more in-depth conversations, you realize that your way of going through the world might not be the way that everyone does. I’ve always chosen humor to cope with anything really. It just comes naturally to me; both my parents are incredibly funny people. That’s how I was raised and it’s in my blood. So I’ve found myself making jokes at the most inappropriate moments. I’ve also found it rather pleasantly surprising how healing it can be – and how responsive others may be to it too, in ways that you might not expect. Even in the most painful of circumstances, it really is, in my experience, the most effective tool to move through with compassion and lightness.

How did your parents influence your sense of humor? Do you have any favorite comics or things that shaped what you find funny?

Oooh I love that question. No one’s asked me that about this at all. Well, someone did just ask me if I have done stand-up comedy and the answer is heck no! My mom actually is a stand-up comedian and a solo performer. I was really inspired by watching her perform and seeing her just kill as a result of being 100% honest. She’s also a humor writer and that’s what she does in her humor pieces. She talks very honestly about her own struggles in life whether profound or something a little more trivial, like what to buy at the grocery store. I always find that kind of humor not only funny, but cathartic, because that’s how we identify with other people. I also love Louis C.K., for instance, because he’s so honest. It makes you feel less alone because you’re like, “Oh my god! I had that same profoundly uncomfortable thought the other day and I thought it meant that I was a serial killer, but I guess I’m not because I really like you, and you had it too apparently.”

I didn’t really get into comedy until—and I still don’t know that much about it— until I was older, but some of my favorite playwrights are really the funniest ones. The plays that shaped my life were things like the early plays of Chris Durang. A play that really changed my life is Arthur Kopit’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. I really don’t think I would be a playwright if it weren’t for that play. I read it and thought “Oh my god this is maybe the most dysfunctional family I’ve ever read, but it is inherently funny and there’s a talking fish.” But it’s also plays like Long Day’s Journey into Night to be totally honest – weirdly and surprisingly. There’s a lot of humor in that play which I think a lot of people don’t realize. I saw that play, a production starring Jessica Lange, with Trip Cullman—he directed the New York production of Funny Thing and he’s directing it right now in LA—and we were both cracking up at certain parts and like, “What are you laughing at?”  Both of us simultaneously independently were like “This is hilarious”. I think there’s a lot of humor to be mined in darkness and I love the writers who are warped and brave enough to explore that.


Playwright Halley Feiffer with her parents Jules Feiffer and Jenny Allen.

You’re about to go out and perform in Funny Thing… out west, how does your work as an actress influence your writing or do you see them as wholly separate?

You know, this is a great question for me right now because I’ve never had this experience before where I’m acting in a play I’ve written. I acted in a movie I co-wrote years ago, but that felt really different for whatever reason. Film and plays they might as well be two completely different mediums. They’re so incredibly different.

I was telling someone the other day, that it feels like I am exploring a territory I have explored so much before, but I’ve always been in a helicopter flying over it and now someone dropped me out of a helicopter and they’re like “go check it out on foot!” I don’t need to—I’ve already been in a helicopter— but I guess I’ll try and then I’m like “What are all these plants doing? Like I had no idea this was here!”

It’s really exciting and it’s really scary and it’s hard because I want to rewrite a lot of it. In some ways, I can’t tell if I want to rewrite because it needs a rewrite or I want to rewrite it because I just need to do more work as an actor to make it make sense. Having that freedom is really scary, because I started off as an actor, so I’m used to just making a text work even if I wish I could rewrite it. There’s sort of a freedom in not having that freedom because you’re like “Alright, I don’t have a choice. I can’t rewrite it. I’ve got to make it work!”, but now I can do whatever I want. That’s terrifying and overwhelming but also a really beautiful challenge.

It’s hard when you’re on stage too. City produced Sharon Washington’s Feeding the Dragon last year. She starred in the play, which drew heavily from personal experience. She would have these moments of like “I have to stop being a playwright. I have to be an actress now. Because otherwise I’ll drive myself insane and start second guessing every choice I make.”

Right! That’s what I’ve realized. It’s also really interesting in terms of how I interact with the other actors. As a playwright, I’m pretty hands on; I really voice my opinion. I give a lot of notes through the director. Now I can’t do that just because it’s literally impossible since I can’t be on stage and give [director Trip Cullman] notes. It’s an amazing—not to get too heady about it—but it’s a really beautiful lesson in letting go. I can’t control everyone. Maybe that’s really good. Maybe everyone will actually do much better work if I’m not micromanaging everything. So I think that it’s a beautiful, challenging lesson for me that’s really timely at this point in my life, where I’m working on letting go in so many areas.

It sort of epitomizes the collaborative nature of theatre, but I’m also curious to know, what you think of the relationship between a playwright and an audience, especially if you’re not present for rehearsals or performances?

This is like a new thing for me. My plays only started getting produced in places where I am not in the last couple years. First of all, I’m just profoundly humbled that there’s a group of people watching something that I wrote when I’m not there. For whatever reason, that’s very moving to me. Because it shows me that this is way bigger than me and it’s not about me—which is very soothing. I guess I feel like I know as an audience member I have been profoundly moved and changed by art. So I try to view the plays I write as in service of that audience. I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious. I know that the play won’t serve anyone. There will be people who leave this play who feel changed by it and there are people who will wish that they’d spent the last 90 minutes doing something different; I’ve had both those experiences as an audience member. My plays tend to be pretty polarizing in that way and I’m sort of proud of that. So I guess I do it as just a way to be useful in the world and try to give people the kind of cathartic and hopefully eye-opening experience that I have had myself.

One of the things I love about this script is that Karla is this incredibly strong female character. I’m just curious to know, in mentioning that your plays can be polarizing and placing them in the context of an industry that still hasn’t reached anything close to gender parity, what inspires you to write strong female characters? Is it something you consider within the lens of the industry?

I never set out to write a strong female character. I’m always somewhat surprised when people mention that and then I realize that’s true. I guess that’s really accurate, but it’s never my intention because I just write what I know and I’m a woman so I write about being the kind of woman that I am in many ways. That’s just my experience. I have found that people often tend to have strong reactions to the female characters in my plays and that makes me happy and sad at once. This is just how women are in many ways. I think in our society and especially in pop culture and art, we tend to be sort of neutered versions of women, but those aren’t the women I know or the women who I care to hang out with to be 100% honest. So I’m writing women as I know them and as I find them to be interesting.

One last question, we’ve been working very hard as a staff to make sure that we’ve memorized the title properly and can repeat it at will. How do you come up with your titles?

It’s really different for each script. [For] my play I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard, I wrote the whole play and then I looked at that line. Often, I’ll go through the text and I’ll try to find a line that I really like and I’ll make that the title. That’s one trick that I’ll share with everyone that tends to work well, I think. Everyone comments that my titles are long. I guess that’s true. I guess I just feel like as an audience member I kind of want to have an idea of what I’m watching.

 

You can see Halley’s unique blend of humor and pathos on City Theatre’s Main Stage in A Funny Thing Happened… through Oct. 15th. Get your tickets here!

City Speaks: Artistic Director Tracy Brigden on Ironbound & the American Dream

May 17th, 2017

To cap off our 2016/17 Blog Series, City Theatre Artistic Director Tracy Brigden shares an initial analysis of Martyna Majok’s Ironbound, which informed her understanding of the play.

Ironbound is a play about a Polish immigrant making her way in America today. 20th century immigrant narratives often tell a familiar story: fulfillment of the American dream through gritty determination, hard work, adaptation, and faith in the promise of “The Home of the Brave.” 21st century immigrant stories are different—even more so in the last 100 days! Sadly in this new New World, the factories are closed, many cities are too expensive for average folks, minimum wage remains stagnant, and “even the ugly jobs they don’t have no more” as Darja, our protagonist says.The American Dream has become an elusive proposition.

The play is set between 1992-2014, and over the course of those twenty-plus years The American Dream has become an elusive proposition. The playwright, a Polish immigrant herself, has said that she wanted to write her mother’s story. She wanted to see a poor woman’s story on stage—the particular journey of a woman trapped by fate, the economy, and poor choices in a foreign land. Our woman, Darja, is stuck. She is caught in a classic vicious cycle. Every time she starts to get ahead, one tiny—or large—wrong move puts her in crisis again, sometimes to the point that she may fall over the brink into a truly bad situation like homelessness. As we see when she negotiates with her boyfriend Tommy in the first scene, her standards are impossibly low; she has no power to make any demands and must settle for whatever meager portion is allotted. As she says to Maks, her first husband, when he tells her to find her special dream that no one can steal from her, “I can’t think what’s something can’t someone take.” And so we find her at the perfect metaphor for her situation in life: a bus stop. But not just any bus stop—the worst, scariest, grubbiest, darkest, loneliest bus stop ever; a place where anything might lurch out of the darkness to gobble you up. But Darja’s bus never comes; this is her own Polish, Jersey, Waiting for Godot, the perfect image to represent her life. Martyna says in her stage directions, “Stars exist beyond the smog; we can’t see them… this is a world of constant less.” Darja should strive to get out, but looming in her life is the cautionary tale of her coworker at the paper factory who, for one moment, dreamed of not being there and had her arm sliced to ribbons. The lure of a better, happier life as symbolized by Maks and his big dreams is not for Darja.

Rebecca Harris as Darja and JD Taylor as Maks in “Ironbound” at City Theatre.

Everyone else in the play has hopes—aspirations for true love or better days—but Darja can’t move forward or back. Even by the end of the play, her “fuck this bus” is not a cry of rebellion, it is merely an acceptance of things the way they are.

On the play’s title page, Martyna includes a quote from poet Robert Pinsky “…often I cannot tell good fortune from bad. That once had seemed so easy to tell apart.” But I see a ray of hope for Darja. She has held on to the one thing that makes her unique: her son. For him, she is the only one. As she says to Tommy, “This world it have millions peoples like me, millions womens. But is only one me for him. He can’t to throw this away.” When she meets teenager Vic, a metaphoric stand-in for her son whom we never meet, we see how children can take care of mothers as much as mothers nurture children.

During rehearsals, Martyna told me that her mother got to see the play in NY and loved seeing her own story portrayed on stage. I can only imagine how proud she must be of her brilliant daughter and how grateful she must feel for this recognition and tribute to her sacrifices. Perhaps it is this promise—the promise of a better life for the next generation—that is at the heart of the 21st Century American Dream. We can only hope.

Behind the Scenes at City: Our Biggest Disney Fan

May 9th, 2017

Meet John Michael Brucker, City Theatre Carpenter and Disney World Mega-Fan.

John Michael Brucker, pictured in the City Theatre scene shop.

Our hit production of Wild With Happy closes on Saturday, May 13. This bright comedy by Colman Domingo is full of magic and wonder with quick costume changes, hidden set pieces, and transformative performances—just like the famed Disney World park in Florida that gave Adelaide so much joy. John Michael Brucker is a shop carpenter responsible for bringing our beautiful sets to life. He also happens to be City Theatre’s resident expert on all things Disney World. We chatted recently about his fandom.

So where did it all begin? How did you become a Disney Mega-Fan?

I remember my parents buying all of the Disney classics in the plastic boxes and watching them as a little kid including Beauty and the Beast, which was my favorite. I watched it so much as a little kid that I broke the cassette tape! So they had to buy me another one. I think that’s where I started my love of Disney.

Then the two influential people who got me into theater also love Disney World as much as I do, and they go every year. David and Christy Lesinsky were the technical director (and his wife) of Woodland Hills High School theater department. That’s also where I started stage crew my freshman year. I loved it and he taught me a lot of what I know and do now as a shop carpenter.

That’s awesome! So what makes Disney World so important to you now?

Disney is special because I asked my wife to marry me while we were down there. Then we had our honeymoon there. It’s just this place where you can feel the magic, more than any other place I can think of really!

Tell me about the engagement trip. Was that your first trip to Disney together?

Yes! That was her first trip ever to Disney. I actually went as a senior in high school and then I went every year for a while. But when Megan and I started dating, I couldn’t always get the funds together or work came up and things like that.

How did you propose?

So there’s a ride in Disney Springs called Characters in Flight. It’s a hot air balloon and its tethered, so you go up 400 feet and you can see the different parks. I asked her while we were up in the air.

That’s so cute! Where any of the Disney characters in on the action?

I didn’t ask anyone, but when we got down from the ride, they found out what we did and they gave us—there’s a packet and photo you can buy in front of the hot air balloon—and they gave it to us for free!

Megan and John Brucker with Chef Mickey in Disney World during their Honeymoon trip.

Do you guys have a favorite ride?

I wouldn’t say a favorite ride, but I have a favorite park: Epcot. It’s the world showcase where you can learn about the cultures of the other countries, and the fireworks show there in the evening is my favorite. The Magic Kingdom has a lot of magic in it and that’s my wife’s favorite park, but I like Epcot for the variety of things you can do.

Did you do anything special on the Honeymoon trip?

We had an extra three days that time. We only had enough money to do a five day trip when I asked her to marry me, so we were running around. We took a red eye flight, got to Disney and to the Magic Kingdom and then we did the Halloween party, so we didn’t sleep for 22 hours. This time, we got down there and spent a whole day just getting situated and had a whole day to explore Disney World, around the parks, and we planned to have a rest day in between our park trips.

Have you ever seen the Cinderella Suite?

I have not. I would love to, but it’s a special giveaway that Disney does, just as a sweepstakes or a make a wish foundation request. It’s like winning the lottery

Have you ever tried to enter a sweepstakes to win a trip like Gil’s mom, Adelaide?

[laughs] Yes…

Good luck! We also heard there’s some very exciting news in your household. A sequel perhaps?

We’re expecting a baby girl in August! We announced it with a picture of a little Mickey hat — in pink! We’re excited to bring a bundle of joy into the world.

John and Megan are welcoming a baby girl in August, 2017. We’ll let you know if they name her Minnie.

City Speaks: Colman Domingo

April 5th, 2017

Artist Conversations at City Theatre | By Clare Drobot | April 5, 2017

As a new play theater, we work to have the playwright in the room during production whenever possible, no matter where they are! Colman Domingo Skyped into rehearsals for Wild With Happy and chatted with Director of New Play Development Clare Drobot about his writing process and inspiration for the play.


Clare Drobot: Can you share a little about the catalyst for Wild With Happy?

Colman Domingo: Wild With Happy was inspired by conversations around death. I myself experienced the loss of both of my parents actually in one year: 2006. I think that my grieving period was pretty healthy, that’s what people would say, I allowed myself to lean into it. But then I would have conversations with friends, people who twenty years later never got over the death of a parent, or they were still holding onto certain things, or they decided to eat their grief away or have lots of sex instead of actually dealing with it. So it was writing from that place of questioning: how do we grieve? What is the right way to grieve? Which is why there are so many arguments between the characters of Aunt Glo and Gil. Gil is a character that I thought, I want to take a character who is very down on his luck, feeling hated, feeling like he didn’t believe in anything anymore—whether it was God, or magic, or love—and really the thrust of the play is to help him on his journey. It’s a fractured fairytale for me—to make him believe again in something. Everything in the play is driving him to believe in something and it’s relentless, because he’s trying to just lap it up very quickly and move on. Because actually, I think that he’s very sensitive and I think that if he allowed himself to go into that abyss that he would never get out.

Playwright, actor, and director Colman Domingo

It’s interesting to hear you say fractured fairytale because the play does have this joy and reach for the happily-ever-after. What in the fairytale structure were you drawn to?

The way I write I sort of allow it to become what it’s going to become. I don’t really set out to write and say “Oh, this is what it is.” But from the first moment, the first line of the play is usually always stays the same line. In this case, I started with this monologue; I’m going to let [the audience] get into the core of who Gil is and what he’s dealing with and then the play started to—every time I would end a scene with a question, the next one who had to answer it, it would just be this argument, sort of this comedy of errors in a way exploring what is right? What is the right thing to do? People coming from very different life experiences, a traditionalist, and someone who is very interested in making up his own world. And so I think that the play just kept turning on itself and became a fairytale. I realized that in many ways Gil was a version of Cinderella—a Cinderella who somewhere along the way forgot that he was Cinderella. His mother is the embodiment of the fairy godmother in many ways and then Aunt Glo is the antithesis. Not to say that Aunt Glo is the evil step mother, but they’re also cut from the same cloth. So the idea of examining through the lens of the evil step mother and the fairy god mother to see that there’s something very similar about both of them. That’s also just my take on how we examine our humanity and who we are. That we are very much alike and not alike.

I love that idea—that there’s complexity in the archetypes, which absolutely comes through. And in the same vein, how do you see the relationship between laughter and grief?

I think that’s the way I cope and the way I deal with hardship. Maybe that’s the way I’ve been raised, where there’s always comedy in the middle of tragedy. I can think of situations right now where I was at my mother’s funeral and the most absurd thing happened in the middle of this grief. Maybe that pulls you out and keeps you away and gives you a little levity. It’s in all of my writing, where comedy and tragedy are hand and file with each other. You need one for the other, and also it’s just my perspective that tragedy does have a dark sense of humor as well.

Corey Jones as Gil in “Wild With Happy” at City Theatre. Photo by Kristi Jan Hoover.

You have to laugh to keep yourself from crying. So, I’m interested, since this does have such personal origins for you and you originated the role Gil, what is that like—balancing the hats of playwright and actor, especially when it comes from a personal place?

The funny thing is, and I would tell people when I was doing this show at The Public Theater in New York City, even the first time I was asked to do the play, I wrote it with no intention of doing the play. I wanted to take an archetype, I wanted to take a man of my age and my background, in many ways, and then sort of mess with him a little bit. So basically, Gil is not me, but Gil is an amalgamation of many friends of mine. People would say, “Oh, I feel like I know you and your mother.” And I would say, “How?”

I took some things that I know and I embellished; I created stories. There are some similarities though of course—my mother did suffer from lupus and there were certain thematic things that I added in there. But my grieving period was very healthy and I think Gil’s is the opposite. Once again, I could have been Gil, I could have made the decisions that he made, but I didn’t. I made healthier decisions for myself. I think that’s basically the crux of the play.

This play is also so filled with music. Does that influence your writing process?

Very much so. When I’m writing, most of the time I’m listening to music. For this piece in particular, it’s just part of my writing—some of the writing is sort of underscored or you need that moment. Everyone in the play has a theme and it shows up whether it’s in a transition or in underscoring a scene. Music is very much a part of my writing as well. It just makes sense to me. I am a musical performer as well, but I think that I just like the idea of certain songs, certain lyrics and how they can help shape a scene more so than text. It goes hand in hand.

Corey Jones as Gil and C. Kelly Wright as Adelaide in Wild With Happy at City Theatre. Photo by Kristi Jan Hoover.

What’s your writing process like?

I think a lot first. Before I even start writing the play, I’ll have an idea about a play and I’ll start to think about it. With Wild With Happy, I started to think that I wanted to write a play about grief, and then one of my best friends took me to Disney World and I saw the fireworks display. And me and her and a friend had a catharsis in many ways. We were grown folks standing there in tears and believing in magic again. She actually said the line “Look at everybody running around here doing the hula hoop, eating sweets, everyone is just wild with happy.” And I thought “Hmmmm.” It just stuck right in my brain and I thought that’s what I’m writing about, about people being wild with happy. So that’s where that title came from. And there’s these two parts—I know that I’m trying to get to the wild with happy, but I start in grief.  That’s where I start writing from, I think about it and I start, perhaps with that first monologue. Usually I’m not a writer that sets up anything in a very traditional way. I sort of drop you into the world like the house falling on Dorothy in Oz.

Bang! And there you go!

Exactly. I’ve been inspired by writers that I know and love like Robert O’Hara or Nicky Silver, even O’Neill and August Wilson—these are my inspirations as writer. But I think I really lean toward the absurdists in many ways, Ionesco, things like that. Really to stir the pot and stir the world up a little bit.

So I write a little and usually when I get to about thirty pages, I’ll have some friends over. I’ll usually trick them by saying, “Hey, come over for a drink or come over for some pizza.” Then I hand them some pages and I’m like, “Hey, can you read this? I just need to hear it.” I’ll even ask their thoughts, especially if they’re actors. I’ll ask: is there anything you think your character needs or that you don’t know about your character? What do you want? What’s interesting to you or not interesting to you? I’ll just take notes on that and then I can move on to the next process.

I’m the kind of writer where—if I can get to Act 1, because I’m always spinning so many plates, doing many things—I usually ask an artistic company if they’ll come on board to help with some development. So New York Theatre Workshop has been very, very helpful for me, usually I’ll go to Dartmouth with them in the summer for a week. Sundance has been very instrumental as well. There are several institutions that have been very supportive. What I need is three meals a day, a cast, a director and I can finish a draft. Wild With Happy was finished with the support of Sundance and then from there, I take every development opportunity. You give me a week and I’ll be there and I’ll get working.

The next thing I’ll do once I get the first draft is send it to friends, artistic directors, institutions, and I usually ask for developmental support in some way. Are you interested in workshopping this?, etc. And the blessing I’ve had in recent years is that people will get on board really quickly, like the Humana Festival or the Vineyard Theatre or the Public Theatre. I think that I understand the ways which plays can be workshopped to death or read to death and there never be a production. I don’t know where I get this confidence, but I feel confident enough to say no. I’ll do one workshop and we’ll do a presentation, and I’ll invite friends and other artistic leaders to come and see it, but I’m not interested in workshopping it over and over and over again. That debilitates it instead of giving it the production that it deserves. Sometimes you do a production somewhere out of town and it’s going to be flawed. It’s not going to be perfect, but I think to get behind artists and say “Hey, we want to see this. And we want to see this artist’s ideas be shown.” That’s the way we can see it. Get it underwritten for an extra week of rehearsals so we can make changes. I feel like I’m looking forward to more not-for-profit theaters supporting that mission: to let an artist be willing to fail.

Corey Jones as Gil and Jason Shavers as Terry in “Wild With Happy” at City Theatre. Photo by Kristi Jan Hoover.

So I’m curious to know then, how you see a playwright’s relationship with an audience.

Sometimes people ask, “Don’t you want to see every production?” and I’m like “No, not at all.” If I can, wonderful, but if not, I wrote this thing. Hopefully, I wrote it and I gave it enough notation to help people understand exactly what it is. I leave it to you, I leave it to the theatre to have that relationship, to also be that ambassador between me and the audience. I always hope to have everyone inspired to say this is now your play. You have all the license to now speak on it, to what it is to you and your community. It’s no longer mine. You always want to hear from the playwright, but I like the idea of stepping back. I’m also like that as a director as well. I’m the kind of person who as a director, I’ll be at the first three previews then I’ll let you have a couple previews, then I’ll come back in with some things, but then I’ll start stepping away, because I think it has to live with the artists in the room. It’s that relationship between those artists and the audience, and the playwright just lives in the ether somewhere. Maybe that works for me, it doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me. It keeps it very alive.

So the works are infused by the people in the room with them. That’s beautiful.

How else would we do O’Neill and Shakespeare? We take ownership of it as if it’s ours. This is our world. Being a living playwright, I like to check in on certain things or help guide it, because I think that’s what I’m interested in, but the rest of it I leave to the artists who are in the room.

Directing, writing, acting, TV, film, and stage—what’s next on your very full plate?

In the theatre world, I have a few musicals that I’ve written that are in one shape or another. Peoples Light and Theater Company are producing my next musical which is about Nat King Cole. That’s happening in the fall, they just announced that. The Donna Summer musical called Summer which I co-wrote with Des McAnuff will be at La Jolla Playhouse in October and then I’m working on a new musical based on the film Tangerine that I’m doing with Scott Rudin productions. So in between my television career with Fear the Walking Dead, film career, you name it—these are the musicals I’m working on. I’ve been expanding more into musicals which is interesting. For myself as an artist, it’s just important to keep expanding. Wild With Happy was an experiment in the surreal world, my play Dot was very much a dining room table drama, A Boy and His Soul was a solo play. So part of my evolution as an artist is just trying my hand at something new, to always feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I feel like that’s liberating for me and I’d like to keep myself in a place where I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.

The idea of leap and the net will appear.

Exactly. (laughs) Hopefully there’s a net.


Wild With Happy by Colman Domingo, directed by Reginald L. Douglas is on stage at City Theatre April 8 – May 7, 2017. For tickets and more information click here or call 412-431-2489.

Wild With Happy at City Theatre April 8-May 7

CMU’s Clayton Merrell on Creativity, Time, & Pittsburgh’s Secret Art Spaces

March 13th, 2017

An Interview with Artist Clayton Merrell

By Giulianna Marchese, Literary Intern

As the current literary intern at City Theatre, I had the opportunity to support and observe the production process of Jessica Dickey’s The Guard. We were fortunate enough to have the help of Clayton Merrell, an artist and professor at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Art, who spoke with the cast and creative team about the painting techniques and materials Rembrandt would have used in his studio, as well as the process of being a copyist. I had the chance to sit down with him and ask a few questions about art, Pittsburgh, and the connection between theatre and painting.

Giulianna Marchese: As someone who grew up partly in Pittsburgh, what do you think are the untapped artistic opportunities that people can take advantage of?

Artist Clayton Merrell Headshot

Clayton Merrell: Pittsburgh has some big institutions which are wonderful;  you know the Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Museums. But, it also has a bunch of weird well kept secrets. For instance, the Center for PostNatural History is a wonderful little museum/art project that’s here right on Penn Avenue and not a lot of people know about it. So if you are looking for a fascinating art and science experience you can go there. There’s another really cool place called La Hütte Royal, which is an amazing house installation that you can make an appointment to go see. Just walking down the street, you would have no idea there was anything there other than a house. But, once you’re inside, you’re transported to another world entirely.

GM: Neat! So are there avenues for people who don’t normally engage in the creation of art?

CM: Yeah, absolutely! There are some drawing clubs around town that get together and drink and draw. If you’re just looking for a way to make some art and meet some friends, that’s a good way to do it. But, maybe a little more highbrow would be at the Carnegie Museum. They’ve been doing this wonderful series of drawing events. When I was a kid, there used to be this drawing program where people in the city could come to the museum and draw, called the Tam O’Shanter program.  They’ve re-envisioned it now in this new format, where they bring in really interesting people who come up with a really interesting, intellectually challenging drawing prompt and they get a bunch of non-artists to sit around and make art together.

Sky Beneath Our Feet, 2015; Clayton Merrell

Pittsburgh International Airport is home to Merrell’s “Sky Beneath Our Feet,” a massive public artwork in terrazzo.

GM: One of the characters in this play is a copyist. What is that training like and why would people study it?

CM: It used to be–back in the day, centuries ago–if you wanted to make art, that’s where you would start. You would start by apprenticing yourself to somebody and you’d sit in the background and quietly copy the master’s works for—maybe for years. Maybe for decades, before you were worthy enough to make your own thing. These days, we sort of invert it. You start making your own stuff first and then later if you’re really serious about it, you might sit down and try to study someone else’s work. So people tend to get into copyist work if they are art students and they’ve gotten to a certain point and then realize “hey, wait a minute, I don’t have the skills that I need.” And so they’ll go to the Met and sit down in front of a Rembrandt and they’ll sort of apprentice themselves to Rembrandt.

GM: The character in this play starts out by using art as a tool to cope with a loss. Do you ever see people deciding to take an art class for that reason?

CM: I don’t know. That’s a good question. Maybe not so directly. But, I do think there is something about the making of art, if it’s a physical process, like drawing or painting or sculpting that occupies the mind and provides some escape.

Broken Sky with Light Leaks, 2011; Clayton Merrell

Merrell’s original piece “Broken Sky with Light Leaks,” is a large oil on canvas artwork from 2011.

GM: I like to define art as anything that attempts to represent the human condition. What are some ways that theatre and the visual arts intersect?

CM: There are some obvious ways where we intersect in that they are both highly visual. They’re both presenting an artificial experience for you to have–to have access to another human being’s life and thoughts. And there are plenty of examples of great visual artists who have done set designs for the theatre. And so there are very literal connections between people in both fields. In a little more philosophical way, I would say that in the visual arts–still images in particular because I’m a painter and I’m thinking in terms of painting right now–that paintings represent a compression of lots of time into a single image: the time spent making it, the time of the artist essentially. And as a viewer, you go to that image and you extract that time. You telescope that time back out of the still image and you have access to someone else’s human experience that way. Whereas in the theatre, you go and you have a real-time experience with the actors, with the play. You have a slice of time that is presented to you as such. They’re both intense experiences where you get to be in someone else’s mind and someone else’s experience.

Clayton Merrell grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, and Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela. He studied painting and printmaking at the Yale School of Art, where he earned an MFA in 1995. His work has been exhibited at: Slow Gallery, Chicago; the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC; Concept Gallery, Pittsburgh PA; the A+D Gallery, Chicago; the Westmoreland Museum of Art, and the Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua NY. In 2005, he was named Artist of the Year at The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and in 2016 was named Creator-of-the Year by the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

About The Guard by Jessica Dickey: When dedicated museum guard Henry dares to truly connect with the paintings he proudly protects, he sets into motion a time-bending journey where art intersects with life. Inspired by Rembrandt’s “Aristotle with a Bust of Homer,” The Guard embraces the idea of carpe diem in (and at) any age, and takes audiences on a spellbinding theatrical exploration of the power of human connection. Tickets on sale now. 

DRAMATURGY: A Brief Look at Black Athletes and Race in America

January 14th, 2017

By Raz Golden, Directing Observer

In The Royale, heavyweight boxing champ Jay “The Sport” Jackson faces numerous hurdles on his journey to become the greatest boxer in the world, despite being black in Jim Crow America. The play is based on the real-life figure of Jack Johnson, who scandalized the white world in the early 1900s with his assertions that a black man could best a white man in the boxing ring. Since Johnson’s time, issues of black accomplishment and how it affects racial relations have been sewn into the fabric of both sports history and U.S. history.

Jack Johnson may have been among the first national and international black stars to become a lightning rod for these issues, but he certainly wasn’t the last. Athletes like Barry Bonds, Muhammad Ali, and most recently Colin Kaepernick (quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers) have had to deal with the idea that the American people may accept their athletic prowess, but they might not accept how that prowess is inextricably linked with their blackness, and where that blackness places them in the social structure of America. In this respect, The Royale is as much a story of the rise of a champion as it is a story of navigating blackness in relation to athletic success.

Numerous black athletes today have publicly had to navigate their identities as athletes and as black to varying degrees. In the fall of 2016, Colin Kaepernick sent shockwaves through the sports world with his quiet protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. He knelt during the national anthem in an attempt to show that the current actions of the American justice system, namely the lack of prosecution or any serious consequences for the numerous murders, often committed by white policemen, of unarmed black men and women all over the country, were antithetical to the values espoused in the anthem. The reactions of the American people were diverse. Many in the black community and beyond commended Kaepernick for using his platform to bring attention to the issue in a national arena. Others urged Kaepernick to respect the integrity of the anthem and the flag, often invoking the sacrifices made by those in the armed forces to protect what the flag and anthem stand for. The irony being that one of the things they stand for is the freedom to peacefully protest to the government and address grievances. Still others saw football as a non-political arena, and disparaged Kaepernick for making it so, calling his actions a publicity stunt.

The undercurrent of many of the congratulations and the criticisms being that Kaepernick was making the country actively aware of his identity as a black man, who might face the same dangers that black men all over the country face if he weren’t famous, and that his life in sports couldn’t be divorced from that. It highlighted a trend that can be traced back to Jack Johnson, in which white America is ready to embrace a black athlete as long as they don’t embrace being black. For Kaepernick, that was acknowledging that black lives matter. For Jackson, it was his daring to challenge the racial segregation of his era.

Playwright Marco Ramirez explores the idea of athlete-as-racial-ambassador with Jay Jackson. On the surface, he only wants to defeat the reigning champ, effectively taking race out of the conversation. But the reality of Jackson being black and the champion and Bernard Bigsby being white ensured that the entire world viewed their contest through the lens of racial dominance. In one scene, a reporter asks Jackson if he’s specifically targeting Bigsby because he’s white, and Jackson denies it. He instead offers the idea that the notion of a black man beating a white man in anything would threaten to uproot the worldview of white America in a violent and chaotic way. A particular Toni Morrison quote comes to mind. “What are you without racism? Are you any good? Are you still strong? Still smart? Do you still like yourself?…If you can only be tall because someone’s on their knees, then you have a serious problem.”

Earlier in the scene a reporter suggests that black people have a predilection for sports and particularly violent sports.  Athletes like Serena Williams, who have reached some of the greatest achievements in their sports, often have to deal with their achievements being associated with their race. Last year, a few publications came under fire for focusing on William’s body and whether her figure was not feminine and if that gave her an extra advantage in women’s tennis. Williams, who is arguably the greatest tennis player of our time, is often qualified alongside her race, despite having defeated numerous women, black or otherwise. In this, we see that Americans feel a particular ownership of black bodies, especially when those bodies are used for athletic purposes. In fact, this cultural undercurrent traces back to the history of slave breeding in the 18th and 19th centuries, in which slave owners aimed to breed in slaves with exceptional strength, and breed out of slaves with exceptional intelligence. Even comedians like Leslie Jones and Chris Rock have made jokes about this oft forgotten period in history and how it affects the way in which America perceives black beauty, intelligence, and success in athletics. As for the reporter’s questions in our play, there is an intrinsic core to these thoughts that further dehumanize black athletes, and undercuts any success they should achieve over their white counterparts.

In addition, Jackson’s refusal to accept the racial dimension of the match brings up the idea of personhood as political and whether an athlete who is black is a “black athlete.” This distinction is often very prominent in the discussion of artists who belong to marginalized or minority groups. Often, the assertion is made that the painting, songs, films, and plays they create identify them as an artist that only makes the kind of art that has to do with being in that group.  A straight, white, male artist rarely gets asked about how his maleness or whiteness affects his work and whether he would consider himself a “white writer.” Black people and other groups haven’t historically been afforded that privilege.

Muhammad Ali was a controversial figure in this aspect. At first, his complete refusal to identify as the model “black athlete.” He often antagonized other boxers like Joe Frazier with racist epithets in the process. However, as his life progressed, so did his political views and he became a black power icon (partially due to joining the Nation of Islam.) Race became an integral part of how he addressed the public and he used his platform to address those issues of the era. Notably, when Ali protested America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, he was convicted of draft evasion. He saw the US army’s action in Vietnam as analogous to the way the government and the police treated black people within U.S. borders. For Ali, his role as a public figure necessitated political engagement. In the play, Jackson takes a similar journey of realization.

This piece only touches upon a few of the black athletes in the 20th and 21st centuries that have had to deal with the intersection of their athletic achievement and their black identity. Barry Bonds, Jackie Owens, OJ Simpson, Gabby Douglas, and Marshawn Lynch, among others, have all made their marks in American history and shown that the identity of a black athlete is often a paradoxical one. Each of these athletes have been lionized as an almost mythical figure, and an example of American exceptionalism, while simultaneously dealing with marginalization in the American system.

The Royale, inspired by Jack Johnson and his fight for racial justice in the boxing ring runs Jan. 21 – Feb. 12 at City Theatre. Learn more about the play and find tickets here!

*photo credit for Serena Williams:  SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images

DRAMATURGY: The Dragon that is (Possibly) My Career

November 18th, 2016

By Val “Jay” Garcia Jr., Literary Intern

Being a part of rehearsals for Feeding the Dragon reaffirmed my love for theatrical exploration and ignited my love for new play development. The play is a beautiful autobiographical piece by actress Sharon Washington filled with stories about her family and her childhood in (yes, in) the St. Agnes branch of the New York Public Library. The play showed me how a new, never before seen script can be transferred from page to stage. As a Natural Sciences major on the verge of graduating in December, the rehearsal room was a brand new laboratory for me.

I got a chance to come into the rehearsal room early in the process during tablework. The work included reading the script and stopping for discussion of the text. With Maria Mileaf, Clare Drobot, and Sharon Washington, the team discussed how each of the scenes moved Sharon’s story forward.  The team also discussed what Sharon wanted in the show, what she wanted to honor, and other vignettes that she thought assisted her.

I’ve never worked with cuts, rewrites, or reorders before. Hopefully, when I get the chance to work on another new play development process, I can utilize these newly acquired tools. Additional tablework included discussing images in the play, revising metaphors or similes (I remember a long discussion surrounding the Wizard of Oz imagery and how an audience would relate to it), and the process of maintaining an up-to-date draft of the script.

In the rehearsal room, I’ve learned many things. I’ve only worked on one world premiere production before, so I’m still new at this type of craft. When I first walked into the room, I found it very inviting. I had to contain my enthusiasm when I personally met Sharon Washington and Maria Mileaf. I was excited to observe how the team chose to investigate the play’s structure and discuss how Feeding the Dragon could continue to evolve.

I’ve worked on productions before at the University of Pittsburgh. but only in a student capacity. The Pitt Theatre Arts Department has offered me many roles from actor to dramaturg. However, having worked in an academic setting for so long, coming into a professional environment was very different. There are tangible differences at an Equity House that opened my eyes. Being a part of City Theatre bestowed honor and prestige on my educational training by allowing me to work in a professional setting which will further cement my theatrical career. As rehearsal wrapped for the day, I found that I didn’t want to leave.

In new works, a dramaturg can create and oversee conversations with the playwright and director. City Theatre prides itself on its track record of developing new work. They understand that development feeds the dragon that is American theatre. The team here is attentive to a script’s journey from page to the stage. The people at City Theatre helped Sharon with new ideas and provided questions that turned Feeding the Dragon into the production currently on stage in the Lester Hamburg Studio.

 

Val “Jay” Garcia Jr. is a Literary Intern for City Theatre. He is a student at the University of Pittsburgh, studying Natural Sciences with an interest in collaborating theatre and scientific research in the future.

DRAMATURGY: Puppet Ministry in “Hand to God”

October 14th, 2016

By Dani Joseph, Literary Intern

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
— Ecclesiastes 9:10 (motto of Kingdom Kidz, a puppet ministry team)

In Robert Askin’s Hand To God, Margery hopes that her puppet ministry, the “Christcateers” will share God’s teachings with the teens in her ministry in a new, exciting way. This hope is universal among puppet ministries all across the country.

puppet-ministry

Christian puppet ministry has surged into a new golden age. Initially inspired by The Muppets and Sesame Street in the 1950s, the 1990s saw a resurgence of Puppet Theater in American’s churches. Puppet ministries are composed of the younger members of congregations who put an entertaining spin on scripture by performing skits for any number of Christian denominations. An entire industry has sprung up around the demand for all types of Biblical puppets. There are simple hand puppets that can be made out of socks and other accessible materials. Margery’s team, as well as other real-life ministries, use Sesame Street-style hand and rod puppets, like the one pictured. Specialized puppets, such as black-light puppets or other custom ordered designs, can cost upward of $200!

Whether puppet ministries are Lutheran, Congregationalist, Baptist, or another Christian denomination, they all unite in competitions. There are dozens of festivals across the country, the most popular of which is the I-Fest, or Creative Ministries’ (the leading manufacturer of Christian puppets) International Festival of Christian Puppetry. Ministry teams compete in song competitions or skit competitions against other teams, winning gold, silver, or bronze depending on the strength of their act. There are even “People’s Choice” awards for teams who have an outstanding act. If competitions aren’t a team’s speed, there are also many conferences and training boot camps available, including Creative Ministry’s festival camps which draw hundreds of people from several states. The hope being that teams can return to their communities and utilize their training to spread Christian teachings through puppetry. Puppet culture is alive and thriving as a way to educate and entertain congregations across the country.