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To build a flying machine…

WE SPIN
WE TWIRL
WE SAIL
WE SWIRL
WE PLUNGE
WE DROP
ASCEND
AND STOP

Our first rehearsals began officially a week ago and already we’re tackling some of the most challenging aspects of the script.  Working with Rob (ensemble member, Robert Kauzlaric) as adapter on a few projects now I know to expect heightened language and an infectious joy for theatricality.  Also inherent in a “Kauzlaric” is bold physical imagery.  His challenge to the director includes vivid descriptions of the seemingly impossible – from The Island of Dr Moreau “The compound collapses as fire sweeps over it” is a good example.

His adaptation of Flight of the Dodo, a book with probably no more than 100 words in it to begin with, involves over thirty minutes of four flightless birds flying through the sky in a hot air balloon. The above quote from the song “Fol-de-rol-ery & Daring-do” describes a flying contest between our heroes and their rivals, The Geese.  Right, I’ve got 30 or so square feet to stage a flying contest between a hot air balloon full of actors and a flock of geese?

As a director, this gets me really excited – how do I inspire designers and actors to help me solve this physical riddle on Lifeline’s famed postage-stamp-sized arena?  Even better, how do we solve this conundrum with respect for both the script AND the audience?  Directing and acting for children requires, one could argue, a special kind of integrity.  In my experience, an adult audience has a natural patience that meets you half way in creating the suspension of disbelief necessary when creating a representational theatrical answer.  For children, if you don’t believe in the construct, if you don’t commit to it 110%, they will see through your shallow “trick” and get bored – fast.

So I did some thinking on ways to fly without leaving the ground.  I looked at puppetry techniques from kabuki and bunraku traditions.  I watched with great envy the viral YouTube video of “Matrix Ping Pong” and did some thinking about forced perspective changes – different sized puppets? A flying machine that has an organic range of movement?  Can we make the floor the sky and the ceiling the ground?  I brought all these questions and inspirations to my design team. Our first and most important job – design the Dodo.

At our first production meeting I suggested that the basket of the Dodo be soft sided, built like an inverted hoop skirt, the birds standing the middle, holding onto the rim, able to tip the top to and fro to indicate movement and allowing for them to travel “Flintstones – style” from one end of the stage to other.  Scenic designer Chelsea Warren ran with this idea.  With practical assistance from Lifeline’s new technical director Ian Zywica, Chelsea created a structure sturdy enough to hold four actors and move with ease around the stage floor while supporting a five foot diameter red weather balloon and integrating the pliable basket idea I had requested.

I am thrilled with the movement of our Dodo – rehearsals are proving that a tremendous range of possibilities are available to us.

Now… how will I stage the singing Penguin Poo? Hmmm….

Paul Holmquist

Welcome!

Look at us!  We’re getting all bloggy!  Can you even believe it?   Welcome — and thank you for visiting our blog.  As I type, I’m humming along with the Duck for President curtain call reprise that’s floating up from the stage below.   I hear the school buses idling out front and hope we can get this group of kids out before the buses pull up to drop off the next load.  (I’m glad Erica‘s downstairs to traffic cop the whole circus.  She used to be a cheerleader, so she’s able to rally the armies of children and get them to do whatever she wants.)  In the office next door — okay, it’s not next door, we’re basically all piled in a room together — but in her own little corner, our education director, Frances, is huddled with one of our teaching artists strategizing about about classroom activities at a neighborhood elementary school, while Angelo is between us, in his little corner, on the phone about our upcoming benefit.  Just outside the office in the rehearsal room, the strange wrestling sounds I keep hearing have turned out to be our tech director, Ian, who is constructing a giant flying machine.  Yes, it’s true.  There will be a giant flying machine featured in our next kids’ show, The Flight of the Dodo.  That may have been top secret.  But this is the place to get the top secret poop.  Oops.  More secrets.  There’s poop in the show too.

Dang, it’s been a busy fall.  In addition to the gazillion Duck for President performances, The Picture of Dorian Gray was a boffo hit that extended.   Plus we moved last summer’s hit, The Mark of Zorro, to Theatre Building Chicago on Belmont Avenue for a fall run there.  And don’t get me started with the birthday parties and special events and off-school workshop days.   But finally we wind down for a brief spell.   Our next MainStage show, Mariette in Ecstasy, doesn’t open until February.  Dorian closed on Sunday — sold out thru the very last show.  Zorro will close this coming Sunday (after 93 performances) and then we’ll bust it up and drag all the salvageable pieces back to Lifeline. Ah, it will be good to be home under one roof rather than scattered all across town.

So welcome to our blog!  I hope you will visit us often and we will keep you up to date on our backstage antics, dilemmas and general hilarity.  Right now, I have to go to my Snowflake Tim rehearsal.  Oh criminy.  That reminds me.  Flight of the Dodo is NOT our next kids’ show.  It’s Snowflake Tim’s Big Holiday Adventure.  That’s a title we came up with a few years ago when we decided we needed a non-denominational holiday kids show.  And who would think that plan would have worked out?  But Christina took that title written on a cocktail napkin and wrote the play and it is GREAT, cuz she’s a genius.  It’s funny, heartwarming, lots of audience participation.  So we bring it back every couple years over the holidays.   So — Snowflake Tim will open first and then Dodo a week later and then they’ll be in rep.  Yes, in rep.  Back-to-back shows right after each other on our little stage with different sets and different casts and not much time in between…  What the heck.  Who made this schedule?  Does no one proofread the calendar?  What were we thinking? I mean — What a bold new experiment!  And with the team we’ve got over here and the production teams on these shows, I have high hopes we’ll be able to work miracles, as usual.

Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how it works out for us . . .

Dorothy Milne
Artistic Director