Storrs: This week Connecticut Repertory Theatre will open a new adaptation of Lysistrata by Jen Wineman and the world premiere of Band of the Black Hand, a collaboration with Split Knuckle Theatre. CRT launched its season with Michael Bradford’s Olives and Blood, a new play that had only been produced twice before.
“This is three times this season that our students have had the playwright sitting with them in the rehearsal room,” said Artistic Director and Dept. Chair Vincent J. Cardinal.
Lysistrata is a 2500 year-old play being done for the first time. How might you ask? Director Jen Wineman, a graduate of Yale School of Drama’s Directing Program, has created her own adaptation of Aristophanes’ classic anti-war comedy, Lysistrata. The new adaptation sets the play in a small town in the northeast during the 1940s. In the play, the heroine Lysistrata, leads the women of Athensville and surrounding towns in a sex strike to leverage power and stop the war that is ravaging their world and killing their husbands, lovers and children. Unlike many re-settings of ancient Greek plays, Wineman is not simply placing Lysistrata in the 1940s world through costume, set and sound, she is also weaving in contemporary reference to politics and current pop culture.
“We were drawn to the 1940’s because the first half of that decade represented a time in American history when women found a sense autonomy for the first time. Many joined the workforce, and those who stayed home ran their households without the help of their husbands. Images of Rosie the Riveter sprung to mind as we pictured the kind of women who would populate our world onstage. For style inspiration, the design team looked at images of WWII propaganda and pin-up girls. There was a level of sexuality there that fit the play. The 1940s provides a specific time when our nation was gripped by war and it impacted all aspects of our life,” said scenic designer and MFA candidate Geoff Ehrendreich.
Developing the play was another matter for director Jen Wineman. “Since I don’t speak ancient Greek, I looked at five different existing English translations in order to create my own. All of the events of the original are represented in our production, but I’ve tried to take a bold new approach to the storytelling. While I was creating my translation, I would sometimes compare each line of every version I had. Other times I would read a full scene, and then write my own version There are places that call for chanting and song, and I have put in dance numbers and the singing of anachronistic songs in those spots. In 413 BC, Aristophanes was appealing to his particular audience, and my goal is for the comedy and political ideas in my adaptation to reach an audience today. Ideally, our version will serve the same purpose as the original, but with my aesthetic,” said Wineman.
The next step was involving the cast to see if the jokes would land. Wineman said her approach to revision was, “The first few days at the table I’d bring in re-writes and actors would brainstorm. Sometimes I’d take it home with me and sometimes I’d re-write on the fly. Some scenes have been entirely rewritten during the rehearsal process It is still the same structure I originally wrote, but with upgrades. I’ve honed the jokes to fit the particular talents of the actors. We’re living in this cross-section of humor. The result is part screw-ball comedy and part commedia dell’arte. It’s over the top, very physical, and deeply silly.
Meanwhile, UConn Assistant Professor Greg Webster is in the early stages of rehearsal for the world premiere of Band of the Black Hand (March 26 – April 4, 2015). Webster, who is also the Artistic Director of Split Knuckle Theatre, has been developing this show for nearly 18 months. Split Knuckle Theatre is a critically acclaimed theatre company that makes dynamic, physical, visually striking theatre from found objects. This is an approach called devised theatre, through which an idea is developed by the company through rehearsal and improvisation, and only then scripted.
“In devised theater we start with a blank stage and an idea. In the case of Black Hand it was President Eisenhower’s farewell speech warning us about the birth of the military-industrial complex in the United States” said Split Knuckle Artistic Director and UConn Associate Professor Greg Webster. “Then designers, actors, musicians and puppeteers improvise and exchange ideas, concepts and creative visions. You paint with broad strokes and the form and narrative makes itself clear to the ensemble through vicious trial and error. In the case of Black Hand, this is the second stage of a three-part creation process.”
Band of the Black Hand tells the story of Private Dick Jack Stone, who is hired to solve the savage murder of an investigative reporter Charlie Hunt. There’s a brutal gang war on in Capital City and the Band of the Black Hand is taking over from the Streets to the Mayor’s office. As Stone journeys into the depths of Capital City, he begins to feel the clutch of the Black Hand. This joint production exploring the sensual, dark, and mysterious world of Film Noir, incorporates modern Indonesian shadow puppetry, striking physical theatre and jazz music.
Last year, Webster worked with the third-year MFA acting class as well as Nick Ryan, Split Knuckle’s playwright, on the initial development of the piece. A spine of a story and script were created.
MFA Acting alum James Jelkin was a part of that process. Now he returns to the production as a guest artist. “UCONN gave me a visceral experience with this kind of work as a grad student and now to take The Band of the Black Hand from the classroom lab onto the stage for an audience is a dream. As an actor I am writing lines, making scenery decisions, choosing where to put lights and likewise being taught character by literally everyone in the room. It is non-traditonal, often painful, strangely utopic and ultimately, brand new,” said Jelkin.
Senior BFA actor Julia Estrada described the process, “I, and the rest of the company, have the ability to make changes and additions that we all believe would be beneficial for the development of the show. It can be challenging because we’re creating an entire story out of some basic objects and set pieces, which requires an incredible amount of focus and creativity.”
Lysistrata runs February 26 – March 8, 2015 in the Nafe Katter Theatre. Band of the Black Hand begins performances on March 26 and runs through April 4, 2015. Information and tickets are available at crt.uconn.edu or 860-486-2113.
Jen Wineman is a director and choreographer for theater and opera, living in New York City. In New York, her work has been seen at NYMF, Walkerspace, Elektra Theater, Soho Rep, 59E59, Ars Nova, 3 Legged Dog, Manhattan School of Music, Abingdon Theater, Dixon Place, Classic Stage, HERE Arts Center, the Culture Project, American Place Theatre, the University Settlement, and with Studio 42. Regionally, she has directed at Asolo Rep, Washington Ensemble Theatre, American Theater Group, Theatre Vertigo, Triad Stage, New York Stage and Film, the Experimental Theater of Vassar College, Williamstown Theatre Festival (workshop), WordBRIDGE, and with Telluride Theatre in Telluride, Colorado. Recent projects include directing and choreographing a touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by the MFA acting students at the FSU/Asolo Rep conservatory in Sarasota, FL and The 39 Steps at Triad Stage in Greensboro, NC. Jen is a co-founder and former board member of Studio 42, a New York based theater company that focuses on producing “unproducible” new work by emerging artists. She is an affiliated artist with New Georges, a member of the 2011/2012 Soho Rep Writer Director Lab, and an associate member of Telluride Theatre.
Greg Webster joined the performance faculty at University of Connecticut in the fall of 2006. His primary focus is the teaching of Movement Theater and the pedagogy of the renowned French theater master Jacques Lecoq. Greg is also the Movement coach and the resident fight choreographer for the Connecticut Repertory Theater. As a performer, choreographer and teacher Greg has worked from Broadway to the West End. He is a founding member of the internationally acclaimed Split Knuckle Theatre Company, which has performed and taught on four continents to date. Split Knuckle is a critically acclaimed company that creates dynamic, physical, visually striking theatre from simple materials. He holds an M.F.A. in acting and directing from the University Missouri Kansas City and is a graduate of London International School of Performing Arts; where he was also an Instructor. Greg is certified teacher of Authentic Pilates Method of body conditioning and the Gyrotonic® expansion system. He has been a licensed personal trainer for more than ten years, is a former Golden Gloves boxer and holds a black belt in Aikido.
Please call 860-486-2113 for tickets or for more information. Please call or visit the box office for specific show dates and times because performance schedules vary and are subject to change. Tickets available online at www.crt.uconn.edu.
Box Office Location – Please note that the CRT box office is housed in the Nafe Katter Theatre, located at 820 Bolton Road. There is short term parking on Bolton Road, in the loading zone directly in front of the theatre. CRT tickets can no longer be purchased at the Jorgensen box office. CRT’s box office is open Monday-Friday, noon – 5 p.m., and will also be open one hour prior to show time at the theatre where the performance is taking place.
Weeknight evening performances start at 7:30 p.m. Weekend evening performances start at 8 p.m. Matinee performances start at 2 p.m.
Ticket prices range from $7 – $30.