Friday, January 11, 2019

The Revolutionists: A Word From the Director

What would your brain be doing if it knew it had little time left? What thoughts would be running through it? What fantasy world would it create? Lauren Gunderson’s play, The Revolutionists, shows what Olympe De Gouges, a french feminist playwright during the French Revolution, might have been creating in her mind as she faced Madame Guillotine. During the "Reign Of Terror," tens of thousands of men and women were confronted with a similar fate as hers. Their minds racing through their last moments before being quieted forever. This includes two other women in our play, Charlotte Corday, the assassin of radical French journalist Jean Paul Marat, and Marie Antoinette, the historically misunderstood queen of France. After their murders, Marat was made a martyr and Marie Antoinette was made the butt of many jokes (that cake thing was a lie brought up by those who hated her). And the reality is that it was quite easy to erase and malign these women from history.

The French National motto, that started during The Revolution was "Libert√©, Egalit√©, Fraternit√©." Just as the United States Thomas Jefferson was stating in the Declaration of Independence, “ That all Men are created Equal." Both of these nations at the birth of their Democracies had already forgotten their women in their pursuit for liberty and freedom. And as I read the play, I was struck how history almost erased these women had it not been for a modern female playwright, Lauren Gunderson, writing these women back into our present conversation. Furthermore, Lauren includes a fictitious Freewoman named Marianne Angell, fighting for the abolition of slavery in what is today known as the country of Haiti. It is this voice that really makes clear for the audience the voice of women of color where few stories were physically written down, was purposely erased from history.

This is why I am so excited as a Director to shed light on these forgotten voices. The production team working behind the scenes created a world where these women could finally find their light, and show how universal their story still is. The design elements from the set design showing the guillotine always letting its presence known, never far away from her thoughts. And the sound of the clock ticking away her mortal hours. These elements are all to bring you into the mind of Olympe as she faces her mortality and her fear of being forgotten.

So lean in and enjoy as we rediscover the almost forgotten women of the French Revolution.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Making of the Star Wars Holiday Special - Explained! (Sort Of)

Now that people have seen it, the most common question I've been asked this week is "what just happened?!" followed by "Where did you all GET this? It's HILARIOUS!"

I'm originally from St. Louis, Missouri and years ago I got started stage managing at the St. Louis Shakespeare Company. They have an offshoot company under their artistic umbrella called Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, which started in 2006 with the desire to do Ed Wood's infamous film Plan 9 From Outer Space live on stage. Since then they've done roughly one show a year to hilarious effect. I worked on several productions when I lived in St. Louis and always had terrific fun. A while back I was kicking holiday ideas around with Max and Alika and since they have similarly warped senses of humor I mentioned these shows I'd done. They sounded excited, so I reached out to Donna Northcott, the founder of both St. Louis Shakespeare and Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, as she is the primary creator of these shows to see if I could get a copy of the It's a Wonderful Life: Live! show we'd done some years ago. She said "Sure, but did you see what we did for our 20th anniversary recently?" And sent me The Making of the Star Wars Holiday Special: Live! script. When Alika realizes she could play Princess Leia the rest was, as they say, history.

We all had a blast putting this insane train wreck together and we all hope that you all enjoy it as much as we did! And if you absolutely MUST see the original... here you go but don't say we didn't warn you. The piece with Ms. Caroll is absolutely as creepy in the original show as it was on the stage.

Monday, November 5, 2018

K2: Concluding the Season of Everything

When Executive Artistic Director Meredith Hagedorn had a rough lineup for the current season, she sent it over to me with all the scripts to get my impressions. This is something we've been doing for years and I really enjoy this part of working with Meredith at Dragon. It's like Christmas in April - new stories! The lineup usually includes ALL of the 2nd Stages pitches so it's always a good sized pile of scripts. I started by reading Insignificance, the first play of the season, which blew me away with its depth and complexity of story. For a "quick palate cleanser" I then grabbed K2 off the pile, and I was amused that two plays in a row had some serious discussion about Albert Einstein. I mean what are the odds really? They are two VERY different plays - Insignificance is a dark comedy that's a hypothetical meeting of major celebrities in a very fictional 1960s setting while K2 is a short drama that's loosely based on a true story and is about a life or death situation and mountain climbing. And it struck me that herein lies the theme for all the shows we presented in 2018. As the daughter of a physics and calculus teacher I was aware that Einstein died while trying to solve his "Theory of Everything" problem. Einstein essentially believed that everything in the universe is all tangled together and despite some very radical differences between large objects like rocks and small objects like atoms, he believed that there  is some yet unknown unifying principle that explains all of the differences and binds it all together. The universe is an incomprehensibly organized chaos, and it's beautiful. Some people take this to mean that everything in the universe is interconnected. We are breathing air molecules and drinking water particles that have been around for tens of thousands of years so we are connected to humanity through space and time. We are all connected under the skin thru DNA and chemistry.
I have always thought that live theatre excels when it takes a story and shows the audience that while this might not be a story of MY life, it's a recognizable story and I can find a very meaningful, personal connection to the story and the people on the stage. And maybe the audience can take an hour or two and BE those new people and UNDERSTAND their perspective, because as people, we have much more in common than we sometimes think we do. This is why I have chosen to work in the theatre for the past eight years. The stories that we tell here at Dragon are stories that fundamentally matter to our community because they seek to connect our common humanity and attempt to provoke some thought and discussion.

John Rutski, as the 2nd Stages producer of K2, has brought us a rarely seen Broadway play from the 1980s - it's his passion project for a reason and his true passion for this story has shown through even step of the way. I think that with the political landscape being what it is in America today, it strikes me today that it was a rather interesting pick. The themes of adversity and friendship are universal - it's just juxtaposed against an epic backdrop for this particular play. As he says in his producer's note "we all have our own K2s, our own figurative mountains that loom large above us like unconquerable peaks; it is how we choose to deal with them that allows us to grow and progress as humans." And that, I think is part of Einstein's universal truth. To borrow a line from Jurassic Park, because hey, I get to quote Jeff Goldblum now,  "life finds a way," but the human experience goes far beyond just mere survival. The most important part of K2, to me, is that NOBODY can climb these mountains alone. It's humanity TOGETHER that conquers K2. And if you happen to have a leg up on the mountain, you put your hand out to help the next climber up the sheer. I'd argue that the thing that entangles us all, more than quarks and strings, is empathy, compassion, and love.

Meredith HagedornI think that K2 is also an excellent way to close out Meredith Hagedorn's final season as the founder and creator of Dragon Productions Theatre Company. For 19 long years she's been climbing her own personal K2, the mountain that is running a non-profit theatre company in a market that is incredibly challenging. She may have started that climb alone in 1999 when she started filing the incredibly tedious papers to incorporate a 501c3 nonprofit, but now in 2018 she's built quite a family of artists, patrons, and arts makers right here in our home in Redwood City. As we begin our climb up that mountain in her footsteps, she's blazed us a terrific trail. I know that I speak for an entire community when I say Meredith, THANK YOU for leaving our piece of the world a little bit better than you found it. THANK YOU for creating nearly 100 great stories in your career. THANK YOU for all the opportunities for countless actors, designers, and people like me who just like to putter in the office creating support systems for all these community residents. And now maybe go jump in a sauna, warm up, and have a nice spiked hot chocolate and enjoy life for while before you move on to your Everest. Or maybe just think about walking a beach. With a margarita. You've more than earned it.

And to those of you that came out this season, THANK YOU for making live, local theatre a part of your life. We all hope that you enjoy K2. 2019 planning is already in progress so we'll be back with some funny, thoughtful, meaningful new stories very soon!

--Kimberly Wadycki
Managing Director, Dragon Productions Theatre

Sunday, November 4, 2018

K2: Loosely based on a true story

"It’s a savage mountain that tries to kill you." - American Climber George Bell

Also known as Chogori or Mount Godwin-Austen, K2 is located in Pakistan near the Chinese border. It is the second tallest mountain in the world and stands at a little more than 28,000 ft. over sea level. In comparison, Mt. Everest stands at about 29,000 ft. over sea level. It is a member of the "eight thousander" club, a grouping of 14 mountains in Asia that all rise more than 8,000 meters above sea level. 

Known as “the savage mountain” because of its extreme difficulty, K2 is less famous and less often climbed because it has racked up the second most fatalities among the "eight thousanders" and K2 has never been climbed in the winter because its terrain and weather is entirely too treacherous. Currently about 1 person dies for every 4 people that attempt the climb, because there's just a perfect storm of treachery on K2. 

In 1978 American climbers Jim Wickwire, a lawyer from Washington State, and his friend Louis Reichardt made the climb up K2. They reached the summit, took some photos, and began the descent back down. Riechart got ahead of Wickwire in the descent and with night rapidly approaching, and without a headlamp, Wickwire decided to spend the night where he was, at around 27,000 ft. Mr. Wickwire had no tent, no sleeping bag, and no water. His oxygen tank ran out in the middle of the night and his gas stove failed at some point too. Wrapped in an insulated sack with only what clothing he had on, the sack began to slowly slide downhill. Forced to get out of the sack to stop his slide he realized he was at risk of sliding into a chasm as he was at the edge of his stoney platform. Up until this point nobody had ever survived a night in these conditions. The temperature that night was estimated to be -35 degrees. The next morning two other climbers found him continuing slowly down the mountain. They assisted him down and Mr. Wickwire was helicoptered by the Pakistani army to a hospital. He lost two toes and underwent emergency lung surgery sure to blood clots on his lungs. He had also developed pneumonia and pleurisy. Several years later Mr. Wickwire was back on the mountains to climb Mt. McKinley in Alaska to prep for an attempt at Mt. Everest. 

REI published a fascinating interview with both the climbers that's worth the read here

If you'd like to read more about the history of climbing K2, we can suggest a few links on this fascinating and incredibly dangerous sport: 

The World's Most Difficult Mountain May Soon Be Fully Conquered

Fast Facts About K2