Tuesday, November 17, 2015

About the Playwright Sharr White

Sharr White, age 45, has been writing plays since the 1990s. They've been presented around the country, including at South Coast Repertory, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Lincoln Center Theatre's Directors Lab and Key West Theatre Festival. Born in Frederick, Maryland, Mr. White moved to Southern California when he was young. The family moved to Boulder, Colorado for his junior high and high school years. And after high school he moved back to Southern California, took some time off, and worked in a warehouse for a few years. Mr. White eventually went back to school where he planned to major in biology since his father in in the sciences. He also took some acting classes and decided to switch to theatre. Mr. White then moved to San Francisco to go to the A.C.T. [American Conservatory Theatre] program. He didn't get accepted into the program and ended up at San Francisco State for a little bit and then jumped over to A.C.T. and finished the acting program there. He started writing at A.C.T., though they didn't have any writing classes.

Mr. White graduated with an M.F.A. in 1993 and was hooked on writing, so he moved to New York. He gave up on acting to solely focus on writing. Mr. White says "From there it was a long process for me, because I didn't go to grad school for writing, I didn't go to any writing programs, I wasn't formally trained at all. I felt like when I reached a point in beginning to develop I didn't have anyone to turn to, which was pretty isolating. My time in New York has been about writing, writing, writing. I did some self-producing in the '90s. The big break was with Humana Festival in 2006. I was able to start surfacing to people, and I got a couple of commissions. It's been a long process to get [to Broadway]."

Sunlight had its World Premiere at the Marin Theatre Company in 2010. Sunlight was followed by Annapurna, which debuted at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco and then moved to Los Angeles where it featured Megan Mullally and her husband Nick Offerman. It then moved Off-Broadway with Mullally and Offerman. Mr. White made his Broadway debut in 2012 with his play The Other Place, which happened to close the Dragon Theatre season in 2014. The Other Place was directed by Joe Mantello and featured Laurie Metcalf and Daniel Stern. The Other Place received two Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play and Outstanding Actress In A Play (Laurie Metcalf). Laurie Metcalf also won an Obie Award, Performance and was nominated for the 2013 Tony Award, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play.

With this success under his belt, Mr. White then had his play The Snow Geese open Off-Broadway in 2013 with actress Mary-Louise Parker in a lead role. Mr, White, who is an advertising copywriter by day, lives in New York City and is currently writing Stupid Kid, a newly commissioned work for the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

When Sunlight premiered at the Marin Theatre Company, the Examiner ran the following interview with Mr. White:

Usually when playwright Sharr White, starts writing, he begins with a character. For his latest play, White  wanted to write about Richard Nixon.  
“My wife said, ‘You can’t do that,’” White said. “But I was really in love with the idea of a character who abused power.” 
White’s political thriller Sunlight, which opens at the Marin Theatre Company on Jan. 26, is about a liberal university president, his daughter and her conservative husband, and their debates over torture memos. 
In the play, White doesn’t mention John Yoo, the Berkeley law school professor, who wrote the so-called torture memos that offered legal justification for interrogation techniques such as water boarding, but White says a character in Sunlight was inspired by him and White read many of Yoo’s statements on the memos.  
“I really started writing in 2006,” White said. “Abuse of power was such an undercurrent of our national discussion, and it seemed important to explore. It was a discussion about who we are as a nation and a culture and what we’ve stood for and stood against. It was a very profound shift happening with us and a lot of people seemed happy not to talk about it.” 
White says the plays focuses on the characters in it, not on Issues.  
“I don’t really think that this is a play about torture,” he said. “It’s about these four people who love each other very much and whose worlds have suddenly crumbled after 9/11. They have felt a personal loss after 9/11 of what they used to be, and they realize nothing will ever be the same again.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The factual basis for Sharr White's Play Sunlight

While the story of Sharr White's play Sunlight is entirely fictional, the events discussed in it are loosely based on current events. At the heart of the true story stands University of Berkeley Professor of Law John Yoo. 

According to his official UCB bio, "Professor Yoo received his B.A., summa cum laude, in American history from Harvard University. Between college and law school, he worked as a newspaper reporter in Washington, D.C. He received his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was an articles editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Professor Yoo has clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals of the D.C. Circuit. He served as general counsel of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995-96. From 2001 to 2003, he served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he worked on issues involving foreign affairs, national security and the separation of powers."

Mr. Yoo served as the Deputy Assistant U. S. Attorney General under John Ashcroft in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice during the George W. Bush administration. He authored the so-called Torture Memos that addressed the use of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" including waterboarding, was strongly in favor of enhanced executive power, and wrote legal opinions concerning the Geneva Conventions that legitimized the War on Terror by the United States after the attacks of 9/11. Essentially, Woo provided legal arguments to support the Bush administration and CIA's position that the Geneva Conventions ban on torture did not apply to detained members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. 

In 2009, just  two days after taking office, President Barack Obama wrote Executive Order 13491 which revoked all of Yoo's legal guidance on interrogation. 

Last week the story of Sunlight took on new meaning in light of the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad. Extremists continue to terrorize and governments continue to look for ways to protect civilians. 

If you'd like to make donations to help the people in Paris, Beirut, or Baghdad, consider donating to Doctors Without Borders or the International Red Cross

Friday, October 16, 2015

Feeling Good

One of the more unusual elements of Or, is the music. The script notes that "The play is set in the Restoration period, but plays off the echoes between the late 1660s, the late 1960s, and the present." And so liberties are taken, especially in the sound design, to show that Aphra Behn was truly a woman ahead of her time. One of my favorite moments occurs at the end of the show because it's underlined by the fabulous Nina Simone. 

A perfect Friday song isn't it? Or, runs for two more weekends so come join us for a history story that I have been describing as a cross between Shakespeare and Noises Off. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who Was Nell Gwyn?

Eleanor "Nell" Gwyn (2 February 1650 – 14 November 1687; also spelled GwynnGwynne) was a long-time mistress of King Charles II of England and Scotland. Called "pretty, witty Nell" by Samuel Pepys, she has been regarded as a living embodiment of the spirit of RestorationEngland and has come to be considered a folk heroine, with a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella. She was the most famous Restoration actress and possessed a prodigious comic talent. Gwyn had two sons by King Charles: Charles Beauclerk (1670–1726); and James Beauclerk (1671–1680). The surname of her sons is pronounced 'Bo-Clare'. Charles was created Earl of Burford and later Duke of St. Albans.

In her early teens, Nell Gwyn was engaged to sell oranges at the King's Theatre. Her natural wit and complete lack of self-consciousness caught the eye of the actor Charles Hart and others, and Dryden wrote plays to exploit her talents as a comic actress.
She became Charles Hart's mistress, she called him Charles the First, and was then passed to Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, whom she dubbed Charles the Second, and later the King, calling him her Charles the Third.
Lady Castlemaine (Barbara Palmer) had been King Charles' mistress for many years when he became enamoured of Nell.
"Pray good people be civil, I am the Protestant whore" was Nell Gwyn's cheeky retort to the masses pushing around her coach in the mistaken belief that it was that of the Duchess of Portsmouth, the Catholic Louise de Keroualle, one of Charles' other mistresses.
Unlike Charles' other mistresses, Nell never received a title herself, but by using clever tactics she obtained a title for her son.
"Come here you little bastard" she is reputed to have said to her small son in the Kings presence. The King was horrified, but as Nell asked, "what should she call him, was not bastard true?" The King immediately made him Duke of St. Albans.
When the King died in 1685 Nell's creditors descended upon her - she never did starve, but was in grave danger of being sent to a Debtors prison. She appealed to King James and to his credit, he settled her immediate debts and gave her a pension of £1500 a year.
James asked in return that her son should become a Catholic but James was to be disappointed.
Nell survived Charles by only two years and was only in her thirties when she died. She became a legend, the only royal mistress in English history to provoke popular affection.

Who Was King Charles II?

Early Life 

Charles II was born in St. James’s Palace in London, England, on May 29, 1630. Signs of political turmoil were on the horizon in England. Two years prior, his father, King Charles I, had reluctantly agreed to the passage of the Petition of Right, which placed limits on the king’s authority.

In 1642, civil war broke out between Parliament and Charles I over his claim of divine right to rule. By the end of the decade, Parliament, led by the Puritan Oliver Cromwell, was victorious. Young Charles II fled to France, and Charles I was executed in 1649.

During the 11-year period of Interregnum, Charles was forbidden from being crowned king. Supporters in Scotland offered him the throne if he supported home rule. Inexperienced and untested in battle, Charles led a force into England but was quickly defeated at the Battle of Worcester, in 1651. Charles fled to the continent and spent nearly a decade in exile, forced to move from one country to another due to Cromwell’s reach.

The Restoration

The English republican government collapsed following Cromwell’s death in 1658, and Charles was reinstated to the throne in 1661. In his restoration agreement with Parliament, he was given a standing army and allowed to purge officials responsible for his father’s execution. In exchange, Charles II agreed to honor the Petition of Right and accept a limited income. The early years of Charles' reign was marked by a terrible plague (1655) and the Great Fire of London (1666) which led to a substantial rebuild of the city of London. He also went to war with the Dutch (1665-1667) which resulted in a Dutch victory and led to Charles' alliance with France. In general, Charles' reign was marked by tolerance - both for the people who overthrew his father and for varying religious factions.

By this point, Charles was cynical and self-indulgent, less skilled in governing than in surviving adversity. Like his father, he believed he possessed the divine right to rule, but unlike Charles I, he didn’t make it his priority. The Royal Court was notorious for its wine, women and song, and Charles became known as the “Merry Monarch” for his indulgence in hedonistic pleasures.

Later Years

In 1670, Charles signed a treaty with French King Louis XIV in which he agreed to convert to Catholicism and support France’s war against the Dutch in return for subsidies. The French assistance allowed him a little more breathing room in his dealings with Parliament.

Charles’s wife, Queen Catherine, failed to produce a male heir, although he had many sons by a number of mistresses, and by 1677 many feared his Catholic brother, James, Duke of York, would assume the throne. To appease the public, Charles arranged for his niece, Mary, to wed the Protestant William of Orange.

A year later, the “Popish Plot” to assassinate the king emerged. Further investigation revealed no conspiracy existed, but anti-Catholic hysteria in Parliament led to false accusations against Charles’s chief advisor, Lord Danby. Tired of the conflict, Charles dissolved Parliament in 1679 and ruled alone for his remaining years.

On his death bed, Charles finally went through with his promise to convert to Catholicism, angering many of his subjects. He passed away in London’s Whitehall Palace on February 6, 1685.


King Charles II and his wife Catherine left a lasting impact on both England and the world. Catherine is credited with making tea a popular drink in England. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was named for Charles as it was the lapdog of choice in his reign. Part of Catherine's dowry included the Seven Islands of Bombay. Charles II rented out the land to the East India Company which took up headquarters there and resulted in Bombay becoming the dominant city in India and started the colonization of India by the British.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Director Vera Sloan's Thoughts on Or,

“Our play will shortly ricochet between a dense array of seeming opposites:
Spy or poetess, actress or whore
Male or female, straight or gay—or both
Wrong or righteous, treacherous or true
Lust or love, cheap hackney trash or art
Now or then, a distant fervent age
Or this, our time of mingled hope and fear.
And yet despite all seeming diff’rences
Those ors divide less than they subtly link
And what seem opposite and all at odds
Are in their deepest nature most the same.”

When I first read the lines above in Or, I recognized that Liz Duffy Adams' story of the delightfully revolutionary Aphra Behn, amid its poetry and comedy and eroticism, is also a play about all of the deeply human, potentially world-changing beauty of quantum physics (stay with me, drama majors!).

Human beings love neat little boxes. We find comfort in the tidiness of everyone being one thing or the other, and we have an affinity for the belief that the past is reassuringly distant and pleasant, always a “simpler time.” But those ideas are comfortable illusions. Astrophysicists have begun to offer explanations of truths that artists have long understood – time is not linear, and all dichotomies are false. The past is right now, and all of the aspects of who we are, even those that seem contradictory, are simultaneously true. When we explore stories and people of by-gone eras, we can choose to revel in nostalgia, distancing ourselves from a romanticized idea of who people were then. Or, we can choose instead to fully embrace how much all of us, across time and borders and desires, are truly the same.

“We are all made of star stuff,” in the words of Carl Sagan. “We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden” in the words of Joni Mitchell. If they are both right (and they are), and if all of the emotional contradictions and complexities of human beings haven't changed much since Aphra Behn took London by storm in the 1660's (and they haven't), then what do both art and science have to tell us about ourselves and everyone else on the planet? I hope that you see something of yourself tonight on this stage, even though the people you'll see may not immediately seem to be much like you at all. I hope that this reminds you, as it always reminds me, of how deeply similar you must be to people from other places, or of unfamiliar faiths, or who simply live or love a bit differently than you do. That's one of my favorite things about this work and this play, and I'm thrilled to bits that you're here to share in that.

-Vera Sloan

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Who Is Liz Duffy Adams?

Liz Duffy Adams is originally from Ipswitch, Massachussets and holds a dual American and Irish citizenship. She has a BFA from NYU's Experimental Theater Wing, and an MFA in Playwriting from Yale School of Drama. Ms. Adams was the 2012–2013 Briggs-Copeland Visiting Lecturer in Playwriting at Harvard University.
In 2012, she was awarded the "Women of Achievement Award" from the Women's Project Theater. She’s also received a 2010 Lily Award and a 2008 Weston Playhouse Music-Theatre Award, the 2005 Will Glickman Playwright Award from Theatre Bay Area, among others.
Ms. Adams also an alumna of New Dramatists (2001-2008). Other notable New Dramatists playwrights include Annie Baker, Sarah Ruhl, Lynn Nottage, Jen Silverman, Julia Cho, Qui Nguyen, and Kate Fodor, so she’s in fairly illustrious company.

Or, premiered Off Broadway at Women’s Project Theater and has been produced numerous times since, including at the Magic Theater and Seattle Rep.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Who Is Aphra Behn?

Aphra Behn, portrait by Peter Lely
Shockingly little is known of the first 27 years of Aphra Behn's life, due mostly to the unusual absence of any records of her existence during that time. Much of the biographical information presented in this play is true… or at least as likely to be true as any other scholarly theories. What we do know is that she was a spy for the English crown who went on to be one of the first professional female playwrights in the English language. While surprisingly traditional in some of her ideas, including her fierce loyalty to Charles II, her work contained ideas about gender, race, and sexuality that would have been extremely progressive from any writer of the time, but especially a woman. She paved the way for a new generation of English women to not only write professionally but live independently, inspiring 20th Century author Virginia Woolf to comment, "All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn which is, most scandalously but rather appropriately, in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds." She died at the (assumed) age of 48, her tomb inscribed with the words, "Here lies a proof that wit can never be defense enough against mortality."

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Bessie Smith

During The Voice of the Prairie, Leon Schwab cuts to a song by Bessie Smith. Bessie Smith was in fact a real singer and quite extraordinary. From Biography.com

Bessie Smith was born on April 15, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She was one of seven children. Her father, a Baptist minister, died soon after her birth, leaving her mother to raise her and her siblings. Around 1906, her mother and two of her brothers died and Smith and her remaining siblings were raised by their aunt. It was around this time that Smith began to perform as a street singer, accompanied on the guitar by one of her younger brothers. In 1912, Smith began performing as a dancer in the Moses Stokes minstrel show, and soon thereafter in the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, of which blues vocalist Ma Rainey was a member. Rainey took Smith under her wing, and over the next decade Smith continued to perform at various theaters and on the vaudeville circuit. 
By the early 1920s, Smith had settled down and was living in Philadelphia, and in 1923 she met and married a man named Jack Gee. That same year, she was discovered by a representative from Columbia Records, with whom she signed a contract and made her first song recordings. Among them was a track titled "Downhearted Blues," which was wildly popular and sold an estimated 800,000 copies, propelling Smith into the blues spotlight. With her rich, powerful voice, Smith soon became a successful recording artist and toured extensively. Going forward with an idea presented by her brother and business manager Clarence, Smith eventually bought a custom railroad car for her traveling troupe to travel and sleep in. 
In her recording career, Bessie Smith worked with many important jazz performers, such as saxophonist Sidney Bechet and pianists Fletcher Henderson and James P. Johnson. With Johnson, she recorded one of her most famous songs, "Backwater Blues." Smith also collaborated with the legendary jazz artist Louis Armstrong on several tunes, including "Cold in Hand Blues" and "I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle." By the end of the 1920s, Smith was the highest-paid black performer of her day, and had earned herself the title "Empress of the Blues."

So she would have been popular in the times of Davey and Leon's traveling radio show. If you'd like to hear her for yourself. here's Bessie Smith singing perhaps her biggest hit, "Downhearted Blues."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Radio Station Naming Conventions

Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri I was aware that AM radio stations on "my" side of the Mississippi river began with the letter K and on the other side of the river started with the letter "W" but I never really knew WHY. So for The Voice of the Prairie I did a little digging.

It turns out it actually started with telegrams. Telegram operators created a series of short abbreviated call signs to identify the locations of telegrams - often to military and commercial ships. But because there was no standardization on these call signs, things got super confusing - operators could just make up their own call signs and some got re-used and it got messy. To attempt to alleviate the problem, the Bureau of Navigation (part of the Department of Commerce), began assigning three-letter call signs to American ships in the early 1910s. Ships in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico got a K prefix and in the Pacific and the Great Lakes got a W. Why the letters W and K? Nobody actually seems to know any more.

In any case, in 1912 there was a big conference called the London International Radiotelegraphic Convention, and ranges of letters were assigned to each of the participating nations. The U.S. was told to keep using the W and most of the K range, as well as N and A (largely for military communications). Canada was assigned C and Mexico was given X. The call sign combination was allowed to be 3 or 4 letters in length.

It's at around this time that AM radio started to gain traction. Like we see in The Voice of the Prairie, some upstart mavericks began to set up radio towers and start their own radio stations. So in 1928 the Federal Radio Commission (now called the FCC - Federal Communications Commission)  planned to assign licensed ground based commercial radio stations in the same way, except the directions somehow got flipped. Eastern stations got W call signs and the Western ones got Ks. Where exactly did the FRC draw the line between East and West? For a while it ran north from the Texas-New Mexico border, but shifted in 1923 to follow the Mississippi River and more accurately split the country in half.

It's never been a totally strictly regulated standard and a number of old radio stations got grandfathered in, but going forward radio stations have tended to follow in that standard. For about a year in the 1920s, the Bureau of Navigation that decided that all new stations were going to get a K call sign no matter where they were located. Still other exceptions were made by special request, station relocations, ownership changes, and even human error. So, it's a standard except for when it's not.

The letters after the W or K? They're a bit more nonsensical. Some are named after their parent company, like WABC or KCBS. Chicago's WGN stands for "World's Greatest Newspaper"  and Chicago's WTTW stands for  “Windows to the World.” Some in the east actually reference the heir station's number, like KTWO and KFOR or the Roman numerals in call names like KXII or WIXT.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Kansas First, Kansas Best!

During the play The Voice of the Prairie, the characters reference a mighty Kansas radio station called KFKB - Kansas First, Kansas Best. I got curious about this since I'm from St. Louis and I'd never heard of this radio station before. I did some research and there's actually a pretty hilariously weird story behind the creation of KFKB.

KFKB Radio was in fact a real radio station. It operated at 1,050 kilocycles with 5,000 watts power, which for the time was immense. The station was licensed on September 20, 1923, to the Brinkley-Jones Hospital Association, and operated until June 3, 1925. On October 23, 1926, it was relicensed to J. R. Brinkley.

"Doctor" John Brinkley
John R. Brinkley was a doctor practicing in Milford, Kansas. He created a radio station that he hoped would entertain his patients. While not the first station licensed in Kansas, KFKB was groundbreaking in many ways. Brinkley promoted his medical activities and provided entertainment to his listening audience in several states, as well as the hospital. He was a pioneer in radio entertainment. as they say in the play, the station became quite popular for its entertainment schedule. Music, lectures, weather, politics, baseball, and national events were among the programs. 

Here's where the story starts to get weird though. On the station Brinkley promoted his goat gland surgeries and read letters of testimonials on air. What are goat gland surgeries you ask?  Here's where it gets hilariously weird. From Quackwatch.org we learn the following:

... after Brinkley had gone into private practice in Milford, Kansas, a farmer named Stittsworth came to see him. Stittsworth complained of a sagging libido. Recalling the goats' frantic antics, the doctor semi-jokingly told his patient that what he needed was some goat glands. Stittsworth quickly responded, "So, Doc, put 'em in. Transplant 'em." 
Most doctors would have ignored the bizarre request, but Brinkley was not like most doctors. In fact, he wasn't a doctor at all. Although he had spent three years at Bennet Medical College in Chicago, he'd never graduated. He called himself a doctor on the basis of a $500 diploma he had purchased from the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City, Missouri. As absurd as it sounds, this piece of paper gave him the right to practice medicine in Arkansas, Kansas, and a few other states.
Buying a degree from a diploma mill was not out of character for Brinkley. He had worked as a snake-oil salesman in a road show, and then, with Chicago con man James Crawford, established Greenville Electro Medical Doctors. Under this name the pair injected people with colored distilled water for $25 a shot. And that was big money in those days. Brinkley, therefore, had all he needed to capitalize on the farmer's idea of goat-gland transplants: he was unethical, he had a wobbly knowledge of medicine, and he had witnessed the rambunctious behavior of goats. And he possessed one more thing: knowledge of experiments carried out in Europe beginning in the late 1800s. 
Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard, a noted French physiologist, had shocked the medical community by injecting himself with the crushed testicles of young dogs and guinea pigs. Afterwards he claimed that he had regained the physical stamina and intellectual vigor of his youth. Many men availed themselves of La Méthode Sequardienne, but once the placebo effect was filtered out little remained. In Vienna physiologist Eugen Steinach proposed that youthful vitality could be restored by increasing levels of testosterone. The easiest way to do this, Steinach said, was through vasectomy. Sperm production wasted testosterone, and if the channel leading from the testes to the ejaculatory duct were tied off, then blood levels of testosterone would rise. Brinkley may also have heard of the work of Serge Voronoff, a French doctor who was stirring up a storm of controversy with his experimental gland transplants. Voronoff had been a physician in the court of the King of Egypt, and there he had spent a great deal of time treating the court eunuchs, who suffered from a variety of illnesses. He hypothesized that maintaining active genital glands was the secret to health. As proof, he cited his experiments with an aging ram into which he had transplanted the testicles of a young lamb. The ram's wool got thicker, and his sexual vigor returned. Voronoff then went on to transplant bits of monkey testes into aging men; he claimed success, although he could offer no scientific validation of his claim. In America the stage was set for the meteoric rise of J.R. Brinkley.
Brinkley went to work, implanting a bit of goat gonad in Stittsworth's testicle. Within weeks the farmer was back to thank the doctor for giving him back his libido. And when his wife gave birth to a boy, whom they appropriately named Billy, Stittsworth spread the word about Brinkley. Soon Brinkley's business was booming. The testimonials poured in and so did the money. Brinkley was charging $750 per transplant, and he couldn't keep up with the demand. All men needed the Brinkley operation, he declared, but the procedure was most suited to the intelligent and least suited to the "stupid type." This, of course, ensured that few of his patients would admit that they had not benefited from the operation.
There were a few problems. Like when Brinkley decided to use angora goat testicles instead of those from the more common Toggenberg goat. Recipients of the angora testicles were decidedly unhappy—Brinkley himself noted that they reeked like a steamy barn in midsummer. But Brinkley's major problem was that as his fame increased so did the criticism leveled against him by the medical community. Morris Fishbein, editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association, called Brinkley a smooth-tongued charlatan and urged the authorities to revoke his right to practice. Brinkley's assertion that his procedure could cure conditions ranging from insanity and acne to influenza and high blood pressure amounted to quackery, Fishbein said. In response to this Brinkley called the American Medical Association a "meat-cutters union" and charged that its members were jealous of him because they were losing business. He then went to California and performed a transplant on Harry Chandler, the owner of The Los Angeles Times; the satisfied Chandler rewarded Brinkley with lots of free publicity.
In California Brinkley also learned about the potential of radio. Returning home, in 1923, he started up the radio station KFKB With 1,000 watts - an amazing number for the time - and broadcast music, his lectures on rejuvenation, political features, and the "Medical Question Box," during which Brinkley himself answered listeners' questions. It was perhaps radio's earliest advice show. But the advice Brinkley dispensed was ridiculous, and he usually gave listeners prescriptions to which he assigned a number. These they could fill at a local pharmacy; Brinkley had set up the National Dr. Brinkley Pharmaceutical Association in collusion with pharmacists who relished making lots of money selling water colored with indigo.
Kickbacks from this operation and revenues from the transplant surgeries made Brinkley an immensely wealthy man. For $5,000, he would even implant genuine human glands, which he obtained from prisoners on death row. He had mansions, a fleet of Cadillacs, airplanes, and yachts. What he did not have was scientific respect. The American Medical Association finally prevailed upon the Kansas Board of Medical Registration to revoke Brinkley's license on the grounds of immorality and unprofessional conduct, and the Federal Radio Commission shut down KFKB for promoting fraud. Still Brinkley did not capitulate. He claimed he was being crucified by the authorities and kept his hospital going by hiring licensed physicians to work there. He also purchased radio station XERA in Mexico and began beaming his message into the United States with the power of one hundred thousand watts. 
The "doctor" then decided that the only way to get his license back was to become governor. So in 1930 he organized a massive write-in campaign, and he almost won. By insisting that he was being persecuted by elitist doctors and politicians he won the support of ordinary citizens; and his promise to build free clinics and cure virtually all diseases boosted his appeal even further. But Brinkley couldn't even cure himself. The Milford Messiah—as he was sometimes called—the man who had performed over 16,000 goat testicle transplants, the man who appropriately wore a goatee all his life, developed a blood clot, and doctors had to amputate his leg. Till the very end, Brinkley's scheming mind remained active. Confined to bed, he decided to study for the ministry and had visions of becoming a big-time preacher, He never made it. His last words were reported to have been, "If Dr. Fishbein goes to heaven, I want to go the other way." If there is any justice in the world, he did.

Brinkley’s license renewal was denied in 1931 after claims of indecency had been filed against the doctor. The state medical board revoked Brinkley’s license for unprofessional conduct. KFKB radio folded and there's now a KFKB AM radio station in Forks, Washington. The story does show that Leon Schwab's hijinks in The Voice of the Prairie weren't all that far of the mark of those early days of radio. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Who Is John Olive?

John Olive is a widely-produced and award-winning playwright.His plays include Standing on my Knees, Minnesota Moon, The Voice of the Prairie, Evelyn and the Polka King, Killers, The Summer Moon, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, Careless Love, God Fire, and Singapore. He's had his works produced at such prestigious theaters as the Manhattan Theatre Club, Old Globe, Steppenwolf, Wisdom Bridge, South Coast Rep, Alley Theater, the Guthrie, Actors Theatre Of Louisville, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, ACT/Seattle. 
Playwright John Olive

Lately, he has written extensively in the area of Theater For Young Audiences for Seattle Childrens, the Arden, Peoples Light, First Stage Milwaukee, Oregon Childrens, among others. Plays include  Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Johnny Tremain, Jason and the Golden Fleece, The Magic Bicycle, Pharaoh Serket and the Lost Stone of Fire, and Water Babies. He is currently working on an adaptation of Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s The Sisters Eight.

Awards include: a Jerome Fellowship, three McKnight Fellowships, a National Endowment For The Arts Fellowship, two Bush Fellowships, the Society of Midland Authors Award For Drama (Standing on my Knees), Kennedy Center Award For New Plays (The Summer Moon), and a Rockefeller Residency (Wisdom Bridge). John has written screen and teleplays for: Disney, Amblin Entertainment, ShadowCatcher Entertainment, Yorktown Productions, Lorimar Television, among others. His screenplay A Slaying Song Tonight has just been finished.

Mr. Oliver's book about bedtime stories, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, will be published shortly by Familius. John has two YA novels going: Smartass and Deep River (in collaboration with David Grant). Audiobooks based on Johns novellas will shortly be available. John writes reviews and essays for HowWasTheShow.com and does voice acting through Talent Poole.

Husband to Mary, father to Michael, Mr. Oliver lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is currently a core writer at the Playwright's Center in Minneapolis. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Story of Lo Speziale

For our production of Lo Speziale the production team has taken the original translation by Carlo Goldoni and updated it to connect the story to something contemporary - Breaking Bad. Here's OUR version of the story of Lo Speziale:

Sempronio is a middle aged meth cook who took in an orphaned young woman named Grilletta. Now that she is of a marriageable age, Sempronio is inspired by recent news, and decides that he will marry Grilletta to take control of her personal fortune. Sempronio, however, has two younger rivals - his apprentice Mengone and Volpino, a rich lawyer who is a regular customer. 


Mengone enters the lab, take a hit off his meth pipe, and falls into a drug induced haze in which he dreams... 


In the first scene we see Mengone as he mixes drugs while singing about how he hates his job. He knows nothing about chemistry and only works as an apprentice to Sempronio to be near Grilletta, who he's fallen in love with. 

Sempronio arrives 
and doesn't pay attention to Mengone - he seems more interested in reading the news than in making drugs. HIs favorite is a story about a drug dealer who married his ward. This inspires Sempronio to hurry up and marry Grilletta, much to Mengone's dismay. Enter Volpino with a fake order - he's really come to woo Grilletta. Volpino has noticed that Mengone also has a crush on Grilletta so he uses his visit to tease Mengone. While Mengone is busy making the drugs for Volpino's order, Volpino tries to seduce Grilletta, who is not interested and mocks Volpino's efforts. Volpino hates being teased and threatens to kill Mengone.

Once Volpino has left the shop, Grilletta finds herself alone with Mengone and flirts with him, since Mengone is the man Grilletta really wants.
Sempronio returns and cuts their flirtation short. Sempronio is once more engrossed with current events and mulls over an opportunity to take over territory from the Mexican cartels. Sempronio leaves once again to devise a plan, and Mengone and Grilletta get friskier. Sempronio catches them in a compromising pose and in a rage kicks them both out of the lab. 



Sempronio decides to marry Grilletta and end her flirtations once and for all. Sempronio sends for a notary to perform a civil marriage service.

Meanwhile, Grilletta has had just about enough of Mengone's inability to stand up for himself to Sempronio and ask for her hand in marriage so she decides she will marry the first man who
 proposes to her. Sempronio proposes and Grilletta reluctantly accepts, but only to push Mengone into action. 

The notary arrives - but it's Volpino in disguise! 
Then a second notary arrives - Mengone in disguise! Sempronio, not recognizing either of the two, asks them both to write a copy of a marriage contract. He dictates the contract, in which Grilletta is said to marry Sempronio by her own free will; the two fake notaries distort every word, and each puts his own name instead of Sempronio's. When the contract is written, Sempronio takes one copy, Grilletta the other and the whole fraud is discovered. Volpino and Mengone are then kicked out of the lab by Sempronio.



Sempronio receives a letter from Volpino, telling him that the cartels want to pay a lot of money for his superior blue meth. Mengone and Grilletta confess that they still love each other, and devise a plan to convince Sempronio to let them marry. Soon after, Volpino, disguised as a Mexican drug dealer, arrives to negotiate a major drug deal with Sempronio and the two celebrate their deal with "libations." After their celebration, Grilletta and Mengone convince Sempronio, who in incredibly high, to let them marry. Without realizing that the suitor is Mengone, Sempronio agrees thinking he is making a deal with the same Cartel Leader he just celebrated with. Volpino arrives back on the scene, confused to find that Grilletta is already married to someone else. Volpino finally gives up, and the young lovers smoke to their happy future. 

Meet the Characters of Lo Speziale

Lo Speziale was Joseph Haydn's third opera, and the first opera to be performed performed in 1773 at the newly-built opera house at Eszterhazá, often referred to as the Versailles of Hungary. Goldoni’s libretto, which had been set fifteen years earlier for a carnival in Bologna, had to be rewritten and reduced to suit the four singers available. This involved the necessity of casting a woman in the role of Volpino and transferring one of the other male roles from the bass clef. A cast with two tenors and two sopranos, is in other words no whim of the librettist and/or the composer but a practicality. After the Eszterhazá performances the work fell into oblivion but was revived in the late 19th century. It was drastically rewritten, with little left of Haydn’s original, when it was performed by conductors like Mahler. It was not until the late 1950s that an authentic edition was published, based on an incomplete Budapest score. The greatest problem is that there is a great deal missing from the third act: an aria, a duet and lots of recitative. The opera is scored for two flutes, two oboes, bassoon, two horns, strings, continuo.

Lo Speziale tells the comedic story of a love triangle between the poor apprentice Mengone, the rich and assured dandy Volpino, and the local apothecary's ward, Grilletta. 

The Characters


(Team Pinkman: Katia Hayati / Team White: Carmelo Rosado)

An old apothecary, traditionally sung by a tenor. Sempronio is obsessed with the news. For our purposes, Sempronio is akin to Walter White.


(Team Pinkman: Kathryn Benedicto / Team White: Nicole Cooper)

Sempronio's ward, has a substantial inheritance. Traditionally sung by a soprano. For our purposes, Grilletta was inspired by Jane Margolis.


(Team Pinkman: Carmello Tringali / Team White: Mark Bonney)

Sempronio's young apprentice, traditionally sung by a tenor. For our purposes, Sempronio is Jessie Pinkman, the guy who's really too sweet to be a drug dealer.



 (Team Pinkman: Ewa Nowicka / Team White: Corinne Rydman)

A rich young dandy, regular drug buyer from Sempronio. Traditionally a breeches role, sung by a mezzo-soprano. For our story, Saul Goodman was our character reference.

Monday, July 6, 2015

All About Opera - The Cliff Notes for Beginners


What should I wear to see an opera? 
In Europe the dress does tend to run very formal (black tie) for every performance. Here in America, people do choose to make it a night out with fancy dress for a night at the opera, but honestly you can wear whatever you want. Here though, Silicon Valley work attire is just fine. Lo Speziale is an opera about drug dealers and wacky hijinks so whatever makes you ready to laugh is fine!

Most operas aren't sung in English so how will I know what's going on? 
Nowadays most operas project English translations (called surtitles or supertitles) above the stage. For Lo Speziale the production team has even updated the supertitles to reflect their Breaking Bad parody. 

Can I bring kids?
Generally, opera is better suited to older children because the stories often contain adult themes, and following the supertitles can be difficult for new readers. When bringing a child to the opera, it is helpful to explain the story in advance and instruct them on proper audience behavior - things like no talking and no kicking the seats. Lo Speziale is rated PG-13 for drug references, and adult language and gestures. 

How long does the opera last? Is there an intermission?
Running times vary per opera, but most run 2-3 hours in length, like most Broadway musicals. Some operas have two intermissions. Lo Speziale, however, is quite short as it has an approximate run time of 95 minutes which does include one 15 minute intermission. 

When should I clap?
At the end of big arias (solos) during an Italian opera (not during a heavy Wagnerian type opera - it's considered rude), at the end of each scene, and, of course, at the final curtain call. If you really enjoyed a singer's performance, during the curtain call feel free to shout out "Bravo!" (for a male performer), "Brava!" (for a woman) or "Bravi!" (for a group) - every performer loves an appreciative audience!

Any thing else I should know?
Please remain quiet from the time the orchestra starts (the overture is part of the opera, too!) so that everyone around you can enjoy the music. Don't open candy or gum wrappers, talk, use your cell phone or anything that lights up or goes beep during the performance. There is no photography or unauthorized recording during the show. Please do not sing along, tap in time, get up and move around or try to read your program while the performance is in progress - it's really distracting to the people around you! It is, however, quite alright to laugh! Lo Speziale is a comedy so enjoy it! Actors love to hear laughter in the audience! 

Opera Terms

Act. One of the main divisions of a drama, opera or ballet, usually completing a part of the action and often having a climax of its own.

Aria. [ah-ree-ah] A song sung by one person. In Italian, aria means "air," "style," "manner." The aria had a central place in early opera and throughout operatic history, arias have been used to highlight an emotional state of mind and accentuate the main characters.

Baritone. The most common category of the male voice; lower than a tenor, but higher than a bass. Baritones were more commonly used in during the Romantic opera era.

Bass. The lowest male voice. Many bass roles are associated with characters of authority or comedy.

Buffa. Opera buffa is a genre of opera that began in Naples in the mid-18th century. It's an exaggerated comedic opera that developed from the interludes performed between acts of the more serious operas. Opera buffa tends to have only two acts whereas opera seria (the more serious tragic operas) generally have three acts. The best known opera buffa is Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Lo Speziale is an opera buffa.

cadenza - Near the end of an aria, a series of difficult, fast high notes that allow the singer to demonstrate vocal ability.

coloratura soprano - A very high pitched soprano. also the description of singing which pertains to great feats of agility - fast singing, high singing, trills, and embellishments.

Composer. The person who writes the vocal and/or orchestral music (score).

Conductor. The person in charge of all the musical aspects of an opera; both orchestrally and vocally.

crescendo - Getting progressively louder.

diminuendo - Getting progressively softer.

Dynamics. The degrees of volume (loudness and softness) in music. Also the words, abbreviations, and symbols used to indicate degrees of volume. Piano (soft) and forte (loud) are most common.

Duet. Two people singing together.

finale - Last song of an act, usually involving a large number of singers.

Harmony. Harmony is the chordal or vertical structure of a piece of music, as opposed to melody (and polyphony, or multiple melodies) which represents the horizontal structure. The succession of chords in a given piece is referred to as a chord progression.

Librettist. The person who writes the text (words) of the opera.

Libretto. [lih-breh-toh] The text of the opera. In Italian, it means "little book."

Lyrics. Words of an opera or of a song.

Opera. A staged musical work in which some or all of the parts are sung. In Italian, the word "opera" means a work which is derived as the plural of the Latin opus. Opera is a union of music, drama and spectacle.

Overture. An orchestral introduction played before the action begins. The overture is often used to set the mood of the opera. Many composers used the overture to introduce themes or arias within the opera and sometimes the overture became more well known than the opera itself.

Pants Role. A young male character who is sung by a woman, usually a mezzo-soprano, meant to imitate the sound of a boy whose voice has not yet changed. In Lo Speziale, the role of Volpino is traditionally a pants role. 

Quartet. Four people singing together.

Recitative. Dialogue which is "sing-speak." The recitative helps get through a lot of text quickly and moves the action along. Often precedes an aria or ensemble.

Soprano. The highest female voice. The soprano is commonly the lead female character.

Tempo. The speed of the music.

Tenor. The highest natural male voice. Often the lead male character within the opera.

Trio. Three people singing together.