Thursday, September 29, 2011
Inside these walls are the very earliest vibrations of the blues. In 1900, a 14-year-old local girl with a big, hearty voice walked from the choir loft of the First African Baptist Church onto the Springer stage with her band, “A Bunch of Blackberries.” American music was never the same.
A rich gumbo of spirituals, prison work gang songs, field hollers, shouts, country string band ballads and chants was beginning to bubble up to form the American original we call the blues. When minstrel show singer and comedian Will Rainey came through Columbus in 1904, the 18 year-old Gertrude Pridgett left with him and they became known as “Rainey and Rainey — Assassinators of the Blues.”
Gertrude and Will Rainey (“Ma” and “Pa” Rainey, they were later called) toured the country continuously on the “gut-bucket circuit” and eventually made their way into the Chicago clubs of the Roaring Twenties. There, a young Louis Armstrong played trumpet in Ma Rainey’s band along with another Georgian, piano player Thomas A. Dorsey from Villa Rica. The blues that Ma Rainey and Thomas A. Dorsey cooked up eventually took on spiritual themes and Dorsey started a whole new musical movement that quickly caught on: gospel.
Within a few years, Ma Rainey was charting the course for 20th century music. The music she wrote, performed and recorded formed the foundation of virtually every major American music form born in the 20th century, including jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and hip hop.
So it’s only right that the Blues Brothers have made this pilgrimage to the very spot where it all began. They are indeed on a “mission from God” — to remind us all that the blues is the true American original and that it’s alive and well.
Many thanks to Judy Belushi for collaborating with us on this special project and to Dan Aykroyd for producing our tv and radio spots. Once we close here, we will take this show on a 17-week, 60-performance national tour.
Just remember — it all started here with a 14-year-old girl.
Paul R. Pierce
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
The following commentary by Ron Anderson, the Springer's associate artistic director and director and founder of the Springer Theatre Academy, that appeared in the Ledger-Enquirer on Aug. 16.
An extraordinary thing happened at the Springer Opera House on Saturday night.
The Springer’s State Theatre Dinner drew an overflow black-tie and evening-gown crowd, who all came to acknowledge, support and contribute to the Springer Theatre Academy, the 800 students who comprise the our young-actor training program.
But that was not the extraordinary thing.
Among the hundreds in attendance on Saturday were Gov. Nathan Deal and his wife Sandra, Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and her husband Tripp, Fort Benning Commanding General Robert Brown and his wife Patti, various dignitaries, business leaders, community leaders, artists and arts supporters. But that was not the extraordinary thing.
Katie Deal, the daughter of the governor and a frequent performer on the Springer stage, entertained the crowd and sang a tribute to her parents on the eve of her father’s birthday. But that was not the extraordinary thing.
Artistic Director Paul Pierce gave a special acknowledgment to Sally Foley, a long-time Springer trustee and avid gardener, and presented her a rare gift of a very rare plant, the franklinia alamataha (or Franklin tree), native to Georgia but extinct in the wild for over two hundred years, and a tree that will be planted in the Springer’s new Learning Garden. That was not the extraordinary thing.
The mayor had high praise for the governor; the governor had high praise for Columbus and the arts; everyone there had high praise for the food, the decorations, the company and the service. And while all of these things added up to be one of the most pleasurable and memorable evenings the Springer has ever hosted (and through 140 years of hosting, the Springer has experienced some extraordinary things) still, that was not it.
What happened Saturday night at the Springer was that an exceedingly pleasant evening was absolutely transformed by the presence and the performance of one artist. As expected, folk singer and story teller Allen Levi charmed the crowd with his songs – pleasant yet energetic, witty yet insightful, home-spun yet inspiring. And that would have been enough to make this fundraiser for the Springer an event to remember.
However, at the end of his performance, Allen segued into a very personal and profoundly moving tribute to his younger brother Gary, present in the theatre that night but recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Upon learning three weeks ago of his brother’s condition, Allen had considered canceling his appearance at the Springer. He just didn’t think that he could or should go about his normal business and scheduled concerts knowing that his brother’s days were numbered.
But at Gary’s insistence, Allen did appear at the Springer. He went on stage Saturday night and did what he was born to do – sing. And at once, the evening was transformed. His music was both intensely anguished and assuredly hopeful. He sang from his heart directly to the hearts of those listening, and it seemed that no one swallowed or blinked or breathed for almost ten minutes.
It was one of those incredibly rare and incredibly truthful moments in live performance that even we who work in theatre experience all too seldom. It was a moment that reminds us of the power of simplicity, honesty and directness. The power of a performer to connect with an audience and then gently lead them to a new understanding. It is the nature and power of art.
Allen Levi performed for the attendees at the Springer’s State Theatre Dinner. But he did something much larger and more important. He gave them a gift. They came for an enjoyable evening; they came to be entertained; they came to support a program for young artists. Allen gave them an understanding of why that is so important.
On behalf of the Springer, I would like to thank the patrons, donors and supporters of this grand theater, its productions and its educational programming. I would like to thank the Springer Theatre Academy students, who not only inspired the evening, but lent their glorious voices to its festivities. I would like to thank the Springer staff, whose Herculean efforts dazzled the attendees. I would like to thank the caterers and staff from the Marriott who helped make Saturday night such a marvelous event.
And a very special thank you to our dear friend Allen Levi, who reminds us of why we come to the theater – to be moved.
Ron Anderson, the Springer's associate artistic director
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
When Mama calls from Mississippi, she now prefaces stories with, “Now, I don’t wanna see this in a play, Son.” So I respond, “Of course not,” in my most innocent fashion.
This little exchange is nothing but lies. She knows I’m gonna write it all down, and I know she flat-out cannot wait to see it in a play.
I’ve been gently folding our family history into stage productions for nearly 15 years now, and it’s afforded me astonishing perspective on our shared experience – I’ve received letters from audience members who absolutely insisted I stole that story from their family, when I would have sworn it could only ever have been my Aunt Barbara. Families and communities are all alike – we use different terms to describe ourselves so we feel unique, but the experiences are so universal.
Still, imagine how my relations feel the first time they see a new play, as the lights go down: “Oh sweet Lord, what secrets did he tell this time?” Well, many of you don’t have to imagine. You’re wondering the same thing right now.
Paul Pierce approached me early last year and shared a dream he’d long held – he wanted to see a play that captured, in some small way, what he loved about Columbus. He had become familiar with my writing, and had a notion that between us two Southern boys, we might be able to pull it off. Researching this play was a delight – talking to lifelong residents, exploring the past, and collecting stories.
In the South, we record our history in stories. All of our life lessons and cautionary tales are gently wrapped in family folklore and community legend. What I found in Columbus is a culture facing a curious challenge – embracing traditions of the past, while striving to build a modern, diverse community. Finding the balance between past and future is not a conundrum unique to Columbus, or even to Georgia – it’s something we all face. In navigating contemporary society, the Tuttles of Lakebottom Proper are trying desperately to figure out how to play a game where nobody’s shown them the rules.
Does Lakebottom Proper tell secrets? Absolutely. But not the ones you might think. I don’t reveal the names of any underground committees or report any illicit affairs – I’ll let y’all do that at intermission.
The real secret in this play: For 21st century Southerners, nobody is quite certain what the “rules” are anymore, and the resulting chaos is very, very entertaining.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer is based on the book by former president Jimmy Carter, with illustrations by Amy Carter. The story originated in President Carter’s navy days (1946-1953) when after long sea deployments, he would make up sea monster stories to entertain his children. Although it is primarily a children’s story, The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer touches on many poignant subjects: single-parent families, living with disability, childhood teasing, fear and misunderstanding of people who are different, fear of being different, military families in deployment, long-hidden illness. It is told in story-within-a-story form, launching a fairy-tale adventure with fantastical creatures, strong characterizations and heightened drama.
This production will absolutely delight young audiences. However, the story’s appeal, both in book form and on stage, is universal. At its core, The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer is a simple tale of friendship. Two wandering souls find each other, and in the process, find themselves. Each demonstrates curiosity and courage in their willingness to take a chance on the other. Each exemplifies integrity and honor in their selfless defense of the other. Not a bad value system for children. Or for grown ups.
Since we adapted and premiered The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer in 2003, a number of other children’s theatres have produced it as well, including a performance last August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.
It has been a joy for me to remount The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer. The cast, anchored by Adam Archer and Lisa Cesnik, have been extraordinary in their creativity and their commitment. My thanks to artistic partners Dona Pierce, Tom Heiman, Tiffany Galey, Hampton Bishop and Sam Renner. Thank you again to the wonderful people at the Carter Center, particularly Faye Perdue and Nancy Konigsmark, for their assistance. And a very special thank you to President Carter for his trust, his encouragement and his inspiration.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Dracula is different than anything we’ve done before. Usually the plays we do have some greater meaning, but this is a play that is just about the fun of being scared.
It’s great to do Dracula and show all the fans of Twilight, True Blood and all the other recent vampire stories why those vampires are sissies in comparison with the king of vampires. And it’s got knife fights; doing plays with knife or sword fights is always great!
Here are Steve Dietz’s notes from the premiere of his adaptation of Bram Stoker’s horror classic. He sums up eloquently why it’s so much fun to tell this story:
I write to you from the midst of an enormous shadow. It is a shadow cast by history and fate; legend and myth. It is the shadow of Bram Stoker.
Stoker was a man of the theatre, serving as noted actor Henry Irving’s business and tour manager for more than 25 years. It is altogether fitting, then, that Dracula has found a home not only in book stores, but on the stage. Even more so than film (cursed by its technology to always present a full picture) the stage presents an audience with the exact conundrum faced by a reader of Stoker’s book: pieces of a story; fragments and clues, left partly unassembled. Events awaiting a detective.
Most of the characters in Bram Stoker’s Dracula spend the better part of the book trying desperately — with absolute best of intentions — to keep secrets from one another. Their reasons have to do with safety, honor, respectability, and science … but every secret buys the vampire in their midst more time. Every evasion increases the impossibility of anyone assembling the totality of the facts, the cumulative force of the information. Secrecy breeds invasion. Darkness begets darkness. It is this secrecy breeds invasion. Darkness begets darkness.
It is this secrecy among the principal characters — heightened by the lack of third-person objectivity, since the novel consists entirely of personal letters, diaries and news reports — that is the heart of the book’s unique power. The objectivity so desperately needed by the characters is handed to the reader. A transcontinental jigsaw puzzle. A myriad of disturbing clues. And it falls to the reader alone to make the connections between these events.
The theatre’s intrinsic reliance on the imagination of its audience (where one flower can represent a garden; one flag, a country) finds its perfect compliment in Stoker’s Dracula. Stoker, like the greatest of playwrights, understands that the mind is constantly in search of order. We cannot help but make stories out of whatever [seemingly] random information is presented to us. We are unwitting conspirators to the art of story telling. In this way, stoker gives us the feeling that the story cannot happen without us.
I had a blast adapting Mr. Stoker’s masterpiece. It was a thrilling, humbling, invigorating experience. As I was writing, my friends kept asking what my “take” on the story was. In my adaptation, they wondered, what did Dracula “represent?” And though I was tempted to join them in their esoteric aerobics, I realized that, for my purposes to make Dracula a “metaphor” was cheating. It was akin to putting a muzzle on the most terrifying aspect of the story. You can hide from a metaphor. A metaphor doesn’t wait outside your window under a full moon. A metaphor doesn’t turn into a bat and land on your bed. So, instead, I took Mr. Stoker at his word: Although there are obviously many metaphorical dimensions to Count Dracula, the actual being is the most haunting. The question, then, is not what Dracula represents, but what he is: A brilliant, seductive, fanged beast waiting to suck the blood from your throat. Hide from that.
So, as the Count himself would say: “Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will!” The shadow has been cast. The clues are here. The story awaits you.
What will happen tonight?