Love's Challenges and Consolations
Umbrella Hat Productions and Santa Fe Performing Arts in association with RyderWorks will present the Santa Fe Theatre Festival from August 12-22, 2010. The main stage plays include Hillary DePiano’s contemporary reworking of Carlo Gozzi’s Commedia dell’ Arte classic The Love of Three Oranges (LTO) and a double bill of John Patrick Shanley’s Danny and the Deep Blue Sea (DDBS) and Cindy Lou Johnson’s The Person I Once Was (PIOW). LTO will be directed by Rima Miller and PIOW will be directed by Genia Michaela, both currently living in Santa Fe.
John Patrick Shanley (an Oscar, Tony, and Emmy award recipient) will join the company as guest artist and will participate in an audience talkback after the August 19th performance of DDBS.
An ensemble of professional actors, directors, designers, and educators from Santa Fe, New York, and Los Angeles, Umbrella Hat (UH) returns to the City Different for its second year with enough energy and ambition to keep Santa Fe dazzled during its summer residency. UH’s activities, besides its fifteen main stage presentations, include a student film festival (IAIA students on August 17 & 18), a new play reading festival (featuring playwrights Rodrigo Rojas, Rosemary Zibart, Vickie Ramirez and company members Nate Patrus and William Ryder on August 17 & 18—Suggested Donation = $5), bi-weekly 90-minute free youth theater workshops (ages 10 and up) on a variety of theater subjects taught by UH members as part of its Outreach Program (July 21-August 20), and a late night variety show (after the performance of DDS on August 20—Tickets = $15).
On July 27, 2010, I spoke by telephone with UH Outreach Director and ensemble member Caitlin Newman as she was waiting at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to return to Santa Fe. We began our talk by discussing how she became involved with Umbrella Hat: “I worked with UH Artistic Director Samara Neely-Cohen at the Dorset Theater Festival in Manchester (VT). Samara grew up in Santa Fe and was looking for a way to bring more theater to her New Mexican home. I was an ensemble member last year and looked for a bigger role in the company this year.” An actor in musical theatre and a television performer (Caitlin sang at Carnegie Hall this year), she has expanded her role in UH by becoming the Community Outreach Director.
The entire company is sanguine about its Santa Fe program: “The new play reading series is a fun and exciting way to see new work at the very beginning of its development. The readings are often the first [public forum] for the dramatists.” The student film festival is a departure for UH this year and is an attempt, in part, to pay homage to the area’s “beautiful” landscapes and “film centric” nature: “We are producing the student films of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). Students from the school were UH interns last year and we [UH] wondered how we could showcase the great work they were creating.” As for the purpose of UH’s Variety Show, Caitlin stressed the free-form nature of the evening: “This will be a funny, silly free-for-all with any and all in the community invited to participate in a wild and crazy event. If you have always wanted to juggle while riding a unicycle, this is your chance to do so.” Finally, Caitlin is most concerned with the Youth Outreach Program: “This is my baby. I love to work with children and the arts. It is a huge passion of mine. The 90-minute bi-weekly classes are by UH theater professionals and, as long as the children meet the age requirement of ten and up, all are invited to these absolutely free classes. This [Santa Fe] has been such a welcoming community that we [UH] want to leave something of permanence for the youth. In the future if some of the workshop participants wish to pursue opportunities or even careers in the theater, they have a network of people in Santa Fe, New York, and Los Angeles to contact [for advice].”
In an era when the philosophy of the day is influenced and defined by “The Simpsons” and “The Family Guy,” the dominant voice and style is characterized by the trinity of parody, satire, and irony. One distances oneself from the absurdity of the age before embracing and reinventing this same world. UH’s youthful ensemble has chosen Hillary DePiano’s contemporary take on Carlo Gozzi’s classic Commedia dell’ Arte The Love of Three Oranges to open its 2010 Santa Fe Theatre Festival. Actor Caitlin Newman finds the show “child- and family-friendly” which meets her personal desire “to inspire kids through the arts.” Santa Fe actor and yoga/dance instructor Rima Miller will be directing this production, and Caitlin finds her experience in the DePaino play a “special treat”: “To work with such a bundle of energy as Rima and to be working [with such a talented cast] on interpretation and meaning makes things so much easier [and enjoyable]. I love the collaboration.”
Caitlin Newman finds that LTO with its “glorious costumes and exciting spectacle” provides “a foil to the other evening of two short works that are completely different in their serious and darkly comic style.”
In a telephone interview on July 28, 2010, with UH ensemble member and director of PIOW Genia Michaela; we discussed the “inevitability” of her becoming a director: “I worked last year with the company [UH] playing the role of Claire in David Auburn’s Proof. This year Samara [UH Artistic Director] presented me with two one-acts which I thought were excellent choices. I have been a working actor for practically my whole life in theater, film, opera, contemporary music, dance, writing and more, so [that directing is] another organic part of my entire life in the arts.” Genia finds the synchronicity of discovery invigorating: “I’ve found that I end up learning the same things at any given moment, regardless of whether I am in class, on set, or on the ice. (Genia played center and was a face-off specialist for the Yale ice hockey team). I am curious by nature.”
Genia Michaela finds that while the two one acts in this year’s season are very different “in style, tone, place, and nearly everything,” there is a central thematic tie-in between the works: “The plays are character-driven [pieces] about people who are trapped, living out particular and narrow roles that are quite painful. They desperately want to change and, [as usually is not the case] actually manage to do so.”
In response to my query about directorial challenges she may face, Genia mentioned the limited rehearsal time: “We are doing two plays at once and I haven’t found rehearsing a one act to be substantially different from rehearsing a full-length play. All of the work needed for an actor to inhabit a character on stage still needs to be done. [In recognition of this reality], I have a fantastic assistant director, Stenise Reaves, who helps run rehearsals as I work on both plays.” Another major challenge is “establishing a strong creative team of actors, director, designers, and technicians. For the plays to work, there can be “no weak links.”
As for the rehearsal process itself, Genia revealed that she began with table work before the actors even got on their feet. The text-based work concentrated on the director asking many questions of the actors: “I find that if an actor doesn’t know or understand a line or why they are saying [a particular] line, then that actor shouldn’t give the line.”
Genia Michaela loves the collaborative nature of her profession: “I haven’t written more because, quite frankly, I would rather be on a set or in a rehearsal room, collaborating with my fellow artists, than staring alone at a computer screen. I cherish the magic when a bunch of individuals, united by common purpose, become a single organism that is truly greater than the sum of its parts…I am not interested in going anywhere I can get on my own.”
Caitlin Newman summarizes her fellow company members as “hard-working and tenacious creative artists who work their tails off. They fight for and work for every thing [they achieve]. For example, UH had no personal relationships with playwrights Shanley and DePiano but strove to interest them both in participating in this year’s festival.”
Caitlin states that the underlying principle that animates all that UH does is passion: “UH employs a democratic, organic process that focuses on new, different, and exciting work that speaks to us personally and that at least one company member can’t live without.”
If enthusiasm, commitment, and industriousness are necessary ingredients for a successful arts organization, Umbrella Hat Productions is on its way to becoming a staple of the Santa Fe Summer Arts scene.
All Umbrella Hat shows will be presented at the Armory for the Arts (1050 Old Pecos Trail). For a complete schedule of events for the Santa Fe Theatre Festival, go to www.umbrellahat.org.
Tickets for the main stage shows are $20 for adults and $5 for children. A ticket for all three shows is $50. Group rates are also available. Tickets may be purchased on-line at www.brownpapertickets.com.
Photos provided by Umbrella Hat