April 24, 2008


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The Bard, condensed
Acting Loft brings the complete works to Manchester
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

It’s a reverse field trip.

Acting Loft has put together a cast of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), hoping to tour area schools.

“It’s just getting harder and harder for schools to do field trips,” director John Sefel said. Liability is an issue, as is fuel cost for buses. So the leaders of the Manchester educational theater company decided to bring the field trips to the schools.

A show at Salem High School on Friday, April 18, was one of about half a dozen performances the Acting Loft has booked. About 650 kids watched the 8 a.m. revue of the 400-plus-year-old plays.

“Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve been received exceptionally well,” Sefel said. The group has also performed at Manchester West High School and McClaughlin Middle School.

“But it’s not an easy climate right now,” he said. It’s hard for schools to free up even enough money to bring performances in. Sponsorship from New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation (NHHEAF) has helped Acting Loft subsidize the school performances.

“No eating, drinking or smoking, and for the love of god, no texting,” said actor Dylan Gamblin before opening the April 18 performance.

Originally staged by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, the script is written for each cast to improvise and “make it their own,” Sefel said. Some customizations are developed in rehearsal. But what the actors do also depends on the location, how the audience is reacting, and “how much Red Bull the actors had before the show,” Sefel said.

Additionally, the actors censor the jokes to be age-appropriate. They offer a cleaner version for junior high, a not-too-dirty version for high schoolers. They also add in things high schoolers would recognize, like the “Soulja Boy Dance,” whatever that is, and, the “no texting” rule. A Charlton Heston reference went over the students’ heads, though.

When the group performed excerpts from Shakespeare straight, they excelled. They lingered on improvisations to which the students responded with gales of laughter.

“Two houses, both alike in dignity...” actually cast something of a spell, before Gamblin, Toby Paul and Steven “Dingo” Ihde jumped into their condensed version of Romeo and Juliet. That, of course, involved a guy wearing a wig and speaking in a high- pitched voice, singing, “I Feel Pretty.” Gamblin appeared as Romeo in a T-shirt that read “EMO,” and they got plenty of mileage out of a joke about “but love.” As in, “call me, but love...” So Juliet calls Romeo “Butt Love.”

They took a good amount of time with Romeo and Juliet, which left me wondering how they would get through all the 37 plays in about 90 minutes. But they did. They condense entire genres, with such techniques as comparing the history plays to sports, passing the “crown” back and forth in football plays.

Sefel said the actors are looking forward to doing a public performance for adults at the Acting Loft and tailoring their jokes to them. What will stay is the audience participation at the end. The audience is split into Ophelia’s id, ego and superego, and it gets a little more complicated from there. But the kids dug it.

See public performances of Shakespeare Abridged Friday, April 25, and Saturday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m., or Sunday, April 27, at 2 p.m. Ticket costs range from $5 to $10. Buy tickets at www.actingloft.org or at the door. Acting Loft is at 516 Pine St., Manchester.

Improv yourself
You, too, can learn improv.

“We’ve actually had people ask us about it for years,” said John Herman, artistic director of Stranger Than Fiction. This is the fourth year of the New Hampshire improv comedy troupe, although some members still work with ImprovBoston. STF frequently runs kids’ programs. They’ll launch their first attempt to bring serious improv training for adults to New Hampshire on April 26.

When people watch something like Whose Line is it Anyway? or the highly trained improviser Robin Williams, they often don’t realize what’s involved.

“You want the general public to believe [it’s] innate talent, but it’s something you can learn,” Herman said. Some improv programs take six years. A trained improv actor should be able to get on stage with another in a different city, and that actor will know what to expect. It’s like boxing in that way, Herman said — you learn certain techniques, but your execution of them will be unique.

An Epping High School teacher, Herman has a master’s degree in education, so he’s particularly excited to start this program from a teacher’s point of view. The rest of the Stranger Than Fiction cast is contributing ideas from their training, which includes time at The Groundlings in Los Angeles and Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. Herman also pulls from a class he ran at Tribe Theater in Boston.

Stranger Than Fiction hosts an annual summer retreat, where top improv actors teach a weekend workshop. Usually about 75 people attend, but they aren’t usually from New Hampshire. This eight-week course is targeted for the Granite State and culminates in performance. The leaders want to limit it to 12 people, and 10 have signed up. They are using a yoga studio in Portsmouth and only charging $125. The class is for ages 18 and older, although they also offer a teen course.

Stranger Than Fiction chose Portsmouth because that was where they heard the most demand, but members are also from Manchester, Nashua, Concord, Rochester, Dover and Newmarket — “so our cast is ready to spread this across New Hampshire,” Herman said. Other members will teach as guests with Herman.

“We want to bring the art to where we live,” Herman said. “We’re getting too old to drive to Boston four nights a week,” he said. If you want to try out Foundations of Improv, register at www.strangerthanfiction.us. It starts Sunday, April 27

If you want to check out ImprovBoston without going all the way to Boston, you can attend their MainStage show at the Revolving Museum in Lowell, Mass., Saturday, April 26. The show starts at 8 p.m., and audience members must be 17 or older. It’s free, but reserve space by e-mailing ebates@revolvingmuseum.org or calling (978) 937-2787.

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4/10/2008 Curtain calls
4/3/2008 Singing for a cause
3/27/2008 These aren't recitals folks
3/20/2008 Albee at MRT
3/13/2008 Murder and rhinos
3/6/2008 Murder and rhinos
2/28/2008 The art of theater criticism
2/21/2008 Breaking the cycle
2/14/2008 Curtain Calls
2/7/2008 NH Theatre awards sixth year
1/31/2008 Elvis fans and ghost stories
1/24/2008 Building an audience
1/17/2008 Curtain Calls
1/10/2008 Fate of Annicchiarico
1/3/2008 A little confidence
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12/13/2007 Summer stock vs. southern NH
12/06/2007 Curtain Calls
11/29/2007 Curtain Calls
11/22/2007 Broadway composer and actress hit Granite State
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11/8/2007 Curtain calls
11/1/2007 First times
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10/18/2007 Curtain Calls
10/11/2007 American History
10/04/2007 Active in the community
9/27/2007 Stringing single
9/20/2007 Curtain Calls
9/13/2007 Free range
9/6/2007 Curtain Calls
8/30/2007 Curtain Calls
8/23/2007 Curtain Calls
8/16/2007 Curtain Calls
8/9/2007 Curtain Calls
8/2/2007 That deaf, dumb and blind kid
7/26/2007 Potty humor
7/19/2007 Ease on down the road
7/12/2007 Jekyll vs. Hyde
7/5/2007 If it's free, it's for me
6/28/2007 Transformations
6/21/2007 Curtain calls
6/14/2007 No really, you'll get it
6/7/2007 Curtain calls
5/31/2007 Curtain calls
5/24/2007 Putting the camp in camp
5/17/2007 Curtain Calls
5/10/2007 Curtain Calls
5/3/2007 Curtain Calls
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4/19/2007 Vietnam the the Palace
4/12/2007 Confluence
4/5/2007 First look
3/29/2007 Reluctant star
3/15/2007 In a town far away
3/8/2007 Curtain calls
3/1/2007 Into the future
2/22/2007 But will it play in New Hampshire
2/15/2007 Curtain calls
2/8/2007 Family affair
2/1/2007 Curtain calls
1/25/2007 Curtain calls
1/18/2007 Curtain calls
1/11/2007 Curtain calls
1/4/2007 Fork in the road
12/28/2006 Standout performances of '06
12/21/2006 Curtain Calls
12/14/2006 Players remember Peter Bridges
12/07/2006 Young talent
11/30/2006 Lighthearted farce for the holidays
11/23/2006 Curtain Calls
11/16/2006 Good theater
11/9/2006 Preview roundup
11/2/2006 Access to the ancients
10/26/2006 Aida on a Nashua stage
10/19/2006 Children of a Lesser God brilliantly played
10/12/2006 A true love triangle
10/05/2006 Curtain Calls
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09/14/2006 Long strange journey
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08/24/2006 Putting kids in charge
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08/10/2006 All theater, all summer
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07/27/2006 A match made in Maine
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07/13/2006 I Hate Hamlet
07/06/2006 Serious theater
06/29/2006 L.A. in Peterborough
06/22/2006 Da Vinci to Rube Goldberg
06/15/2006 Peter Bridges remembered
06/08/2006 From Hairspray to monkeys
06/01/2006 Special Theatrics
05/25/2006 Live Brit-com
05/18/2006 Evil stepsisters earn the yuks
05/11/2006 A message to mom
05/04/2006 Meet the cast
04/27/2006 'I hope i get it'
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04/13/2006 Nashua rocks The Wiz
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03/16/2006 Actor-director wants your ideas
02/23/2006 Yellow Taxi's Theater Festival opens March 1
02/16/2006 Herding CATS
02/09/2006 An actors' studio
02/02/2006 A thing about love
01/26/2006 Spring theater season warming up
01/19/2006 Gearing up for the big night
01/12/2006 This Phantom is not a menace
01/05/2006 Jim Kelly, sci-fi writer and alternate historian
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10 Ways To Survive The Audition
A Chorus Line
A Figaro Worth Cheering
A 'Living Newspaper' on stage
A tale of two wives
A Tribute To Music
Actorsingers Deliver On Superstar
Beauty and the Beast
Bedford Off-Broadway Gets Spooky
Being The Beatles, 1964 The Tribute
Bringing NYC to Wilton
Creating the venue from antiques
Crimes Of The Heart
Curtain to rise on Dana Center
Dana Center Takes Center Stage
Ensemble elevates Palace’s Godspell
From stage to the silver screen
Great play, too bad it’s over
Greater Tuna
Humble Boy
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It's Child's Play
Jesus Christ Superstar
Kids Tackle Edgar Allan Poe
Local boy hits the big time, doesn’t lose his head
Lowell theater opens with a winner of a satire
Madco welcomes Boston actor-director
Meet John Sefel, Director
Meet Suzanne Delle, Yellow Taxi’s driver
Music Man to run three weekends
New Thalian Players
Palace announces 2005-06 season
Peterborough Players’ Solidarity is solid gold
Plaid (II)
Playing with man’s best friend
Proud of the Peacock
Racy, crazy blast at the Palace
Reviving His Passion
Robert Dionne, The man behind the Majestic
Rosemary Dann
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Short-Attention Span Theater
Side Show
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Spending The Summer On Stage
Stages of learning
Steel Magnolias
Suessical: The Musical
Theater Of The Imagination
Theater Kids Without A School
Theater in the park draws big
The Drawer Boy
The Festival
The Five best shows of 2005
The Prisoner Of Second Avenue
The Russian/American Kids Circus
The Senator Wore Pantyhose
The Tony Awards, they're grrrrreat
The Warmth Of The Cold
Three nights, three shows at the Palace

Under the Caribbean with the little mermaid

Wake up to ‘night Mother