This is from James (Doc Gibbs):
Just a week ago I experienced my first opening night in a main-stage university production. In that vein, it’s funny thinking back to high-school, Pasadena, California, and our little black box theater with a floor level stage and a ceiling of about 10 ft. The lights were hot, burning right above us. It was hard not to catch a hint of glowing, staring eyes while performing. The audience was unavoidable. Truly an amazing training ground for this production in particular.
I remember a lot from my days on the Linda M. Grinstead stage. I found love in that theatre, time after time after time, only once for a girl, but numerously for an artform. That love has moved east, and for now spends its nights in Philadelphia. Furthermore, I was lucky enough to be cast in a beautiful piece of classic American theater, “Our Town.” But luckier still, I found myself working with such talented, charming, inspirational people. Oh, and they’re fucking funny as hell. Some were, like myself, new to the fold, this being our first time performing in the Mandell Theater. Some were veterans, supporting us and acting as the backbone of the cast and crew. However, I dont think that for any of us this was just another show.
So, in honor of the community we were able to build over the month or so we worked on this thing, I thought I’d do something different and for the first time have guests contribute to a blog maintained only by Monet and myself. Here with their thoughts on “Our Town,” and our production of it, are some of my fellow residents of Grover’s Corners. I believe that what my peers express below really speaks to the power of this piece and the emotional investment we all put into the art as theater makers. I’m proud of every association and I’m happy to consider all of these amazing people friends:
Lexi Pozonski (Emily Webb)
Firstly, I want to say thank you to every single member of the cast and crew. We pulled off one amazing show. To be honest, I was completely terrified out of my mind when we began rehearsals. I felt like a little baby freshman accidentally thrown into a role that I wasn’t sure I was ready to handle. But thanks to a supportive cast, a terrific scene partner, and an amazing director, those fears were quickly dismissed. The countless hours spent in rehearsals have truly shown me what an incredible group we have here. The group dynamic within the cast was unlike any other I have been a part of. The laughter, camaraderie, and beauty found within our production of Our Town make it one show that I will never forget. I love you all. (Everything)
Laurel Hostak (Mrs. Gibbs)
I think Paul Nolan said it best when he compared our process to the Tibetan practice of creating mandalas. We build these beautiful, unfathomable things, layer upon layer until they are complete. And then we brush them away. Putting on any play, and specifically this play, is a meditation on impermanence. We cannot hold on to anything in life–everything dwindles, evolves, dies. All we can do is be present in these moments, be alive, take it in. Then when they fade away, the lights dim, the applause dies down, we can have no regrets.
Chris Deter (Mr. Webb)
I’ll admit, I was one of the many who wasn’t exactly thrilled with Our Town after reading it the first time. The third act seemed heavy-handed, not a lot happens, that sort of thing. The characters, at least, leave a lot for their actors to develop. I’m also the kind of guy who likes an acting challenge, and the role of the Stage Manager was tempting – in retrospect, tempting in the way a moth finds a flame tempting. Looking back, I can easily understand Nick’s choice in casting an outside actor for that role, and Paul Nolan was great to work with. The sheer magnitude of that role would have taken its toll on my education, and probably my mental health too. Playing Mr. Webb turned out to be plenty – plenty of challenge, and plenty of fun.
I think it’s safe to say that this production exceeded all of our expectations. The initial family table work rehearsals were definitely a turning point in our perceptions of the play. Even though I have very little stage time with my family, understanding the relationships and dynamics lying beneath the script was engaging. Another major turning point was when we first worked out the opening for the play – I can’t imagine a more perfect way to prepare for a performance. I’ve never been much of a singer, and the freedom to improvise and create our own musical opening was another thing that made this show such a unique experience.
Meredith Totten (Rebecca Gibbs):
I was so moved by the passion that each person put into making this a tremendous show. I know that’s cheesy, but through the end of our run, each member of the cast was clearly invested in the production and making Wilder’s message come to life on stage. I appreciated our director pointing out that the actors were able to capture the “simplicity of the characters” because the message of this play, while meaningful, does not need to be drawn out and overcomplicated. Thanks to a great cast & crew, I came away with a lot more from this show than I’d expected. Although we’re each getting back to our own lives post-production, I still feel like I’m part of the Our Town family and hope that means we each re-connect like old friends going forward.
John Van Zelst (Howie Newsome)
To be perfectly honest, when rehearsals for “Our Town” began, I was nervous. Not because I did not believe the acting talent was not there; on the contrary, the actors in the cast were some of the most impressive I had ever met. No, what scared me was the unique type of performance that “Our Town” demanded. There was no real set, no tangible props. And as an inexperienced freshman, these staples of acting were something I was not quite ready to let go of. What made matters worse, the theater took form to be three-quarters round. Yet another level of uneasiness added to this show for me.
But as we progressed throughout the show all of these qualms faded. Yes, part of comfortability for me came from the repetition of miming props and sets. But another factor deeply involved in my acceptance of this strange show was the collective growth I felt from the cast. As a newcomer to the Drexel stage, I certainly felt welcomed. We all understood that this show would be demanding and I feel we all supported each other in our attempts to conquer it. And so “Our Town” for me really became more like “Our Family,”- cliché as it may sound. I would just like to take a second to thank each and every member of the cast and crew for making such a wonderful piece of theatrical art and for allowing me to share the stage with you for such a great show.
Eric T. Martin (Si Crowell/Sam Craig)
This was a wonderful first main stage experience for me. I feel like we created two towns really: the one we created onstage, and the one we created offstage. I am already starting to miss the family we created together as a cast and crew.
Danielle Leigh Brief (Irma Newsome)
All I ever really look for when I audition for a show is a sense of community. And that’s exactly what the cast of Our Town built: a community that stretched far beyond Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire and burst onto the stage of Drexel’s Mandell Theater. With each rehearsal, bizarre vocal warm up, and game of “cup,” the connection linking us together grew stronger and stronger. A testament to the overwhelming sense of community were the teary-eyed audience members at the end of Act III. The entire experience will be what first comes to mind when I reflect on my freshman year of college, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cami Kronenwetter (Dead Woman #2):
I was Dead Woman Number Two In DU’s production of Our Town. The first time we read the script, I was Dead Woman Number One. I started to get worried that Nick was gonna cut me completely when I got cut out of a scene change too. I remember Mike Ambler, the Stage Manger, came up to me and he said, “By the way, we don’t need you in the soda shop change anymore.” I just looked at him and said, “You do realize you just cut my stage time in half, right?” I used to joke about my part all the time during rehearsals. Everyone else in the cast had more lines than I did. I had two lines and what I would like to call a “solo”, that I was very proud of. But even with all the sarcasm and the jokes there was no bitterness. I was part of an amazing cast. Nobody else could’ve been a better Emily, or Mrs. Gibbs, or Howie, or even Baseball player. Everyone was wonderful. My 6’4 father, who’s not into plays, enjoyed all 2 hours sitting in that small fold up chair on the stage.
Not only was the cast good on stage, but they were also really cool people. So many friendships blossomed and grew from this experience. I’ll always remember our trips to the Hans together, and our warm up games. After only 2 days without the show, I already feel myself missing it.
Michael Ambler (Stage Manager)
I must say that working on Our Town was unlike an other show I have been a part of before. I will admit that I am usually more entertained by a musical than a play, and prefer to work on musicals as well. In this case I never truly got bored with the play, there was always more to discover. One of the most amazing moments I experience during this run came in the last week. During tech when we had our first dress run was when I was brought to tears for the first time watching the show. I wasn’t amazed I cried, I was amazed because even after reading the script and seeing the show countless times over 6 months of rehearsal the eternal message that Our Town preaches still rang true.
Sam Hesslein (Assistant Stage Manager):
Our Town has been my second experience with a show here at Drexel University. Being the Assistant Stage Manager, basically means that your job is to help the Stage Manager in any way he/she needs but also, to try and help to make the production go as smoothly as possible, be that technically, with actors or just helping the production as a whole. During the whole process, I was constantly learning. I learned more about the show, more about how shows are run here, and learning about the perspectives of the actors on their characters, all pretty interesting things. It really does take a village to put on a show, or so the saying goes. There is not one person that I can think of that wasn’t essential to putting on the production of Our Town. Every night during the show, I would sit at my little SR (stage right) post, and reflect on the community that we were able to develop in such a small amount of time, and I’m nothing but thankful for having the opportunity to be part of that community.