You Can Still Catch Genealogy on YouTube (Link Below)

(L-R) Atticus Cain, Karl Reinhardt, Jamie England, and Quanda Johnson Sort Out the Family Trees

The live run of the problem comedy, Genealogy, by T.J. Elliott and Joe Queenan directed and coproduced by Dana Pellebon has ended at Broom Street Theater in Madison Wisconsin. Our sellout standing ovation audiences during this three week run encouraged us to keep on telling the story and, therefore, we invite you and whomever you think wants to engage with this Satire Of Inconvenient Family Ties to watch the video of Friday, November 19’s Live Stream at this link.

The Hunts and The Wilsons aren’t fooling around
The podcast that made it all happen! (Jackson Rosenberry as Glenn Weber)
“We are not done!!!”

To Make Theater Live Ain’t Easy

Karl Reinhardt: My Hero

Theatre is a series of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.”
Tom Stoppard

On March the 12th, 2020, Joe Queenan I were set to audition actors for our second co-written play, Grudges.

March 12th, 2020.

That’s the day the pandemic hit the fan with the NBA canceling its season, ERs overflowing, and travel of pretty much any kind cancelled, cancelled, cancelled. Theater also just stopped. Around the country, whether in Broadway palaces or school gyms, Regional playhouses or East Village cabarets, it just stopped. Dead.

But we couldn’t bear to give up. So, hatching our tagline #maketheaterlive,  we produced Grudges on Zoom followed by Within The Context Of No Context by George W S Trow, and my solo effort, the Swedish screwball comedy, Keeping Right.

And then this year, we got to actually make theater really live again through the gracious coproduction of our third play, Genealogy, with Broom Street Theater in Madison WI. Because that’s what’s important about theater: it’s live. You have to remember the lines right then. The lights have to go up at the right time and the sound effects have to go off at the right time. And the audience is right there. Breathing, coughing, laughing, groaning: right there.

Other arts amaze me, but theater is the one where you are least likely to know what’s going to happen. Oh, yes, there is a script, a text that the playwrights created and of which upon that foundation the director has formed a production. But every night the connection between the actors and the audience and even among the actors themselves can differ.

The Irish critic Fintan O’Toole put it very well recently:

“Live performers …make their own decisions, here and now, in this moment. In a filmed performance, the performer loses that power. It belongs to others – the director, the editor. But this also applies to us as members of the audience. At a live event, we choose where we look and how we listen. In a virtual event, other people are – sometimes heavy-handedly, sometimes subtly – making those choices for us. This is what we miss about live performance: the autonomy and integrity of the performer, our freedom to shape our own responses, the sense of our shared presence in space and time.”

That’s one of the reasons why being able to see and feel and hear our wonderful actors perform Genealogy this month awed and thrilled us. But certain events reminded us of the fragility not only of theater, but of life. One of our team, one of our amazing actors, took ill. (He’s doing much better now and we trust on the road to a full recovery) And our astonishing director, Dana Pellebon, approached Karl Reinhardt (who had been doing spectacular work as our stage manager from day one) to ask him if he was willing to step into a role of a character who is on stage from beginning to end of our 95 minute play.

And he did. Karl committed to make theater live. God bless him.

He played the role last weekend and he’s playing it again this weekend including at our live stream performance on November 19th. (Tix are here; choose “11/19 Live Access” from the dropdown menu.) Stepping into a role that another actor has created without having had the benefit of the weeks of rehearsal, the space to learn lines, the experiences to forge connections with the other characters is beyond daunting. Try terrifying on for size. Yet Karl did it and he did it very well. That’s why on Saturday night when I get to see the live stream, I’ll be toasting not just the entire cast and the director and the crew but especially Karl Reinhardt who embodies the commitment to make theater live despite that “series of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.”

The podcast upon which our characters appear in Genealogy
Quanda Johnson and Atticus Cain
Jackson Rosenberry as podcast host, Glenn Weber

See Genealogy Live Streamed on YouTube for FREE November 19 9 PM Eastern, 8 PM central: Link Below

Atticus Cain and Quanda Johnson as Mosiah Wilson and Aaliyah Levin-Wilson, two of those probing the past in Genealogy

Gwendolyn Rice of Isthmus newspaper  said of our new play Genealogy currently at Broom Street Theater through November 20 that this production was “skillfully directed by Dana Pellebon, (and) is important viewing… (Genealogy) provides a thoughtful forum for a lot of issues on race and reparations, discussed seriously among equals, and that is valuable.” And anyone anywhere can see it live streamed on YouTube by clicking on this link to get free tix for the November 19 show taking place at 9 PM Eastern 8 PM central. don’t miss the play Rice described as “part history lesson, part tag-team wrestling match, and part thoughtful debate” 

 Donavon Armbruster, Jamie England, Jackson Rosenberry, Quanda Johnson, and Atticus Cain
Chasing the Dead is the podcast hosted by Glenn Weber (Jackson Rosenberry) at the center of our play Genealogy
Jamie England as Muggs Moriarty Hunt and Quanda Johnson as Aaliyah Lewin-Wilson face-off in Genealogy

Thank God for Stage Managers (and just nice people) like Karl Reinhardt

Karl Reinhardt

Some of the people reading this blog post have now experienced the strange phenomenon also visited upon me earlier this month. It’s it’s okay, the experience proved to be a good thing, a very good thing. I walked into a theater, specifically Broom Street Theater which is producing my and Joe Queenan’s play, Genealogy and stood with actors and other crewmembers for the first time in two years. Strange and wonderful. But somewhat nerve-racking as well. And that’s one reason why meeting Karl Reinhardt, Stage Manager for Genealogy, made me happy and grateful. Anyone who has ever worked in theater knows the extraordinary value of the stage manager in regard to their skills and knowledge. But if they also turn out to be a really nice person who chats with you about life and art then that’s magnificent!

Karl is such a person and he has been on the Madison, WI theater scene for twenty years. He has graced the stage as an actor in such shows as Torch Song Trilogy as “Ed” and Almost, Maine as “East” and “Lendall” among many other offbeat and independent productions. As a high school teacher and auditorium director, he has challenged the acting abilities and sensibilities of the parent audience in Lodi, WI with his creative approaches when directing such shows as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Gypsy, and Night of the Living Dead. Karl is scheduled to direct ‘Attack of the Killer Bs’ at Broom Street in March 2022. He has also spent many an hour in the wings and the tech booth as a stage manager and board operator. He tells us that he is proud to be a small part of bringing Genealogy to audiences. And we tell him he’s too modest. Find out for yourself the effects of Karl’s work along with the rest of the cast and crew by watching our November 19 live stream of genealogy at 9 PM Eastern 8 PM central. Tickets are free at this website although if you want while you are there to make a donation to support the marvelous Broom Street Theater that is also possible.

The Cast of Genealogy: (L-R) Donavon Armbruster — Hamilton Hunt,
Jamie England — Muggs Moriarty Hunt,
Quanda Johnson — Aaliyah Lewin-Wilson, Atticus Cain — Mosiah Wilson,
Jackson Rosenberry — Glenn Weber

Martha E. White: Our Assistant Director and Early Encourager

Martha White

Richard Schechner influentially described “The playwright as wright — the play being wrought from the interrelationships among all the artists.” Wright is a very old word in the English language signifying an artificer, a creator, a joiner as in cart-wright or ship-wright. I like the building aspect of being a playwright, the joining together of different parts; perhaps my favoring the word is because one of my grandfathers was a wainwright in Ireland, a wagon builder. We build our plays hoping to convey the audience somewhere interesting so I claim a kinship of craft with Grandfather Conn Connaghan whom I never got to meet.

That description of being a ‘wright’ influenced me as well when Schechner in his experimental work emphasized how “‘Performance’ ties together the performer, director, designer, and audience.” And the Assistant Director – the person upon whom the entire ensemble depends for so many things as these disparate elements join together.

When we did our initial Zoom reading of Genealogy in preparation for its opening this Friday night, November 5, at Broom Street Theater in Madison Wisconsin, the script was a mere frame upon which the reading allowed us to see how all of these other people could construct a meaningful and entertaining performance. But first we needed their opinions as to where we should shave and where we should extend this frame. And the opinion expressed by Martha White, now Genealogy’s Assistant Director, mattered a great deal to me. She told me critical feedback and then concluded our call by stating that if this play moved forward that she wanted to be involved. From the little bit that I knew Martha at that point, her expression of commitment to our play meant a great deal. Encouragement matters a great deal to the builder.

Besides being our Assistant Director, Martha is an actor who has appeared recently in Alice Childress’s classic play “Trouble in Mind” and Jan Levine Thal‘s “Fake Mom”, both with Krass Theatre in Madison. Martha has hosted several television shows, including the Emmy Award-winning “Cultural Horizons of Wisconsin” for Wisconsin Public Television [which is now called PBS Wisconsin]. We are so grateful that along with the authors, cast, crew and audience she is helping to #maketheaterlive. 

(l-r) Top Row: Atticus Cain, T.J. Elliott, Dana Pellebon, Jamie England, Martha E. White Seated: Quanda Johnson, Donavon Armbruster, Jackson Rosenberry photo by Karl Reinhardt

Jackson Rosenberry is excited theater is back with Genealogy opening at Broom Street and so are we!

Jackson Rosenberry

posted by T.J. Elliott

The combination of the lingering effects of the pandemic and the distance to Madison, Wisconsin from our homes in the New York City area meant that Joe Queenan and I did not meet many of the actors in our Genealogy cast in person when we had our Zoom table reading a few months ago. And then when we were auditioning several actors for the part of Glenn Weber, the former MTV personality now hosting what another character in the play describes as the “tabloid version” of ancestry podcasts, watching applicants on video was the only method available to us. Jackson Rosenberry stood out even on that colder medium for his energy and inventiveness.

Thus, I wasn’t surprised when we asked for his bio after he was chosen for the role to read its very first sentence: “Jackson Rosenberry is very excited to work on this production.” Finally meeting him a few weeks ago in person and watching his work in the first two rehearsals, I realized that this was something of an understatement. Jackson plunged dynamically into the role and I found myself cracking up at the ingenuities of his interpretations. He also read the script so carefully that he caught a mistake we had made in describing someone’s ancestor. I don’t think I will ever get over the sensation of gratification that comes from recognizing someone has read our words very carefully.

As I learned more about Jackson’s work in the theater, I understood the strong foundation that he brings to our work. Since moving to Madison in 2017, Jackson has been involved in multiple productions around Madison including Henry IV Part 2 and The Merry Wives of Windsor, both produced by the Madison Shakespeare Company. He has also been involved with several productions at Broom Street Theater, including Lysistrata, and Hamilton: The Original 1917 Broadway Smash Hit. Having an opportunity to grab a drink at the Weary Traveler after one of the rehearsals with Jackson, it was very clear how very happy he is to return to Broom Street once again to bring the love of theater back to Madison after such a long time. And that long time is now less than a week before Genealogy directed by Dana Pellebon opens at Broom Street Theater Our live stream on the Broom Street YouTube channel will be on November 19 and we are very happy that Jackson Rosenberry will be part of our fine cast.

Jackson in action at Genealogy rehearsal

It’s not so much what you know sometimes, but who you know and whom they know: the good fortune of meeting Atticus Cain, our Mosiah Wilson in Genealogy

Atticus Cain

posted by T.J. Elliott

In my own biography, allusions to 35 years away from active work in the theater receive comic treatment: “In those lost years, T.J. produced, directed, and performed among casts of thousands in a mélange of corporate telenovelas and tragic, comic, melodramatic, and semi-absurd organizational performance art.” But as Sigmund Freud pointed out jokes even self-deprecating ones like the above example can camouflage what is very serious in our lives. Freud noted in what had to be one of his lighter moments that “our enjoyment of a joke is based on a combined impression of its substance and of its effectiveness as a joke.” The effectiveness is not just getting people to laugh, but also at times a way for handling something that was uncomfortable or even painful.

In my case, I missed theater terribly, and explaining more than three decades away from it remains slightly difficult. The good news is that all of that earlier theatrical career — writing, performing, producing, directing, pitching, — proved enormously useful in my succession of straight jobs. In a wonderful example of consilience, a concept first introduced to me by EO Wilson of Harvard, a great deal of what I learned in those years of ‘semi-absurd organizational performance art’ enriched my subsequent playwrighting and indeed my understanding (limited though it remains) of how the world works.

I read and learned a great deal about the way the world works: everything from adult development to adult learning, from knowledge management to project management, from leadership to followership, from neural networks to social networks. From that latter domain, academic papers like this one about the concept known as the Strength of Weak Ties introduced by Mark Granovetter proved useful in those corporations and they prove useful today in trying to #maketheaterlive, which is our motto at Knowledge Workings.

Atticus Cain, who plays Mosiah Wilson in our upcoming production of Genealogy at Broom Street Theater opening next Friday, November 5, could serve as a textbook illustration of Granovetter’s points about how the weak ties in our network, the friends of friends of friends if you will, may prove more valuable to us than our immediate circle in many circumstances.

Ed Altman, who first worked with Knowledge Workings in Grudges when that Queenan-Elliott drama went up live on Zoom in May through July 2020, was in another streamed theater piece that summer, The Statement, hosted by Theater for the New City. Ed invited me to see the piece and that was where I first viewed Atticus. Thus, when I was casting my solo playwrighting effort, Keeping Right, for its live Zoom performances in December, Ed recommended Atticus to me for the part of Sven McManus. Perfect. This kind of connection happens all the time in every type of work, but in theater where the usual structures of workplaces are not available or do not apply being introduced to a powerful actor whom you otherwise would not know is a kind of mighty grace. You’re not sure how it works, but you’re awfully glad that it does work is often as evidenced. As Jeffrey Rush famously pronounced in Shakespeare In Love, “It’s a mystery.”

And while we are offering quotes, this one that appeared at the end of Atticus’ bio seems also apt: “I am a series of small victories and large defeats and I am as amazed as any other that I have gotten from there to here” – Charles Bukowski. We are amazed as well and feeling very lucky yet again.

And as to the getting “from there to here”: Atticus Cain was born in Memphis, Tennessee, raised in part in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with his loving grandparents. Atticus lived in a total of thirty-five states  while growing up. When he was recruited to substitute for a fellow student in a play, acting arrived in his life. After graduating, he advanced to local theater, appearing in plays ranging from Shakespeare to Guare until he moved to Pittsburgh in 1995. Cain resumed acting with a cameo role on the CBS series The Guardian (2002). Since then, he has performed stage and screen roles in multiple cities, including Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New York, Productions include the aforementioned Keeping Right (2020), Wrong Number (2003), and The Stranger (2004) and his own self-written short feature, Opposition.    Some of his favorite roles are Sgt. Waters in A Soldier’s Play by Charles Fuller, Dr. George Washington Carver, in Carver at Tuskegee  by Kyle Bass, Alan Beaumont in Deadline, and Dr. Jacob Carter in the original web series Dark Therapy, the story of a therapist who treats supernatural monsters…and a few human ones too. Atticus completed conservatory training in July 2017 at the acclaimed Atlantic Acting school. 

Very soon, we will post the link to the November 19th live YouTube stream of Genealogy benefitting Broom Street Theater. With that welcome addition, everyone will get to see how strong our weak ties can be.

Donavon Armbruster Brings Experience and Expertise to Genealogy

Blog Post by T.J. Elliott

When Joe Queenan and I first created the character of famous lawyer Hamilton Hunt in Genealogy, our problem comedy in which “a shocking ancestral connection revealed during the taping of a reality podcast incites a series of surprising negotiations and unanticipated antics among its participants”, we drew for that figure upon attorneys we knew personally as well as famous attorneys whom many of us have viewed on television over the last few decades. While we didn’t seek to imitate any of those individuals, they served as useful reference points while we wrote and rewrote and rethought and revised and finally reached the finish line for the text, which is our third work to receive a production. In a Zoom table reading last April, I got to meet Donavon Armbruster and he did what good actors do: he brought the character of Hamilton Hunt alive in ways that neither Joe nor I had imagined but that make the story unfolding in our play compelling, comedic, and true. The last part is the most difficult and this cast including Donavon together with our director Dana Pellebon, assistant director, Martha E. White, and stage manager Karl Reinhardt astonished me in the two rehearsals I was able to see as they immediately made the story real in a way I could only hope would happen.

Donavon enjoys great familiarity with the process of taking a playwright’s text and making it real. He has been acting for over 45 years, both professionally and non-professionally, appearing in well over 100 productions When he starred in the film, The Evangelist, he talked in this interview about his 45 years of acting work. It’s well worth the read and I will let him speak for himself through that piece. Speaking for myself, I feel that luck mentioned in an earlier blog post as I get to enjoy having Donavon play this famous lawyer who ends up in a podcast not realizing how his life is about to get turned upside down.

We are grateful that he is playing Ham Hunt in Genealogy either live November 5, 6, 11-13, 18-20 or via our streaming performance on that final weekend. For those of you who can travel to Madison, you can purchase tickets at this link. We should have more details on our live streamed format soon; it will air on the last weekend of our run at Broom Street. Stay tuned for Donavon Armbruster as Hamilton Hunt in Genealogy!

Jamie England is NOT to be Missed as Muggs Moriarty in Genealogy

Jamie England

Blog post by T.J. Elliott October 24, 2021

While my co-playwright, Joe Queenan, was writing a dozen books and thousands of columns over several decades, my life required me to take several steps back from direct activity in the theater. That did not mean I stopped writing or thinking about plays; it just meant that I had to concentrate on my straight job because I was just not talented enough to dance that corporate tango and stage plays. But those moments in which I could consider theater yielded results that continue to be important now when I’m back full-time in this world. Several large drawers overflow with notes from that earlier era that may yet find their way onto the stage as plays and a few well-worn books that inspired me then persist still in nourishing my theatrical interests.

One of those books is by the playwright Alan Ayckbourn. The Crafty Art of Playmaking became one of the books of my ‘Bible’ guiding me in playwrighting. Perhaps counterintuitively, one of the most important messages Ayckbourn conveys emphasizes an element other than the writing: “Theatre is not about the writing, it’s not about the directing. It is about that, but in the end it’s really about the actors and the audience and most audiences – aside from the cognoscenti who sit there being experts – come to watch a bit of acting. … Stephen Joseph always taught me that you serve that wonderful moment between actor and audience. And that is the precious moment that live theatre has that no other media has quite to that extent and that is why I stick to theatre.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Ayckbourn’s sentiment and that is why meeting and then working with Jamie England who plays Muggs Moriarty in Genealogy, which opens in just a dozen days from now at Broom Street Theater in Madison Wisconsin, elated me so powerfully. Having an actress like Jamie who was not only capable of creating that “wonderful moment between actor and audience”, but also possessed such imagination and curiosity made me certain that a character that enchanted Joe and I as she came into being on the page would now be even more compelling on the stage.

That Jamie owns such talent is no surprise to those who have seen her act in Madison or elsewhere. After all, Jamie has been acting since fourth grade, when she gave a rousing, critically-acclaimed performance as the narrator in Cinderella. Here in Madison, Jamie most recently appeared onstage as Judy in Madison Theatre Guild’s 2019 production of Small Mouth Sounds. Other favorite local acting experiences include turns as Joyce in Body Awareness, Mattie Fae in August:  Osage County, Nightshade LaVixen in Sweet William, Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, JoAnn in Company, the unsinkable Narrator in You’ve Ruined a Perfectly Good Mystery, Lisa in Cancer Stories, Margaret Hughes in The Compleat Female Stage Beauty, Liz Morden in Our Country’s Good, and Arsinoe’ in The Misanthrope.   We are very fortunate that she has taken on our Muggs as her next role and for those of you who will see Genealogy either live November 5, 6, 11-13, 18-20 or via our streaming performance will be fortunate to see her performance. For those of you who can travel to Madison, you can purchase tickets at this link. We should have more details on our live streamed formants, which will air on the last weekend of our run at Broom Street. Stay tuned and don’t miss Jamie!

Dana Pellebon: How Lucky Are We!

Dana Pellebon

Luck is the residue of design. That’s a saying by Branch Rickey whose fame as being the first courageous general manager of a Major League baseball team in the 1940s to integrate the game through the addition of Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers squad of 1947. Many other figures of that day are forgotten but Rickey persists in the popular imagination to this day as an example to all of us to have the courage to lead change, to design our lives so that we will have the luck we need. My luck is very much in my friends. And the design that produces that luck of companions may seem inconsequential until we have the opportunity of retrospective. We meet a lot of people when we are young, but choosing with whom we continue to be friends represents a channels of choices, choices that we made. Who we have as friends is not accidental, the way in which we continue to stay in touch with them, to attend to those relationships, to be a giver and not just a taker, is a kind of design.

The linkages among friends accounts for how we now enjoy the extraordinary good fortune to have Dana Pellebon as Director and Co-producer of Genealogy nearing its opening on November 5 at Broom Street Theater in Madison Wisconsin. How so? Through a lineage of friendships that stretches back half a century. I first met John Clay over 50 years ago in the Players at Manhattan College in the Bronx where John was a few years ahead of me and an outstanding actor and director. Our friendship continued through lots of changes in our lives so that when Joe Queenan and I wanted a director for Alms, our first Equity showcase production at TheaterLab in May, 2018. John was the obvious and… lucky choice.

That meant that when I decided to stage a reading of Within the Context of No Context, the seminal 1980 New Yorker essay by George WS Trow, I asked John not only to be part of that cast but also to suggest other actors. He introduced me to Quanda Johnson. My connection to Quanda was so immediate and rich that I dared to ask her to read our play Genealogy and consider playing the part of Aaliyah. She said yes and when I told her I really needed to find a director who could help us to bring this work alive in a dynamic but sensitive fashion she introduced me to Dana Pellebon, whom she described in our first joint email as “a force to be reckoned with in the world of Madison theater.” Understatement alert!

The design part of this luck is putting myself in a place where I get to meet wonderful artists and establish links to their lives and work. The luck part is Genealogy gaining the perfect director for this play where secrets in family trees surprise two couples appearing on a ‘reality’ ancestry podcast. Again and again since that first email introduction, I’ve had the opportunity to thank my blessings in gaining Dana as a collaborator for a ‘problem comedy’ in which the characters manage audaciously to conjure a few shocks for each other and their host while also confronting some key culpabilities in our country’s heritage.

One bio describes Dana as “a Madison, WI based activist, artist, and educator.” Even with my acquaintance being fairly recent, I find this description insufficient. Her work in  Madison is already legendary including such important innovations as helping to make a  Black Theater Festival happen there. The breadth of her work encompasses achievements such as directing the powerful Dominique Morisseau play ‘Detroit ‘67 ‘ and being part of the Peach Pies Caburlesque group. She has been a regular director and producer with StageQ and other local theater companies including our wonderful host theater for this production Broom Street. Dana acts sometimes, too, as in in StageQ’s 2018 production of “A Lady and a Woman,” about two Black women who fall into a romantic relationship in a small, late-1800s town.

More recently Dana was one of the organizers of the Loud ‘n Unchained Black Theater Festival. She has served as Chair of the 2020 Magic Pride Festival planning committee and a member of the Outreach board. I have to stop and just say luck is the residue of design and we can’t believe how lucky we are to have Dana Pellebon not only as director but as co-producer of Genealogy. Another piece of luck that we recently heard from Doug Reed , Artistic Director of Broom Street, that we will be able to have a live streamed performance of genealogy available to people all over the country and indeed all over the world as was the case with earlier Knowledge Workings Theater productions. That means everybody else will get to see how lucky we are to have followed the connections to Dana Pellebon.