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.
“Theatre is a series of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.”
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.”
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.
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!