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

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.

Virtual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration — Yes, Again!

Come sing, versify, or just listen
on March 17th, the Feast of St. Patrick,
Patron Saint of Ireland

Last year as the pandemic was new, Gifford and T.J. Elliott of Knowledge Workings Theater put out a last minute call for singers and speakers to create a virtual St. Patrick’s Day cóisir, a party, much as we are used to having for many years on 17 March with friends and family. More than a few generous and talented souls responded and we ended up with 27 videos on our YouTube channel here. Happy St. Patrick’s Day indeed!!!

Now the pandemic is old — and we pray going to leave the stage very soon with all of us giving it a hearty push — yet in its viciousness still requiring us to celebrate this special day at a digital distance. Knowledge Workings Theater intends to accomplish two things with our asynchronous ceili: spread joy and support Irish Repertory Theatre of New York City. We can score the first goal by gathering together those who have a song or a poem or even a dance they wish to share commemorating St. Patrick and Irish heritage along with those who wish to listen and watch. We bag the second goal by getting folks to make a donation of whatever amount to Irish Rep. Buy a ticket to one of their online shows, drop a few bucks in their general fund, or donate to the capital fund for the refurbishment of their 22nd street stages where we all hope to be very soon again sharing the superb dramas and comedies they produce. Their work during the last year entertained and edified so many of us. Our own motto is #maketheaterlive and Irish Rep did that splendidly. (We have no connection to Irish Rep whatsoever; we don’t even know the good folks except by their work. We just think it’s a good thing to give them money on St. Patrick’s Day.)

If you wish to be a part of our celebration or have questions, just email Knowledge Workings On March 16th, we will open up the YouTube channel with your new contributions as well as last year’s offerings. Sruthóidh an ceol agus na dánta gan deireadh; the music and poems will flow without end!