Raw, Sexy, Emotional

Die Fledermaus soprano and Opera Tampa returnee Rochelle Bard explains life in opera.

Rochelle Bard - Die Fledermaus photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.

Photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.

One of the great injustices to opera is the enduring stereotype involving a strident woman in a blonde braid wig and a Viking hat. It’s not a very sexy image, and let’s face it: opera is sexy. The canon teems with gorgeous women and men seething with power, oozing lust, greed, desperation, joy and in hot pursuit for fulfillment in romantic love.

For those of you who’ve been around for a few Opera Tampa productions, you know our resident opera company delivers the goods, stacking our casts with extraordinary talent who embody the balance between raw and cultivated sensuality in operatic stories and music.

One such star returns to Morsani stage this season as Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus – dramatic coloratura soprano Rochelle Bard, who debuted in Opera Tampa’s 2009 production of La Rondine.

Rochelle in Opera Tampa’s La Rondine. (Photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.)

In 2011, Rochelle starred in Opera Tampa’s The Merry Widow at the request of former Artistic Director Anton Coppola, who determined to mentor Rochelle after hearing her perform during a competition in New York.

When The Straz hosted Coppola’s farewell party the year he stepped down from Opera Tampa, Rochelle performed Cio-Cio-San’s “Tu? Tu? Piccolo iddio!” (“You? You? My little god!”), the final aria from Madama Butterfly, a fitting tribute to the Puccini master.

Though Rochelle commands the towering soprano roles like Butterfly or Tosca, she also wields an adroitness in comic roles, notably in The Merry Widow and this season’s production of Die Fledermaus. An operetta, Die Fledermaus is performed in the language of whatever country in which it’s being performed. So, our version will be sung in English with dialogue as well as singing. The story unfolds as a large cast of mischievous characters get increasingly tipsy over the course of a New Year’s Eve party.

Rochelle in Opera Tampa’s production of The Merry Widow.

“It’s the perfect blend of musical theater and opera,” she explains. “It’s just a silly, silly, silly plot which makes it so much fun. It’s really funny. With it being in English, people can get the jokes. It’s convoluted, there are a lot of moving pieces, and should be entertaining, fast and cute.”

Rochelle belongs to a family of doctors and nurses, an admittedly shy child who had no desire to be in the spotlight whatsoever. For her course of study, she chose bio pre-med, preparing for a medical career. A talented pianist, Rochelle confesses to an ardent love of music. “I just love it. I love music. When I was picking a career, I just didn’t think I could make a living doing it, so I was very practical. Right when I was getting ready to take my MCATs [medical college admission tests], I auditioned for The Sound of Music and got the Mother Abbess role. After opening night, a random guy came up to me and said ‘Why aren’t you singing [for a living]? Singing is your thing.’ Then he just disappeared.” She laughs. “I don’t know if he was an angel or just happened to say what I needed to hear at that moment, but I got on a track to go back to school to study music. I’ve been making a living, supporting myself on music, ever since.”

Rochelle in rehearsal for Die Fledermaus with Gabriel Preisser.

“I do this because I love it,” she says. “Not for the spotlight or to be famous. It’s the most beautiful music ever, and it’s our job to make people feel something. Opera is so raw, so passionate. It can be laugh-out-loud hilarious. It’s our job as artists to put that emotion all out there.”

See Rochelle Bard as Rosalinda in Johann Strauss II’s comedy Die Fledermaus, playing in Morsani Hall, Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.

Frequently Asked Questions about HAMILTON on-sale Nov. 16

Here we go, Strazzers. The public on-sale for HAMILTON starts Friday morning at 9 a.m. This handy FAQ guide tells you what to do to get ready and what to expect the day-of. Whether you’re planning to buy online, in-person or on the phone, this official information will help you be as prepared as possible for your shot at seats.

Hamilton_showpage1

Company – HAMILTON National Tour – (c) Joan Marcus 2018


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Because of the nature of live events, details are subject to change.

WHEN IS HAMILTON COMING TO THE STRAZ CENTER?
Feb.12 – March 10, 2019

WHEN DO TICKETS GO ON SALE?
Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, at 9 a.m. Tickets will be available through the Straz Center’s official Ticket Sales Office – online, by phone and in-person. Only tickets purchased directly from the Straz Center at STRAZCENTER.ORG, 813.229.7827, 800.955.1045 or in person at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office are guaranteed to be legitimate tickets for the Tampa engagement of HAMILTON.

WHERE CAN I PURCHASE?
• Online: STRAZCENTER.ORG/Hamilton. You must set up an account through our ticketing system before you purchase online. See “What Should I Do Now To Get Ready To Purchase” below.
• By phone: 813.229.7827, 800.955.1045 (outside Tampa Bay)
• In-person at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office at 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa, FL 33602; the Ticket Sales Office is located on the south side of the Straz Center campus off of Tyler Street

Online: Log in to purchase HAMILTON tickets by typing STRAZCENTER.ORG/Hamilton into your browser on Nov. 16, 2018 starting at 6 a.m. Everyone will be placed in the Virtual Waiting Room and will be randomly assigned a place in line when sales open at 9 a.m. Those arriving after 9 a.m. will be placed behind those who arrived earlier. You must set up an account through our ticketing system before you purchase online. See “What Should I Do Now To Get Ready To Purchase” below.

Phone: Those choosing to purchase by phone do not have an option for advance queueing. The Ticket Sales Office phone system will be activated at 9 a.m. Please do not call before that time.

In-person: On-site sales will also occur at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office on Nov. 16, 2018, at 9 a.m. Sales will be conducted using a wristband lottery and random selection of wristband numbers. Wristband distribution will begin at 5:30 a.m. and continue until 7 a.m. under the Grand Canopy in front of Morsani Hall. (No overnight camping allowed.) Arrival prior to the start of wristband distribution is not advised or necessary since the purchase line will be based on random selection. However, you must be in the wristband line by 7 a.m. to get a wristband. Wristbands will only be distributed to those 13 and older. There is no guarantee everyone receiving a wristband between 5:30 – 7:00 a.m. will be able to purchase tickets. Those arriving after 7 a.m. will be placed in queue (and given different sequentially-numbered wristbands) and will not be eligible to make a purchase until everyone who arrived prior to 7:00 a.m. been served, if tickets are still available.

HOW MUCH WILL TICKETS COST?
On-sale prices will range from $86 to $196 with a limited number of $489 premium seats. Handling fees apply. Prices are subject to change.

ARE THERE ANY DISCOUNTS AVAILABLE?
There are no discounts available for HAMILTON.

HOW MANY TICKETS CAN I BUY?
There is a strict limit of four (4) tickets per household. All orders will be checked before tickets are mailed, and orders will be cancelled if we discover duplicate accounts, bots or other means being used to circumvent the four-ticket limit.

WHY AM I ONLY ABLE TO PURCHASE 4 TICKETS?
To allow as many people as possible the opportunity to purchase tickets for HAMILTON, the number of tickets any household may purchase has been limited. Guests found in violation of this policy will have ALL their tickets cancelled.

ARE THERE GROUP SALES AVAILABLE IF I WANT TO PURCHASE MORE THAN THE TICKET LIMIT?
Group sales are not available for HAMILTON.

WILL I BE ABLE TO PICK MY SEATS?
When purchasing online the ticketing system will assign you the best available seat(s) in your preferred performance/price level at the time you purchase. In-person selections will be made the same way. If asked to search an alternative performance for different/better seats, the original selection will be released and could be purchased by another buyer in the interim.

IS THERE AN AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE-INTERPRETED PERFORMANCE?
Yes. There are two – the Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, 7:30 p.m. performance and the Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, 2 p.m. performance.

WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW TO GET READY TO PURCHASE?
1) Make sure you have an account in the Straz Center’s ticketing system and that you know your password. The name and address on your account must match the name on the credit card and billing address you use for payment. To confirm or create your account, go to STRAZCENTER.ORG and click on the My Account tab at the top of the page, or go here. If you experience any problem with your account, call 813.229.7827 between 12-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday or 12-6 p.m. Sunday or email us at comments@strazcenter.org. Please contact us for assistance no later than Nov. 15.

2) Decide which performances and price levels meet your needs. Choose several options in case your first choice is not available when your turn to purchase arrives.

HOW WILL ONLINE SALES WORK?
Because of the extraordinary interest in HAMILTON, The Straz will use a virtual waiting room to facilitate the online sales process. Below is detailed information how online sales will work and what to do ahead of time to prepare to purchase.

Hamilton

Jon Patrick Walker – HAMILTON National Tour – (c) Joan Marcus 2018


Online Purchase Guide for HAMILTON

BEFORE NOV. 16, 2018:
Make sure you have an account on STRAZCENTER.ORG and that you know your password. The name and address on your account must match the name on the credit card and billing address you use for payment.

Check your account information by going to STRAZCENTER.ORG and clicking on the My Account tab at the top of the page, or go here.

If you experience any problem accessing or setting up your account, contact The Straz for assistance by Nov. 15. Call 813.229.7827 between 12-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday or 12-6 p.m. Sunday or email us at comments@strazcenter.org.

Decide in advance which performances and price levels you want to purchase. Choose several performance options in case your first choice is not available when your turn to buy arrives. Go here to see the performance schedule and price levels or visit STRAZCENTER.ORG/Hamilton.

PRICE LEVELS – subject to change without notice; handling fees apply
Premium: $489; select center front orchestra seats in rows FF-A
1: $196; front and mid orchestra; mezzanine front, sides and boxes
2: $186; mid-to-rear orchestra; rear mezzanine
3: $146; rear orchestra; balcony front, sides and boxes
4: $116; rear balcony
5: $86; gallery

ON FRIDAY, NOV. 16, 2018:
1. Type STRAZCENTER.ORG/Hamilton into your browser to log in to the Virtual Waiting Room.
• You can log in to the Virtual Waiting Room starting at 6 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2018.
• You will be RANDOMLY assigned a spot in line at 9 a.m.
• Buyers who log in after 9 a.m. will be placed behind those who logged in earlier.
• Once you are assigned a position in the virtual line, you can either leave your browser open and/or sign up to receive an email alert when it’s your turn to buy.
• Any key updates on performance availability will be posted in the Virtual Waiting Room as they become available. They will appear on your screen if you have the Waiting Room tab open.

2. You will have 10 minutes to complete your order if your turn arrives.
• Don’t miss your shot! Watch your email if you sign up for an alert, or keep a close eye on the Virtual Waiting Room tab.
• Know which performance and price level you want before your turn arrives.
• The credit card you use to purchase must match the name and address on your account. We will check orders and will void those where credit card name/address do not match.

3. Buy your tickets.
• The purchase limit is four (4) per household
• The use of bots, duplicate accounts or other methods to circumvent the four-ticket limit will result in cancellation of all tickets.
• You may choose your performance and price level. Select Your Own Seat is not available. The system will assign you the best seat available in your chosen performance/price level at the time of purchase.
• You may split your tickets between different performances and price levels. Add all tickets to your cart before entering your payment information and checking out.
• You will be asked to log in with your STRAZCENTER.ORG account to checkout. Make sure you have an account and know your password ahead of time. You can confirm/create an account here.

Hamilton

Shoba Narayan, Ta’Rea Campbell and Nyla Sostre – HAMILTON National Tour – (c) Joan Marcus 2018


On-Site Purchases for HAMILTON

HOW WILL THE ON-SITE SALES AT THE STRAZ CENTER TICKET SALES OFFICE WORK?

On-site sales will occur at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office on Friday, Nov.16, 2018.

Sales will be conducted using a wristband lottery and random selection of wristband numbers. Wristband distribution will begin at 5:30 a.m. and continue until 7 a.m. under the Grand Canopy in front of Morsani Hall. (No overnight camping allowed.) Arrival prior to the start of wristband distribution is not advised or necessary since the purchase line will be based on random selection. However, you must be in the lottery wristband line by 7 a.m. to get a wristband.

Lottery wristbands will only be distributed to those 13 and older.

There is no guarantee everyone receiving a wristband between 5:30-7:00 a.m. will be able to purchase tickets. Those arriving after 7 a.m. will be placed in queue (and given differently colored and sequentially-numbered wristbands) and will not be eligible to make a purchase until everyone who arrived prior to 7 a.m. has been served, if tickets are still available.

The purchase line will be organized based on a RANDOM selection of lottery wristband numbers. The first group will be pulled at approximately 8:30 a.m.

There is no guarantee that everyone receiving a lottery wristband will be able to purchase tickets. Sales will end when the available seats have all been allocated.

Hamilton_showpage4

Shoba Narayan and Joseph Morales – HAMILTON National Tour – (c) Joan Marcus 2018


DO YOU PROVIDE ACCESSIBLE SERVICES?
Yes. Detailed information about all Straz ACCESS programs and services are available at STRAZCENTER.ORG/Plan-Your-Visit/Accessibility. Wheelchair-and scooter-accessible seating may be purchased in person, by phone and online. Bariatric seating is also available when purchasing in person or by phone.

WHEN WILL I RECEIVE MY TICKETS?
On Nov. 16, you’ll receive an email confirmation of your order. Tickets will be mailed on or around Jan. 8, 2019. All HAMILTON tickets will be mailed to the address specified in your account. Digital delivery is not available.

WHAT IF I CAN’T FIND MY TICKETS OR THEY GET LOST IN THE MAIL?
Tickets will be mailed on or around Jan. 8, 2019. Tickets that have not been received, for any reason, including lost or stolen, will be reprinted with a new one-of-a-kind barcode and held at Will Call under the original account-holder name, and may be picked up with a valid photo ID beginning two hours prior to curtain time on the performance date ONLY. No exceptions. No name changes on tickets are permitted.

DOES THE STRAZ CENTER MAIL TICKETS INTERNATIONALLY?
The Straz Center does not mail tickets internationally. All orders placed with an international mailing address will be held at Will Call for pick-up beginning two hours before the scheduled performance.

PROTECT YOUR TICKETS AFTER YOU RECEIVE THEM.
Each ticket has a one-of-a-kind barcode, and your tickets can be compromised if you share your tickets along with your personal information online. You can still share your excitement online, just make sure to #CoverTheCode by covering the bar code and any other personal information on your ticket.

I FOUND TICKETS ONLINE THAT ARE TWICE AS EXPENSIVE AS YOUR LISTED TICKET PRICES. WHAT GIVES?
If you search “HAMILTON Tampa,” you will likely find many reseller sites advertising HAMILTON tickets at prices higher than those of our official site. Be aware of what site you are on before you make any purchase. Only tickets purchased directly from the Straz Center at STRAZCENTER.ORG, 813.229.7827, 800.955.1045 or in person at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office are guaranteed to be legitimate tickets for the Tampa engagement of HAMILTON. Buyers who purchase from a ticket broker or third party should be aware the Straz Center is unable to reprint or replace lost or stolen tickets and is unable to contact patrons with information regarding time changes or other pertinent updates regarding the performance, and they run the risk of overpaying or purchasing fraudulent tickets.

HOW CAN I BE SURE I’M ON THE OFFICIAL STRAZ CENTER SITE?
A good check is to look for strazcenter.org or shop.strazcenter.org in your browser window. Reseller sites sometimes use similar URLs and graphics to fool buyers, so pay close attention and look for this exact name.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I BUY FROM A RESELLER OR BROKER?
When you buy from a non-official source:
• The Straz cannot be responsible for tickets purchased through unauthorized third parties.
• The Straz cannot guarantee that your tickets are valid and, therefore, cannot guarantee admittance.
• The Straz cannot replace your tickets if they are lost or stolen.
• You may be paying much more than the ticket’s face value.
• The Straz cannot contact you with information regarding time changes, show cancellations or other information.
• The Straz cannot issue a refund to you in case of an event cancellation.

CAN I RESELL MY TICKETS IF I CAN’T GO?
Pursuant to s.817.36, Florida Statutes, a Straz Center ticket may not be offered or resold for more than $1 over the face value of the ticket. Significant penalties apply. We regularly monitor resale sites and we void sales when we discover violations of our resale policy and/or the Statute. Tickets are a revocable license; tickets found for sale on the secondary market, through third parties or brokers, or accounts found to have exceeded maximum allotments will have all their tickets cancelled.

WHY ARE YOU USING A VIRTUAL WAITING ROOM?
This is an important tool for combating ticket brokers and bots, and it guarantees you keep your virtual place in line. You will get regular updates on your place in line and ticket availability.

WILL THERE BE A LOTTERY DURING THE ENGAGEMENT?
There will be an electronic lottery through “HAMILTON–The Official App” for 40 $10 orchestra seats for all performances. Details about the lottery will be announced closer to the engagement. The best way to be informed about how the lottery will work is to subscribe to Straz Center text alerts by texting HAMILTON to 73005. Standard text messaging rates will apply.

WHAT ARE LIMITED-VIEW or SIDE-VIEW SEATS?
Limited-view and side-view seats are in locations that may have an obstructed view of the full stage.

WILL MORE TICKETS BE RELEASED LATER?
Any additional inventory will be released for sale if and when it becomes available. Check STRAZCENTER.ORG/Hamilton regularly.

CAN I GET ON A WAITING LIST FOR TICKETS?
No. There is no waiting list for HAMILTON tickets. We encourage you to text HAMILTON to 73005 to be notified if any additional inventory is released. Standard text messaging rates will apply.

WHAT IF I CAN’T ATTEND MY PURCHASED PERFORMANCE?
Since all sales are final; we are unable to offer refunds. Be sure to check the following information before completing your purchase: show title, day, date, time of performance, and number of tickets. Tickets can be donated to the Straz Center’s Operation Tickets program which provides theater experiences to underserved persons in the Tampa Bay area. The Straz Center is a 501(c)(3) corporation and your donation is tax-deductible.

HOW CAN I REQUEST A DONATION FOR HAMILTON TICKETS FOR MY FUNDRAISER?
We are unable to accommodate donation requests for HAMILTON.

CAN I PURCHASE PARKING DURING THE ON-SALE?
After receiving confirmation of your performance date and time, pre-paid parking may be purchased at strazcenter.pmreserve.com.

CAN I PURCHASE DINING DURING THE ON-SALE?
On Nov. 17, 2018, the Straz Center will contact purchasers via email with the opportunity to book dining reservations at Maestro’s Restaurant or The Café, both on-site at The Straz.

Hamilton_showpage2

Joseph Morales and Company – HAMILTON National Tour – (c) Joan Marcus 2018


About The Show

WHAT IS THE RUNNING TIME FOR HAMILTON?
Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including intermission.

IS THERE AN AGE REQUIREMENT/RECOMMENDATION?
HAMILTON is appropriate for ages 13+. The show contains some strong language and non-graphic adult situations. As with all Broadway shows, children ages five and under are not permitted. Every patron, regardless of age, must have a ticket.

IS THE ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST PERFORMING IN THE TOUR?
No. Tampa’s engagement of HAMILTON is part of the national tour. Casting for the tour reflects the same talent, attention to detail and high quality as the Broadway production. We encourage you to check out HAMILTON’s tour schedule at the official HAMILTON page. For more information about the cast in this U.S. tour, visit: http://www.HAMILTONmusical.com/#tour.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT HAMILTON?
Website: HAMILTONMusical.com
Facebook: HAMILTONMusical
Instagram: HAMILTONMusical
Twitter: @HAMILTONMusical

The American Songster Speaks Out

Dom Flemons founded groundbreaking black string band Carolina Chocolate Drops and recently recorded a seminal music work, Black Cowboys, for Smithsonian Folkways. He plays Club Jaeb Nov. 19 and spoke with us about his music and upcoming show at The Straz in this exclusive interview.

Dom Flemons 3

Caught in the Act: We have such a huge respect for what you have dedicated your career to do.

Dom: Oh, thank you so much! It’s been a very interesting and wonderful journey into music, as well as history and culture. It’s been pretty amazing. I’ve also gotten to travel to quite a few wonderful destinations in my time of doing music. Quite a transition from busking on the streets of Phoenix.

CITA: You represented the United States at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia recently.

Dom: Yeah. There were 47 different countries representing. I was the first artist they’d ever had that was representing American historical music. That was a real honor and a real treat. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to do from the beginning, is to be able to showcase a lot of different angles of American culture.

CITA: For any of our readers who may be hearing about you for the first time, can you describe what it is you do with American historical music?

Dom: Sure. That all goes back to my first years performing music. As I started getting into listening to records, first it was CD’s, then I got into LPs and cassettes a little bit growing up. Once I got into LPs, I really started to notice some amazing music. That got me into early rock and roll like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, stuff like that. And Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Hank Williams, and that was where I started. From there it turned into folk music, through Bob Dylan, of course. I got into the sixties’ folk revival … Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf, and Lightnin Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Boggs, Doc Watson, a whole bunch of different people. So that’s where I started out. Just listening to music and wanting to learn those styles.

After that, I went to an event called the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina. I started studying the African and African American Banjo. So that was when I started the group Carolina Chocolate Drops. I moved from Phoenix over to North Carolina, and I lived in Chapel Hill for a little while and Hillsboro for a little bit, as well. I got connected with a fellow named Tim Duffy, who did a lot of photos in the most recent project … old tintype photography. Tim runs a nonprofit called Music Maker Relief Foundation and I got to meet some amazing older blues singers that were obscure singers, even in of themselves. That was something that gave me a different perspective on music. I was able to interpret that music is listened art. Then I was able to really incorporate vernacular southern music in the style, the lifestyle into my performances.

tin type collage 2

Tim Duffy’s tintypes of southern blues musicians were on exhibit at Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in 2018.

So I’ve been able to find a good hodge-podge of different things that have interested me in music and really crafting it in the true traditional style, which is knowing a bunch of different cultural cues that music can tell you. And be able to embed cultural cues within my actual performances, so people react and respond and get to understand the cultures I’m representing. That’s a little bit heady on the subject, but when you hear me play, I’m just playing a song and trying to entertain you with it.

That’s kind of where I started with all of it. Of course, Carolina Chocolate Drops became very popular so we were able to tour all over the world and be able to be a performing arm for that type of music, which had been under represented in a lot of folklore.

CITA: Could you give me a couple examples of what you mean by “cultural cues” in music?

Dom: I put it this way, the great folklorist Alan Lomax, he went out and recorded people for the Library of Congress in the thirties with his father. In his later career, to serve as an academic for folklore music, he created a system called cantometrics, and another system called choreometrics. The idea of choreometrics was that, when you see a traditional culture do a dance, the movement represents everything about that particular culture that’s significant. So say, for example, when you’re working in the field you might be cutting grass with a gigantic blade and you have a certain movement that you do all day long, working. The folk music that you do later that night will incorporate the same movements because you’ve been doing it all day. So, you automatically have the muscle memory. Say you have a gigantic stringed instrument that requires big waving arm motions that you’ve been doing all day at work—that’s what you do at play, as well.

That’s the idea that Alan Lomax had that I’ve always applied that to my music. Thinking about the movements, the dance, the message that comes across in body language and in material. I try to think of it almost like character acting. Where you have actors that, they don’t play themselves in every movie, they play whoever the character they’re playing is. It’s authentic. It looks and feels like the character you’re actually listening to. It’s almost like magic in a way.

CITA: Right.

Dom: It’s all music and fun in the end though.

CITA: What do you, personally, you as a human being, get out of living and breathing these antiquated musical traditions?

Dom: For me, having studied history, I find that American history, good and bad, is all very interesting. Some of it is very positive. Many parts of it is very negative. But when it comes to the music [of America], the music is something that incorporates something that is universal—music—and applies it to cultural experiences or cultural nuances that reflect the times in which the music was made. At first, I didn’t feel like I had many stories to tell myself, so I told other people’s stories. Over time, I’ve collected my own stories along the way, but the idea of telling a story along with a song, that’s something that I feel is inseparable in certain ways, especially in live performance. When you’re listening to a record, you need just a great recording of the singular song without the conversation, but when it comes to understanding music, people want both. They want the story and the song.

I feel like, especially as music becomes more modern, people are actually looking for those cues, but it’s just with different types of music. A lot of the reality stars, they sell their music by showing you they’re on t.v., and then you buy the music. Folk music works the same way, except that you have John Henry, who’s an archetype for an African American man who’s a railroad worker, his job is about to be replaced by the steam engine, so he challenges the steam engine and he wins. But then he dies tragically, afterward. That’s a pretty modern story if you want to make it that. It’s about man and machine, it’s about man, and then in versions of the song, it’s about his wife, Polly Ann, coming in and stepping in after he dies as a steel driver. It’s about men and women. It’s very multi faceted. It’s as good as anything we have…Shakespeare, Homer’s Epic Ballads, or anything like that. But it comes from the people. It’s the people’s voice and the people’s language. I enjoy that for the literature in of itself, but then when you can mix together different messages…people do it in Hip Hop all the time. They yell out, “Hey, everybody from Compton!” It’s a cultural cue. They say Compton a certain way, or they might say Hotlanta instead of Atlanta, that’s a cultural cue that people from around there know and so they respond to that.

It’s the same thing with folk music. That’s how all those songs have endured so long. There’s a lot of depth within them. That’s what draws me in. I’m constantly finding new stories. That’s why I like it.

CITA: Will you talk to us a little about Black Cowboys? That’s your latest album, right? When you come to the Straz, you’ll be highlighting songs from that work?

Dom: Absolutely. With Black Cowboys, it was kind of a step back to Arizona, where I’m from. I stumbled across this gift shop in the Petrified Forest in New Mexico, and I found a book called The Negro Cowboys by Phillip Durham. It talked about how one in four cowboys who settled the west were African American cowboys.

Having not seen a lot of that in movies and stuff like that, because my dad was really deep into cowboy movies, he’s from Flagstaff, Arizona, which is a western town. My grandfather was a logger and a preacher; he had moved over from east Texas, and my grandmother had moved over from Little Rock, Arkansas. I had never necessarily talked to them about cowboys, but as I started reading the stories of these cowboys in history books, I just started seeing my grandparents and their story within this bigger story. It was double faceted for me, where I was able to learn more about myself and the culture that I grew up in, in addition to being able to have the first comprehensive overview of the idea of African Americans in the west: black cowboys singing black country music, as well as string band music put in the blues and the context of cowboy music as well and doing that within a full package.

So I wanted to do a new record, and this idea of black cowboys kept dogging me. I saw that there wasn’t a modern album that had this. Of course, I’ve always been a big fan of Marty Robbins, who wrote “El Paso.” His great album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, is an epic classic. I was trying to figure out, how can I get the epicness of Marty Robbins, but not really try to do full on orchestra style like Marty Robbins was doing. I’ve been a big fan of cowboy music even though I never necessarily played it. I’ve always loved cowboy music. Grew up with it. Started in coffee houses where there were cowboy singers, pretty much all my life, so in a way it was a reclaiming of many things for me.

CITA: Would you differentiate between cowboy music and country music?

Dom: Cowboy music is funny in that way. The best definition I got from one of the legendary singers, Dylan Edwards, was that cowboy songs are just any song that a cowboy sings. Which is what makes it problematic, because in terms of material, it’s really all over the place. Cowboy music is the same type of way [as jazz], where it’s a style, but there are a couple different generations. Usually it’s themed around the lives of cowboys. It’s around ranching, shooting, riding horses, funny times. Other times, they reach out to the Gold Rush Era, other times they reach out to the Modern Era with people like Gene Autry, it’s kind of the next step of cowboy singing. So there’s a style of cowboy singing, the singing cowboy style, which is like Gene Autry, Tom Nicks, Tex Ritter, people like that.

So I break down all those different styles in this record and show off the African American cowboys and how they were interspersed within that. There was a guy, Herb Jeffries, he worked with Billy Epstein and Duke Ellington, and he made several black cowboy films in the style of Gene Autry so I reference him. Bill Pickett, who is the very first black cowboy on film, and he was a champion rodeo rider. He created a sport called bulldogging, which is where you reach over and headlock a bull and knock it to the ground. He invented that. Buffalo Soldiers, they were African American soldiers, and they were the first ones to go out west during the Civil War years and afterward, there’s a whole other culture around that.

Anyway, I could go on and on about the themes. It took me about six months to get the album recorded, but it took me about a year and a half to write it out because there was so much amazing history. I tried to make it universal so people could get into the idea, read about the subject, then research deeper. The album came out of Smithsonian Folkways, which is a wonderful independent label. Also, it’s a part of the African American Legacy recordings series, which is in conjunction with the National Museum of the African American History and Culture, D.C. I knew that coming into it, that this Legacy series existed, and I’m one of the first contemporary artists on there so I wanted to make sure and do it up real big, in terms of, being on this particular series because now it’s in the gift shop at the museum. So, when people go in there, when they look for Black Cowboys, my album is there. Which is really a righteous deed, you know?

433px-Buffalo_Bill_Cody_ca1875

Buffalo Bill, ca.1875

CITA: It is fascinating, thinking historically, where these cultural cross roads gave birth to new art forms. And how history gets shaped. We heard an interview on NPR with a writer who documented how Buffalo Bill is almost single-handedly responsible for creating the cowboy myth that we think about when we think about what wild west cowboys were. But at the time of Buffalo Bill, the cowboys were mostly African Americans and Mexicans.

Dom: Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of the story there. It’s a very, very deep web of history. I touch upon Buffalo Bill a little bit, as well, because his wild west show links into the early history of circus and side shows. It goes back into this world of display art for people that want to see it. In the United States, display art became circus shows, minstrel shows, all that stuff comes out this really big, big top, sort of homegrown Americana that’s people from small towns figuring out how to make it happen. Buffalo Bill, being a guy who had such credentials as a western icon and individual, he just worked the newspapers and made the show the biggest thing it could be. It’s people side stepping the big banks and the railroads. It breaks into this whole bigger social world in which the West developed.

CITA: Right. So you’re going to have to do Black Cowboys Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three …

Dom: That’s that hope. I’d love to do a trilogy, ultimately. I just don’t know how long that would take to get that all together. In terms of material, I barely scratched the surface, as well. You can get into all sorts of interesting history with all this stuff. There was so much material to work with, I was just so glad that I was able to catch the ones I did.

CITA: You ended up writing about Bass Reeves.

Dom: Yep. I wrote about Bass Reeves. He’s the Lone Ranger. I read about him in a western book. It was Legends of the West, and he happened to be mentioned in there. I thought he just had a fascinating story, so I went and looked him up. A fellow named Archie Burton has written a book on Bass Reeves, called Black Gun Silver Star, and I just was blown away by this guy’s story. To know that the evidence around Bass Reeves’ shows that he’s the basis for The Lone Ranger, they haven’t confirmed it 100%, but it’s a really comparable story. Just to have that idea out there, it really just, again, serves the purpose of diversifying what a cowboy can be. It’s not so much that this is one narrative better than this narrative, but to diversify so people see that there’s a choice. When you choose the different parts of western culture, you find that western culture has been diverse. For better or worse, it’s been diverse for quite a long time.

bass reeves 1

Bass Reeves was the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi. He is said to have arrested more than 3,000 people and killed 14 outlaws.

Nat Love, another one of the famous cowboys, he was one of the few to write his own autobiography. He happened to write about his experiences becoming a Pullman Porter, and I found that several of the cowboys I read about had become porters at one point or another because I kept coming across the question of what happened to the black cowboys? It almost seemed like they disappeared from history very quickly, but to add in the element of them hustling work on the railroad after the fences in the west has been factioned off to different people, it becomes very logical story that leads into the modern Civil Rights Movement with the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. A. Phillip Randolph organized the first all-black employment union, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Cars, for Pullman Porters. Over several decades, you have these guys in such prestigious positions because they’re working with the upper-class clientele. History really shows a lot of the social uplift that came through their involvement in the western culture. But a lot of the porters came from being cowboys, which was why a subtitle for the Black Cowboys record was Songs from the Trails to the Rails.

CITA: When you come to see us, you will be talking about the stories and the process and performing songs from Black Cowboys? Are you traveling with the band right now or do we get you all to ourselves?

Dom: It will just be me solo. I’ll perform and then I might read maybe one or two passages from the liner notes of poignant quotes I’ve found, but then it’s going to be featuring the Black Cowboys songs right in the middle. Of course, I’ll have some great old-time music in there. I got number five on the Bluegrass charts with Black Cowboys, so I’m also playing some Bluegrass stuff in there, some country blues.

CITA: Fantastic! So you and the banjo are going to be doing it up, we hope.

Dom: Oh yeah. It’s going to be a nice time. I picked up some good stuff. I got a gourd banjo, as well, which is a banjo made from a gourd. That references early American banjos. Beautiful sound, has a nice low tone to it, so I’ll be bringing that, as well.

CITA: Is this a four-string gourd banjo?

Dom: This one is a five string, but I have my four-string gearing like I always have. I’m going to pick some of the good, fast old-time numbers, do a couple of slow ones, and it’ll be a great time. I’ve also been featuring some great harmonica solos recently and people have been really enjoying that.

 

CITA: You are also quite accomplished at the quills and the rhythm bones. Will they be making an appearance, and can you tell us a little about what these instruments are and how you play them?

Dom: Oh, sure thing! I’ll start with the quills. The quills are like a pan pipe. It’s a bunch of cane reeds that are vertical so they’re pointing up and down. They’re from longer from the left to shorter to the right. I blow over them, similar to like you would blow over a bottle top, so they’re all in a line of nine different notes in a pentatonic scale, and I play string band music with that. The rhythm bones are two cow rib bones that I’m holding between my fingers, my pointer, middle and ring fingers. Then I turn my wrist and they sound like castanets. If you’ve ever seen a flamenco dancer, they sound like castanets. So, I start whipping some rhythm on those and it’s a good time.

CITA: Well, Dom, what a delight you are. We are so excited that you’re coming to the Straz Center. We’re ready for you to be here and hear your stories and music and have a good time with you.

Dom: Wonderful. I can’t wait to be back over at The Straz. It’s been several years. I think the last time I was there was with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I can’t wait to make it back over there. It’s going to be a real wonderful time.

Dom Flemons 1

Dom Flemons performs in the Jaeb Theater Monday, Nov. 19. To hear part of this interview, tune into Act2, the Straz Center official podcast, on Soundcloud.

Make Sure Your Tix are Legit

Conventional wisdom holds that if you say something three times you’ll remember it. The safest, most affordable tickets to Straz Center shows come from only one place:
“Strazcenter.org”
“Strazcenter.org”
“Strazcenter.org”

Hamilton

Shoba Narayan, Ta’Rea Campbell and Nyla Sostre in the HAMILTON National Tour. (Photo: Joan Marcus 2018)

With sold-out season ticket packages for the huge Broadway season ahead featuring a four-week run of Hamilton, we’re trying to get you the best information about single tickets before scam artists with fakes find you first.

People, this thing about our upcoming season and ticket buying is serious.

You may hear the thundering approach of a particularly revolutionary Broadway blockbuster.

But – there are hundreds of other people who hear cha-chinging cash registers racking up your credit cards with fake tickets.

Scams everywhere

Those people have already set up websites that look like they sell Hamilton and other Broadway tickets to Straz shows. However, they’re either lying and the tickets aren’t real, or they managed to buy season tickets from us and now they’re going to jack up the prices 500% and illegally sell our tickets to you. Another problem is that those illegal seats are often sold several times. If you don’t buy through us, we usually have no way of knowing whose tickets are legit, and we have no way of helping you get your money back.

So, the best choice you can make is the best choice you’ve always had: buy straight from strazcenter.org or our Ticket Sales Office (813.229.7827). We also invite you to come to the Ticket Sales Office in person so we can meet you and give you good, old-fashioned, face-to-face exceptional customer service. The bottom line is that we need you all to be extra vigilant this year and help us spread the word that 1) tickets are going to be more difficult to come by for all Broadway shows on the regular season because we have so many new season ticket holders and 2) predatory scalper schemes will be on the rise.

computer throw

We can learn a lesson from the folks in Los Angeles who posted their Ham tix on Facebook, only to have some very crafty people lift the barcode from the pictures and create counterfeit tickets they then sold online at exorbitant cost. If you don’t buy directly from us, there’s no way to prove the seats are yours if there has been a double sell – even if you believe you bought them fair and square. Trust us, this happens even during seasons when we don’t have the cultural phenomenon of our time, so please stay away from ticket brokers, scalpers or any source other than strazcenter.org or our Ticket Sales Office.

Hamilton has permeated pop culture, and no other show has done that, at least not off the bat. Theater people were excited about Wicked or The Phantom of the Opera. Everyone’s excited about Hamilton,” says Vice President of Marketing Summer Bohnenkamp. “There’s been a 68% increase in the number of season tickets we’ve sold since last season. That’s exciting for a number of reasons. We’ve never seen a jump like that in the 18 years I’ve been working on Broadway shows. The closest was the first time The Lion King came, which was about a 20% increase. The challenge for people wanting to buy single tickets, though, is that all of the inventory is now very limited. So, if you want to buy a ticket to, say, Hello, Dolly! or A Bronx Tale, there will be limited seats available because we have thousands and thousands of new season ticket holders.”

meme

If you’re not a season ticket holder and you still want good odds at seats to our shows, the best bet is to become an annual donor to The Straz. By doing so, you get priority access for single tickets, which means you get the chance to buy tickets to most shows before they go on sale to the public. Give our Development Department a call for more information.

“The inventory is still limited, but at least you’ll have early access to that inventory,” says Bohnenkamp. “Buy when the tickets go on sale. I know we’ve been saying ‘don’t wait,’ but we really mean it. We’ve been saying it for a reason, and that’s so you don’t walk away disappointed. We want everyone who wants to see a show here to be able to see that show. This year is going to be a little bit harder. Remember – don’t search for tickets online because the paid ticket broker ads show up first, not the real Straz. Just type in strazcenter.org.”

Squad

In addition to the regular Broadway season, we offer a boutique collection of Broadway encores not on the subscription season. Thus, these shows have many more seats available. If you want to grab dinner and a show without confronting the Hamilton effect, you’ll have some super choices throughout the year. “We’ve got the new tour of Les Mis which is gorgeous, and it will be here for a week,” Bohnenkamp reports. “We’re bringing back Kinky Boots, which everybody loved. We’ve also got Tap Dogs coming back – it’s having an international resurgence so we are really looking forward to presenting it in Tampa after almost 20 years. Then there’s Rock of Ages for an entire week over the summer which will be tons of fun.”

 

Witch Way

Halloween lurks and looms. Witch means (see what we did there?) it’s time to take a look at some really great harpies, hags, conjurers and spellcasters from stage and screen. Here’s a Ten List since we had too much toil and trouble trying to figure out how to rank the best witchy stories and characters ever.

Into the Woods

Into the Woods
You thought we’d start with Wicked, didn’t you? Ah-ha! A trick!

This Sondheim favorite would fall apart without the machinations of Witch, who plays a pivotal role in the entire plot (as witches do). When Into the Woods—which is a wild adaptation of Grimm and Charles “Cinderella” Perrault fairy tales—opened on Broadway in 1987, guess who played Witch? (Answer at bottom).

 

macbeth meme

Macbeth
As noted, witches tend to co-opt a story, sending hapless protagonists straight to madness and/or death. Nobody does it better that The Weird Sisters, Shakespeare’s trio of heath-living hags, who show up smack-dab in the middle of Macbeth’s victory lap to plant some pretty poisonous prophecies in his soldier’s brain. If anything, these ladies teach us eye of newt is not to be trifled with. Not at all.

 

Wicked Elphaba

Wicked
Here we are! Wicked. The Wicked Witch of the West gets a name, a backstory, a psychology, a friend. What is not to love about this show? And the original Broadway cast? Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth, Joel Grey, Norbert Leo Butz. Fuggedaboutit. So here’s another trivia question … Norbert Leo Butz, who played Elphaba’s love interest Fiyero, later starred on what Netflix series set in the Florida Keys? (See below.)

 

Narnia White Witch

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
No matter whether this tale comes to life on the page, on the stage, in animation or on the big screen, children everywhere remember the shameful temptation of Turkish delight thanks to the frosty witch of this classic. The White Witch solidifies, literally, her glorious evil by freezing Mr. Tumnus and then we feel great about hating her for the rest of the story.

 

Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus
So, this colorful little film turned 25 this year and is seeing a well-deserved anniversary celebration. After years with cult status, coven status?, the film’s characters landed lead roles in Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, putting them in league with Disney’s witches, the Who’s Who of pop culture witchery. The poorly-reviewed Sanderson Sisters in the movie—powered by a buck-toothed Bette Midler, rubber-faced Kathy Najimy, and ultra-curvy “straight man” Sarah Jessica Parker—get their revenge at last, which, like destroying the main characters’ lives, also seems to be the destiny of great witch characters.

 

Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz
When you have an army of flying monkeys in jaunty fezes and matching capes, you are next level wicked. When you set fire to a straw person whose only desire in life is to have a brain, you are the worst. And then you threaten a dog. This is so much evil we can’t write another word about it.

 

the crucible

The Crucible
Okay, back up. Even though the characters in the Arthur Miller classic about falsely accusing people of being witches so they get killed is technically about fictional fake witches, the point of the whole story is that real humans can be eaten by fears that turn them even more evil than someone who ignites a scarecrow-man. Leave it to Mr. Miller to use witches as deconstructed symbolism that are no fun at all.

 

hermioneHarry Potter and the NOUN of NOUN
Where to start, where to start … J.K. Rowling’s global takeover with this story repackaged witchcraft and wizardry that made not only magic cool as all get out but also—school. Witch school was the place everyone wanted to be, even the disgusting warped force of soul-splintered evil driving the main story arc. The question here is, who’s your favorite witch—McGonagall? Bellatrix? Fleur? Hermione? Ginny? Ginny was the best, right? Or Nymphadora? Too many choices.

 

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
A very huge shout out to any story that successfully mixes quantum physics and witches. The universe and its mind-bending sub-atomic particle activity is in the capable metaphysical, zen-like hands of Mmes. Who, Whatsit and Which. Here we have a trinity of good witches marshalling a girl to heroic super-heights in negative space and it’s an interesting read. That in and of itself is powerful conjuring.

 

the craft

The Witches of Eastwick and The Craft
We said ten list, but here we have an Eleven List. Another trick! Ha-ha!

Truthfully, we again faced insurmountable indecision. If this Halloween-y blog was worth its salt, we’d have a Thirteen List, wouldn’t we? However, our last two screen covens represent the perennial attraction of witches but to different generations. Beautiful women, unlimited power. Cher on the one hand, Neve Campbell on the other. Even Jack Nicholson couldn’t survive in a world of Susan Sarandon’s magic (may be factual), but let’s face it: Michelle Pfeiffer has zero trouble casting a spell. Zero.

witches of eastwick

 

We’ve tricked you a few times in this blog, so how about a treat? Come see other famous witches when the Opera Tampa Singers perform The Witching Hour on Oct. 26 from 7-8 p.m. in the Jaeb Courtyard. It’s FREE!

TheWitchingHour_Logo.indd

How’d you do with your trivia?
1. Bernadette Peters played Witch in the original Broadway Into the Woods.
2. Norbert Leo Butz starred in Bloodline as the flighty youngest brother Kevin Rayburn.
3. Treat! Our favorite Potter witch is Nymphadora. No, Hermione. We mean Ginny!

Tramps Like Us

Springsteen’s musical progeny teem within the alt-rock and Americana scenes, including our Club Jaeb series.

worldsgreatestboss

Let’s talk about Bruce.

Or, as millions (probably billions) of fans know him: BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE.

Why we haven’t seen a generation of children named Springsteen remains a mystery given the man’s four decades of generating an extreme fanbase with his theatrical, high-energy concerts and workingman’s albums that swing from pop to rock to folk to a certain Jersey Shore spiritualism. Then he became a New York Times bestselling author with his memoir in 2016 followed by his stint last year as a Broadway superstar during his sold-out one-man show/concert. Ever since 1975 when he decided to pump a little iron and release arguably the greatest blue collar American anthem ever penned with “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen has burned across the night sky of American pop culture like a riotous, infinite comet.

We have it on good word from a friend of a friend who happens to live in the Springsteens’ neck of the woods in Jersey and ends up at the same pub from time to time that the man always travels with half-written songs in his pockets. He never stops.

It’s no wonder, then, that in so many bios of young singer-songwriters something like “harkens to a Nebraska-era Springsteen” appears as a description of their authenticity, sound and depth. Although it seems inconceivable that anyone would be able to possess Bob Dylan’s power of musical influence on the singer-songwriter scene, Bruce does.

Unlike Dylan, however, Bruce is a ham. His live shows bear all the markings of theatrical contrivance—the impossibly long knee-slides, the roving spotlights, the mike-stand backbends, the grand gesticulations and well-timed shifts in voice. Bruce, like any great playwright, director or actor, snatches up the audience and threads them through an emotional wringer, all the while making sure they enjoy the experience.

giphy (2)

giphy

giphy (3)

Our beloved program manager Joel Lisi, who happens to be a big Springsteen fan, books our Club Jaeb singer-songwriter season. Joel’s a musician, too, and he knows the real deal when he hears it, which is why so many cool people end up on the Club Jaeb series. Inevitably, most of these cool folks cite Springsteen as a major influence.

So, we asked Joel why he thinks Bruce flexes such impressive musical power.

“The Boss obviously resides in the ‘once in a lifetime’ box,” Joel says. “What I mean specifically here is that I can’t think of another artist who has what I’ll call the Bruce duality. Or, ‘Bru-ality’ if you will. (Trademarked, don’t even.)”

Bruality?

“On one side, he’s the humble, introspective and pensive artist. As authentic and prolific as a Dylan, [Leonard] Cohen, etc. and as down-home-blue-collar-every-man-Americana as you can get,” Joel explains. “On the other side, he’s a pure entertainer. Look at some vintage E-Street Band footage. The three-to-four-hour concerts. Huge. Watch the choreography (for lack of a better word). The showmanship. He’s the likely product if Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley stepped into that machine from The Fly. But through this duality, he’s somehow been able to maintain his artistic integrity like none other. It really doesn’t make any sense.”

 

But what does that have to do with younger singer-songwriters?

“Well, The Boss is American. And, in an effort to make a point here, by that I mean ‘Merican. That mattered and still does. Why should it matter? Despite his iconic ‘Mericanism—in fact, maybe because of it—he never shied away from writing about harsh truths, inequities and painful realities this circus of a country seems destined to churn out. He embraced, struggled, pondered and screamed at them. Still does. That’s the heartbeat of the republic of American music,” Joel says. “So, if I’m a young songwriter and I get hip to the legacy of a guy like Bruce selling out stadiums, TRULY rocking the world in all its glory, feeling that power and energy… then listen to Bruce practically whisper profundities off an album like Nebraska? You know, art in many ways is about upholding the sound of truth. Like attracts like. Truth responds to truth. Bruce embodies a spirit that others catch, make their own, pass on. When younger people who want to write songs about real things hear what Bruce does, it’s almost impossible not to be profoundly affected either in musicality or the stories they tell in song.”

Our next Club Jaeb performer, Griffin House, launched into the big time because of Patti Scialfa, who happens to be married to Bruce, after she hand-picked him to be her opening act. House spent a few years in the Scialfa-Springsteen sphere of influence, eventually returning to Asbury Park to record a deeply personal album, So On and So Forth. House is one of the many magical sparks to fall from the Great Comet Streak himself, which you’d no doubt hear in his songs from So On and So Forth (and House’s other records) even if we hadn’t told you.

“He’s called The Boss,” Joel says. “What else is he gonna do but affect everybody?”

Someone Rapping at the Chamber Door

Caught in the Act catches up with Jobsite Theater during rehearsals of their next exciting production, Edgar and Emily.

44571273562_176820cbbe_k

Katrina Stevenson and Paul Potenza star in Jobsite Theater’s production of Edgar and Emily. (Photo: Pritchard Photography)

Edgar as in Allan Poe. Emily as in Dickinson.

Yes, the granddaddy of Southern Gothic literature winds up in the bedroom of the emdash enthusiastic belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson. Confined to this space, made all the more close and macabre thanks to his own gently-used coffin that Poe must tote around as part of his pact for being rescued from death by an otherworldly specter, the two writers square off in a tete-a-tete that is truly a remarkable work of theater.

Emily Dickinson meme

Penned by Ohio-based playwright Joseph McDonough, Edgar and Emily is both an American Lit wonk’s fantasy and a nuanced, complex examination of two people famed for their obsession with death. Combining an expletive-free Mamet-esque repartee with elements of slapstick (sight gags galore), unexpected vulnerabilities and moments of old-school horror tactics worthy of Vincent Price, Edgar and Emily accomplishes much in a relatively short script. Expect to be taken on a fun house ride with this offering—there are creepy parts, funny parts, and, of course, a very subtle trip through the hall of mirrors where you see Dickinson and Poe as distorted reflections of the stories we’ve been told about them; you may see yourself reflected therein as well.

Edgar Allan Poe meme.jpg

Katrina “Kat” Stevenson plays Emily against Paul Potenza’s Edgar. David Jenkins directs. This trio began working together in Jobsite in 1999, lauded for their record-breaking 2001 production of Dracula. Stevenson, a diminutive, sharp-eyed redhead, taught English for three years and, as Potenza notes admiringly, comes by her poetic delivery naturally. To prepare for the role, she immersed herself in Dickinson’s poems, reading hundreds of them to absorb the language, to glean what she could to deliver what she feels like is an honest portrayal of a giant in American literature about whom very little is known. Potenza traveled to Poe’s home in the Fordham neighborhood of the Bronx via a trip to Yankee Stadium. He stood in the rooms where the bedeviled genius worked and lived, himself absorbing something of the writer’s real life to bring to the role. Jenkins sent him a list of Poe’s physicalities based on accounts of Poe at the time (no such list exists for Dickinson who was famously reclusive), and over the course of rehearsals, Potenza has morphed into the writer who changed our notion of ravens forever.

Last week, Caught in the Act joined David, Kat and Paul at the top of rehearsal to chat about the play and bringing these literary figures to life. To hear them talk about the play, their process and the challenges and surprises along the way, listen to Rapping at the Chamber Door on our podcast, Act2.

Edgar and Emily opens Oct. 12 in the Shimberg Playhouse with previews Oct. 10 and 11.