Behind the Curtain

Official Blog of International City Theatre

3 reasons LA area theatregoers need to see a play about artificial intelligence

April 13th, 2017

Artificial Intelligence, or A.I., is interesting for many reasons.

 

  1. For one, it is already a large part of our life in the 21st century. A.I. powers self-driving cars, helps you “tag” images on Facebook, powers “Siri” on your iPhone and “Alexa” on the Amazon Echo, helps suggest interesting movies for you to watch on Netflix, and helps you find new music you’ll love on Pandora.
  2. Scientists and engineers are making rapid advancements in the field of A.I., often too quick for the legal system to catch up. As a community, we should be discussing the implications of a technology that is so advanced it mimics human consciousness. Does a machine with self-awareness deserve basic human rights? (Or how about a ping-pong playing robot, like above?) If so, which ones?
  3. Theatregoing is a deeply social experience, and one of our favorite parts of producing a new play is the discussions that the play inspires after the show. Uncanny Valley will certainly inspire interesting discussions about parenthood, innovation and technology, what makes us human, and the future of life as we know it!

The robot that inspired the script: BINA48

March 31st, 2017

Uncanny Valley playwright Thomas Gibbons was sitting in the waiting room of a dentist’s office in August of 2011 when he noticed an article in the National Geographic magazine sitting on the table. The article mentioned Bina48, an uncannily realistic humanoid robot designed to look like a real human being named Bina Rothblatt, cofounder of the company who created Bina48.  

Bina48 is capable of having conversations with humans, and her conversational speech is eerily advanced. You can see a clip of her in conversation below.

The description of Bina48 on LifeNaut’s website states, “As an “ambassador” for the LifeNaut project, Bina48 is designed to be a social robot that can interact based on information, memories, values, and beliefs collected about an actual person.” This is a place where the story of Bina48 gets even stranger: you can go to the LifeNaut site right now and “upload” your brain to the internet by creating a “Mind File” which is supposed to preserve your memories and personality beyond the life of your biological body. Creepy, right?

In Uncanny Valley, we see a robot come to life piece by piece, starting as just a head and shoulders, much like Bina48. Uncanny Valley charts the relationship between Claire, a neuroscientist, and Julian, a highly advanced robot. As Julian is “born” a few body parts at a time over the course of the play, Claire teaches him how to be as human as possible.  Claire educates him in techniques of being as human as possible including mirroring people’s speech, engaging in small talk, playing a musical instrument.

As the play progresses, we explore the painful divide between creator and creation and how we are redefining what it means to be human in the twenty-first century. This humorous and thought-provoking play raises some interesting questions.  Is it possible for a robot to have or understand feelings?   Are feelings and emotions what make us human?  What is the future of life as we know it?


International City Theatre is located at the Beverly O’Neill Theater at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. Uncanny Valley runs from April 19 – May 7.  Show times are Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm.  Regular tickets are $35 – $55. For tickets, call 562-436-4610 or buy online at www.InternationalCityTheatre.org

Meet the Playwright of Uncanny Valley: Thomas Gibbons

March 27th, 2017

Thomas Gibbons has been the playwright-in-residence at InterAct Theatre in Philadelphia for about two decades now. His plays have been seen at the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, off-off-Broadway at Blue Heron Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Actors Express, Florida Stage, Unicorn Theatre, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, New Repertory Theatre, Aurora Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre and many others. He is the recipient of seven playwriting fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a Roger L. Stevens Award from the Fund for New American Plays, a Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwriting Award, an NAACP Theatre Award, two Barrymore Awards for outstanding new play, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

According to an interview Gibbons did with Herald Mail Media, playwriting was not something he had originally planned on making his career. It was during his senior year studying fiction writing at Villanova University when he took a playwriting class and one of his scripts ended up being produced by a local theatre company. “It was just dumb luck,” he said. “I never thought of being a playwright. I hadn’t seen all that many plays at that point. I don’t think I quite appreciated it at the time how lucky I was, but the experience was wonderful and I felt I had stumbled into what I was supposed to be doing. I never went back to writing fiction.”

Gibbons says he hopes audiences will leave the theatre with “some questions” after seeing one of his plays. That is definitely the feeling our audiences will leave with after seeing Uncanny Valley at International City Theatre.

In an interview with CATF, Gibbons says “one of the things I want people to think about is this: as technology blurs the line between human and mechanical, artificial or whatever word you want to use – how is that going to change our definition of humanity?”

“As I began to work on the play, the word, “valley” became very important because it has many metaphysical implications: the valley between life and death, the valley between the creator and the created, the valley between parents and children.  I’ve come to realize that this play is very much about parents and children.”

“I’m always happiest when people tell me they’ve seen one of my plays and then they went out and had a good argument in a restaurant for two hours,” he said with a laugh. “When I hear that, I feel like I’ve done my job.”

We think ICT audiences will be talking about this play long after it ends, because the material is so timely and so universally relevant. In a world where technology is becoming more and more advanced, can innovation go too far? How far is that? Is it possible for a robot to have or understand feelings?   Are feelings and emotions what make us human?  What is the future of life as we know it?


International City Theatre is located at the Beverly O’Neill Theater at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. Uncanny Valley runs from April 19 – May 7.  Show times are Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm.  Regular tickets are $35 – $55. For tickets, call 562-436-4610 or buy online at www.InternationalCityTheatre.org

 

Laurine Price Believes in the Power of Live Theatre

October 27th, 2016

Laurine Price

Shipwrecked! An Entertainment opened on October 14. Audiences and critics have been praising the work of the exceptional cast. Laurine Price’s performance has been a favorite for many patrons who watched her play everything from captain of a pirate ship to a member of English high society. During rehearsals, Laurine was gracious enough to take some time to answer some questions about her role in the show.

1. As someone who is new to working at ICT,  how has your experience been?

All in all – this has been such a lovely and fun experience.  The cast (Jud and Nick) are exceptional, Luke Yankee has been very imaginative and encouraging, and the crew (Brad, Sabrina, Sarah) is absolutely fantastic.  The design team is professional, creative, and really lovely (Kim, Patty, Tesshi, Dave, and Donna), and I want to be caryn desai when I grow up!  🙂

2. This show obviously gives you the opportunity to play many characters. What kind of preparation outside of learning your lines did you undertake in preparing for your myriad of roles?

Google and YouTube have been my go-to resources for character research and prep. My recent search history ranges from “Sea-Faring Captain” to “Aboriginal Tribal Dances” to “1890s British Editor”, etc.  Gathering loads of ideas, I stand in front of my mirror and try out ways to stand, facial expressions, and different voices. Some call it schizophrenia. I call it “Theater, baby!”

Jud Williford and Laurine Price in SHIPWRECKED!

Jud Williford and Laurine Price in SHIPWRECKED!

3. What other role(s) would you like to undertake? 

Oh man, so many, but to name a few:

“Fosca” in Sondheim’s Passion

“Claudia” in Nine

“Margaret of Anjou” in Henry VI Parts 1 and 3, and Richard III

“Esmeralda” in The Hunchback of Notre Dame

“Bloody Mary” in South Pacific (and I want an enormous fat suit for the role … seriously).

4. Performing comedy in the theatre is a very difficult task to undertake. What do you think is the key to make an audience laugh?

Every audience is different. While connecting with your cast mates onstage, if you can connect with your audience and hit the timing — then many jokes will often land. Personally, I love broad comedy and puns. As an audience member, I always laugh at puns, but that’s just me.

5. What do you hope audiences take from seeing Shipwrecked!?

Two things : the magic of theatre and a feeling of inspiration.

I hope audiences enjoy our live production of Shipwrecked! and that it prompts them to support more live theater.

In addition, I hope people will leave discussing whether Louis de Rougemont made up his story or if maybe, just possibly, his adventures were true (even bits of them).  My hope is that people will leave thinking on and embracing the magic of a storyteller, and then are encouraged to dream and hope and believe that their own adventures (however great or small) can be equally as thrilling and inspirational.

Shipwrecked! runs through November 6. For more information or to purchase tickets: please visit www.ictlongbeach.org or call 562.436.4610.

Nick Ley Listens to His Audience

October 21st, 2016

Nick Ley

Shipwrecked! An Entertainment opened last Friday. As soon as the cast came out to take their bow, the entire audience sprung to their feet to give the talented actors the standing ovation they so rightly deserved. Nick Ley’s performance was praised by both critics and audiences as he spent the evening playing more than 20 separate characters in the show. During rehearsals, Nick was generous enough to take some time to answer some questions for us about his work on this fun-filled production.

1. As someone who is new to working at ICT,  how has your experience been?

This is my first experience with ICT, yes.  And I couldn’t be more thrilled and pleased! This show is giving me my first few points towards my Equity membership and the professionalism is apparent.

2. This show obviously gives you the opportunity to play many characters. What kind of preparation outside of learning your lines did you undertake in preparing for your myriad of roles?

Preparing for all these roles requires extreme concentration and a lot of homework. In the maelstrom that is this show, it’s easy to blend these characters together. With advanced preparation, I can create fully fleshed out characters with specific wants and desires. That, coupled with accent work and physical characterization, help to create truly unique characters.

Nick Ley, Laurine Price and Jud Williford in SHIPWRECKED!

Nick Ley, Laurine Price and Jud Williford in SHIPWRECKED!

3. What other role(s) would you like to undertake?

Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Leo Bloom in The Producers and Prince Herbert in Spamalot.

4. Performing comedy in the theatre is a very difficult task to undertake. What do you think is the key to make an audience laugh?

Since I was young, I was a natural comedian. Comedic timing was something that always came easy to me. The Muppets were an extremely formative part of my life growing up and I can honestly say that much of my innate awareness for timing and wit came from watching every Muppet movie and TV show that I could. One could venture so far as to say I am a colorful fur suit shy from being a Muppet, myself. That being said, for me, the key to making an audience laugh is timing. And to master timing, you need to be a good listener and something of a mind reader. Making an audience laugh is more than delivering a line in a funny voice. It’s knowing when the audience is READY to laugh. Any good joke or comedic moment follows the recipe of: Setup > Punchline. And it’s in the space between these two moments that listening to your audience is most important. Once you’ve listened to your audience and established a relationship with them, that’s when you can begin to make them laugh.

5. What do you hope audiences take from seeing Shipwrecked!?

Donald Margulies wrote a fantastic Afterword in the published edition of this play.  He says, “young people have so many options at their fingertips that the plight of the theatre must seem almost quaint to them.” Firstly, I hope young people come to see this show. Secondly, to the young people who do see this show, I hope they take away from it what Mr. Margulies is trying to do with this piece and that is to reinvigorate the joy of live theatre, the magic of a moment. And I hope that after seeing our show, people will be reminded of the joy of seeing a show brought to life on stage in front of your eyes, because that’s literally what we do as actors on stage. I hope audiences have as much fun watching this show as we have performing it for them. This show has the potential to form an extremely powerful bond with the audiences who come to see it and I really hope we can achieve that.

Shipwrecked! runs through November 6. For more information or to purchase tickets: please visit www.ictlongbeach.org or call 562.436.4610.

Luke Yankee Wants Us to Pretend

October 10th, 2016

Luke Yankee

Shipwrecked! An Entertainment begins performances on Wednesday. They have been holding rehearsals for the last three weeks to make sure this technically difficult play is executed without error. This adventure tale of the high seas is being helmed under the direction of Luke Yankee. We asked him some questions about his work on this imaginatively staged show, and he was kind enough to respond. Enjoy!

1. Since you have directed at ICT before, what has your experience been like this time around?

Every cast has a unique energy and a very different set of dynamics. I can honestly say, the cast of Shipwrecked! is one of the kindest, most generous, loving, talented and respectful group of actors I have ever worked with.  And I have been doing this a LONG time! Jud Williford, Laurine Price and Nick Ley are extraordinary people AND brilliant actors. This play takes tremendous precision and teamwork and they are all there for one another. It is a pleasure to go to rehearsal every day! I know this strong feeling of community among them makes them into a stronger acting ensemble and will be reflected in their performances.

2. As someone who also is a playwright, how does that influence your approach as a director?

Obviously, I have tremendous respect for the written word. Donald Margulies’ script is so strong (and incredibly detailed), I have encouraged the actors to trust the text. Most of the answers they are looking for are right there on the page.

Jud Williford and Nick Ley in Shipwrecked! An Entertainment

Jud Williford, Laurine Price and Nick Ley in Shipwrecked!

3. What do you have to say about this style of theatre where actors play many roles between them? Is there something unique that this type of theatre offers audiences?

As a director, it is one of the most challenging pieces I have ever done. You have three actors who never leave the stage. They create all of the sound effects and play more than 40 characters. Thank goodness I am also a dialect coach! To make it look simple and easy, it takes incredible accuracy and concentration.  These actors truly have their work cut out for them. Shipwrecked! also has a tremendous sense of fun about it. It’s like the little boy standing on a kitchen chair and saying, “Look mommy! I’m a pirate on a ship!”  It speaks to the childlike innocence and sense of play in all of us.

4. Since he is one of the most celebrated playwrights of the modern era, what do you think makes Donald Margulies such a respected playwright?

I had the great pleasure of getting to know Donald when he was honored at the William Inge Theatre Festival, where I am on the advisory board. Aside from being a lovely man, he is a gifted writer. His work has great passion, great humanity and it reveals the human condition, our frailties and vulnerabilities in a very unique way. It is a pleasure to work on one of his plays.

5. What do you hope audiences take from seeing Shipwrecked!?

While most of the play is incredibly fun and lighthearted, it also makes a strong statement about how we treat celebrities in our culture. We build them up just to tear them down when they get too famous and powerful. It is a ‘message play”, but it speaks more to the world of “let’s pretend” and harkens back to a simpler time. Couldn’t we all use that in our lives?

Shipwrecked! runs October 12 through November 6. For more information or to purchase tickets: please visit www.ictlongbeach.org or call 562.436.4610.

Stephen Rockwell: It’s Funniest When it Touches on the Truth

June 24th, 2016

Stephen Rockwell

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, now in its third week of a four-week run, has been making audiences laugh since it began performances June 8. Our Tony-winning Best Play can owe much of the show’s success to its endlessly talented cast. One of those cast members, Stephen Rockwell, who plays Vanya, was asked some questions about his work in this hilarious production, and he was gracious enough to respond. Enjoy!

1.  As someone who is new to working at ICT,  how has your experience been?

It has been wonderful working at ICT for the first time. Everyone who works for the theatre from caryn on down has been extremely supportive and nurturing. They’ve provided us with the atmosphere and the tools we need to do our work and bring this delightful and meaningful play to life. And I love the gorgeous theatre space!

2. What kind of preparation outside of learning your lines did you undertake in preparing for the role of Vanya?

In preparation for playing Vanya I began by re-reading the four major works of Anton Chekhov (The Seagull, The Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard). I’ve been fortunate to have been in all four plays at one time or another, but I wanted to remind myself of the plots, the characters and the themes. I also did an extensive character autobiography of Vanya to have a strong sense of his backstory and the nature of his relationships, especially with his sisters.

Leslie Stevens, Stephen Rockwell and Jennifer Parsons in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at ICT
Photo Credit: CaughtintheMoment.com

3. Vanya is a role that many actors would love the chance to play. What other role(s) would you like to undertake?

Like most actors I have a long wish list. But interestingly, I have always wanted to play Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and would love to have a crack at it after playing Mr. Durang’s version of the character. I would also love to have a chance to play Jamie in Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten and either Bohr or Heisenberg in Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen.

4. Performing comedy in the theatre is a very difficult task to undertake. What do you think is the key to make an audience laugh?

As they say “Dying is easy and comedy is hard.” I’m not the first to say that it’s all in the timing, which it is, but delivery has something to do with it as well. And in the end, I think it’s funniest if it touches on the truth in some way. We were so fortunate to have a gifted director like Mary Jo [DuPrey] who really understands the craft and helped us to find the right timing and delivery, as well as the truth inside the laughs.

5.  What do you hope audiences take from seeing Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike?

First and foremost, I hope that audiences enjoy themselves. The play is extremely funny and is meant to entertain. But it also deals with changes that have taken place in our society over the past half century. I hope that after laughing their heads off, that audiences will go home thinking about and discussing those changes and what they mean to our culture and our society.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike runs through July 3. For more information or to purchase tickets: please visit www.ictlongbeach.org or call 562.436.4610.

Mary Jo DuPrey Loves Command of Complex Language

June 15th, 2016

Mary Jo DuPrey

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, now in its second week of a four-week run, has received a wonderful response from audiences since it opened. Our critically acclaimed production is led under the direction of Mary Jo DuPrey. We asked her some questions about her work on this side-splitting show, and she was kind enough to respond. Enjoy!

1.  Since this is your first time directing at ICT, what has your experience been like?

Directing at ICT has been so wonderful.  ICT is dedicated to bringing the very best scripts to stage with the very best actors in town, which is always a pleasure for a director!

2. As someone who has also acted, how does that influence your approach as a director?

I think being an actor gives you a very good platform to work with actors because you have the ability to imagine the approach an actor may take and that provides a very good start for conversation about script and character.  Also, training as an actor gives you the proper vocabulary and understanding to communicate with actors in a way that is meaningful and useful to them.

Leslie Stevens, Stephen Rockwell, Connor McRaith and Jennifer Parsons in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at ICT.
Photo Credit: CaughtintheMoment.com

3. Is there added pressure when directing a play with accolades such as Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike?

Yes, of course, there is that pressure because many people have seen the play and have very strong ties to the original.  On the other hand, the play often receives those accolades because the writing is so good, and it’s always easier to direct a great script than an average one.

4. Since he is one of the most prolific playwrights of the modern era, what do you think makes Christopher Durang such a respected playwright?

I think Durang is one of the few modern playwrights who has such an unerring command of complex language.  The more we delved into this script, the more the actors and I discovered the need to be letter perfect and not paraphrase because even the slightest misplaced word lessened the work.  He is so witty and erudite, and works with language in a way that one rarely sees anymore.

5.  What do you hope audiences take from seeing Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike?

Well, I think the kernel of the play is inside Vanya’s monologue in which he bemoans the current state of American culture, but, unlike Chekhov, Durang gives a more hopeful, optimistic solution to modern angst, and that is to find refuge in family and those you love.  I think that way, it’s not unlike The Wizard of Oz.  “There’s no place like home.”  Though ‘home’ may mean different things for different people, it is essentially, very true.

For more information or to purchase tickets to Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike: please visit www.ictlongbeach.org or call 562.436.4610.

Kevin Bailey: Never Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

March 4th, 2016

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Kevin Bailey in ICT’s Closer Than Ever

Closer Than Ever opened at International City Theatre on February 12. After wooing audiences for almost a month, the show will close this Sunday. We were lucky enough to meet with veteran actor and cast member Kevin Bailey to ask him some questions about the show and theatre as a w hole. Please enjoy!

1. As someone who has worked at ICT before, how has your experience been this time?

This is my third show for ICT. If ICT were a restaurant, I’d give my experience a Michelin Three Star Award!  I have had another exceptional theatre experience worthy of a special journey. As had my past experiences at ICT, this journey started with the very best of professionals from all creative departments: an outstanding Director (Todd Nielsen) and Musical Director (Gerry Sternbach), a dream cast to perform with, and the ICT production staff to brilliantly put it together. By its very nature, creating theater magic requires many chefs in the kitchen working together to make the fare superior to watch and enjoy. caryn desai is the master chef who gives the rest of us the room to do (what I hope) is our very best work!

2. What do you hope audiences take from Closer Than Ever?

Closer Than Ever is a tricky little musical — very easy to underestimate the way it unfolds. I would like audiences to see themselves in at least one, and ideally many, of the relationships displayed in each of the songs, as each one is a story unto itself.  If someone is able to identify with a specific character or a theme, then they will be moved to smile, laugh and even shed a tear.  The music and lyrics are simply that powerful.

3. Which song is your favorite to perform and why?

Okay , I hope you’ll allow me two — I know that’s cheating.  Of course, getting to perform the anthem, “If I Sing,” is without compare.  It brings up every single feeling I have about my own dad and the unwavering support he has been to me every day of my life.  But, I also get this humorous and contemplative song about a relationship that has lost its spark titled, “There.”  It’s a great song to act each night and I get to perform it with a theater giant, Valerie Perri.  That’s what we refer to as Heaven on stage!!

4. You have had an impressive career in musical theatre. What do you love about this art form?

Only in theater do you get to know immediately that you have made a difference to your audience and “moved them” in some way. They may laugh, they may cry , they may simply smile; but something is happening in the moment and in the next moment and those moments impact all the moments after that.  It is never the same from one night to the next, at least not entirely.  Similar, yes,  but it’s the difference that is exciting and working to have an impact each night is the gift of theater to me.

5. If your life was a musical, what would it be called?

If I could make up my own title it would be, “Blessed.” Otherwise, I hope you will allow me the answer, “Lucky Guy.” Those titles best represent how I feel about my journey.

Closer Than Ever runs through March 6. For more information or to purchase tickets: please visit www.ictlongbeach.org or call 562.436.4610.

Valerie Perri Can’t Ask For Anything More

March 2nd, 2016

Valerie Perri performing in Closer That Ever. Photo Credit: Tracey Roman

Closer Than Ever opened three weeks ago at International City Theatre. Response has been fantastic, and many comments have been made about the cast and their beautiful voices. We checked in with veteran actress and Closer Than Ever cast member Valerie Perri to ask her some questions about the show. She was sweet enough to oblige.

1. As someone who has worked at ICT before, how has your experience been this time?

Equally outstanding and professional! Also, ICT continues to produce the most interesting and challenging plays and musicals, which ultimately makes the experience very satisfying to perform.

2. What do you hope audiences take from Closer Than Ever?

We walk through many doors in our lifetime. There is always a new experience and challenge that presents itself over each threshold. Enjoy it! Don’t let fear ever stop you from the journey that is YOURS and awaits behind each and every door you open!

3. Which song is your favorite to perform and why?

I guess if I had to choose one it would be “Life Story.”  I enjoy the simplicity of sitting on a stool, and having a heart to heart with the audience. It’s the journey of a divorced woman who’s had to raise her son alone, accepting the challenges and the sometimes regret she’s felt along the way, but, ultimately her choices and experiences have made her a stronger person, today.

4. Close Than Ever addresses a lot of different life experiences that every person goes through at some point in their life. Which song in the show touches you the most?

“Patterns” was a difficult song for me during the rehearsal process as I remembered the early days of raising my twins when there was a certain daily schedule to follow and so much of the “sameness” that it was so easy to personally lose a sense of myself in the day to day minutia. It’s frightening how narrow your world can become in those formative years. I felt it was so important to be present for my children and subsequently took time off from my career to make it all about them. Today, as an actress, it’s nice to have a memory bank that holds that information so I can tap the feelings necessary to illuminate the story I am telling.

5. If your life was a musical, what would it be called?

“The Exquisite Beauty of a Well-Balanced Life”

It took a lot of work along the way, and like all of us, I’ve had my share of bumps, bruises and disappointments. Yet today,  I enjoy good health and being happily married. I take great pleasure and pride in our two magnificent sons,  a beautiful home filled with music and harmony, and I continue to pursue my artistic life by performing in plays, musicals, symphony concerts, television and film. Who could ask for anything more?

For more information or to purchase tickets to Closer Than Ever: please visit www.ictlongbeach.org or call 562.436.4610.

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