Viewing post categorized under: Yeast Nation



Oct. 21, 2014

“I’ve never spent so many hours at a theater and I’ve never had a better time”: Stage Manager Laraine Gurke on Yeast Nation

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Laraine Gurke is Yeast Nation‘s stage manager. Laraine also worked on Ray of Light’s productions of Tommy and The Rocky Horror Show.

Laraine's view from the booth.
Laraine’s view from the booth.

I’m always surprised by how much I learn with each different production I’m involved with. I was… less surprised by how much I learned (and continue to learn) working on Yeast Nation. A new show, a workshop with the creators, a full blown production with 355+ light cues, a set made of spandex, and every cast member wearing their own light-up belly? There is a whole lot of learning potential there. As the stage manager, part of my job is to listen to the ideas from the designers and creative team and do my best to support them however I can and attempt to anticipate any problems. With a new show, there’s the added layer of a changing script. Like most things in theatre, stage managing is not a perfect science. I was prepared to learn.

Working on any production presents its fair share of challenges but when the show is so new there are some extra obstacles. In new work, things usually change constantly since there is no reference point from which to start. Another part of my job is to try to track these changes and make sure that cast, staff, and creative team are on the same page. The continued flexibility from the cast, our director and choreographer made this much easier for me than it could have been.

With this show tech week was a whole new ballgame. I’ve never spent so many hours at a theater and I’ve never had a better time. I’ve never really seen such collaboration between departments and the overall attitude was positive and fun–even at four in the morning. No matter how interesting the material is or how much you’re getting paid, you still have to interact with the people involved and ROLT consistently hires people who are a joy to work with. When I look up at whatever horribly early time it happens to be in the morning and Angrette [set designer], Joe [lighting designer], and Daniel [technical director] are all singing their own off-key, high pitched version of whatever ridiculous 80’s power ballad is blasting from the radio, I know things are going to be just fine.

My job now that the show is open is to maintain the integrity of the production and handle any issues that arise from day to day. Honestly this has been incredibly easy. The energy and consistency from the cast have been spot on and it’s been a blast to watch the show hit its stride. Also, I have to mention our stellar band, lead by music director Ben Prince, and their incredibly even tempos night after night. Everyone who shows up to the Victoria every day makes my job fun and interesting and for that I am very grateful.

Oct. 01, 2014

How does a yeast move?

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Excuse me…YEASTS?!

blinking_sword_in_the_stone

Audiences aren’t the only ones surprised. Our very own production team had to wrap their minds around telling the story of yeasts. How human are they? We knew the show shouldn’t feel modern, but it shouldn’t feel too literally in the past, either; the script references contemporary science and acknowledges the audience, so it’s not exactly a method acting experience (because really, what would that even look like? Probably pretty funny, actually). The yeasts’ world is, at the risk of sounding like a theater professor, a microcosm for contemporary humanity. They tell our story through a different lens, but their flaws and humanity are the same as ours.

So WHAT does that mean for movement? “Oftentimes, with a musical, you are beholden to the original choreo’s style. With this show we had the opportunity to create our own brand-new movement, sometimes with the actors’ help,” said director Jason Hoover. Professional help came in the form of Triassic Parq choreographer Dane Paul Andres, who saw endless possibilities: “the challenges of conceptualizing and creating movement for this unique world was an exciting process–the show is unique in so many ways. What initially inspired me in the beginning was the fact that they were a society under water: how to emulate fluidity without being too obvious?”

The choreography ended up reflecting both the realities of the yeasts’ life in the primordial soup–floaty and undulating–and the contemporary music styles in the score. “An integral tool used in the show is a select group of yeasts that accompany the show’s narrator, like a Greek chorus. I tried to reflect that in their movement as they go through out the show with a variety of dance styles,” said Dane. There’s backup pop dancing that would make the Temptations jealous, along with straight-faced while totally absurd interpretive dance moments. The movement reflects the idea that the yeasts take themselves very seriously, but the show doesn’t–at least, not most of the time.

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Pictured: not-so-serious seriousness from Will Ferrell in Old School.

“Dane has been fantastic and continues to come up with fresh ideas, never settling for something that wasn’t right,” said Jason. Dane’s thoughts after all this? “I hope the curiosity of dancing yeasts and everything that is Yeast Nation prompt you to see the show. It is that same curiosity that has now earned me a memorable experience!”

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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Sep. 15, 2014

WTF is Yeast Nation?

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Not that kind of yeast.


ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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Sep. 11, 2014

A Finale Worth Fighting About

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We can’t tell you the finale’s specifics, but we can tell you that there’s a slow motion fight scene.

FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT! You might say we're excited.
FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT! (You might say we’re excited.)

Cool, we’re doing this! Wait, how do we do this? We have a big cluster of cast members and we have to give them each choreography that serves the story and is hilarious but stays focused and happens in a very specific amount of time and goes well with the music.

“We have fourteen people up there fighting in slow motion and it’s all chain reactions,” says our fearless leader/director Jason Hoover. “That’s no waaaaaaaaalk in the paaaaaaaark.” (He speaks in slow motion now. It’s weird but we’ll roll with it.)

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“Well this is happening” -our game-for-whatever cast

Our course safety is our #1 priority*, so there’s more at stake than what’s funny. Although that helps too. A lot of trial and error is involved. And extra-slow slow motion to protect the actors.

No actors harmed in the creation of this image.
No actors harmed in the creation of this image.

After trying and trying again, we ended up with a fight scene that makes us laugh and doesn’t send anyone to the hospital! It’s just one piece of a truly behemoth finale of epic–really epic, we’re talking primordial yeasts here–but it’s a crucial one, and we can’t wait to show it to audiences in October, along with the rest of this crazy show.

*At least 60% of the time. Just kidding, at least 90%. Our attorney would like us to inform you that that was a joke. Safety is always first!

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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Aug. 26, 2014

A Second Shot at the Yeast Nation Photo Shoot

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Sometimes the right shot takes two shoots.

A musical about salt-eating yeasts floating in the primordial soup billions of years ago? Naturally, underwater publicity photos were required. At Ray of Light we like to keep a “Why not? Let’s do it” attitude. It’s that spirit that brought us Jerry Springer the OperaTriassic Parq and an 18′ falling wall in CARRIE the Musical.

Cristina Oeschger on stage as Carrie with the falling set that resulted from "Wouldn't it be cool if..."
Cristina Oeschger on stage as Carrie with the scenic equivalent of “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”

In other words, never having done something doesn’t discourage us. Which is how we ended up in an unheated private pool on a chilly April day, armed with a waterproof camera and a wetsuit shirt (for the photographer Erik Scanlon) and a bottle of bourbon (for the very game but very cold actor Kevin Singer).

Kevin smiling through the pain
Kevin smiling through the pain

Our first ever underwater photo shoot was a definite learning experience but sadly netted us no usable images. (It turns out cold water is physically debilitating–even with your game face on and me spoon-feeding you liquor. You’re a trouper, Kevin! Literally.)

Cut to our second attempt. The waterproof camera is back. So are Kevin, Erik, artistic director/Yeast Nation director Jason Hoover and costume designer Amanda Angott. And this time, we have–drumroll please!–a heated pool, courtesy of local actor and friend of the company Lynda Divito.

Kevin, Erik and Jason in the nice warm pool
Kevin, Erik and Jason experiencing the euphoria that pool-heating technology has brought humanity

This time, we managed to get the shots we needed–without giving our actor hypothermia.

A genuine smile from Kevin
A genuine smile from Kevin

The final images will be distributed to press and posted on social media.

yeastsidebyside
The source photograph (left) and final Yeast Nation image (right). Photography and editing by Erik Scanlon.

This shoot was made possible by the entire team’s commitment to the perfect shot. And water heaters. Mostly water heaters.

See all the photos here.

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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Aug. 26, 2014

“What would happen if the love child of Medea and Groucho Marx got a degree in microbiology and then wrote a musical”: Chorus member Ted Zoldan on Yeast Nation

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Ted Zoldan is an actor in Yeast Nation (playing Chorus 3). This is Ted’s third show with Ray of Light, having appeared in the ensemble of Assassins (2011) as Rapunzel’s Prince in Into the Woods (2013).

Ted's face 95% of the time
Ted’s face 99% of the time

Sometimes I think to myself that if the acting thing doesn’t work out, I will need to set up hidden cameras in various rehearsal rooms so I can pretend I’m still a part of the insanity and joy of rehearsing a show. That would be a really terrible idea, both for budgetary and ethical reasons, so thankfully I’m still performing. Being in the ensemble of a show, especially a show as ridiculous as Yeast Nation, means that you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. And as a bonus, when you’re not dancing around like a lunatic or trying desperately to stay on beat while blasting out a contrapuntal harmony, there’s a lot of time spent just watching the action, which in a show like this means a lot of time crying with laughter.

When Greg Kotis was in town for the workshop this summer, he described the show as being heavily influenced by Antigone and Macbeth. I like to describe it as “what would happen if the love child of Medea and Groucho Marx got a degree in microbiology and then wrote a musical,” but I digress. Anyway, as a member of the show’s Greek Chorus I get to be a major part of that mock-solemnity. Apart from being responsible for most of the awesome back-up harmonies that you’re going to hear (look out for us in “Love Equals Pain” –  it’s a doozy),  the Chorus in Yeast Nation serves as the audience’s guide through the grim, slightly off-beat world these primordial tragedians inhabit. Greg’s the master of what I like to call the “slightly awkward defining moment.” The characters in Yeast Nation are dealing with major events (the discovery of love, the end of the world) and they’re experiencing epic emotions, but they don’t quite have the language to express themselves. (Example: describing love as “a conceptual kind of magma”). The chorus seems to know a little bit more about the world, and can guide the principals on their journeys…to an extent. The show manages to be both intensely serious and phenomenally silly at the same time. From the minute I signed on, I knew this show was going to be funny, deep, and very challenging to perform. I underestimated it. This show is very deep, very challenging, and very, very funny.

Since Yeast Nation is intent on telling the stories of our past, it feels appropriate to share a little background: Like every other teenage musical theater fan in 2002, I was obsessed with Greg and Mark’s previous show, Urinetown. It was a jaw-dropping, crazy, “I-didn’t-know-you-could-do-this-in-a-musical” experience (with pee jokes). I saw it on broadway (John Cullum was out but I got to meet Ken Jennings, the original Tobias in Sweeney Todd, and totally fanboyed), and on tour (got to see acting legend Ron Holgate, totally fanboyed again) and wore out two copies of the CD. Despite not knowing Thomas Malthus from Johnny Mathis, the show made me think just as hard as it made me laugh, and if there’s a reason I’ve been paying so much attention to Calfornia’s current water shortage, it can probably be traced back to Greg and Mark’s bold, outrageous satire. Later on, I got a chance to perform in Urinetown (twice, as a matter of fact), and had as much of a blast as I expected. So when the opportunity came up to be a part of Yeast Nation, I grinned, prepared myself for some truly crazy tenor harmonies–which I, even prepared, totally underestimated..this score is like the Revenge of the high G–and jumped in head first. Part of the appeal was a chance to work directly with Greg and Mark, and believe me, that was more than invaluable. Hearing Greg go in-depth, almost line by line, to the cast was like taking a seminar on how to perform this show.  But now that the workshop is over, we get to put the show on its feet and do the work we came here to do.

Yeast Nation is my third show with Ray of Light, and it feels like coming home. This is especially true because when I walk in the rehearsal room, I can see at least one person from almost every show I’ve done since moving to San Francisco. Even the tiny basement room where we rehearse was where I drove myself crazy trying to stage a Mozart opera on a shoestring budget. Whether a quirk of coincidence, or a reflection of Bay Area theatre’s tiny, incestuous casting pool (yeah, it’s the latter), just looking around the room is weirdly nostalgic, but it also means that I am working with a group of people I absolutely 100% trust to be awesome. I can’t think of a team I’d rather be on to explore this wild, bizarre beast of a show. I still don’t know quite what it is yet. I can’t wait to find out.

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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Jul. 15, 2014

“The hard is what makes it good”: Director Jason Hoover on the Yeast Nation Workshop

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“Theatre is really hard,” Greg Kotis sighed over fancy tater tots and beers one post-rehearsal evening. Everyone on the production team nodded agreement as we continued to piece together the show and weigh different options. There is no such thing as an easy musical–nor should there be. To quote imaginary baseball legend Jimmy Dugan, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”

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The Yeast Nation cast in workshop

On Friday we presented the Yeast Nation workshop performance, which was really more of a rehearsal peek-in. An opportunity for a small, select group of people to get a glimpse into the early stages of a process that will continue to develop over the next few months. What Friday showed us is that this musical has electricity–primordial as it may be. The audience, who had no clue what to expect, connected with the bizarre story of our yeasts–yes, it is possible to connect with singing yeasts!

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Greg, Mark and Jason at the workshop talkback

The workshop week proved to be an invaluable lesson for both the actors and the staff. Having first-hand access to the creators of the show meant direct and specific answers. Many times a rehearsal process can leave you wondering what an author meant by a certain line of text. With Greg and Mark in the room, we knew. But we also had more to explore.

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The cast with Greg and Mark (front and center)

The hard is what makes it good. We can’t wait to stage Yeast Nation this Fall.

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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Jul. 11, 2014

“I wonder what the oldest play is”: Writer Greg Kotis on Yeast Nation

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Tonight, we wrap up our Yeast Nation workshop with a small invited presentation. Below, book and lyrics writer, Tony winner Greg Kotis (Urinetown) explains his inspiration for the piece.

Where do plays come from? For me, for this musical, it came while watching a Greek theater company’s performance of Antigone in 1995 – in Transylvania! I was writing and performing with The Neo-Futurists at the time, a Chicago-based troupe, and we had been invited to perform as part of a festival happening in Sibiu, Romania. While not performing myself, I attended every show I could, and so I found myself crammed in with hundreds of Romanians and other festival participants in a ramshackle performance hall, watching a very, very old play.

The stage was dark and bare. The performers wore masks and floor-length robes. The show consisted of the actors forming a wide circle and then walking counter clock-wise for – hours, it seemed. The principals would move to the center of the circle and perform their scenes while the company continued marching around them, repeating every line in unison. In Greek. The production was, at first, baffling. Then infuriating. Then boring. Then intriguing. Then hypnotic. Throughout the performance, I kept thinking “This is an old play. I wonder what the oldest play is. Oldest story. Earliest narrative moment.” And so on. By the end of Antigone, I had the beginnings of what would become Yeast Nation: an epic tale of early life’s struggle to survive. In it, we would meet the very first creature, his first offspring, that offspring’s first love, and so forth. It would be haunted and ridiculous and something to rival Wagner or Cecil B. DeMille or any of the great myth-makers. It would be a contrarian, environmentalist anti-musical and it would tell the tale of the first musicalizable moment in all of time.

And, so, here we are, almost twenty years later. The musical exists. Mark and I have a book and a score, both of which continue to evolve with each production. We’ve seen the show performed in Alaska, Chicago, as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, by homeschoolers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and tonight in San Francisco as a preliminary reading in advance of Ray of Light Theatre’s fall production. Yeast Nation, like the characters it describes, is on a journey, and who knows where it will lead. But I’m happy and grateful it’s brought us to this beautiful city, to work with this dedicated group of theater artists on this most unlikely musical.

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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Jul. 10, 2014

“Holy s***, it’s really Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann”: Actor Kevin Singer on Workshop Day 3

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Today’s guest blogger, Ray of Light alum Kevin Singer (Assassins, Sweeney Todd), will play Jan-the-Second in Yeast Nation. Read on for his view from inside the workshop.

Kevin at the Yeast Nation photoshoot
Kevin at the Yeast Nation photoshoot

Greetings purveyors of this fine blog. My name is Jan the Singer, and I’ll be playing Jan-the-Second-Oldest in our upcoming workshop and final production of Yeast Nation (the triumph of life).

Like many of you, I became a big fan of Urinetown: The Musical after I saw “Run, Freedom, Run” performed at the Tony Awards in 2002. Subsequently, I was lucky enough to perform in the show at my high school. Those were the days.

So, unsurprisingly, I spend most of my rehearsal time trying to recover from the fact that Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann are here. In this room. Right now. I mean holy s***, it’s really Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann.

Okay, that’s quite enough of that.

Kevin gets notes from book and lyrics writer Greg Kotis
Kevin gets notes from book and lyrics writer Greg Kotis

At today’s rehearsal, we spent the majority of our time working our way through Act 2. This involves anything from speeding up songs we once thought were ballads to specifying our characters with nuanced intentions, actions, and reactions to each other and the audience. Act 2 is particularly difficult: the plot thickens, characters change dramatically, and the music gets even tougher (and more fun!).

We also took a few moments to work on a new and improved opening scene/number. It’s even funnier than it was before and really does an excellent job thrusting our audience into some serious absurdity. It reminds me of the opening exchange between Little Sally and Officer Lockstock in Urinetown, which remains my favorite musical to this day.

I could go on and on but — actually, I couldn’t go on and on. Most of these rehearsals are a complete daze. I spend my hours staring into Greg and Mark’s soulful eyes. On a good day, Laraine Gurke (our brilliant stage manager), will only have to slap me back into reality three or four times.

But make no mistake: talking, singing, and, at times, dancing yeasts are serious business.

 

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
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Jul. 09, 2014

“There’s something in the air”: Yeast Nation Workshop Day 2

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At this rehearsal we delve deeper (into the characters, their motives and the primordial soup–metaphorically, at least). Greg Kotis, book and lyrics writer, gives the cast an idea of the show’s tone. “Something is special about today. Something has changed and not for the better.” The show’s comedy can only exist with full commitment to the circumstances of the play: a tyrannical dictator and a serious food shortage. “Intrigue is central to the way that this world works. Paranoia is rampant and for good reason.” The yeasts have an urgent story to tell the audience–whether they like it or not! (Cue thunderclap.)

Mischa Stephens (Jan-the-Wise), Ben Prince (music director), and Teresa Attridge (Jan-the-Sly) learn new music.
Mischa Stephens (Jan-the-Wise), Ben Prince (music director), and Teresa Attridge (Jan-the-Sly) learn new music.

In this workshop setting, the actors get a very rare opportunity to study their characters with the people who created them. Greg gives the cast moment-to-moment specifics and speaks to many actors individually, helping them identify their characters’ objectives, motives and manner from the unique perspective of creator. “It was great to have a chance to talk with Greg about my character, Jan-the-Sweet,” said actor Courtney Merrell. “He pointed out her ‘working-class hero’ moments, which helped me realize that she’s not just Sweet; she’s proud, and she’s fiery.” Echoed director Jason Hoover, “Usually, you start with only the script as a basis for your character. Here, we not only have that but also the writers’ perspectives on what’s happening for these yeasts, and how that fits into the rest of the show. It’s a real gift.”

Tonight we jump into Act II. Hold on to your membranes!

ROLT’s West Coast premiere of Yeast Nation will perform October 3-November 1 at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. 
Join our mailing list       Learn more about the show        Buy tickets