is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Three Cheers For the Peanut Gallery!

I'm always glad of good surprises, and so last week when I stopped in to watch a rehearsal of Three Cheers for the Peanut Gallery at the Leestown Road campus  of Bluegrass Community & Technical College, I was delighted to find the big picture I had painted in my head for this production had been tilted, skewed and splashed with extra layers of color -- all for my viewing pleasure...and yours!

My initial discovery was that BCTC's Coordinator of Theatre and Film, Tim X. Davis (who wrote the play) was not directing.  Rather, two of his top proteges, Jared Sloan and Kevin Greer are and doing a wonderful job at taking the wheel and driving this comedic tale through its journey ... 

Eric Seale, Aly Miller, Meredith Crutcher and Katie Jo Cox
Then what, before my wondering eyes should appear, but Actors Guild of Lexington's sincerely stoic Artistic Director Eric Seale, acting the fool as a jocular character named Hank who enters howling and delivers line after line with his best deadpan face. 

Fight directorHenry Layton watched as Zack Hightower "roughed up" Jared Sloan during a rehearsal of the bawdy comedy Middle Aged White Guys.  (Note: no day lilies were destroyed in the production of the BCTC hit :) 
Speaking of Hank, stage combat consultant Henry Layton has even been called in for his expert advice for conflicts that arise within X's coming of age story.  Add to all that star power the stage management of take-charge-and-take-names Natalie Cummins, you have all the top shelf ingredients for a delicious evening of entertainment.

Paul (Manny Wright) and Luke (Zach Dearing) argue while their not so swift friend, Rick, (played insightfully by Wes Cornelius) tries to figure out what's going on.

Three Cheers for the Peanut Gallery is the first play that Davis wrote (his second, Dancing With Dani premiered a few years ago at the DAC), and it takes place in the 80s, when all the girls had feathered hair and wore tee shirts with the collars ripped out ala Flashdance, and Boone's Farm only came in a few 'flavors.'  
poster by Donald Shofner

As I watched the first act unfold, the X factor of funny pop culture started to tickle me, and I was once again a happy captive of the BCTC troupe.  My laughter added the unknown audience element to their rehearsal, and they were eager to keep the chuckles coming around the bonfire conversation where the piece takes place.  So I sat back and enjoyed the humor and waxed nostalgic for the days when phrases like "bite me" and "No way!  ... Way!"  were popular.

Manny Wright, Zach Dearing, Jared Sloan and Meredith Crutcher work out a scene in the student center of BCTC, which will be transformed into a theatre in-the-round for Three Cheers for the Peanut Gallery.  With all the quality work the theatre and film department produces, perhaps an actual stage facility will someday be provided for these dedicated folks.
Don't let the smile fool you - Natalie Cummins is a serious force to be reckoned with in local theatre.  Her involvement with any production equals quality and precision.
TimX directs Zack Hightower in Dancing With Dani
However, I had to know what up, and so I asked if BCTC has a new affiliation with Actors Guild?  Davis explains, "For a while now we've talked about a more prominent collaboration between AGL and BCTC Theatre. I think with recent developments, we're going to be able to make that more of a reality. Eric is really open to finding tangible ways to collaborate. For instance, with this show, Eric (the AD) is playing a role. Rather than look at this as some kind of 'step down' by acting in a (gasp!) Community College show, Eric is looking at it as a real way to solidify the ties between the two groups, AND to be a sort of de facto mentor for the newer actors. Lots of very talented local actors have taken roles in our shows (Allie Darden, Hayley Williams and Jimmy Hamblin, just to name a few) and it's always a very positive experience.  We also have Natalie Cummins (one of Eric's staff) as PSM, and the AGL board has helped me with promoting the show. So it's a nice collaborative effort."

As an AGL board member, Davis' input of experience and vision will set the theatre on a hopeful new course.  "They asked me back in the Summer to become a part of the board, and I was more than willing. We have a very exciting group on the board and we're looking forward to addressing the challenges before us. We hope to have some exciting announcements coming up very soon, so stay tuned!"  


Concerning Tim X and his BCTC projects, why Three Cheers, and why now?  Davis pointed out, "Well, a couple of reasons. One, no royalties! As our Lucille Little grant expired this year, we are having to tighten our belts somewhat, and this was one way to do it. (Our second show this semester? Shakespeare, also royalty-free!) Second, it's a large cast, with young actors who actually get to play their own age (something relatively rare) and while I knew it would be challenging for Jared and Kevin, I wanted something that wouldn't be TOO taxing on them for their first full directorial effort...something that I felt they could easily relate to and connect with."

Interestingly, Three Cheers made its way to the BCTC stage due to a sequence of events that not even Professor McSmartypants could have predicted.  "The show had actually been lost for a few years. My basement flooded about four years ago and wiped out not on the computer I had the script on, but all my hard copies and floppy discs (remember those? :) Chris Tamez, a good friend down in grad school in LA, found a copy and emailed it to me. I had literally the day before been thinking about the script, so I saw this as a bit of an omen. I had a read through with some of the students (including Jared and Kevin, whom I had already planned to give the opportunity to direct this semester) and they really took to it. I suppose there are those who might see this as a vanity project, and sure - I get a kick out of seeing what little work I have produced (who doesn't?) but that's certainly not the primary reason."

"Quite frankly, the piece is special to me because it contains characters and some situations that are taken from my own experience. Many of the events that this is loosely based on took place 25 years ago, this past Summer. So I also think of it as a bit of a tribute to those folks. Can't say much more without giving too much away though!"

My thanks to Katie Jo Cox for her help & photos :)

"However, the show was produced in Gulfport, Mississippi back in the Summer of 2000. We had such a successful time with it there that we wanted to look for another venue. My wife and I had produced some original work at a venue in Nashville the previous Summer (The 'Bongo After Hours Theatre' over near Belmont College) and the theatre manager wanted us back, so we brought some of the Missippi cast, combined it with some Nashville actors and had a stellar weekend run there in Nashvegas. A few years later, my good friend Mike Tuttle directed a workshop production as part of the Fort Harrod Drama second Season down in Harrodsburg (a REALLY strong production) and another director did a production of it in Greensboro shortly after that. So it's been around a little. This is the first Lexington production, so we're excited to bring it to the Bluegrass."

Davis explains that Layton's involvement with this project has been brief, but extremely useful.  "Hank only came in for one night, as the fights aren't extensive. The real challenge with these fights is the fact that the show is being produced in the round, so not a lot of places to 'mask' the violence. For instance, with slaps? Just no good way to do a staged slap in the arena, so the couple of times people get slapped, they get slapped! Even that, though, requires precision and timing, and that's where Hank really helped us out. I like utilizing Hank whenever I can. I've had to do my own choreography before, but I much prefer having Henry to work with, as it's so effortless for him and he's just so good at what he does."

Jared Sloan as Clem in Middle Aged White Guys

I just have to say, too, that I'm tremendously proud of Jared and Kevin for the work they've put into this. They really have been thrown in at the deep end, but they've come up swimming beautifully! It's nice to see the light bulbs go off with them in rehearsal. They, and all the cast, are doing a tremendous job."

What's on the menu for BCTC after Three Cheers?   "Well, at the first of the month we'll audition for Much Ad About Nothing, which I'm directing.  I'm bringing in Laurie Genet and Chris Rose to play Beatrice and Benedick, but the rest of the roles are wide open. Laurie and I have been talking about doing this together since before she had the twins, so I'm totally excited to finally be doing it. It will go up Nov 18-20th at the Talon Winery; and in the Spring, we're looking at another potential AGL collaboration on The Rocky Horror Show sometime in April. There's also a good possibility we'll mount another show this Summer, perhaps at the Moondance ampitheatre, but I can't think that far ahead right now!"

Kevin Greer and Jared Sloan (MAWG)

"Some of our students will be auditioning at the Kentucky Theatre Festivals SETC audition screenings in November.  I ran those auditions for the last 9 years, but I stepped down from the KTA board this past year, so it'll be nice to just be a spectator this year.  If our students pass the screenings, they'll be able to audition at SETC in March (in Atlanta, this year).  We also plan to attend the American College Theatre Festival Regional event, this year in Daytona Beach in February (good timing, huh?) -- so lots going on with us."

BCTC's film program will also be having showings of their final projects at the end of the semester at Natasha's (sometime the first of second week of December), Davis says, "and FINALLY- we are in the process of proposing an Associate of Fine Arts in Theatre at BCTC.  We're in the approval stages now, but if all goes well, we'll be able to offer the degree in 2011...AND we would be one of the only junior colleges in the southeast to do so!" 


Layton with Zach Dearing, Equus
Henry Layton is another not so secret admirer of Professor Davis and is happy to contribute what he can to this and any other BCTC production.  Layton tells me he's only had "one rehearsal with Kevin, Jared, Tim, and the cast as of now. Working on a Tim X project is a unique process that I (as a fight director) never really get. That's because not only is Tim a great director, actor , teacher and playwright, but he has extensive knowledge in the art/process of stage combat. I know this because he and I first fought with each other almost 10 years when I choreograph something that Tim is overseeing, he has the capability to maintain the integrity of the fights even when I am not available.  However, we are trying to figure out a time to get me back in there with the cast."

"As far as cool and unique challenges for this particular production - first up is that I am friends with Tim X Davis and he loves to make my life a living hell. Hence, this show is in the round. When you do a traditional set in theatre with a proscenium, you have different options in which to mask/hide certain 'magic' from the audience. So there was a very detailed process in developing 'contact' moves to the show that I would not do 99% of the time -- but the cast's response was great. They were like a sponge when it came to learning the correct techniques and intricate choreography."

"But the coolest thing about this project is that Kevin (Greer) and Jared (Sloan) are directing this script...and I gotta say, it was a seamless transition working with these student directors from most any other experienced, professional directors I have worked with in the past; and that is a testament to Tim X Davis as one the best teachers that central Kentucky has around.


Three Cheers for the Peanut Gallery
written by: Tim X. Davis

Dearing as Luke demonstrates his favorite position

CO-Directed by Jared Sloan and Kevin T. Greer
Stage Manager- Natalie Cummins

This is a show about a group of close friends and the test of friendship they endure when tragedy strikes their inner circle.

Cast List-
PAUL- Manny Wright
LUKE- Zach Dearing
IRV- Jared Sloan
SANDY- Katie Jo Cox
SARA- Aly Miller
GWEN- Meredith Crutcher
HANK- Eric Seale
RICK- Wes Cornelius
FISH- James Duncan
NOEL- Jenifer Noel
CHAS- Kevin Greer
JOLIE- Stephanie Midyette
Sara (Aly Miller) is about to catch the vapors

September 30th----8pm
October 1st---------8pm
October 2nd--------8pm

Doors open at 7:30 pm
Show starts at 8:00 pm
Ticket prices are:
$12 for General Admission
$ 7 for Students

***Disclaimer--This show has graphic language and some violence, not intended for children, or the faint of heart (okay maybe just children :-)***


It's no secret that I think the world of Tim X Davis and all of his excellent work at BCTC as well as his contribution to the theatrical community both on stage and off.  His devotion to his students is reflected in their growth as actors, directors, stage managers and crew members -- I'm aware of this because I've watched over the last few years as 'kids' like Jared Sloan, Zack Hightower, Kevin Greer, Katie Jo Cox, Leah Dick (the list goes on and on) have matured and grown as they honed their craft.  Also, I've witnessed their increased adoration for being involved with with all that is theatre.  As the stage is being prepared for the opening of Three Cheers For the Peanut Gallery, I know this will be yet another fine performance by the players Davis has mentored.  

Opportunity Way is just outside the Circle off Leestown Road, there's plenty of parking and you will not be disappointed should you decide to take in one of the upcoming performances.  This show is peppered with 80s pop culture, i.e., Wayne's World, Clapton and yes, even Kama Sutra references.  So join in the fun and shout out Three Cheers to the Peanut Gallery!

See you at the show.
peace, y'all,

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