Thursday, October 12, 2017

Halloween Team 2017: Eight-Legged Freaks

Without meaning to, we are mimicking the same order we did last year.  Eric began, then Sally with me slated for the third spot. 
Eric's streak of picking oddball, humor/horror hybrids continues.  I've liked the ones from previous years, but I couldn't muster interest in this years pick, Eight-Legged Freaks.  David Arquette always strikes me like an awkward cousin who was the funniest guy in middle school. It's not charming in an adult.  It's weird and confusing, like this movie.  I couldn't settle in to it.  I didn't find it funny or scary.  I still don't get what it was going for. It comes close to so-bad-it's-good territory, but falls short. The Halloween Team is fun, so I had fun, but I hated that movie.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Press Release: A Grand Night for Singing

The Valley Theatre is pleased to present a special production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's A Grand Night for Singing! This charming musical revue features nearly 40 of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best loved songs, from both popular and lesser known musicals.   The cast, made up of performers from around the county, sing their way through Rodgers & Hammerstein classics all the while showcasing snatches of romance and humor.   The show is directed by Hilary Gunning with musical direction by Amanda Cox and choreography by Sarah Keeler Badger.

Performances will be held in Houghton and in Wellsville.  You can see the show on the Nancy Howe Auditorium stage on September 21 at 7pm at the David A. Howe Public Library in Wellsville.  This performance is sponsored by the Friends of the Library and the Allegany Arts Association. Shows will also be presented on Friday, September 22, at 7pm and Saturday, September 23, at 2pm at the Houghton Wesleyan Church.  For more information please contact director Hilary Gunning at

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

One Acts Debrief

On July 14, 2017 Valley Theatre partnered with the David A. Howe Public Library to present an Evening of One Act plays recreating an event that took place there in July of 1937.  It was different than the kinds of things we typically do with Valley Theatre productions, but it was a nice change of pace.

    We first experimented with presenting multiple short plays with our second production back in 2009 when we partnered Yasmina Reza's Art with Jack Finney's Telephone Roulette.  We liked the structure of that production.  We used the same set for both shows and the all female cast of TR contrasted nicely with the all male cast of Art.  We never really considered doing that again, but when the idea for this years production popped up we were intrigued.
   The shows presented included Thursday Evening by Christopher Morley, Wisdom Teeth by Rachel Field and Catherine Parr or Alexander’s Horse by Maurice Baring.  Each dated in their own way, but they all had wit and punch that we thought we could do something with.  I decided early on that I wanted to do a readers theater format for these.  I figured that would give the audience an idea of what the 1937 production was like without doing a full scale recreation.  Readers theater allowed us to play up the humor without getting bogged down in all of the trappings. I hadn't participated in readers theater since college and it was definitely a first for Valley Theatre.  I asked some of our regulars to take a hand directing them.  
     Sarah Badger, who has been involved with most of our productions since 2011 took on Thursday Evening.  Aside from Graham Badger who played the role of Gordon Johns, her full cast consisted of actors who have not been in our shows before: Emily Rhoades Pundt as Laura Johns, Mary Ann Reisdorf as Mrs. Sheffield and Mary Eckstein as Gordon's mother.  It's always nice to have new faces and they each did a wonderful job.  Of all the shows, this was the most dated so I took a pass at updating some of the humor that wouldn't play to a 2017 audience.  
    For Wisdom Teeth, Debbie Young directed and played the role of Henrietta Wellington.  We learned later that her 1937 counterpart did the same thing.  I love a good coincidence.  The rest of the cast was made up of Valley Theatre veterans including Amanda Cox, Hannah Mills Woolsey and Mike Cox.  They had a lot of fun doing this one and it was evident in the performance.

   For Catherine Parr or Alexander's Horse I thought it might be fun for Hilary and I to take the roles of Catherine Parr and Henry VIII.  We hadn't been in anything together in quite a while and Hilary hadn't been in a Valley Theatre production since Cinderella in 2011 (and really not since Guilty Conscience in 2010).  I asked our niece Evie to play the role of the page, so she finally got to make her Valley Theatre debut.  Even though readers theatre is a simple affair, I'd learned my lesson on acting and directing at the same time.  Instead, I cajoled Eric Mikols into directing.  He did so reluctantly, but had some good insight.  I'd like to see what he could do with a full show.  I bet it would be good.  We had fun working together.  Ours was shorter than the others and had a zinger heavy batch of dialogue.  We really got in to it for the performance.

    Overall the the night went very well.  I hadn't seen or heard the other plays, and while I had faith in the cast and directors, it was a relief to see that they were all good.  They flowed together well and each cast had a good chemistry which is always crucial, but even more so in something like readers theatre. I don't see us returning to the format any time soon, but it was energizing to do something so different.  
     Now we are free to turn our attentions to another non-standard Valley Theatre production... A Grand Night for Singing is set to open on September 21, 2017.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Press Release: Reader's Theatre at the David A. Howe Public Library

Our most recent Valley Theatre show, The Star Spangled Girl, opened exactly one year ago today.  It's hard to believe it's been that long!  We are planning a bigger event later in 2017, but right now we are working on a night of reader's theater with the David A. Howe Public Library.  Here's a little teaser of things to come.

2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the David A. Howe Public Library in its current location.  To celebrate this landmark year they will be re-creating an evening of one-act plays that were first performed in the Nancy Auditorium in July of 1937.  Presented in a reader’s theater format the plays include Thursday Evening by Christopher Morley, Wisdom Teeth by Rachel Field and Alexander’s Horse by Maurice Baring.  The evening will be hosted by Director Nic Gunning and his two predecessors, Michelle La Voie (director of the Olean Public Library) and Brian Hildreth (director of the Southern Tier Library System).  This library sponsored program is free and open to the public on Friday, July 14 at 7pm in the Nancy Howe Auditorium of the David A. Howe Public Library located at 155 N. Main Street, Wellsville, NY, 14895.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Halloween Team 2016 Debrief

Just like last year the gang assembled to do Halloween right.  We each took a turn picking a Halloween movie to show the rest of the team.  The results were fun and eclectic.

Eric, dubbed the King of Halloween, ended us right last year with his pick, What We Do in the Shadows.  He had the honor of starting this year.  His pick, The Frighteners (1996) featuring Michael J. Fox in his last live action starring role to date.  I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this.  It was much more slapstick and goofy than I expected and yet it was scary at times.  Some of the humor flopped and Jeffrey Combs' character was completely unnecessary, but overall it's weird tone and unexpected turns won us over.  We all agreed we were never bored and it did capture that elusive Halloween feel.  Solid Pick.

Next was Sally's turn.  Last year, she showed us Psycho which I don't think anyone had seen.  It was great.  This year, she stuck with the Hitchock vibe and showed us Shia LaBoef's take on Rear Window, Disturbia (2007).  This was a weird, 90's-esque teen thriller and we all got in to it.  (Sometimes for it's badness and sometimes for it's nail-biting sequences.)  I'm sure if Sally had her way she would have shown us a truly terrifying movie, but some of us (#me) can't handle that.  I remember wanting to see this movie back when it came out, so it was nice to finally do it.  It wins points for it's truly spooky climax.

It was my turn next.  Last year I went classic with The Wolf-Man.  I went slightly more contemporary with Nicole Kidman & Daniel Craig in the most recent update of Jack Finney's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Just dubbed Invasion (2007), this plays as a moody, low-key Zombie movie.  I like it because it does a good job of updating the story while staying true to the original.  It's slow march to destruction is tense and well-paced.  It was more Halloweeny than I expected, even having scenes set on Halloween.  It loses points for Daniel Craig's unfortunate and beguiling hairdo.

Kendra's pick was a movie I've long wanted to see, Murder By Death (1976).  This has been on my list of to-watch, mostly because of my love for Peter Falk & Neil Simon.  Unfortunately they didn't deliver. It had funny moments, but it mostly came across as dated and trying to hard.  This movie falls into that category of "things you loved as a kid, but should never revisit in adulthood."  We've all felt the sting of that.  (I'm looking at your Helen Slater's Supergirl.)  Regardless, I'm glad we watched it because now I can strike it off my list.  Plus, it was nice to experience every cringe-worthy thing Peter Sellers did surround by squirming friends.

We ended on one of my favorite spooky movies.  Hilary's pick was the Harrison Ford/Michelle Pfeiffer supernatural thriller, What Lies Beneath (2000).  Hilary and I first watched this together when we were dating and neither of us had seen it in over a decade so we'd forgotten most of the twists and turns. To me this is the perfect Halloween movie.  It is just exactly the right amount of scary. Eric was reluctant to watch this because the trailer spooked him back when he was watching the first X-men movie, but he came around.

All in all, it was a pretty successful run.  I have no idea what to pick next year.  Maybe Primal Fear...

(As a bonus you can tune in to All the Books Show to hear Eric, Sally and me discussing all things Halloween.)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Star-Spangled Debrief

Looking at me writing my debrief in the same calendar year.  Progress!  
In the summer of 2016 we decided to revisit our old friend Neil Simon (Jake's Women, The Odd Couple) and mount a production of his little-known flop, The Star-Spangled Girl.   SSG tells the story of two fellas who are happily publishing a newspaper out of their apartment until an Olympic swimmer moves in next door and, through no fault of her own, leaves chaos in her wake. 
I discovered it in much the same way that I discovered Allegro.  I picked up a collection of Neil Simon's writing to read Barefoot in the Park and found SSG instead. Several things appealed to me about this show.  First, I'm a Neil Simon fan so I find his dialogue and timing to be always entertaining.  It also had shades of The Odd Couple, so I thought it might be fun to approach that relationship from another angle.  The small cast, just three characters, was very appealing as well.  My first instinct was to cast Mike and me in roles that would mirror the ones we had in The Odd Couple.  It was tempting, but the pull to direct was stronger.  Plus I kept reading Eric in the role of Norman.  (I typically do this when I read shows, mentally cast actors I've worked with.  It helps me visualize what a performance would look like.)  With Eric as Norman and Mi

ke as Andy (the "Oscar" role),  my mind jumped right to Sarah to play Sophie, the southern swimmer.  This cast energized me because they are some of my favorites to work with and I'd never had any of them in a play together before.  We decided to do one show in the Fire Hall and two shows in the Nancy Howe Auditorium at the library to tie in with the adult summer reading program.
The rehearsals were fun from the get-go.  We had a really great readthrough, which helped to get everyone excited.  Neither Mike nor Sarah had read it prior to that.  Eric had, but was unimpressed with his first read.  Hearing it all come together gave us an early vision of what the show would be.  The final performance stayed very true to that original readthrough.  Now that can be a bad thing, but in this case it's because things just clicked early on.  That gave us plenty of time to play around with the jokes and rapid-paced delivery.
Memorization was a major issue with this show.  Because of the small cast and tendency to rehash conversation from earlier scenes, it was difficult to lock things in to place.  The script is very dependent on things being said exactly right, meaning that if one person was off then so was the whole scene.  They were scared, but I wasn't.  I've been in shows where the cast peaks too soon.  It makes things feel stale and can effect the quality of the actual performances.  On the flip-side, I've directed shows where things landed exactly right just in time for the curtain to rise.  (This was never more true than it was with Guilty Conscience, one of my personal favorites.) SSG definitely landed just in the nick of time.
We opened in the Houghton Fire Hall, something that we skipped (and really missed) for Spinoff. I think we were all more excited about that performance than we were for the ones at the Howe.  I like using the Fire Hall because it speaks to the indie roots of Valley Theatre.  It feels more alive and urgent.  The Houghton show killed.  In the Fire Hall the crowd is so close to the action, that they don't miss a thing.  It makes it more frenetic and engaging.  SSG borders on the absurd and played much better to crowd that really felt like they were along for the ride.  The show climaxes with a fist fight between Eric's Norman and Mike's Andy.  In was perfection, particularly for that first show.  The Houghton crowd was in tears and we were right there with them.  In what would become a signature move of the show, Eric's watch actually broke during the fight.
For the next few shows we moved to the Nancy Howe Auditorium.  It's a beautiful space and everything looked just right.  The show didn't play nearly as well in that space though.  The crowds definitely enjoyed it and were very enthusiastic at the post show meet and greets, but it lost something with the distance between cast and crowd.  The cast played nicely off of each other. They adapted to the space well.  Eric broke a trophy in the first show and knocked over a fireplace in the second.  Classic stuff.  In the end we all agreed that we liked the Houghton show best.  
It's funny how that happens.  We originally used the Fire Hall for Art and Telephone Roulette out of necessity.  Now, even with a beautiful theater at our disposal, it has become our old-school preference. 
Bottom line, I really dug directing The Star-Spangled Girl.  It felt like the old days, like a return to form.  Something I hadn't really felt since Wise Women three years earlier.  I think the show itself was lost in the shadow of The Odd Couple, which to be fair is a better show.  It failed to get the acclaim of its predecessor and never really found a footing in area productions or even with it's lukewarm film version. Still, it worked just right for us.  It was nice to dust if off and breathe new life into it. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Star-Spangled Director's Note

We wrapped our Houghton run last night (June 30) and open in Wellsville tonight (July 1) with a matinee tomorrow (July 2).  I am really digging this show and the audience so far has loved it.  Here's my director's note:

Director’s Note

When it comes to theater, two of the things I love most are small cast plays and Neil Simon. The Star-Spangled Girl checks both of those boxes very well.  This is my second collaboration with both Mike and Eric on a Neil Simon show, having directed Eric in a 2010 production of Jake’s Women and starring opposite Mike in our 2014 production of The Odd Couple.  (Sarah is new to the world of Neil Simon, but is no stranger to Valley Theatre.)  I love Simon’s dialogue and it’s always nice to hear it come out of talented actors.
      Over the years I’ve worked with the members of this cast many times, but I realized midway through that they had never worked together before (unless you count Eric’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Cinderella).  Hard to believe, but true.  With that in mind, I’m even more impressed with how well they play off of each other.  They have a natural chemistry that has made it a lot of fun for me to observe and guide.  I think you’ll like it too.      -Nic