Sunday, January 24, 2016

Benjamin Hanna: Controlling Chaos

By Vivian Auslander
Director Benjamin Hanna
He directed BACT’s world premieres of Ivy + Bean, the Musical, which involved occasional worms, and Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, the Musical, which featured a wandering dog, Bingo. Now, Benjamin Hanna has taken on an entire quirky pet store with Bad Kitty On Stage! Let’s hear from him what that’s like.

You are directing this production. What does a director do?

I play a variety of roles. One of them is to find a way for everyone on the creative team—actors, designers, producers, marketers—to see the core center of the play, to guide everyone’s vision, and to shape that collaborative effort. This play is adapted from a series of books, so I have the opportunity not only to look at the play but also at the source material. I’ve had the gift of working with the author and the playwright to do this. Another role is being a detective—sleuthing moments from the books that help us find the voice of Kitty and the world of her imagination. Since the books are like comic books, I’m watching to see if we’re giving the same effect that turning a page and seeing the word, “Pow!” or “Meow!” would have. If we do, then I know we’re resonating with the spirit of the books.

What do you mean by “the core center of the play?”

It’s as if you had a wonderful chocolate with something special in the middle that you can’t see but want to know what it’s like—how it tastes, smells, feels. Our job is to find that out.  It’s like making the map in a chocolate box so everyone can see what is in the middle of each character’s story.

So you are guiding both context and style?

Yes, we need to create the wacky, upside down world of Kitty, and we have to have that feeling of turning a page and discovering a new adventure. The play explores what being “bad” is like. Kitty isn’t being bad—she’s doing what kitties do naturally. And that’s what kids do—sometimes they get in trouble for exploring, and that can shut down imagination, understanding and connection. So we’re using Kitty’s world to look at exploring—and being different. Like a comic book, the play will be an explosion of “different” – all the animals will be exaggerated and unique.

What drew you to this work?

The opportunity to work with Min Kahng, the playwright. I’ve wanted to work with him ever since I saw his musical adaptation of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon—I loved that show. Also, when I read the books, I was intrigued by what a challenge they would present—and what great fun! When you step into our rehearsal room, it’s full of laughter, joy and celebration. I don’t feel like I’m working—I’m exploring with a group of highly gifted artists, who are smart, funny, and open. I’m honored to have been trusted with Min’s beautiful adaption and Nick’s amazing source material. And my team of artists has been delightful. They all understand working for children, and, in this short time, they have created their own Bad Kitty family.  

"It's like a roller coaster."
What has been the greatest challenge?

I thought that Puppy and Kitty not having words would be the challenge, but Min has done a phenomenal job of adapting the books so that “Meow” and “Woof” have hundreds of meanings. And Sango, who plays Kitty, is a genius. When Kitty meows, I know exactly what she is saying, because Sango knows every beat. The challenge has been controlling chaos. There is so much is going on, so fast, that I have to decide whether the train is going 100 mph, 96 mph, or 80 mph! I need to control the explosiveness so the audience can follow Kitty’s journey of learning. It’s like a roller coaster. You need moments when you dip down and have some calm to absorb what Kitty has learned and anticipate the next big event. The other challenge has been thinking through every aspect of Kitty’s life. A friend of mine overheard a 10-minute phone conversation I had with our dramaturg, Julie McCormick, about what kind of cat scratcher Kitty would want in her imagination, what would make it special to her.  My friend was surprised that we have dramaturgy in children’s theatre. But this is not just a play about cats. It’s about us—you and me—and how we get along. 

Are you looking forward to anything in particular on opening day?

Having an audience! The humor is very sophisticated. It will be fun to see which jokes appeal to the grown-ups in the audience and what will entertain children of different ages. One of the reasons I love working with BACT is that the company embraces the challenge of having everyone in the theatre enjoy the production and walk away with something to discuss.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Advanced Performers wins JTF Award for Excellence in Dance!

At the Junior Theatre Festival, our Advanced Performers won an award for their Excellence in Dance! Not bad for their inaugural year! Congrats to the entire Advanced Performers cast and team!

Be sure to catch the Advanced Performers production of HONK! Jr. when they return. You can purchase tickets here.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Becca Blogs: Honk with Heart

Our Advanced Performers made us so proud today as they were the first group to represent Bay Area Children's Theatre at the Junior Theatre Festival.

Our day started VERY early with a bit of a backlog on the elevators (ask your student about it when they get home - way too many people for 3 hotel elevators) and then kick off in the giant theatre and right into our warm up room.  From there our students were exemplary performance and again showed tremendous patience as they waited to perform their set.

This was the moment they had been waiting for, and they put their whole hearts into the performance.  Their set was terrific, full of energy, life, and incredible teamwork.  The adjudicators complimented the actors on their use of the ensemble, character, and their strong voices.  They also had helpful feedback on how to take the physicalization of animal characters to the next level, finding motivation and objective (acting terms), and playing with levels of volume and counterpoint.

After a debrief and snack, we were able to watch several other groups perform and hear their feedback from the adjudicators.  After lunch we went on to a workshop about artistry and how to be a supportive audience, then on to an acting workshop, and finished up with a high-energy, funky dance workshop.

From there it was straight to dinner, and now we're heading to the New Works Showcase, where we'll see assorted songs from some of the new shows that are being released, including Madagascar Jr, which BACT piloted for iTheatrics/MTI.

Speaking of pilots, our dear Graylag Goose (airline pilot in "Wild Goose Chase") was ill overnight and barely slept, but he was determined to go on, and even received special recognition for his performance from the adjudicators.  (They didn't know he was performing on 3 hours of sleep!)

Sorry for the lack of photos, I was quite distracted by the logistics of the day and didn't have a chance to get many shots.  Once we're home I'll find a way to pull clips of the set performance off the camera and send it out to families.  We have an excited and happy (and a bit exhausted) group of musical theatre lovers amongst 5,800 other musical theatre lovers, which made for a very special day.


Our Advanced Performers will be performing HONK! Jr when they return! You can purchase tickets for their performance here!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Becca Blogs: Travel Day - We Made It!!!

Whew! It's been a LONG day of travel for our 31 advanced performers and chaperones and staff.  We arrived at the airport at 7 AM only to find out our flight was delayed by 3 hours.  The kids were amazingly patient and passed the time creatively.  We had lots of passengers ask us where we were going and giving positive feedback on such a well behaved group.  In fact, the woman at the pretzel stand was so impressed by our students' exemplary behavior that she gave one chaperone two free pretzels!

Making a number line for rehearsal tomorrow
Talking a walk through the terminal and riding the people mover
Hanging out with friends

Stretching with Ms. Khalia
The plane finally boarded and we were off!

Jazz Hands on a plane

There was a bit of turbulence, but once we found the "right" altitude we had a smooth ride to Atlanta where we easily navigated the airport to our bus.  We had asked the students not to sing in public in the airport and plane, and once we loaded up the bus they BURST into song!

Jazz hands on a bus
Once we arrived at the hotel we found our rooms and ate pizza and collapsed into bed.  Tomorrow we'll take a walk through the JTF spaces, meet our friends from Korea, rehearse, and have a pool party.   The staff and I are incredibly proud of this amazing group and the support and respect they show to each other and the world around them.  Thank you for sharing them with us this weekend!

Rebecca Posamentier, BACT's Education Director, will be sharing thoughts and experiences from the Advanced Performers' trip to the Junior Theatre Festival this weekend in Atlanta.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Advanced Performers are going to Atlanta!

Our inaugural Advanced Performers troupe is headed to Atlanta for the Junior Theatre Festival this weekend!

Wishing the entire team safe travels, fun times, and lots of break-a-legs!
Read more about this stellar group of actors: 

Come see HONK! Jr. presented by the Advanced Performers in February: