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Villanova Theatre’s First Show of the Season: WHITE

“If it’s not entertaining, why the hell are we doing it? Make’m laugh. Make’m cry. Make’m call their senator. But by any means necessary. Make’m do something. Can’t change anybody’s mind if they’re asleep.” – James Ijames, Playwright and Director 

Opening weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Villanova Theatre’s first show of the season, WHITE, in the new John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts. The center is an 85,000-square-foot space for performances, featuring three performance spaces. WHITE took place in the Court Theatre, an open format, 200-seat theater that features flexible seating, a balcony, and technologically advanced lighting and sound equipment.  

I had the opportunity to explore the new space before and after the performance. In addition, everyone in attendance Friday night was invited to a reception following the show on the third-floor Belle Masque rooftop terrace. The rooftop terrace allowed guests to flow from outside to inside easily and take in what was a beautiful evening. 

The show itself was captivating and entertaining, while simultaneously challenging, as it forced the audience to re-evaluate their own implicit (or explicit) biases. The small cast kept the audience engaged throughout the 90 minutes, and the whole auditorium rose to their feet in applause following the final scene.  

Learn more about the show below.  

SYNOPSIS (Drawn from the Educational Guide below)

With a premise equal parts playful, prescient, and preposterous, art imitates life (or is it the other way around?) in James Ijames’ comedy WHITE. Gus is an artist. Vanessa is an actress. When a major museum seeks to showcase diverse voices in their next exhibition, Gus enlists Vanessa’s help to create an audacious new artistic persona to get him in the show. This contemporary Frankenstein story gleefully skewers the modern monstrosities of racism, misogyny, and cultural appropriation, all the while “subverting expectations, cracking wise, and opening eyes” (DC Metro). 

WHITE: BASED ON A TRUE STORY 

The plot of White is inspired by a true story that took place in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. In 2014, the museum invited three outside curators—Anthony Elms (Associate Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia), Michelle Grabner (Artist and Professor in the Painting and Drawing Department at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago), and Stuart Comer (Chief Curator of Media and Performance Art at MoMA)—to each curate one floor of the exhibition from their varied perspectives and methodologies.  

Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Programs at the Whitney, Donna De Salvo, touted the exhibition’s offerings as, “one of the broadest and most diverse takes on art in the United States that the Whitney has offered in many years.” However, of the 103 invited participants, just nine were black. Of those nine artists, one, Donelle Woolford, a 37-year-old woman from Conyers Georgia, was actually the fabrication of a white man, 52-year-old artist Joe Scanlan. This brought the total of black female artists in the biennial down to one. Read the full story in the education guide found here. 

MORE RESOURCES 

Trailer 

The show is put forth as a contemporary Frankenstein story. Borrow Frankenstein by Mary Shelley from Falvey’s collection. 

Get your tickets to WHITE today! The show will be playing through Oct. 3.  

ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT/DIRECTOR 

James Ijames, MFA, is Associate Professor of Theatre and a playwright, director and educator. He has appeared regionally in productions at The Arden Theatre Company, The Philadelphia Theatre Company, The Wilma Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, Mauckingbird Theatre Company, and People’s Light and Theatre.

James’ plays have been produced by Flashpoint Theater Company, Orbiter 3, Theatre Horizon, Wilma Theatre (Philadelphia, PA), The National Black Theatre (NYC), Steppenwolf Theatre, Definition Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre (Chicago IL) Shotgun Players (Berkeley, CA) and have received development with PlayPenn New Play Conference, The Lark, Playwright’s Horizon, Clubbed Thumb, Villanova Theatre, Wilma Theater, Azuka Theatre and Victory Garden.

James is the 2011 F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Artist recipient, and he has two Barrymore Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play for Superior Donuts and Angels in America and two Barrymore Awards for Outstanding Direction of a Play for The Brothers Size with Simpatico Theatre Company and Gem of the Ocean with Arden Theatre. James is a 2015 Pew Fellow for Playwriting, the 2015 winner of the Terrance McNally New Play Award for WHITE, the 2015 Kesselring Honorable Mention Prize winner for ….Miz Martha, a 2017 recipient of the Whiting Award, a 2019 Kesselring Prize for Kill Move Paradise and a 2020 Steinberg Prize.


""Jenna Renaud is a graduate student in the Communication Department and graduate assistant in Falvey Memorial Library.


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TBT: New Beginnings for Theatre

By Ethan Shea

"Excerpt from Belle Air 1969"

“Excerpt from Belle Air 1969”

As Villanova Theatre’s 2021 – 2022 Season begins this week with performances of James Ijames’ White, this excerpt from the 1969 edition of Belle Air reminds us of another time Villanova’s theatre program changed venues. The snippet describes the theatre’s “new location in Vasey Hall” with an enthusiasm similar to current attitudes toward the upcoming inaugural performance in the John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts.

This new beginning gives us an opportunity to reflect on the changes Villanova has underwent since 1969. Upcoming performances of White will challenge audiences to reckon with “racism, misogyny and cultural appropriation”, contrasting the lack of diversity in the image above and reminding us of the importance of continuously striving to embody an accessible culture of inclusion.


Headshot of Ethan SheaEthan Shea is a first-year English Graduate Student at Villanova University and Graduate Assistant at Falvey Memorial Library.

 


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Slaphappy Delivers Pitch Perfect (Inspired) Show

By Shawn Proctor

""

 

Unprecedented. Challenging. Socially distanced.

If you thought I was talking about living through the pandemic, then you haven’t seen Slaphappy: A Covid-Era Commedia, streaming from Villanova Theatre until May 30.

To these terms I would also add joyful, sly, and triumphant.

“Why triumphant,” you ask?

Because to create new art in a time when performance is so very rare, to discover new methods and inspirations and collaborators in order to bring it to audiences is a triumph.

Full stop. No debate.

Slaphappy proves the play is the thing.

Conceived and directed by Valerie Joyce and filmed by Hezekiah Lewis III, Slaphappy eludes easy definition. It’s one part The Office, two parts Pitch Perfect, and a splash of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Oh, and yes, instead of a cappella competitions, the college groups vie for top commedia dell’arte troupe in the country.

Emma Poley, second-year graduate student, who made her Villanova Theatre acting debut as “Kathy Brown, PhD,” in the show explained Slaphappy follows in the commedia tradition of devised theatre. “The actors were free to improvise within a structured outline,” she says. From that four-hour rough cut, the production team edited down to a two-hour film.

Within this almost-too-wild-to-be-conceived premise, the entire cast shines, showing their growth from novice commedia players to seasoned actors within the traditional Italian dramatic style. The result holds the attention through backstage and onstage meltdowns, smack-downs, jaw-dropping revelations, and power plays that underpin the efforts to bring their performances to the regional, then national competitions.

Kirsten Sughrue’s muscadet-dry wit as competition coordinator “Penny Hollis” and Ryan Henry’s hilarious turn as uber jock “Julia Wrong” stood out among a large and delightful cast. And perhaps the biggest delight of all was hearing a crowd reacting to a play in Villanova Theatre’s new John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts, just one of many performances to come.

Complimenti to all!

 


Shawn Proctor is Communications and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Memorial Library.

 

 

 


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Review: Villanova Theatre’s The Scar Test Shines in Virtual Presentation

By Shawn Proctor

The Scar Test Scene

 

“Women cry, are dragged out screaming. Where do they go?”

This line of dialogue, delivered late in the play by a detainee without a name, cuts to the heart of Villanova Theatre’s The Scar Test, which streamed online March 25-April 4.

Hannah Khalil

Hannah Khalil, playwright of The Scar Test

The person provides merely one of the fragmented stories that create Hannah Khalil’s play. And, together, their narratives explore and illuminate the lives of those individuals detained at Yari’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in the United Kingdom. The centre holds hundreds of women who are seeking asylum from their countries. It has been described as “inhumane” by detainees who receive spoiled food and report racial abuse by staff.

This virtual production, lasting an hour and recorded socially distanced and masked, renders its eight ensemble cast members even more anonymous. Their faces are obscured, except for their eyes.

From afar, it underlines that their humanity has been stripped away. They could be anyone. They could be us.

But the online format also provides a focus unavailable to theatre performed on stage. Director Claire Moyer and Director of Photography Michael Long use the camera to push the viewer to both look closer and not look away. This eye does not let the audience’s attention wander to study the set or secondary characters in the scene. And even masked, the detainees’ intimate struggles come through, as they are forced to relive and defend their reasons for fleeing their countries: the scar test.

The issue of immigration is complicated and fraught. And current Charles A. Heimbold Chair for Irish Studies Hannah Khalil treats it with complexity and nuance, largely allowing the quiet desperation of the situation permeate the scenes.

They appear. They disappear.

They have no names, and we are not told their fates. But what remains is their stories, along with this burning question: “What do we do now?”

Khalil will present a digital lecture and reading as part of the 2021 Villanova Literary Festival on Thursday, April 15, 2021, at 5 p.m. Register here.


Shawn Proctor is Communications and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Memorial Library.


 


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Villanova Theatre Preview: The Scar Test

Scar poster
THE SCAR TEST
By Hannah Khalil
Directed by Claire Moyer
Streaming on demand March 25–April 4

“We’re in prison. But we’ve done nothing wrong…I just–I can’t believe this is England.”

They expected to be free from the horrors of their homelands when they finally fled to the United Kingdom; instead, imprisoned together at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, a cohort of asylum seekers find themselves stuck in limbo, stripped of their privacy, and isolated a world away from the lives they used to know.

Based on interviews with current and former detainees, Irish-Palestinian playwright Hannah Khalil’s The Scar Test offers a powerful and unflinching snapshot of life inside England’s migrant detention system. Fiercely felt and fearlessly told, The Scar Test is an incendiary theatrical experience that will stay with you long after the performance has ended. Click here for more information and a content advisory. Check out the teaser video for the show.

An award-winning Palestinian Irish playwright and dramatist, Hannah Khalil is Villanova University’s 2021 Charles A. Heimbold Jr. Chair of Irish Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for the spring 2021 semester. The visiting writer-in-residence program offers Irish Studies students the enriching experience of a close classroom experience with one of Ireland’s finest authors.

Cost:
$10 suggested donation per viewer.
Run time: approximately one hour.

Content Warnings:
Racism, Sexism/misogyny, Homophobia, Transphobia, References to and discussion of Sexual assault/rape, Abuse, Self-harm/suicide, Death, Kidnapping/abduction, blood, gunshots.

Learn more about Hannah Khalil and The Scar Test:
 

  • Falvey’s collection include several of Hannah Khalil’s books, in addition to The Scar Test.
  • Learn more about Hannah Khalil and her plays on Drama Online.
  • Watch The Scar Test in Conversation” with The Scar Test Production Dramaturg Kate Fischer and Director Claire Moyer. They spoke with Margaret O’Sullivan, Executive Director of Nationalities Service Center and Michele R. Pistone, Professor of Law at Villanova and Director of the Clinic for Asylum, Refugee, and Emigrant Services at Villanova.

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‘Cat in the Stax: Villanova Theatre Presents Songs for a New World

Villanova Theatre is back with their recorded spring production of Songs for a New World with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, directed by alumna Kara Scaramazza ’18. She is joined by a stellar creative team, including Music Director and Professor Peter A. Hilliard, Director of Photography Taj Rauch, Scenic Designer Asaki Kuruma ’20, Costume Designer Janus Stefanowicz, Lighting Designer Jerold R. Forsyth, Sound Designer Michael Kiley, Props Designer Sharri Jerue, and Dramaturg Matthew Reddin. 

Songs for a New World is more of a song cycle than a traditional musical, making it adaptable to today’s virtual climate. The entire show was rehearsed and filmed in isolation, except for the final number, filmed on stage of Villanova’s Topper Theatre in the new John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts.

When watching the performance, I was struck by the dedication and talent of the artists. Live theatre and film are not the same at all and require different skill sets, yet the cast of Songs for a New World went above and beyond to give a high quality performance. Despite not having a stage and set to perform on, the performers used their environments in creative ways to bring a new perspective to the songs in the show.

The beginning of the show emphasizes the isolation that many of us are feeling during the pandemic as the performers are seen together on Zoom and concludes with everyone together on stage. The show takes the viewer on a journey from isolation to togetherness. 

During the Songs for a New World Speaker’s Night Scaramazza shared, “The end of the show is meant to feel like actual connection. While there is no physical touching, the goal is to make it feel like a big warm hug of people being together in a time when it is difficult to be together and creating art when art is more difficult.”

Songs for a New World tells the story of 16 different characters and situations through a wide variety of song genres from pop to gospel to jazz. Ultimately, it was the perfect production for Villanova Theatre to take on as we all enter into a new world.

Tickets are available for $10 here until Sunday, Feb. 14. Visit Villanova Theatre’s website for dramaturgical resources or to watch the Songs for a New World Speaker’s Night.


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‘Cat in the Stax: Bakkhai Variations

cover for Bakkhai variations theatre program

“Dionysus is god of the beginning before the beginning.” 

– Anne Carson

The Villanova Theatre program has adapted over the last seven months to this constantly changing  world and emerged victorious with five short plays in response to the provocative Greek tragedy Bakkhai. All five of these plays were written by  alumni of Villanova’s MA in Theatre program. The plays were rolled out individually over the second half of October and a full-length film showcasing  all five plays is still available until Nov. 14.

As a precursor to the five new plays, the actors engaged in a Zoom reading of a new version of Bakkhai written by Anne Carson and directed by Heidi M. Rose, PhD, Chair, Department of Communication, Professor, Performance Studies. The play tells of Dionysus, god of theatre, ecstasy, and intoxication returns to Thebes. This new adaptation brings together Euripides’ original with a contemporary feel as it explores themes of violence, family relationships, and gender roles. The cast and production team did an incredible job with this reading, showcasing the actors skills in using their voices and seated body language through this Zoom reading. Ultimately, this reading introduces viewers new to the story of Dionysus to the themes that will continue to be explored in each of the five short films.

The first of the five plays She Makes Knives Now is written by Mark. J. Costello and directed by James Ijames. The play takes place after the  events of Anne Carson’s Bakkhai and looks at Agave’s journey after her sentence to exile. Through camera angles and street corner verses, She Makes Knives looks at the struggles of women dealing with poverty and homelessness, coupling that with coping with a tragedy. Christy Chory, as Agave, captures the desperation, but also the calculatedness, it takes to survive on the street corners of modern-day America. 

The Bakkhai; or, I’m trying so hard to be good, written by Alix Rosenfeld and directed by Tai Verley explores the acting industry and racial power dynamics in this captivating tale. Alison Scarmella Baker,  Ilana, and  Sharese Salters, Dee, explore what can happen when truth is revealed and many voices come together to demand action. 

Playwright Megan Schumacher and director Malika Oyetimein come together to put on Dionté and Khai, the third play in the set of variations. Megan Schumacher flips between the perspective of Dionysus and Pentheus to create a complete story looking at the misogyny and racism that exists today.

Beginning, written by Jessica Bedford and directed by James Ijames serves as a contemporary prequel to Euripides’ Bakkhai. The four daughters of King Cadmus talk in pairs about the pregnancies of Agave, mother of Pentheus, and Semele, mother of Dionysus. The relationships between sisters are explored as contemporary conversations take place that discuss two pregnancies that will ultimately change the family forever.

The final play in this series is exxx…stasis, exxx…hale… is  written by Alexandra Espinoza and directed by Cat Ramirez. Nadia and Cecily are faced with trying to make their relationship work in a socially distanced world. As they experiment with new ways to keep their relationship interesting, the current cultural climate and tensions continue to swirl around them, ideas that are not foreign to many couples  today. 

Each of the five Bakkhai Variations explore relevant themes in captivating ways, showing the creativity and ingenuity of the directors and actors on the projects. Visit Villanova Theatre’s website to engage with dramaturgical resources and purchase tickets for the full-length film showcase.


Jenna Newman is a graduate assistant in Falvey Memorial Library and a graduate student in the Communication Department. Current mood: Finding my old Percy Jackson books to read more about Greek gods. 


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Villanova Theatre Professor’s Award-Winning Play to be Streamed by The Wilma Theater

James Ijames portrait by Lowell Thomas.

James Ijames portrait by Lowell Thomas.

Until June 21, The Wilma Theater is releasing an archival recording of their 2018 production of Villanova University Theatre Professor James Ijames‘ play “Kill Move Paradise” as a fundraiser to support Black Lives Matter Philadelphia.

“Kill Move Paradise,” a New York Times Critics Pick and winner of the the 2018 Kesselring Prizetells the story of Isa, Daz, Grif and Tiny, four black men who find themselves stuck in a cosmic waiting room in the afterlife. This play, inspired by the ever growing list of slain unarmed black men and women, depicts these men as symbols of life and hope.”

All proceeds will benefit BLM Philly. Explore Ijames’ work and accolades here. Ijames received a B.A. in Drama from Morehouse College and a M.F.A. in Acting from Temple University.


Kallie Stahl ’17 MA is Communication and Marketing Specialist at Falvey Memorial Library.

 

 


 


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From the University Archives: Celebrate History of Villanova Theatre

By Beaudry Rae Allen

Dramatic Hall, circa 1890s

Dramatic Hall, circa 1890s

 

“…but be not afraid of greatness: Some are born great, others achieve greatness. And others have greatness thrust upon them.”—Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 2 Scene 5

 

Distinctive Collections invites you with a backstage pass to celebrate 150 years of Villanova Theatre with the new digital exhibit “Be Not Afraid of Greatness: Celebrating the History of Villanova Theatre.”

Inspired by the prevalence of Shakespeare in the production history of the Theatre Department, the lines are meant to evoke the profound yet humble legacy of Villanova Theatre, from its earliest days to capturing the essence of what the department is all about: enriching the campus culture and striving for greatness one performance at a time.

Very few may know, but the first appearances of theatre on campus started in 1870, and with this exhibit the University Archives seeks to evoke a sense of celebration of Villanova’s rich history and achievements spanning 150 years.

Take a step inside and explore the many different eras of theatre groups on campus and moments that have helped shape what the graduate program is today.  The exhibit includes many programs and posters from early performances as well as photographs of students in rehearsals from the University Archives. In addition, the exhibit includes special photographs taken by Robert LeBlanc, First Year Experience Librarian, of theater students from fall 2019 and images of costumes on loan from the Villanova Theatre Department.

Rehearsals for Piper-Heidsieck '98, 1950

Rehearsals for Piper-Heidsieck ’98, 1950

Curated by Beaudry Rae Allen and Emma Poley ’21, Villanova Theatre Graduate Student, the digital exhibit is just a snapshot of the physical exhibit that opened March 12, 2020.

 

Poster of Turf and Tinsel Club production, circa 1940s

Poster of Turf and Tinsel Club production, circa 1940s

 

When the University reopens, the main physical exhibit will remain on display.

 


Beaudry Rae Allen is Preservation and Digital Archivist at Falvey Memorial Library.

 

 

 


 


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“Merrily We Roll Along:” a perfect end to the Vasey era

By Daniella Snyder

Note: All events at Villanova are canceled, including the performances of Merrily We Roll Along, the exhibition talk, and Little (Reference) Desk Concert.

Cat in the Stacks header/logoI’m Daniella Snyder, a graduate student at Villanova University, and your ‘Cat in Falvey Library’s Stacks. I’ll be posting about academics–from research to study habits and everything in between–and how the Falvey Library can play a large role in your success here on campus!
Villanova Theatre is proud to present Merrily We Roll Along, the last show of the 2019-2020 season, directed by Valerie Joyce, from March 17-29. This production will also serve as the last production in Vasey Theatre (home to Villanova Theatre for nearly 60 years) before moving to the brand-new Center for Performing Arts on the opposite side of Lancaster Avenue for the 2020-2021 Season.
Sondheim and Furth’s witty and wistful fable about friendship, compromise, and the price of success follows three idealistic artists whose lives pull them in unexpected directions. Featuring beloved songs like “Not a Day Goes By,” “Good Thing Going,” and “Our Time,” this groundbreaking musical starts at the end and ends at the beginning, following the aspirations, trials, and tribulations of this starry-eyed trio.
At the helm of this production is director Valerie Joyce, who also serves as Theatre Department Chairperson. As an alumna of Villanova’s MA in Theatre program, it is fitting that she serves as director of the final show in Vasey Theatre, having also worked as a performer and costume designer on its stage for many years.
Dr. Joyce holds Vasey Theatre dear to her heart, saying, “We thought for a long time about a fitting way to say goodbye to Vasey Theatre. Merrily fits the bill in many ways, as a challenging Sondheim score and a perfect vehicle for the actors in our program. But the story also resonates for those of us who went through the MA program and worked on this stage for over forty years. As we follow the three friends back in time to their starry-eyed youth with big dreams of the future, I am reminded of the people I’ve encountered in Vasey who have taught me, shaped our productions, and brought joy to so many audiences. I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring one more show to Vasey’s stage and for this story’s beautiful tribute to friendship and the art of making art.”
The three friends who dream, connect, and find themselves estranged over the years—Frank, Charley, and Mary—are played by second-year graduate students Jay V. Kimberley, Ethan Mitchell, and Angela Rose Longo, respectively. Additional graduate students rounding out the dynamic cast include Jerald Bennett as Joe, Cristy Chory as Gussie, Alexandra Mitchell as Beth, and Amy Abrigo, David Burgess, Harry Dietrich, Tina Lynch, Lora Margerum, Rachel McFatridge, Sharese Salters, Kirsten Sughrue and Kale Thompson in the heavily featured ensemble. The production will also feature nine-year-old Charlie Carroccio as Franklin Shepard, Jr.
Falvey Memorial Library has a long-standing relationship with Villanova Theatre. This coming Friday, the Library will be hosting cast members of the musical for a brief concert at the Access Services Desk at 12:30 p.m., as they preview some of the exciting numbers from this new production.
Merrily We Roll Along runs at Villanova Theatre in Vasey Hall from March 17-29. Vasey Hall is located on Villanova’s main campus at the intersection of Lancaster and Ithan Avenues. Performances will be held Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets run $21-$25, with discounts available for seniors, students, MA in Theatre alumni and groups. Tickets may be purchased at the Villanova Theatre Box Office (M-S, 12-5 pm) in person, by phone: 610-519-7474, or online at www.villanovatheatre.org.

Daniella Snyder HeadshotDaniella Snyder is a graduate student in the English department and a graduate assistant for Falvey Memorial Library. Snyder is excited to review her final theatre production, Merrily We Roll Along, one of many productions she’s written about during her time at Villanova.


 


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Last Modified: March 11, 2020