(by Beth Curley, Charleston Stage Communications Manager) Over the weekend, the cast and crew of The Producers rehearsed at our studio space in Mt. Pleasant. They worked hard perfecting dance numbers and blocking and rehearsing scenes from Mel Brooks’ hit musical comedy. The show opens in two weeks and is looking great! Check out the photos below for a sneak peek!
(Former Charleston Stage Resident Actor Brian Bogstad as Max Bialystock)
(Little Old Lady Land)
(From left to right: Former Charleston Stage Resident Actor Brian Bogstad as Max Bialystock and Charleston Stage Resident Actor Andy McCain as Leo Bloom)
Steve Martin’s script for Picasso At the Lapin Agile is full of surprises ranging from the grand, a visitor from the future, to the subtle yet funny jokes in the arguments between Freddie and Germaine, the couple who run the bar. When it came time for Director Julian Wiles and Michael Christensen to add sound effects and for me to add lighting to the show, we used the various tools at our disposal to add even more surprises and, let me tell you, that was a very fun approach to this show. Also it was worth it, as it is not often that a lighting change or a song played in a scene elicits as palpable a response from our audiences as “the show down music” or “the miracle of the stars” have from last weekends audiences, earning applause and praise. We definitely didn’t hold anything back. Picasso was a huge success! We will be spending the next couple of days tearing down the set with the help of our Resident Actors who starred in the show. And we will be saying goodbye to Memminger Auditorium. All of our productions next Season will be held at the College of Charleston Sottile Theatre! Now we move on to our next challenge, The Producers! This is one production where we will be pulling out all the stops in lighting, sound effects and set design. Audiences are in for a treat, and what a way to end this season!!!
This was a very challenging show that required a lot of understanding for the different personalities of the 10 characters. Once the personalities were established, the ideas fell into place and, keeping with the requirements of the script, the costumes were relatively simple. Each character has his own special look that makes him/her come alive in the beginning of the 20th century. Everything from Einstein’s hair to the Messenger’s sunglasses was created to make viewing the show as much fun as hearing it. I really enjoyed the process.
(The Resident Acting Company in Picasso at the Lapin Agile)
When I first heard that Charleston Stage would be producing Picasso, I could not wait to audition. I am a fan of Steve Martin and of this script in particular. As soon as I was cast as Germaine, I started my character research. In many ways, a fictional character is more fun to research because you can let your imagination run wild in terms of family background and past experiences and relationships. With this and research of the time period, along with very helpful suggestions from the director, I began to form a character.It was exciting to see Germaine change and grow with each rehearsal. Each night, she became a little feistier, a little more bold and more and more connected to the characters around her. Getting on to the set and in costume really helped to solidify Germaine as a flirty, fiery, feminine French woman living in the first decade of the twentieth century. And, really, is there any other kind?
(Jan Gilbert as Germaine and Robbie Thomas as Freddy)
Resident designer Stefanie Christensen and I had a lot of fun with this set. The Lapin Agile is a real bar in Paris and Picasso himself actually painted a picture of the interior that we worked off of when designing our set. This gave us a starting point. Stefanie recreated the actual sign that hangs outside the real Lapin Agile on the front door for our production. Overall, however, we were not trying to reproduce the real Lapin Agile in Paris. More than anything we wanted to be theatrical with this set. To begin with, we decided to paint a star studded floor which Stefanie executed beautifully. We also got lucky since a movie being shot in Charleston (Dear John) had just wrapped and, as they left town, they donated some of their props to us including the terrific bar which Stefanie incorporated into the set. While Stefanie worked on the set itself I busied myself working on the projections which play a crucial part in our production. I scoured the internet for images to use, but found that most of web images were too low in resolution to be blown up 12 feet high. This sent me to the library to search for iconic images of art and science of the 20th century. These were scanned and incorporated into iMovie and Keynote (Apple’s version of Powerpoint) to create the dozens of images used for the production. Overall, Stefanie and I wanted the set to be as playful as Steve Martin was in creating this wild and crazy play. With neon lights, stars appearing in the sky, a falling roof, and a blast of smoke for the mysterious visitor that appears later in the play, we sought to pull out the stops but to do so in a way that still served the play. Audiences seemed to be delighted with the whimsy of this set and of course we’re delighted with their delight.
When I found out I would be playing the title role of Pablo Picasso in Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” I was both delighted and daunted. I was delighted to have such a dynamic and complex role in a terrific comedy by one of comedy’s all-time geniuses. I was also daunted to be playing a real person in not so real circumstances which seemed like an enormous challenge. When an actor is handed a role, the first thing they must do is research. Since I was playing a person who actually existed, I had lots of text and information at my disposal. However, since I knew the comedy and the man behind the play was as important as the artist, I started with Steve Martin’s autobiography “Born Standing Up.” This gave me some great insight into the extraordinarily talented playwright and his process in comedy and in life. I have always been a Steve Martin fan (since seeing “The Three Amigos” as a young chico), but this book helped me understand the man behind the laughs. It also showed me how tortuous it can be to be hailed as a “genius.”
This took me to the character of Pablo Picasso- the pioneer and genius behind the Modern Art Movement. I started with a biography called “Picasso Master of the New Idea” which gave an unbiased depiction of his life and art. I also read parts of “Picasso” by Gertrude Stein, one of his close friends. This gave me a great feeling for the man behind the art. He was a man intrigued by art. He was attracted to people who were creative and loved talking about the process of being creative. He thought it was absolutely necessary for any artist to suffer before they could create any real art. In that respect he believed that greatness came out of suffering. He was the kind of man that could take control of the room and tell stories until the sun came up. He was also the kind of man that could retreat to the corner of the bar and brood in depression. He loved women and had many lovers throughout his life. He was also very competitive and always strived to be the best at what he did.
Jump to the actual play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” an absurd comedy about a night that never actually took place. Geniuses meeting and arguing over which area of genius is more important to the human race. Ridiculous comic circumstances taking place with Einstein, Picasso and various visitors in a bar in Paris. The Picasso of the play is very similar in appearance to the real Picasso, but how is he different? That was the next part of my process. Finally, I knew I had to put my own spin on the Picasso of the play which already put its own spin on the Picasso of the world. Are you beginning to understand how taking on this role could seem daunting? What conclusions did I come to and how did I end up interpreting the man and the character of Picasso? If you want to find out, you’ll have to come see the show!
(Far Right: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Brian Zane as Picasso)
Genius comes in many forms and certainly comic genius applies to comedian, writer, actor, juggler, and banjo player Steve Martin. Steve Martin is an American original whose humor is not quite like anything experienced before or since. It is our good fortune that Martin also has a passion for modern art and for the theatre, passions that gave us Picasso at the Lapin Agile.
From the first reading in Steve Martin’s home in Hollywood (with Tom Hanks reading the part of Picasso) to an acclaimed production at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre to a laughing-in-the-aisles Off-Broadway run, Picasso at the Lapin Agile has kept ‘em laughing.
The genius is how Steve Martin makes us laugh. It’s not really through the plot or clever one-liners—though there are lots of them, but remarkably through an off-the-wall riff on the nature of genius itself or what happens when geniuses (and other visitors) from different worlds sit down to have a drink or two (or three) together.
Martin sets this cosmic meeting at the Lapin Agile, a bar that is still serving drinks to the artists of Paris. There Martin imagines a meeting between the young Albert Einstein and young Pablo Picasso. It is 1904 just before both burst upon the world stage… Einstein with his Theory of Relativity and Picasso with cubism, the spark that ignited the modern art movement. These two geniuses reinvented art and science in the 20th century. This imaginary meeting between Al and Pablo is a great “what if” and a terrific launching pad for the fun that follows.
Added to this comic cocktail is a cast of eccentrics who stop in at the Lapin Agile, a crazy cast of characters, stirred well and poured up for our enjoyment. In many ways, it’s like Cheers meets the Twilight Zone with a twist of Third Rock From The Sun thrown in for good measure. My cast and I have had great fun exploring this wild-and-crazy universe and know you’re in for quite a ride!
(Randy Risher as Albert Einstein and Charleston Stage Resident Actor Brian Zane as Pablo Picasso)
The Lapin Agile (which translates as “the agile rabbit) is a real bar in Paris that still exists. Picasso immortalized it when he painted At the Lapin Agile that includes a self-portrait of Picasso himself sitting at the bar. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Lapin Agile was a gathering place for Picasso and his artist friends (and rivals)—artists who would soon transform the way we look at art. The year is 1904 and, two years later, Picasso would paint his famous Demoiselles d’Avignon, a cubist painting of five women that many believe launched the modern art movement. About the same time young Albert Einstein, with the publication of his Special Theory of Relativity transformed modern physics and gave scientists a whole new way of looking at the universe. How we look at the universe and the world around us, our point of view and our perspective—what we see in our mind’s eye is at the core of the human imagination and is the subject of Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Martin of course added his own imaginative touches (Einstein and Picasso never met for instance) to create his own comic universe with its off-the-wall, off-kilter kaleidoscopic view of the world. In this world, the genius of art and science (and comedy) collide.
(Charleston Stage Resident Actor Brian Zane as Pablo Picasso)
Contemporary playwright Steve Martin is probably best known for his stand-up comedy and film work, although he has been writing for stage and screen for many years. He has starred in over 40 films, including The Jerk, The Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen, Father of the Bride and Planes, Trains & Automobiles. His screenplays include L.A. Story, Roxanne, The Man With Two Brains, Three Amigos and Shopgirl (which was based on a novella he published in 2000). Martin’s first book, a collection of short, humorous pieces called Cruel Shoes, was published in 1979. He has also written a memoir of his time in stand-up comedy, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, a short novel entitled The Pleasure of My Company and Pure Drivel, a second collection of his short works that includes many that were first published in The New Yorker magazine. The teenage Steve Martin after school worked at the Magic Shop in Disneyland, where he learned to make balloon animals, to juggle and to play the banjo-all bits he would later keep for his comedy act. He developed a musical that headlined at Knott’s Berry Farm where Martin worked for several summers. In college at Long Beach, he seriously considered becoming a philosophy professor, but in 1967 he transferred to U.C.L.A. and became a theater major. While still in college he got a job writing for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour-a job that won Martin an Emmy Award for writing in 1969. His standup act, despite mixed reception on the road at first, brought him to Johnny Carson’s attention, and Martin became a frequent comedy guest on The Tonight Show. The 1970s also witnessed his Saturday Night Live! debut and the release of a series of popular comedy albums that unleashed catch phrases such as “Excuse me!” and “I’m a wild and crazy guy.”
Martin gave up his successful standup career to explore writing novels, screen and stage plays though he continues to make guest appearances on Saturday Night Live, as well as, continuing his film career.
Picasso at the Lapin Agile premiered in Chicago, a 1993 production of the Steppenwolf Theater Company. The show moved to the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles, where it was the longest-running play in the theater’s history. The show came to New York in 1995, where it played off-Broadway to similar success. Martin’s other writing for the stage includes several one-act plays, and a loose translation of Carl Sternheim’s 1910 play Die Hose (or The Underpants).