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By Eric Emch
As the Marketing Director of Jaradoa Theater, I have a lot of unique responsibilities. I adopt the “voice” of Jaradoa and create facebook status updates; I take photos from Play On! and meticulously cut out the students from the background; I have a weekly meeting with April that usually ends in beer drinking/life evaluation. But never before have I had the responsibility of being on stage.
When Anika asked me to participate in last Saturday’s Radio Play, my first reaction was “absolutely not.” I’m not an actor — I don’t want to be an actor. However, I hadn’t seen Anika in a while, nor had I ever seen a Radio Play, so I nervously agreed. I received the script and was assigned a role (Announcer 2 – holla!), and even practiced out loud in my apartment which loud/zany accent I would use (Radio Plays sound better with bold vocal choices, apparently).
The day of the Radio Play, everyone showed up at Bishop Mugavero Nursing Home in Brooklyn and my fears immediately faded. Everyone was so excited to be there and eager to entertain that I quickly jumped on the fun-times bandwagon. Not to mention our audience (the elderly folk of the nursing home) was lively and completely ready for our performance. And the performance was a hoot and a half! I read my lines with the only accent I’m confident in (a Palin-esque Midwestern accent — I’m from Ohio, what can I say?) and mostly shouted my lines. Everyone else was HI-larious and our singing talent was out-of-control good. When I wasn’t laughing hysterically my jaw was dropped hearing Anika sing her face off or watching Telly epitomize a “triple threat.”
While the actual play was such fun to be a part of, the hands down best part of the day was the post-show sing along with the residents and the conversations that followed. The two women I sang by for the sing along were not shy by any means, and performed (mostly to themselves) a stirring rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Mary and Gladys had both sung for their church choirs — and both women were full of stories and anecdotes that were yearning to be told. And I couldn’t get enough! Looking around the room at all the story-swapping, I felt such pride to be a part of Jaradoa and such honor that this fascinating and important community was so willing and eager to share their lives with us.
I think I’m still on a high from the hilarity and good times that ensued at Saturday’s Radio Play. If any of you ever get a chance to participate (whether you’re an actor or not), do it! If all else fails, you can just yell the lines using your best Sarah Palin accent.
Find out how performers like you have turned their talents into service
with Jaradoa Theater! Check out this self-proclaimed hilarious video to find out what it means to be a Guest Artist with our Play On! program.
Warning: this video may or may not contain chicken wings.
But what is Play On!, you might ask?
Play On! is a Jaradoa program that uses theater to teach literacy by turning classrooms into theater companies where students become actors and playwrights.
And how does this pertain to you?
One of Jaradoa’s goals is to help artists serve their community by using the theater skills they possess. So if you’re a performer, you can come act or sing for 6th-8th graders, help them grow as people, and help them read and write better at the same time!
And what does a Guest Artist do?
Guest Artists present a song or monologue to a class which is analyzed and unpacked by students to improve their reading comprehension skills. Then the Guest Artist helps out with the rest of the session, following the main instructor’s lead, which generally includes improv, games, and cold readings or small group discussions of students’ plays in progress.
So, you wanna come play with us?
We are currently recruiting artists for
Middle School 22 from Feb 9 – Mar 12th. If you can’t do these dates but want to be a Guest Artist in April or May, let us know!
Email Anika, our volunteer coordinator, at email@example.com
And hey, if you think you’re interested, but you’re a little nervous or unsure what would be expected of you, just ask! Lots of folks have volunteered with us and would be happy to share their experience with you.
Jaradoa Radio Theater performed a live reading of a radio play, The Gildersleeve Christmas Show, for residents of a senior living facility, the Kittay House in the Bronx, on December 8, 2009. This was a little less than 61 years after the play originally aired, on December 22, 1948.
The show was run by Jaradoa powerhouse Chris Harbur from a script that had been transcribed, adapted, and gender-equalized by Anika Larsen. (The star of the play, Throckmorton Philharmonic Gildersleeve, was actually a spin-off character from the radio sitcom Fibber McGee and Molly, and starred in dozens of radio plays and seven films in the ’40s, plus a short-lived 1955 TV sitcom.)
But enough backstory. Fourteen Jaradoans arrived at Kittay in the early evening to a crowd of about 75 seniors, attendants, and family members. Before we started, Anika and John confirmed our number-one priority as a cast: Keep the show moving. Given this directive, we naturally started by distributing hats among ourselves—one of Jaradoa Radio Theater’s greatest strengths. A suitcase containing a wide variety of old-school headpieces is schlepped to each play; hat distribution is cutthroat. I managed to secure a sweet tan fedora, and the veiled skullcap—there is probably a better word for this; in fact, I’m certain there is—was snapped up by Lena Moy-Bergen.
Lilli Wosk (also behatted) provided sight-read piano accompaniment, as well as musical sound effects (music box, etc.) via grand piano. All other sound effects (shoes walking, bells ringing) were provided by Garfield, who came well prepared with the appropriate props.
Announcers Chris and Dani opened the story by setting the scene with an ad for the original Gildersleeve sponsor, Kraft, here promoting that Christmas staple, Parkay margarine.
The story focused on Gildersleeve, or Gildy (played by Jaradoa member Sol), the city water commissioner, as he prepared for Christmas. (Given the miniscule number of theater pieces about city water commissioners, the authors almost definitely ripped off Gildy’s occupation from Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People). Having recently adopted a baby girl found in the backseat of his car, Gildy proceeds to go about town to prepare for the family’s first Christmas with Baby (played with surprisingly meaningful goo-goos and gah-gahs by Anika Larson). Gildersleeve and his cousin, Leroy (Joshua), select a tree from new-to-town tree vendor Bob (also Chris, with a different hat). When Gildy can’t afford the tree they select, Bob reveals that the kindly Judge Hooker has already paid for it. This leads to Gildy’s line, “Well, fine old dame the judge is.” For unclear reasons, this brought the house down, and proceedings had to be put temporarily on pause.
Anyway, while prepping for his holiday celebration, the intensely private Gildy somehow gets roped into inviting several other town characters to his party, including his barber (Timothy), the Judge herself (Jenn), town pharmacist Mrs. Peavy (Elise), and Bob, that mysterious Christmas tree salesman. At Gildersleeve’s climactic Christmas party, Bob reveals that the baby is his, but that he didn’t have the means to take care of her when his wife died. His friend, the Judge, facilitated the baby being left in Gildersleeve’s car where Gildy would find her. They all agree to have Bob keep seeing his child even though custody will remain with Gildy, in an early ode to nontraditional family structure.
The Jaradoans love to perform, so in between scenes, they sang Christmas carols. Dani kicked off the first interlude with a beautiful rendition of “I Got Lost in His Arms” from Annie Get Your Gun, which brought a genuine tear to certain people’s eye. Lindsey did a smooth “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and Anika sang “O Holy Night,” nearly destroying the venue’s speakers with her power. Jenn followed up with “Embraceable You,” a George and Ira Gershwin song made famous by Billie Holiday in 1944; sure enough, at least three seniors were seen mouthing every word with her. Joshua wrapped up by singing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” with Chris and Anika, inspired by his soulful take, providing impromptu interjections.
After wrapping, the plan was to keep the evening going by distributing a sheet of Christmas carol music for a group-sing. So the entire cast (except Lilli, who continued to woman the ivories) headed into the audience. After every verse of “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls,” we ended with a roof-raising rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” plus an unplanned a cappella rendition of “Silent Night.”
Immediately after that, we chatted with the residents for a good hour—and most were happy to stick around. One of the reasons Jaradoa enjoys playing in homes like these is that it seems that the residents don’t get talked to, or talked with, very often. The home, Kittay House, isn’t too easy to get to from most boroughs (it’s pretty far up, parallel with the northern tip of Manhattan). A lot of the residents’ conversations with the staff are, by necessity, purely functional. That’s where Jaradoa comes in. We just chatted with them, doing a lot of listening, and heard some amazing stories as well as positive feedback. When polled informally, most said their favorite part of the evening had been hearing Jaradoans sing their solos, but hastily added that they also loved everything else about the show. A few remembered listening to similar radio plays when they were kids.
However, the residents did have some gentle recommendations for improvement. One woman commented, “Next time it should be longer, and have alcohol.” We conceded that both modifications would sit well with us. When Anika pressed further—“Like champagne?”—the response was, “No, like a bottle.” We’re pretty sure she meant some harder liquor was in order—in the holiday spirit, of course. By the way, this advice came from someone who called herself “Caroline—like two meatballs.” Which begs the question: What other type of Caroline is there?
On our way out, we were offered fond parting tips, including “Don’t get drunk on the way back to the train.” We changed plans and did not (for once).
As we packed up our hats and got ready to head back to the subway, the final plot twist arrived, much like Bob’s revelation that it’s his baby Gildy has adopted. Several residents advised us: “Maybe next time, you could sing some Hanukkah songs.” We agreed—next time, we’d try to do that.
“No, seriously,” the residents insisted, “We really enjoy Hanukkah songs.” We asked around our contingent, but no one really knew more than the first stanza of “I Have a Little Dreidel.” Again, we promised to learn some for next time. Still, they kept persisting.
At this point we looked around the room a bit more carefully, like a newborn puppy when it first opens its eyes. This time, we couldn’t help but note the lack of any Christmas tree—there were just menorahs, really. Also, there was a preponderance of mezuzahs. Wait a second. As realization set in on us, Sixth Sense-style, a kindly resident finally clarified matters: “You could sing some Hanukkah songs—because it’s a Jewish home.” Whoops.
Despite the social gaffe (and this actually was the troupe’s second time performing at Kittay House!), we hope we brought some attention, conversation, stimulation, and joy to the seniors we performed for, sang with, and spoke to—even if we missed the entire religious affiliation of this place, even if we didn’t bring any liquor, and even if your name happened to be Carol, like two meatballs.
WE DID IT! Our goal was to raise $14,000 to take our Play On! program to 2 middle schools in the South Bronx, and thanks to viewers like you, we raised $16,175! This money was donated by 99 different people in sums large and small. So now we’ll be at MS 223 in February, and MS 22 in May. Thank you so much!
Here’s our Member Telly’s firsthand account of doing Play On! in a school last semester:
By TELLY LEUNG
I’ve been away from my Jaradoa family for a while. Since January, I’ve been on tour with the national company of Rent, traveling the country (and the world – with stops in Tokyo and Seoul) with a show I love. But, I really missed my Jaradoa peeps and all the fun things we do with the company.
So as soon as I got home, I jumped back into Play On!, an innovative program created by Jaradoa that uses acting and playwriting to improve reading and writing skills in the classroom.
April, Daryl and I got to work with four enthusiastic 5th grade classes — first by putting on our imaginary costumes to transport the kids from the classroom setting to a collaborative, theater environment where creativity is encouraged, and ideas are safe for sharing. We taught them how to play “Zip Zap Zop”, a popular theater
game used to warm up the senses. Then, we dove right into the lesson.
I was the Guest Artist of the day. The day before, Amanda was the Guest Artist and performed a monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the students. (You heard me. Shakespeare for 5th graders. And they totally dug it!) It was their job to observe, listen, analyze the text and find clues to answer questions about the dramatic action: Who’s talking? When? Where? What’s the conflict? I had picked a song that was also challenging for the kiddies: “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd. (Yes. Sondheim for 5th graders. And they totally dug it!) Most of the students had never heard of Shakespeare or Sondheim, but they had NO problem analyzing the text and making very educated guesses about the dramatic action and characters in the pieces. Afterwards, I revealed to them the
actual scenario of my song in the show (minus the blood, gore, and guts of a murderous street barber who cuts up his victims and bakes them into pies! They are, after all, 5th graders.)
Now, to the real work… April asked for volunteers to come in front of the class to talk about the characters they’d created. She led them in the creative process of deepening the first character, developing a second character, and creating a conflict for the two-person scene. After the students gave a summary, Daryl or I would do a short improvisational scene with the students to get them started on the actual dialogue.
The imagination of a 5th grader is astounding. Characters have ranged from talking mice trapped in refrigerators to grumpy people who live in giant noses. One student’s play was of particular note. He was reluctant to get up and tell us about his controversial character in front of the class because it was a Nazi. He said it was a “bad” character, and we told him that characters, like people, aren’t inherently “good” or “bad.” Characters (and people) are three-dimensional with justifiable wants and desires, and it is our job as actors and playwrights to understand them better. After the Jaradoans and the classmates encouraged him to dig deeper into this character, he developed a play about a Nazi doctor who truly didn’t want to fight for Hitler, encountering an injured American soldier on the battlefield at the famous D-day battle. The student went from not wanting to share his idea with the class to creating the beginning of what could be a meaningful, deeply moving play, all with the encouragement of his classmates and the guidance of artists asking the right dramatic questions! And no doubt he will use the reading comprehension skills he learned in creating his play the next time he reads a book or writes a short story! Theater and literacy — working hand in hand. Play On!
• Jaradoa Radio Theater •
Come perform for, chat with, and love on some old folks!
– Thursday, June 11th from 1:30-3:00 – Brooklyn
– Wednesday, June 24th from 1:30-3:00 – Astoria
– Wednesday, July 15th from 1:30-3:00 – Washington Heights
– Saturday, July 25th from 1:00-2:30 – Midtown
• Play On! •
Our playwriting and acting course for kids!
– At an afterschool program in the Bronx:
May 5, 14, 21, 28 and June 4 from 4:00-5:30.
• Shafrika, The White Girl •
Our next production will rehearse in May and run in June, and we’ll need volunteers for load in and load out, ushering, running crew, board ops, and much more! If you’re interested in helping out on the production in some way, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
• Play Club •
Once a month, we read a play together. Just for fun!
May 20, 5:00-7:00; June 17, 5:00-7:00; July 22, 5:00-7:00
Want to get involved in March, April or May?
If you’d like to participate in or learn more about any of this stuff, please email email@example.com
Jaradoa Radio Theater – Come perform for, chat with, and love on some old folks!
– Tuesday, April 7, 1:30-3:00 in Washington Heights
– Saturday, April 25, 1:00-2:30 in midtown
• Play On! – Our playwriting and acting course for kids at an afterschool program in the Bronx.
April 7, 9, 23, or 28; May 14, 21, or 28; 4:00-5:30.
• Scene Study Classes – Tuesdays from 7:00-9:30, February 10 – March 24.
$15 per class. Next round starts April 7th.
• Play Club – Once a month, we read a play together. Just for fun!
March 18, 4:00-7:00; April 15, 5:00-7:00; May 20, 5:00-7:00.
•Shafrika, The White Girl, our next production, will rehearse in May and run in June. We’ll need volunteers for load in and load out, ushering, running crew, board ops, and much more! If you’re interested in helping out on the production in some way, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org