POSTED ON MARCH 27, 2013:
Music, a Fire, and a Mythical Race
And everyone knows who wins
Annie Ellicott has been singing in public for damn near 20 years. Impressive as that may be, it's perhaps even more impressive when you look at the variety of what she does. She was singing with the Tulsa Youth Opera at the close of the 20th century, she's made herself into a formidable jazz singer, she's a songwriter, and she will even stick her toe into bluegrass waters from time to time. And she's an award-winning actor, as well.
Oh, and she plays the ukulele.
She'll put a lot of this versatility under the hot lights on March 30 at the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center when she's joined by a few of the very best musicians Tulsa has to offer.
"I'll play with Mark Bruner and Shelby Eicher, and I'm also going to sing with Amy Cottingham," she said. "I'm going to be doing an array of songs -- a wide variety of things that I do. Sort of a showcase."
Now, for the uninitiated, Bruner is one hell of a guitar player who pretty much plays any kind of music you can think of. Eicher is the god-king of the fiddle, and Cottingham is that gorgeous blonde pianist who plays with the Tulsa and Signature symphonies from time to time. So yeah, this ain't exactly a garage band.
"The theme of the show is Annie and Friends, so I wanted to bring a variety of people, and I wanted to also do a smorgasbord of what I do, because this is going to be kind of a special show, and I wanted to do something special," Ellicott said. "I don't usually do such a wide array of songs."
However, with the friends she's bringing to the BAPAC stage, an array is what audiences will get.
"With Mark and Shelby, I do anything from old standards to newer songs," she said. "We've got a song we do with a little bluegrass flair to it. We do blues songs and Beatles songs, so we have a really nice range. We're going to choose our repertoire in a manner that showcases it."
In addition to the Eicher-Bruner smorgasbord, Ellicott will also be sharing some music she's written herself.
"Amy and I will be doing a lot of original songs. I'm going to talk a little about the songwriting process, as well," she said.
That said, she admits that she's not necessarily 100 percent certain of the exact way to write songs, or if there is an exact way.
"I like to write on the ukulele and on the piano as well," she said. "I haven't really identified a pattern in my process so far."
However, there are songwriters who are in their 80s who haven't really identified a pattern and who just hope the muse comes back. Still, it is always interesting to listen to a good songwriter speak to the subject.
Annie Ellicott and Friends hits the stage at the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center, located at 701 S. Main St. in, of all places, Broken Arrow. Tickets are available through thebapac.com, in person at the box office, or by phone at 918-259-5778.
A Small Fire, presented by Heller Theatre
When I think of Helen Keller (and yes, sometimes I do), I am always astounded by the fact that she was able to do anything at all in life, much less achieve the successes she did, without two senses.
Heller Theatre brings us a tale of a woman who loses four senses. Damn.
"The long story made super-short is a woman loses four of her five senses and has to figure out how to adjust. So the story, in large part, is about how that impacts her and her family," according to A Small Fire director David Lawrence. "That's the gist of it, without giving away spoilers."
The cast of four is led by Heller veteran Katherine Hartney, playing the sensory-deprived woman who loses more and more as the show progresses.
What she's left with is the sense of touch -- of feeling, and what this means for her is that while she couldn't really connect with people around her when she had all her senses, this ends up being all she has left. So she ends up kind of being forced to deal with her feelings.
"There are some relationship challenges between the main character and her husband, and that goes back to her inability to connect emotionally," Lawrence said.
"She's not the easiest person to get along with through the course of the play, but she learns how to get along and actually feel," he continued.
He also spoke of the specific challenges the play presents on a technical level.
"The scenes take place in vignettes, so the vast majority is in different locations in their home," he said. "Some scenes may be in the bedroom, but in different parts of the bedroom. So everything is played in a vignette, and abstract set elements and lighting design are going to be necessary to make it work."
In non-theaterspeak, that means that Lawrence has his work cut out for him in suggesting set elements, rather than building them.
"We've got some scenes set up at a construction yard, and at a doctor's office, and in the main couple's home," he said. "We'd have to have thousands of dollars to recreate all that, so we're going to have to do some abstract things."
As an example, he spoke about using light -- or its absence, actually -- as a substitute for building an actual door.
"The actors aren't miming door frames and handles," he said. "A lot of exits are just into space, which sort of supports that artistic impression that the playwright gives."
The titular fire is also a suggested element, with Lawrence actually referring to it as an "almost-fire." At any rate, it is the event that indicates the first sensory loss for the main character.
"The first thing that happens that indicates that she's losing her sense of smell, which is the first thing to go, is there's a small almost-fire in their kitchen," he said. "That serves a catalyst and a spin-off for everything else."
It's a funny show, but Lawrence stops short of calling it a comedy.
"It has its comic moments," he said. "Like a lot of contemporary pieces, it has its tragic moments and it has its really funny moments."
Lawrence himself has grown up with Heller, and is glad to be able to continue contributing, this time in the director's chair.
"I kind of grew up in the kid program," he said. "So I've been involved with Clark Theatre for more than 20 years now. And I've been teaching at the summer camp for the last ten or so years. I was working here part time for a couple of years on the design team. They asked me to direct this one, and I said yes."
What he brings is the show's Tulsa premiere, one that explores our abilities to connect with each other on emotional levels.
A Small Fire plays at Heller's Henthorne PAC, located at 4825 S. Quaker Ave. Shows are at 7:30pm, April 5, 6, 9, 12, and 13, and a matinee show plays at 2pm on April 14. Tickets are $10 and available at the door; reservations are suggested and can be made at 918-746-5065.
The Great Cross Country Race, presented by The Playhouse Tulsa
The classic Aesop fable of the patient tortoise and the cocksure hare comes to life as a collaboration between Playhouse Tulsa and the ORU Theatre Department.
The British play sees the animals assemble for Sports Day, eventually leading to the race we all know about, in which the tortoise plods along, while the hare gets distracted by humans, getting into all manner of activity -- eating someone's lunch, getting stuck on a clothesline, everything but snuggling up for a nap.
The Great Cross Country Race plays at ORU's Howard Auditorium April 5 at 7pm and April 6 at 10am. Tickets at the door.
Brown Bag It Series: Patricia Surman and Ron Chioldi, presented by the PAC Trust.
This flute-and-piano duo stops by for the PAC Trust's terrific Brown Bag It series, which continues to provide downtown lunchers with free -- and varied -- Wednesday afternoon concerts. Seriously, people. If you work downtown, pack a lunch on Wednesday and get your workaholic self to the Westby.
Surman and Chioldi play the Kathleen Westby Pavilion at the PAC Center for a lunch hour on Wednesday, April 3 at 12:10pm. Free.
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