POSTED ON AUGUST 14, 2013:
And a nod to the shorts, as well
Rebecca Ungerman has done this for the very last time. Ever.
"This is the sixth show I've had to start by saying, 'My father might pass away,'" she said in a recent interview.
And the cast ahs prepared for Narrow View? Try A Broad Way! over the last month or so, her father, Maynard Ungerman, finally succumbed after a lengthy illness.
Her social advocate/attorney father's imminent passing cast a shadow over her last half-dozen shows, but this will be the one she remembers most.
"It's been lovely, but it's hard, too," she said. "Dad was so crucial in the forming of Neighbor for Neighbor and the magnet schools. It's been a public mourning in some ways."
Ungerman didn't want her father's death to overshadow the interview or the show or the PR push for opening night, but as John said, life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans, which might ought to be the motto of Spinning Plates Productions, Ungerman's company that has taken the Tulsa arts world by storm.
Why the motto? Changes, man. Changes.
Last summer, Ungerman conceived, wrote, and performed a show in less than a month's time because a slot came open in the SummerStage rotation. Most Spinning Plates shows in the last 12 months have had about that much time to get put together.
"For a while, we thought we'd be doing an August edition of Gridiron," she said. "But we didn't quite make our funding. This was, like, six weeks out. You know me -- 'Last minute? Sure.' But it's working."
Like other Ungerman undertakings, Narrow View had its share of upheaval.
"In the beginning, it was Jeremy Stephens," Ungerman said of her initial partner in crime. They cast the show together, but fate had other ideas for her now-erstwhile music director.
"He had to drop out, and I just kept writing and praying," Ungerman said. "Once I realized Jim Gregory was going to be doing all that he was going to do, I knew it would be okay."
Gregory, the musical theatre specialist in the University of Tulsa's Department of Theatre and Musical Theatre, stepped in, took Ungerman's dizzying collection of notes for the show, which pretty much consisted of lyrics from Broadway tunes stitched together into medleys, and added the music that would make it a musical review. For those keeping score, that's not an easy thing to do.
"Jim did such seamless work," Ungerman said. "It's been such an unexpected treat to work with Jim Gregory. He's just a genius. That's all."
So what came out of this sort of tag-team pairing became Narrow View? Try a Broad Way!
"We are hoping to expand some points of view of our audience with this musical review," Ungerman said of the cryptic title. "This is about music -- specifically about Broadway music, though there are some interesting pop songs, just a few, sprinkled in."
It's a collection of medleys, and those who saw her Queen Cleofis Comes Home will know to expect takes on these songs and how they're put together that will be nothing short of mindblowing.
"It's kind of taking that thing that Glee made popular of mashups and things, but the scope is bigger," she said. "I think any Broadway lover is going to adore this show."
The title also has a little to do with the cast itself, Ungerman said, which she described as diverse, to say the very least.
"The cast looks like a Benetton ad, times ten, on crack," she said. "We have old, we have young, we have black, we have brown, we have Asian, we have gay, we have straight, we have Jewish, we have Christian, and everything in between. And that's part of what we're celebrating in all the medleys. We're looking at love, different viewpoints of love, both young and shiny and old and not-so-shiny."
If you've ever spoken to Ungerman, you understand that the unbridled enthusiasm she has for pretty much everything spilled into her words about the cast, especially.
"There's a lot of new talent, and a lot that I haven't worked with, and a lot of established talent that I've never worked with, like Patrick Hobbs," she said. "He's a part of the fabric of the Tulsa theatrical community, but I've never worked with him before. And we're having a ball. He's just incredibly talented."
She actually took time in the interview to sing the praises of every one of her 14 castmates, as well as pianist Rob Muraoka, but she had one word alone of praise for Liz Hunt.
Well, there was more after that, but that whole one-word-of-praise thing was kind of for effect.
"This kid is singing 'Perfect' from Next To Normal, '16-17' from Sound Of Music, she's doing that 'Spanish Rose' number," Ungerman said of Hunt. "Everything I'm throwing at her is a different kind of singing, and she's knocking everything out of the park."
As Ungerman and friends wrap up the barely-a-month rehearsal process, she's really hopeful that audiences will come down to the PAC.
"I think everyone will have the ride that they think they're going to have, in terms of seeing Broadway stuff and having it make them feel good, but I think there's also a richer experience, both because of the content and because of the cast," she said. "The sound we're producing in the room is very exciting."
And even if people aren't sure about a show full of medleys, some songs coming from Broadway shows that your average theatergoer may not ever have heard of, Ungerman has two reasons audiences should take a chance.
It's a lot of great people at the top of their game," she said. And then she talked money.
"I'm sorry, $25? You don't go to the movies at night for $25," she said. "Not if you want popcorn."
Narrow View? Try a Broad Way! runs this weekend at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Shows are August 16 and 17 at 8pm in the Liddy Doenger Theater. Tickets are $25 and are available at myticketoffice.com, at 918-596-7111, or at the box office.
Heller Shorts: Let Them Eat Short-cake!
Since 2010, Heller Theatre's short play festival has given local playwrights an opportunity to see their work performed on stage and audiences a chance to view the work of local talent. This year, eight authors will see their hard work come to fruition as the festival celebrates its fourth year.
The fundraising event has been extremely popular in the community, which is good and bad, according to festival director Susan Apker.
"It's been sold out every year," she said. "It's good for us, but, a little unfortunate because we've had to turn people away before."
Assistant director Frank Gallagher, who has been a part of the festival since its beginning, said the theater held an international playwriting contest in the past.
"The last year we did it, we received over 200 entries from all over the world," he said. "It had grown past our ability to manage -- this festival was born out of that."
Apker came up with the idea of holding a festival of short original plays for local playwrights to showcase their work.
"I thought, 'There's no place to try and present your original work,'" she said. "Julie Tattershall, the artistic director, told me, 'If you want to start a short play festival that we can use as a fundraiser for Heller Theatre, it can be your baby.'"
So the annual shorts festival was born.
And despite its international roots, the festival is exclusively for local authors.
"We accept local submissions only. We try to serve the local community and give local writers the opportunity to present," Apker said.
The festival is part of a bigger mission to get the community involved in theater, according to Gallagher.
"The Heller Theatre is part of the parks and recreation department, and one of our missions is to give people access to recreational activities they wouldn't otherwise have," he said, mentioning things such as Tai Chi and swimming. "Here, we're all about theater and the chance to see some people act and for authors to see written work performed. We're always looking to offer people a chance to get their written work on the stage."
Apker said that the festival is great for bringing a variety of locals together.
"It brings in a lot of people that aren't usually seen around the theater, except at the shorts festival, such as college students that are home for the summer," she said. "It's a broad range of ages and people from all walks of life that are allowed some place to have artistic expression and an artistic outlet to do that in."
Every year, the festival has around 15-30 authors who submit original work. From those, about seven plays are chosen for the festival.
Gallagher said that narrowing down submissions and choosing the plays for the festival is no easy task.
"The scripts are always surprisingly good," he said. "You wouldn't think that there would be that many good writers, but there are."
The plays, true to the festival's name, are short, going no longer than 15 minutes each.
There are no limitations on which genres of plays may be submitted, but Apker said comedy generally reigns supreme.
Gallagher, who is also the producer for all of the plays, said that comedy works best for the festival's short time format.
The festival is not just for authors; it's a great time for people interested in the theater at any level to get involved and gain some experience. Gallagher said working with theater newbies is part of the yearly festival.
"This is an opportunity for area residents to get involved with the theater at a number of levels -- that's why we're here. You have to remember that you're working with people in a variety of new positions -- new writers, new actors, new stagehands. You have to give that support to new people," he said.
This year, writers were given the option to direct their own work.
"It's the first year we've let writers direct their own shows," Gallagher said, noting that he knew of two writers that were doing their own directing.
Apker and Gallagher encouraged the public to attend the festival and see what talent local playwrights and thespians have to offer.
"It's a great chance to see good homegrown dramatic work," said Gallagher.
Heller Theatre presents Heller Shorts Festival: Let Them Eat Short-Cake! August 15-17 at 7:30pm and August 18 at 2pm at the Henthorne PAC, located at 4825 S. Quaker Ave.
Tickets are available at the door for $10, but since the event is usually sold out, those interested in attending are encouraged to make reservations.
To make reservations, call 918-746-0565 or visit cityoftulsa.org/henthornepac.
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