Colony Curtain Call!
The Newsletter of the Colony Theatre Company: Spring 2004

Making the Ordinary Extraordinary: The Drawer Boy

The forgotten art of storytelling finally gets its due in The Drawer Boy, a play inspired by real people and real events.

The best stories often come from real life. The obvious trend in television now is the glut of so-called "reality" and makeover shows that invade and observe the lives of real people. The incredible success of our recent production Clutter: The True Story of the Collyer Brothers Who Never Threw Anything Out proved again that audiences are uniquely drawn to subjects that are rooted in truth. There is a certain attraction to the relatable, yet, at the same time, there is the curious desire to peek in at another person's reality and amaze at how different it is from your own.

Playwright Michael Healey understands this notion of mining reality for dramatic inspiration in his play The Drawer Boy, the final production of our 2003-04 Subscription Season. The Drawer Boy is based on an actual event and the story of how it came to be is almost as interesting as the play itself

In 1968, a theatre troupe was formed called Theatre Passe Muraille (“Theatre Beyond Walls.”) This Toronto-based group is founded on the idea of collective creation, the process of storygathering, improvisation, and workshops, which is then configured into a performance of alternative theatre.  Much like the Tectonic Theatre Project, the group that created The Laramie Project, Theatre Passe Muraille creates location-based theatre, with an emphasis on examining the real lives of "ordinary" people and translating it into theatre.

In 1972, Theatre Passe Muraille began a collective creation project based on the Ontario, Canada farming community.  Actors from the group lived with the farm families in the community of Clinton, Ontario, worked on the farms, and collected stories from the people they met. These stories became a production entitled The Farm Show. The Farm Show revolutionized the idea of local theatre, bringing to life the "ordinary lives" of "ordinary people," and allowed them to become part of an art form that they would not otherwise encounter.

The Farm Show served as an inspiration to Healey, who himself was involved with a group of actors attempting to achieve the sort of organic experiences that Theatre Passe Muraille members successfully explored. While not interested in creating a documentary piece per se, Healey did want to explore the experiences of those actors as they were creating The Farm Show. The main character in The Drawer Boy is an actor from Toronto who knocks on the door of a farmhouse in rural Canada and asks the farmers who live there if he can stay with them and observe and participate in their daily lives, as part of his research for a theatre piece on the lives of farmers. While the fish-out-of-water concept is a strong enough basis for a play on its own (put a Big City boy on a farm and expect him to know how to milk a cow), Healey builds a much more interesting story about the farmers themselves, and the lives they have created and maintained for decades in near-seclusion. The play turns out to not be just about the actor and his experiences observing the farmers, but, instead, about the farmers and their carefully constructed routine, the stories they tell, and the effects of that routine being disturbed by an inquisitive stranger.Chip Heller

As the actor delves deeper into the farmers' lives and pasts, the real plot thickens and chaos ensues. Healey describes his intentions: "I had an idea for a play about two bachelor farmers, slightly isolated, whose lives are governed by myth and ritual. Their myths were in the stories they told each other daily, their ritual consisted mainly of the preparation of the same meals, over and over. I was interested in setting up their life, slightly away from society, and seeing what might happen when society intrudes."

The play is a heartwarming and often very funny look at how people find ways to understand, relate to and take care of one another.Robert Budaska

Colony company members Chip Heller and Robert Budaska play the farmers Angus and Morgan, , who also happen to be World War II veterans and lifelong friends. Company member Brian Taylor plays Miles, the ambitious actor who invades Angus and Morgan’s quiet farm. This trio of Brian Taylortalented Colony actors will be guided by company favorite David Rose.  Rose is best-known for his successful comedies, such as Fuddy Meers, The Nerd, The Man Who Came To Dinner and You Can't Take It With You, so naturally, there will be many moments of levity to be found in The Drawer Boy. But Rose is quick to point out that the play is not a knee-slapping comedy. It is instead a heartwarming tale that transcends genre, as it takes us on a journey of exploration and understanding, through the minefields of memory and the undeniable power of storytelling. At the heart of the play, however, is a tale of friendship and the lengths we go to to protect the ones we care about.

The Drawer Boy is truly an international phenomenon and arguably the most successful Canadian play ever produced. In an ironic twist of fate, when playwright Healey had first finished the play and was pitching it to theatre companies for production, the one theatre that agreed to produce it was none other than Theatre Passe Muraille, bringing the story of The Drawer Boy full circle. The premiere production was directed by Miles Potter, one of the members of Theatre Passe Muraille whose experiences contributed to The Farm Show, and who himself was so central to Healey's inspiration that he named the character of the actor in The Drawer Boy Miles.

The Drawer Boy had its American premiere at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in April, 2001 and was hailed by Time Magazine as "one of the best new plays of the year" and "a new classic." Since then, the play has been produced all over the world and at some of the most prestigious American theatres, including San Jose Repertory Theatre, South Coast Rep, Florida Stage, and the Pittsburgh Public Theatre. The Colony is proud and delighted to be producing the Los Angeles premiere of this distinguished production. 

The Drawer Boy will begin previewing on April 7 and will open on April 10 and will run through May 9, 2004. If you are a subscriber, your tickets that currently read "Play 5-To Be Announced" will be honored for The Drawer Boy. To order guest tickets, please call our box office at (818) 558-7000.

The Drawer Boy is appropriate for ages 12 and up.

Collyer Brothers collect fans and RAVE reviews

Our World Premiere production of Clutter: The True Story of the Collyer Brothers Who Never Threw Anything Out, written by Mark ClutterSaltzman and directed by Rick Sparks, seemed to light a real spark with our audiences, as the reactions to the play ranged from sheer awe to mild panic about the ubiquitous closet that never seems to get cleaned out!

The incredible story of Homer and Langley Collyer, brothers who became known as the world’s most famous packrats when they were found dead in their New York mansion surrounded by 150 tons of junk, drew rave reviews from the critics. The Los Angeles Times called it “shamelessly entertaining” and proclaimed it a Critic’s Choice. The Hollywood Reporter hailed the production as “charming, delightful and wonderfully well staged...wise, generous and witty.” Easy Reader went so far as to proclaim, “The Colony Theatre offering is fine enough to be an early contender for best play of 2004. Director Rick Sparks radiates the play’s combined wit, frolic, and deep probing of the bonds of brotherhood.” And added “It will be hard to top this production.”

Even when a critic happened to not like the show, as was the case with the reviewer from the Daily News, our audience members came to the production’s defense, as one subscriber felt so insulted by the bad review that she was moved to write a letter to the paper in protest:

“To the Daily News:

I recently saw the play Clutter by Mark Salzman at the Colony Theatre in Burbank. I wondered if your theatre critic saw the same play I did?

Upon entering this delightful intimate theatre, the set, special lighting and general atmosphere created a world of the past. The audience was placed into that era of the l940’s which captured the interest of the nation and caused N.Y.C. dwellers to be engulfed with the circumstances and lives of the infamous Collyer Brothers.

The theatre was filled to capacity. The players were outstanding in establishing the persona, interaction and meter of two sets of brothers representing the past and present to unravel this curious but true tale. It was a most enticing play which was greatly appreciated by the audience as attested to by generous applause and conversation during intermission and post-play time.  

I heartily recommend this play to all theatre lovers. The Colony has made it a pleasure to see consistent quality calibre performances in the San Fernando Valley at modest prices. I hope that ‘The News’ readers will support this play and future productions of the Colony Theatre."

-Roz Lowe Mass, Sherman Oaks

Thanks, Roz! To instill that sort of passion in an audience member is the best review of all, in our opinion.

Thanks to the generous support of our audiences who came to see Clutter, we raised $2,625 for the Matthew Pavelka Memorial Fund, a fund administered by the Burbank Police Officers’ Association to honor Officer Matthew Pavelka, who was killed in the line of duty last October.

Thank you for your support of this worthwhile cause.

Calling all NBC/General Electric Employees!!

Several of your colleagues have made donations to The Colony and have requested a Match from NBC/GE. However, the minimum needed to qualify for a GE Match is $1,000, cumulatively, from GE employees. We may have already exceeded this, but we don’t know because we have only received one Matching Gift application from a GE employee. So, if you are an NBC/GE employee and have donated in the last year or would like to consider donating in the future, please let us know who you are! Call Amanda at (818) 558-7000 x12.

Thank you!

A Congressional Audience

This past November, Producing Artistic Director Barbara Beckley joined Julia Rodriguez-Elliott of A Noise Within and Alan Ziter of the San Diego Performing Arts League to testify at a hearing conducted by the California Legislature’s Subcommittee on the Arts.

The purpose of the hearing was to examine the State’s support of the Arts and Barbara was hand-picked to participate by State Senator Jack Scott. The following is a partial transcript of Barbara’s speech.

“Like most of my colleagues, I came to California from somewhere else. At the time, which was several decades ago, I was a professional actor and the ostensible reason was simply that there was more work here but there was so much more to it than that.

There’s a mystique about California, a magnetism that’s fascinated the rest of the country and the world for a really long time. Back in the ‘80s, Tom Shales wrote in the Washington Post, ‘There’s only one season in California, the eternal spring of hope.’

A few years ago when the Ford Motor Company moved its Lincoln Mercury division to Southern California, the reason they gave was, and this is a quote, ‘This area has one of the most creative and aspirational cultures in the world.’ And Ford wanted a part of that. They wanted access to it.

And, of course, we’ve all heard the old saw, ‘California is the place where the future happens first.’

A while ago, I happened to have a conversation with a young artist, a painter, who’d come here from Switzerland to study and to work. I asked him, you know, ‘Okay. You’re from Switzerland. You could have gone to Paris, you could have gone to London, to Rome, to New York. Why did you come here?’

He looked at me as if I was crazy. His jaw dropped and he said, ‘Don’t you know? Don’t you know? You have artists all over the world who dream of coming to California.’

He said, ‘This is where the exciting work is being done. This is where the opportunities are. This is where it’s happening.’

I’ll tell you something. I knew what he was talking about a few years ago when, for the first time, I stood in the Getty Museum up there on the hill. I’ll never forget the feeling of being so fortunate, so blessed, to live in a place where something that wonderful could exist and I had the same feeling just the other night standing on the sidewalk outside this building, watching the fireworks. No, I wasn’t inside--I couldn’t afford it--but watching the fireworks and listening to the LA Phil play on Grand Avenue to celebrate the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall which we’ve spoken of before today.

See, that building across the street started as a dream. And because this is California, over impossible odds, that dream became a reality because, as Californians, that’s what we do. That’s who we are. California is about dreams, about making dreams reality. It’s about hope; it’s about creating the future, and that’s what we’re about as artists. That’s what we are; that’s what we do.

You know, as I said, almost everybody I know in the arts came here from somewhere else. And now, today, this state has the largest collection of artists, of actors, writers, directors, painters, photographers, designers that has ever existed in one place, in one region in the history of the planet.

Okay. We all know times are hard; we all know we have to tighten our belts. We understand this, but a 97% cut? It’s as if the state was saying to us, to all of us, you can go back where you came from because you don’t really matter. That’s what we’re being told. That’s the message we’re being sent.

It’s kind of ironic because, as Californians, we continue to astonish the world. We continue to astonish the world with our ability to come back from catastrophes--from recession, from earthquakes, from fires. Even now, we’re showing the world that we can do this.

Back in ‘94 in response to the earthquake, the Economist, which is a highly respected British weekly carried an editorial about LA’s response to that earthquake and they wrote, well, they might have speaking about California. They wrote:‘Los Angeles fails only when it forgets what it is, when it loses heart and looks backward. At its best, looking forward, there is no more inspiring city in America.’

That’s what the Brits wrote about us. So I’m here today to ask you to ask the legislature to support your artists and to join us in looking forward. Please tell them, don’t lose the California dream. Thank you.”

Company Member Stars In New Television Series

Colony Acting Company member Faith Salie isn’t doing too badly for herself these days. After a string of Colony successes in such shows as A...My Name is Alice, The Laramie Project, and The Nerd,Faith Salie she has landed a starring role in the ensemble comedy Significant Others, which premiered on March 6 on Bravo.

In the show, Faith plays Eleanor, a newly married woman who is struggling to communicate with her manchild husband. The premise of the show is four couples in marriage counseling, each pair in a different stage of marital un-bliss. The structure of the show is semi-improvisational, much like the highly acclaimed HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is unscripted, save for a vague story outline. This improvisational feel is a perfect fit for Salie, who is an accomplished stand-up comic, as well as being a powerful actress, as evidenced in her various roles on The Colony stage.

Faith won an Ovation Award as a member of the award-winning ensemble of The Colony’s production of The Laramie Project, and supplied a plethora of laughs as the put-upon girlfriend in The Nerd.

The premiere of Significant Others has drawn unanimous rave reviews:

“In TV, where everything influences everything else, it's possible that the success of HBO's ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ helped pave the way for another blend of sitcom and improv. In any case, ‘Significant Others,’ with its gifted cast and clever editing, bursts onto the TV scene like a nighttime comet, lighting up the screen with some of the most genuinely funny moments of the season.”

-Hollywood Reporter

“Like the comedies ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ and ‘Reno 911,’ Bravo's ‘Significant Others’ gives ‘unscripted television’ a good name. Each half hour has been wittily distilled from improvised scenes among the actors, all of whom are unknown. The dialogue isn't filled with ‘ums’ and ‘ahs,’ and if you didn't know the actors were working without a script you might not notice it.” -Boston Globe

“With a remarkably nimble wit, the series follows four couples as they navigate the tricky emotional terrain of marriage counseling. The comedy is largely improvised, echoing the approach of HBO's brilliant ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm.’ And the results -- also like the merry prankster ‘Curb’ -- can be laugh-out-loud delightful.”

-Detroit Free Press

Congratulations, Faith!

Significant Others airs Tuesday nights at 9:30pm on Bravo.

Cold Stone Creamery Grand Opening to Benefit The Colony

A Cold Stone Creamery ice cream parlor will be opening in Downtown Burbank and a portion of the proceeds from the Grand Opening Gala Celebration will benefit The Colony! Burbank Mayor Stacey Murphy will be on hand to do the ribbon-cutting, and all sorts of goodies and treats will be available to celebrate the opening of the Burbank Cold Stone store.

Cold Stone Creamery is one of the most popular ice cream parlors in Southern California and they feature ice cream creations that are made to order. Favorite flavors include Nights in White Chocolate, Cookie Doughn’t You Want Some, Fruit Stand Rendezvous, and Breathless Boston Cream Pie, just to name a delicious few.

The Grand Opening Gala will be held on Saturday, April 17 at 11:30am. Coldstone is located at the AMC 16 Theater complex at Palm and San Fernando, next to Chipotle. Here's a map.

So come out and support The Colony and give your tastebuds a standing ovation!!