Back at the BLT

It has been several months since I composed a piece  and posted to this blog I refer to as my “theater blog”. Even though I post to another blog (etxgirl@blogspot.com) I began this theater blog as a sort of Martin Theater Journal written by the wife of a theater instructor. If you scroll back through the archives of this blog, you’ll see some of the fun times our family has experienced through live theater.

Since my husband, Kim, became the drama instructor at Lee College in our hometown of Baytown, TX, another avenue of theater has revealed more to learn about the art form of drama. Kim teaches theater classes, directs not only college aged people, but also includes some who are past college age in his shows. He has directed productions at the college such as Treasure Island complete with a beautifully crafted “ship” at full sail. He directed a musical, The Addam’s Family Musical, which involved the dark, but comedic macabre style of theater. In-between the large productions, Kim brought to Lee College audiences a show about the real life struggle of a woman in a man’s world. Rocket Girl was about Mary Sherman Morgan life as a genius who invented jet fuel for the United States space program during the 1950’s. The college science community seemed to enjoy Lee College’s production and were present to support the arts. Kim also directed the college students in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, which tells the story of Henry Thoreau, a writer and philosopher of his time. Audiences learned about two real people they might not have already known, through a live stage performance.

The Lee College theater department has collaborated with Baytown’s community theater, The Baytown Little Theater, on several of the BLT’s summer musicals. One of those collaborations, Fiddler on the Roof, I wrote about in an earlier post, was a special production for our family when ten Martins, four generations, appeared on the Lee College Performing Arts Center’s (PAC) stage together. It has been mine and Kim’s joy to perform and work with our family over the years. It has been especially fun raising our sons in theater and performing with them on stage. Kim and I have been BLT members participating in all aspects of our community theater for over 40 years. We have served on the board of directors, performed, directed, worked on crews, sold tickets, served refreshments and cleaned up restrooms over the years. The walls of our home display framed posters from past BLT productions that we look on with fondness reading the signatures of those who played with us in and behind the scenes.

Ryan with his cast & crew.

Ryan with his cast & crew.

Ryan, our youngest son, currently works with his dad at Lee College as the PAC production specialist. He recently volunteered his knowledge and experience in theater to direct the Tony Award winning play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, at the Baytown Little Theater. In their freshly completed new building, many BLT members supported Ryan and did all they could to prepare for the production’s opening night this past weekend. Ryan cast his dad in the lead role of Vanya, making this the second time he has directed his dad. Kim worked very hard to learn the many lines of his character to play the part. Watching my son direct his dad, my husband, in this production has been a delightful added experience to our family journey of theater life.

Each theater experience continues to broaden my understanding and knowledge of what it takes to produce a story on stage. There is nothing quite like a live performance to tell a story whether it be comedy, drama or fantasy, with music or without. The techniques and skills used to bring characters’ tales to life are a learned craft honed with practice. Some individuals appear to have natural talent and will excel in the art of performance or the technical aspects of theater. With every show they work on the theater bug grows within them and they will forever have a love for staged productions. The beauty of community theater is all of its participants are lending a helping hand while evolving into a splendid show for its audiences. As a theater organization we are a community working for a common goal. That goal is to evoke a conscious awareness of life’s lessons, struggles and humor, which are daily shared by all, through the dramatic art of staged productions.

imageVanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike has added depth to our community theater’s history. The message that the Chekhov named characters teach audiences is that family and those close to you are important when facing certain trials and truths about our lives. It has been another theatrical challenge that by the time VSMS closes this Sunday, and set strike once again renders a blank stage making way for the next show, we will have all grown and learned another valuable lesson.

Thank you, Baytown Little Theater for opening your doors, the minds of your audiences and a community awareness to the dramatic art of theater.

The Addams Family

 

The Addams Family, 2016, Lee College

 
My husband, Kim, instructs and directs theater at Lee College, Baytown. This past weekend he opened and closed a comedy musical, The Addams Family. The show was a success as it was well received by audiences laughing and enjoying the production. It was a lot of hard work and late nights. The students and outside guest cast members, along with the crew, worked as a team to make those many hours of work pay off. I couldn’t be prouder of my husband and everyone involved with the production. 

From lights, to costumes, to backstage crews and on stage actors, it was a group effort. Our son, Ryan, and his wife, Amy, played the lead characters, Gomez and Morticia. It just makes me so happy to hear them singing, watch them dancing and doing what they love together. Kim had students in this production who really shown brightly as they acted and sang. They displayed dramatic growth and maturity throughout the process of this production. 

It brings me great pleasure to see Kim’s theater arts program growing. He was fortunate to team up with the college’s music instrumental and vocal directors who provided vocal coaching and a talented orchestra to accompany the show. The choreographer, a friend of the local community theater, did an excellent job of choreographing the dance numbers into show stopping productions on their own. Another theater friend that goes back to Kim’s early teaching days, designed a beautiful set. Add in a mix of talented cast members who painted and decorated it, the set became the featured backdrop for the Addams Family story.

Kudos to everyone who helped make The Addams Family a success!

What the Martins Do on Summer Vacation

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This summer I worked on the summer musical, Oliver! with the Baytown Little Theater (BLT). Again. Normally, my husband and I, as well as one or more of our sons and/or daughters in law, perform together on stage in the summer musicals. Last summer we even had Kim’s parents and two of our grandchildren on stage with us in Fiddler on the Roof. We had 4 generations of Martins on the same stage. Instead of performing, Kim, who became the technical theater instructor at Lee Community College a year ago, directed the summer musical this year. Our youngest son, Ryan, played the villainous, Bill Sykes, and I played the role of assistant director to my husband. Someone asked if I’d ever been AD before and yes, I have, but not for a production this large. It was exhilarating, fun, hard and exhausting work, but I’d do it again…for Kim.

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Ryan Martin (Bill Sykes) & Jim Wadzinski (Fagin)

A couple of years ago when plans for the 2014 season were first discussed, we thought the BLT would do Man of LaMancha. In fact, Kim had told the Play Reading Committee, for which I am the chairperson; he would be putting in to direct LaMancha. This was before the college employed him. Then, Kim was hired to work with Lee College and suddenly things began to change. The summer he began work with the college was the same summer 10 of the Martins were on stage in the 2013 BLT musical, Fiddler on the Roof. Kim spent the better portion of those summer days planning for his new school year in college and rehearsing the musical in the evenings. He began taking inventory of the different elements of the college theater arts program and thinking in terms of not only what would be good for the community theater, but also for the college theater program. The BLT needed a blockbuster musical the whole family could enjoy in the Lee College Performing Arts Center (PAC). In Kim’s opinion, the play should appeal to all ages and involve kids. Kids! Now don’t get me wrong, I like kids, I have always liked kids, but I’m not as young and energetic as I once was. Then, Kim landed on the idea of directing the musical Annie. Promotion for the musical went out a year in advance and little girls’ mothers began to plan for their little actress to star on our stage. The thought of corralling a bunch of little girls backstage was not my idea of a happy summer. I began to think that Crystal Beach might be the ideal retreat for me to wait out the summer musical storm.

Then, as fate would have it, little girls would not be the stars of the our summer musical. Only months before plans would begin for the play, the Broadway touring company of Annie notified us that the theater’s rights to produce the musical had been retracted. Kim was back to square one trying to come up with a big family pleasing, kid involved summer musical. The idea of producing Oliver! formulated, requests for production was sent to the publisher, accepted and now we had a new play, a different plan. We’d still use some of those same little girls as little orphan boys and the young boy who played the part of Oliver was outstanding.

Auditions for Oliver! were held back in early June. Prior to auditions, I had no intentions to work on the play. Crystal Beach was calling my name even louder. Then, I realized that Kim would work himself to death doing it all and I’d better be involved if I had any hopes of seeing my husband this summer.

After the scripts and music scores came in, I got busy organizing them for distribution. Kim worked up the audition pieces for potential actors to read and sing. We got our choreographer to come up with some audition steps to teach those who would audition. Kim also found an online site, called Virtual Callboard, to organize the cast and crew communications through email and text messaging. The online system came with a bit of a learning curve for Kim and I, but we found the site to be an excellent tool throughout the rehearsal process.

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Me & my shirt design

Before the auditions, I decided we needed our company t-shirt design ready by auditions. I found artwork, designed the shirt, and lastly, placed an initial order of 60 shirts to begin selling as soon as possible. I was pleased that people at the auditions bought t-shirts and the shirt sales continued throughout the show. We managed to sell around 55 of that initial order in addition to about 20 more shirts for our orchestra members. Best thing I’ve ever done at the start of a show!

After all the singing, dancing and reading scenes took place; the show was cast with 50 actors. However, it wasn’t long after the cast list was posted, that we started getting messages that a few had not accepted their role. It is unfortunate that people do that, but they do. So, we offered those roles to willing individuals who where happy for an opportunity to shine on stage. We ended up casting 45 adults and children in the cast. The stage manager, assistant stage manager, technical director, lights, sound, properties and costumes, make up and hair people were ready to start their jobs with the show. Figuring in the stagehands that were brought on to move set pieces and lower drops we had about 65 people total working on and behind stage. Add another 15 musicians plus the orchestra conductor and the number of people involved jumps up to around 80. (It takes a boatload of people to put on a big musical. My list doesn’t even take into account the box office workers and ushers.) We felt excited about our show, Oliver!

Kim with Joe

Kim with Joe

Later, maybe 2 weeks into rehearsals, we would find out that our technical director had bailed on us as well as the person lined up  to lead the make-up crew and an additional light board technician who had only come to one meeting. As luck would have it, we have some pretty awesome, talented people in our lives that were ready and willing to step up to the challenge. Again, the show was none the worse for the replacements, in fact it was better. With those positions covered we were up and running with full rehearsals 4 nights a week plus a Sunday afternoon choreography rehearsal. Four weeks into rehearsals the set and props arrived from The Utah Music and Opera Theater along with their company foreman to oversee the assembly of the massive set. On a single day several men and women volunteered their own time to unload the truck and start work on set construction. Just two weeks away from Opening Night, the cast was finally able to practice on the real set and not tape lines on the stage floor. Our very capable properties leader and her helpers also organized the props making sure every item referenced in the play or needed by an actor was ready. The next major show element to arrive were costumes. We anxiously awaited the arrival of 19 large boxes from UPS to the college on Friday, one week before we opened. Several of us were there to receive and unpack the costumes hanging them by each actor’s name on costume racks. The next day 3 of us met with actors all day to help them try on costumes and make any needed adjustments to allow our period show to look spectacular. Our costumes mistress was the best! That day as we actors drifted in and out trying on costumes, work continued on the main stage assembling the huge set. The college PAC was buzzing with activity to get everything ready for production of Oliver!

On Thursday evening, July 31, our invitational dress rehearsal performed the same as it would for paying customers the next evening. Among the invited guest was the United Way organization giving us an audience of about 200 and the largest turnout for an invitational dress I’d ever seen. What an excellent last rehearsal for our cast and crew! Then, came August 1, Opening Night, complete with champagne for patrons old and new to see the Baytown Little Theater/Lee College’s production of Oliver! The adrenaline was pumping and everyone was anxious. Finally, I took my seat in the audience and Kim stepped out on stage to welcome our patrons to the show. As he concluded his speech, he advised the audience members to sit expectantly on the edge of their seats. Finally, the orchestra began the Act 1 overture and the curtain rose on our 13 little “orphans” ascending the stairs and singing in their angel voices, Food, Glorious Food.

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Our little “Angels”

The second night of performances, a local bank paid for the cast, crew and their guests to enjoy Pirate’s Bay, a water park in town, after the evening show. You haven’t enjoyed a water park until your group has the entire place to themselves from midnight to 2:00 a.m. We brought pizza for everyone and others brought drinks and other snacks. What a blast! We even had our oldest son and his two kids with us too. Our grandkids loved the water park so late at night. The next weekend Kim and I planned the closing cast party. Believe me when I tell you it is not easy to find an affordable venue who will let you party at their establishment after 11:00 until 1:00 in the morning. The local chapter of Optimist graciously allowed us to use their building at a significantly low price and was so generous as to loan us the key ahead of time to set up. I made arrangements with Jason’s Deli to provide a huge amount of food. (It was like feeding an army!) Kim and I planned and gave out personal candy “awards” trying to recognize everyone who had worked so hard on the show.  It was well after 1:00 a.m. before we got to bed that evening, but the party was a success in my book and worth the trouble. Lastly, the final Sunday matinee of Oliver! came and all of our long summer work was coming to an end.

After months of planning, six weeks of rehearsals, one invitational dress, six performances, a water park night and a late night closing party, we have finally closed the show. On the Saturday after closing, a wonderful crew showed up to help reload the magnificent set and props into the 18-wheeler along with the tech guy from Utah. (We love Joe!) Will we work on the summer musical next summer? The answer from me is “no”, but I have been known to change my mind.

The End…for now.

So Much Drama!

ImageTheater is alive and well in Baytown even though I have neglected my blog. The Martin family had a special summer theater experience when ten Martins participated in the Baytown Little Theater’s 2013 production of Fiddler on the Roof. Those ten represented 4 generations of Martins. Kim’s dad, Kelly, played the Rabbi and his mom, JoAn, was a member of the female chorus.  Kim played the Constable and I was part of the female chorus. Our youngest son, Ryan, played Fyedka and his wife, Amy, played a leading role as Golde.  Our oldest son, Jason, played the role of Morcha, the innkeeper, and Jason’s wife, Kari, was part of the female chorus. Their two kids (our grandchildren), Aidan and Regan, were children in the play. We all had a long summer working on the play, but a good time singing and dancing together on stage.  I know Big Daddy/Kim was happy we all were able to put the 4 generations of the Martin family on the BLT stage in the same pIMG_1506lay.

At the close of Fiddler, Jason and his family moved to Belton, TX where he started a new job with the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor. Packing and making preparations for that move amid rehearsals, performances, and jobs made for a challenging summer for them. They had already pretty much moved their belongings in stages during the summer so that the day after the play closed, they were able to drive away. We have missed them living closer, but since that move, Kari has still traveled the 3 hours back to Houston for three days out of every week to work. Recently, Kari has been hired to work for Baylor University in Waco, a much closer commute for her.  We are so very proud of them and what they do for and with their family.

In addition to performing in the musical, the start of our summer was spent following the progress of the BLT’s award winning play, God of Carnage. Ryan and Amy were featured in a 4-person ensemble performing in the American Association of Community Theatre’s International play contest. After advancing through each level of competition, God of Carnage advanced all the way to Nationals held in Carmel, Indiana last June. Just after being cast in Fiddler, Kim and I followed the troupe in a U-Haul with the set all the way to Indiana to watch them perform. The cast was outstanding winning many awards and placing 2nd in the competition as runner up national winners. Of course, we think they were robbed, deserving of 1st place; we couldn’t be prouder of the actors and crew for their perseverance and talent.

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The Texas Nonprofit Theaters (TNT) support new playwrights and sponsor a POPS festival on alternate years to showcase new scripts and playwrights. There are up to 100 scripts submitted in the competition for reading by a committee of judges. As the top scripts are narrowed down, five playwrights win the privilege of having their play staged and produced by a TNT member community theater. The Baytown Little Theater has participated twice to produce a new theatrical work. Kim directed and I assisted him working on the new play, Dream Date. Ryan played a leading role and performed alongside three other cast members one weekend in October. It was a fun special time to work with Ryan, Kim and our other theater friends on this project.

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In addition to working on so many plays, Kim resigned his job teaching in Deer Park ISD and took a new position with the Lee Community College faculty here in Baytown. He is the new technical theater director and began his duties last June, 2013 with all the other drama he had going on. He is learning a new skill in the world of academia and even though it has meant long hard hours of work and learning, I believe he is doing it very well. This fall semester, in addition to teaching classes, Kim has directed a student performance of the improv piece, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Our son, Ryan, participated in that project as well as several other BLT actors, along with Kim’s college students. He has driven the college van a few times to expose students to live theater in Houston. I was able to go along with him and the students to the Alley Theater’s production of You Can’t Take it With You, to the Wortham Theater to see the opera, Aida, in which the Lee College choral director was performing.  Kim is now in the middle of rehearsals for his Christmas production, Mrs. Bob Cratchet’s Wild Christmas Binge, which will be performed the second weekend in December. Then, he will hopefully rest for a few weeks in between semesters playing audience member at the BLT New Year’s Eve production, Always, Patsy Cline. Kim will never slow down much, but I’m glad he is busy doing what he loves. Theater!

Okay, this has been a Dramawife catch-up of what the Martins are up to in theater. I hope you were informed and will consider visiting us soon either at the Baytown Little Theater or the Lee College Performing Arts Center.

BLT God of Carnage on the Move

It’s been almost 3 weeks since the AACT Region VI festival in LaFayette, Louisiana.  Our very talented cast from BLT swept the awards program.  They won! Yes! They won Regional and will be traveling to Carmel, Indiana in June to compete with God of Carnage in the AACT National Festival.  How exciting is that! Pretty darn, that’s how much.

Region VI judges lavished the BLT troupe with awards for best production, best ensemble, best costume and best set design.  The judges presented Taylor Dobbs’ the Best Director award and to our own Amy Miller-Martin they presented the Best Actress award.  I’m so very proud of all of  their hard work.

Theater is a fun hobby, job and social outlet. To be awarded and recognized for one’s unpaid work is certainly gratifying. The Baytown Little Theater for the most part is a volunteer organization with one paid office manager. I think I can speak for most of the organization when I say we are proud of what we do in our little theater. Our talent rivals any of the other community theaters in our area and apparently in our Region which included Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, and New Mexico. So, yeah…I’m going to brag on these kids.

Taylor, Jamie, Ryan, Amy, Chelsea, Kenny, Stephanie, & Ryan #2., I’m proud of you for hanging in there, rehearsing, making props (including vomit), listening to critique, rehearsing some more and learning to clean up stage dirt. You are #1 in my book no matter what the outcome of Nationals.  So, give it your best and know we love you all for trying with such enthusiasm!

Theater is Alive and Well

Cast & Crew, God of Carnage

The American Association of Community Theatres is an organization that provides networking, resources and support to suit the needs of all those involved in community theatre. Every other year AACT sponsors a play festival to showcase the best of the best community theaters across the USA.  The Baytown Little Theater (BLT) has participated many times through its membership with Texas Nonprofit Theatres (TNT). Over the past several years the BLT has taken shows to this festival advancing out of district to state level competition. The award-winning plays performed by the Baytown actors over the years has been the hilarious three-man show,  America Abridged, the musical, Godspell, featuring some of our best young men and women singing, dancing and acting across a stage. The cast and crew of Del Shores’ Sordid Lives, brought a new edginess to the BLT stage, which ushered in the thought-provoking piece, Rabbit Hole, causing all of us to contemplate a parent’s worst fear. The year the theater’s entry had to drop out, a talented cast stepped up to perform The Pattern is Broken with the professionalism of pros. All of those brilliantly executed plays honorably advanced out of Quad IV to the State level of competition in the AACT Festival.

This 2013 festival year the BLTs entry to the AACT Fest 2013 is God of Carnage. A piece on human behaviors when confronted with either putting on a facade of polite civility or revealing their true, base selves. Ryan Martin, Amy Miller-Martin, Kenny Haney, and Chelsea Denard portray the two couples struggling to come to terms with what boils down to justice for each of their sons. Directed by Taylor Dobbs and assisted by Jamie Garza, Stephanie Whitley, Stephen Bent, and Ryan Marshall, the cast and crew has broken a BLT festival year record by advancing out of the State level to the Region VI level of competition that was held in LaFayette, LA.  Last night my husband and I were among the audience members looking on as the four talented actors performed their brilliantly executed contest piece. On Sunday the festival will end with an awards ceremony at which time we are hoping their play will advance to the Nationals level in Carmel, Indiana in June.

After Sunday we will know whether or not God of Carnage will advance. Winning would send this writer into ecstatic realms of joy  (after all I am the proud mother and mother-in-law of two of the actors), but even if they do not advance, they are winners. We are so very proud of their progress so far. Good Show!

Note: An update to follow Sunday award announcements. (4/21/13)

From a Loyal Admirer

Aunt Pearl and Vera Carp

When Kim came home sometime last year and announced he was going to perform Tuna Does Vegas (written by Jason Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard) with his buddy, Jim, at the New Year’s Eve celebration, I sighed. Still reeling from the summer of ’09 and the agonizing task of helping Kim learn a multitude of English verbiage for My Fair Lady, I was not looking forward to that process again. Although, Henry Higgins did survive community theater and Kim lived to play another role on the American stage. In 2012 he was cast in our son Ryan’s directorial debut of Twelfth Night at the Baytown Little Theater (BLT). However, muddling through that swamp of Shakespearean language, Kim once again emerged triumphantly from the pages of old English he recited on stage. After Twelfth Night it was my hope that my talented husband would take a breather and let the younger actors tackle the pages and pages of memorization that one endures in a leading role. What was I thinking? Have I not learned a thing from the 42 years I have known that man?!  “Here we go again,” I thought as a cloud of angst seemed to slowly drift overhead.

The one redeeming factor about the Tuna Does Vegas script is that the English spoken is more of the American sort with a southern kick to the accent as opposed to the King’s English. I was confident that Kim could handle the characters’ different speech patterns. Our theater patrons would love watching he and Jim come out in the 18 different costumes and characters they would depict. Having a person like Jim on stage with you can work to your advantage when you are stuck for a line. Kim can ad lib pretty well until that magic word or phrase is delivered in character by Jim. Then, the line pops into his head and the scene moves on. Kim and Jim took on the many parts of Tuna and the play took shape.

By the end of the run, everyone was having fun. During one performance Kim, also known as Inita, was in a playful mood and began to dance around in character during a scene with Jim, aka Helen. Jim began to break character, Carol Burnett style and laugh. As Jim attempted to mask his urge to laugh at Kim’s antics, the audience responded with uproarious laughter.  When actors are comfortable in their role well enough to truly be that character onstage, it transmits to the audience and a whole aura of theatrical magic is cast. It was at that moment I thought, “this is great!”

Although, I approached this show with some dread, I have to admit working on Tuna was a lot of fun. Not long into Act One audience members began to forget it was Kim and Jim and enjoyed getting to know the citizens of fictional Tuna, TX. I was one of the seven dressers backstage stripping and redressing Kim pushing him back out on stage throughout the course of the play. Quick backstage changes can really get the adrenaline pumping be exciting fun. Our number one question as we prepared for the next costume change was, “boobs or no boobs?” When my team had fully dressed Kim as Bertha, Joe Bob, Inita, Shot, Elvis, Leonard, or Pearl and sent him back out on stage, we smiled at each other as we felt the thrill of theater. From radio announcers to waitresses, old women to Vegas showgirls, Kim and Jim hilariously brought down the house as they strutted their stuff across the BLT stage at every performance.

In the end I was glad that Kim chose to perform with Jim in this funny, silly play. They brought a lot of laughter and joy to our patrons. The men were great and I had a good time dressing and undressing my husband even if it was with two other women. Kim is a real artist. Learning lines may not come as easily for him as it once did, but he perseveres through the hard work and worry. Seeing it all come together on opening night makes all the labor worth it.

After Tuna closed, Kim alluded to finally stepping back from leading roles, passing those to younger actors with sharper memories. It has been my privilege and delight to assist my husband on several productions he has directed, as well as performing beside him onstage. Whether it be on or off stage, I will look forward to working with him again on another production. I’m proud of Kim’s ability to portray a wide range of characters over the last 40+ years. He is a talented person who can pass his theater knowledge on to the next generation of actors. Now, don’t misread my words here, he is not giving up the stage to observe from the wings. No, he will be on stage again, you can highlight my words. He has not given up the lights, greasepaint, and applause of live theater. Kim is merely taking fewer lines in future plays enjoying his part amongst the leading characters and perhaps directing more plays than performing in them.

As a Drama-wife I may not always play the part of the doting wife, but I hope Kim knows that I am a loyal admirer of what he does and for doing it so well. Good show, Kim!

Elivs #11

Elivs #11