Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Actors Studio looks at women's work

It was just about a year ago that Marc Clopton and Arlene Barnard were sitting around a table, talking about the brave and, let’s be honest about it, scary new direction for the Actors Studio: After nearly two decades of working in the wings, serving as a training/proving ground for the local stageheads, as a school and black box theater, the group was about to break out for the bright lights, for center stage. They were about a year into it at that point. “We were stirring, stirring, stirring,” says Barnard. The Tannery-based organization had acquired nonprofit status, the board was in place. They had been running workshops, programs like the North Shore Readers Theatre Collaborative, a staged reading and talkback session for local writers, but it was mostly backstage stuff, prepping for the first production of the new, improved Actors Studio premier season. And what an ambitious kickoff it was: Four one-woman shows that put the spotlight on the movers and shakers from the not-necessarily gentler sex, like Eleanor Roosevelt and Julia Ward Howe, and “Songs of Hunger and Satisfaction,” a musical program that looked at the meaning behind society’s cravings for food, sex, acceptance and fame. But ambitious as the premier program was, it’s nothing compared to what’s planned for the sophomore season: There’s more than double the programming. There’s theater, there’s music, there’s even film.

“We’ve got it all happening here, man,” says Clopton, whose “Alice in Wonderglass,” an intriguing, imaginative take of the Lewis Carroll classic children’s stories just finished a three-week run in the former black box theater, which has grown with the Actors Studio’s mission. And while Clopton rehearsed and staged “Alice,” Barnard, a board member of the new nonprofit entity, was getting the March shows together. The program, which opens on March 5 with a performance by Byfield cellist Kristin Miller, will feature three one-woman shows meant to illuminate three very different, but complementary worldviews, a documentary film about grandmothers from around the world and a program of music written by women that will be performed by women. Here’s what’s in store:

• Storyteller Valerie Tutson tells the stories of Black women through the ages who took a stand for freedom, like Queen Nzinga of Angola, who kept the Portuguese from enslaving her people until her death; Duchess Quamino, known as the Pastry Queen of Colonial Newport, who earned her freedom from slavery by baking; and Shayanne Webb, a young girl whose participation in the Civil Rights Movement set the direction for her life’s work.

• ”For the Next 7 Generations” is a documentary that takes us on the momentous journey of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers traveling around the world to promote world peace and share indigenous ways of healing. A post-screening discussion facilitated by Clopton, who is a shamanic practitioner, will follow.

• In “Queenie,” a one-woman show written and performed by Eve Caballero, looks at a quirky, loveable homeless woman.

• The Aliento Chamber Players will perform a series of clarinet trios, including “New England Suite,” which was written by Vally Weigl — a woman, a composer and a Jew who was rescued from Hitler’s Europe and brought to the United States by the Society of Friends; Nino Rot, probably best known for scoring the films of Federico Fellini; and a composition by Louise Farren, the only woman of the entire 19th century to hold the rank of professor at the Paris Conservatoire.

• “Meet Eleanor Roosevelt,” in which Elena Dodd reprises her season one role as Eleanor Roosevelt, this time focusing on “her” years as wife, mother and First Lady.

“It’s a very ambitious program,” says Clopton, “It’s much bigger, much more ambitious than I could have possibly hoped for. The success speaks to the work of so many people willing to stand up and supply their expertise. It’s been such an amazing year.”

The Actor’s Studio celebrates Women’s History Month with a series of music, film and one-woman shows that look into women’s lives and experiences. All performances take place at the Actors Studio, 50 Water St., Mill #1, Suite #5, of the Tannery. Unless otherwise noted, shows are 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $15 for adults, $13 for students and seniors. For more information, call 978.465.1229 or log on at Here is the schedule:

Kristen Miller performs “cellobrew,” the east-meets-west, classical-meets-rock musical hybrid the Byfield cellist has developed over the past decade.

MARCH 6, 7: ”Brave Women, Bold Moves: Black Women of Strength and Courage,” a one-woman show by Valerie Tutson.

MARCH 13, 14: ”For the Next 7 Generations” is a documentary film about the journey of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers as they travel around the globe to promote world peace and share their indigenous ways of healing. A post-screening talk will be led by Carole Hart, the film’s director and producer, and Marc Clopton.

MARCH 20, 21: ”Queenie,” a one-woman show written and performed by Eve Caballero, looks at a quirky and loveable homeless woman.

MARCH 26: The Aliento Chamber Players, an all-women classical trio, presents an evening of clarinet trios by female composers.

MARCH 27, 28: “Meet Eleanor Roosevelt,” a one-woman piece performed by Elena Dodd, was a hit at last year’s production. This “visit” with the former First Lady focuses on her life as wife, mother and the White House years.

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