Sunday, June 26, 2011

Fickett's green dreams reach new audiences

Usually the MO for actors is to get to the bright lights/big city, get noticed, get work, and get bigger and bigger roles until you're a part of something gargantuan, and, important lesson here, not to get all bummed out if you're not making a big splash right away. It's a tough business — competitive and fairly cutthroat. But that's not the way Hal Fickett is playing it. Not exactly, anyhow. The Port actor is thinking smaller and, well, greener, strange as that may seem in an arts context, especially in a city whose carbon footprint could stomp out life in all five boroughs solely on the spectacle of one production — "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," with its $70 million budget, so far, and its $300 tickets. That's the idea. "We're the anti-Spider-Man," says Fickett, executive director and artistic producer of Green Theatre Collective,  a Brooklyn-based company that will stage a no-frills production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" next month at Maudslay State Park. After the Port performances, which will be Fickett's first proper production in the city since he performed in Greg Moss's "Yoo-Hoo and Hank Williams" eight years ago, the company will move on to six shows in three New York locations. From there, the company will start thinking about its 2012 season, which will include a three-month engagement in India, of all places. More on that later, but first ... green theater?

Yeah, it's pretty much what it sounds like: Doing theater, but without laying so heavy on the gas pedal, environmentally speaking, with less flash and splash, and more focus on the play, the words, the characters — the experience. The goal "sustainable theater," shows in outdoor stages, during daylight hours, using minimal or even no sets, with all costumes, sets and props created from natural or recycled materials. The company also talks up the environment in "The Green Scene," an after-school program in New York schools. The current production, perhaps the Bard's best-known and most popular comedy, is a natural for the company, and for a production at Maudslay State Park, seeing how it is set in a forest. Other stops on the tour also pound the eco-point home, whether it's a city park in Brooklyn, or at Sylvester Manor, a 240-acre sustainable farm on Long Island, or in the Catskills. But while the show will be staged in the wild, just like Shakespeare wrote, the 'Greenies won't be playing it straight. It will be set in modern times, although there are no specific references to time. There won't be frilly hats with feathers, or silly, if historically accurate, hose and pantaloons. Costumes will have an "Urban Outfitters feel," and probably not all that different from what's in the actors' closets, says Fickett, who will be playing the much-put-upon Orlando in addition to producing the show. The show will also be more sustainable from the cheap seats, trimmed a manageable 90 minutes, about half its usual running time. The cast is also cut in half, with the seven actors playing from two to five roles each.

Green means go
The stage was not the obvious choice for Fickett, the son of Port painter Mary Baker. He  got "a taste" of the acting life when he was a sophomore, playing the heavy, the shooter, in a Columbine-informed play dealing with high school violence, and was “officially hooked” the following  year, when he played the lead role in an NHS production of “Romeo and Juliet.” And while his stage presence, even back then, was “riveting,” according to drama teacher Suzanne Bryan (“He is willing to take huge risks, try anything,” she says. “He gets it.”) the whole theater-thing came as a surprise — even to Fickett himself. “It never crossed my radar,” he says during a telephone interview from his Brooklyn digs, not far from Prospect Park, one of the four locations for Green Theatre’s “As You Like It.” Up to that point, he considered himself way more jock than actor,  playing baseball, tennis and golf, if you consider that a sport. But he threw himself into this new role, playing in several more shows at NHS, in addition to working with Theater in the Open, which is hosting the GTC production of "As You Like It,"  and, shortly before beginning studies at Emerson College, performing in Moss’ “Yoo-Hoo,” a meditation on loneliness, capitalism and the perils of smooth-talking romantics,  set in the ‘60s in the South.

After graduating from Emerson College in 2006, Fickett packed his bags for the Big Apple with the intention of focusing on writing original stuff, a move that "presents its challenges, for sure," he says, but enjoyed some success — writing and performing in "Jesse," a darkly poetic dreamscape of sex, family and first love, at The Duplex Theatre-Stage Left Studios in Chelsea,  and "65," his surreal road trip ghost story, at the off-off Here Arts Center.  He is also co-created and acted in a pilot for a television series called "Wasted," his first foray into production. The show is about a young actor dealing, finally, with addiction and recovery — and, no, it is not autobiographical. And that's all cool, he says, but he's going in a different direction now, focusing more on stage work. "It's rewarding, writing and solo work," he says. "But, ultimately, it's just you up there, and the beauty of theater is that you work with other people." He also found work off-Broadway in addition to regional stages. His off-Broadway credits include Benvolio/Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" and Antony in "Julius Caesar," both at Aquila Theatre; Paul in Gary Duggan's "Mission" at Origin Theatre; and Phil in "Tea and Sympathy" at Keen Company. On regional stages, he has played Bottom in Seaside Shakespeare's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and a range of characters in Franklin Stage's musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum's "American Fairy Tales."

Fickett co-founded Green Theatre Collective with his grandfather R. Palmer Baker Jr. last year. Well, not exactly. Actually Baker, author of the 1965 fly fishing book "The Sweet of the Year,"  died in 2008, but, guided by their discussions about the environment and art, Fickett founded GTC and, posthumously, gave his grandfather the title co-founder. He also set up the Palmer Baker Legacy Project Fund. Next year, the GTC will launch its first international initiative. The plan is to create a sustainable theater program for social change for three months at the Pardada Pardadi School in Anupshahar, India. The all-girl school  teaches over 1,000 students coming from the poorest rural villages in the  area. Its goal, he says, is to use eco-theater to feed into the mission of the school, helping the girls acquire the necessary skills to be self sustaining in their lives.

The effort is one where the usual GTC philosophy of less is more just doesn't work out.

"It's a big trip with big challenges, but I'm looking forward to it," Fickett says.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Theater in the Open presents Green Theatre Collective's production of  Shakespeare’s “As You Like “ at 4 p.m. July 9 and 10 at Maudslay State Park. Allow 15 minutes for parking and a short walk to the play site. Follow the Theater in the Open flags. Performances will be dedicated to Suzanne Bryan and all Newburyport educators. If it rains, the show will be at The Dance Place at the Tannery, 50 Water St., Newburyport. Tickets are $10. The show will be staged July 14-15 at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, N.Y.; July 16-17 at Sylvester Manor in Shelter Island, N.Y.; and July 23-24 at Franklin Stage Company, Franklin, N.Y. For more information, log onto or


THAT'S THE WAY, UH-HUH, UN-HUH: Gina Rivera and Jessica Giannone, rehearse a scene from the Green Theatre Collective production of "As You Like It," which will be staged July 9 at Maudslay State Part. Rivera plays Celia, Phebe and Adam. Giannone plays Rosalind and Audrey.

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