IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY Blog

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY runs December 16 – 24, 2017. ONLY 11 PERFORMANCES!
Tickets at americanstage.org/WONDERFULLIFE | #asWonderfulLife


Apprentice christmasBy Kody Hopkins, Courtney McLaren, and Tarilabo Koripamo, American Stage 2017/2018 Acting & Production Apprentices
​A Very Apprentice Christmas; Dec. 22nd, 2017:
During our run of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, we’ve had some apprentices out in the lobby to help establish a mood of holiday cheer, as well as talk to our guests about all the exciting new initiatives we have going on at American Stage. Yesterday, I sat down with two of my fellow apprentices, Courtney McLaren and Tarilabo Koripamo to discuss their experiences so far. From crazy coincidences to how awesome our Producing Artistic Director is (spoiler: she’s really awesome), we discuss it all. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

[Kody]: During IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY, we’ve gotten the opportunity to be representatives of the Apprentice Program as well as American Stage’s Advancement team. How has that experience been for you?
Tari: It’s been enlightening for me… to have conversation with different people and listen more than you would normally because you’re trying to find a connection with every person. When I first started, I was thinking, “…okay, the goal is to introduce them to our gifting options, the different subscription options, why to sign the 40 FORWARD wall…” But sometimes, it turns out, you just listen to them talk about their memories of coming to theater, or sometimes it’s their first time, or they talk about how lovely the show is. And just that conversation, getting into their mind and learning how theater has impacted them is enough for me.

Courtney: Yeah, I like that you get to listen to people talk about why they love theater which brings me back to how special it is what we do and what a blessing it is to be here and be involved in theater. It’s a really fun experience, getting to talk to people, getting to know who they are and how they came to the theater. Last night I actually ran into someone who graduated from my high school in Massachusetts! He graduated in 1947 and I graduated in 2011, and we were both members of the drama club!

Tari: Stop lyin’! [breaks into improvised song about getting to know people]

Courtney: His name is Norm and we’re best friends now. I gave him our We The People pin and wrote on it “Merry Christmas from your fellow alum!”

[Kody]: That’s a perfect springboard into the next question, which is: Have you met anyone interesting? What was their story?
Courtney: I met this young couple. I started talking to them about the Young Americans pass because they were actually kind of perfect for it. It was their first time in the theater. And the woman had gotten her boyfriend tickets for the show because she was looking to give him not just a gift, but an experience. It’s fun just talking to people in general, whether they’ve been going forever or this is their first time. I have met a lot of people who this is their first time. I’ve found that what really brings them in is the show and wanting to get into the holiday spirit.

[Kody]: Anyone particularly interesting, Tari?
Tari: I met this couple who were very intrigued by the apprenticeship program and they thought it was a beautiful thing how diverse our group was. They were interested in how we could spread the Young Americans initiative, not just in St Pete, but across the bridge in Tampa and elsewhere. Just listening to them talk so passionately about theater and why they support it and how long they’ve been coming — I think 20 years — they used to come to the old theatre, and it always warms my heart when people are already so informed about us. It makes my job easier [laughs].

[Kody]: Bonus question! I wonder what you two think about a holiday show, especially within a greater season theme that connects all our other shows. What do you see as the value of this production, since you guys are on the other side of it?
Courtney: Well, if you think about it, I do think this show fits into our larger theme, We The People. Frank Capra’s film talks about what it is to be human, as well as capitalism, so yeah, I think it definitely fits within our season. I was talking to people last night who said they only come here during the holiday season and I was asking if they’d be interested in seeing A RAISIN IN THE SUN, but WONDERFUL LIFE was the only show playing in the short time in which they are here. I think there are a lot of people who only come during the holidays. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to have a holiday show.

[Kody]: That’s a good point. It almost makes me wonder if that sort of makes it one of the most important shows we do. What we can do with this show, and how we do it, that might inspire them to — no matter where they go — to go to another theater, or change their relationship to live theater. What do you think, Tari?
Tari: I cannot compare it to our other mainstage shows, but I think that sometimes us being out in the lobby warms audiences up to the holiday spirit and I definitely have people come up to me and they’re like “oh it’s such a good idea what you guys are doing! Prepping everyone for a holiday show! She’s in red, you’re in green, what’s more holiday than that?”

Courtney: [Flashes her freshly painted green and red fingernails].

Tari: [Forcefully ignores] ANYWAYS, I think that it’s a beautiful thing, as you said, I think it is wise to keep up this tradition. And what’s so unique about IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE — I haven’t seen anything like this before, a live radio play. I am excited when I see people who come out of the theater who are like “if I just close my eyes, it takes me back!” And one of my friends who came to the theatre with his work buddies, he says during intermission, “when it started, I just sort of closed my eyes, and I almost felt more engaged than when I had them open.”

[Kody]: Yeah, I’ve actually integrated that into my character as the Foley. I close my eyes during George’s “lasso the moon” speech.
Have you sparked anyone’s interest in the different programming that we have coming up? Which programming, why were they excited about it?
Tari: I met this one man who was very interested in the improv. He was saying American Stage’s Improv outreach has really gone far in St. Pete and he’d been thinking about it for a while. I think he was uniquely excited and I think it’s something he wants to try. And it’s so perfect, because we’re going into a new year, so a new year, new me, and so, why not improv, right? Why not get new ways to interact with people? I was glad I got to tell him about that program.

[Kody]: What about you, Courtney, have you sparked anyone’s passion for improv, or…?
Courtney: Young Americans UNDER 30 passes are probably what I talk about the most, and that people are excited about the most, and our new UNDER 20 Passport free tickets. I think I talk about those a lot because those are the ones I’m most excited about. It’s easier to spread something that I’m really passionate about, and I think they really click into that.

Tari: Oh my gosh, someone I met talked for like ten minutes about how it’s the most brilliant — and it is, you don’t see this anywhere else! Why didn’t I have free theatre tickets when I was growing up? I mean, just to have that now, I would be running to the theatre, I would be like: “Take me to the theatre, it’s date night, it’s FREE!”

[Kody]: That actually dovetails nicely into my next question, which is: have you had any conversations about our newly announced Young Americans Initiative? ( i.e., Apprenticeship Program/UNDER 30 Pass/UNDER 20 Passport?) What are your thoughts on the YA Initiative?
Tari: I’m going to start by saying I think Stephanie Gularte, American Stage’s Producing Artistic Director, is one of the most creative humans I have met, and quote me on that.
And it’s true, because, what she’s doing, not a lot of Artistic Directors I know are capable of doing what she’s doing, of thinking more than outside of the box… She puts herself in every single person’s shoes — she’s an all around thinker. This is a great idea the community needs now.
When people talk to me about the apprenticeship program, people love that it keeps young people interested. When they see us in the lobby, you [Kody] on set doing your foley stuff, it engages young people. [to Courtney] Like when those two kids, those two siblings, came up and asked us for a picture? I thought they wanted us to take one for them, but then I was like, “Oh, you want us to be in the picture with you! Oh, stop!” The reaction we get from talking about the programs is what I think brings me the most joy in doing this.

[Kody]: Yes, I’m glad to see Stephanie thinking about it from the perspective of accessibility. I’ve experienced other companies trying to attract us or try to sucker in the millennial generation with gimmicks and whatnot. I don’t need a special section of the theater to have my phone out in — if I can put it away for the new Star Wars movie, having a phone isn’t the problem.
What about you, Courtney? Especially since you’ve worked with more professional theaters on this level than us.
Courtney: I give American Stage a lot of props for doing it, because I feel like I hear a lot of people saying “oh, theater is dying” and I’m like, “well, no, theater’s been around forever, it’s not going to just die.” But I really give them props for making such a bold stance because it is hard. It’s ticket revenue that has to somehow be made up for. I applaud them for making the bold stance to try and build the new generation of theater goers. And it’s really interesting, having been a part of school tour, and a lot of teachers mentioned that us going into their school, that was the first time a lot of their students had been exposed to theater. So, for me, it’s really exciting that those students have an opportunity to have more free theater options go their way, and it’s exciting that it’s professional live theater. Because there’s a different level when it’s professional and for the children to be able to see that and be engaged in it, it just opens unlimited doors for them. I just think about how much happier I would have been had I found it as a child, if I’d had something like this available to me.

And then we got into a whole other conversation about how Gen Z engages with theater, and if shows like THE ROYALE are the future of theater. But, that’s a discussion for a different time.

Thanks for reading! We hope you join us in Bedford Falls this weekend. Happy holidays from the 2017-2018 American Stage Apprentice Company, everyone!

To learn more about the Young Americans Initiative, visit americanstage.org/YA!


Kody_Hopkins_headshot_SmBy Kody Hopkins, American Stage 2017/2018 Acting & Production Apprentice
​The Life of a Foley Artist; Dec. 15th, 2017:
Plenty of theatres across the country do IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. But we here at American Stage do something a little special with ours, presenting it as a live radio play. There are a few perks to this unique conceit: the actors get to have their scripts in their hands, the staging is easier to tackle, the tax on resources is lower. While some things might get easier for us, that makes it all the more important that we find a way to tell an engaging story that is also unique to our theatre. We play with the personalities of the actors within the actors; we include the audience in on our story; we find ways to create magic within the limitations. An essential part of all of this is the sound, and that’s where I come in! Meet “Jacky Spinelli”, your friendly neighborhood foley artist!

Because it’s a radio play, and because the staging becomes stripped down, we have to find a way to create a grander sense of life and activity for what’s going on stage. Whether it’s something as simple as footsteps and the closing of a door, or something a little more complicated like making ice cream and the sounds of a bar (or, creating tension for the iconic bridge sequence!), the sounds I get to make as the foley artist help color the story taking place center stage. One of the first things our director, the multi-talented Stephanie Gularte, told us at rehearsal was that we want to make it so that the audience could close their eyes and see the movie in their heads.

Learning all the tricks of the trade hasn’t always been easy. Sure, some things are as easy as opening and closing a door, but others take more polish and specificity, and are created using some surprising objects or done in counterintuitive ways. Take the memorable first scene of George’s life, for instance, when he saves his brother Harry. We create the sound of ice cracking with celery, and the splashing with a bucket and a large trash can filled with water. The splashing is actually the hard part: to make the sound of him falling in, you have to pull the bucket out, and make sure to have that as a distinct sound from the subsequent splashing. It’s not all scraping on plates and banging on trash cans behind the foley desk; it’s essential to find a clear and concise way to tell the story of the scene with specificity and energy.

Whether it’s your first time or your hundredth seeing the story of It’s a Wonderful Life, we hope you’ll join us at American Stage for this timeless classic. Fun fact: this spunky foley artist had never seen the movie until this week (part of our first rehearsal was dedicated to watching it). Long story short: I get what all the hubbub is about now.

Here’s a sneak peak behind the scenes of my training with Jerid Fox: