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Three Generations Linked by Loss, Find Themselves
February 28 – March 9 @ Hatlen Theater
(Santa Barbara, CA) Set in one of the world’s most famously photographed and written about cities Venice, Italy, APPOGGIATURA (say it: uh-poj-uh-toor-uh) is award-winning playwright James Still’s most recent work. Santa Barbara audiences are in for a moving, funny and intimate journey with three Americans who find themselves in a new, yet in some ways, familiar place 5,000 miles from home. The title of the play comes from the Italian word appoggiare meaning “to lean.” In music, appoggiatura is a note of long or short duration sometimes creating a dissonance before resolving into a main note. And so it is with the play: what begins on a rainy night inside an old-world hotel room in Venice ends on a bright sunny day outside on its streets and campos. The story follows a woman of a certain age who knows this might be her last trip to Italy; her granddaughter who has just graduated from college and has no idea what comes next; and a middle-aged man who doesn't know how to mend his broken heart. Add to the mix their young Italian tour guide who makes up any history he doesn't know, and a collection of roving street musicians. APPOGGIATURA is a play about an American family finding itself by completely losing itself. Italy is a good place to do that.
This ‘Preview Production’ is produced by UCSB’s Theater & Dance Department along with vital donors & patrons. LAUNCH PAD is presenting the eighth new play directed by Risa Brainin, Chair of the Theater & Dance Department. She describes LAUNCH PAD as a crucial part of “the eco-system of new play development.” It’s a working ground for preview productions of new plays made by playwrights, guest and faculty artists and students in dialogue with audiences. APPOGGIATURA begins playing on Thursday, February 28 and runs through Saturday, March 9 in the newly refurbished Hatlen Theater on the UCSB campus for seven performances. Audiences will be encouraged to engage in conversations between artists & audience after each show. (http://www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu/news/event/287-010713)
Two years ago, playwright James Still had just finished a five-year cycle of work that culminated in three world premieres within a four-month period. “Suddenly I was looking down an open road again. I could write about anything I wanted. I started writing a contemporary play about a woman who was taking her just-graduated granddaughter in her early 20s on a ‘grand tour’ of Europe,” said Still. He knew the play would be set in Venice, knew there was a shared history and making the trip was important to both generations. Thus began the APPOGGIATURA script. In the process, he realized this play would be better as part of a trilogy, and not the first play. So he put the Italian script and location aside to write the history of the family in THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT. Set six months earlier at the family’s home in Vermont on Thanksgiving, THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT was workshopped at the New Harmony Project¹ (Spring 2012) before its world premiere in the fall at Indiana Repertory Theatre² - where Still is playwright in residence. It also won the Todd McNerney New Play Prize from the Spoleto Festival³. Still has been lauded for his keen ear and ability to capture the lyricism of modern conversations getting to the heart of what makes people tick.
Still emphasized the importance of LAUNCH PAD’s format which allowed him to work with the design team from the very beginning of the process and invent the play with them. “The thing that’s unique about LAUNCH PAD is it looks at new play development in a timely and fresh paradigm shift. I write plays for the theatre. I want to see them in a three-dimensional space; I want to see actors explore the silences as part of the language, to experiment with behavior as part of the action.” He acknowledged, “LAUNCH PAD gives me the necessary and rare opportunity to develop my new play the way I dream about: by doing it on stage.” He added, “Working with Risa Brainin who I’ve known and whose work I have treasured for 15 years is important to this story. It’s an essential collaboration on a play that is essential to my artistic life. Process has to be thoughtful and risky and bold – all within a safe environment.”
Just a few months ago, Still learned the Denver Center Theatre would commission APPOGGIATURA. For Brainin and LAUNCH PAD getting the commission was the next natural step for this play and process. “Crystallizing the idea of a panel I moderated this past October for the National Theatre Conference called ‘The Role Of The University In The Ecology Of New Play Development,’ the preview production of APPOGGIATURA is poised to become a precedent setting project for us. My ultimate goal is for other universities to be excited by this model so that, in a short time, preview productions at universities become a standard way to develop new work in the American Theatre,” said Brainin.
Brainin, at the hub of all this creativity, has extensive regional theatre credits and was hired in 2004 to join the faculty. She immediately began an initiative to bring playwrights of national stature to the University of California, Santa Barbara, working side by side with students, faculty artists and guest artists to create plays.
APPOGGIATURA reflects the LAUNCH PAD mission exactly and director Brainin has assembled a stellar team of theatre artists she has collaborated with throughout her career: Award-winning playwright James Still; scenic designer Nayna Ramey; lighting designer Michael Klaers; and costume designer Devon Painter; complemented by Santa Barbara’s well-known music director, David Potter. APPOGGIATURA is brought to life on stage by faculty artists Irwin Appel and Anne Torsiglieri alongside theater students Andrea Barborka, Chris Costanzo, Ian Elliot, Sophie Hassett, Dominic Olivo, Julian Remulla, and Sachi Tanaka.
Nayna Ramey noted that the LAUNCH PAD approach “forces me to crack open my process.” Ramey spoke about the rich experience of the design team going to Venice to be immersed in the culture of that venerable city. Her set beautifully evokes the canals, gondolas, cafes, campos, palazzos and narrow streets of Venice. She noted, “My backdrops are actually refracted versions of the photos I took while we were there. It’s a tight palette of colors – ochres, reds, golds – and this amazing blue green that dominated the city – it ranged from fresh to ages old and peeling.”
In the design presentation on the first day of rehearsal, costume designer Devon Painter described her clothing as “extensions of the scenery. There’s a sense of timelessness in the clothes worn by the locals in Venice.” She went on to share photos of Venetians to illustrate her point – “women still wear house dresses there – the only things that bring them into the modern world are the accoutrements like a cell phone.” She is also devising ways to integrate masks into the production. Venice is famous for its Carnivale celebration marking the Catholic celebration of Lent.
APPOGGIATURA previews are February 28 through March 9; Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with a matinee on Sunday, March 3 @ 2 p.m. - plus there will be conversations with the artists after every performance. The Hatlen Theater is located on the UCSB Campus on Ocean Road. Park in Lot 22 and follow the signs to the Hatlen. Tickets are $17 general; $13 student/senior, UCSB staff & faculty. Box Office hours: Monday – Friday 12 noon to 4 p.m. and one hour prior to all shows. Call (805) 893-7221 or order your tickets online now:https://www.vendini.com/ticket-software.html?t=tix&w=e57be196cb4285daded2d28aa7053b76
NOTE: Photos will be available after February 15
The Hatlen Theater is wheelchair accessible and has the Assistive Listening System in place for patrons who are hard of hearing. Please call in advance to make arrangements (805) 893-3022