John Adams and the US Navy

Posted July 23, 2013 by gemtheatrics
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Earlier this month, Mary Beth and I attended the Tall Ships Celebration in Bay City, Michigan. This festival of sailing ships is a periodic event, but this was our first time going. We attended on the opening Thursday and, instead of going to the docks along the Saginaw river, we thought we would travel closer to Saginaw Bay and try to see the ships coming in under sail. Pride of Baltimore 3Now, I’m not a sailor, or even really a boater, but there is something about seeing sailing ships, especially ships of some size, coming in under the power of the wind that is thrilling to me. Our vantage point in a riverside park in Essexville, Michigan wasn’t far enough out to sea to actually see the ships coming in solely by wind power, but many of them had their sails unfurled, giving the illusion of natural propulsion. Some members of a local boating club saluted each of the eleven ships (one from as far away as Denmark) with a mock cannon blast. Each ship answered the salute, either with mock cannons of its own, or by blowing the ship’s horn. Pride of Baltimore 2The sky was bright blue, the temperature not too hot; all in all a great day.
This experience got me thinking about the US Navy. The Tall Ships Celebration website told me that some of the ships I was seeing would be participating in a mock lake battle on Labor Day, recreating a naval battle in Lake Erie during the War of 1812. I already knew how important the French fleet had been to the struggling 13 colonies during the Revolutionary War, and that without the protection of those ships, the war with Great Britain might well have been lost.
That same idea resonated with John Adams, too. “It was John Adams who drafted the first set of rules and regulations for the new navy — a point of pride for him as long as he lived. Indeed, in the 25 years that John Adams served his country, and especially as President, in his advocacy of a strong navy he stood second to none.” (David McCullough) Adams called the Navy “the wooden walls of America,” and fought tirelessly to create and strengthen it. No early test of the American Navy was greater than that faced during the War of 1812. In the ocean, and on the Great Lakes, the ships authorized by Adams during his Presidency performed brilliantly, far better, actually, than our land-based troops, which suffered defeat after defeat until Andrew Jackson’s post-peace victory in New Orleans (where he was aided by the ships of pirates). One-time friend turned political enemy Thomas Jefferson wrote Adams: “I sincerely congratulate you on the success of our little navy, which must be more gratifying to you than to most men, as having been the early and constant advocate of wooden walls.” Today, John Adams is known as the “Father of the Navy.”
I was also reminded, watching the ships enter the harbor in Bay City, of our trip to Massachusetts over the July 4th Holiday two years’ ago, when Mary Beth and I had the chance to tour the USS Constitution. 20110702_0297Authorized by President Washington, built in Boston, and boasting 44 guns, this oldest of all surviving US naval vessels was launched on October 21, 1797, during the first year in office of John Adams and just nine days before his 62nd birthday. Whether through superior building materials or fantastic luck, the Constitution withstood every assault aimed at her, earning her the nickname “Old Ironsides.” Much as Francis Scott Key’s ode to the “Star-Spangled Banner” sustaining over Fort McHenry, the survival and victories of the Constitution bucked up a nation desperately in need of positive news. Indeed, the victories of the Navy are thought by some historians to have played a large part in the wearing down process that finally brought Britain to the treaty table. Adams must have been very proud.
These topics, and many others, are touched on in GEM Theatrics’ production of Mary G. Kron’s “My Dearest Friend” available for booking at your venue right now. We’re thrilled to announce that the One-Act version of “My Dearest Friend” will be produced at Davenport University in September, 2013, as part of the Constitution Week commemoration. The full Two-Act version will be produced as part of the Lake Effect Fringe Festival at Grand Rapids’ Dog Story Theater February 28 – March 2, 2014. More details will soon appear on our website: http://www.gemtheatrics.com
We hope to see all of you at one of our performances!!
(All photos (c) Gary E. Mitchell; all rights reserved)

“Foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy — Philadelphia!”

Posted July 4, 2013 by gemtheatrics
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , ,

Those lines from the Broadway musical “1776”, which I had the pleasure of being in during the 2007 season of the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, are resonating with me today. 1776 - GR Civic TheatreThe City of Philadelphia played such an important part in the life of John Adams, and our Nation. As we celebrate Independence Day and the 237th anniversary of our beginning as a free people, we should pause a minute from our barbecues, our picnics, our fireworks, and our trips to the beach and reflect upon the men who met in Philadelphia in that blistering summer of 1776 and hammered out, not only a desire to be free from British rule, but the foundations for the new Nation they saw for the people of the United States of America. The Declaration of Independence isn’t a long document; it takes less than 15 minutes to read. But, owing to the genius of Thomas Jefferson, Adams, and others, it contains ideas upon which we have built the wonderful country we live in. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Building upon that premise, delegates of our newly won country gathered again in Philadelphia in 1787. Again, according to the record, it was beastly hot. The windows of Independence Hall were fastened shut, so that the secret discussions inside wouldn’t be prematurely leaked. Because, what was being discussed was a brand new foundation for our Country — a Constitution that would bind the separate States together under a strong central government. Opinions were divided then, as they are sometimes today, about how strong that central government should be, but it was one of the beauties of our country then, as it is now, that the right to debate those issues could take place without fear of reprisal or imprisonment. Out of that steaming cauldron inside Independence Hall was brewed the perfect recipe for a new Nation “conceived in liberty”, as Abraham Lincoln would put it four score and seven years later.
When John Adams first came to Philadelphia in 1774 as a Massachusetts delegate to the First Continental Congress, the trip from Boston took nearly a week. Now, of course, it takes only minutes. Prior to 1800, Philadelphia was the country’s largest city and from 1790 – 1800, when John Adams was first Vice-President and then President, it was the seat of the federal government.
Today, Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in the U.S. Like Boston, Philadelphia has retained the historic buildings so crucial to our early history. In 2009, Mary Beth and I got to visit for a few days. A slide show of our photos can be viewed here: http://youtu.be/A2xr_C3kIi8. If you get the chance, you should visit. And, if you want to see history re-told in Mary Kron’s delightful play, “My Dearest Friend,” then book us! We’ll be glad to bring John and Abigail Adams to life in your venue!
Happy Birthday from GEM Theatrics to the United States of America!

John Adams, the 4th — and Gettysburg?

Posted July 1, 2013 by gemtheatrics
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

If you’re a follower of this blog, you know that July 4th – Independence Day – is an important yearly event for us at GEM Theatrics. John Adams, of course, was the driving force behind American independence. While not alone, it was through his efforts — his arguing, cajoling, harranguing, badgering and persuading — that the unanimous resolution for American independence was adopted.
And once it was and the Declaration of Independence was signed, it was John Adams who told us how to celebrate the event. The day, he wrote, “ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” And so, it is.Passage of the Declaration

But even John Adams couldn’t accomplish this feat alone. Figuratively by his side through all the struggles of his life (and there were many) was Abigail. Although more than 300 miles away in Braintree, and despite having to nurture a farm and a family by herself, Abigail always found time to write to John. In her letters, she supported him, bucked him up, soothed his ruffled feathers, and ruffled them herself a time or two. I have no doubt, and he, himself acknowledged, that without her wise counsel, he would often have been unable to carry on the great responsibilities assigned to him. They are, in my view, the quintessential founding couple.

And, oh yeah, John died on July 4, 1826, the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration, on the same day as Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of that document (James Monroe, the Fifth President, also died on July 4th, but no one remembers that — tell your friends and astound them with your knowledge of history!).

So, Adams and the 4th fit together like peas and carrots, but Gettysburg? How can an event more than 30 years after the death of John be relevant? Well, this year marks the 150th Anniversary of that turning point in the Civil War, which took place from July 1 through July 3, 1863. When it was all done and Lee had retreated from Northern territory never to return, more than 50,000 men on both sides had been killed or wounded. And, in a sense, John and Abigail were involved. The slavery issue didn’t just spring up in the 1850s and early 1860s. At the time of the signing of the Declaration, Adams, Franklin and others were aware of the impending crisis. Jefferson, himself a slave holder, had included a paragraph in the Declaration chastising the King of England for encouraging the slave trade. That section was deleted from the final version at the demand of Southern delegates, but Adams and others foresaw dire consequences down the road. Adams is quoted as saying: “Mark me, Franklin. If we give in on this issue, there will be trouble one hundred years hence. Posterity will never forgive us.” Abigail was ahead of even her husband in her hatred of human slavery. Despite the fact that her father had owned slaves, she abhorred the practice. This is covered in our production of “My Dearest Friend.” http://youtu.be/Gsfc97zMFLo

Mary Beth also has a personal connection to the battle of Gettysburg because her Great Grandfather, William Cheal, fought in the battle as part of Company I – 6th Regiment, Michigan Volunteer Cavalry under the command of George Armstrong Custer. Later that year, Mr. Cheal was wounded, captured and sent to Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prison camp. He was there for more than 14 months, but survived and was discharged. MB and I visited the Gettysburg National Historic Park in 2009 and I’ve posted a video of our visit.IMG_0151 It’s an amazing sight and should be on everyone’s bucket list. http://youtu.be/DZr6CIEbLdM

Enjoy the Fourth! And, maybe, take a moment and read with your family the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!

Save the dates! Feb. 28 – Mar. 2

Posted June 24, 2013 by gemtheatrics
Categories: Uncategorized

John and Abigail share a quiet moment at "Peacefield."GEM Theatrics is a founding member of the Lake Effect Fringe Festival (LEFF). The Festival showcases local talent, playwrighting, acting and production. Last season, we presented two one-act plays by local playwrights — Patrick Bailey and Mary G. Kron. We were thrilled with the response! This February, GEM Theatrics will reprise another work by Mary G. Kron that is one of our signature pieces — “My Dearest Friend”, the story of the love and lives of John and Abigail Adams. It’s been over a year since we performed this piece for the public and we’ve had lots of requests. We’ll be presenting this wonderful historical comedy/drama February 28 — Mar. 2 at the Dog Story Theater as part of LEFF. If you haven’t seen this important play yet, set aside the dates now! If you’ve seen it, you know you won’t want to miss it when it comes around again! I know I’m looking forward to it and you should, too!

GEM Theatrics mourns the loss of theater titan Paul Dreher

Posted June 13, 2013 by gemtheatrics
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags:

Grand Rapids, Michigan theater professionals and patrons lost a giant yesterday. Paul A. Dreher, 80, passed away after a short illness. During his more than 50 years in the Grand Rapids theater community, Paul directed, acted, and lit hundreds of shows and mentored perhaps thousands of theater professionals. As Managing Director of the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre from 1960 to 1999, he guided the theatre from a respected community theatre to the number two community theatre in the nation, providing entertainment to over 100,000 theater patrons each season and managing a budget in excess of $1M. Those numbers are impressive, but it’s the smaller numbers that say the most about this gentleman (and gentle man). My Facebook news feed has been full of testimonials from theater professionals and enthusiasts of all ages, each with a unique story to tell about about his or her personal experience with Paul. And the memories and stories are all ones of generosity and caring.

I only worked with Paul a handful of times (Mary Beth worked with him earlier and more often), but my memories are also bright. I was an actor in High School and College, and had performed for a couple of small community theaters, when I put that part of my life on hold to pursue another career. In 1995, with a career transition looming, I decided to get back into local theatre. My first show back wasn’t for Paul or GR Civic, but for another theatre in town (thank you Rosanne Steffens!) and my welcome wasn’t very welcoming, if the critic for the local paper could be believed. Undaunted, I auditioned latter that year for Paul in Neil Simon’s “Lost In Yonkers.” I had been told that it was hard to get parts at Civic and that Paul was a gruff old bird. Anyway, I went to both nights of auditions and there were just two men there, me and another guy. There were two men’s roles available, so at the end of the night, I shook hands with the other guy and told him I’d see him at the read-through, because we must have the parts (no one had told me that Paul had a habit of calling actors he knew and recruiting them if auditions didn’t turn up the people he wanted — more on that later). The next day, my phone rang and it was Paul. He told me that he’d never heard of me, but that he really liked my audition. Then, he said, “I can’t decide which role I want you for, and I really didn’t care that much for the other guy, so I wonder if you would be willing to play both parts; they’re never on stage at the same time, so it would be possible.” I was silent, stunned. “Look”, he said, “this is either the stupidest idea I’ve ever had or one of the best.” Paul hadn’t seen me in my first show. He didn’t know me at all, didn’t know whether or not I could even memorize a single line and, except for the show a few months earlier, I hadn’t been on a stage in more than 15 years. I was terrified, but I said yes. When we got into rehearsal, Paul moved me around the stage (a process called blocking) and then we started running through the show. After each rehearsal, there would be notes, where Paul would tell us what we had done wrong or what we could do to make our parts better. Most nights, I didn’t get any notes. I became worried. I thought it must be that I was so bad, Paul couldn’t make me better. I didn’t dare confront Paul, afraid that he would tell me to my face that this was the stupidest idea he’d ever had, so I asked one of my cast-mates, Marti Childs, a theater veteran, about it. She looked me right in the eye and said, “Paul only tells you if you’re doing something wrong; if you’re doing something right, he leaves you alone.” Paul himself told me once that he didn’t think it was his job to stroke actors’ egos. “The audience does enough of that” he said.

The following year, Civic was mounting N. Richard Nash’s “The Rainmaker” about a con man who injects himself into a Western family’s home during a drought with the promise to bring rain. I’d been in love with the role of Starbuck, the rainmaker, for years, having seen the film, starring Burt Lancaster and Katharine Hepburn. By 1996, though, I was 42 years old, my waist was a bit thick, and my hair was a bit thin to play the dashing con man. But, I WANTED that part. So, months early, I started to exercise and work out — and I bought a hairpiece. I wore the hairpiece to the audition. I knew Paul would notice, but my hope was that most of the other people wouldn’t, because I wasn’t that well known. Paul’s eyes got a little wider when I walked in, but he didn’t say anything. The only thing he ever said to me about it was during a break in the auditions when he whispered as he walked past me, “Nice toupe.” I got the part and that confidence really boosted me.

The last time I worked with Paul was 1997, when I was on the receiving end of one of those phone calls I told you about. Paul told me he wasn’t satisfied with the men who had auditioned for the part of Merv Kant, the “faux furrier”, in Wendy Wasserstein’s delightful “The Sisters Rosenzweig.” I hadn’t auditioned because I thought I was a bit too old for the part, it was a romantic part (and I didn’t get too many of those) and Merv had to sing a bit and dance and that wasn’t me. Paul said he understood my concerns, but he thought I could do it. I had a wonderful time in the show, perhaps expanded my range a bit, and if Paul ever thought he’d made a mistake, he never let me know it.

That was the last time I was in a Paul Dreher show. I haven’t worked with Paul for more than 15 years, but when I learned yesterday that he had died, all of these memories came flooding back. If he was a tough guy, and I guess he was in his younger days, I didn’t see it. If we worked hard, it was only to put on the best show we could to please the patrons. Civic runs were long in those days, with shows running Tuesdays through Sundays for three weeks or more. We would get tired, but Paul would always say that we had to give our best. “You’ve done this show a dozen times” he would tell us, “but for the patrons in the seats, it’s their first time, and they deserves the best you’ve got.” Maybe in theater, and in life, those are the only words you need to live by.

Thank you, Paul.

February is the coolest month!

Posted January 19, 2013 by gemtheatrics
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags:

Oh, boy, do we have lots of things going in February!
First, there’s “My Dearest Friend” on Feb. 9 at the Kentwood Public Library. This is the full two-act version starting at 2pm. We’ll take questions at the end of the show! We’re very excited about this opportunity and we urge you to attend. Admission is FREE!
THEN, come see our original production, “Working For A Living” at Dog Story Theater, Feb. 22 – 24. This show consists of two one-act plays: “Rock of Ages” by Mary G. Kron and “The Interview” by Patrick M. Bailey. They’re local playwrights and their shows address worker issues in the past and in the present. Mary Beth and I are directing this time, and not acting, and we’re very excited about this new venture. Tickets are only $10/$8. Our performances are part of the Lake Effect Fringe Festival, showcasing a month-long celebration of local performing groups. Find more info on: http://www.dogstorytheater.org or our website: http://www.gemtheatrics.com.
While you are thinking about things to do in February, go to all of the shows offered as part of the Lake Effect Fringe Festival. We have performance art troupes, comedy toupes, as well as traditional plays. This is the most affordable ticket in town!
Come watch us play!!

A Time For Reflection; A Time Of Anticipation

Posted December 10, 2012 by gemtheatrics
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Christmas Tree“It’s that time of year”, the song says, “when the world falls in love.” We hope those words come true for each and every one of you reading this entry. With all of you, we at GEM Theatrics hope for Peace on Earth and Good Will among all people. We hope that the times of strife in our country and around the world will soon end and that our leaders can find the right path.
But the end of the year is also a time to reflect. For Mary Beth and me, this has been a year of professional growth as we saw our little theatrical business grow from a dream to something real, something we can be proud of. Over the course of the past 12 months or so, we brought Mary G. Kron’s wonderful telling of the story of John and Abigail Adams to life with performances of My Dearest Friend at Dog Story Theater last November, Davenport University this past September and The Red Barn Theatre in Saugatuck, MI in October. 8009093294_76e0099f04_bWe also showcased the show in Traverse City in June for the Michigan Presenters Annual Conference and in November for the Michigan Joint Social Studies Conference in Warren, MI. Audience response has been enthusiastic everywhere we’ve performed and we are confident that this is an informative and entertaining look at two fascinating lives from our history.
We are also thrilled to report that My Dearest Friend was accepted into the 2012 – 2015 Michigan Humanities Council Touring Directory. In order to be selected a short video from the show was reviewed by experts in the field, who judged it worthy of inclusion. What this means for non-profits looking to bring a quality entertainment to your venue is that grant money is available to underwrite 40% of the cost of hiring us! Just go to: http://www.michiganhumanities.org/programs/touring/index.php  for more information.
We also performed our signature piece, A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters, for two nights this past fall at Noto’s Old DSC_0020_croppedWorld Italian Dining as part of a dinner theatre package presented by StageOneGR, DSC_0017_croppeda new dinner theatre company founded by our new pal, Gary Morrison. We had a great time and the audiences got a superb meal and the chance to experience Mr. Gurney’s touching and funny play.

 

 

But, year ends are also a time for looking forward. Assuming the Mayans weren’t correct about that end of the world thing, 2013 offers a host of new opportunities for us — and that means also for you!

For those of you who have missed it so far, My Dearest Friend will be presented — in its entirety — Feb. 9 at the Kentwood Library, 4950 Breton Rd. SE, Kentwood,MI, at 2:00 pm.  Admission is free! We’re very grateful to the library for this opportunity. Come on out and see us!
In addition, details are being finalized to bring Love Letters to the Red Barn Theatre in Saugatuck, MI for the Valentine’s weekend. Save the date and stay tuned! More information to come!
Helping make February an even busier month for us, we’re very pleased to announce that GEM Theatrics will be participating in the first annual Lake Effect Fringe Festival!LEFF large with TM We’re thrilled to be a founding member of this very exciting venture, along with Dog Story Theater, Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and Stark Turn Players. One of the purposes of the Festival is to allow entertainment groups of all stripes who may not have their own theatre spaces to come together for a month of eclectic presentations all in one venue. We’re hoping this annual festival of performing arts will expose these groups to new audiences who may not know of our existence, not to mention showcasing the wealth of talent that exists right here in West Michigan. Tickets for all shows will be just $10/$8.
GEM Theatrics’ weekend will be Feb. 22 – 24, and we’re directing and producing two one-act plays by local playwrights. Based on the theme Working for a Living, we’ll be presenting Rock of Ages, by Mary G. Kron, about the effect of disaster on coal mining families, and the world premiere of The Interview, by Patrick M. Bailey, which deals with the issues of outsourcing. While some roles have been cast, we’re still looking for actors. Auditions will be January 12 and 13 and there is a link on the Home Page of this website for details.
So, as you can see, we have a lot of exciting events coming up in 2013. We hope you’ll check this website often for updates and follow our page on Facebook. Until we see you somewhere down the line, have a fabulous and heart-warming Holiday Season!!


%d bloggers like this: