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Countdown – T-3

November 9, 2011

Moving into the performance space is an exciting, but also difficult proposition. It’s exciting because it means the show is one step closer to being a reality, one step closer to that moment we’ve spent weeks striving toward. It’s difficult because you know that the show will take a step backward while it is moving forward.
We’ve rehearsed for weeks, learning lines, getting inside the skins of our characters and creating sets, costumes and props that will help us tell our story of this most modern of historic couples. As the work goes on, we feel better and better about how it’s all coming together. Now, we move into a different environment — the room is different, the walls are different, we see chairs set up for audience members, our voices sound different coming off the walls. The desk that was four steps from the table is now six steps away because the space is a bit bigger than our dining room (our cheap/free rehearsal space), but the lights only cover so much area without lighting the patrons and so the dance segment is only four steps to the side instead of six.
And today our focus was split, literally. When you own your own company and you rent performance space, you have to adjust your own lighting using the instruments available. That means I was up and down a tall step ladder a lot of times today setting, testing and re-setting the lights. Sound equipment also had to be tested and sound levels set. Our show has projections and they had to be tested and acclimated to the brand of projector the venue has. All of these things are going on three days before we open and they aren’t really what the acting is all about.
This may sound like I’m griping, but I’m not. Mary Beth and I have been through this before, working for other people, so we know that the run through today was not about the performances, but all about getting our bodies, minds and voices used to a different arena. It’s uncomfortable but necessary work and, all in all, went surprisingly smoothly.
Over the course of the next couple of days, I’ll be telling you a bit more about how the theatrical sausage is made.
This show is ready for an audience. Come be part of it!
“My Dearest Friend”
November 11 – 13
Dog Story Theater, 7 Jefferson, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Countdown – T-4

November 8, 2011

It’s finally here — show week! And we’re ready! Todd Lewis sent us the last music cues over the weekend and we’ve integrated them into the show. The music is great and we thank Todd for his contribution.
Move in to the Dog Story Theater takes place tomorrow, a matter of moving all the rehearsal furniture out of our rehearsal space (our dining room) and setting up the set for the real show. Next, we have to focus lights and arrange for the special lighting required.
The great news for patrons is that the Dog Story is getting new seating!! Chairs came in last week and a chair party will take place Wednesday to get them out of the boxes and in their places. Ours will be the first show to feature the new seating! That’s very exciting.
I’ll keep you up to date every day now as we countdown to the launch of this brand new, exciting show! Mary Beth and I hope that you are as thrilled as we are to be bringing this new venture to you. We know that you will fall in love, as we have, with John and Abigail Adams.
Shows are Nov. 11 -13; Friday and Saturday at 8p, Saturday and Sunday at 3p. Order tickets online and save!
Come watch us play!

Happy Birthday, Mr. Adams!!!

October 30, 2011

With less than two weeks to go before the opening of “My Dearest Friend” by Mary G. Kron, we’re putting the finishing touches on the performance. Apart from rehearsing, we’ve spent part of the week touching up the PowerPoint and tweaking sound effects (see, it’s a multi-media show!). But here at GEM Theatrics, we think a lot of Mr. and Mrs. Adams, so we’re taking a little time off to celebrate John Adams’ 276th birthday! You might want to do the same at your house, so here’s a little life background on the birthday boy.
John Adams was born on October 30, 1735 (October 19 if you go by the Julian calendar used at the time — the calendar change is way too complicated to go into here), the eldest of three sons of John Adams, Sr. and Susanna Boylston Adams, in Braintree, now Quincy, Mass. His father was a “good New England farmer” and deacon in the Congregational church.  At age 16, he began his studies at Harvard College with the intention of becoming a minister also. After graduation, he taught school in nearby Worcester, Mass. as he pondered his choice of a career. He finally decided that the ministry wasn’t for him and began to study law with the prominent Worcester lawyer, John Putnam. At about this time, he met Abigail Smith, the daughter of the Congregational minister in Weymouth. Just five days before his 29th birthday, he and Abigail were married and their 54 year odyssey of love and life began. They would eventually have six children, only three of which would survive infancy, and only one of which, John Quincy Adams, would live beyond age 50.
By the end of the 1760s, the drive in America for independence was in high gear. Great Britain had begun to increase taxes on the colonists to pay for the French and Indian War. John was a prominent antagonist to those taxes, writing articles in newspapers and giving speeches. His argument was that the taxes were invalid in Massachusetts because Massachusetts had no representation in Parliament.
In 1770, a street confrontation between civilians and British soldiers resulted in five civilian deaths and was instantly branded by Paul Revere, Samuel Adams (John’s cousin) and other revolutionaries as the “Boston Massacre.” The soldiers were arrested, but could not find defense counsel, even among the loyalist Tory attorneys. John, believing that “counsel is the last thing a free man should be deprived of in a free country”, took their case. He argued eloquently to the jury that the soldiers had merely been defending themselves against a mob out to do them harm. Six of the eight soldiers were acquitted outright; the other two were convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter and punished by a branding on the thumb. Adams later called his defense “one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my Country.”
In 1774, Massachusetts chose John as one of its delegates to the newly-formed Continental Congress. Although personally distrusted and disliked by other members, he became the leader of the faction determined to effect a separation from Great Britain. In 1776, he was appointed to the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He proudly signed that document, despite being well aware “of the toil and blood and treasure that it [would] cost this country to maintain this Declaration and to support and defend these states.”
During the Revolutionary War, John was sent to France to attempt to form an alliance. The trip was a personal failure, his New England habit for bluntness clashing with the French penchant for tact and indirectness. So, on his own authority, he left France and traveled to Amsterdam to attempt to obtain a loan. That he was able to persuade the parsimonious Dutch to lend his struggling nation badly needed funds is a testament to his persuasiveness and tenacity. At the close of the war, John participated in the negotiation of the treaty of peace and was appointed our first Ambassador to Great Britain. Despite the former hostilities, the mission was a success, all the more so for John because, after years of being apart, Abigail was able to join John in England.
John and Abigail returned from England after the passage of the Constitution and John served two terms as Vice President under George Washington. He found the office an “empty, annoying, taxing title, without authority and with little influence. In 1796, however, he was elected the second President of the United States.
As he always had, John performed his duty as President to the best of his abilities. It was a time of great upheaval. Revolution was stirring in France, causing a rift in his Cabinet between those seeking a war with France (such as Alexander Hamilton) and those urging U.S. support for the revolutionaries (such as VP Thomas Jefferson). Adams tended to side with the wary, which destroyed for years his close friendship with Jefferson, who would succeed him to the Presidency. Despite his jaundiced view of the French revolution, he was determined to avoid a war with France, feeling certain that the new young nation could not afford another global conflict.
His vanity and arrogance did not serve him well in the Presidency (this is a birthday celebration, so the less said about the Alien and Sedition Acts the better). He was soundly defeated by Jefferson in 1800 and he and Abigail left the newly constructed Executive Mansion the night before Jefferson’s inauguration and retired home to Braintree.
Eventually, the separation between Adams and Jefferson was closed and their letters in later life make for fascinating reading. The rest of John’s retirement, however, was not without challenges at the home front. In 1800, his second son, Charles, died an alcoholic, and in 1813, his only surviving daughter, Abigail (called ‘Nabby’) died of breast cancer. Then, on October 28, 1818, just three days after their 54th wedding anniversary and just two days before John’s 83rd birthday, Abigail Adams, John’s confidant and counselor, died of typhoid fever.
John lived on in failing health for eight more years, finally dying on July 4, 1826. It was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and his son, John Quincy Adams, was President of the United States. His reported last words were “Jefferson still survives.” John was wrong; Jefferson had died earlier that same day at this home, Monticello.
As Mary Beth and I prepare to bring a bit of the lives and love of this most modern of historical couples to life November 11 -13 at Dog Story Theater, we raise a glass and say, Happy Birthday, Mr. Adams!

But, Mr. Adams. . . Vol. III

October 18, 2011

October was always a busy month for the Adams family, and for us at GEM Theatrics, this October brings the flurry of activity common to a new production. Work on “My Dearest Friend” proceeds apace, with music being written, sound effects researched, PowerPoint slides created, lines being learned and characters being built. We’re really looking forward to bringing the lives and love of John and Abigail Adams to life on the Dog Story Theater stage!
John Adams was born on October 30, 1735 in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts. In October, 1762, he began a lifelong correspondence with Abigail Smith and on October 25, 1764, they would marry and commence their 43 year odyssey of life together.
In October and November, 1770, lawyer John Adams successfully defended the soldiers involved in the “Boston Massacre”, standing up for the proposition that all those accused were entitled to a fair trial. In 1775, with John at Congress in Philadelphia, Abigail contended with an epidemic of dysentery in Boston that eventually claimed the life of her mother, Elizabeth Quincy Smith, on October 1.
In October, 1782, John participated in the negotiation of the Preliminary Treaty of Peace with Great Britain, which was signed at Paris on November 30. In October, 1800, John and Abigail, as President and First Lady, traveled to the new City of Washington, D.C. to take up residence in the still unfinished president’s house (later to be called the White House).
Finally, on October 28, 1818, Abigail died of Typhoid Fever at the Adams’ beloved “Peacefield” in Quincy. John longed to join her, and finally did so, on July 4, 1826, the Fiftieth Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. His eldest son, John Quincy Adams, was President of the United States.

Preparation continues on “My Dearest Friend.”

August 31, 2011
John and Abigail share a quiet moment at "Peacefield."

John and Abigail share a quiet moment at "Peacefield." Photo by Scott Baisden.

Wow! I can’t believe August is almost gone already and I haven’t posted an update. Our main goal this month was to make strides in visual publicity for “My Dearest Friend.” This is a visual era and we know we need visual media to attract visitors to our show in November. SOOOOOOO, we got with our buddy, Scott Baisden, who is great with all things camera. He took a bunch of stills for us, but, more importantly, he helped us shoot a short video that we can upload to YouTube and post here on the web site. MB adapted the script from Mary G. Kron’s full-length version and we used outdoor settings near Aquinas College and Wilcox Park. Interiors were shot in our home, doubling for Quincy, Mass. and St. Cecilia, doubling for Philadelphia. Great thanks to Kalena Meyers and Martha Cudlipp at St. Cecilia for their help!
The video should be ready in early October, so stay tuned! Stills will post on the web site over the next few weeks, so come back often to see what we’re up to!
p.s. — an Adams history update will be posted soon!

July 4th Trip to Boston

August 1, 2011

We all know what the July 4th timeframe meant to John Adams.  July was, in general, full of activity for the Adams family all their lives.  MB’s blog of a couple of weeks ago highlighted those events.  So, what better time to do some Adams research than the 4th of July weekend?  And, so, we decided to grab a few days off and make the pilgrimage to Massachusetts.

We didn’t have a lot of time and the drive was very long.  In addition, a Massachusetts Turnpike mishap cost us more than half a day, but, we won’t dwell on that.

Our first stop was the Adams National Historic Park, which contains three houses:  the house where John Adams was born, the house where John and Abigail lived and where John Quincy Adams was born, and the “big house” – Peacefield — where John and Abby lived out their days after his presidency was over.  The Park is located in Quincy, Mass., the north end of what was then called Braintree.  While all the houses were rural in the 18th Century, today all three houses are inside the city limits and Peacefield is on what we would consider a busy suburban street.  John Adams wouldn’t recognize the locale today.  All of the homes are open for tours, but only Peacefield contains actual Adams furnishings – and what furnishings there are!  There are four generations of artwork and furniture in the house, because the Adams’s seemingly never threw away anything (we even saw the chair John was sitting in when the end came)!  The old stone library is still on the grounds and packed with thousands of volumes collected by the Adams’s over a century.  From Peacefield, we drove to Weymouth, Mass. to see the birthplace of Abigail Adams.  The house wasn’t open, and it isn’t even in the correct location, but it gave MB and me a perspective on the times.

The following day was devoted to Boston.  I’d been there twice before, but it was the first time for MB.  No visit to Boston can be complete without taking the self-guided walking tour called the Freedom Trail.  Like Philadelphia, Boston has preserved much of its 18th Century heritage, buildings where history actually happened – places like Faneuil Hall, the Old North Church, Paul Revere’s shop and the wharf where Old Ironsides still sits.  Guidebooks recommend taking two days for the entire trail, but we didn’t have two days, so we just hoofed faster.

Because it was July 4th weekend, there were lots of street attractions.  We saw redcoats and continental troops, musicians and camp followers, all in period dress and all in a festive mood.  At the Bunker Hill memorial, we saw a musket firing demonstration.  We also met many costumed interpreters and found all the presentations informative and entertaining.

The next day was devoted to the Lexington/Concord area, where the revolution began.  We saw both village greens and got a real sense of what it must have been like for the colonials to face overwhelming odds.  The statues and monuments were most inspiring.

On July 4th, we had to depart, due to teaching commitments.  So, we didn’t get to see the fireworks over Boston.  Instead, we had another traditional experience.  We chanced to stop for the night in Batavia, New York, where we were told the fireworks would happen at the end of the game for the local minor league baseball team, the Batavia Muckdogs.  We hurried to the small stadium, got seats, enjoyed a baseball game and a hotdog and a beer, and then watched a wonderful fireworks display.  As the rockets exploded overhead, my mind was taken back to the tumultuous time in 1776, when some brave men (and women) decided to turn away from their colonial existence toward a democratic way of life.  And, of course, I thought of John and Abigail Adams, whose lives helped shape that destiny.  As many know, John was invited to an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Declaration on July 4, 1826.  His son was in the White House.  Illness prevented the former 2nd President from attending (indeed, he would die on that day), but he had prepared his toast for the gathering:  “Independence Forever!”  So say we all.

Photo Shoot July 17, 2011

July 21, 2011

John and Abigail in the Garden; photo by Scott Baisden

July: Always a Busy Month

July 21, 2011

Everyone knows what happened in July of 1776. But July tended to be a busy month, personally, especially for Abigail. During that year, of course, John was in Philadelphia, helping to craft the Declaration of Independence. The war had been going on since April of 1775, but things were peaceful in Boston, for the time being, as the British had pulled out in March of 1776. Abigail had seen too many people die of smallpox, and John had been inoculated before they were married. So she took her four children: Nabby, John Quincy, Charlie and Tommy, to Boston to undergo the inoculation process in July, 1776. The children ranged in age from 4-11. This was an incredibly brave thing to do and a painful process, and one might not survive the inoculation, but she and several members of her extended family made the trip and endured it all together.

But, backing up, just about exactly nine months after they were married, Abigail gave birth to Abigail (nicknamed Nabby) on July 14, 1765. On July 11, 1767, John Quincy was born. Sadly, another daughter, Elizabeth, was stillborn on July 11, 1777. Abigail had high hopes for this new baby (which was her last at age 32) since she was born on John Quincy’s birth anniversary, but although full-term and perfect, something had gone drastically wrong in the last days of her pregnancy. Little Nabby, who had been hoping for a little sister, cried for hours.

John and Abigail had six children, total. Little Susanna was born on December 28, 1768, but had really failed to thrive and died on February 4, 1770, just beginning to talk and toddle. Charles was born that May after Susanna’s death, and Thomas was born in 1772. Charles only lived until he was 30 and Thomas died in 1832. Neither were a success at business or the law and both were alcoholics. This, plus the deaths of the two little girls, were a great sadness to both of them, but Abigail, especially, was hard hit, with John’s long absences thrown in for an extra measure of hardship.

In June and July of 1784, Abigail and Nabby sailed from Boston to meet John Quincy in London and eventually the family settled in France for a time, before John was appointed the first American minister to Great Britain, and they moved to London.

And finally, John passed away at the Old House (Peace Field) in Quincy, on July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of American Independence – as did Thomas Jefferson at his beloved Monticello.

Costumes and Props

July 10, 2011

Costumes and Props for “My Dearest Friend”

When thinking about the time period and overall look we wanted to achieve, my first thought was: How will audience members think of John and Abigail at the first mention of their names? The first image that comes to my mind is how they looked in 1776, both the time period and the musical! I think our collective mental time-frame for these two is Revolutionary era, yet their lives spanned almost a century, 1735-1826, in Johns’ case. Abigail died in 1818 and fashion had come a long way: clothing, furniture, household implements, even pens! By that time, John may very well have had a pen with a nib, instead of a goose quill!

The show opens with John writing to John Quincy at the death of Abigail in 1818 – he is an old man. Abigail suddenly comes to life. The play is a memory play, a flash back to times past and how John remembers her at first is as a very young woman at the time of their courtship, 1762-1764. Yet we quickly move forward in time and sometimes move back again. For practical reasons, costume changes aren’t possible, so where to begin? Since my mental image is 1776 – when both were relatively young and in their prime, that is what I’ve settled on for costumes.

Then I moved to the practical. First of all, we are actors and this is a play. We are not re-en-actors and this is not a re-enactment. This is a theatrical treatment of the true story of these two people’s very real, very human lives – their relationship, their beliefs, and their very strong love and respect for one another. Because this is a theatrical presentation, and the romantic reality of the relationship is so strong in the writing, I’ve designed a romanticized version of the costumes of the era. The colors, prints and patterns are accurate to a point, yet I have decided not to be a slave to historical accuracy. The costumes are built for comfort and durability – and yes, I used my sewing machine, complete with its automatic buttonhole attachment!

With the props, set pieces and set dressing, we are progressing slowly, supplementing what we already have by collecting items at antique shops and purchasing a few things online from re-enactment catalogs and sellers on E-Bay. Again, this is a theatrical piece so the props need to be durable and usable, and we are also building it with the hope that it will travel to schools, libraries and museums, so everything must be able to be packed and stowed in the PT Cruiser!

We know the Adams’ were not wealthy people, and lived primarily on earnings from the farm after John was defeated by Jefferson for the Presidency in 1801 and they lost most of their savings after a bank failure in 1803. So, the furnishings need not be sumptuous.
I am hoping to be able to soak up lots of atmosphere and take a lot of photos when we visit Quincy, Weymouth and Boston in July to put the finishing touches on the look we are hoping to achieve.

In the meantime, we’re learning how to write with a quill pen, working on tons of prop letters and journals, and hoping for a practical repair on the beautiful vintage lap desk that Gary bought for Abigail to use onstage in the letter-writing segment of the show

“But, Mr. Adams” — Vol. II

May 27, 2011

May was a busy month in the lives of Abigail and John Adams.  In May, 1770, their second son, Charles, was born at their house in Boston.  Charles would, as occurred in succeeding Adams generations, be unable to live up to his father’s high standards, and die too soon of alcoholism.  On May 8, 1778, John, after waiting a month in Paris and growing increasingly frustrated at the lifestyle of his fellow minister to France, Benjamin Franklin, was finally introduced to King Louis XVI.  The meeting did not go well.  John’s knowledge of the French language was limited and his tolerance of the French society was less than generous.  In May of the following year, Franklin would petition the Continental Congress to have Adams recalled.  In 1780, John was sent to Holland in hopes of negotiating a loan from the Dutch.  He spent several years there and was extremely successful.

On May 26, 1785, John, Abigail, and their oldest daughter Abigail (called Nabby), arrived in London.  John had been appointed the first United States Ambassador to England.  On June 1, John was presented to His Majesty George III for the first time.  The meeting between the “tyrant” King and the rebel “first in line to be hanged” was remarkably cordial.  The rest of John’s mission, to negotiate treaties of trade, was not successful.  By early 1787, John would resign and 1788 found him and Abigail back home in Braintree.

In May, 1791, John was elected President of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a post he held until 1813.  The Academy, which still exists today,  had been the brainchild of John Adams more than a decade before.  Its purpose was to provide a forum for a select group of scholars, members of the learned professions, and government and business leaders to work together on behalf of the democratic interests of the republic.  In the words of the Academy’s charter, the “end and design of the institution is…to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honour, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.”

Mary Beth and I are working very hard to cultivate our art and I’m pleased to say that work on “My Dearest Friend” proceeds on schedule.  To that end, we are VERY EXCITED to announce that we are taking a field trip into “Adams’ country” over the 4th of July holiday.  We’ll be visiting Boston and Braintree, as well as Lexington, Concord and Weymouth (Abigail’s home town).  We are thrilled to able to celebrate our nation’s “day of deliverance” on the very ground where John and Abigail made their home and raised their remarkable family.  There will, I’m sure, be lots of pictures and I’ll post some of them here and will share with you, our “dearest friends”, tales of our adventures.

Stay tuned!  And save the dates — November 11 – 13, 2011 for the world premier of “My Dearest Friend.”

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