Apprentice Articles

Finding their light

By Max Tapogna | February 6, 2021
The apprentices have begun working on their solo shows! Taught by former Portland Playhouse Education Director Nikki Weaver, the solo show class is a six month series in which apprentices build an entire body of work. Apprentices begin by devising short, autobiographical pieces; over time, these pieces get longer and longer in length. By June, each apprentice will have authored their own solo show, which will be performed in a showcase made available to the Portland artist community.  
“I”ve been delighted,” says Erin Dorlio, a producing and directing apprentice. “I feel challenged by the exciting yet difficult task of coming up with new ways to express myself each week.” 
So far, apprentices have performed songs, sketches, poems, and even tik toks. Our most recent assignment consisted of the apprentices splitting into pairs. In these pairs, each partner shared a pivotal story from their life—the person listening to the story then performed that story to the ensemble. “We found each other really digging into that trauma,” says acting apprentice Carmen Burbidge. “And we kind of sat back and giggled about how close the work brought us.” 
The prospect of writing and performing a solo show has been daunting for everyone, but some more than others. Caroline Wilkes, our stage managing apprentice, has typically shunned the spotlight in favor of the switchboard. “I've never considered myself to be a theatre maker before,” says Wilkes. 
Now all that's changed. 

Back in session!

By Voni Kengla  |  January 21, 2021

After a long, cozy winter break, Apprentice classes are back in session! We have all grown so close over the last five months and the first zoom call of the year was a very happy reunion. 

We resumed our weekly Shakespeare class with Artistic Director, Brian Weaver and continued to work on our scenes from Julius Cesar, Hamlet and Macbeth. Not only are we tackling the heightened text, but we are also still working remotely through Zoom.  It has been an exciting challenge to translate some of the more physical scenes to fit the virtual medium. Fun fact: Macbeth was written during a pandemic!

The new year also begins the road to Apprentice Solo Shows! Last week, we started working with Nikki Weaver to create our own short pieces to be performed in early June. Right now, we are focusing on exploring what kind of artists we are and the kind of art we want to create. We have already begun to create short performance pieces! We created songs, monologues, interpretive dances, and drawings last week and every piece seemed to encapsulate the essence of that artist. At first, I was feeling a bit intimidated by the solo shows, but working in shorter chunks makes the task seem much less daunting. 

It’s been a busy couple of weeks! I am definitely looking forward to seeing the art we create together this year.

A Fall Like No Other

By Max Tapogna  |  December 15, 2020

It’s been a fall unlike any other at Portland Playhouse. 

While the apprenticeship is far different than what I imagined it would be when I auditioned for the program last spring (we are still as virtual as ever) the experience has been one of learning, growth, and community building. Here are some updates, as we sign off for the year:

Last Friday, we wrapped up filming for Caution: This Product is Flammable, the last installment of Short Cuts: a series of zoom plays written, directed, and acted by the apprentice company. Caution, written by Carmen Burbidge, will air in early January and is a decisive step forward in our experiments in zoom theatre. Be on the lookout for future updates! 

Last Thursday, we finished our final class on creative resilience, taught by education director Corrine Gaucher. This class has been a highlight for me personally. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we all now worship at the altar of Brené Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert. But more than anything, I’ve enjoyed the thoughtful (and therapeutic) conversations we have had on creativity and the role of art in our lives. Although our weekly meetings have ended, these conversations will certainly be ongoing. 

Last Wednesday, local poet Emmet Wheatfall led an all-company retreat (the first of several) with the Playhouse. We apprentices were lucky to join: we not only observed but took part in the myriad complex conversations that enable growth, both within the Playhouse and in the surrounding community. I’m looking forward to our next retreat, scheduled for when we return. 

Reflecting on the fall, I can say for certain that the apprentice company has been my rock – emotionally and artistically – during these trying months. As we move into 2021 (and with an approved vaccine!) I can now visualize the day when we all gather in a room together. This used to be nearly impossible, but the picture is getting clearer every day. 


How to do Distance Drama

By Voni Kengla  |  November 19, 2020

How do you put together a play when you can’t be in the same room? 

The apprentices have been hard at work creating the virtual series “Shortcuts.” So, how does a team of ten young artists create a season from scratch? Oh, and most have never met each other in person. 

It started over the summer when Carmen Burbridge sent the other apprentices her original Zoom play, “Heaven is Overrated.” We all read the script and started planning to do the show on our own just for fun, and when we told the Artistic Team at Portland Playhouse, they were excited to help support and expand our project. 

Each play only has two rehearsals and one recording session, so the success of this project relies heavily on the hard work the apprentices put in on their own time. The actors have to work on their character analysis and line memorization, the Stage Manager, Caroline Wilkes organizes rehearsals, writes rehearsal reports and records the plays. Design Apprentice Sarah Patterson is responsible for all the beautiful logo art for each show and for editing the recordings and the Directing Apprentices, Erin DiIorio and Jazmine Villalino bring together all the different elements of the play into one unified whole. Everyone sets up their computers, logs into zoom and creates art! We are always excited to find new ways to use Zoom and other virtual programs to enhance the storytelling. 

The last two plays “Pageant Project” and “Caution: This Product is Flammable,” will become available November 27th and December 18th respectively. 

Fall Festival of Shakespeare zooms ahead

By Max Tapogna  |  November 11, 2020

Fall Festival of Shakespeare is well underway at Portland Playhouse. Or rather with the Playhouse, as no students are currently in the theatre. Like actors, directors, and designers around the country, FFS students are learning how to grapple with what it means to be a theatre artist in a primarily virtual world.

The festival is shaping up to be more intimate in its scope. That is, in part, because student enrollment has dropped significantly – to fifteen from what is usually a group of 350. This change is constant with the festival’s goals.

Corrine Gaucher, the Education Programs Manager at the Playhouse, describes the mission of the festival as, “solely about human connection” and “using Shakespeare as a tool for understanding human experience.” Although finding those connections has proven a challenge in the current climate, Gaucher says “the process this year is really based on the same ethos as much as we can translate it.”

This year the festival is composed of two ensembles: students from the Metropolitan Learning Center and a group of students from all around Portland. The actors work with a number of teaching artists from the Portland theatre community. In any other year, the festival culminates in a weekend of staged plays. That’s changed with social distancing ordinances in place.

“This new virtual version of the festival is kind of like a la carte Shakespeare,” says Gaucher.

Students are now focusing on individual scenes and monologues from a handful of the Bard’s plays, including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On December 19th, the festival will showcase the students’ work via a live stream. Audience members will be able to interact with the performance through commenting features, which the performers can respond to in turn.

While the 2020 festival has certainly presented challenges, students and directors have been able to find moments of connection and collaboration over Zoom. Erin DiIorio, a producing and directing apprentice who is assistant directing the MLC ensemble, recalls one student who “used the loft above her bed to create an absolutely unforgettable surprise entrance that none of us saw coming.”

More surprises are to come on December 19th.

“It’s been incredible working with the kids,” says DiIorio. “I revel in their boldness.”

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