Man with disability chased by crocodile

By Nicholas W McClellan

The following is an excerpt from J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan, originally published in 1911:

He sat down on a large mushroom, and now there was a quiver in his voice. “Smee,” he said huskily, “that crocodile would have had me before this, but by a lucky chance it swallowed a clock which goes tick tick inside it, and so before it can reach me I hear the tick and bolt.” He laughed, but in a hollow way.

“Some day,” said Smee, “the clock will run down, and then he’ll get you.”

Time is chasing after all of us, except for Peter Pan, of course. It’s inevitable; it’s like an arrow moving forward into the future. One day, tomorrow or a hundred years from now, we will all grow-up to be helpless and alone.

Some might call aging sad or scary. The clock inside the mouth of the crocodile is a reminder to Captain Hook exactly how mortal he is. Outside of Neverland, in the real world, I don’t have a huge, threatening reptile to remind me that my time will eventually run out. I have other reminders.

My friends are getting married and some are having babies. The car in the driveway is getting rustier. I can see lines on my face where it was once completely smooth. My grandparents are dead or dying. I don’t recover from a night of excess like I used to. My parents don’t move quite as quick. My niece and nephew are no longer little children, they are adolescents. All of these observations can only mean one thing: I am officially older… and one day, I will die.

When I was a kid, by the time I got to be thirty years old, I thought for sure we’d have pizzas that expand and cook in the microwave in five seconds, hover boards, clothes that dry themselves, and cars that fly. Unfortunately, not everything in Back to the Future II happened quite as predicted. Time moves a whole lot slower when you’re a kid. Ten years seems like an entire lifetime. As an adult, it’s almost inconceivable to think I was twenty just ten years ago.

If anything, the acceleration of time as I age encourages me not to run away in fear as Captain Hook does, but instead, I embrace those reminders because it means there is a conclusion to my existence here. If I accept my mortality and embrace it, then I am more likely to live each day to its fullest.

Meanwhile, there is a segment of our society whose aim is to slay that pesky crocodile and to smash the clock in his mouth forever. These modern day Captain Hooks, known as “transhumanists,” envision a world where science can intelligently design life in ways that deny death. As Alan Harrington writes, “Death has become an imposition on the human race and is no longer acceptable.”

Without judging the religious or moral consequences of this line of logic, the thought of being immortal or extending life, is an interesting one, in my opinion. Some people say death is an evolutionary design, meant to get rid of the old to make way for the new.

Yet, in the technology and information age, death may not be necessary. Without loss or encounters with grief, a “Never Neverland”, could be created. It may seem utterly whimsical or dangerous to imagine (let alone create) eternity here on earth, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

It’s what humans have been doing since the dawn of civilization, eternalizing our existence. Through art, for example, we have gone to great lengths to articulate our desire to be eternal. We write memoirs, build pyramids, and sculpt statues. We long to eternalize ourselves. We want to carve our names; we want to say I was here, I existed, I felt something, and I mattered.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with the concept of a “Neverland” reality here on earth, I think it raises some extremely interesting questions and encourages us to consider our humanity and mortality. I encourage you to consider these themes while you enjoy VWCT Summer Youth Theatre’s production of Disney’s Peter Pan, JR.

Join us on June 27 or 28 at 7:30 pm or on June 29 at 2:00 pm to see this classic tale by J.M Barrie, re-imagined and set to a lively musical score. It stars local youth and is sure to please and stimulate audience members, young and old. Let’s support these hardworking students and the arts in Van Wert, Ohio. The box-office is open and accepting reservations. Call 419-238-9689 between 2 pm and 6 pm. Tickets are $10 at the door.

See you in Never Neverland!

 

Grab a pencil and some paper

On June 27, 28 or 29, Van Wert Civic Theatre audience members will have an exciting opportunity to relive their childhood imaginations at the Summer Youth Theatre production of Disney’s Peter Pan, JR.

The iconic character of Peter Pan, brought to life by J.M. Barrie’s classic book, dives deep into the power and purpose of the imagination, especially from the perspective of children. Our imagination allows us to play; to think of situations (possibly real or completely imagined) in a vivid, larger than life way.

While at the time, it seems entirely for the sake of fun, developing our imaginations helps us to become better thinkers and prepares us for decision-making. We test and make assumptions about how others and we will respond. A major venue for the explorations of our imagination is through art. If you knew me as a child, it was no secret; I loved art. More specifically, I loved to draw.

With my pencil and scrap dot-matrix computer paper in hand, I sang: “Sharpen your pencil, grab some paper! Get ready… it’s almost time. Mark will show you how to get on the paper what’s in your mind! A rocket ship, a pair of shoes, a shooting star, and some kangaroos… on the Imagination Station.”

It’s the lyrics to Mark Kistler’s Imagination Station, a television program originally produced by PBS beginning in 1996 (preceded by Draw Squad in 1991 and Secret City in 1986). Mark Kistler brought three-dimensional drawing lessons to children through his television programs, countless books, and tours to schools and libraries across the country.

While I was in the sixth grade, at the late Washington Elementary School, Mark Kistler came for a visit. He wore a bright yellow jumpsuit with black straps on his waist, ankles, and wrists. His hair was in tight curls, and he had a thick black mustache. Markers were affixed to his suit, which proceeded down his shoulders and arms. He was so vivid as he sincerely spoke about the power of drawing in expressing the imagination. About halfway through his demonstration, as the entire school watched, he asked for a volunteer from the audience.

While he scanned the crowd, I extended my chubby little arm as I high as I could (aided by a slight elevation of my rear), and a facial expression, which read, “Please, please, please pick me. My life is completely dependent upon this single childhood experience.” Suddenly, he stopped scanning the crowd. His eyes stopped and stared at… the student next to me. I didn’t skip a beat, though. I got up and ran to the front of the auditorium before he could correct me.

That is correct. I stole the limelight, but for good reason. Expressing my imagination through drawing was a huge part of my identity (it still is). My hobby is my imagination, my creative thinking, a key component of a childhood mindset. In that way, I’m just like Peter Pan; I’ll never grow-up – just older.

It is possible to be a “grown-up in sheep’s clothing.” I am not suggesting anyone go to the extremes of Peter Pan, by refusing the responsibilities that come with being an adult, but it is possible and encouraged to let your imagination wander and still get all those adult things done.

I invite you to rekindle a particular aspect of your childhood by attending the VWCT Summer Youth Theatre’s production of Disney’s Peter Pan, JR., June 27, 28, & 29. Tickets are $10 at the door and reservations can be made starting June 23, from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm, by calling 419-238-9689. Evening performances are at 7:30 pm, and the Sunday matinee begins at 2:00 pm.

See you at the show!

P.S.: If you or your child would like to learn more about Mark Kistler and 3-D drawing, visit draw3d.com or markkistler.com

There’s No Place Like OCTA

By Nicholas W McClellan

“I want us all to have fun!” said Bob Howell on the first day of rehearsal for Van Wert Civic Theatre’s production of Insane with Power by Scott Haan

On Saturday, June 7th, the cast and crew continued that mission statement as they traveled to Oregon, Ohio to compete in the 2014 Northwest Regional Ohio Community Theatre Association Festival.

The Ohio Community Theatre Association was formed in December 1953 with sixteen theatres. For over 57 years, OCTA has provided support to community theatres through workshops, annual regional OCTAFests showcasing community theatre productions, and a three-day annual conference.

Since 1972, Van Wert Civic Theatre has been represented at the regional competition. To compete in the competition, each production is asked to perform an excerpt from their most recent season (35 minutes).

It’s amazing to watch as each production sets and strikes the stage, preparing it for the following performance (they are given five minutes). Doug Grooms, Bob Howell, Burdette Bollenbaugh, Nick McClellan, Merry Thomas, Chris Thomas, and Amy Boley constructed an amazing traveling set.

Bob Howell and Doug Grooms were awarded merits in set design while the entire cast received merits in costume design for their eclectic superhero costumes, individually designed and produced by each cast member (Dan Hirn, Kari Gall, Tina Kowalski, Joe Maurer, Nick McClellan, and Merry Thomas).

While Insane with Power was not asked to continue on to the state competition, they were honored to represent Van Wert Civic Theatre. “Congratulations, gang! I personally feel that you deserved every single prize at the competition. I realize that I didn’t see any of the other shows, and  I’m a little biased, but still,” said Scott Haan, the playwright of Insane with Power.

Scott and his family traveled to Van Wert, Ohio during our original production (May 1st through the 10th). Scott has been a super-supporter of VWCT’s production of Insane with Power and VWCT would like to thank him and his family for their time and kind words. “It was truly an honor,” said Doug Grooms, assistant director and VWCT board member.

VWCT and the cast and crew of Insane with Power would also like to graciously thank Merry Thomas for taking on the role of Lois Lancaster at the regional competition. She was given just over two weeks to memorize her lines and to develop her character. “Bravo!” Merry Thomas on a fine performance.

“Directing Insane with Power and working with the cast and crew has been a blast. Everyone did a “super” job. Thank you to everyone involved for making my job so easy; you all rock!” said Bob Howell, director of Insane with Power.

VWCT’s performance at the Northwest Regional OCTAFest officially brings the 2013-2014 season to a close. The Board of Directors would like to thank every volunteer who supported VWCT’s tradition of quality, award winning community theatre in Van Wert, Ohio.

Yet, just because this season has come to a close, doesn’t mean things are going to be slowing down at VWCT. Rehearsals for VWCT Summer Youth Theatre’s production of Disney’s Peter Pan, JR. are in full swing. This classic retelling of James Barrie’s novel with a cast locally grown thespians is sure to be entertaining for all, kids and adults.  Performance dates are June 27, 28 & 29*. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7:30 p.m., while the Sunday performance begins at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door (cash or check only, we do not accept credit cards). Call 419-238-9689 between 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm, Monday through Saturday, starting June 23rd to make your reservations. For more information visit vwct.org, “like” us on facebook, and “follow” us on Twitter and Pinterest.

See you at the show!

“Hail! Hail! The gangs all here!” VWCT announces cast of Disney’s Peter Pan, JR.

VWCT Youth Theatre Cast Announcement

By Nicholas W McClellan

Last week, area students (k-12) came to the Van Wert Civic Theatre to audition for the Summer Youth Theatre’s production of Disney’s Peter Pan, JR., directed by Amy Boley, being performed June 27, 28, & 29*.

Everyone who came to auditions did a fantastic job; what a great bunch of young people. The willingness to get up on-stage and let yourself be critiqued is not an easy one and I applaud the students for their courage. Thank you to all who came to auditions (parents included).

Peter Pan, the clever, confident, and adventurous leader of the Lost Boys is played by Dylan Neate. Kate Fox is  playing Wendy, a girl who is on the cusp of adolescence and conflicted about her desire to grow up. Peter Pan’s nemesis, Captain Hook is played by Derek Truesdale (He also plays Mr. Darling, father of the Darling household).

The bubbly and sweet John and Michael Darling, brothers to Wendy, is played by Sam Price and Michael Joseph. Mrs. Darling, mother to the Darling family is played by Emily Gehle (she also plays Tiger Lily, the beautiful and brave princess of the Indian tribe).

Smee, the right-hand-man to Cpt. Hook is played by Hatti Bouillon. Noah Howell is playing both Nana (the Darling family dog) and the crocodile. Chief Tiger Bamboo is played by Gabby Emerick.

The Lost Boys, the adventurous gang of misfit boys who have been abandoned by or have run away from their mothers, are played by Nathan Evans, Treya Conn, Katie McVeigh, Hannah Bouillon, Autumn Howell, and Eli Rison-Truesdale.

The Chorus (the Pirates, Indians, Fairies, and Mermaids) is played by Nathaniel Mitchener, Dante Lippi, Melissa Joseph, Annabelle Cooper, Grace Rison, Campbell Looser, Reese Looser, Ellie Warnement, Kyra Lee, Sami Sellers, Rebecca Rigdon, Libby Price, Kendal Truesdale, Emma Mysko-Truesdale, Jamie Burenga, Kendall Rauch, Sydney Rauch, Mackenzie Goodlin, Alyssa Walter, Rachel Spath, Grace Jewel, and Ella Gable.

This great group of kids is going to put on a phenomenal show; one that’s sure to kindle that inner child in all of us. Join us on June 27 & 28 at 7:00pm or June 29 at 2:00pm to see and support the hardwork and dedication of this awesome group of local performers.

See you at the show!

A glass of wine and 12 banana nut muffins

Nicholas W McClellan

In these articles, I often talk about my childhood and how it relates to the production in a way that touches on a particular theme of that production. With the VWCT Summer Youth Theatre production of Peter Pan. JR., (June 27, 28, 29*) I’ve decided to “flip the script.”

Recently, I interviewed for a high school English language-arts teaching position. As I came out of the interview I texted to a friend, “Nailed it!”

My adrenaline was pumping as I continued to type. “I gave that interview team all I had in my “get-a-teaching-job” arsenal. I think I’ll get the second interview and probably the job.”

For a week, I kept myself busy waiting for that phone call. In my imagination I heard it ring a thousand times, each time telling me, “Nick. Guess what? All those big hopes, dreams, aspirations, and personal fulfillment you’ve been waiting for is about to become a reality. You’re amazing and we want YOU!”

Yesterday, the phone rang. This was it, the call I had been waiting for. This was the call that was going to give me a sense of purpose and make all those hours of education and money worth it. I was finally going to be a true educator… not just a substitute.

“Hello,” I said clearly and graciously. On the inside, I was shaking like a chihuahua. I was so afraid of what was about to be said. “Am I good enough for you?” I said to myself.

“Good afternoon, Nicholas. How are you?” she asked, but all I heard was her tone. At any moment she was about to communicate what I could already hear in her voice.

After I generically responded, she began to report that they offered the position to another applicant who had accepted. “What was wrong about me?” I wanted to scream into the phone. What could I have done differently that could have tipped the scale in my favor?

I didn’t have any answers. All I knew is that I didn’t want to feel vulnerable; I didn’t want to feel much of anything (other than a couple glasses of wine and a dozen banana nut muffins in my mouth).

This is a trend I’ve noticed about myself and in others. When I feel vulnerable, I immediately want something to numb it.  And when I can’t numb it, I start to blame myself and others because I think that that might help discharge my pain and discomfort. Peter Pan does the same thing. Instead of a box of Franzia and a carbohydrate addiction, he has his imagination, his own version of reality. We as adults (if we want to continue our lives) don’t have the option to escape into our heads with the ferocity of Peter Pan.

And then I try to perfect myself; fix myself because I’m apparently broken. When that fails, I think, how can I help fix someone else because that will give me a sense of control. It never works and the cycle just keeps going.

This time was different, though. After the wine and muffin session with a friend, I felt fine. Nothing had changed. I was no worse off than when I started the process. I was honest. I was visible. I was vulnerable. I was alive and it felt good!

Ultimately, as adults, we are all broken in some way. We are all capable of being vulnerable. I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to let yourself be seen, all of you. Open your hearts and love with every inch of it no matter how agonizing or risky it may seem, practice joy and compassion, and know that you are enough.

Sometimes, Peter’s Pan’s logic seems pretty sound; growing up is an awfully big adventure. This was my story, my recent brush with adulthood. Thank you for letting myself be seen. I now invite you to do the same. Visit us on facebook (facebook.com/vanwertcivictheatre) and tell us about some of the moments in your life when you were or are vulnerable. Let yourself be seen and love it because it means you’re alive.

And tune in next week when VWCT announces the cast of Disney’s Peter Pan, JR. This classic tale of childhood versus adulthood can be seen June 27, 28, and 29.

How to act in public (and other adult stuff)

By Nicholas W McClellan

It’s been said that people don’t grow-up, they merely learn how to act in public.

Today, I took a shower, prepared myself a lunch, checked my email inbox, went to work, paid my water bill, cleaned out the cat box, and wrote an article detailing themes in the Van Wert Civic Theatre Summer Youth Theatre production of Disney’s Peter Pan, JR (auditions are May 27 & 28, 7:00pm, at the theatre. No preparation is required and auditions are open to any student, k-12). Yup, I’m an adult!

Yet, it has to be more than just a set of social norms and a number that defines me as an adult, right? To be honest with you, I’m really not sure. I assume adulthood has something to do with thinking.

In order to investigate adulthood, I think it’s useful to compare it to a childhood memory to establish a point of comparison. I fondly recall a time when fireworks were the most fascinating and thrilling event a human being could possibly experience. It was the closest thing to fairy dust I could imagine and more thrilling than meeting Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. The thought of summer and Fourth of July activities were near the top of my list every year.

I lived on Leeson Avenue for a majority of my formative years, just down the road from Smiley Park. Every year the McClellan clan would assemble at our house and saunter on down to the park to enjoy the explosive display. I kid you not, watching the fireworks as a child was tantamount to a religious experience for me.

As each firework rocketed up into the air, it left a trail of white beneath, before suddenly exploding, giving the audience everything it had. I could smell the sulfur, hear the percussive crack of the explosion, feel the sound waves traveling through my body, and most importantly see the brilliant spectrum of color splashing against the night sky and disappearing into nothing. I fondly recall running in circles and screaming, “Thank you, Jesus!” at the top of my lungs while I looked up in utter astonishment, my hands stretching to the sky. I was obviously exceedingly appreciative of the moment; the scene was very melodramatic.

I still look up into the sky as an adult and appreciate the visceral display of light and sound that is the Fourth of July fireworks at Smiley Park, but you won’t find me running in circles like a mental patient praising the all-mighty. No, I quietly “oh” and “ah” from the comfort of my lime-green lawn chair. I appreciate each explosion before it culminates in a seemingly non-stop pyrotechnic display we all know as the “grande finale.”

I act differently now as an adult, but why? I still appreciate and genuinely love firework displays and remember how I used to act. Could it be just the embarrassment factor that has changed my behavior? I’m still not sure.

But for now, adult things are calling, again. The washer just buzzed; my whites are done. The cats are crying for food and I just got an email informing me my current electric bill is ready to view.

Join me next week while I continue this discussion on the concept of adulthood versus childhood. And don’t forget why I’m talking about this in the first place: VWCT Summer Youth Theatre has scheduled auditions for Disney’s Peter Pan, JR. on May 27 and 28, 7:00pm at the theatre. These auditions are open to any student (k-12) and no preparation is necessary. Rehearsals will be early evening until the beginning of summer break from school. Once summer break has begun, rehearsals generally run late morning/early afternoon. Director Amy Boley is eager and thrilled to begin production of this classic Disney tale. Production dates for Peter Pan, Jr. are June 27, 28, and 29.

For more information visit vwct.org, “like” us on facebook and “follow” us on Twitter and Pinterest.

Curtain Call!

By Nicholas W McClellan

The time has come for us to close the curtain on the 2013-2014 seasons at VWCT.  This season gave area residents the entertaining opportunity to contemplate several challenging and meaningful themes.The ideals of true womanhood in America during the Civil War were at the heart of Little Women, a Little Musical by Jay Richards. Audiences then traveled to French Guiana around the turn of the century in the Christmas tale, My Three Angels by Sam and Bella Spewack. This gave VWCT patrons the chance to consider definitions of good and evil as they watched three convicts meddle with fate of the Ducotel family.  From there, residents sped-off to Avenue Q, the Musical by Jeff Whitty, Jeff Marx, and Robert Lopez. The Sesame Street inspired musical comedy had audiences rolling in the aisles with laughter. Then came Woody Allen’s farce, Don’t Drink the Water, where concepts of global politics (west versus east) and teamwork moved the plot and prompted uproarious chuckles and applause.

Lastly, VWCT audience members enjoyed the slapstick styling of the superhero inspired farce, Insane With Power by Scott Haan. This production had a very successful run and the Van Wert Civic Theatre would like to graciously thank the cast and crew. Thank You Bob Howell, Doug Grooms, Tina Kowalski, Kari Gall, Joe Maurer, Nick McClellan, Dan Hirn, Kim Hughes, Merry Thomas, Burdette Bolenbaugh, and Faith Maurer for your volunteer commitment to quality community theatre in Van Wert, Ohio. A grand thank you also goes out to the playwright of Insane with Power, Scott Haan and his family who visited our little theatre and made it to one of the performances of his script. It was a genuine treat and honor to host Scott and his family; thank you so much for your support and kind words, Scott Haan.

But most importantly, thank you Van Wert area residents for your continued support of the performing arts. We trust you enjoyed and were entertained by the 2013-2014 season.

Yet, just because the current season has come to a close, it doesn’t mean things are going to be slowing down at VWCT. This year, the VWCT Summer Youth Theatre is producing two performances for area youth to become involved in the performing arts. Fresh out of the gate is Van Wert Civic Theatre Summer Youth Theatre’s production of Disney’s Peter Pan, Jr., based on the Disney film and J.M. Barrie’s enchanting play. Disney’s Peter Pan, Jr. is a modern musical version of the timeless tale about a boy who wouldn’t grow up. Auditions are open to any school age children (k-12) and are scheduled for May 27th and 28th, 7:00pm at the theatre. Individuals are not required to attend both auditions to be considered for a part, but it is not discouraged. Performance dates for Peter Pan, Jr. are June 27, 28 & 29, 2014.

To accommodate the different interests and talents of local youth, VWCT has added an additional youth theatre production entitled, Camp Omigosh by Wade Bradford. It follows Connor, whose summer is off to a rough start: the camp bus almost crashes, his cabin mates don’t trust him, and the girls on the other side of the camp constantly outsmart him. But when he and his friends Tasha, Parker, and Kimberly investigate the mystery surrounding the “Ghost of Dead Billy,” they begin a hilarious adventure that is worlds away from a typical campfire story. Camp Omigosh is a non-musical and auditions are also open to any student (k-12). Audition dates are July 27th and 28th, 7:00pm at the theatre. Performance dates are August 22nd through the 24th.

The Van Wert Civic Theatre has also announced their 2014-2015 season. First on the lineup is Rumors by Neil Simon being performed September 25th through October 5th followed by Annie, the Musical with performance dates, November 20 through December 6, 2014. Rex’s Exes, a comedy by Jesse Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten will fill the mid-season slot with performances on January 22nd through February 1, 2015. The second to last production is an apocalyptic comedy entitled Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar and Grille by Bruce Graham, show dates March 12th through the 22nd. Lastly, Van Wert area residents will have the opportunity to see a classic board game brought to life in the vivid comedy, Clue, the Musical by Wayne Barker, Galen Blum, Tom Chiodo, Peter DePietro, and Vinnie Martucci, May 7 through 15, 2015.

For more information regarding VWCT Summer Youth Theatre and our 2014-2015 regular season, please “like” us on Facebook, “follow” us on Pinterest and Twitter and visit vwct.org for more information. Thank you, Van Wert area residents, for continuing to support the tradition of quality award winning entertainment at Van Wert Civic Theatre.

Eyes in the back of her head

By Nicholas W McClellan

It’s nearly Mother’s Day and you know what that means: Honor and treat the mothers in your life. If you missed it last weekend, you (and the mothers in your life) still have three more opportunities to see Van Wert Civic Theatre’s production of Insane with Power, by Scott Haan; it’s a super comedy of heroic proportions being performed May 8, 9, and 10.

The story follows Lois Lancaster (Kim Hughes) as she investigates the current state of mental health facilities. What she assumes is going to be a “dry and boring story” turns a little more colorful when she discovers the inmates at the Stanley J. Kirby Psychiatric Hospital have “all concocted elaborate superhero fantasies.”

Lately, with all this talk of superheroes and Mother’s Day just around the corner, I started to think about my mom and how “super” I think she is. One particular event from my childhood, I will never forget (thanks to a supremely large scar on my leg), stands out in my mind. Running in the darkness, I couldn’t see the rusty property marker embedded in the ground. I was racing for my life in an intense game of “jailbreak.” My right calf brushed past the metal stake. It felt like a cat scratch as I continued running. The excitement of the chase was coursing pure adrenaline through my body.

“My leg!” I thought to myself. What I assumed was a minor cut turned out to be a major gash.

I was in a state of shock as I hobbled to our neighbor’s porch. “Ma, ma, mom,” I muttered softly finding it difficult to talk. Instantly, my mother sprang from her chair. Her motherly instincts sensed something was dire. “What’s wrong?” she urgently exclaimed. Standing at the door she quickly got her answer. My previously ordinary mother suddenly became “supermom” as she darted back into the house for medical supplies.

Instantly, she knew what to do. Within ninety seconds, my leg was cleaned and dressed and I was sitting in the passenger seat of our green Aerostar minivan en route to the emergency room. My state of shock began to diminish thanks to my mother’s quick and calm control. After it was all over, the five-inch gash in my leg required fourteen staples and several internal stitches.

At that time in my life, my mother seemed invincible. She was a bona fide superhero who seemed to have an ability to read the minds of her progeny. She could sense when we (my brother and I) were lying, depressed, or most importantly… in danger.

Yet, it seems my mother wasn’t the only person with “eyes in the back of her head.” Come to find out, all mothers possess this superhero trait in regard to their children. Yet, what causes this seemingly psychic connection between a mother and her child?The answer seems rooted in the power of love.

Last year, a team of researches in Tokyo used MRI to observe the brain patterns in mothers. The data revealed that particular areas of the mother’s brain light up when her children are in distress, showing a highly elaborate neural chain reaction corresponding to specific cries. In fewer words, mothers are able to understand (at a subconscious level) the message of their child’s cries.

And that’s not all that makes mothers “super.” According to Katherine Ellison from her book, The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter, mothers experience sharpened senses, which aid them in tending to their children. Women with children have a keener sense of smell (presumably to keep them away from spoiled foods). It seems our mother’s love and superhero status is rooted in a deep biological desire to sustain us… for as long as they humanly can.

Ultimately, my invincible mother isn’t as invincible as my young mind once assumed. She isn’t a superhero, and her health will gradually decline until her final curtain call. The fact that she isn’t a superhero doesn’t diminish my appreciation or my love for her. In fact, it encourages me to love her more knowing my time with her is limited.

I love my mother for every human quality she possesses. She is truly the kindest and most responsible person I’ve ever known. It is because of my mother that I choose to learn from my mistakes and put my best foot forward, everyday. Thank you, Linnette McClellan, for being my mom – I love you!

You too have an opportunity to salute the mothers in your life this Mother’s Day weekend by treating them to a night of laughter at the Van Wert Civic Theatre. Insane with Power, the superhero farce of epic proportions (our last production of the 2013/14 season) has only three more performances: May 8, 9, and 10. All performances are a mere $10 and begin at 8:00 pm. Call 419-238-9689 between 2 pm and 6 pm to make your reservations. “Like” us on facebook, “follow” us on Twitter, and visit vwct.org for more information.

See you at the show, my fellow citizens!

Comic Sans abuse has community in stranglehold

By Nicholas W McClellan

Officials in Van Wert, Ohio reported this morning an alarming and significant rise in Comic Sans abuse, up 32% from last year.

Comic Sans is the fun and bubbly font, beloved by toddlers, clowns, and elementary school teachers from Portland to Boston to type letters to grandma, create a flyer, or compose a worksheet. It’s designed to resemble the lettering in speech bubbles for comic books.

What is troubling, says Van Wert officials, is the recent dramatic rise in abuse of the ubiquitous typeface known as Comic Sans. “It’s crazy,” says Merry Thomas, President of the Van Wert Typography Society (VWTS), “It’s been popping up all over the place. I even saw a tombstone engraved in the font.”

The ultra casual typeface created by Vincent Connare more than 15 years ago began as a project at Microsoft. Now, as its characteristic informal look is being abused here in our own backyard, officials are currently investigating suspects.

At the top of the suspect list, according to Mrs. Thomas, is the Van Wert Civic Theatre. “Their production of Insane with Power, a comic-book inspired farce, definitely has something to do with it,” says Mrs. Thomas. “It’s no coincidence that the Comic Sans abuse in the Van Wert area started just days after VWCT’s Insane with Power went into production.” At current VWTS estimates, abuse rates will rise another 15% by May 1st, the premier of Insane with Power.

The abuse, according to typographers, stems from a lack of public awareness. Comic Sans is a particular style of lettering known as a font, which has flourished with the dawn of the computer age. Each particular font brings with it a personality and meaning. “Awareness of a fonts meaning will ultimately have an effect on one’s use of it. Helvetica is an industry standard, plain and reliable. Times New Roman is classic,” says Dr. Robert Lettermen of the National Institute of Typography.

Originally, Comic Sans was named Comic Book, but Mr. Connare, the creator of the font, thought that didn’t sound like a font name. Instead he used Sans (short for sans-serif) because most of the lettering, except for the uppercase “I”, doesn’t have serifs, the small features at the end of strokes. It was created in response to a test Microsoft program called “Microsoft Bob” which featured a cartoon dog named Rover which would help navigate children and new computer users. Rover gave tips and instructions in a written talk bubble. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Connare, the designers originally used the institutional font Times New Roman to convey Rover’s messages.

For a week, Connare furiously leafed through his comic books to design a font which would resemble the emblematic font used in modern superhero literature. Comic Sans was born! “Comic Sans serves a typographical purpose. It’s not for the side of an ambulance or a police bulletin. It’s to advertise your vast collection of Beanie Babies on eBay,” Merry Thomas says. “The Van Wert Civic Theatre must be held accountable for their role in the rise of Comic Sans abuse cases here in our town!”

Van Wert Civic Theatre has been delivering award winning community theatre in Van Wert, Ohio for generations. Their last production of the 2013/2014 season is Insane with Power by Scott Haan and directed by Bob Howell. It follows Lois Lancaster (Kim Hughes), a big city journalist investigating the current state of mental health facilities in America. It’s at the Stanley J. Kirby Psychiatric Hospital she encounters an interesting group of mental patients. They all act as if they have superpowers inspired from the comic books they religiously read.

“With all the hype surrounding the May 1st premier of Insane with Power at Van Wert Civic Theatre, area residents have began using the font carelessly,” Mrs. Thomas says. “You see, with great fonts come great responsibilities. I will not cease until the public is made aware of the dangers of carelessly used fonts.”

Director Bob Howell is apparently not going to let the current controversy affect his production. “The show must go on!” he says. “We as an organization are not responsible for the abuse of Comic Sans by area residents. We cannot control good taste. Merry Thomas and her fear mongering campaign will not affect the success of our production, Insane with Power, running May 1st through the 10th at VWCT. Interested area residents may place reservations by calling the VWCT box-office at 419-238-9689 between 2:00pm and 6:00pm, Monday through Saturday, starting April 28th.”

With new cases of Comic Sans abuse popping up everyday and the continuing of VWCT’s production of Insane with Power, it’s unclear what can be done to stop this dangerous epidemic.

Less Powerful Than a Locomotive

By Nicholas W McClellan

 

Much slower than a speeding bullet! Far less powerful than a locomotive! Unable to leap tall buildings in a single bound or any amount of bounds! “Look, there on the ground! It’s a road sign! It’s a small tree! It’s a person!”

Sadly, as incredibly talented and amazing as we human beings are, superheroes obviously far surpass us in nearly every way. Most superheroes from Superman to the Human Torch are so incredible and astounding in their powers and abilities that they often seem invincible. The audience expects the superhero to not only be victorious, but also survive… indefinitely.

Yet, while seemingly all the focus of a superhero is centered around his powers, they also have weaknesses. It’s the aspect of a superhero which allows the audience to relate. If superheroes were always successful or they didn’t have an identifiable weakness, viewers and readers would not as easily sympathize.

INSANE with POWER by Scott Haan, Van Wert Civic Theatre’s latest production, will give audience members an incredible opportunity to sympathize and maybe even relate with a cast of colorful lunatics, running May 1st through the 10th. It follows Lois Lancaster who is tracking a cold and boring lead: the current state of the mental health facilities in America. When she discovers the inmates have all concocted elaborate superhero fantasies, her once cold, boring lead gets a lot hotter.

The patients at this psychiatric hospital all proudly proclaim their superhero abilities, but are reluctant to demonstrate them because of a supposed weakness. Take for example INSANE with POWER’s character MENTAL. She has the ability to read minds, but only if she’s alone in the room with another person. Could their weaknesses be too much to overcome or is this just an easy cover story for a group of deranged mental patients? That’s for you, an audience member to decide.

There was a moment in my life when I thought for sure I was crazy. As it turns out, I wasn’t crazy; I was simply having difficulty relating to the people and the world around me. I think many of us have probably felt this way at one point or another. It’s about fitting in with a group, while also standing out individually. It’s about being independent while acknowledging dependence on others.

Knowing the difference between what I am capable of and what I am not is sometimes challenging. In order to do this, I acknowledge and become conscious of both my strengths and my weaknesses. Unfortunately (and fortunately), that list fluctuates from time to time. This requires that I not only be routinely honest with myself, but also with others around me – unless I find out I’m a  superhero and I’m talking to a super-villain bent on thwarting my efforts.

Take Superman, for instance. The only reason he has special powers here on earth is because he’s from a different planet which circles a star much larger than our sun, altering his genetics, making him incredible and impervious to most human dangers. But get him around even a  pebble from his home planet Krypton, his powers are diminished or vanish altogether.

The point is perspective. If I perceive myself to be highly diminished because of my inability or my lack of experience, I will let these inabilities control me and my strengths. This is where a superhero squad really comes in handy. A group of superheroes with a common goal who are all aware of each others great powers… and weaknesses. In this way, they can work in tandem and be even more successful.

This is true for us normal folk, too.  It’s that group comprised of a few close friends and family members. They support me when I stumble and I am happy to do the same for them.

The comically-crazed cast of INSANE with POWER operates in much the same way. They acknowledge each other for their mighty abilities (real or imagined) and for their mighty inabilities while helping and guiding each when appropriate. It’s the people we trust with our weaknesses (and our strengths) that matters more than our strengths alone.

I invite you (and your group of fellow humans) to explore the realm of superheroes at Van Wert Civic Theatre’s production of INSANE with POWER on May 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10. The box-office opens for reservations by the general public starting April 28th, and can be reached by calling 419-238-9689 between 2pm and 6pm, Monday through Saturday. Performances begin at 8pm, except Sunday matinees which begin at 2pm. “Like” us on facebook, “follow” us on Pinterest and Twitter. For more information visit vwct.org.

See you at the show, my fellow citizens.

 

The Inmates are Running the Asylum

By Nicholas W McClellan

For over three weeks, the cast (myself included) and crew of INSANE with POWER have been rehearsing in the newly acquired property next door to the theatre… in the living room. It’s not the largest space in the world, but we’re epically trained actors in the art of superhero impersonation; we will do it!

The change in rehearsal space was to accommodate the Lincolnview Drama Club’s production of You Can’t Take it With You, written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart and directed by Crystal Cully. Their production, which was featured on the VWCT stage (April 11, 12, and 13), was exceptionally funny. The hard work by a dedicated group of students was evident. We here at VWCT are honored and thrilled to facilitate this cooperation of the performing arts in Van Wert, Ohio. Bravo to the Lincolnview Drama Club for an excellent production run.

In just over two weeks, the once domestic setting for You Can’t Take it With You will be transformed into a mental institution (the setting of INSANE with POWER, directed by Bob Howell running May 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10). Yet, the slick rehearsals that we’ve been experiencing as of late didn’t start off so smooth.

Our beloved director, Bob Howell was experiencing some health issues the first week of rehearsals which required emergency medical care. Thankfully, Doug Grooms stepped up, strapped on his cape and spandex and took charge of direction. That is, until he came down with the sniffles and coughs requiring bed rest and a cold compress.

What was a cast to do without any direction? Sit in a room and stare at each other? Cancel rehearsals? NO!

Kari Gall, Dan Hirn, Joe Maurer, Kim Hughes, Tina Kowalski, and myself showed up to every rehearsal for over a week without the assistance of a director. In the process, we successfully blocked act one, ate copious amounts of cookies, chips, crackers, and brownies, and became “super friends”. In essence, the inmates were truly running the asylum.

Thankfully, both Bob Howell and Doug Grooms are back in action as our directorial squad. We hope their renewed health continues. The cast is grateful and appreciative of your efforts – we salute you.

In hindsight though, I think it was the best thing that could have happened to this cast. It required that we be able to talk to each other, collaborate and become a team – which is exactly what this cast of characters is: a group of mental patients who think they are a league of crime fighting, justice seeking superheroes.

In my opinion, the friendship and the fun experienced between the cast and crew of INSANE with POWER will make this production a headline event. I encourage you to summon your inner superhero and join us in the fun May 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, or 10 for this “super comedy of heroic proportions.” The box-office open to the general public starting April 28th. Make your reservations by calling 419-238-9689 between 2pm and 6pm, Monday through Saturday.

See you at the show, my fellow citizens.

The Super Villain of Comic Books

By Nicholas W McClellan

Van Wert Civic Theatre is well into production of its last show of the 2013/14 season with a “super comedy of heroic proportions” entitled Insane With Power, by Scott Haan and directed by Bob Howell.

Insane With Power follows Lois Lancaster (Kim Hughes), a big-city journalist writing about the current state of mental health facilities. Her research takes her to a hospital populated with a unique group of quirky inmates who imagine they are crime-fighting superheroes inspired from the comic books. It’s a mix of Superman meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Comic books entered the literary and visual arts scene in 1933. Initial comic books were merely a reprinting of comic strips which had already established many of the motifs and devices used in comics.

It wasn’t until the late 1940s and early ‘50s that comic books’ reputation came under attack. Fredric Werthman, a distinguished psychiatrist, led a campaign ruthlessly attacking comic books he defined as violent, officially dawning him the villain to the art form of comic books.

In his 1954 bestseller entitled Seduction of the Innocent, Werthman argued that comic books were single handedly perverting the imaginations of children across the nation. Children, according to Werthman were acquiring a “taste for blood and gore” that would prevent them from enjoying literary classics such as Frankenstein, Merchant of Venice and other forms of fine art.

Werthman’s paranoia of the power of comic books led him to believe that Superman was an allusion to Nazi Germany’s SS, Batman and Robin was overtly homoerotic, and the adventures of Wonder Woman would threaten young ladies by turning them into lesbians. During the period in which Werthman made his attacks on the genre, comic books were extremely popular amongst children and young adult readers, selling between 80 and 100 million copies weekly.

While some may still argue Werthman’s dated claims, the moral authorities of the time jumped on the bandwagon. In a post World War II America, religious  and patriotic organizations from shore to shore led mass book burning parties in an attempt to bring attention to the lascivious and violent comic books.

But, it seems Werthman’s argument wasn’t completely paranoid and off-base. He also argued that comic books were filled with misogyny and racism. EC comics regularly featured husbands and wives ending marital spats with knives, axes, and poison. On the racial front, Will Eisner’s much-loved Spirit featured a Sambo-like sidekick named Ebony White, who was childish, had thick lips, and spoke in an illiterate minstrel dialect.

As a result of this moral panic, the once-thriving comic-book industry went into a severe decline. In the two years after Wertham’s book came out, more than a dozen publishers and hundreds of cartoonists left the field. Those publishers that remained were severely restricted by a self-imposed code that prevented comics from publishing anything but the most anodyne kiddies’ fare. Only with the rise of graphic novels in the last few years have comics recovered from the stigma of the Wertham years.

Insane With Power by Scott Haan, being performed at the Van Wert Civic Theatre May 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9 understands comic books quite well and it stands as a hilarious homage to the genre. Fans of comedy and super heroes alike are sure to get a “KAPOW!” out of this epic farce. For more information, visit us at vwct.org, “like” us on facebook and “follow” us on Twitter and Pinterest.

See you at the show, my fellow citizens!

From Communism to Comic Books

By Nicholas W McClellan

Either I’m hungry or I’ve been watching too much Cake Boss on TLC, but I think VWCT’s Don’t Drink the Water was like a perfectly constructed cake. From the moment I picked up the script, I knew this production would become something of comedy legend at Van Wert Civic Theatre. If you were not in attendance for this show (March 13th through the 23rd), you’ll be hearing about it for years to come.

First, there’s the script, a recipe for comedy provided by the famed Woody Allen. His script is light, simple and full of sugar and nuts. A quality recipe isn’t enough though; a great cake needs a great baker and great ingredients.

Don’t Drink the Water was Chris Butturff’s directorial debut here at VWCT and we applaud him! He selected and mixed his ingredients like a veteran baker. The ingredients, the cast, complimented each other perfectly. Steve Lane and Amber Evans executed their roles as Walter and Marion Hollander (tourists from New Jersey) with precise comedic timing and a truly convincing accent. Thanks for being a part of our theatre family, Steve and Amber, and bravo to your performance.

Other standout ingredients of our production came from newcomer Mac King through his portrayal of Axel Magee, the bumbling son to U.S. Ambassador James Magee. Jenna Brunk, also a new face to VWCT, performed her role as Susan Hollander, daughter to Walter and Marion, with the coy touch of a seasoned pro. Mac and Jenna, we hope to see you both again at Van Wert Civic Theatre.

Veteran stage artist Doug Grooms portrayal of Krojack, head of the Communist police, was also utterly absorbing. His harsh brow-line, sneering gaze, and flawless eastern European accent quietly communicated his contempt for all things American; the fact he wielded a gun on stage most of the time didn’t hurt either.

Monica Campbell’s performance of the supremely cantankerous Chef at the U.S. Embassy was delectable. Her authentic, fiery character was a welcome and hilarious ingredient as was Perry S. Luhn’s portrayal of Father Drobney, a Catholic priest on the run for six years from Communist capture. Every fall and every failed magic trick he performed still has me chuckling.

A special thank you also goes out to the supporting cast and crew. Joe Maurer (Kilroy), Gene Craft (Mr Burns), Steve Bricker (Ambassador Magee), Charlie Diefenbacher (Sultan of Bashir), Dave Ricker (Kasnar), Lisa Eichler (Countess Bordoni), Jane Lianez (assistant director), Amy Boley (set and lights), Linda McClure (costumes and props), and Burdette Bollenbaugh (sound) your dedication to Don’t Drink the Water and Van Wert Civic Theatre is sincerely appreciated.

Yet, there’s one last ingredient I’ve left out. That’s where you come in, VWCT audience. Thank you for your time and generous support in our efforts to provide the Van Wert area with award winning community theatre. Your support to the arts is invaluable and we hope to see you again in our auditorium very soon.

Your next opportunity to enjoy our one-hundred percent volunteer theatrical productions begins May 1st with the premier of Insane with Power by Scott Haan, directed by Bob Howell and assisted by Doug Grooms.

This over-the-top, comic book inspired farce begins as Lois Lancaster (played by Kim Hughes)  a big-city journalist, prepares to write a story about the current state of modern mental health facilities. Her research takes her to a hospital populated with a unique group of superheroes. At first, Lois finds their elaborate superhero fantasies to be an entertaining diversion, the wild delusions of unstable minds, until something unusual happens that makes her wonder.

Cast members include Kim Hughes as LOIS LANCASTER, Tina Kowalski as DR. EISNER, Kari Gall as MENTAL, Joe Maurer as SPEED FREAK, Dan Hirn as KEVIN BENDIS, and Nick McClellan as DIM BULB.  Mark those calendars now, this “super comedy of heroic proportions” will be performed May 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10. For more information, visit vwct.org.

Thank you to everyone involved in supporting the arts here in Van Wert, Ohio. See you at the show!

Tell a Fish to Climb a Tree

By Nicholas W McClellan

Thirsty for entertainment? Shake your head “yes” and call the Van Wert Civic Theatre box-office between 2pm and 6pm, today through Saturday to make your reservations for Don’t Drink the Water (remaining performance run March 20th through the 23rd).

The action of this farce, Woody Allen’s first professional produced play, takes place in an American Embassy in an eastern European country under the clenched fist of Communist control. United States Ambassador, James F. Magee (Steve Bricker), is preparing to leave his outpost to pursue the possibility of governorship in his home state.

To be left in charge is the Ambassador’s son and assistant, Axel Magee (Mac King). He’s a pleasant, well-meaning young man whose career in the foreign services has been a series of disasters. He’s always trying, but somehow, everything always manages to go wrong.

For the remainder of the play, Axel is the substitute ambassador. His father has set the bar very high and expects operations at the embassy to “run letter perfect” while simultaneously reminding him of all he has done wrong concerning foreign services (“You were in Brazil for two weeks and you had them importing coffee!”). By setting the expectations at perfection, a degree that no one can live up to, Ambassador Magee has doomed his son to failure. As a substitute teacher, I know a lot about the power of expectations and sympathize with Axel in his new position.

The  first task for any substitute is find the room and look over the teacher’s lesson plans. It has many similarities to an improvised performance. The subject (math, science, English, etc) is the genre of the performance and the teacher’s lesson plans function a lot like rough script – and there’s sure to be plenty of audience interaction.

On this particular day, I am a sixth grade science teacher. Upon entering the room, I quickly scan for open sources of candy, a reward mechanism for students and an energy source for substitutes. Unfortunately, no candy is to be had. The lesson plans are neat and orderly, dictating the schedule of the day and what is to be covered in each section (today we’re discussing plant and animal cells). In addition, the teacher has provided a list of names in each class: the “helpers” and the “trouble-makers.”

A bell rings and the halls fill with bedlam as the student’s go to their lockers and prepare for a day in academia. In small herds, the students enter the room. I introduce myself and take attendance taking special note of the “helpers” and the “trouble-makers.”

The “helpers,” two girls and a boy, are sitting patiently at their desks awaiting further instruction while the two “agitators,” both boys, are out of their seats and talking at full volume. Individually, I approach the misbehaving duo.

Instead of scolding them (reinforcing the label of “trouble-maker”) I give them classroom duties. As the “hooligans” distribute the worksheets on cell structures to their classmates, I begin to explain the assignment. The student “rabble-rousers” now turned classroom “helpers” return to their seat. “Thank you for you assistance, gentlemen. You’re very helpful. Pat yourselves on the back.”

For the remainder of the period, the students defined as “trouble-makers” behave… appropriately. By no means I am suggesting their behavior completely changed, but by reversing the expectation placed on them, they behaved to meet those new expectations. It’s called social-labeling theory, the theory of how self-identity and behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them.

Axel Magee, the son of the ambassador in Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water, has been told for his entire career in foreign services that he is a “screw-up,” a “blunderer” and so his behavior continues to be influenced by this labeling; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s like what Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” If I set unreasonable expectations of someone and judge them based on that, they will fail and judge themselves to be a failure.

Poor Axel Magee. Will anyone ever believe in him? Will someone finally ignore Axel’s international blunders and have faith in him? To find out, please join us for our production of Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water Call 419-238-9689 between 2pm and 6pm, Monday through Saturday to make your reservations. There are only four more performances left, March 20, 21, 22, and 23. Visit vwct.org, “like” us on facebook, and “follow” us Pinterest and Twitter.

See you at the show!

For My Next Trick

By Nicholas W McClellan

“Grandma, watch this!” I shout, entering the room. Grandma Betty is compacting the trash again (a magic trick of her own) by cutting everything into small square pieces. She did this every week, enough to earn the nickname, “Confetti Betty”.

I clear my throat in preparation. “Watch as I turn this ordinary Dixon Ticonderoga pencil into… RUBBER!” In an up-and-down motion, I shake the pencil, parallel to the ground, with a loose grip between my thumb and index finger. I stand tall, assuming my grandma thinks me powerful enough to transmutate wood into rubber.

Yet, my grandma’s “oohs and aahs” were not because she thought I performed actual magic, she cheered because she liked the show (and the performer).

In my youth, I had a “minor obsession” with magic, creating an illusion for a captive audience. I think it’s why I was so drawn to theatre in the first place because it’s also an an act, a purposeful “trick” with an intent to entertain. An audience knows the magic is not real, but they choose to suspend disbelief (hopefully). For example, an audience is not expected to actually believe that a woman is cut or transformed into a gorilla in order to enjoy the performance.

Magic and misdirection are a common motif in many Woody Allen comedy classics. Father Drobney, the narrator of Don’t Drink the Water (premiering March 13th at VWCT), has been taking refuge in an embassy of the United State for over six years to evade capture by Communist police. He’s a Catholic priest and an amateur magician (played by Perry S. Luhn) who resides within a country “where out of four million inhabitants, 3,975,000 are atheists, and about 24,000 are agnostics – and the other thousand are Jewish.” He has a lot of work on his hands, unless he “can attempt the biggest mass conversion in history,” a magic trick of epic proportions.

Actually, the plot of Don’t Drink the Water plays out like one big magic trick, specifically “the escape trick”. But, instead of an escape from a block-of-ice, handcuffs, a straightjacket, or a trunk, the Hollander family (American tourists played by Steve Lane, Amber Evans, and Jenna Brunk) in Don’t Drink the Water have to escape from an Embassy of the United States without being killed by the Communist police who think they’re American spies. Think of it like that one trick where the magician is handcuffed, shackled and placed into a tank of water. If he doesn’t escape from his restraints in three minutes or less, a bucket of flesh eating piranhas are tossed into the tank.

The parallels between theatre and magic are obvious. It’s a lie, a deception, but… an honest one. As an audience member of Don’t Drink the Water, you will not be asked to believe we’ve transported you to a small eastern European country somewhere behind the Iron Curtain (furthermore, it takes place in the 1960’s). What you will be asked to do is not “disbelieve” we’ve kidnapped you and stuck you in a time machine.

In order to do this, director Chris Butturff has assembled a top-notch cast and crew sure to hold your attention long enough to distract you from the fact that you are not inside the walls of an Embassy of the United States (the setting of Don’t Drink the Water), but sitting in an auditorium of a small community theatre, nestled in the heart of Van Wert, Ohio.

It’s what good magic and good theatre do best, suspend your disbelief through the art of distraction. It’s the only way to enjoy theatre and magic, and it’s the only way the Hollanders are going to make it out of the U.S. Embassy without being killed by the Communist police.

So, join us at VWCT for our production of Don’t Drink the Water on March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, or 23 to see the magic of theatre and the art of distraction. Call the VWCT box-office at 419-238-9689 Monday through Saturday between 2pm and 6pm to make your reservations. For more information, visit http://vwct.org.

Fearing the Road Less Traveled

By Nicholas W McClellan

We’ve all heard the phrase “fight or flight” in reference to dealing with stressors and fear.

The characters in Don’t Drink the Water, Van Wert Civic Theatre’s fourth show of the season premiering March 13th are all, for a majority of the show, in a state of fear – with well written comic effect by Woody Allen. They face fears such as living up to the expectations of a successful father, an unhappy marriage, and a failing business.

The action begins as the Hollander family (American tourists played by Amber Evans, Steve Lane, and Jenna Brunk) flee the capture of Communist police who think their spies by taking refuge in an American Embassy. Unfortunately for them, the ambassador is away on business and has left his incompetent son (Axel Magee) in charge. This fear of death unifies most of the characters toward a common goal: surviving.

Yet, the point is not that fear exists, it’s how the characters (and generally all people) handle fear I’m interested in. How does one successfully overcome a stressful (and possibly life-ending) situation? The key, in my opinion, is trust… and a heavy dose of comedy with intended laughter.

For example, I recently had a brush with death. It was a Friday night after a performance of Avenue Q (VWCT’s third show of the season). I was ready for a tall 7&7 and some delicious, free fried chicken wings provided by our esteemed director, Jerry Zimmerman (Jerry co-owns The Fort, a fantastic eatery and bar in the heart of Fort Jennings).

Because my car was in the shop at Hegemier’s, my friend Myron volunteered to drive me to the cast party. Let it be known that though he is a brilliant psychologist, he is not an observant driver. Consequently, if you are ever a passenger in his car – it is absolutely terrifying, even in perfect driving conditions.

The snow began to fall just as the curtain on Avenue Q came down. We headed east on route 30 from Washington.  It was if the snow was attacking us as ferocious winds blasted the rusted metal shell of Myron’s maroon Chevy Lumina. “Please slow down, Myron.” I pleaded.

My heart raced as the road in front of us kept disappearing under the drifting white powder. Each time the wind blew, the road completely vanished for a moment which motivated Myron to swerve right and left in an attempt to “find” the road.

I felt sweat on my forehead and palms. For a moment, the wind died down and a peaceful car ride seemed almost possible. This gave Myron a moment to change the station on the radio. As he fumbled with the dial, the heaviest wind gust of the evening hurled a thick wall of snow. There was no road, houses, street lamps, or sky, just ceaseless white, everywhere.

Suddenly, Myron jerked the wheel to the right, thinking the road had veered. “We are going off the road.” I calmly asserted.

From beneath the vehicle, I  heard repetitive thuds while my body bounced along. “WE ARE IN A CORNFIELD!” This assertion was slightly less calm. Yet, before I could completely lose my cool, Myron had managed to redirect his vehicle back to the road. Disaster was averted.

“Well, that was exciting.” Myron chuckled and continued on his merry way.

I was honestly afraid I might die. Despite the real fear of imminent death, I kept my calm. The last thing that was going to help the situation was to flip out, grab the wheel, and yell obscenities at the top of my lungs. Apparently, it’s feasible to imagine the possibility of your demise and not go completely insane in the process. How was this possible; what allowed me to be rational when confronted with terror?

This was possible because I trust Myron and I’m willing to find humor in most situations. I was able to let go. Without trust (and an ability to laugh), any fear or stressful situation can be consuming.The characters in Don’t Drink the Water, running March 13th through the 23rd at Van Wert Civic Theatre, figure this out, too. The only way the Hollander family is going to escape the embassy is if they have faith in each other and their new friends at the embassy. People need people to live (and to laugh with and at).

I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to trust others (realise what’s out of your control) and laugh whenever possible. I invite you to explore these issues yourself, by joining us at Van Wert Civic Theatre for our production of Woody Allen’s Don’t Drink the Water on March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, or 23. Call 419-238-9689 between 2:00pm and 6:00pm, Monday through Saturday starting March 10th to make your reservations. “Like” us on facebook and “follow” us on Pinterest and Twitter. For more information visit http://vwct.org

Don’t miss this show. Trust me!

WARNING: DON’T DRINK THE WATER

By Nicholas W McClellan

DDWfb3For three long days, I thought about it, the title to Woody Allen’s comedy-classic, Don’t Drink the Water, currently in production at Van Wert Civic Theatre. I read the script twice, thinking to myself, “Did I miss something?” No where in the script does it mention anything about water.

Could the title just be a simple idiom, a warning to those traveling abroad? Let’s look at the premise for this production. At the center of the action is Axel Magee (Mac King), son to Ambassador James F. Magee (Steve Bricker). Axel has been left in charge of the embassy while his father is away on business. Unfortunately (fortunately for audience members), the Ambassador’s son “is the only man in the history of the foreign service to accidentally wrap his lunch in a peace treaty.”

Just moments after the Ambassador is out the door, pandemonium ensues! An American tourist (Steve Lane), a caterer by trade, his wife (Amber Evans)  and his daughter (Jenna Brunk) rush into the embassy two steps ahead of the Communist police who suspect them of spying. With the assistance of Axel Magee and a Catholic Priest (who’s also an amateur magician performed by Perry S. Luhn) the family carefully plot their escape from the embassy and the clutches of Communism.

Apparently, the answer is yes; Don’t Drink the Water, premiering March 13th, has nothing to do with water or the consumption of it. But, that didn’t stop me from doing some exhaustive googling concerning water in attempt to relate the title to themes within the show.

Encouraging someone to “not drink the water” when traveling brings up issues of trust, a principal theme of Don’t Drink the Water. It’s about relationships, the bonds between family members, between near-strangers. Its about a mutual dependence between individuals to accomplish something and in the process, becoming more than individuals. They become a team (Democracy versus Communism. Spoiler alert: Democracy wins!).

Water acts in very much the same way. For millennia, scientists considered water an element all on its own, but a water molecule contains one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. These atoms are bound together by shared electrons.

The natural water molecule has a ‘V’ shape; in electrical terms, it is polar, meaning that one side of the molecule carries a negative charge (the oxygen atom) and the other side carries a positive charge (the hydrogen atoms). In this way, a water molecule is somewhat like a magnet. But, it’s not enough for this newly formed molecule of water to simply exist on its own. Because of their natural polarity, water molecules attract one another and stick together. Not only does hydrogen and oxygen want to share resources (electrons), they want to work closely together.

The characters in VWCT’s production of Don’t Drink the Water may not be as willing to work side by side when facing adversity as our pals oxygen and hydrogen (i.e. the blunders, buffoonery, and the ego trips which are a source of non-stop laughs). Yet, once they learn about themselves, discover what each other has to offer, they begin to understand that the only way to escape the embassy without dying at the hands of the Communist police is to bond, trust each other and work as a team.

ddweventprep3Thankfully for our lives and our survival, hydrogen and oxygen have been a team since just shortly after the Big Bang. And even though Woody Allen may have never meant the title of Don’t Drink the Water to be anything more than a reference to the dangers of traveling in foreign lands, I think a little understanding of how water works relates poignantly to the plot and the importance of interdependence. Without each other, we are less likely to succeed, let alone survive.

The completely volunteer cast of of Don’t Drink the Water has been working together and bonding for over a month and is nearly ready to present a night of pure comedy from the mind of the Woody Allen. Support the arts and community by joining us on March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, or 23. The box-office opens to the general public March 10th. Call 419-238-9689 between 2pm and 6pm, Monday through Saturday to make your reservations. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit http://vwct.org, “like” us on facebook, and “follow” us on Pinterest and Twitter.

Ice hope to sea you at the show and if you can think of some better water related puns, let minnow.

Eight Doors and a Fart

By Nicholas W McClellan

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Don’t miss your chance to see this slice of Americana by Woody Allen on March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, or 23!

“What’s the next play at VWCT?” Merry Thomas asks me while we enjoy our chocolate long-johns from Brookside.

With cream stuck to the edges my mouth, “It’s called Don’t Drink the Water, a Woody Allen farce about this New Jersey family on the run from the Communist police who think they’re spies and have to take refuge in an American embassy run by the son of the ambassador, an incompetent young man who’s been banned from the continent of Africa.”

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Precious Chell is about to make a scrumptious meal. You can tell because she’s wearing an apron.

“You know what,” says Merry as she pets her precious ‘lil beagle named Chell, “we’ve deboned our fair share of farces over the years, starred in quite a few, and even had some email correspondence with the likes of Pat Cook and Billy Van Zandt (famous playwrights); I bet we could write a farce of our own.”

Merry scrambles to get her dainty Miss Piggy notepad in preparation for milling some ideas. I can see the metaphorical cogs in her brain beginning to turn as she scratches her head with the eraser of a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil. “We needs lots of doors, like eight of ‘um” she exclaims, her pencil furiously scribing, “with really strong hinges!” A common bit within a traditional farce is a ton of fast-paced stage entrances and exits.

“Do we want a ghostly element? Or maybe a dead body that the cast keeps losing track of?” I add to keep the thought-snowball rolling. “All of the above?” she replies in a half-question, half-statement.

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Marnie (Amber Evans) gets up close and personal with the handyman (Chris Burkheimer) as Midge (Merry Thomas) looks on in horror (WRONG WINDOW – VWCT 2012)

“And it seems like every farce we’ve been in ends with a joke from lamesville. It’s like a fart in the audience’s face. Remember Marnie’s lines at the end of Wrong Window last year at VWCT (played by Amber Evans who is also starring in our current production Don’t Drink the Water)?”

“What if at the end of our farce, the entire cast does a chorus line to a zippy-tune and then turns around and simultaneously farts at the audience and then curtain closes?” I enquire. My question is met with dumbstruck silence. Suddenly, Merry enthusiastically retorts, “YYESSS! We’re doing this This is a thing!” as she continues to take notes.

For over an hour, Merry and I researched the genre of farce laying the foundation for our play. “Farce” as defined on Wikipedia, is “a comedy that depends for its humor on quick and surprising turns of events and on exaggerated characters and situations, or the type of humor characteristic of such a play.”

Dionysus is makin’ it rain!

Farces found their start with the Greeks, through the Satyr play in honor of Dionysus (god of the grape harvest) These were bawdy tragicomedies that were overflowing with mock drunkenness, sight gags, pranks and general wackiness. These were followed by the Atellan Farce. Popular in ancient Rome and named after the town Atella where they originated, Atellan Farces were rife with low-brow humor and buffoonish comedy. Japan also got in the on the act with Kyōgen plays, absurd interludes meant as intermissions to the more solemn Noh plays.

Even the greatest writers in the English language tried their hand at farce. Geoffrey Chaucer’s immortal “The Canterbury Tales” has elements of farce, while anyone familiar with William Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors” can attest to the Bard’s abilities with the absurd. The United States naturally gave the farce its own American zap of zaniness, most notably with the screwball comedies of the 1930s.

Farce, having once been relegated to the lowest level of the series headed by tragedy, has a dozen definitions in standard reference books that testify to the fact that it is a “low” form of theatrical presentation, the sole object of which, according to resources, is to excite laughter. I strongly disagree with these assertions.

woodyOur current production, Don’t Drink the Water by Woody Allen is certainly not the village idiot of the performing arts. Like all of Woody Allen’s scripts, it has heart and depth in addition to a generous helping of slapstick and horseplay. Mark your calendars now. Don’t Drink the Water will be performed March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23 at the Van Wert Civic Theatre. The box-office opens to the general public beginning March 10. Please join us as we continue VWCT’s own tradition of fantastic, absurdly funny farces. Like us on facebook, follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and visit http://vwct.org for more informtion.

Also, keep an eye out for Merry Thomas and Nick McClellan’s two-act farce entitled, Eight Doors and a Fart – coming to a community theatre near you (maybe).

Open Letter to Vladimir Putin

By Nicholas W McClellan

Good day to you! My name is Nicholas Wade McClellan, board member at the Van Wert Civic Theatre in Van Wert, Ohio.

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I’m writing to you today to discuss a few things that have been on my mind and to inform you of our next production, Don’t Drink the Water by Woody Allen. This farce, which takes place in or around your beloved homeland during the heart of the Cold War, premiers on the VWCT stage starting March 13.

Now, on to the meat of my discussion. It’s been over twenty years since the Cold War ended, but recently I’m thinking we should put that Iron Curtain back up. Amid daily reports of blunder after blunder surrounding the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, it boggles the mind to conceive that you spent $51 billion dollars in preparation. Meanwhile, Olympians are without proper drinking water, chairs, or Chobani Greek yogurt and your Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak let slip that at least some showers have surveillance cameras pointed toward them.

putintoiletI used to think you were cooler than Optimus Prime. You were a secret-agent and then segued your ultra-diplomatic prowess to become the leader of the entire Western Bloc. While at the helm of Russia, you sextupled the GDP and doubled the average national wage. And now, in 2014, you can’t even provide stalls with a single toilet  – nope, two-toilet-stalls for everybody!

putinjetBack in 2010, while wildfires nearly decimated Ryazan region of Russia, did you get into your favorite suit to assure local residents? No, of course not! You strapped yourself into a Beriev BE-200 amphibious aircraft and let the Putin fury spray down onto the raging inferno below, single handedly beating the fire into submission. Mother Russia: 1; Mother Nature: 0.

PutinJudoIn addition to your command over nature, you blew my mind with your supreme Judo skills. In 2003 when you visited Japan on official trade business, instead of a presentation with a series of ceaseless pie charts and graphs, you showcased your ability to beat the Japanese at their own sport as you performed immobilization techniques, sweeps, and throws. I’m on chapter three of your book, Judo: History, Theory and Practice. It’s riveting, sir.

You astonished me with your command of what really succeeds on the internet. While most world leaders go on palavers of how their going to reduce national deficits, raise education standards, and promote green energy, you ask, “can you help me name my new puppy?” Nailed it, Vladimir. In addition, you promised to single-handedly read every single suggestion. Though you did not choose “Poochki” (which is what I offered), I admired your harnessing of social media stardom. How is Buffy doing, by the way?

putinbatmanMy personal favorite Putinism came a few years back whilst you were trolling diplomatic cables. You came across one which described you as ‘Batman’. In an interview with Larry King, what was your response to being compared to a superhero? “Slanderous!” you said. Not only did your political opponents find you more brute than the most awesomest superhero of all time, you found it offensive.Touché, Putin.

putinwaterYou held a special place in my heart, right up there with Chuck Norris and the guy from the Dos Equis commercials. You were a man’s man. Now, as the 2014 Winter Olympics are well underway, competitors are finding it difficult to find a clean glass of drinking water from your newly furnished faucets. I guess the old adage is true when traveling abroad (especially in Eastern Europe), “don’t drink the water”. What happened to the mythical beast that was Vladimir Putin, huh?

All puns aside, this leads me to my second point. I realize organizing an international event isn’t easy. I have to make four or five trips back into the house before I can officially leave for work in the morning, so I understand. Please don’t take my comments and criticisms too seriously; you’re still one of the most compelling world leaders of all time.

DDWlogo3In my ceaseless pondering, I’ve developed a solution to US and Russian relations, which I think may redeem your street-cred. I would like to graciously invite you to come see Van Wert Civic Theatre’s production of Woody Allen’s Broadway classic, Don’t Drink the Water, being performed March 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23. This humble farce is about the cooperation and hostilities that have existed between our beloved homelands for generations. In your infinite wisdom, I am confident you will find VWCT’s production a welcome retreat to the media circus you have been experiencing as of late. Let us take the spotlight for a moment. Three free tickets to a world of entertainment await you, Vladimir (and two of your friends).

 If you’d like more information on our fourth show of the season, please visit http://vwct.org, “like” us on facebook, and or follow us Twitter and Pinterest. See you at the show, Vladimir!

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