HISTORY & ORIGIN OF SERIOUS PLAY!
Since my graduation from Smith College in 1989 with
my Masters. in Theatre, the ending of the funding of my 3 year theater-writing residencies with women in Massachusetts prisons, and the last presentation of the tour of the original script created and performed with female inmates, "Ain't No Man Dragged That Moon Down Yet", I have been developing a physical acting and ensemble building process with a focus first on young adults 15 -26 years old and later with actors of all ages. It was the women with whom I worked so closely in Massachusetts prisons (1986-1989), who urged me to work with young adults first! The inmates felt that my theatrical process and style of self-expression could help save lives. I often created work through personal narrative work. As Richard Schnectner said to Spalding Gray, learn to play yourself first. Then I would stylize our work into text and image.
Following my graduation from Smith, I continued experimenting and developing my ideas as to how to teach and direct theatre with young adults at the Drama Studio in Springfield, with the TEAM Players project in residence in area high schools in the Pioneer Valley, and with a Youthreach project at StageWest in inner city Springfield. Many of the young adult artists whom I encountered in these projects wanted to further explore in-depth the art of physical theatre. Their desire for a more rigorous actor-training program led to the creation of Serious Play! Intensive Theatre Training (SPITT), which began in 1992 as a summer explorative program on the Smith College campus. In 1993, I was pleased to be accepted into the Event and Residency Program of the Mass. Cultural Council continuing my long-standing relationship with the Council through my non-profit arts organization, Cultural Images Group Inc., Northampton. In 1995, Serious Play! Theatre Ensemble was formed and we were invited to establish year round residence with APE/Third Floor Artspace, Thornes Marketplace,Northampton. Here we could teach, experiment, stage and produce our unique physically based theatre.
Having trained as an actress in the 1970's at Stage One Theatre Lab in Boston where we worked with the physical acting theories of Jerzy Grotowski and the Polish Theatre Lab and Joseph Chaikin's Open Theatre, and after using large scale shadow screen techniques to involve prison inmates in gesture and physical performance, I became interested in the stylized theatre training of Japanese director, Tadashi Suzuki. I received grants for workshops in the Suzuki method with Anne Bogart's SITI Company in New York and with Eric Hill at StageWest. I trained with Kristin Linklater and the Company of Women in Boston to explore the actor's voice-body connection.
Through my contact with Jonathan Croy, and Shakespeare and Company, Lenox, and our combined collaborations, I have found the Suzuki physical training to merge well with the Linklater vocal training and I have used both in my work with the Serious Play! Ensemble. I find the Suzuki work is very accessible to beginning actors restoring the wholeness of the body as a tool for theatrical expression. The Linklater process deepens the actor's interior work discovered in the connection of voice, body, breath and emotional release.
Since ensemble theatre director, Anne Bogart, and I are friends as well as colleagues having met here in Northampton on a collaborative theatre project in 1982, I have kept abreast of the development of her work with the VIEWPOINTS, an improvisational vocabulary and a compositional theory. These Viewpoints are a set of names given to basic principles of movement and experimental theatre (space, body shape, time, tempo, duration, repetition, kinesthetic response, gesture, spatial relationship, architecture etc.) These names make up a language for talking about what happens or works on stage. It allows actors and directors to collectively create together.
For the Serious Play! Theatre Ensemble, the process of theatre-making is not an intellectual exercise, but a physical discovery. We work collectively toward the replacement of scene-centered theatre, with a theatre of sound, space, movement and text interpretation, which calls upon an actor's total physical expressiveness.
The ensemble organically transformed into a multi-generational theatre ensemble with work on our original production “Matermorphosis”. The organization now includes a Core Company of dedicated, self-motivated, and skilled actors (Associate Artists) who teach physical acting technique in an ensemble setting. The Teaching Artist Associates conduct workshops, residencies and lecture-demonstrations within high schools, colleges and other community settings. Led by actor-director-teacher, Sheryl Stoodley, Serious Play! shares and trains adolescent and adult actors in a variety of ensemble acting techniques with a focus on “total physical expressiveness on stage”, including those of Anne Bogart, Tadashi Suzuki, Ruth Zaporah, Joe Chaikin, Steve Wangh and Kristin Linklater. Serious Play! Theatre Ensemble is committed to preserving ensemble theatre as an art form and is a member of the Network of Ensemble Theatres USA., a Colleague with the MCC, and locally an Artist Associate with Northampton’s APE.
Included among Serious Play! Theatre Ensemble’s many productions directed primarily S. Stoodley are:
a new adaptation of ‘Troilus and Cressida’; ‘BendiciÛn’ by Greta Sanchez; ‘Boriqua: Inside Out,’ an adaptation of the play by Delores Prida; ‘Coastline,’ a new work by Alice Tuan; ‘What’s Left is Not Right: Marat/Sade’, with new music by Elizabeth Swados; ‘Becoming Antigone,’ developed in collaboration with Stephen Sapp and Mildred Ruiz of Universes; ‘Hamlet – Asalto a la Inocencia,’ a reinterpretation with new text by Migdalia Cruz; an original work, ‘Table of Content, Tales of the Lost Formicans’ by Connie Congdon; an adaptation The Open Theatre’s ‘ A Fable’ by Jean Claude Van Itaille; and an adaptation of ‘Titus Andronicus’ in collaboration with Jonathan Croy of Shakespeare and Company. ‘Coastline’ which toured to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. ‘Marat/Sade’ toured to New York City and London. ‘Hamlet’ toured to the 5th International Women Playwrights’ Festival in Athens, Greece. The Ensemble performed ‘Matermorphosis,’ Haitian-American playwright Lenelle Moise’s new adaptation of Franz Kafka’s short story ‘Metamorphosis.’ This piece toured to the KO Theatre Festival in the summer of 2008.
In 2008, Artistic Director, Sheryl Stoodley & Serious Play! commissioned Serbian-American playwright & UMass professor Milan Dragicevich to write a play about the rise to power of Serbia’s
Slobadan Milosevic. This play asked key questions about the role of avenging angels, like NATO, in combating a tyrannical regime. Can the NATO “rescuers” use stunning violence in opposing a ruthless dictator? Will the use of massive bombing set the world aright? Who should be held responsiible for the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets? When do the ends justify the means? The play asks whether the mighty of the world are exempt from the very same laws imposed on the defeated. How do we define justice—and is justice wooed by political machinations?
This challenging and inspired collaboration led to the creation and production of “Milosevic at the Hague” which opened in Northampton at APE and played to sold out houses and then was invited to the JoakimInterfest in Serbia in October 2009. Here the piece was enthusiastically received and it won an international award from the JoakinInterfest for Dramatic Innovation. The Ensemble presented stage readings of NYC Playwright Jessica Litwak’s original plays “Snake and the Falcon” and “Wider Than The Sky” in the fall and winter of 2010 at APE. “Wider Than The Sky” was invited to the Museum of Science Boston for a staged reading that August.
Also in August of 2011, SPITT Ensemble Alum, Toby Bercovici ( recent grad from the MFA directing program at UMass) edited and directed a production of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear” at the Northampton Center for the Arts. This production, “OF TULYGODS AND TIME- THE TALE OF KING LEAR” featured SPITT Alum, Dan Morbyrne as Lear and included long time SPITT Alumni: Arnaldo Rivera as Gloucester, and Ellen Morbyrne, as Goneril . All three have trained with Shakespeare and Co. Lenox and the combination of SPITT training and Shakespeare & Co. made for a strong performances.
In February 2012, Artistic Director, Sheryl Stoodley, staged a dramatic reading of Eve Ensler’s “I AM AN Emotional Creature-the Secret Lives of Girls Around the World” at the APE downtown Northampton. This included young women from all over the Pioneer Valley -from Springfield to the hill towns. Many audience members have asked for this reading to happen again because they were so moved by the event!
In the summer of 2012, Sheryl Stoodley and Toby Bercovici developed a devised physical theatre work inspired by the gestural language, rehearsal process and images of the late German choreographer, Pina Bausch. This new piece, the BLIND DREAMERS-META/PINA PROJECT, opened in August at the Northampton Center for the Arts. Presently Serious Play! is working to reshape and remount this original devised work for performance and touring this summer and next fall.
A Project of Cultural Images Group, Inc
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