Spring semester classes at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, are drawing to a close and the students in Geoffrey Nelson’s two theatre classes are completing major projects rather than final exams.
In Acting Realism I, students perform two-character scenes from the play Really Really by Paul Downs Colaizzo. Written when the author was 21 years old, this scathing comedy/drama focuses on a group of seniors who are about to graduate from an elite private college when they become embroiled in the furor surrounding an accusation of rape. Really Really premiered in 2013 to very strong reviews.
In Nelson’s second class, Theatre Style and Creation, the final project for the students involves designing Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive.
The class is divided into teams of four, with each team including a set, costume, lighting and sound designer. In addition to submitting their research, designs, analysis, plans or plots and cue sheets, each group must do a PowerPoint presentation of their work for the other members of the class.
The is the fourth time Geoff has taught both classes at Denison.
Geoffrey Nelson will be the guest director for Shakespeare’s Richard III at Denison University next winter.
Nelson’s previous Shakespearean productions have included Measure for Measure, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew.
He also spent four seasons as an actor with Shakespearean companies in Maine (The Theatre at Monmouth) and Montana (Shakespeare-in-the-Parks). Among his Shakespearean roles are Cassius in Julius Caesar, Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing.
He has also played Polonius in a modern-dress film adaptation of Hamlet (see earlier post here).
Geoffrey Nelson is appearing as “Harry” in Harold Pinter’s The Collection at the Short North Stage this month. Like many of Pinter’s early plays, this “Comedy of Menace” mixtures dark humor with an undercurrent of violence, threats and seduction.
A co-production of SNS and Wild Women Writing, the play is directed by Katherine Burkman and forms the first act of a bill of short plays by Pinter and Beckett. The other plays include “Victoria Station” and “Night” by Pinter and “Rockabye” by Beckett.
Nelson, an Equity actor, is no stranger to Pinter, having performed in The Birthday Party, No Man’s Land and The Dumb Waiter (four times). He has also directed productions of Old Times, The Homecoming, The Revue Sketches and The Birthday Party.
Last season, Geoff directed Short North Stage’s production of Charles Busch’s The Divine Sister.
A Portable Theatre’s production of Tales from the Grave, a live radio drama based on classic ghost stories created and directed by Geoffrey Nelson, opened last night in the Chappelear Drama Center at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware. Performed as a part of OWU’s annual Performing Arts Series, Tales featured Equity actors Damian Bowerman, Jon Farris, Jonathan Putnam and Ed Vaughan.
Adapted from Charles Dickens’s “The Signalman,” Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Body Snatcher,” Tales also includes a satirical excerpt of the popular radio (and later TV) program Gunsmoke, live sound effects created by the actors, and humorous commercials.
APT will offer additional performances of Tales from the Grave next October during Halloween season and the show will be available for tour bookings.
Geoff Nelson conducted a Master Class yesterday for theatre students at Ohio Wesleyan University, the third such presentation he has done at the Delaware, Ohio, school.
The focus of this workshop was on “Starting Your Own Theatre Company.” Nelson was the founder and for 26 years the artistic director of CATCO, a professional theatre in Columbus, Ohio, and since 2012 has been the Founding Artistic Director of A Portable Theatre, a professional touring company.
The workshop was timed to coincide with APT’s performance of Tales from the Grave, directed and written by Nelson, which will premiere tonight as part of the OWU Performing Arts Series.
Geoffrey Nelson’s production of the Alan Bennett comedy-drama Talking Heads for A Portable Theatre recently premiered with performances at the BalletMet Performance Space in downtown Columbus, at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Clintonville and at the Abbey Theater of Dublin (a preview performance was given at the Franklin Park Conservatory near Bexley this past summer).
Featuring veteran Equity actresses Linda Dorff, Kerry Shanklin and Anne Diehl, Talking Heads includes three of the twelve monologues playwright Bennett originally wrote for BBC Television in the late 1980’s and 1990’s under the same title.
“Waiting for the Telegram” is about Violet (Dorff), a very elderly woman who has suffered a stroke and is now recuperating in a nursing home. While she has lost some of her memory, Violet has lost none of her wicked sense of humor.
“A Lady of Letters” is about Miss Roddick (Shanklin), a middle-aged recluse who writes one poison-pen letter too many.
“Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet” is about a middle-aged and somewhat prim department store saleswoman (Diehl) whose uneventful life takes an unexpected turn when she visits a new chiropodist, Mr. Dunderdale.
All three pieces are laced with humor, but are also poignant and provocative. Talking Heads has been successfully performed both on London’s West End (twice) and for a long Off-Broadway run in New York. The plays have won numerous awards and have been performed all over the English-speaking world. Following the premiere, Heads will be available for tour bookings from APT.
Charles Busch’s comedy The Divine Sister opened recently at the Short North Stage in Columbus, directed by Geoffrey Nelson.
Busch, who is best-known for his drag performances in leading roles in his own plays, is the author of such off-off-Broadway hits as Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Psycho Beach Party and Die, Mommie, Die! Many of his plays both satirize and celebrate classic films and their leading ladies.
In his 2010 comedy The Divine Sister, Busch creates a pastiche of nun movies, including The Song of Bernadette, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Black Narcissus, Doubt and in particular two Rosalind Russell/Haley Mills films of the 1960’s, The Trouble With Angels and Where Trouble Goes, Angels Follow.
This is not director Nelson’s first foray into drag comedy, for he has twice played the leading female role in The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam, most recently in 2010 at CATCO in a production that he co-directed.
Chiquita Mullins Lee’s play Pierce to the Soul, which received its world premiere in 2010 at CATCO under Artistic Director Geoffrey Nelson (see earlier post), is now touring Ohio in a new production by A Portable Theatre.
This one-man play is based on the life of internationally-renowned folk artist Elijah Pierce, who for many decades was a barber and lay preacher in Columbus.
Directed by Nelson and featuring Equity actor Alan Bomar Jones, the play has been revised by the author to make it suitable for touring. “The original was a two-act play,” said Nelson. The revised version is in one act and the running time has been reduced by ten minutes. “All-in-all,” said Nelson, “it is now a tighter and even more dramatic play than it was originally.”
Pierce is one of many world premieres produced by Nelson, who has a strong interest in the development of New Works.
This year’s all-state Thespian production, Jeffrey Hatcher’s comedy-drama Good ‘N’ Plenty, was performed yesterday at the annual Thespian conference, held at the Dublin-Scioto High School. Directed by Geoffrey Nelson, Good ‘N’ Plenty featured a large cast comprised of some of the very best high school actors and actresses in the state. Two performances of the play were given for a total audience of approximately 1500 students and teachers.
The play is set in 1976 at Wintersville High School in eastern Ohio — the same high school that playwright Hatcher attended (he graduated that year). The action revolves around the conflict between a hip young social studies teacher and an older, more conservative female English teacher and a game designed to explore the concept of democracy that goes horribly by humorously awry.
For this production, Nelson utilized student dramaturges — the first time they had been included on a thespian show. One of them tracked down the 1976 Wintersville yearbook and made the discovery that several of the characters are based on real people! Nelson, who has worked on a number of plays by Hatcher, also made an arrangement for the dramaturges to interview him about the play and his own high school experience. The interview was printed in the program.
“Playwriting and the Playwright,” a Freshman writing-intensive course devised by Geoffrey Nelson, is being offered at Denison University this semester. Focusing on both creative and expository writing, the class allows students to study traditional dramatic structure, playwriting, theatre criticism and dramatic literature.
In addition to writing critiques of scripts such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Doubt, students will also watch interviews with playwrights such as Harold Pinter, Alan Ayckbourn and Edward Albee discussing their approaches to writing. After several shorter playwriting exercises (one, for instance, focused on writing dialogue and another on exposition), the class will culminate in the writing of a 10-page play.
Taking advantage of the Jonathan R. Reynolds Playwright-in-Residence program this semester, students will also attend the world premiere of The Malvolio Project by Betty Shamieh, produced by the Department of Theatre, and then have the opportunity to ask the playwright questions when she visits the class.
The chief textbook for the course is The Art and Craft of Playwriting by Jeffrey Hatcher, a Denison alumni.