Wednesday, April 24, 2013

ALS Association meets with 33 Variations

 Two representatives from the National Executive Staff of the ALS Association met with the cast of 33 Variations on April 14 to discuss Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), current clinical maintenance of the disease and research for future treatment protocols, and resources for ALS patients and their families. Pictured with the cast, Joanna Henry (Director), and Margaret Evans-Joyce (President, LTA) are Michelle Powers Keegan, Chief Development Officer, and Lance Slaughter, Chief Chapter Relations Officer.   ALS was first described in 1869 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, but it wasn't until 1939 that Lou Gehrig brought national and international attention to the disease when he abruptly retired from baseball after being diagnosed with ALS. The mission of the ALS Association is to lead the fight to treat and cure ALS through global research and nationwide advocacy while also empowering people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and their families to live fuller lives by providing them with compassionate care and support. For more information on ALS and the ALS Association, please reference the web site  LTA would like to thank Michelle and Lance for helping to lead the way for ALS awareness.


Ken Gaul (Anton Schindler) from LTA's 33 Variations

Thoughts on "Discovery"

Hello, world!  My name is Ken Gaul, and I am currently playing Anton Schindler in LTA’s 33 Variations.  We are merely days away from opening this production, and the myriad moving pieces are all falling into place; exciting times!  I find myself particularly contemplative today, reflecting on how, just weeks ago, the cast and crew began this great voyage together.  We did not yet know where the journey would take us, but we embarked nevertheless with courage and determination.  Through LTA’s blog, I get to tell you a bit about it!

The main action of 33 Variations, as summarized on the LTA page, concerns an eminent musicologist who is determined to discover the reason Beethoven spent so much time writing a series of variations on a second-rate waltz he once described as “a cobbler’s patch”.  The spark behind my post here is that word “discover.”  33 Variations is all about discovery – but I’m afraid I can’t elaborate too much on this specific point without depriving our audiences of the joy of that discovery.  And that is something to be treasured!  We are very into “spoilers” as a culture nowadays; one has to make a conscious effort to avoid having the ending to a book, TV show, film, or video game ruined for them.  We’re even more obsessed with the shortest and fastest means to get a point across, and that stands contrary to the experience of art of any kind.  It shouldn’t be just about the destination, but how you get there.  Never underestimate the value of the “slow burn.”

What I can do is talk about my experience of discovery while being part of this show.  The script is particularly strong.  Our wonderful director has a definitive vision, and, more compellingly, the ability to inspire people to make that vision a reality.  For stage-mates, I have a great group of people, all of whom are able to, with the slightest expression or inflection, reveal the different shades of their characters in all their humor, madness, joy, and despair.  We have a pianist who creates an equally dynamic character with his interpretation of the music itself.  And with the crew, the set, the lights, the sounds, the singing, the dancing (!), the props, the costumes, the hair/makeup (including all the people who have tirelessly worked to create, manage, and operate those elements), and everything else – there has been so much to discover in this journey.  Every day of rehearsal has brought to light different layers of this show as all these elements, in their own due time, coalesce.  I look at the script now and I see so much “between the lines” that I could never have found on my own.  It’s a treat. 

The final layer is, of course, you – the audience.  Our journey of discovery begins again with you out there in front of us, and we are so excited to have you come along.  

- Ken Gaul

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Elliott Bales (Beethoven) from LTA's 33 Variations

The first thing I noticed when I looked at a portrait of the character I am to play, Ludwig van Beethoven, was that he has much more hair than me. As I delved deeper, I discovered that his height was estimated to be 5 feet 4 inches, so I have a foot on the Master. Then I began to read the history of Beethoven and realized that our physical differences were nothing compared to the can of worms that represents what is allegedly known or thought about the composer. The fact is, that the facts about Beethoven pale in comparison to the myths, legends, speculations, and downright falsehoods of his contemporaries, biographers, worshippers, detractors, and story tellers. What we know about Beethoven is actually much less than what some people think they know.

As an actor, this creates a bit of a dilemma. Who is this man I play? How did he feel? What did he think? How did he move? Unfortunately, as is often the case, there are only glimpses of his reality from letters and comments of his own making and some from his contemporaries. There is a tremendous collection of primary source historical documents gathered in the Beethoven Haus in Bonn, Germany, Beethoven’s birthplace. Unfortunately, neither the LTA budget nor my personal finances would support a research trip to the archives, and it is almost 15 years since I last lived in Germany so my language skills are a bit rusty. I do clearly remember “Ein Bier, bitte” (oder zwei, oder drei), which may also explain why LTA chose not to send me there. So our excellent director, Joanna Henry and I were left to rely on secondary sources to fill in our historical knowledge, complete with those authors’ guesses, prejudices, and personal preferences.

What I found myself left with were several key pieces of information that formed our approach to the character of Beethoven in 33 Variations. First, we have remained focused and bounded by Moises Kaufman’s exceptional story, and the words of the script. Almost all of Beethoven’s lines come straight from letters Beethoven wrote, or from quotes attributed to him by contemporaries. Second, we pulled out the facts (born, 1770 in Bonn; died 1827 in Vienna; he became completely deaf during the period covered in the play) and they gave us costumes, customs and courtesies. Finally, we have the magnificent music the Master composed to serve as both muse and guide. Ultimately the fusion of the play, the history, and music shaped all of the choices that we offer as a representation of Beethoven in our production.

Beethoven is a volatile and enigmatic character. He is caught between the forces of politics and art; the stratification in the society of his time and his passion for republicanism; his desire for wealth and his refusal to subjugate his art for its gain; his strong religious ideology and his “lusts of the flesh”. Like most of us, he cannot maintain a balance between these forces, but is thrown back and forth between the polar opposites in his mind as the stresses and strains and frailties of his humanness crash against the shore of his desired better self. It is his reflection on these struggles during the solitude of his deafness that we hear so vividly in the Missa Solemnis, the Diabelli Variations, and the glorious 9th Symphony. 

It is a testimony to the dramatic arts and its power to tell stories and capture great moments that Beethoven’s funeral oration was written by a Viennese dramatist, Franz Grillparzer. Even more fitting that his powerful words were spoken by the renowned Viennese actor Heinrich Ansch├╝tz:
“An instrument now stilled. Let me call him that! For he was an artist, and what he was, he was only through art. The thorns of life had wounded him deeply, and as the shipwrecked man clutches the saving shore, he flew to your arms, oh wondrous sister of the good and true, comforter in affliction, the art that comes from on high! He held fast to you, and even when the gate through which you had entered was shut, you spoke through a deafened ear to him who could no longer discern you; and he carried your image in his heart, and when he died it still lay on his breast.”

-Elliott Bales, 33 Variations