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Midseason Musings at APT

American Players Theater is a magical place. I have been picnicking and seeing shows -- comedies and tragedies, classic and contemporary, indoors and outdoors -- in that glorious spot in the woods for more than 30 years now. But each trip still surprises me. This summer was no exception. 

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Gwen Rice
The “Hamilton Effect” Hits Madison's Overture Center

“The anticipated Madison premiere of Hamilton is finally here!” crows Tim Sauers in a recent conversation about the upcoming season. Overture’s VP of programming and community engagement is speaking a bit prematurely — the tour buses won’t actually roll into town until mid-November. But ticket seekers are closer to getting in “the room where it happens” than they’ve ever been.

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Gwen Rice
Overture reveals “Hamilton” Dates

Oh, yeah, and almost 100 other performing arts events

Hundreds of ticket buyers, current subscribers, donors and friends gathered in Overture Hall on April 8 for the official unveiling of the performing arts center’s 2019-20 season — and the big reveal of the dates for the Madison run of the smash hit Hamilton.

After official welcomes from Overture president and CEO Sandra Gajic and some singing and dancing from the talented teens who make up the Jerry Ensemble, Tim Sauers, vice president of programming and community engagement, introduced videos highlighting each ticketed event in the forthcoming brochure. He was dressed in a yellow shirt, suspenders, red tie and plaid shorts — turns out he was celebrating the only Wisconsin engagement for The SpongeBob Musical, which is part of the upcoming Broadway series.

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Gwen Rice
The Elaborate Entrance of Dramaturg, Gwendolyn Rice

When I was finishing up my Master's degree in Literautre, History and Criticsm of the Theater at UW Madison, way back in 1995, well meaning friends often asked what one would do with such a specialized and obscure degree. I answered confidently that I would be well qualified to be a theater critic. Or a dramaturg. 

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Gwen Rice
There Are No Small Parts . . .

There's something wonderful about big, ensemble shows. Intense, two-person dramas are great, but sometimes you just want to see an entire stage filled with people—a whole community interacting. These plays are great for actors because they provide more opportunity, and you can learn a lot from being part of a large company. But they are also a drag, because someone still gets the lead and someone still has to play the villager, a part that may have little stage time, no lines, and not much to do. 

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Gwen Rice
Living History in My Hometown -- Writing for Milton's Civil War Days

It's true what they say -- you can't really go home again. But this spring I went back to my hometown of Milton, Wisconsin, to meet with the executive director of the Milton House Museum about a playwriting gig. Kari Klebba asked me to write a monologue about an escaped slave who lived in Milton for a short time during the 1860s. She had already contacted my friend Reggie Kellum about performing it as part of the museum's Civil War Days event. 

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Gwen Rice
My Summer Bucket List

I got an email this morning from a smart, sassy and young chef who goes by the title “Joy the Baker.” I love Joy. She’s funny and self deprecating and always encouraging. She loves sugar, butter and flour, and she also loves tweaking familiar recipes to make them brand new. I swear by her inspired recipe for brown sugar bacon biscuits, for instance. Yes! Why not put all the delicious things together instead of eating them separately? This is the kind of thinking I applaud.

So she sent out her summer bucket list today, for recipes she’d like to try, travel plans she’s determined to make, and personal goals she’d like to ace in the next three months. I was in awe of her ambition and the diversity of her goals; everything from making her own rootbeer to mastering a yoga headstand. (I did not know that was a thing.) I also have great affection for making lists, so I decided to follow her lead. Here is my (perhaps overly ambitious) summer bucket list, which frankly, is mostly about theater.


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Gwen Rice
Note to Playwrights: Everybody's Mother Dies

I was talking with a poet friend of mine a few years ago over coffee. She was bemoaning the hundred or so entries she was tasked to read as the judge of a poetry contest. Many entrants were evidently new to the genre and their work was . . . not great.

We commiserated, as I have also judged contests for short fiction, ten-minute plays and musicals. I told her that, based on my experience, there's a pretty standard distribution in the quality of fiction contest entries: 10% of the authors didn't follow the directions or subverted the topic beyond recognition and are therefore disqualified, 80% of the remaining pieces are predictable or forgettable, and about 10% are really good.

She smiled at my math and shook her head. Then she sighed and said, "You know, everybody's mother dies."

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Gwen Rice
Don't Kill Your Darlings, Just Remove and Save for Later

Some of the best lines I have ever written have not actually appeared in final drafts of my plays and monologues. (Not surprisingly, that goes ten-fold for my corporate copywriting.)

Sometimes I take a line out because it's only funny -- or relevant -- to me. Sometimes whole scenes have to be excised to make room for something new. Just as characters are added during editing, occasionally a character is eliminated.  That's hard. That's saying goodbye to a friend who no on else will ever know. 

My sensible editor-self may know immediately that something doesn't fit, or a snippet of dialogue worked great before other changes were made, and now those "extra" pieces have got to go. But the original will always be in my brain. 

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Gwen Rice
#timesup -- And it's About Time

Over the weekend I talked with an actress that I have admired onstage for many years. We're Facebook friends, but I think it was the first time we'd spoken in person. I congratulated her on her latest dynamite performance.  And what she said next made me so sad. And proud. And angry. 

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Gwen Rice