My Madlab - by cat mcalpine
I have written before about the way that light plays a part in the backstage experience. When I was in Spring Awakening at OSU, there was a small alleyway behind the bleachers, illuminated by yellowing and cracked rope lights. In that dim light I would lean against the wall and sing quietly along, waiting to bustle out with a tea tray at my next cue.
When I participated in theatre at the park this summer, we had the stars as light, and with those came the red flashes of helicopters and ambulances. Most enchanting though, was the way the stage lighting burned through a second-story doorway. From backstage we'd look to this blazing rectangle in the sky and try not to think about how the sweat was seeping into our costumes.
Every theatre has its own light, I've found. At MadLab, that light is purple, and it drifts in under the back curtain. It has something to do with the way the theatre is shaped. There's a small current of air that flows from the back shop/green room, past the stage, between the seats, and into the lobby. It’s not a mighty wind. It’s more of a whisper.
As the curtains sigh, ever so slightly, the stage light dances underneath them. That's MadLab's light.
I don't think that this single little light is indicative of the MadLab character, or the MadLab vibe. In the same way that, while our fingerprints are individual, they don't tell you if a person prefers tea or coffee. But, that light is unique to MadLab, and it is my quiet place, and when I find myself longing to be on stage, I think about that fluttering purple light.
I wish I could say that I found MadLab, but in truth, MadLab found me. I graduated college with two
degrees, a whole lot hopes and dreams for the future, and no idea what to do next. When Colleen
Dunne suggested I join the mailing list, a door opened.
Suddenly, my inbox was full of volunteer opportunities. Whats that? You need people to show up and read scripts. I'm there. Volunteers to move stuff? I'm there.
One weekend afternoon I sat in a dark theatre for hours on end, watching cold readings of short scripts. Afterwards, we gave feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? How would you rate this script? It went on and on and on. I was absolutely delighted.
The opportunities kept coming. I wanted to be involved and they were happy to have me. I discovered my passion for new works theatre. I found an outlet for my art. Someone put my obsession with Instagram to work. I felt like I'd found my purpose, and my people.
I was invited to the cast parties of shows that I wasn't even in. I made bad jokes about how my face would look on the ensemble wall.
One evening at home I found myself on the verge of a panic attack. I felt like I couldn't breathe. When I was younger, these moods would jettison me out across our small town, racing across sidewalks until I was miles away from home in the middle of the night. I needed to move, to crawl out of my skin. I showed up at the theatre instead.
"Hey, do you guys need help hanging the lights?"
Sweating and shaking at the top of a ladder, making jokes and learning about the lighting grid, I forgot that I had been descending into nervous chaos.
MadLab has a lot going for it. They foster new works, develop talent, and are a breeding ground for
ideas and inspiration. But MadLab is my theatre because the door is always open for me. MadLab was an opportunity for me to get involved even when my auditions were crashing and burning. I got to act, I was able to make art, I was included.
MadLab can have my sweat and my tears and my countless hours sitting on the lobby floor trying to
make lobby displays out of magazines. They can have all that and more, because someone held that red door open for me and said "Come on in!"
Under that slowly swaying curtain, bathed in purple light, is a place for me.
Opening tonight, October 6th, MadLab presents Until He Wasn't by Patrick McLaughlin. And we're doing it IN THE ROUND.
what does that mean, exactly?
where'd it come from?
why do people use theatre-in-the-round now?
It was 4 years ago that I saw my first full Roulette at MadLab. There was something about Roulette 2012 that stuck with me. Peach with Chris Lane and David Thonnings, blew me away so I came back again for another night, and was transfixed by Slipping into Anarchy with Jim Azelvandre and Jennifer Feather Youngblood, so I came back for the final night and fell in love with MadLab due to But, Was it an Approved Death? With Vicki Andronis, and Jim Azelvandre again.
In all fairness, I had been turning into a bit of a Lab-Rat already, having started hanging around several months prior and getting involved, but coming to Roulette inspired me to write my own short play. I mentioned my idea at the after Roulette cookout to a few people and got the standard. “Hey, sure. Let me know, I’ll look it over.” (I’ve since learned that a lot of people SAY they’re going to write a play, but never actually write one.) But, I did. And it was… Well, it was finished. I sent it off to a few people, got some notes, and some confusion, and set it aside.
In 2013, I acted in Roulette, which was a thrill. I was excited to be part of Roulette, but I still had the desire to write for the show. I’d gotten a play selected for 3 in 30 and felt like I was getting better as a writer, so I went back to my first idea and re-wrote it 3 more times. The idea was great, the title was dynamite and at this point I’d seen enough great short plays to fix what didn’t work, and I took a writing class. I crossed my fingers, and submitted the play.
Now, the trick was to do it again. I’d been writing a lot of sketch comedy and was studying at Second City Chicago. I started looking through all my pieces and had a crazy idea: I’d submit a whole collection for the Playwright Spotlight Night! Ambitious? Yes. But, why wouldn’t I reach for the stars? What’s the worst that can happen, that I don’t get it?
Well, I didn’t. And, since I put all my eggs in one basket, I was locked out of Roulette. I was going to be out of town, so I didn’t get to act in this one, either. This gave me the opportunity to enjoy watching and enjoying Roulette 2015, and it was great. But, still, that thing was licking at my brain saying “Write for next year.” But, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say.
I went back to Second City and studied Show Structure for creating a revue and talked to a couple friends that direct shows at Second City after watching their shows. I asked questions: “Why did you do this here?” and “Why did you put that in this slot.”. I went back to my collection, spent a couple weeks doing full re-writes and re-submitted it. It was leaner, more focused and I found a way to get my voice consistent and uniquely me over 60+ pages.
images from ".., but it's not about that" by Erik Sternberger
And It was selected! I jumped in the air. A lot. This time, I came to watch Stephen Woosley direct the amazing cast every night, and I loved it every time. Okay, I’ll be honest, the first time I was nervous for the first two of the six plays. Not because I didn’t trust MadLab, but because every person in the packed house was there because of “me”. I had visions of them thinking me too weird and waiting outside the door to hound me as I ran to my Ford Escape.
But, by the third play I was able to relax. The plays were landing how I hoped. Everyone was laughing and I felt like my kids were flying high and free and I didn’t need to hold the string anymore.
You have until the October 1st deadline to submit and start (or continue) your own Roulette story. Check out the Theatre Roulette page under the Theatre tab for more information and submission guidelines.
MadLab's current production, Scritch Scritch by Christopher Lockheardt, is set in a universe in which men only exist as vermin - women run the world. Rebecca (played by Kyle Jepson) discovers her home has been invaded by a dirty man-pest, and her mother (Mary Sink), best friend (Shana Kramer), and an exterminator (Cat McAlpine) all lend her support and advice as she goes about dealing with her infestation.
The four actresses bringing this show to life are no strangers to MadLab, but their roads to our stage have been quite different. Many actors first become involved at MadLab through Theatre Roulette, our annual short play festival, and this was true for both Shana and Kyle. As Shana says, "[Roulette] really is the perfect opportunity for new actors to put their toe in the theatre waters." Cat, however, claims that what got her onto our stage was, "A little bit of fate and a whole lotta work. The whole MadLab family welcomed me with open arms, but I auditioned four times before I got cast."
MadLab actors in general vary from the uber-experienced to the I've-never-done-this-before. The cast of Scritch Scritch shows a similar diversity in their backgrounds. Kyle claims to have been performing since she could stand, and she majored in Theatre at the Ohio State University. Cat found her love of all things theatrical at OSU as well, after taking an acting class on a whim. Since then, she has gone on to work with a number of local theatre companies. Shana says she is "MadLab born and bred," having almost no experience prior to working with us. Each of the ladies can hold her own though - make no mistake!
Lockheardt, the playwright, has an impressive resume (for a man). A Boston-based wordsmith, his work has been seen on the MadLab stage many times in Theatre Roulettes and 3-in-30's. Scritch Scritch is Lockheardt's first full length play, and its MadLab production will be the world premiere. We asked the actresses to tell us a little bit about what they love about this particular script. For Cat, it's the unusual premise. "I love sci-fi and it's a very hard genre to coax onto the stage. I wouldn't call this show sci-fi, but it is a bit 'alternate universe' and in the very least, weird. Which I'm all about. I love when you leave the theatre and you can't help but talk and talk about the show you just saw. That's what Scritch Scritch is going to be."
As for their particular roles, some of the women are more typecast than others. Kyle says that Rebecca is, "...a little outside my comfort zone. I'm a sarcastic, caustic person 86% of the time and Rebecca is very caring, optimistic, and just a little naïve about the ways of the world." Cat, however, is perfectly suited to play the sarcastic exterminator who provides much comic relief. "I always love making people laugh, and I get some opportunities to do that in my role. Also I'm convinced my butt is going to look great in a jumpsuit. If I'm wrong, don't correct me." When asked about Daley, Rebecca's wacky but loveable best friend, Shana said, "I love Daley's unapologetic way of just being herself...actually, she's a lot like MadLab."
Written by Colleen Dunne
You know the guy from the movie Memento? Who could only keep memories for a few minutes before they evaporated, stranding him helpless amidst a maelstrom of confusing events?
Well, that’s me trying to write a full-length play.
Ten-minute plays—a cakewalk. Once I reach the last page of a ten-minute play, I can still dimly recall everything I wrote on the first page. I can remember the purpose which led a character to walk onstage and can double-check that he completed that purpose—or at least gave it his best shot—before granting him permission to walk off again.
But if that character moseyed onstage two acts and 90 long minutes ago, I will be sitting there staring at him on the page thinking, “The name is familiar, but I just can’t place the face.”
As you can imagine, this leads to some embarrassing inconsistencies in the early drafts of my full-lengths. “Chris, I could have sworn that character was described as an albino sword-swallower in scene 3. Are you certain you want him to be taking his vows for the convent in scene 8?” Well, I was certain, but now I guess I’ll check my notes.
So I was always a little jealous of the Greek hero Argus. He had one hundred eyes that never closed. Because nothing ever evaded his gaze, the goddess Hera hired him to keep Zeus from getting his horny hands on a white heifer. (Zeus, the very first drunken fraternity brother.)
If I had one hundred sleepless eyes, besides being a Visine hoarder, I might be able to successfully keep track of the relationships, motivations, secrets, and confessions of my cast of characters throughout the entire length of a full-length play. But I don’t, so I can’t. Few playwrights can. And that’s why Dionysius (when he and Zeus weren’t busy playing Wine Pong or paddling pledges) invented staged readings.
A staged reading provides me with my own personal Argus: the audience. Their roving, restless eyes can spot all the inconsistencies and errors I’ve littered about my script. Have I described a character as a vegetarian in one scene only to have her emerge victorious from a hot dog eating contest in another? Argus the Audience will wildly wave their arms to alert me. Have I assigned three different names to a character’s childhood pet? Argus the Audience will shout out my error (along with their pick for favorite name).
On my last visit to Columbus, MadLab was kind enough to provide a staged reading of Scritch Scritch. The feedback from the audience helped me to write a new draft that was not only less riddled with errors, but teeming with richer characters, sharper conflicts, and more fully realized moments. Without that theater full of people willing to donate their much-pressed time and attention to sitting through a rough read of an even rougher play, I could have never shaped Scritch Scritch into a play worthy of a full-scale production. I couldn’t have done it alone.
Theater is at all points a community effort, even at that point where a playwright is sitting alone in a dark office staring at the latest draft of his play up on a glowing screen. Because he is not staring at it with just his own two eyes. He is staring at it with a hundred other eyes, lent to him by people who know about theater, who care about theater, who make theater possible. He stares at it with the eyes of Argus the Audience.
P.S. Got two eyes to spare on Saturday, September 3, at 5pm? MadLab will be putting on a staged reading of my newest full-length, Playground Rules. Directed by Jim Azelvendre with a cast of Colleen Dunne, Stephen Woosley, Shana Kramer, and Melissa Bair, the play peeks in on a summer night full of swingers and swing sets, see saws and seduction, Gummi Bears and growing up. Pizza, drinks, and the playwright’s gratitude will be served up in abundance.
P.P.S. Yes, I realize that Zeus eventually got his hands on that irresistible heifer by sending Hermes to lull Argos to sleep with a long-ass boring story and then slaying him with his sword. But I promise if you attend the staged reading, you will not be stabbed to death, even if my long-ass boring play puts you to sleep.
P.P.P.S. But I can make no guarantees of safety for your white heifer. Best to leave it at home with Hera.
As a dancer, over the years I’ve come to realize what the true job description of being an entertainer is. For one or two hours it is my job to get people to forget about their worries and their strife (cue “The Bear Necessities” from The Jungle Book!). I don’t get to hear their problems, but I have the pleasure of getting them to let go and bring them into another world where they may be at their best happiness. Basically this to me is the definition of a caretaker. Through my writing experience, I’ve come to understand that the term ‘caretaker’ for an artist goes much further than that. Your art is not just about taking care of your audiences’ cares and concerns, but it’s also about taking care of your own.
Before beginning my senior year of high school, I had made the decision that I wasn’t going to go to college directly out of high school. From getting a taste of what the professional dance world was like I came to the conclusion that it was something I want to do for a long time, or really for the rest of my life. Talking about it with friends, family and others who would ask about my “plans for the fall”, I would always do my best to give them the most confident, well-rounded response that I could possibly give, for I am and was very happy with my choice. However, there was a little part of me that was maybe a bit scared. I understood that chasing my dreams might at times be more of a challenge and maybe not as such an easier or safer route as going straight to college, but starting my final year that thought continued to rattle in my head at times.
One day during my writing class Michelle Batt visited to talk about the Young Writers Short Play Festival. When I was making my school schedule the year before I had saw that there was a writing seminar being offered, so in an attempt to get out of gym and being that I’ve always had a love and appreciation for writing, I went ahead and signed up for the class (and was still put in gym, only one semester, but still!). I already had some knowledge of the Young Writers Festival from my junior year, but at the time just didn’t want to submit anything. When Michelle came to my class to talk about it I just kind of thought to myself ‘Well why not? It’s senior year, I’ll try everything!’
What I’ve discovered about who I am as a writer is I am very personal. My style, I’ve come to discover, is very vulnerable and revealing of who I am. I don’t think I ever intended for it to be that way, but it just happens and it’s nothing I can really control. It’s all very natural really. I can remember Michelle told us to “write something you care about”, so when I began writing the script I knew right away that I wanted to write about the decisions I’ve made on my future.
Setting up the script felt simpler than I had anticipated. I just took a conversation I had with myself and basically split myself into two characters. Gave these characters backgrounds and names, turned the conversation into a plot, slapped on a title and Ba-Boom, a play was created! In reality it was built around a line that I had already thought of; what I wanted to say to all the naysayers out there really.
Submitting it I honestly didn’t thought that it wasn’t going to get chosen as one of the lucky 10 plays to get produced. I believed in my work and what I had wrote, I’m just the type of guy that never gets their hopes up just in case things may fall through and not having to face even more disappointment. I will never forget it – the night of January 5th I was packing my bags to go live in Milwaukee by myself for a month because I had recently gotten into a professional dance company and had to leave to begin rehearsals right away. Then all of a sudden I get a call from Michelle saying “Hi, I’m Michelle Batt with MadLab Theatre and we want to produce your play with the 2016 Young Writers Festival”. When I went to go tell my parents they were actually completely flabbergasted because I guess I never told them I wrote a play and they were also dealing with sending off their 17 year old to live by himself for a month… so I guess I understood their shock.
Going to the first read-through and seeing it come somewhat to life, I was honestly a little concerned. I felt like my show was in no comparison to any of the other shows, my story line was corny and predictable, lines were a mess – it’s safe to say I was somewhat stressed. It took me a few more attempts to finally come to a draft I was happy with, but with the help of the MadLab ensemble actors and my amazing mentor Jason Beehler, doing re-writes was actually very pleasing to me in ways I wouldn’t understand until I was doing them.
My two very good friends Devante Brown and Lake Wilburn played the two characters. I’ve known Lake since I was eight, my freshmen year I went to the same school as both of them at Centennial HS before switching to Fort Hayes HS and developed a stronger relationship with Devante, and also was given the privilege to choreograph Centennial’s musicals in my junior and senior years and was honored to work with both of them, Devante for both years. Our first rehearsal together with director Jim Azelvandre was so thrilling to me, and to have the characters be played by two of very close friends of mine whom I adore made this experience that much more amazing.
All in all, what I’ve learned through this experience with MadLab is that my art, my piece, truly is my own personal care. Hearing it, and seeing it performed and put on I’ve realized that writing it was really my clarity with the whole situation. I never knew how somewhat insecure I was about my decision until I actually sat down and wrote it out for others to hear and see being enacted. Artists truly are caretakers, and the beautiful thing about art is we get to learn how to take care of ourselves.
I don’t know what all the future has in store, but I’m excited more than ever to see it unfold, and you can believe there is going to be a lot of writing involved with it. I really just have MadLab to thank for that.
Chris Colgan was set to make his MadLab debut last summer, in the 2015 Young Writers Program, when disaster struck. Here is his story:
All the good actors were busy. MadLab looked way down into the bottom of the barrel and there I was. Honestly I was shocked to get the call from Andy telling me they had a role for me. I had auditioned in 2014, which was my first audition ever, and wow did I stink. I didn't get a role that year. I didn't think the 2015 was much better but it must have been. I was offered the role of Louis in Cards by Julia Stonerook.
The best way to describe the experience is new. It was all new to me. I was taking classes with ATC which was more of a training experience and had done a Christmas show with WCT with my boy which was a big family production. Cards was not a comedy. Four friends meet for a weekly card game. The fifth friend didn't show. Turns out he died earlier that day. Heavier stuff than I was used to dealing with. Michelle and Lexi (the director and assistant director) were very patient and were able to guide me to where I needed to be in the role. And it really helped to be surrounded by an awesome cast. RJ, Mike, and Joe were fantastic to work with and as the only rookie in the cast I knew I could learn a lot from them. Oh, and we all had to learn how to play poker. Not one of us knew how to play, except for the high school girl who wrote the play.
We were ready to go. I was ready to go. I was proud of what we were about to show the audience. But it turns out the script was a bit too prophetic. The morning the show was to open I went to the hospital with what I thought would be something painful but minor and I would be home in a few hours. Instead I was admitted, told it was something that could have been life threatening but the threat had passed, and that full recovery would be closer to six months.
Upon finding out that Chris would not be able to perform, Andy Batt stepped into the role at the last minute. Chris was able to make it to a performance, and he watched the show he should have been a part of.
It was seriously bizarre, like seeing yourself in the third person or something. Andy Batt was in my role and he did a fantastic job. How he was able to accomplish in 8 hours what took me 6 weeks is beyond me. That's some talent right there.
Chris came back to audition again in 2016, despite being nervous.
Auditions were just as intimidating. I thought I stunk just like the previous times but somehow I got another role. These people at MadLab just won't give up!
(This year) I'm just a tiny bit more relaxed and the play is a comedy. At least I think it's a comedy. Mike and I have turned it into one so I hope it is or the writer will be very upset.
On MadLab and the Young Writers Program:
First, the YW festival is fantastic and so important. What an incredible opportunity for young people. Everyone involved in this should be very proud and I hope the festival is around for many years.
Second, it's the people. Theatre is the most open and accepting community. Everyone is welcome, you just have to try. I was a bit apprehensive about returning this year after what I did to opening night last year, but far from being rejected I was welcomed as if I had been here for years. It's a good feeling.
*Extra credit - do you remember any of your lines from LAST year's show?
For fuck's sake.
I'm not swearing, that was my favorite line from last year.