MOXIE blog

Celebrating our 16th Season of creating more honest and diverse images of women for our culture through the intimate art of theatre!

In The Ghost Light: Pandemic Edition

by moxielicious

When theatres are dark, there is traditionally a “ghost light” left on the stage for safety purposes. The next person entering the space would find only a dark, windowless void if not for the ghost light. Plus, the actual ghosts which all theatres proudly claim.

In 2020, the fear of ghosts is nothing to the fear of losing our artists and arts institutions to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing loss of income for all industries dependent on live gatherings. Artists and arts institutions are facing the potential metaphorical death of careers or companies. Another fear to contend with is the reality that many of the artists who can sustain long term unemployment and return to the field when safe are wealthy and white, deepening the already alarming economic and racial inequalities in the arts.

In all fields, women are leaving the workforce in response to the sudden demands of children learning at home: “1 in 4 women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce due to the Coronavirus,” according to CNBC. “This increase in the number of women who are leaving or thinking about leaving the workforce is largely due to the ongoing caregiving crisis women face, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic with many schools and day care centers remaining closed. Mothers are three times as likely as fathers to be responsible for a majority of housework and childcare during COVID-19, according to Lean In and McKinsey & Company.” 

MOXIE is leaving the ghost light on in defiant, joyful hope for the return to our theatre. We will need help to bring all our sisters along with us as we anxiously await our return. You can donate to our end of year campaign to help us turn up the volume on women’s voices. We’re leaving the light on for you.

Meet Faith James

by moxielicious

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MOXIE’s Season 16 opens with The Niceties by Eleanor Burgess, directed by Founding Artistic Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and starring Mouchette Van Helsdingen and Deja Fields. Associate Artistic Director Callie Prendiville interviews Costume Designer (and 2020 Hurston Fellow) Faith James about her process:

CP: What initially excited you about this script when you first read it? Has your perspective on it changed in light of the national events since you signed on to the project?

FJ: This play definitely encourages a lot of deep thought. Both characters have such important ideas and opinions worth pondering. I loved that I could be sure that our audiences would be left with a lot to think about. It’s all about starting the conversation!

CP:  How did you initially come to costume design? Does designing for an audience that will be watching on Zoom change your process, or not?

FJ: I first came into Costume Design in Trinidad and Tobago, where I’m originally from. Carnival, festival theater, was where I began. I then applied to study Costume Design in my home country on a whim and realized how much I really enjoyed it! Now here I am, a Graduate student at San Diego State University at the School for Theatre, Television and Film and I have this wonderful opportunity to work on this production with Moxie Theater.

Designing for a Zoom audience definitely changes things because with film, there are more opportunities for a closer look at the actors than we usually get in theatre.

CP: Has this text brought up any education memories for you? Or current thoughts – as our Hurston Fellow you are a current SDSU MFA student? 

FJ: The Hurston Fellowship provides such an amazing opportunity for students, future professional designers, like me to have an opportunity to work hands-on with a professional theatre, build our portfolio and make many important connections in the industry while gaining important experiences needed in the field. I am forever grateful for this opportunity. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences and has definitely granted me some positivity during this time.

CP: How are you feeling about the state of theatre right now? Are there things you hope to see return or change when we can all have audiences again?

FJ: It’s devastating seeing so many persons and companies out of work right now. So many well known companies have been forced to close their doors and let go of many hard workers. I hope to see the industry return to life really soon. This choice Moxie has made to film and broadcast is such a huge stepping stone. While there are some limits, I hope this gives the industry and its supporters some hope.

Check out The Niceties via Zoom starting September 12! 

Meet Deja Fields

by moxielicious

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MOXIE’s Season 16 opens with The Niceties by Eleanor Burgess, directed by Founding Artistic Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and starring Mouchette Van Helsdingen and Deja Fields. Associate Artistic Director Callie Prendiville interviews Deja, who plays Zoe, a student of American History at an elite university: 

CP: What initially excited you about this script when you first read it? Has your perspective on it changed in light of the national events since you signed on to the project?

DF: When I first read this script, the dialogue not only drew me in, but the character Zoe and her profound ability to fight for what she believes in, specifically, spoke to me and who I am as a person. This play is provocative and tells a story through a conversation that honestly needs to be had world wide, and in light of the national events, this play couldn’t be told at a better time. Many of our audience members have been forced to slow down and reflect on the world due to the pandemic and this play crosses boundaries that’s going to force everyone to look at what they believe in and what side they stand on.

CP: You recently graduated from UCLA, correct? Has this text brought up any education memories for you, or made you rethink anything about your college experience? 

DF: Yes, I recently graduated from UCLA last year and this text has really made me reflect on the biased professors I’ve had, and how important teacher evaluations are. There is a section in the text where Zoe is highlighting all the things Students of Color need to thrive in these elite institutions and it made me reflect on the fact that when I entered only 4.8% of UCLA’s campus was made up of African American Students and the school is just NOW funding and opening its First Black Resource Center. Burgess writes such compelling truths about academia, and although we have progressed, she finds a way to illustrate how far behind we truly are as a country.

CP: How are you feeling about the state of theatre right now? Are there things you hope to see return or change when we can all have audiences again? 

DF: Before beginning this project I felt very depressed with the shutting down of Broadway and it was hard to imagine Live Theatre over a screen. I thought that raw and complete honesty would be stripped away over Zoom, but because this is a two person show, we have cultivated an environment that transfers energy thru screen very well. We are artists and it’s our job to adapt as the world is changing, so theatre will never die, it will just be prepared differently with a lot less touching for now. I’m so excited to have the finale version of this play be filmed, and thanks to the release of Hamilton online, I believe this is the new future of theatre!

CP: You were in Crumbs From the Table of Joy SIX years ago. How has your process changed or stayed the same since then? How does rehearsing in Zoom impact that?

DF: Six years ago feels like a lifetime ago, but I’m happy to be back with my MOXIE Family. Since high school, my acting process has changed tremendously. I would focus on memorization instead of knowing my character, but I’ve learned that when you actually know who your character is down to the core, what they would say is almost an instinct instead of based on memory. I’m also very big on using the world of the play, clothing, and movements to help ground myself, but due to the power of Zoom we don’t have the privilege of transforming on stage just yet, so this process has really forced me to ground myself with the text and create the world of the play in my room using those details the author depicts.

Check out The Niceties starting in September 12!

Meet Mouchette Van Helsdingen

by moxielicious

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MOXIE’s Season 16 opens with The Niceties by Eleanor Burgess, directed by Founding Artistic Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and starring Mouchette Van Helsdingen and Deja Fields. Associate Artistic Director Callie Prendiville interviews Mouchette, who plays Janine, a professor of American History at an elite university: 

CP: What initially excited you about this script when you first read it? Has your perspective on it changed in light of the national events since you signed on to the project?

MVH: The first thing that attracted me to this play was the relationship between Zoe and Janine. The two characters are very strong but certainly not perfect. They each have their flaws. What attracted me next to this  play is the current element of it. It is as relevant today as it was in 2016. The play is not an absolute. It is a constant question. I am learning so much every day, as I read it and as I listen to the news. Simply put, I feel I am Janine.

CP: You are native to Amsterdam and studied in London, correct? What was your impression of the American Revolution as a student? Has that impression of history changed since living in America?

MVF: I never really studied the American revolution in Europe. But I am a late bloomer, I went to college here in the US at the age of 50. I graduated with a bachelors in linguistics in 2010. During those years, I learned about America, the constitution, the founding fathers, and so much more. Let’s not forget that I come from a country that provided America with slaves. Not a pretty past! I’m sorry.

CP: Has this text brought up any education memories for you? 

MVF: Yes. Especially since my university memories are so recent. I loved college! I love to  study. And having been a student at a later stage in my life brings me so much closer to the character of Janine than Zoe.

CP: How are you feeling about the state of theatre right now? Are there things you hope to see return or change when we can all have audiences again? 

MVF: I can’t wait to see theatres full of actors and audiences again! I miss it so much! I’m not sure what I would change. Maybe add a plastic see-through spit shield between actors and audience? 🤪

Check out The Niceties starting in September 12!

Hallie Flanagan had MOXIE

by moxielicious

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During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration created the Federal Theatre Project to create thousands of jobs for out of work theatre artists, as well as to provide entertainment in hard-to-reach communities. The director of the project was Hallie Flanagan, a woman with considerable moxie and insight. As we navigate a similar economic outlook, we are inspired by her words from 1935:

“We live in a changing world: man is whispering through space, soaring to the stars in ships, flinging miles of steel and glass into the air. Shall the theatre continue to huddle in the confines of a painted boxset? The movies, in their kaleidoscopic speed and juxtaposition of external objects and internal emotions are seeking to find visible and audible expression for the tempo and the psychology of our time. The stage too must experiment-with ideas, with the psychological relationship of men and women, with speech and rhythm forms, with dance and movement, with color and light-or it must and should become a museum product.

In an age of terrific implications as to wealth and poverty, as to the function of government, as to peace and war, as to the relation of the artist to all these forces, the theatre must grow up. The theatre must become conscious of the implications of the changing social order, or the changing social older will ignore, and rightly, the implications of the theatre.”

While we are missing our audiences and company being in the same roof together, we are inspired by Hallie to “experiment with ideas” in ZoomFest, in planning our upcoming season and events, and in our daily operations. Thank you for being a part of our MOXIE family in these strange times!

You can read more about Hallie and the Federal Theatre Project in this Library of Congress collection: https://www.loc.gov/collections/federal-theatre-project-1935-to-1939/articles-and-essays/federal-theatre-melodrama-social-protest-and-genius/

Max Macke is Ronald Reagan, Dennis Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch, Prince Philip… just to name a few…

by moxielicious

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MOXIE favorite Max Macke plays a host of the male characters rounding out the world of Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher in Moira Buffini’s Handbagged. Associate Artistic Director Callie Prendiville was able to ask Max some questions about his process of creating so many characters:

CP: What did you know about these (multiple!) men prior to this process?

MM: I had little to no knowledge about Denis Thatcher, or Peter Carrington, or Geoffrey Howe. I know a bit about Rupert Murdoch, who is still around. Of course Ron Reagan was president throughout my childhood, so I know a great deal about him.

CP: What is the most challenging thing about playing all of these characters, often with quick changes in between?

MM: It’s been very challenging to do justice to these different dialects, be true to the real life sound and tenor of the actual people, as well as create different characters on stage. Our dialect coach, Vanessa  Dinning has helped a great deal with the 10 characters. And YouTube. I hope everyone enjoys it.

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Sandy Campbell is [also!] Queen Elizabeth II!

by moxielicious

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Celebrated San Diego actress Sandy Campbell plays “Q” (the elder Queen Elizabeth II, while Debra Wanger plays the younger version of the character) in MOXIE’s production of Moira Buffini’s Handbagged. Associate Artistic Director Callie Prendiville was able to ask Sandy some questions about her process of becoming one of the most famous people in the world:

CP: What was your exposure to the historical figure of your character(s) prior to working on this project?

SC: Honestly, I  really didn’t know that much about the Queen. I knew she was thrown into being the Monarch at a very young age and quite unexpectedly, that she loves Corgis and horses and that she is a pretty tough cookie!

CP: What has surprised you the most about Elizabeth?

SC: I was surprised and delighted to find that she is really quite funny and has a wonderful sense of humor. I also was surprised at how seriously she has, and continues to, take her position as Queen and how , even though she is not able to make policy or even state her opinion, she finds ways to let her ideas and feelings be known.

CP: What has been the biggest challenge?

SC: It is both a blessing and sometimes a trap to portray a real person. There is so much information available to research but it is important to remember that we are not doing a documentary. I need to find the truth of the character to make her as real as possible to serve the play  without doing an impersonation. One of the biggest challenges for me was finding the Queen’s physicality. I am playing her at about 82 y/o and I want to move like her at that age without turning into caricature.

CP: What do you hope audiences walk away with?

SC: I hope the audience walks away with a greater knowledge and respect for these two powerful women and 1980’s British politics. There was so much going on then and the relevance to things happening in our country today is interesting. I love how Ms. Buffini uses two male actors to play all the other characters in the play. It is effective and very funny so I also hope they leave feeling they have had a fun evening listening to quippy British wit in this well written play!

Don’t miss Sandy in Handbagged, through November 17! Photos by Daren Scott.

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Lisel Gorell-Getz is Margaret Thatcher!

by moxielicious

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MOXIE veteran Lisel Gorell-Getz plays Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher in MOXIE’s production of Moira Buffini’s Handbagged. Associate Artistic Director Callie Prendiville was able to ask Lisel some questions about her process of becoming one of the most polarizing political figures in history:

CP: What was your exposure to the historical figure of your character prior to working on this project?

LG: Margaret Thatcher is an imposing figure from the 80’s. I remember hearing about her as the Wicked Witch of British politics, the subject of Punk Rock and Mod protest songs and the butt of many jokes and satirical pieces. To me, she was a cardboard cutout of conservatism, and I knew very little about her personal life and journey.

CP: What has surprised you the most about your character(s)?

LG: I am surprised at how much I admire her strength and clarity of purpose. Although I may not agree with her politics, her indomitable will and self-confidence is astonishing. At a time when few women could exert power in a political sphere, she stamped an indelible footprint into the world of global politics.

CP: What has been the biggest challenge?

LG: It’s always a challenge to play a real person on stage! My job as an actor is to find the truth of this character for me, so that she is my version of the real thing. The temptation is to attempt an impersonation of such a strong character, especially since there is so much footage and video and reference material to draw from. I relished the challenge of finding out who she was and how I could live and breathe her personality truthfully.  What a joy to share that challenge with the incomparable Linda Libby (she plays Margaret Thatcher as well!!)

CP: What do you hope audiences walk away with?

LG: The playwright Moira Buffini has this brilliant idea to show the complicated lives of these powerful women through multiple voices on stage — The Queen and Mrs. Thatcher are played by two actors each! Moira’s characters are contradictory, purposeful, intelligent, caring, feisty and daring. I hope the audience walks away with a respect for the  impressive accomplishments these women achieved, and a curiosity about how legacies are crafted and remembered.

Don’t miss Lisel in Handbagged through November 17! Photos by Daren Scott.

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Debra Wanger is Queen Elizabeth II!

by moxielicious

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Celebrated San Diego actress Debra Wanger plays “Liz” in MOXIE’s upcoming production of Moira Buffini’s Handbagged. Associate Artistic Director Callie Prendiville was able to ask Debra some questions about her process of becoming one of the most recognizable figures in the world:

CP: What was your exposure to the historical person of Elizabeth prior to this process?

DW: I have seen the Queen on tv and been to London a few times. I have also seen royal weddings and some of the films about Mrs. Thatcher, but British politics was a distant blur of names I’ve heard on the news. I worked on Billy Elliot (which is set in Northern England during the miners’ strike) a few years ago and so I was knowledgeable about that.

CP: What has surprised you the most about Liz?

DW:I didn’t know that the Queen could not take any politics stands or express public opinions about anything.  I am fascinated how she has used her celebrity, use of the media and  televised Christmas messages to subtly slip in her views at times.  I also didn’t know that she was not born to be Queen, but only through her cousin’s abdication did she come into line for the throne.  She was already married with children before her coronation. Those audience members who watch The Crown already knew that!

CP: What has been the biggest challenge of Handbagged for you?

DW: The biggest challenge for me to get Queen Elizabeth into my bones was to match her energy. She is very calm, still and often non-reactive.  She has been Queen so long that she has nothing to prove to anyone. I am naturally much more Labrador Retriever than I am a calm King Charles Spaniel.  It took me a while to find her frequency, then to turn it up a bit to join the dramatic debate that is the play.

CP: What do you hope audiences walk away with?

DW: I hope the audience will enjoy the witty wordplay and battle of impressive wit. It is a great opportunity to learn more about British politics and changes in a nation in our recent past, an opportunity to hear the British perspective on history.  This was the first time I am aware of that two women held the highest positions in a major government.  Many of the themes in the play are just as relevant today if you were just to change a few names and faces.  It’s also just a funny, funny play, a great way to spend afternoon tea.

Come see Debra as Liz in Handbagged! Tickets available now at moxietheatre.com.

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Meet Handbagged Dialect Coach Vanessa Dinning!

by moxielicious

Voice and dialect coach and UK native Vanessa Dinning is the dialect coach for MOXIE’s upcoming production of Handbagged. Executive Artistic Director Jennifer Eve Thorn got to ask her some questions about working on a show with multiple dialects and famous speech patterns to tackle:

How long have you been a dialect coach?

I’ve worked in theatre for over 20 years and as a voice-for-actors coach including dialects for about 18 years.

How did you get into that field?

Until I went to drama school for actor training, I had always been terrible at accents and dialects.  Awful.  During training we were lucky to have an amazing phonetics and dialect teacher. For the first time, under her expert guidance, I was able to do believable dialect work and started to really enjoy the new choices it afforded me as an actor.  After graduation, she suggested I train as a voice coach to supplement acting work and so I went to Central  (Central School of Speech and Drama) and did just that with specialisms in Dialect and in Shakespeare, because I thought those were there fields that would make me more employable!!  In the UK, I was mostly teaching American accents to British actors.  Here in San Diego, I coach pretty much whatever is requested. I’m very grateful for that detailed and brilliant training. I’ve coached over 100 different accents and dialects; everything from many and various British dialects to Australian, Czech, Russian, various American accents, and in Handbagged – Zambia!

What’s the biggest challenge when working on a show like Handbagged?

Ha ha!  Handbagged is hugely challenging. There are 2 major challenges. Firstly, the actors are playing very famous people, who’s voices and speeches are imprinted on our minds (in our ears). My job is to not only ensure the actors are pronouncing everything correctly but that they’re using the “vibe” of the accents to bring these characters to life theatrically, but not turn into caricature or imitation. The other major challenge is for the two actors who play Actor 1 and Actor 2. Between them they have almost 20 characters to cover, each with their own dialects and idiolects and these guys have to hop from character to character constantly throughout the play. My job is to help these two actors nail the many (many) accents and also help them find ways to switch quickly between them.  I’ve coached shows with multiple dialects before, but not when they’ve been shared by only 2 performers. These guys are rockstars and are making incredible progress with very little one-on-one time. This whole cast is fantastic.

Thanks, Vanessa! Get your tickets to see Handbagged at moxietheatre.com!