An Interview with NOMA’s Alice Enthusiast, Brad Caldwell

Brad J. Caldwell is the public programs manager for the New Orleans Museum of Art. For the past three seasons, he has helped bring The NOLA Project to the sculpture garden for thousands of New Orleanians to see. He is also an avid Alice in Wonderland enthusiast, having dedicated several pieces of art to Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novel. Because of his expertise and passion towards Alice and the characters of Wonderland, we asked him to design the production poster for our upcoming immersive theater experience, Adventures in Wonderland. Here is an email interview with Brad where he discusses his relationship with the fantasy of Alice in Wonderland. 
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NOLA Project: What is so fascinating to you aboutAlice in Wonderland

Brad Caldwell: It is the idea of being able to escape to another land to get away from one’s own reality. Ever since I was a kid I would have loved the chance to be able to go down the rabbit and say goodbye to my reality. But like Alice, I would want to return home. I think everyone would like to escape for a little while. I feel the same for Alice in Wonderland as I do for The Wizard of Oz - just a chance to escape, but always to come back home.

NP: When did you start painting and drawing scenes from it? 

BC: I having been sketching these characters since I was a kid. It has been the last 10 years that I have been exploring them more seriously.
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Brad Caldwell’s “Welcome to the Tea Party, Alice”
NP: What is the Alice in Wonderland aesthetic? 
BC: Like Wonderland, it is what you want it to be; it’s totally free. But, I do believe in maintaining a respect for the story and the original illustrations.

NP: What makes it so timeless? 

BC: gain, like the Wizard of Oz I think it is that idea of escapism.

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Brad Caldwell’s “Wobbleland: We’re All Mad”

NP: What makes it so compelling to people of all ages? 

BC: The characters are all over the place mentally and emotionally and therefore all ages can relate in one way or another. There is nothing preachy or overly adult in the story or characters - there is a perfect blend of silliness inside a compelling story.

NP: What was your process in designing the poster for this production? 

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Brad Caldwell’s poster design for Adventures in Wonderland

BC: I looked to the original illustrations. My favorite illustration is the one of Alice facing and meeting the Chesire Cat, so I played with that one. I like the idea that the viewer cannot see Alice’s face because of the way our story is told. I also couldn’t resist the idea of the Chesire Cat in the tree because of the Oaks that live in the Sculpture Garden, which led me the Beaded Necklaces sculptures in the garden.

NP: When you paint scenes from it, what POV do you like to use? Is it from a specific character or viewpoint? 

BC: Alice. I try to see the characters through her eyes. In my mind she is not intimidated by any of the other characters nor does she take them seriously.
For more of Brad’s work, check out his website here and his Facebook fan page here

For more on our exciting, new, unique production of Adventures in Wonderland click here

The NOLA Project in New York

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The NOLA Project New Orleans. This city is our most important asset. It is the home of our adventures, our work, and our passion. However, there is a sister city, a second location that captivates our heart and influences our style…New York City. Our founders, nine years ago, arrived in New Orleans as fresh graduates of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. While New Orleans is where our company found its purpose and passion, New York is where our founding members found each other. And in some ways, our company is still in exchange with New York City. Four of our company members live and work in NYC, carrying The NOLA Project name wherever they go, still participating in company projects, and still contributing to the artistic work we do here at the home base. 

On the Monday before Mardi Gras, I was in New York City (I’ve binged on Mardi Gras many times, so now I feel an okay-ness with taking advantage of the week-long Carnival break to travel) and I met up with these members at an outlandish tavern near Union Square in Manhattan. 

Will Connolly is a founding member of The NOLA Project. After working here, he attended the Yale School of Drama. He was featured in the hit Broadway musical, Once (which performed at the Tony Awards, winning “Best Musical”) and his musical, Fly By Night is gearing up for a performance at the notable Playwright’s Horizons in NYC. 

Laura Ramadei is a founding member of The NOLA Project and also a founding member of the hip company, Lesser America. Lesser America has been celebrated by NYC audiences and publications for its ballsy storytelling. 

Pete McElliott is pretty legendary. A founding member of the company, folklore of his characters, plays, and unusualness is repeated through the company like a Bill Brasky sketch. He is currently on faculty with the Stella Adler Studio and co-created the Ten Bones theater company in NYC, which does the “Entirely from Memory” series, where actors improvise classic stories from their recollection. Pete’s Alice in Wonderland will be produced by The NOLA Project later this year in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden. 

Claire Gresham is also a co-creator Ten Bones and the “Entirely from Memory” series. She is a graduate of Tulane’s theater program and currently works for the Manhattan Cultural Council. Oh also, I guess I should mention that Claire is engaged to the aforementioned Pete! Pete proposed to her during a “Entirely from Memory” performance in December. 

At this get-together, the NYC NOLA Project-ers reminisced about moving down to New Orleans immediately post-college and living in the same Lakeview house together, rehearsing in the summer heat, and retelling bizarre only-in-New Orleans performance tales. They spoke about that one night on the bayou when they had a boxing match…and the next day when their director yelled at them for doing it. They remembered that time when an inexperienced high school sound technician for The Wind and The Willows made a fireplace sound cue too loud, making it sound like there was a forest fire in the Thames valley…that high schooler was me.  

And they longed to return to NOLA for a show or two. 

Will, Laura, Pete, and Claire went to New York City and created their own opportunities. With their own entrepreneurialism, they’ve made a name for themselves in the vast landscape of New York theater and thus have expanded the reach of The NOLA Project. 

The NOLA Project NOLA, that’s obvious. But also, we must admit, we NY.  

- Alex Ates, Company Member

A Job Well Done

Here in New Orleans, one of the city’s most active and distinctive companies announced that they will be taking a break from producing. Cripple Creek Theatre Co. provided post-flood New Orleans with crafty shows that carried bravado. They produced in retro auditoriums, backyards, parks, galleries, bars, and twisted stages. In fact, The NOLA Project co-produced Balm in Gilead with Cripple Creek in 2012. They found an aesthetic that was politically righteous with a tendency towards the bold. This is the third small theater company that I’ve admired to stop producing this month. Odd enough, all of them have a similar tone of deep, dark intellect and passionate bravery. In Boston (where I went to college), Whistler in the Dark Theatre and Atomic Age recently announced that they’re concluding their work. In light of these closures, it seems like the initial impulse is to mourn, as it may seem like something went wrong. Or at least, things didn’t go as planned. However, I would like to insist that the resting of these companies is something to be proud of and, in fact, admire. 

In his email to the Cripple Creek base Artistic Director, Andy Vaught (a man I’ve always enjoyed for his wild, brilliant presence) wrote, “We are taking a break. I won’t say this is the end of Cripple Creek, because I don’t believe it is. All of us, though, need to take some time and space to answer some very real questions about what we as an organization actually intend to do, and how we as an organization can go about achieving it.” 

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(Cripple Creek’s Possum Kingdom

Whistler in the Dark is known in Boston for being one of the city’s most mainstream fringe companies (an uncomfortable title for a fringe company). Whistler produced profoundly intelligent pieces that embraced language, poetry, and power. I worked with this company on three projects: one as a producing assistant and the two others as an assistant director. Whistler had a puritanical discipline that was impressive. The commitment was fierce and the respect for the material was holy. Their work was so thorough and so dug into, it had a beautiful, handmade texture. In an email to Whistler’s base earlier this month, Artistic Director, Meg Taintor (a close friend and mentor of mine) wrote, “It is with gratitude to this amazing community of collaborators and audiences that I announce that after our upcoming production of Far Away – after nine season, 25 productions and hundreds of artistic collaborations – Whistler in the Dark will be disbanding and closing our doors. The artists who have made Whistler their home continue to work, both in Boston and other cities around the country, but this phase in our lives in ending.”

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(Whistler in the Dark’s Tales From Ovid)

Atomic Age Theatre Company was a small nonprofit created by two of my peers from college. The goal was to produce socially engaging works that had a kick. The company was rooted in a Beacon Hill Episcopal church for sometime, producing deliciously wicked and challenging plays. The visionary leaders were Michelle Roginsky and Jeff Freeman, both fireballs. Jeff was the Artistic Director and caretaker of the company. I was lucky enough to serve on the board of the company among some of the most intelligent (and recreationally brooding) students at our college. However, once we graduated and moved to different corners of the country, the company lost its harmonizers and the not-for-profit status was purposely not renewed. 

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(Atomic Age’s Bash)

The conclusions of these companies is something that we should respect. It represents a connectivity to artistic mission. Cripple Creek, Whistler, and Atomic were truly rooted in their people. As their internal and external communities changed, so did they. Bringing these companies to a rest is not something to pity, it’s something to applaud. They had leaders so in-tune, so engaged, they could sense and analyze the impact and relevancy of their work. They refused to sacrifice mission or artistic quality for obligation or expectation. We need more of this in the American theater. We need companies who constantly review their purpose as artists in a community. We need them to look clearly into the truths of their relationships with the communities they’re dedicated to serve. Adventures should be allowed to come to a close. Artists should be allowed to move on to try new things and explore new missions. So during this time, let us remember the productions produced and their impacts on our lives and the world around us. Let’s offer Cripple Creek, Whistler, and Atomic a congratulations on a job well done! I can’t wait to see what these artists do next. 

- Alex Ates, Company Member

Read Artistic Director, A.J. Allegra’s note on Cripple Creek here. 

Cripple Creek

You may have heard this week that Cripple Creek Theatre Co. is taking a break from producing for a little while. I would like to thank them, especially Artistic Director Andy Vaught, for providing such provocative, beautiful, and inspired moments of theatre in these crucial post-K years of growth and change in the New Orleans theatre community. 

I recall very vividly a discussion Andy and I had one afternoon over coffee at Rue De La Course several years ago where we bandied about the idea of combining companies. And I remember agreeing with one another that it was a poor choice because, honestly, we cannot do what Cripple Creek does. Honestly, no one in my time here has done what Cripple Creek has done. 

Their work, like the Group Theatre before them, was born out of a thrilling and passionate drive for not just social justice, but society action. I believe that in a post-Katrina New Orleans, we needed a theatre to address the injustices, the political absurdities, the iniquity, and the painful/hilarious/absurd struggle to make things right again, or at the least, better than they were. When you can fill a theatre with screaming, joyous locals cheering on a Brecht musical almost a hundred years old, or wildly hooting and hollering for the sudden appearance of Benjamin Franklin, or leaving the theatre to vote for a new city Inspector General, you are doing something severely right.

Working on our co-production of Balm in Gilead was a highlight of my theatrical life and will continue to be because of the Cripple Creek artists we collaborated with. Like Batman, I am certain they will return again at just the time this city needs them. For now, we struggle forward on our own. But when (if you’ll pardon my French) the shit hits the fan again, I hope the Cripple Creek will come roaring back to life.

-A.J. Allegra, Artistic Director

 

Director’s Log 10-24-13
Back to the log!  And after just two days of blocking the show is nearly entirely staged!  But where does this term “blocking” actually come from?  We have a great many odd words and phrases in the theatre that I imagine most actors learn at a young age and just never question:  Blocking, Strike, Curtain Call, Vomitory, Break a Leg, Ghost Light…  Well, I did some research and apparently the term “blocking” was originated by W.S. Gilbert—you know, of Gilbert and Sullivan.  Back in the mid-nineteenth centuries when staging his operettas, Gilbert would build scaled down models of the stage (still done today) and would use wooden blocks to represent each actor.  This way he could conceptualize actors’ movements around the stage (and probably tell when he just couldn’t fit any more Japanese school girls into that Mikado scene).  And thus the term “blocking” was born.

Wood blocks.  I had no idea.  Did you?  Makes sense though.  Funnily enough, when I direct musicals and have to deal with large crowd scenes or movement choreography, I often like to use Skittles® to represent actors.  Yellow for girls, green for boys, red for lead characters and so on.  Maybe one day some young director having no idea why he’s saying it will employ the term “Skittling”.

In a play like Oregon Trail, the important thing to keep in mind when blocking is a combination of where you want the audience to be looking (the focus) and who is the most important character at any given moment (the status).  Forgive me if this seems obvious, but on stage the director has the added challenge of making sure that a hundred or more audience members are all looking where you want them to look.  In film, its easier:  Closeup on the gun, cut to furrowed brow of hero, and so on.  On stage, however, distracting movements by other actors, or a lack of a good line of sight for audience members can all contribute to making a show less clear, and in a comedy’s sake, less funny.
 It’s been nine years since I last staged Oregon Trail, but watching the old film of it allows me to correct all the now obvious mistakes I made as a young director.  God willing, if we stage this when I’m 50, I’ll do the same after taking a look at this production.  Nothing is ever perfect.  I suppose that’s why we continually perform plays.  
-AJ

Director’s Log 10-24-13

Back to the log!  And after just two days of blocking the show is nearly entirely staged!  But where does this term “blocking” actually come from?  We have a great many odd words and phrases in the theatre that I imagine most actors learn at a young age and just never question:  Blocking, Strike, Curtain Call, Vomitory, Break a Leg, Ghost Light…  Well, I did some research and apparently the term “blocking” was originated by W.S. Gilbert—you know, of Gilbert and Sullivan.  Back in the mid-nineteenth centuries when staging his operettas, Gilbert would build scaled down models of the stage (still done today) and would use wooden blocks to represent each actor.  This way he could conceptualize actors’ movements around the stage (and probably tell when he just couldn’t fit any more Japanese school girls into that Mikado scene).  And thus the term “blocking” was born.

Wood blocks.  I had no idea.  Did you?  Makes sense though.  Funnily enough, when I direct musicals and have to deal with large crowd scenes or movement choreography, I often like to use Skittles® to represent actors.  Yellow for girls, green for boys, red for lead characters and so on.  Maybe one day some young director having no idea why he’s saying it will employ the term “Skittling”.

In a play like Oregon Trail, the important thing to keep in mind when blocking is a combination of where you want the audience to be looking (the focus) and who is the most important character at any given moment (the status).  Forgive me if this seems obvious, but on stage the director has the added challenge of making sure that a hundred or more audience members are all looking where you want them to look.  In film, its easier:  Closeup on the gun, cut to furrowed brow of hero, and so on.  On stage, however, distracting movements by other actors, or a lack of a good line of sight for audience members can all contribute to making a show less clear, and in a comedy’s sake, less funny.

 It’s been nine years since I last staged Oregon Trail, but watching the old film of it allows me to correct all the now obvious mistakes I made as a young director.  God willing, if we stage this when I’m 50, I’ll do the same after taking a look at this production.  Nothing is ever perfect.  I suppose that’s why we continually perform plays.  

-AJ

Hello, and welcome to my log!  As director (and writer) of The NOLA Project’s production of Oregon Trail it is my hope to use this blog as a way of giving our audience a peek at the inside of a rehearsal process.
Tonight’s first rehearsal marked the cast read-through (or are we now just spelling it ‘Read-Thru’ in America?) of the play, as most first rehearsals do.  After several months of major revisions on the script (originally written in 2004), tonight we all got to hear one another read the script out loud for the first time.  This is an exciting time for any production, as it allows me a chance to hear where laughs land, how voices work together, and how quickly and hopefully smoothly the play moves.  Tonight’s read in particular proved quite delightful, as the play is full of unique voices, thanks to a group of very distinct actors.  For me, voices in any production are key.  I must hear each character as a distinct and separate entity.  I hate it when any production has two actors that have similar sounds.  It muddles the story and blurs clarity.  For this reason, I have always been a lifelong fan of The Simpsons, a show that has featured over a hundred distinct and reoccurring characters, all voiced by a primary group of seven or eight actors.  Family Guy, for my money, fails by comparison.  It’s jokes and writing are rock solid, but the lack of vocal distinction prevents the community of characters from ever rising to the impressive community collage The Simpsons achieves.  I feel much the same way about The Muppets.  Both Simpsons and Muppets have always colored my directorial approach, either directly or subconsciously.
But back to rehearsal…
Tonight, actors honed their varying degrees of Southern twang and spoke the play at a nice clip, as most comedies require.  The old theatre adage of ‘Louder, Faster, Funnier’ is a definite requirement of Oregon Trail, and I anticipate we will be able to stay a half-step ahead of the audience because, as I told the cast tonight, “the play must move quickly.  If we give the audience time to actually think about the absurdity of what’s just been said, we might lose their willingness to go along with it with no questions asked.”  I think I learned that lesson growing up watching Mel Brooks films.
Tomorrow we start blocking the show.  I wish I could tell you the etimology of the term ‘blocking’, but I’ll leave that for a later blog after a good ol’ googling.  
That’s it for tonight’s log.  Hope you enjoyed its woody goodness!
-AJ

Hello, and welcome to my log!  As director (and writer) of The NOLA Project’s production of Oregon Trail it is my hope to use this blog as a way of giving our audience a peek at the inside of a rehearsal process.

Tonight’s first rehearsal marked the cast read-through (or are we now just spelling it ‘Read-Thru’ in America?) of the play, as most first rehearsals do.  After several months of major revisions on the script (originally written in 2004), tonight we all got to hear one another read the script out loud for the first time.  This is an exciting time for any production, as it allows me a chance to hear where laughs land, how voices work together, and how quickly and hopefully smoothly the play moves.  Tonight’s read in particular proved quite delightful, as the play is full of unique voices, thanks to a group of very distinct actors.  For me, voices in any production are key.  I must hear each character as a distinct and separate entity.  I hate it when any production has two actors that have similar sounds.  It muddles the story and blurs clarity.  For this reason, I have always been a lifelong fan of The Simpsons, a show that has featured over a hundred distinct and reoccurring characters, all voiced by a primary group of seven or eight actors.  Family Guy, for my money, fails by comparison.  It’s jokes and writing are rock solid, but the lack of vocal distinction prevents the community of characters from ever rising to the impressive community collage The Simpsons achieves.  I feel much the same way about The Muppets.  Both Simpsons and Muppets have always colored my directorial approach, either directly or subconsciously.

But back to rehearsal…

Tonight, actors honed their varying degrees of Southern twang and spoke the play at a nice clip, as most comedies require.  The old theatre adage of ‘Louder, Faster, Funnier’ is a definite requirement of Oregon Trail, and I anticipate we will be able to stay a half-step ahead of the audience because, as I told the cast tonight, “the play must move quickly.  If we give the audience time to actually think about the absurdity of what’s just been said, we might lose their willingness to go along with it with no questions asked.”  I think I learned that lesson growing up watching Mel Brooks films.

Tomorrow we start blocking the show.  I wish I could tell you the etimology of the term ‘blocking’, but I’ll leave that for a later blog after a good ol’ googling.  

That’s it for tonight’s log.  Hope you enjoyed its woody goodness!

-AJ

Our production of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing opens this week! The play features theatre-goer’s favorite Shakespearian battle of the sexes, Beatrice vs. Benedick, whose ’will-they-or-won’t-they’ relationship drives much of Much Ado’s story and comedy.

Through the show’s rehearsal process the cast has become clearly divided between two camps: Team Beatrice and Team Benedick. Sides have been chosen and the battle has begun. Now you too can show your support by featuring your team’s image as your Facebook cover photo! Then come see Much Ado and show your support to your favorite team in person!

Click here to purchase tickets.

Theatre of Outrage

Theatre is no stranger to outrage.  The subjective art form lends itself to interpretation, which is inextricably tied to personal experience and self-knowledge.  In Ibsen’s day, when Nora walks out on her family at the conclusion of A Doll’s House, some critics praise its progressive stance.  Others burn down the theater.   Today audiences have cooled slightly in their active response, but not in their passion and reaction to the plays themselves.  Today we have Facebook, where the realm of outrage lives and, hopefully, extends beyond into action.  Anyone that keeps up with The NOLA Project on social media (our preferred marketing outlet-it’s free) has seen the sudden and stirring responses evoked by our production of Gabrielle Reisman’s play ‘Catch the Wall’ now playing at Dillard University.  Or maybe you haven’t.  The reaction began on our Facebook event wall for the show and was later removed (censored some call it) when a highly personal email was copied and pasted into the public forum.  I felt the action was offensive and disregarded the basic trust implicit in a personal email.  And as a response, our marketing director, by my request, made the event’s wall private, thusly deleting the original thread.  We then proceeded to create a Facebook group for a forum discussion that could last well beyond the show’s closing.  The inability for us to recover and copy the deleted comments outraged some, and that is something that as Artistic Director I must accept, take responsibility for, and move forward from. 

But what pleases me despite the bruises to the ego is that we have here a play that inspires these passionate responses.  And I welcome you to continue in this discussion.  Does a white playwright have the authority or even the right to craft a play about the experience of black characters?  Does a white director have the ability to comprehend and direct this play?  And does a company composed of more white faces than black have the ability to embrace and attempt to produce this play? 

Some have also questioned the motivations of the playwright and the intent of the production.  Is this a white playwrights personal perspective of bounce music and public education in black communities?  Or is this a call to action and social change?  In essence, why do we produce theatre?  To what end?

For me, and this is a lesson passed on from Stella Adler, great plays are about ideas. And the best plays pit two difficult and equally valid ideas directly against one another.  Take William’s The Glass Menagerie and the struggle to define life as better lived for one’s family or for one’s self.  Miller plays often deal with the difficult ideas of doing what is morally right versus what is socially and economically correct.  Now to place Gabrielle Reisman amongst those legends is certainly premature and possibly grandiose.  But my point is that the best plays have no easy answers and the productions of them often spark immense debate and argument.  It is why they are perpetually produced, over and over again for consideration and reconsideration.  They live with us far longer than the two hours we spend directly with them.  And perhaps they move us to action.  Or maybe they don’t.  Maybe they change our mind.  Or perhaps they just needle something in us that isn’t very comfortable.

You can charge that The NOLA Project, or Gabrielle Reisman, or Chris Kaminstein, or anyone involved in ‘Catch the Wall’ oversteps his or her boundary and rights in producing ‘Catch the Wall.’  But if we choose to avoid the challenge and potential backlash, we do our community a much greater disservice.

I think Troi Bechet, a fabulous actor in our company said it best when she said that one thing this debate makes crystal clear is the need for more artists of color in the New Orleans theatre.  We need directors and actors and designers and writers of color, and they need and deserve avenues of expression.  I hope that  The NOLA Project can be of assistance  and in partnership here. 

Please, if you haven’t seen ‘Catch the Wall’, go.  Your thoughts, for better or worse, are valuable.  If we inspire thought, serve the artists of our community, and keep interesting and new theatre thriving in the city of New Orleans, then we accomplish our mission, and I can hold my head up high.

-AJ Allegra

Artistic Director, The NOLA Project 

Join the discussion here:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/555780277775654/