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Roberta Sloan prepares to present her one-woman show on Benjamin Franklin’s feisty wife, Deborah

Roberta Sloan, a first-generation American whose father emigrated from Russia, has always had a love for history, particularly the history of Colonial

Roberta Sloan, chair of the theater departments at Temple University, recreates the life of Deborah Franklin in her one woman show.

America. Her interests in the historical beginnings of America coupled with her experience on the cusp of the women’s movement in the 1970s led her to pursue the little-known story behind the life of Benhamin Franklin’s dynamic wife, Deborah Franklin.

“The more research we did, the more interested and excited I became about discovering that Deborah Franklin was, indeed, the woman behind the man — a feisty, opinionated, capable businesswoman, who was a respected citizen of Philadelphia,” said Sloan.” I came to believe that Benjamin Franklin could not have become the famous Benjamin Franklin we recognize today without Deborah Franklin. So I was determined to tell her story.”

Temple Times talked with Sloan about her new production, First Lady of Philadelphia: The Life and Times of Deborah Franklin, which stages March 31 through April 11 at Temple’s Randall Theater.

Portrait of Deborah Franklin, First Lady of Phialdelphia

Probably one that comes from the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. It describes when he first met Deborah. He was a runaway from an apprenticeship to his brother, a Boston printer, and supposedly, he had no money in his pocket when he arrived in Philadelphia. Hungry, with his last few pence, he bought three loaves of bread, which he carried under his arms. This is how Deborah first met him. It was a meeting that would change both their lives.

Where there any unexpected findings as you began to put the pieces of Deborah’s story together?
One really synergistic aspect of the piece that took me completely by surprise is that Professor Terry Halbert’s husband Bill is a direct descendant of the Franklins. It is because of him that we have permission to use the very famous portrait of Deborah Franklin on our posters and programs. Now how incredible is that! By the way, some people have told me that Deborah Franklin and I look alike. I do think that there is a resemblance.

What was the most challenging aspect of bringing her story to life?

The most challenging aspect, I believe, is the one ahead — the actual acting of the play. One-woman shows are very challenging to learn and present. You only have yourself up there on stage to depend upon, and you want to make the play amusing, sad, interesting, entertaining and always engaging. I want to do justice to the person whose life I am portraying, Deborah Franklin. To my mind, she has a story to be told. As she says in the play, “My story has mystery and majesty like his…” I hope to be able to share that story with the audience.

How will Deborah Franklin’s story appeal to a modern audience?

Some characters are universal. I believe Deborah Franklin to be one of them. Here is a woman who lived in a different time, and yet she faced some of the same challenges that women today face. Her story is the untold story of the wife of one of the most famous of all Americans.
Are their plans to stage this piece outside of Temple?

Yes, there has already been a lot of interest about staging the play elsewhere. As they say in theatrical terms, this play seems to have “legs.” I am already scheduled to present it at Ursinus College in the fall. Cape May Stage and Hedgerow Theater, two professional theatrical venues, are interested in me presenting it at their theaters. Historic Philadelphia, the organization that presents all of the historical figures and storytellers in Old City every spring through fall, is very interested in the play. I think there will be a lot of added interest because the character is a Philadelphian and such a great part of the history of our city.

For information on show times and dates visit Temple Theaters on the web.

– Jazmyn Burton

SHOT!, an original play written by Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, will appear at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF) on April 14 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Conceived by Williams-Witherspoon, Douglas C. Wager and Eugene Martin SHOT! combines poetry, monologue and documentary footage to create a vibrant, authentic story from the perspective of North Philadelphia residents. This intense, fact-based drama drawn from actual interviews with local residents creates a meditation on the history, current strife and future resurrection of the community.

During the national festival students from across the country are given an opportunity to celebrate the creative process, see one another’s work, and share experiences and insights within the community of theater artists.

In addition, the festival honors excellence of overall production and recognizes the talents of student artists through awards and scholarships in playwriting, acting, criticism, directing, and design.

This year the national selection teams saw 53 individual plays and musicals for consideration for the National Festival. More than 500 productions were considered nationwide for invitation to the regional festivals.

– Jazmyn Burton

RENT!

March 8, 2010

Temple Theater opens its final production of the 2009-10 season this weekend with an original production of Rent, the moving rock opera chronicling the lives of a colorful group of aspiring artists and youth in New York City’s East Village.

With characters drawn from Puccini’s La Boheme, Rent explores addiction, counterculture and the looming presence of AIDS in late 80s New York City.

“Rent fits perfectly into the landscape of Temple Theaters at Temple University,” said artistic director Douglas C. Wager. “It’s a soaring rock opera that celebrates diversity, community — told with an energetic score and truly unforgettable characters, young artists attempting to navigate through a very complicated modern world.”

Rent features musical direction by David Ames; lighting by Barrymore Award winner John Hoey (Arden’s Sweeney Todd); scenic design by MFA Design candidate Kyle Melton; costumes by MFA Design candidate Rita Squitiere; sound design by Mike Kiley; choreography by MFA Directing candidate Brandon McShaffrey; and stage management by Jayme Adams.

The production runs through April 11 in Tomlinson Theater. Tickets can be purchased by phone at 1-800-838-3006, 215-204-1122, online at http://www.temple.edu/sct/theater, or in person at the Tomlinson Theater Box Office at 1301 W. Norris Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122. The box office is open Tuesday-Friday, 10am-2pm, and can be reached by phone at 215-204-1122. Tickets are $10 for Temple students; $20 for seniors, students and alumni; and $25 for general admission.

– Jazmyn Burton

January 4, 2010

Imaginarium takes theater into North Philly schools

Junior theater major Steff Cryor created a troupe for city school children who don’t receive significant exposure to the arts

Steff Cryor and Mask Director Alison Hoban pose with the cast of East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

Steff Cryor grew up surrounded by the arts.

As a child, the junior theater education major from Pittsburgh would have birthday parties at the local children’s theater, where she would eventually become a regular performer.

It was a logical next step when she arrived at Temple’s School of Communications and Theater her freshman year to join a touring Shakespeare group that went into Philadelphia public schools.

But what she saw there gave her pause.

“The students really didn’t get that much exposure to the arts,” she says.

Cryor immediately went to Professor David Ingram to see if she and her fellow theater students could do more to expose the children of the Philadelphia school system to the arts. What resulted was a 50-minute interactive show based on the Scandinavian fairy tail East of the Sun and West of the Moon. She and her cast and crew performed for Kindergarten classes in the city and “the kids really responded to it.”

The Magic Brocade, a Chinese folktale, followed the next year with a budget to allow for a portable fabric set and more elaborate costumes.

And in December 2008, Cryor received a Provost Commission on the Arts grant to formalize her group under the name Imaginarium. The grant requires projects be interdisciplinary, so Cryor recruited students from the Film and Media Arts Department, as well as the Tyler School of Art’s Architecture Department. As Imaginarium, the troupe has created three shows – one based on Native American folklore, another on African folklore and a third original work dealing with the issues of peer pressure, self confidence and acceptance of people’s differences.

Post by Jeff Cronin for the  School of Communications and Theater.

To read the complete article visit the SCT News & Events site

Current acting MFA graduate student Yvette Ganier has been cast in a Broadway play that will preview and open in late February/early March. She will play Viney in the Circle in the Square production of The Miracle Worker, directed by Kate Whorisky and starring Allison Pill and Abigail Breslin.

The Miracle Worker, set in the South in the 1880s, tells the story of real-life Medal of Freedom winner Helen Keller, born blind and deaf, and the extraordinary teacher who taught her to communicate with the world, Annie Sullivan. It originally appeared on Broadway in 1959 starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke and won the Tony for Best Play in 1960.

Ganier has won an Obie Award (for an Off-Broadway performance) and has understudied a Broadway role before, but this is the first time that she will actually be appearing on The Great White Way.

– Jeff Cronin for the School of Communications & Theater Blog.

For more SCT news visit http://sct.temple.edu/blogs/news-events/category/news/

Intro to Hip-Hop theater

December 14, 2009

The critics called it a fad; a musical genre that would never last.

Fast forward 30-years and the cadence and creativity of hip-hop music has had an influence on American art and pop culture.

Now,  a new form of performance art called hip-hop theater is making its way on to stages across the county.

During the spring semester the Theater Department at Temple University will offer an Intro to Hip-Hop theater course taught by professor Samuel Reyes. Designed to introduce students to the principles and techniques characteristic of hip-hop theater and dance, students will examine the impact hip-hop is having on the professional theater in the United States, study the genesis and history of the culture and become and execute hip-hop movement.

– Jazmyn Burton