Friday, November 25, 2011

Jessica Kush: Bunnicula Review

Even though there had been so much rushing to get things done, the Bunnicula show went off without a hitch! We even raised $250.00 that was donated to the West Pittston Library which was affected by the flood in September, 2011. 

Bunnicula's "Mom,"  Tonya Hill
I went to the first night of the show and found the theatre to be charming. The owner of Arts YOUniverse, Kathleen Godwin, saved an old abandoned church when she decided to host her shows in the building. The seating is spacious and holds up to 500 people! Where once the altar stood, there is now enough floor space for a stage, and the actors use every available space to enhance their performance. For example, the young actress who played Chester the cat used a wooden railing that encircles the cage in a magnificent way for her solo number. I was very much impressed with her ability to bring to life the stage and the environment of a house and a poor cat that has been put outside for the night.

This can also be said for the other actors in the play. Each of them was funny, exciting, and believable in their parts. They drew the audience right in and it was impossible not to find them endearing. This especially can be said for the actress who played Harriet, the family dog. She had great comedic timing and her interaction with Chester and the other actors was magnificent. It is hard to believe that so many of these actors had never performed live in front of an audience! They were very professional. I was very impressed with their abilities and theatre etiquette. It could not have been accomplished without Angel Berlane whose directing helped create such a successful show.

I cannot emphasize how appreciative I was to have been part of this project. It was depressing to leave class every day because it was like emerging into the real world where this was not yet my career. Writing for the Arts and the work we did for Bunnicula helped me realize that this kind of work is exactly what I want to with my life and I cannot wait to graduate and submerge myself into the professional writing career.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Kevin Conroy | Local Arts: the power to change lives and uplift the entire community

Several weeks after visiting the first reading of Bunnicula, I had the privilege of seeing the play come to fruition.  The young actors and actresses surprised me with their progress— it was hard to tell that it was the first production for all of them.  From a quiet, rainy night in the art gallery behind the main stage, to the musical performance delivered on a sunny autumn afternoon, Bunnicula was a resounding success.

My first visit to Arts YOUniverse was the night of the first read through of the script, and there was a storm brewing.  It continued to rain throughout the night, and many places in the surrounding area experienced severe flooding.  King’s was eventually evacuated, but luckily neither the college nor Arts YOU was badly affected, and the show was able to go on.

I breathed a sigh of relief upon walking into Arts Youniverse on the day of the play— the stage was set and looked like a realistic living room, complete with a couch, kitchen table, a beanbag chair used for a pet bed, and a stove and refrigerator.  A cage was set up downstage (meaning closer to the audience) that was to house Bunnicula, the dastardly rabbit the play centered around. Only a few days before, the set was still in the planning stage, and most of the attention was still fixed on shoring up the cast’s performances (this is often the case in theater, professional or amateur). The producers had pulled it together well, and just in the nick of time.

The day I went to the play was also the first time that I had heard any of the actresses and actors sing.  In addition to being exceptionally good first time performers, the cast could also sing very well. During the initial run through, there was no singing, but someone would announce that a musical scene was occurring so that everyone could keep their place.

The music itself was adorable— the songs all fit well with the overall themes of the play.  One song sung the praises of pets, while another delved into the eerie world of vampires.  The entire cast pulled it off flawlessly.

I remember in the initial reading that some of the younger members of the cast seemed to have a hard time focusing and keeping track of when it was their turn to speak (which is understandable for their age).  There were no such problems in the final show; everyone articulated their parts well, with good inflection and emotion.  No one wandered off, which is remarkable considering how young some of the actors and actresses were.

It felt good to help out in such a worthy cause.  In addition to the writing and other footwork that went into the Bunnicula project, I was able to help out with the Campion Society (the King’s creative writing club) in selling concessions at the door.  All of the patrons seemed enthusiastic about the play, and afterwards there was a unanimously positive response.  We sold a variety of goods, including hot or cold apple cider and carrot cupcakes with little carrots made of icing on top.

We were able to raise a significant amount of money, sending $250 to the West Pittston library, which was critically damaged during the same flooding that occurred on the night of my first visit to Arts Youniverse.  We were also able to donate leftovers to local charities, such as the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen, as well as donate a bunch of leftover water bottles to Arts YOUniverse.

The production was such a success that there is a very good chance that King’s and Arts YOUniverse will be able to partner in the future for an ongoing children’s theater program in the future, offering the community an excellent way to get both kids and adults alike interested and involved in theater. From seeing the evolution of the Bunnicula’s cast, to helping the West Pittston library and other local charities, and hopefully establishing an ongoing children’s theater program, this has easily been one of the most rewarding projects of my college career.

I highly encourage others to take up the flame, so to speak, and get involved with the local arts community. It has the power to change lives and uplift the entire community.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Isabel Silva: The Bunnicula Project: Putting English Students to Good Use for a Good Cause

Nearly every time I tell someone that I am majoring in English I get the concerned and slightly sarcastic reply of, “Oh! So you’re going to be a teacher?” This has always bothered me, not because I think there is anything wrong with the profession, but because people always assume that the only thing someone can do with a degree in English is teach English.

In our Writing for the Arts class, we disprove this stereotype every time we step into the classroom. This class, and the “Bunnicula Project” that we worked on for the first half of the semester, have shown not only that there are many types of jobs for writers, but also that these positions can go a step further and benefit the community. The “Bunnicula Project” is proof that the skills gained from the study of English can be applied to many different jobs that are just as challenging and fulfilling as teaching.

The “Bunnicula Project” challenged people’s perceptions of what English majors can do in many ways; when hearing about the project, most people would assume that we were writing the script for the play and were surprised to learn that there was actually much more writing involved in the production process.  While working on this project, our class learned about how much writing is actually involved in the production of a play, and I think we are all quite surprised by the amount. We created memos, letters, advertisements, blog posts, and program pieces, among other things. In writing these pieces, we learned how to critique each other’s work and take the best from each, compiling them to create the finished product. This work benefitted not only the community participating in and watching the Bunnicula performance, but us students as well.

Though I was already familiar with the many ways in which reading and writing skills can be applied to real-life jobs and opportunities, I was still surprised at how many possibilities this class opened up for me. The study of English develops in its students reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills that become invaluable to any employer. It’s great that, as a writer, I can use these skills to find a job doing editing, grant writing, technical writing, review writing, etc. but it is even more exciting to know that these same skills can be applied in ways that will benefit others, by working with non-profit organizations or helping with a project such as the “Bunnicula Project” on which we just finished working.  

It feels great to know that the work we did for Bunnicula has made a difference in the community. If not for this project, many of the children may not have had the opportunity to participate in a theatre production. For many of the actors, it was their first time ever performing and I am so pleased that we were able to give them that experience. In addition, we were able to raise $250 dollars for the West Pittston library to aid in the flood recovery of their children’s section. The “Bunnicula project” has paved the way for more children’s theatre in the community and created the beginnings of a valuable partnership between King’s College and ArtsYOUniverse that is sure to benefit the community with future projects. I’m glad that, through the Writing for the Arts course, I was able to use my linguistic talents for such a good cause and hope that more English majors will use their skills to benefit others as they go through their college careers. 

Sarah Scinto: "A Good Cause Spins Itself"

The Arts YOUniverse Stage
Advertising and PR get a bad rap in the world of communications, but these general ideas about lying, deceptive advertisers do not hold up in reality. In reality, advertising campaigns are shaped and defined by what they promote, and when a campaign promotes something good, it can never fall prey to the Mad Men-esque stereotypes. Case in point: our work with Arts YOUniverse.

Bunnicula and Arts YOUniverse are good causes in every sense of the word. They are providing a valuable service to the Wilkes-Barre community by providing access to the arts.  Coming into the Writing for the Arts class, we were asked to aid Arts YOUniverse in the promotion and sponsorship of the production, and as we began our work, it seemed as though the cause promoted itself. We knew that our writing would support something good, something that was giving back to the community, and we did not need to spin our approach or write in any sort of deceptive way.

In those first few brainstorming meetings, the ideas flew across the table at a rapid-fire pace. We were so inspired by the work of Arts YOUniverse and the Bunnicula project that we did not struggle to come up with ways to promote it. We were charged by the belief that the public should know about this cause, and inspiration flowed from this belief. We existed to serve the goals of Arts YOUniverse and the production, not to twist them around into a more pleasing form for the press. The work was pleasing enough already, we just put the message out into the world and let the word spread.

I never imagined myself as a promoter or advertiser. I always thought I could only be the creator; the one who makes the product or event to be promoted. I’ll admit it: I bought into the stereotypes. Now, however, I realize that I don’t have to limit myself to one category. Promotion does not stifle creativity, it encourages creativity. Promoters help the creators find their place in the world and enable them to continue creating. Of course, promoters themselves have creators in them: I can honestly say that some of the most creative things I’ve done were connected to promotional campaigns for both Bunnicula and the charity Invisible Children.

When a promotional campaign serves something creative and good, it too takes on those qualities. The best promotions exist to serve what should be brought into the public eye. After taking this class, working with Arts YOUniverse, and continuing to work with Invisible Children, I have seen that so many great things deserve promotion. Their messages should be heard and seen by the world, and it is promotion and advertising that allows their messages to spread. I always thought I would be the creator, but now I can see myself as a promoter as well. If I can be responsible, even in the smallest way, for shedding light on a good cause or allowing someone’s voice to be heard, I know I will have achieved something worthwhile.

Advertising and PR are not about stifling creativity or spinning and distorting messages. They are about allowing creativity the space to thrive and helping a good cause get its message to the world. I think we achieved this purpose in our work with Arts YOUniverse. We took the message they gave us and spread it to the community, giving Bunnicula a chance to take the stage and Arts YOUniverse itself the ability to continue creating. I am so honored to have been a part of this effort, and I am so proud of what we accomplished. More than anything, I am so grateful for this experience.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Isabel Silva | Bunnicula: A Post-Production Reflection

Growing up with three siblings, I was already familiar with Bunnicula’s veggie-sucking antics long before our Writing for the Arts class began back in August. I had heard my siblings rant and rave about how thrilled they were after reading each book in the series and about how they wanted to read about the adventures of Chester and Howard over and over again. Already a Bunnicula fan, I was excited when it was announced that we would be putting on a production of Bunnicula. Until then, I was not aware that the book had been adapted for the stage so I eagerly printed out my copy of the script to see what this play would be like.

I have to admit that upon first reading, I was skeptical. It bothered me a little that such a beloved book was going to be changed and twisted and put to music. My emotions were similar to those that most of us experience when a favorite book has just been made into a movie; we cringe and sigh, knowing that the movie could not possibly, in 90 short minutes, do justice to the on-paper story. With these concerns always in the back of mind, I continued my work for the production with the consolation that at least this would be something for the children to enjoy and that they would hopefully be encouraged to read the book once they had fallen in love with the theatre production.

This past Sunday afternoon I headed over to ArtsYOUniverse, excited that everything had finally come together but nervous to see what the play would do to my childhood memory of the vegetarian vampire with which I was so familiar. When I walked into the theatre, it was almost surreal to see all the different things about which we had been talking about for months, actually coming to life before my eyes. I saw the puppet, the programs, the Halloween-themed snacks and favors; everything that we had planned was being fulfilled at ArtsYOUniverse that weekend.

As the cast took to the stage for their second and final performance, all my doubts began to disappear. The characters were so engaging and so loveable that I could not help but be absorbed by all the vampire-bunny fun. I enjoyed the changes in the stage adaptation and I loved the endearing quality of the performances by the children. Although most of the actors were new to theatre, the enthusiasm and commitment that they brought to the show was infectious. I feel now that having Bunnicula produced for children’s theatre actually brings new life to the story. It adds an element of childhood innocence and inexperience that makes the beloved children’s book that much more memorable.

The play was funny and the kids were absolutely adorable. As I watched the performance, it made me happy to think about these kids and how influential a project like this is to their lives. By putting on this play, ArtsYOUniverse gave local children an opportunity to create their own art and share it with others. This, coupled with the fundraising efforts to benefit the library, really made this entire project worthwhile. I am so glad to have been able to be a part of it all and, although the project is over, I have hope that this is only the beginning of what will later be a tradition of children’s theatre and art brought to the community by ArtsYOUniverse.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jessica Kush: Watching a Friend Leap off the Page and Come Alive

Bunnicula is a mystery story written by James and Deborah Howe that tells the story of a rabbit whose nighttime snacking leads his fellow Monroe family pets to believe he has vampire-like powers. The book has been a children’s bestseller since 1979 and inspired James Howe to write several more sequels such as The Celery Stalks at Midnight and Howliday Inn.

Bunnicula’s popularity and off beat title character inspired playwright Jon Klein to create a stage production of the book. “I like characters that are sort of outsiders,” Klein states to the Washington Post when asked about his adaptation and comparing it to the 1948 film Abott and Costello Meets Frankenstein.  Despite having ample source material to work with, Klein adapted Bunnicula as a musical and enlisted composer Chris Jefferies to create the score for the lyrics he wrote. 

On his decision, Klein tells Gazette.Net “I wanted to be true to the spirit and tone of the book. And then I wanted to make sure that the music would be fun and representative.” The songs, which include an upbeat number about household pets and a pity party melody about an outcast Chester, certainly add fun and charm to the play. Klein’s adaptations seem to have been a good decision because since Bunnicula’s 1996 premiere at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, the musical has been produced more than 100 times and performed by several top theatres including Imagination Stage

However, Klein feels the success of the play lies with his ingeniousness to introduce Bunnicula as a puppet rather than an actor in a rabbit suit. During a production rehearsal he attended at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, Klein spoke to the Washington Post stating "The rabbit is the draw. ...I warned all the actors, if the rabbit does something, nobody is going to look at you.” The puppet helps build the mystery of the play and of Bunnicula who can appear cute or scary depending on the scene. While a pet, Bunnicula is not like Harold and Chester who are more human than animal-like in nature. Bunnicula never speaks and the audience never knows what is going on in his head or what he thinks. He is mysterious. The ending concludes with the audience never knowing for sure whether Bunnicula is a vampire or not. So until then, guard your vegetables!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Isabel Silva: Bunnicula Arrives!

It’s almost show time and earlier last week the star of the show finally arrived! Bunnicula, or his puppet that is, made it just in time for final rehearsals as the cast of Bunnicula prepares to go on stage this weekend. 

The character of this loveable vegetable juice-sucking bunny presented quite a challenge in creating a stage-adaptation of the classic children’s book. In the story, Bunnicula, although he is a rabbit, is very active on stage. He hops around, bares his fangs, wiggles his nose, sleeps, and sucks the juice out of all the vegetables in the Monroe house. 

All this action however, becomes difficult to translate on-stage when you do not have an actor playing the part. Noreen O’Connor, whose son “playing” Bunnicula, took upon herself the complicated (but fun!) task of finding a puppet that could bring this vampire bunny to life.

She found an artist on named Paula Corbett who designs and sells puppets  through her a company fittingly called Bad Bunny Puppets. Impressed by her work, Noreen contacted Paula and they both began to brainstorm ideas for this bunny project. Noreen requested an “unassuming pet bunny look that turns vampire for the vegetable-sucking scenes” and requested that the bunny look as though he were wearing a cape. 

The trickiest part was finding a way to create fangs that could appear and disappear just as they do in the book. Paula devised an ingenious method for this; she created holes in the bunny’s face where the fangs would go and then created a glove that had the fangs attached so that the puppeteer could use his fingers to expose and retract the juice-sucking fangs. She also made it so that one of the puppeteer’s fingers could be used to wiggle Bunnicula’s nose. These elements, combined with the cape-like design of the bunny’s fur came together to form a Bunnicula puppet that looks like it hopped straight out of the book itself.

Paula said that researching Bunnicula for this project was “fun” and that she was “excited to see how [Bunnicula] was going to turn out! And so were the rest of the cast and crew working to put this production together. When the puppet was finally delivered, everyone was thrilled with the creativity and likeness of this one-of-a-kind puppet.

 Thanks to the ingenuity of Noreen and Paula, the Bunnicula production will have its vampire star tomorrow night when the lights go down, curtains go up, and Bunnicula takes to the stage.