Sunday, April 13, 2008

Times-Dispatch: Andrew Hamm is "Cultivating Richmond Theater"

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Cultivating Richmond theater
An insider is devoted to fostering a vibrant local art scene

Sunday, Apr 13, 2008 - 12:03 AM


"There's no shame in wanting to be a big fish in a small pond," observes Richmond Shakespeare's new associate artistic director, Andrew Hamm, "if you recognize that a big fish in a small pond has big responsibilities to care for the pond."

An intense 35-year-old with a shaved head, glasses and an earring, Hamm is sitting in the theater company's quiet office in the Fan, drinking coffee and discussing, among other matters, the importance of nurturing a vibrant local theater scene. It is a subject he feels strongly about: His voice is emotional, almost tremulous, as he deplores the inclination of certain big fish (talented Richmond thespians) to relocate to a larger pond (New York City).

"Smaller-city and small-town art scenes need great artists to stay there: That is what makes art healthy," the Virginia native stresses.

Since he began working with Richmond Shakespeare in 2004 -- his first freelance assignment was to supervise music for a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" -- Hamm has done his part to cultivate the pond that is Richmond theater.

For 18 months, until his promotion in March to associate artistic director, he served as Richmond Shakespeare's director of training, coordinating career-enrichment classes (such as the upcoming clowning intensive) aimed at local actors. "I felt a responsibility to do what little I can, not only to put on a good show, but to help the other artists in town to put on good shows," he says, explaining his perspective on the job.

He has also directed for the company, most recently mounting "As You Like It," running at the Second Presbyterian Church through April 20. Hamm has followed the five-actor template that's a Richmond Shakespeare hallmark: Between a clothes rack and a flower-draped piano, the performers ricochet from character to character, frantically donning hats, aprons and the like to signal their identity.

"I've been calling it a love letter to the five-actor format," says Hamm. "We're not trying to hide the costume changes or the character changes -- we're absolutely glorifying in them!"

All the same, he'll be expanding the cast, to a dozen or so, for the comedy's run at Agecroft Hall July 3 through July 13.

In addition to directing "As You Like It," Hamm has written the production's incidental music, and he serves as pianist for the montage of 1980s pop songs (Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," etc.) that introduces Act I. "Once alternative and grunge became mainstream, you couldn't have love songs without irony," Hamm said, of the choice of tunes.

"The '80s were really the last time in history where you could have love songs that were really just kooky love songs." (His Virginia Commonwealth University graduate thesis was a theater piece built from Joe Jackson albums.)

As if he didn't have enough to do, Hamm also depicts Hymen in the production, adding that tiny role to a list of previous Richmond Shakespeare acting credits.

"He has a great energy," said James Alexander Bond, the New York-based artist who directed Hamm in "Measure for Measure" and in "Julius Caesar."

"He does his work fast and well, and if something's not going in a direction that feels right, he has no problem letting go and trying new things. He's very specific -- and the more specific a character is, the better it is."

Grant Mudge, the company's artistic director, is equally enthusiastic. "He can work as a teaching artist, he can work as an actor -- his versatility is incredibly valuable to me, " he said. "At any small not-for-profit theater company, if you've got someone who can handle more than one area of emphasis, that's incredibly valuable."

If Mudge sounds a note of pragmatism, Hamm takes an idealistic view of his work. "I view this thing of art-making as mission and vocation," he said.

And for that mission, he thinks, Richmond is an ideal location. "You can perform in front of bigger houses if you wish, in bigger towns," said Hamm. "But I guarantee: You're going to touch people so much more deeply here."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Images from "Auditioning for Musical Theatre"

Scott Wichmann and Sandy Dacus joined forces on Tuesday to teach a magnificent workshop in musical theatre auditioning techniques. Seven participants and six auditors took it all in.

In addition to being a swell guy, Scott is a heck of a teacher, and Sandy may be the best accompanist I've ever seen. It was a rollicking fun educational evening.

Here are some pictures, in case you missed it:

Next up: Auditioning for Shakespeare with Daryl Clark Phillips (Falstaff in last year's acclaimed Henry IV, Part 1 and this summer's Part 2) on May 13. Call 804-232-4000 or email to reserve your spot.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Style Weekly: "As You Like It" is "vibrant, witty"

From Style Weekly:

Contract of Breeches
The Richmond Shakespeareans sign up for a lot of costume changes in a play already full of mistaken identities.

by Mary Burruss

I confess: Richmond Shakespeare’s concept of five people playing all the parts in a Shakespeare play is often distracting, and at times I find the prop/costume changes awkward. But the five-actor version of “As You Like It,” playing at Second Presbyterian Church, has made me a convert to this type of production.

Director Andrew Hamm has done a masterful job of choreographing a vibrant, witty homage to this prototype of romantic comedy. The transitions were seamless, and the onstage costume changes mostly worked well.

The many characters who romped through the forest of Arden, celebrating the rites of spring with music and dance, could threaten to get mixed up — especially considering the multiple identities already at work within the story — but there was an ease and confidence to the production that precluded any disorientation.

Hamm warmed up the audience with a piano-accompanied set of contemporary love songs. It set the tone for a breezy show, delivering a cast of characters that exuded playfulness. Frank Creasy (as Charles, the Duke’s wrestler) pushed the limits of kayfabe during the better-than-WWE wrestling scene with Patrick Bromley’s Orlando.

Sunny LaRose was adorable as the love-struck Rosalind (disguised as the youth Ganymede in the forest). LaRose’s onstage relationship with Julia Rigby’s Celia portrayed a connection whose bond was “stronger than that of sisters.” And despite the wonderful silliness of Creasy’s dancing and Bromley and Adam Minks in women’s roles, the gender-bending performances of the two natural girls were the strongest overall.

The beautiful costumes designed by Rebecca Cairns blended soft, earthy tones of creams, gold and floral prints that intertwined through all the costumes like ivy on a tree trunk. The effect was a cohesive, well-tailored look that added a dash of sophistication and sumptuousness to the show. Cairns not only designed a whimsical collection of costumes, but also managed to define characters with minimal pieces that functioned well for those quick transformations.

Picture of the Week

Patrick Bromley as Audrey in As You Like It. Photo by Eric Dobbs.

"I do not know what poetical means!"

Trust me, you don't want to miss this performance. I smell a Tony!