The cast of The 24-Hour The Bald Soprano on giving up caffeine in preparation for their marathon performance

January 15, 2010

An Exclusive Talk With Brat Productions About The (24 Hour) Bald Soprano

Andrew H Beal for

Friday January 15, 2010

Philly2philly Guest Writer Andrew H Beal sat down with THE (24 HOUR) BALD SOPRANO with Brat Productions. After acclaimed outings in 1998 and 2007, Brat Productions comes to the Annenberg Center for a 3rd installment of the performance marathon called “the best-ever theatrical critique of Suburban banality” by American Theatre Magazine. Beginning at 8pm on Friday, January 22, Brat Productions will perform the 60-minute piece 24 times in a row. How do they do it? Check out the exclusive conversation below!

Who’s in the convo? Madi Distefano directs up-and-coming performers: Krista Apple, Jake Blouch, Bradley K. Wrenn and Victoria Frings. As well as returning Bald Soprano vets Jess Conda and Nathan Holt. Michael Alltop is the Artistic Director of Brat Productions.

Andrew Beal for Philly2philly (AB): Michael, as Artistic Director, are you planning on seeing all twenty-four performances yourself this time around?

Michael Alltop: I didn’t see all 24 shows in the 2007 version, but I was awake and at the theatre the whole time—selling tickets, making coffee, doing ice runs to keep the PBRs cold... The first time I was able to break away and see the performance was at 1:00 a.m. – the 6th performance of the night. Over the course of 24 hours I saw the show 4 times – and each one was a marvel of humor, stamina and concentration.

AB: Brat has a history of putting on a show in a unique or non-traditional performance space. How does it feel to be in the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, one of the largest performance venue complexes in the city and home to such an array of dance, theatre and music?

Michael Alltop: This is a huge privilege and honor for us. We hope to reach a new audience of students and Annenberg subscribers while also bringing in our core fans. It’s a great space—we’ve never worked in a complex this large. We’re definitely more used to finding unique spaces in which to perform and then transforming them into theatres of a sort. The Annenberg, well, it’s got everything! We are doing Bald Soprano at their invitation, as part of the By Local program, which features homegrown talent in a world-class setting. I must say that, although most of our work would not necessarily be well served in the more traditional setting of the Annenberg, Bald Soprano is perfect to be presented in this way. Our version is radical in concept and execution, but I do think the show works best in a proscenium arrangement.

AB: Madi, as director of this epic evening, what sort of new, exciting takes can we look forward to?

Madi Distefano: I've grown and changed as an artist, and I am attuned to the tragedy that creates the comedy. In the lives of the Smiths and Martins the depths of complacency and suppression and boredom and fear have no end. Why we revel in the tears of others is not mine to resolve, but it's just true. And watching them be eaten alive by all of this is sort of hilarious. We are paying attention to what is happening internally to each character. Watching the actors eaten alive in the dissolve is another matter altogether. We have some younger actors on this show, a few of our cast members are fresh out of Philadelphia area universities. They have a hungry creative energy and a surprising amount of intellectual curiosity that have informed the show. Harnessing them and strapping them to their chairs will be tough in the 11th hour. Let alone the 24th. But I'll bet a nickel that if you watched all 24 hours, you'd see them grow as actors right before your very eyes. The Maid and The Fire Chief (Jess Conda and Nate Holt) are returning from the last production, and it's interesting to see the veterans frolic and play the lowest class. These two characters may lead less comfortable lives, but ultimately, they have more liberty and happiness. Like artists. And really, who else would work for 24 hours without a break when there aren't lives at stake?

AB: This production, as well as your Halloween blast HAUNTED POE (click for the review on Philly2philly), is as much as a challenge to the actors stamina as it is to their talent as performers. What sort of preparation are the performers going through?

Krista Apple (Actor): My boyfriend's been teasing me since I got cast, seeing as how I start yawning at nine o'clock. I'm an old lady at heart, always have been. Never pulled many all nighters, and I haven't done it since college more than ten years ago. It's no joke-- it'll be interesting. I started jogging again, to get my body endurance up. I'll be drinking protein & power drinks all week long, and cutting out sugar, grease, etc. As a cast, we're adjusting sleep schedules the week of, to start sleeping later (and staying up later). Plus, we all stopped drinking caffeine two weeks ago to lower our tolerance, so that coffee will pack a nice, whopping punch through the night... And as for me, I'll be planning strategic food & smoothie drop-offs throughout the night.

Jake Blouch (Actor): I broke down the other day and bought Decaf coffee. This way in a few weeks when I drink real coffee it'll be like a jolt of caffeine. Plus I'm using this as an excuse to stay up later.

Victoria Frings (actor): I am extremely fortunate to be preparing for this production right now, because I also have another huge incentive to get in shape at this moment in time. I'm not only getting ready for a 24-hour theatrical marathon, but I am preparing to climb a 19,000-foot mountain in February. Therefore, giving up caffeine and alcohol for this month have been two no-brainers. So, when I do drink caffeine the night of the performance, hopefully it will do the trick to keep me going for that period, but I will be giving it back up immediately after in order to avoid any kind of caffeine withdrawal headaches that I may confuse with altitude sickness. I am now slowly adjusting my sleep cycle as well, staying up a little later and trying to sleep in a tad, that way, when 2am roles around, it won't feel as late as, say, 4am or 5am will. Hopefully, I can stave off exhaustion for just a little bit longer.

AB: Both Jess Conda and Nathan Holt are returning to their roles, but the rest of the cast (Bradley K. Wrenn, Victoria Frings, Jake Blouch and Krista Apple) are appearing for the first time in the 24 Hour Bald Soprano. What advice can Jess and Nathan giving the rest of the cast?

Nathan Holt (Actor): I've attempted to be some sort of a "Caffeine Nazi" by urging the cast to quit the stuff before the show. There is some debate as to who was the Caffeine Nazi in the last production, but quitting had an undeniable effect for me - the super jolt of a caffeine high once I relapsed during the all-nighter. It was a blissful.

Jess Conda (actor): If you are going to take an eye rest, do it in the wings. Don't trust the comfort of the backstage couch. My advice almost isn't fair, since I am on stage for far less time than the Smiths and Martins, who are doing an iron man performance out there. I'm off stage for about 40 minutes each time. I apologize in advance for eating all of the good sandwiches in the greenroom before they can get to them.

AB: I was lucky enough to catch not one or even two, but four (I think) performances of the 2007 production. The big question is: are PBRs still on the menu, or do we have a new choice beverage in town?

Michael Alltop: Ha ha – great question! In 2007 I had to stop the “free PBR” at 5:00 a.m. when things started to get a bit out of hand…up till then we had consumed 500 cans! This time around, there will be food. There will be drink. I can’t give too many specifics yet, but I can confirm that Mugshots Coffeehouse will be brewing fresh coffee for 24 hours…and the first 500 people will receive a free can of Verve energy drink.

AB: Brat Productions is dedicated to producing theatre that 'speaks to everyone.' How is this 24-hour marathon speaking to everyone?

Michael Alltop: Everyone likes a good party, and Brat is all about using theatre as that vehicle. We like to think of our shows as “events” as much as plays – where the experience of attending a show goes beyond what you see on stage. Haunted Poe was the perfect embodiment of this idea, as well as A 24-Hour The Bald Soprano. You could just come in to the theatre, watch the show once and then leave…but that’s only a part of what the production is all about! We want people to have a great time at the theatre—it’s about fun, community and making memories, as well as telling great stories.