Tag Archive | "Christian Scheider"

Rebooting a Race

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Tucker Marder, left, and Christian Scheider, right, wearing half of the blue footed booby costumes. Photo by Christopher Golden.

By Genevieve Kotz

The human brain is the most complex human organism, and it is also the one we take most for granted.

Christian Scheider and Tucker Marder hope that with their theatrical adaption of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1985 novel, Galápagos at the Parrish Art Museum, perhaps the audience will ponder—even if briefly—what life would be like without one.

“One of the ideas that really made us interested in it is that it’s like a great thought experiment,” Mr. Marder explained. “What would the world be like if humans did not have brains?”

“Or the brains that they do have,” Mr. Scheider interjected.

The two spent the last eight months adapting the novel, which tells the story of a post-apocalyptic group of survivors on the Galápagos Islands who become the progenitors of the new human race. It will be a one-act play with a cast of 26, including Chloe Dirksen, Nick Gregory, Bob Balaban, and a cameo from Sophie the Dog, who plays a finch. Even though the play spans over a million years, no actor will have multiple roles.

“Nature is diverse, so the play should be diverse,” Mr. Scheider explained. He will play the role of Prince Richard, a “bloated homophobic plutocrat.”

The plot centers around Mary Hepburn and James Wait, played by Ms. Dirksen and Mr. Gregory, and later focuses on Adolf and Sigfried von Kleist, played by Spencer Carlson and Madeline Wise, who run a nature cruise ship. However, Mr. Scheider was quick to explain that the play is an ensemble cast, so there really is no main character.

It also has actors playing animals such as the blue-footed booby and the marine iguana. The narrative plot will be broken up by 10 animal interludes, which will tell thinly veiled analogies about what is occurring among the humans, according to Mr. Scheider.

“The basic idea of taking humans and putting them into contexts which are not human can reveal some of the absurdity of what is human,” he explained. “And, also hopefully, some of the things that are good about humans.”

Adapting a novel into a play is a difficult task to begin with, but it is another task entirely with a writer like Kurt Vonnegut. The creative duo both agreed that taking on the book gave them a million opportunities to fail, and yet that was a large part of the appeal.

“You might read this novel and say, ‘Oh this is utterly inadaptable, you’d be an idiot to try to adapt this book,’” Mr. Scheider explained, “which, of course, is like a great chance. There was so many opportunities for spectacular failure, and failure in the best sense.”

“There’s creative and intellectual and social value in somebody in an animal suit attempting to act as an animal and fail,” Mr. Marder noted.

To help get the actors into the animal character, Mr. Marder enlisted Isla Hansen, an artist, to design and create all 16 animal costumes. The costumes range from playful caricatures to wearable puppet suits, although Ms. Hansen said she still made sure that the costumes contained accurate biological information.

“What I’ve tried to do in the costumes is somewhat accurately depict these creatures in the best way that I can imagine a human dressed as one can represent, while taking the liberty to exaggerate certain features that are discussed in the novel and play in relation to what makes this animal unique,” she said.

The play will be the first performance held at the Lichtenstein Theater in the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, an opportunity the two were very thankful for. While there is no stage, Shelby Jackson designed a three-story set of the Bahía de Darwin, the “cruise ship cradle of all mankind.”

The play will feature puppets, physical comedy, video, and ends with a lobster ballet. It will premier on Monday, July 21, at 6 p.m. and play throughout the week.

The pair, who met at Ross High School, also collaborated last year on an  adaption of Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Murderer.” This year, they were inspired by Isabella Rossellini’s “The Green Porno,” which they saw as questioning the limitations in which society places the boundaries of what is natural or not. They hope to carry a similar theme with this play.

“There’s 9 million species,” Mr. Marder said. “There’s 9 million ways to be.”


Rothko on Stage: ‘Red’ to Open at Guild Hall in East Hampton

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Left: Victor Slezak as Mark Rothko and Christian Scheider as his assistant Ken. Photo by Brian Leaver.

Left: Victor Slezak as Mark Rothko and Christian Scheider as his assistant Ken. Photo by Brian Leaver.

By Tessa Raebeck

The job of the artist assistant is to stretch canvases, mix paint, grab coffee and, in many cases, serve as the sounding board and mellowing counterpart to the boss’ eccentricity.

Such is the case in “Red,” a Tony-Award winning two-man play by John Logan centered on the relationship between the renowned postwar American artist Mark Rothko and his young assistant, Ken. Produced by Guild Hall in association with Ellen J. Myers, the play, which premiered in 2009, will open on the John Drew Theatre stage Wednesday, May 21.

Directed by Sag Harbor’s Stephen Hamilton, noted for his recent shows at the John Drew Theatre including Martin McDonough’s “The Cripple of Inishmann” and Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanda,” “Red” stars Victor Slezak as Rothko and Christian Scheider as Ken.

Victor Slezak as Mark Rothko. Photo by Brian Leaver.

Victor Slezak as Mark Rothko. Photo by Brian Leaver.

“The discussion that takes place between them, the action between them is a debate about commerce and art, about humanity,” Mr. Hamilton said of the main characters. “It’s about art and humanity, it’s about the importance and meaning of art in our life.”

Of Russian Jewish descent, Rothko, unlike many other artists, rose to prominence during his own lifetime and was at the apex of his career during the play’s two-year span, from 1958 to 1959.

At the time his inventive young assistant Ken comes to work with him, Rothko has just received an unheard of public commission for $35,000, the equivalent of about $2 million in today’s market, from the Four Seasons Restaurant to create murals, now known as the Seagram murals. The entire play takes place in the studio at 222 Bowery in New York City where the murals were created.

Although he himself rejected the term, Rothko was classified alongside his contemporaries Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock as “one of the most famous abstract expressionists in the New York school,” according to Mr. Hamilton.

Pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were just coming into prominence in the late 1950s, much to the chagrin of Rothko.

“All of these artists are just starting to get recognized and that whole movement—it was a big shift between the expressionists and this time,” said Mr. Hamilton. “And its reaction to that—Mark Rothko is a bigger than life character, whose impressions and whose very deep feeling about the meaning of art in the world comes to stark contrast with what he thinks is the complete sort of obliteration of that psyche.”

“There is no such thing as good painting about nothing,” Rothko once said.

Pop artists were critiquing the art world of Rothko, essentially making fun of its gravity.

“It’s on the theme of seriousness,” said Mr. Scheider, a Sagaponack native and a young up-and-coming actor who plays the role of Ken. “Seriousness in art, seriousness in what you say, seriousness in what you live. Meaning Rothko was very much somebody who felt himself to be an outsider in American culture for a long time—until, of course, he became sort of a pillar of that culture, but that happened later—and so, throughout his whole life he dealt with this—I’m not going to say insecurity, because in fact he had a lot of security in himself—but a doubt as to whether there were people that could look at his paintings. He didn’t know if people were going to be moved by them.”

“So, much of what Ken does in the play is through the course of it, he sort of proves it possible that one can develop an appreciation for an abstract painting as a lay person,” he added. “So in a way he’s kind of a foil, but Ken in his own way is an artist.”

Although Ken is a painter, he’s not making art when he works with Rothko. He’s supporting the artist by grabbing food and cigarettes and doing the busy work. Throughout the play, he complements Rothko’s long-winded monologues with one-word, monosyllabic answers.

“What do you see?” Rothko will often ask.

“Red,” replies Ken.

Rothko will rage, stomping around the room, slinging packets of paint at his assistant, who will, in turn, pick up the packets, toss the artist a cigarette and clean up after his rage.

“Rothko’s right at the height of his powers right now, 1958-59, there’s nobody painting like him. He has achieved his mature style that you recognize from Rothko and yet he knows that that energy, that life force—right around the corner is the diminution of that force. He’s not in the greatest health and he knows that he’s right at the apex of his career, there’s nowhere else to go,” said Mr. Hamilton.

The youthful energy of Ken collides with the threat of dead-end maturity felt by Rothko, setting off their conflict in moments of both humorous dialogue and pure tension.

“One of the central questions in the play is, ‘What do you see?” Mr. Scheider said. “Which, of course, is whatever you see, I mean there’s no right answer… but for Rothko, he was trying to make people weep, which is hard to do with blocks of color, but somehow he managed.”

Mr. Scheider said the mentorship, intentional or not, of Rothko on Ken correlates to his own experience working with Mr. Slezak, a veteran actor who has been performing regularly on stage, films and television for 40 years.

“He’s a seasoned actor and is bringing a kind of gravitas to this role that is really impressive and inspiring because he’s the kind of actor who can live a character,” said Mr. Hamilton, adding, “He can really bring this character to life and same with Christian [Scheider], they’re both doing a fantastic job.”

“For me, as a young actor working with a much more experienced actor, there’s a lot of overlap between the rehearsal process and the play, it’s actually very useful,” said Mr. Scheider. “As a young person, [I am] honored to be given this responsibility.”

“Ken, over the course of the play, becomes a better artist by having just been with him.” Mr. Scheider said. “They have very different intentions in their work and yet Rothko instilled in him a kind of fearlessness…to take himself seriously.”

In Rothko’s words: “Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.”

“Red” runs from Wednesdays through Sundays from May 21, through June 8 at 8 p.m. at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street in East Hampton. Tickets are $35 for general admission, $33 for members and $10 for students. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 324-4050 or visit guildhall.org.

The Murderer: A Tale of Science Fiction is Not So Fiction

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web Cast of The Murderer 8-15-13_1591

By Ellen Frankman; Photography by Michael Heller

If Ray Bradbury were to see our world today, and squirm and flinch at the eerily depressing prescience of his 1953 short story “The Murderer,” he may at least crack a smile to see a version of it performed on stage.

Tucker Marder and Christian Scheider are doing just that. Their adaptation of Bradbury’s “The Murderer” will be performed August 23 through August 25 at the Old Whalers Church in Sag Harbor.

Marder recalls bringing a copy of the short story to Scheider in late December of last year, insisting that he read it. “The Murderer” offers a bleak, darkly comic vision of a future “mauled and massaged and pounded” by the constant drone of technology and one in which humans are conveniently and perpetually “in touch.”

The fleeting narrative unfolds as the protagonist, an institutionalized prisoner, gleefully recounts to a psychiatrist a rash of murderous behavior that caused him to drown the radio, strangle the telephone and shoot the television, “that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night.”

In their take on the short story, Marder and Scheider take Bradbury’s technological dystopia a step further.

“What we have now is a script that is 60 percent Tucker and Christian and 40 percent Bradbury,” said Marder, who directed, co-wrote and produced the play. As a counterpart to the psychiatrist and the Murderer, Marder and Scheider chose to create one single character that would embody all of technology, a guy in a silver robot suit who you may have seen dancing around town as of late.

“The robot could be this crispy, clean, sleek technological object but also be a sort of clown that embodies the absurdity of it all,” said Marder.

The idea to have robot flash mobs in anticipation of the performance began as a fun promotional technique that has since found greater significance within the broader discussion of the play.

“The robots are walking through the street and people say, ‘Who are you?’ and we say, ‘Technology,’” said Scheider, who co-wrote, produced and stars as the Murderer in the show. “They ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ and we say, ‘Technology is everywhere.’”

This debate over the role of technology in our lives extends the scopes of Bradbury’s original narrative, and is central to Marder and Scheider’s stage adaption. In pursuit of this dialogue, the two also created a more active psychiatrist, who is less of a sounding board for the tirade of the Murderer and more of a dynamic character with a deeper understanding of how much is too much when it comes to gadgets and computers and glowing blue devices.

“We wanted there to be a balance so that the audience says, ‘Wow, this is the kind of debate I have every morning when I wake up and roll over and decide whether or not checking my phone will be the first thing I do,’” said Scheider. “The idea that there is a choice is central to why we wanted to write this story.”

Because the cast and crew are young, they find themselves only better suited to encourage this debate.

“People our age have one foot in extreme technological emersion and one foot in the past where no one had cell phones or the Internet,” said Marder. “We have straddled both time periods.”

And though they may be young and somewhat new to the trials of writing, directing and producing a stage production, both Marder and Scheider agree that the outpouring of community support has been tremendous. The team collaborated with GeekHampton to create a set of recycled technology, and members of the Choral Society of the Hamptons and the Old Whalers Church Bell Choir will perform original music during the show.

Being permitted to use the Old Whalers Church as a performance space has also been a boon to the production and fitting with its message.

“There couldn’t be anything more analogue than live humans in a space together that was built in the 1800s,” said Marder.

In its weekend-long run, “The Murderer” aims to be more than an unsettling reminder that a science fiction story from five decades ago can and has become our reality. It is the hope of Marder and Scheider that their rendition of Bradbury’s prophetic narrative will spark an enlightening, or at the very least entertaining, dialogue over the extent to which we allow technology to infiltrate our lives.

“We are not questioning the technology itself,” he said. “We are questioning the heedless need to embrace it in all of its newest and brightest forms.”

“The Murderer” will be performed this Friday, August 23 through Sunday, August 25 at 8:30 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Old Whalers’ Church on Union Street in Sag Harbor. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased by phone at 680-7677 or via email at TheMurderer@TuckerMarder.com.