Bird House

The Making Of: a photo tour
July 25, 2009, 6:35 pm
Filed under: Notes on the Play

Somehow, through dedication, will power, brilliance, cacophony, and sheer insanity, BIRD HOUSE is up and running.  In fact, it has almost run its course!  We close on Sunday!  So much energy and beauty and sparkle was thrown up onto that stage, but on Sunday night we need to give the stage back to its owners.  It never truly belonged to us; we were just visitors.  It’s the true magic/tragedy of theatre.  And life itself…

And the culinary arts, in a way.  You can spend all day or all week shopping for a fantastic meal.  You chop, dice, saute, bake, prepare in however many ways, and finally you plate.  It’s beautiful.  You eat it.  It’s delicious, heavenly, the most flavorful dish ever.  And then its gone.  And there’s nothing left to do but the dishes.  But let us not forget about digestion.  BIRD HOUSE, as it turns out, requires a lot of digestion.  A smoothy this is not.  You probably shouldn’t exercise for at least two hours after viewing.

So before we take this show apart, I thought I’d take you on a tour of how we put it together.  A photo tour!

The Set

Here is a model of our gorgeous set!  Sara Walsh is a genius, in case you couldn’t tell.  One idea that the whole design team latched onto was the image of the patchwork quilt, in the script.  It’s “made from all the old clothes we grew out of.”  Everyone agreed that this was a patchwork world, made of old things and re-appropriated, cobbled-together.  The actual set is made almost entirely from found objects — we culled street corners on trash night for weeks!  The good people of the New York Metropolitan Area discarded almost everything we could possibly need, and an incredible crew put together Sara’s up-cycled set.  Gorgeous!

Christina and Cotton  Leg Grab

These are a couple of my favorite images from rehearsals.  These women have AMAZING instincts for character and physicality.  My favorite memory from the first day of rehearsal was a conversation that went something like this:

COTTON: I don’t think Louisy leaves the house.  At all.

HEIDI: Not even to collect flowers and mushrooms from the patch of grass below the treehouse?

COTTON: Well, yes, OK, but she never goes far.  She never goes into town.

CHRISTINA: Not even to go to the store?

COTTON: Syl goes to the store for her.

CHRISTINA (AS SYL): What about ice cream?  Remember that time I tried to bring an ice cream cone home for you?  We had a big melty mess.  Don’t you to come out with me for an ice cream cone?

COTTON (AS LOUISY): (Bites lip, contemplative silence.) 

The Gun

The gun.  The gun is a genuine replica of a Civil War -era gun (which, we learned, is the sort of gun real cowboys used, in the wild west — verisimilitude!).  We had to go through a lot of poses to find ones that didn’t make Christina look like a sexy spy, gangster, or Charlie’s Angel.  She’s too sexy for her gun.


Puppets!  Here is one of our beloved cuckoo-clock birds, naked and barely out of the womb.  But very beautiful!

Andy and a bird

Here is puppet-designer-extraordinaire Andy with an early prototype of the wild bird.  I wish I had taken photos at our first puppet design meeting — we took over a large table at a cute french coffee shop, and covered every available surface with picture books about antique toys and birds, sketches, and puppets.  We threw beanbags around, to see how they landed.  No one stopped us.

Alex Shooting

Big Day of Video Magic!  Whereas most Americans spent the morning of Saturday, July 4th either sleeping or preparing the barbeque, we joined Alex for a morning of filming.  Someday in the future, projection design will be a recognized category at the Tony awards.  When that happens, Alex will win one.  Above, Alex is filming, Shannon is managing, and Wendy and Kylie are patiently waiting for their big moment.  


Shannon and Alex’s trusty associate Jenna make the locket fly.


And here’s Christina and Cotton dressed as the mysterious Ancients, but goofing like themselves.

Cotton & Ice Cream

And here is, perhaps, my most favorite image of all.  Here is Cotton at the Tick Tock Diner, where we met up for a Louisy meeting.  It’s 9:30 in the morning.  Across the table, I am devouring a vegetable omelet.  When Cotton ordered, the waiter did a double take.

All these wonderful things!  And now, we’ve got to pack it up and fly away.  Prepare for lift-off…

-Heidi Handelsman


The Dream Team: Casting BIRD HOUSE
June 7, 2009, 8:29 am
Filed under: Casting | Tags: , , , , , ,

Rehearsals for Bird House are about to start! Everyone keeps saying to me, “I can’t wait to see how you’re gonna do all that stuff!” And I always reply, “Neither can I!” Time to dig in, and discover how it all goes.

We’ve already started on these impossible happenings, in fact, thanks to two fantastic groups of people.

First of all, our design team is stellar. Seriously. These people are creative geniuses.

And, of course, our actors are amazing. We gathered ourselves together a few weeks ago for a workshop, and our theatrical experimentation proved quite fruitful. We tried out some new vocabularies, solved some challenges, and unearthed challenges we didn’t even realize we were facing.

One challenge that the Kate, KNF team and I managed to conquer last month, pre-workshop even, was casting this thing in the first place. The caliber of actor who showed up to audition was through the roof! It was like an embarrassment of riches. The whittling-down process caused long meetings and sleepless nights. But it all paid off, because we definitely landed on the right folks for the job. The magnetic Christina Shipp, the sparkly Cotton Wright, the high-spirited Wendy Scharfman, the sprightly Kylie Goldstein, and the nimble Anthony Willis and Ora Fruchter are already rocking my socks off.

Oh, we had so many wild ideas about how to cast this play! Back in April, we brainstormed a few versions of fantasy casts. Not really “this is how we should cast the play” casts, more like, “wouldn’t it be funny/awesome if…” casts. My favorites:

The Big Name New York Actors cast: Mary Louise Parker as Louisy, Cynthia Nixon as Syl
The 80s sitcom cast: Betty White as Louisy, Bea Arthur as Syl, Rue MacLanahan as Rita, and Estelle Getty as Myra
The SNL cast: Amy Pohler as Louisy, Tina Fey as Syl
The sure-to-bring-in-a-big-audience cast: George Clooney, in every role. Naked.

OK, full disclosure, there was wine present when we came up with these ideas. We were at my apartment, reading the script out loud, just for ourselves. It was a great way to reconnect with the script, and it hurtled Kate into a massive rewriting adventure. In case you’re curious, casting in my living room was as follows: Heidi as Louisy, Tzip as Syl, Kelly as Myra, Kate as Rita, and Katherine as everyone else.

But enough of dreaming up these wild dreams from the confines of my apartment, or coffee shops with brilliant designers! Time for the rehearsal alchemy to begin!

-Heidi Handelsman

From the Director…
April 18, 2009, 10:56 pm
Filed under: Notes on the Play | Tags: , ,

When Kate first told me about Bird House the play was so young it did not have a name yet. We had collaborated previously a couple of times, so I already knew her penchant for writing impossibilities. She had already presented me with the challenges of staging a sentient shadow, a woman turning into a tree, and a young couple flying into the sky. I had already come to treasure every curve ball she throws into her plays.

When she mentioned to me that she had begun to write a new play, I was already excited. I asked, “Do impossible things happen?” She giggled and confessed, “A bird flies out of a girl’s mouth!” I replied: “Bring it.”

Bird House is packed with impossibilities, too numerous and fantastic to list. But more exciting still is the story these impossible things spell out and the questions they beg of us. The play explores tragedies wrought by war and by time. It wants to know: what is the best way to grow up? Is there a way to grow up without being hurt and hurting others? How do we reconcile the call of the unknown with our commitments to those we love at home?

Bird House tells the story of a handful of people who, like everyone, have to learn things the hard way. And with lessons safely stowed in a back pocket, all we can do is pick up the pieces and bury the dead, do the laundry and maybe apologize to the neighbors, and reconcile all the impossible things that went ahead and happened just the same.