The Alabama Writers' Forum posted their review of Steve's latest books, Stanislavski in Ireland & Breaking Boundaries.
Reviewed by Nicholas Helms
Founded in 1963 by the Irish American actor Deirdre O’Connell, the Focus Theatre of Dublin brought Stanislavskian method acting to Ireland and challenged the country’s parochial preconceptions about theatre. Two recent works chronicle the life of Focus Theatre: Stanislavski in Ireland: Focus at Fifty, a collection of essays that serve as biography of the Focus Theatre and of its talented and eccentric founder, Deirdre O’Connell, edited by Brian McAvera and University of Alabama theatre professor Steven Dedalus Burch; and Breaking Boundaries: An Anthology of Original Plays from the Focus Theatre, a collection of Focus Theatre’s work, edited by Steven Dedalus Burch. Together, these volumes put a microscope to the theatre of Dublin in the 20th and early 21st centuries, charting the type of regional theatre work that, despite its far-reaching influence, so often goes unrecorded. Together they sketch a lively narrative of a theatre that produced high quality work for fifty years while scraping by economically and struggling against the established theatres of Dublin. O’Connell’s Focus Theatre revolutionized Irish theatrical practice, and these two volumes chronicle the far-reaching—and often unremarked—effects that a small theatre on the fringe of the mainstream can have.
Rude Mechanicals Facebook post
Julius Caesar, the first play in the Rude Mechanicals twelfth season and Steve's tenth full-length production with the company. We'll start the live pre-show music at 7:30 p.m., with the show at 8. For this summer, 2014, we'll be in Marr's Spring Park, just down the hill from Rowand-Johnson on the UA campus. Plenty of parking available at Rojo, or at ten Hoor across the street. Bring chairs and/or blankets. All free, and worth every ducat. Contact us here, or call 348-0343 or 310-5287.
An American girl, Deirdre O’Connell, is the heroine of this unusual history of a Dublin theatre.
Born and raised in the Bronx, of Irish immigrant parents, O’Connell studied acting at the New York Dramatic Workshop and then with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. There she was introduced to The Method, the Stanislavski System, which became the ruling passion of the rest of her life.
Incidentally, she was not alone. American method actors include Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, James Dean, Paul Newman, Rip Torn, Eli Wallach, Geraldine Page, Shirley Knight, Al Pacino, Karl Malden, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Gazzara and Marilyn Monroe.
(Dustin Hoffman portrays an overly devoted method actor in “Tootsie.” He once held up the filming of a commercial by questioning the motivation of his character, a tomato.)
The Method was a thoroughly established training technique in the United States, but not in Ireland, when in 1963 Deirdre O’Connell, age 23, moved to Dublin and established her teaching studio and repertory company, Focus Theatre, finding its physical home in an abandoned clothing label factory on Pembroke Place. Working on a shoestring, she kept the workshop and the small, 72-seat theatre going until . . . . .
Read the rest of the story at APR.org.
It’s not every day an author celebrates his book launch at the Áras, the Irish equivalent of the White House. However, Dr. Steve Burch, a University of Alabama faculty member, has experienced just that.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins and First Lady Sabina Coyne welcomed Burch and co-editor Brian McAvera to the Áras to celebrate the launch of Burch’s books “Stanislavski in Ireland—Focus at Fifty,” a history of Ireland’s Focus Theatre co-edited with McAvera, and “Breaking Boundaries—An Anthology of Original Plays.”
Deirdre O’Connell, the American-born daughter of two Irish immigrants, moved to Ireland to open the Focus Theatre in 1963. This was the first theatre in Ireland to use the acting techniques Constantin Stanislavski taught, techniques that teach a series of exercises to help an actor portray believable emotion night after night. The original acting company trained for four years before producing its first work.
O’Connell shook up the Irish theatre world. She introduced plays by Anton Chekhov and Tennessee Williams that had never performed in Ireland.
“The critics and audiences were blown away,” said Burch, UA associate professor of theatre and dance. “It was the first time an Irish audience had seen a piece that was so emotionally true, and the first time they had seen this type of ensemble work.”
“[Deirdre O’Connell] is the greatest single influence in Irish theatre since the 1960s,” said Higgins. For 40 years, O’Connell directed, acted and managed the theatre until her death in 2001.
Burch co-edited “Stanislavski in Ireland–Focus at Fifty” with McAvera, a long-time friend and colleague. The book details how Focus sustained its place at the forefront of Irish theatre through the stories of the people who built the theatre.
“I went to Ireland in the summer of 2012 to conduct interviews with many members of the original troupe,” Burch said. “Many famous people in the industry got their start at Focus, and so many of them opened up their stories and, in many cases, their homes for the book.”
The accompanying anthology “Breaking Boundaries—An Anthology of Original Plays” is a collection of original scripts produced at Focus. Burch says he wanted to gather a collection of plays that best represents the breadth of performance at Focus.
“Irish theatre has been a lifelong pursuit. I am part Irish, and I grew up in Boston. When I was 14, I went to the public library and read ‘The Plough and the Stars’ by Sean O’Casey. Irish theatre has been a part of my life ever since,” said Burch.
Read the original story in the Dialogue.
Television interview at the publisher's book launch in Dublin, Ireland, Oct 1, 2013.
Posted by apangburn in Shakespeare, The Rude Mechanicals
Has it really been ten years?
For their tenth anniversary, the Rude Mechanicals have returned to their roots, planning new productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, two plays they performed back in 2003. Those shows took place on the Presidential Pavilion near the Ferguson Plaza under the conceit of a traveling theater troupe; the audience awaited the arrival of the actors who marched up singing “500 Miles Away from Home.” Realizing at the end of the first performance that they needed a parallel tune for their exit, Mark Hughes Cobb made a spur of the moment choice: “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers.
That song has remained the troupe’s signature sign off piece, but in the intervening decade a lot has changed; the performances now take place at Manderson Landing by the river, the company performs an entertaining half hour of songs beforehand, and the cast list for this year’s Midsummer contained several children not even born when the group first performed. What remains unchanged year to year, however, is the energy generated by amateur actors performing simply because they love the thrill of being on stage and the theatrical power of Shakespeare. This energy works particularly well for.... Read the rest of the story....
Posted by J.M. Gamble in New Work
On April 27th, 2011, a massive tornado ravaged much of the southeast, including Tuscaloosa. Now, a little over a year later, the Shelton State Community College Theatre Department—in conjunction with University of Alabama professor Steve Burch and community members Paul B. Crook and Kim and Chad Gentry—has developed what can only be described as a “theatrical event” to commemorate the event. Inside the Tornado consists of ten short plays and two songs which explore different experiences surrounding the storm. Except for the first play—“Home” by Paul B. Crook—all of the plays were written by students in Burch’s playwriting class.
Each of the plays made some use of the same impressive set (designed by Jaia Chen): the frame of a house with broken walls and, suspended from the ceiling, a bit of twisted metal fencing with assorted items—a wheelbarrow, a white picket fence—attached to it. The sound and lighting (designed by Frank Duren and Erin Hisey, respectively) were extremely effective at portraying the ambience of a storm—Duren’s sound often included bits of news broadcasts about the storm, as well as sounds of the tornado itself—behind the dramas on stage.
Some of the plays—“The Man in Black,” “Dorm Life,” and “Future Perfect”—presented the experience of living through a storm: the loss of power, the inability to communicate, and the inanity of petty quarrels in the face of a life-threatening situation. Amanda Steven’s “The Man in Black” was particularly moving as it dramatized the plight of Mia (played wonderfully by the very young Margaret Carr), a young girl whose father had died in an earlier storm, and whose mother—Sheila, played by Susie Johnson—would die in the course of this one. Carr’s screams as . . . . . .
Read the full story here.
From the Introduction to the anthology:
Posted by apangburn in Classical Theatre, Improbable Fictions
Have you ever laughed at a joke that was blatantly overtly sexual, or a fart joke, and had a friend or parent chastise you? “That humor is so crude and disgusting! Find something more civilized!” And then, if it’s your parents, they sometimes go off and mutter about the way things are going downhill these days, and how back in their day humor was all clean…
The literary among you may well counter with Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” citing the string of fart jokes in the Miller’s Tale. But the theatrical among you would do better to thank the Greek playwright Aristophanes for making crude humor a classic in his play Lysistrata, which the staged reading troupe Improbable Fictions performed at the Kentuck Art Center during the artistic week leading up to the Druid City Arts Festival.
Directed by Steve Burch, a professor of theatre at UA, Lysistrata is a comedy written in frustration over the long, bloody Greek civil war between city-states Athens and Sparta, the Peloponnesian War. In the play, the women of Greece who have been left behind by their warring husbands and lovers, have become increasingly frustrated. The Athenian woman Lysistrata (Natalie Hopper) has decided to put an end to the fighting by forcing the men to make peace. So she convinces the other Greek women to withhold from their men something they desperately would want: sex.
The comedy that erupts from there often involves the rather strong sexual desires of both the men and the women. While the women attempt to pull off ridiculous antics to convince Lysistrata to let them leave their siege of the Acropolis, the men have slightly more… obvious problems.
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If you missed last Thursday’s staged reading of Lysistrata, fear not! Here’s the mp3:
Sadly, you can’t hear just how many tube socks were stuffed into Kinesias’ pants…
Corinthian Woman………………………………Amber Gibson
Boeotian Woman……………………………Dakota Park-Ozee
Leader of Men’s Chorus…………………..………….Nic Helms
Men’s Chorus………………………………….Frank Sharpe,
Eric Marable, Jr., Asher Elbein
Leader of Women’s Chorus……………………Deborah Parker
Women’s Chorus…………Amber Gibson, Dakota Park-Ozee, Dori Burns
Athenian Magistrate……………………….Mark Hughes Cobb
Spartan Herald……………………………..…………Motell Foster
Spartan Ambassador………………………..………Russell Frost
Adapted and Directed by Steve Burch
Posted by apangburn in Improbable Fictions, University of Alabama
This performance of Hecuba marked a series of firsts for the Improbable Fictions staged reading troupe. It was their first of a planned three staged readings for this fall, their first foray outside of Shakespeare, and the first in their new home, The Bama Theatre’s Greensboro Room. It is a peculiar venue for drama. Folding chairs cluster on two sides of the stage area, which backs up to windows facing the street, windows which occasionally frame curious or bemused pedestrians. The room contains no raised stage; while it is always easy to hear the actors, it is sometimes difficult to see them. Actors who kneel or are below average height occasionally find themselves briefly obscured from view. While this is, at times, distracting, perhaps it is appropriate; Greek drama, with its masks and large theatre venues, was designed first and foremost to be heard.
While they may need some time to work out the kinks at their new home, the Improbable Fictions ensemble has unquestionably become stronger each semester since their foundation in the spring of 2010. This is drama stripped down to its most essential elements. They employ almost no props, limited lights, and simple costuming. In a subtle visual representation of the power dynamic within the world of the play, the Greek men, recent victors in the Trojan War, wear suits, while the enslaved Trojan women are clothed in simple dresses and head coverings. The performance features strong acting turns from everyone, all the way from Deborah Parker in the title role to an intimidating turn by Eric Marable, Jr. as a silent Greek solider.
The story continues.....