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Live Theatre: On Stage and In Your Home

November 18th, 2021

No doubt about it. We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift—a time for reconsidering old assumptions even as we hope for a so-called return to normal.

Consider: the past two years have seen an explosion of teleconferences, delivery services, and online commerce. Mask wearing and physical distancing effectively canceled last year’s cold and flu season, and mRNA technology has become a medical game-changer. Likewise, changes in the arts have been seismic.

Above: David Nackman’s performance in Karloff: the Man and the Monster marked Prime Stage Theatre’s return to live performances after a year of virtual productions. A recording of the play is currently available via video-on-demand from AnywhereSeat.

With more people staying at home in the first quarter of 2021, the sale of print books grew 29 percent while ebook and audio editions saw dramatic increases as well. Likewise, sales of physical media players (once thought destined for extinction) grew 27 percent in the first few months of the 2020 lockdown, while the growth of streaming services was even more dramatic, with subscriptions passing 1 billion.

And then there was Warner Brothers with its decision to release “its entire 2021 slate of feature films on HBO Max simultaneously with the release in theaters” even as Broadway’s Hamilton played on Disney+. And now, services like Anywhere Seat, Marque TV, and Broadway on Demand are further increasing the availability of live-theatre productions by streaming them to homes around the world.

Of course, at-home entertainment isn’t likely to supplant live theatre. Just as cinema didn’t replace the stage and movie houses survived the advent of TV, at-home streaming will never be the same as a night out. That’s something I was reminded of two weeks ago when I attended opening night of Prime Stage’s Karloff–my first attendance at a live theatre event in nearly two years. Sitting fifth-row center, surrounded by vaxed-and-masked friends and strangers, I realized the truth of a comment that filmmaker Edgar Wright recently made about staying in vs going out. “Sitting in the dark with strangers,” he said, “is a communal experience that no platform streaming to your living room can provide.”

Nevertheless, if you were unable to attend Karloff live, you can thank the recent paradigm shift for making it possible to catch the show via video-on-demand.

Between now and November 28, Prime Stage Theatre’s production of Karloff: The Man and the Monster is available via the streaming service Anywhere Seat. Tickets and information are available at the Prime Stage website, where you can also learn about future performance—both live and virtual.

The world is changing. The old normal may be a thing of the past, but given recent advancements, the new one may be even better.

Below: The official trailer for Prime Stage Theatre’s production of Randy Bowser’s Karloff: The Man and the Monster, directed by Arthur DeConceliis, currently available via vod.

Celebrating a Performance that was …
“All part of the day’s work.”

November 11th, 2021

Ninety years ago this month, when James Whale’s Frankenstein was being made, “nobody recognized the importance of the film and the impact it would have on cinema history. It was just part of the day’s work, as far as my father was concerned.” That’s according to Sara Karloff, daughter of the man who created one of cinema’s most iconic performances.

<<< All part of the day’s work. Boris Karloff and Colin Clive break for tea on the set of Bride Frankenstein (1934).

Sara makes the comment on this week’s installment of Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, and it’s just one of the many insights offered during an installment that also features writer-producer Ron MacCloskey and author-historian Gregory Mank. Along the way, the conversation touches on the new documentary Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster, which is now available in select theatres and via video on demand.

Both the podcast and film are part of an ongoing celebration of the 90th anniversary of Karloff’s debut as the monster. Check them out if you have the chance. And then, if you’re in Pittsburgh on November 12, make plans to drop by The New Hazlett Theatre when Prime Stage hosts a very special post-show discussion that will follow their 8:00 PM performance of Randy Bower’s Karloff: The Man and the Monster.

Sara Karloff, daughter of Boris Karloff >>>

Featuring special virtual appearances by Sara Karloff, playwright Randy Bowser, and Karloff historian Stephen Jacobs, the Prime Stage event will be hosted by Producing Artistic Director Wayne Brinda and will also include a live appearance by Karloff actor David Nackman.

It’s not to be missed.

Below: The official trailer for Prime Stage Theatre’s Karloff: The Man and the Monster, starring David Nackman and directed by Arthur Deconciliis.

More than a Monster:
Karloff Reveals the Man behind the Icon

November 7th, 2021

Arrayed with costumes and memorabilia, the set of Karloff: The Man and the Monster presents a snapshot of the actor’s career. There’s a sheep’s wool vest from Son of Frankenstein, sarcophagus from The Mummy, gurney from The Bride of Frankenstein, wheelchair from the set of Targets. Behind it all, a projection screen displays the iconic image of a flattened head and scarred brow—instantly recognizable as that of Jack Piece’s design for Universal’s iconic monster.

Enter David Nackman. Slim, grizzled, and sporting the moustache that Karloff often wore when not playing the Frankenstein monster—Nackman effectively projects the image of the man behind the icon.

<<< Actor David Nackman as Boris Karloff, contemplating one of the platform boots that helped transform the 5′ 11″ actor into the towering monster in James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931). Photo courtesy of Prime Stage Theatre.

And that’s what the play is about—the man who was more than the Universal icon.

Written by Randy Bowser and Directed by Arthur DeConciliis, Karloff provides a look beneath the cotton, collodion, gum, and greasepaint to tell the story of the actor who struggled for years before his big break … and then struggled even harder thereafter to balance his perceived image with who he really was.

Prime Stage Theatre’s Karloff: The Man and The Monster runs through Sunday, November 14 at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Thereafter, the production will be available via video-on-damand through November 28. More information is available here.

Last night’s premiere also featured a post-show discussion during which I had the pleasure of joining Arthur DeConciliis and Prime Stage’s Producing Artistic Director Wayne Brinda in a conversation about the play, Karloff’s legacy, and next season’s premiere of our new adaptation of Frankenstein. During the Q&A session that followed, someone asked if Karloff was Universal’s first choice to play the monster. Interestingly enough, he wasn’t–as can be seen in this early trade advertisement for the film.>>>

Created before anyone knew how the monster was to be portrayed, the advertisement presents a towering man with rays shooting from his eyes. The promotional text reads: “… with BELA LUGOSI (Dracula himself) … as the leading spine-chiller.” Interestingly, the artwork does a better job of anticipating Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong (1933) than James Whale’s Frankenstein.

A second post-show discussion–this one featuring actor David Nackman and director Arthur DeConciliis as well as virtual appearances by playwright Randy Bowser, Sara Karloff (daughter of Boris Karloff), and Stephen Jackobs (author of Boris Karloff: More than a Monster)–will follow the performance on November 12. Not to be missed!

Until then, I’ll leave you with a trailer and commentary by Joe Dante for the film that established Karloff and his monster as pop-culture icons.

Talking Frankenstein

October 21st, 2021

“You’re going to see and feel the essence of who this man was.”  

– Director Art DeConciliis discussing Prime Stage’s upcoming production of Karloff: The Man and the Monster.

In an earlier post, I mentioned how actor Boris Karloff—the man who gave us cinema’s iconic performance as the Frankenstein creature—worked for years as a baggage handler, ditch digger, and delivery man before getting his big break in James Whale’s film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel. And earlier this month, Prime Stage Theatre offered more insights into the actor’s life and career in a virtual conversation titled Beyond Imagination. Folks who logged into that live discussion got to take part in a deep dive into the lives of both Karloff and Shelley. But those who missed the virtual event can still catch a recording of it here.

[Above: Poster art created by Connie Brinda for Prime Stage Theatre’s upcoming Karloff: The Man and the Monster.]

In addition to sharing insights into the lives of the artists who helped shape modern horror and science fiction, the conversation also offers previews of Prime Stage Theatre’s upcoming production of Karloff: The Man and the Monster, which opens next month; and Frankenstein, which will follow in Prime Stage’s 2022-23 season.

Moreover, those who attend the Karloff opening on Saturday, November 6, will get the chance to join the conversation as it continues in a post-show discussion with director Art DiConcillis and me. Reserve your tickets here.

One of the points we’re likely to discuss on opening night is one that Art touched on during our virtual conversation, where he expressed surprise at learning how many people today do not know who Karloff is despite being aware of his portrayal of the creature.

And that’s a point you’ll also find under discussion in the latest installment of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre, where we share some responses to the question: Where did you first encounter Frankenstein? Not surprisingly, Boris Karloff figures prominently in some of those recollections, as you will hear by clicking the player below. I’ll meet you there!

[Above: Prime Stage Theatre’s Producing Artistic Director Wayne Brinda, the 21st Century Scop, and Director Art DiConcillis discuss Karloff and Shelley in the virtual discussion Beyond Imagination.