Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Strange Tree Group Celebrates! Best of the Year 2010!

Dear friends, my what a big year it has been. Taking a took a look back at all that the company has accomplished from January 1st 2010 until today...well it boggles the mind really. It's thanks to the hard work of each and every company member, associate and friend that we are where we are today. Day jobs and night jobs aside, we're creating something special together. We've lost some great comrades this year and we've made new and amazing friendships but in the end we're growing and becoming stronger and stranger each year. Working with amazing directors from around town at the lost love trunk show, Shakespeare's King Phycus at the Building Stage, The One about the Whale at Collaboraction's Sketchbook X, Hosting the 15th Plagiarists' Salon, Our month-long residency in the DCA incubator to workshop our fall 2011 production of The Spirit Play, The Air Raids and awesomeness of The War Plays at the Athenaeum and now, throughout December, workshopping our February 2011 production of The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen for The Steppenwolf Garage Rep...can you tell that we've not had a lot of time to sit still this year? We feel blessed to have your support and your attendance. Thank you for making 2010 possible for The Strange Tree Group!

Many thanks also to Newcity and WBEZ for their best of the year kudos for Shakespeare's King Phycus! Congratulations to artistic associate Ira Amyx and his team from the Lord Chamberlain's men as well as the cast and crew of Strange Trees who made that show such a wonderful artistic success.

Find Shakespeare's King Phycus listed in the top five of 2010 by both
WBEZ Chicago and NewCity!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Noah Ginex draws The War Plays

Our friend and artistic associate Noah Ginex is a talented cartoonist! We're lucky that occasionally he feels inspired by the productions we put on to do doodle cartoons of the cast and crew. Here's a caricature he did of The War Plays cast along with a little info about his process.

The original sketch was done in Photoshop:

The caricature below was "inked" in illustrator:

Friday, November 19, 2010

The War Plays presents Strange Tree's Allied Orchestra!

As the air raid hits what's left of the once glorious allied orchestra plays on. We've got fearless lead singer Kitty Berlin, Chet Laker on Drums, Ronnie Duke on Accordion, Dick Merriweather on the french horn and that ray of sunshine Lindy Lewis on the Cello. Cheers to them for sticking it out through thick and thin!

Only THREE more chances as of this post to see this wonderful production. Get tickets at today!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

How worried is Chet Laker?

Backstage at The War Plays, the cast discusses how worried they are about the athenaeum theater (which we've transported to London for the purpose of this play) getting hit in an air raid. Come early for the pre-show and watch the backstage action happen before the start of the play. If you've never seen a strange tree performance you might be surprised at how detailed and involved our cast is both before and after the show.
Show up at 7:45 for music and mischief! Get theater outta that box! for tickets!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ruby's 'To Do' List

We've a delightfully dedicated company of actors and production staff. For each show we like to create a world for our characters outside the play that they're in. Sometimes this might be diary entries, personal letters or a list of likes. For poor Ruby was an errand list. This girl doesn't rest!

The cast has been so gracious as to share some of their character's personal correspondence. Many thanks to the Actors involved for bringing this wonderful production to life!

There's one weekend left to see this wonderful show.
Tickets can be purchased at
$5 off for our online friends with the code 'Blitz'

Monday, November 15, 2010

Strange Tree's process for The War Plays

For each show we like to create a world for our characters to exist in outside the pages of our play. For THE WAR PLAYS actors created letters home, to do lists, journal entries and other personal pieces of correspondence to enhance the world of the production. These pieces of actor created ephemera can be found on the set, in the lobby, and in the dressing rooms. Uploaded to the blog is a snapshot of Jackie's letter to Denny created by actress Jenifer Henry. Click the image to enlarge and read! It's a sneak peak behind the scenes at our process and another piece of interest for those who really enjoyed the characters and their story.

There's one weekend left to check out this lovely production!
Tickets can be purchased at
$5 off for our online friends with the code 'Blitz'

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Maurice Baseman at Pearl Harbor 12/7/41

Click the image above for fascinating audio of Delia Baseman's grandfather's experience at Pearl Harbor.

Maurice Baseman, was stationed as a flight engineer at Hickam field, Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th, 1941. This is his story of the attack recorded 50 years later in 1991 shortly before his death.

Staff Sergeant Maurice Sydney Baseman was a Jewish airplane mechanic and flight engineer in the Air-force stationed at Hickam Field, Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th 1941. He woke early that morning to do his laundry. Afterwards as he was folding and sorting his laundry in the barracks he heard a sound and looked out the window at nearby ford island. This is when he saw Japanese planes beginning to drop bombs. In the general panic everyone in the barracks ran to grab weapons from the depot. Maurice ended up with a 45. caliber pistol which he had no idea how to shoot having been only taught how to fly plane, fix a plane, and drop a bomb. He hid in an airplane hanger till the attack was over. Maurice went on to invent a compound for waterproofing planes that ended up being very useful for both the military and the widening of commercial air travel.

Sgt. Raymond L. Schwartz, Outstanding and Courageous actions by the Grandfather of our Playwright

"Sergeant RAYMOND L. SCHWARTZ, 60th Bomb Squadron, 39th Bomb Group, Air Corps, United States Army. For heroism on an island in the Marianans of 19 May 1945, Sergeant Schwartz was the Radio Operator on a B-29 aircraft that crashed and burned on attempting a forced landing. The plane burst into flames immediately upon impact with the ground; the fires enveloping three-wing tanks of high-octane gasoline. Shortly thereafter the gasoline that had spilled onto the ground along the length of the airplane caught fire, forming a wall of flame around the aircraft. Badly shaken up and dazed, Sergeant Schwartz climbed out through the astrodome. Although he saw the flame mounting higher and was aware that the plane was likely to explode any minute, he went back to free a member who was caught in the meshes of a parachute harness. He saw next a passenger who was hanging face down from a window and unable to free himself. Immediately, Sgt Schwartz ran to the man, released his foot and allowed him to escape. Not until then did he leave the burning aircraft, only to discover that the Airplane Commander had not yet escaped. Despite the imminence of the plane's exploding and the warnings to stay away, he voluntarily returned to the burning aircraft and aided in getting the Airplane Commander out. Sgt. Schwartz's outstanding and courageous actions reflect great credit on himself and the Army Air Forces"


R. K. Taylor
Colonel, Air Corps
Chief Of Staff

Grandma was a war bride, reflections by Elizabeth Bagby

Mom was a war baby: English enough to have dual citizenship for her first 21 years and to give her own children the unbreakable habit of cooking with bazzle, not basil; Texan enough to go to Rice and still, decades later, roll her eyes whenever anyone displays Hook-em Horns. Her parents met amid the blackouts and drama of WWII London. She told me a bit about it:

Daddy was a major in the Air Force. He was stationed near London. He never flew, of course---terrible eyesight and mechanically challenged---but was involved in the communications end of things, broadcasting and news reporting for the folks back home. A few years after the war, he and his friend Porter Randall did on-location reports of the Berlin Airlift, with live interviews of the pilots who made the flights, among other things. He told me once that these were the best years of his life and that he had a marvelous time during the war, that he knew it was bad for many people but for him it was wonderful.

Mother was in the service too, in the British ATS, the equivalent of the Women’s Army Corps, the WACs. She went in at 18, in 1938, as did many girls who weren’t pursuing higher education. She served as a quartermaster; I don’t know her rank, though I still have her pips and pins and whatnot. She was stationed all over England during the six years she served. There are stories she told of being in Scotland, of being billeted in small villages and inside Dover Castle (where she received a small shrapnel wound during one German bombing raid; there was a small scar on her arm). She and Daddy met in an officers’ mess hall, somewhere around London, where some of the US fellows took their meals. I don’t know more details than that. She left the service when they married, in 1944. But I think she, like he, managed to have a lot of fun during a very hard time.

Theirs really was a “verifiable romance of wartime.” Just a few months before V-E day, my mother was born in London. Soon Grandpa had taken his new wife and daughter home to Texas, where life was dramatically different. Grandma soon learned, for example, that you couldn’t tell your American friends “Knock me up sometime” when you meant that you wanted them to visit you (that is, to knock on your door). But by the time I was born she had adopted Aqua-Net helmet hair as her own. Grandpa went on working in radio, DJ-ing as popular music evolved into rock ‘n’ roll; when he died, he left behind stacks of old singles. I was too young then to do anything more than find comedy in the name Fats Waller. Now, of course, I would hoard the things, and I wish I’d had a chance to know him better; I suspect we’d have had a lot to talk about.

Mom’s story leaves out the part that everyone in the family already knows: the romance of wartime turned into peacetime heartbreak. Those years in the early ’40s really would be the best of their lives. Grandma and Grandpa both died alone after a long, poisonously bitter divorce. She never got the training her artistic talents obviously demanded. They both smoked and drank their separate ways into the grave.

I don’t know if Grandma was the love of Grandpa’s life. I do know that he was not the love of hers. He was, in fact, her rebound fling after losing the love of her life. In England she’d fallen for a young doctor who happened to be Jewish. Her family was strict C of E, her mother---from what little I know---rather terrifyingly implacable. Eventually she and the young man realized they could never get their families to consent to a marriage. They wrote to each other, breaking off the relationship. Their letters crossed in the mail.

When I was young, Grandma’s story was exciting: love! blackouts! Nazis! bombs! Now what stands out is its sadness. Her life shows the power of love to damage as well as to heal, to warp as well as to grow; and it reminds me that no one’s destiny is ever hers alone.

Ralph Cupper Talks about life in the Infantry

That's my grandpa when he was 17 in the Pacific. Happy Veterans Day, Grandpa, and to all the other men and women who have served. Thank you. –Scott Cupper

Click the photograph on the left to be taken to a web page describing Ralph Cupper's reflections on his years of service in the pacific campaign. He's a true hero!

On the homefront with the Enoch Family

Our lovely production manager Carol Enoch had a chat with her Father about their family during WWII. Click the image below to read his letter about life back in Arkansas during the War Effort!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

'Services Rendered'. Thank you, Ladies!

"This list, found in a York County (Pa.) USO's newsletter on file at the York County Heritage Trust, provides a tongue-in-cheek account of services provided by hostesses at the Serviceman's Club and Canteen at the old York County Academy during World War II."

Click the list for a link to the great York Town WWII blog.

The cast and crew of The War Plays have had a wonderful time researching the period and using amazing finds like this list of 'special services' to develop our pre-show action and onstage banter.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Director Kate Nawrocki talks The War Plays

Back in 2005, I went with Emily to see a series of short plays that were being presented at Boxer Rebellion. She had written one of the pieces, and it was called The Tube Shelter. I loved it. So much so that every once in a while I would think back on it and remember how charming and bittersweet I found it, how romantic and touching and lovely. I wanted to see those people again. I wanted to know what happened to them - If they ever saw each other again, ever found each other again.

Years later we were gathering scenes for our first ever Trunk Show and Emily sent one to me called The Moonbeam Girl, and again I was struck by how simple and sweet and heartfelt the story was: A boy going off to war and spending his last night with a gal he’s been paying for, but would date him for free if he’d only ask…

The first time I heard The Tennis Party it was at company member, Jenifer Henry’s, birthday get-together. All the Strange Tree gals were there at Emily and Kara’s little Southport apartment with chocolate and cheese and wine, as Carol and Jen read the parts of two friends navigating the death of a third, trying to cope with guilt, abandoned love, and terrible house guest manners.

These three little plays stuck with all of us - every once in a while they’d pop up in conversation – I love that one! We have to do something with that… Wouldn’t it be neat if…? And so...

When we were deciding what our second show for 2010 would be, the idea of doing The War Plays came up. We decided we would take the three plays – linked together only by the fact that each of them took place during wartime - and give them a home.

When looking at the three pieces in the context of putting them together, a common thread kept popping up; That of lonely people searching for connection, but also hiding from it. We have Minnie protecting herself from further heartache with a layer of iciness and standoffishness; Jackie and Denny keeping each other at arm’s length by introducing money into the relationship and letting it go on that way because it’s easier not to get in too deep; Elliot, denying himself real love with a willing and equal partner even as she waits for him (in a thunder storm) to come back to her.

And then there were the characters that pushed that connection, that forced the other characters to *see* what they could have, *see* what they deserve. Love. Companionship. A home in another person: Evan with his unrelenting optimism, his insistence that life is something to be enjoyed at all times, chipping away at the armor that Minnie has constructed around herself; Lewis, everyone’s favorite house guest, trying to resuscitate his friend who is drowning in guilt by forcing him to see that he does have something left in the world after his brother’s death, that he does deserve to have happiness in his life even after everything that’s happened.

There was also the common thread of The Brother. Paul, Minnie’s simple older brother whom she has become the de facto mother figure for; Pauly, Jackie’s brother who rents her out for dates with the neighborhood boys to make ends meet; and John, the third corner in a love triangle between two brothers and the girl down the lane. Three very different young men – two of whom never actually appear in their respective scenes but are such a presence that they’re impossible to ignore. And so they are there too in the form of one actor, shifting costumes and body language and filling out, in those in-between musical transitions, the worlds of the pieces.


Strange Tree loves music. Whenever we can we use it, either via house music or a live band, we do, and for an era where music was so important and meant and *said* so much it seemed like the obvious choice to use that music as the connective tissue of the pieces. Those moments happening underneath the music allow the characters to introduce themselves before their scenes, helps us stay with them and follow the arc of their relationships from beginning to end:

Evan seeing Minnie and Paul on the street before meeting them again at the Tube Shelter, and then later waiting for her at Middlesex and Harrow with his signed Fred Astaire picture.

Denny paying for Jackie’s company, awkwardly dancing together and trying to get the steps right, to get it right, and then sharing a kiss and a promise to write.

And the Tennis gang – three boys, best friends, two of them brothers who are both in love with the same girl, jealousy and one-up-manship leading to tragedy that forces a gap in a circle of friends that is widening by the hour and threatening to unravel all together...

Kitty Berlin and The Allied Orchestra, the most current version of The Strange Tree Group’s house band, underscores these in-between moments of the show as they play popular tunes form the era such as “Bei Mir Bist du Schon”, “The Deepest Shelter in Town”, “It’s Been a Long Long Time”, and “One Girl and Two Boys”, determined to put on a hell of a show in spite of the loss of several of their members and the threat of (possible) enemy planes flying overhead...


When we were researching the Blitz we came across, again and again, stories of people with the attitude of “Go ahead and bomb us. We’re not going to stop living our lives.” And they didn’t. There’s one video in particular of an older women being interviewed after half her house was destroyed. She looked the camera right in the eye and cheerfully said she was moving right back in. It was her house. She wasn’t going anywhere.

And then there were the images – a few in particular really struck a cord when deciding on a framing device for the pieces, and they became a kind of mission statement for the play:

People still needed milk. They still needed to escape into a book, or a film or a dance hall. They put on their three piece suits and they stepped over the rubble on their way to work. They went back to their homes and if they weren’t there anymore they found them in other people.

In a time when there was so much heartache and danger, death and destruction, people needed release. They needed Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Songs that turned serious Air Raid instructions into funny little ditties.

The arts give us comfort. The arts allow us an escape when it’s needed most.

The framing device of the War Plays follows a group of artists - Strange Tree’s own little ragtag USO with it’s depleted band members (only a cellist , accordion player, drummer, French horn player and lead singer, are left of the “Allied Orchestra”) and a group of young actors from the States who have traveled to London in the winter of ’44 to put on their show. They get a little bit more than they bargained for when that show gets interrupted by what came to be known as the “Baby Blitz”.

In 1944, with the original Blitz having ended a few years prior, the troupe performs in a theatre in London where we have transported the Atheneaum for about an hour and a half, and are about to start the show when an alarm sounds. Not knowing what to expect or how bad it’s going to be, they decide the show must go on.

It’s my house. You can bomb it all you like. I’m not going anywhere.

And so they perform their play - pieces that span the War thus far - The first taking place during the original Blitz of 1940, the second in America during the deployment of US troops in ’42, and the final scene taking place just after American deployment in France in ’44. The pieces also span the progression of a relationship. Strangers meet. There’s a spark. They grow closer, they make promises. They lose each other. They find each other again.

With The War Plays, The Strange Tree group hopes to celebrate the people who persevered and stubbornly went on with their lives during one of the most horrendous acts of destruction in a War full of them. Danger at every turn, they defiantly went out to dinner, went dancing, went to music halls and theatres. They fell in and out of love, they lost people dear to them and found people they never would have met at all who changed their lives irrevocably.

The Strange Tree Group also wishes to celebrate the artists who traveled to those War torn continents and those who still do so today determined to helps folks forget, even if only for little while, how hard life can be by reminding them, in any way they can, how sometimes wonderful as well.

Kate Nawrocki, Director

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Opening of THE WAR PLAYS!

A Photography Blog of our latest show, The War Plays.
All pictures taken by the devastatingly talented Jon Tyler core.
Get your tickets and don't miss out on the fun.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

THE WAR PLAYS open October 29th!

Welcome bag to the blog, boy howdy we've been busy! This week the company is loading in The War Plays at the Athenaeum. As I type we're busy turning the first floor studio and cabaret into a bombed out pit of its former self. The premise behind the plays is a small touring USO troupe hosts a performance of war time love stories...but then something goes terribly, terribly wrong. The theater the company was going to use for the night is hit in the raids, pieces of bandstand, sets, and costumes are everywhere. The company is in chaos but its far too dangerous to go back out on the streets and so...the show must go on! Come and hear the Allied Orchestra play beside their broken bandstand while stories of love lost, found, and underground play out in this rich and beautiful hour and twenty minute production. If you've never experienced the total immersion of a strange tree production, you've never truly lived. Dash out and get some tickets at! Enjoy your fall and celebrate great theater!