Today’s TOP FIVE comes from Brian Tanner, one of the most prolific theatre artists in the area. He’s written, directed, acted in shows all over the Corridor. He helped run Dreamwell Theatre in the past, serving as Executive Director and President of the board for a number of years. And the fact is, he’s just a really nice guy. But if you ever sit down at a poker table, and Mr. Tanner’s smiling face is sizing you up, watch out… he’s no slouch at Texas Hold ‘Em! Without further ado, here’s Brian’s TOP FIVE!
Since my 2001 debut as a Spartan Messenger in Dreamwell’s Lysistrata by X.J. Kennedy, I’ve been involved with 120 different theatre presentations in one capacity or another. Writing, directing, acting, light board, sound design, etc, etc. I love theatre and love to be involved with it, whatever I might be doing. I always find myself learning from each experience. Even if I’m running the fly rail, I pay attention to the other people involved and soak everything in.
I found it hard to narrow down a Top Five list of shows I’ve been involved in, but I think this list represents a good snapshot of my varied theatre ‘career’.
In chronological order:
5) Molly Sweeney by Brian Friel. Starlighters, 2006.
This was one of my first main roles. Essentially a three-person cast, Brian Friel’s script is told entirely in monologue, shifting between three characters and telling the different perspectives of the story. I played Frank Sweeney, husband to Molly (Dawn Griesi), who finds a doctor (Rick Sanborn) who is willing to restore Molly’s sight. She’s been blind since childhood and this is the doctor’s one last chance to prove himself. Frank is a man obsessed with whatever project currently captures his attention, which leads to a tragic outcome. Each actor had about 45 minutes of monologues overall and this was the first time I could really stretch as an actor. I was in the capable hands of director Annette Rohlk and feel I learned a lot not just about acting, but directing as well. Annette’s director style was one that I found myself referring back to whenever I directed.
4) Poona the F***dog and Other Plays for Children by Jeff Goode. Dreamwell, 2010.
I co-directed this Jeff Goode play with Meg Dobbs. It was a sprawling epic of wicked satire with moments of drama and humanity. The cast of about 12 (Libby Dobbs, Kevin Moore, John Crosheck, Elisabeth Dobbs, Robyn McCright, Stephen Polchert, Dre Prizant, Brad Quinn, Brett Jancenek, Ben Ward, and Meg and I) portrayed about 35 different characters (including a Storyteller, a singing penis, Mr. Beer, a TV, a computer, a couple aliens, a couple angels, God, the Devil, a ripped up stuffed rabbit, and more). It was a fairy tale story of Poona and her pink box looking for love. The play challenged standard theater conventions, storytelling, celebrity, the nature of offense, and many more topics. I think one of the highlights for me, was the scene between Kevin Moore as a computer and Dre Prizant as little girl Suzy in one of the more tangential stories. The computer slowly leads Suzy into a downward spiral where it’s ok to kill people, including her parents, with the touch of a button. It was a dark turn from the stories that preceded it and a nice departure from the zaniness of the play. Not that I didn’t love the zaniness either, such as the discussion between Poona and two aliens, one of whom has a name that is a very offensive word in the English language. Goode’s examination of words and what makes them offensive is carried out with hilarious results.
3) Water of Life by Brian Tanner, part of the 4th Annual All in a Day Play Festival. Dreamwell/City Circle, 2011.
I’ve written a number of short 10 minute plays and monologues and have been happy with all that have been produced. It’s hard to pick just one to include here. I could have come up with a top five here alone: A Simple Request, Black Friday, Picnics at Windy Creek River, The Hole Story could also have been listed here and if you remember any of those, you already know why.
I’m choosing Water of Life written for the 4th Annual All in a Day Play Festival, a collaboration between Dreamwell and City Circle. I had to write this overnight and base the story on the genre of Fairy Tale and include Niagra Falls as a location. I also had to include a trope something along the lines of something starting out small and becoming a larger issue, case in point, the Mother’s (Teresa Meeks-Mosley) cough turns into a terminal illness that the daughter (Kiva Meeks-Mosley) is told by a fairy (Heidi Bibler) that she must travel to a far away land to retrieve the magic water that will save her mother. Directed by Mary Sullivan, the two adult actors morph into the various characters that Kiva meets along the way. This was a terrific collaboration and interpretation that took my script to places I hadn’t even thought of when I was writing it and why I singled this one out.
The All in a Day Fest in general is one of my favorite events of the year. It’s incredible to see so many great projects come to life in just 24 hours. Most projects hit the mark very well and then there are those times when everything just clicks perfectly. I felt this way with ‘Water of Life”. I can’t wait to do more of these (hint, hint).
2) Broken Branches by Brian Tanner. TCR Underground, 2011.
This was a one-act I wrote for the TCR Underground. It ran long enough (1 hr, 15 min) to almost need an intermission and be considered full length. Directed by Zhen E. Rammelsburg and starring Kevin Moore, Kimberly Meyer, Bryant Duffy, Ashley Keenan, Brandon Dean, and Amber Mussman. A romantic comedy, with a splash of science fiction, that explores a larger question: Are we free to make the choices that we make, or are there other forces pulling the strings? Broken Branches was originally conceived about a man whose roommate signs him up a new comprehensive dating site and finds what may be the beginnings of a new romantic relationship. The quirky part was that the other roommate invents a time machine that splinters the timeline into a new direction, with unexpected consequences.
The play was very well received and I was very happy with Zhen E.’s direction and the cast’s contributions. One of my proudest writings, I feel this challenged me as a writer to write a larger story, with big ideas, and some fun stuff to experiment with. Brandon designed a poster with all of our images and I have that signed by everyone and hanging in my living room.
Also, I appreciate that TCR is willing to give new, original writings a shot, as well as give opportunities to directors and actors that may not have a lot of experience under their belt. City Circle’s New Play Fest, Dreamwell’s Writer’s Joust, Mt. Vernon/Lisbon Community Theatre’s Slices of Life, and Riverside Theatre’s Walking the Wire also spotlight local writers. I encourage audiences to attend these events as they come up as I’ve found the quality and experience to match other ‘regular’ productions. You never know where the next big thing might come from!
A departure from my usual acting roles, I played a foul-mouth Pontius Pilate in Stephen Adley Giurgis’ examination of Judas’ role in the crucifixion. I gave Pilate a bit of Jersey swagger in desert fatigues and a skull patterned tank top. As Pilate, I “exploded across the stage” according to the review, to confront the attorney Cunningham (Sharon Falduto). I was thrilled to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award for the first Dreamwell Night of Stars. This was such a fun role and to be guided by director Matt Brewbaker was a plus. Probably more than any other role, I really felt like I was able to step into a character’s skin and push my acting envelope. It was a relatively short scene, included with a number of other terrific scenes and one of my prouder acting moments.
We hope you enjoyed Brian’s TOP FIVE. Check back tomorrow for another theatre artist’s list!
Brian Tanner has been involved in many productions over the last 14 years. His most recent works are appearing as Ben in Death of a Salesman; directing Becky’s New Car for Dreamwell, and writing Bus People included in the TCR Underground. Always happy to be active he also does many things technical backstage such as sound, lights, and many other things. He is a past president of Dreamwell Theatre and currently serves on their marketing committee. He stays active with fitness classes, going on bike rides and 5k runs, and is an avid Marvel comic-book collector. He loves to keep busy writing and is working on new projects, theatre and comic book related, that he hopes that you will someday enjoy.