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Feb 14th
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The Quack Pack

ae2 MegMichaelShakespeare Santa Cruz’s ‘Ugly Duckling’ revamp promises to entertain and inspire

Anyone who has ever felt left out, or survived high school for that matter, will appreciate Shakespeare Santa Cruz’s holiday show, “Honk!” The charming and heartfelt production is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling.”

“Essentially it’s a great allegory for bullying,” says actress Megan Smith, who stars as Ida, the duckling’s mother. “Being a person who is different from the dominant culture, how it affects your home and social life, and how to deal with that.”

The musical, which runs Nov. 16-Dec. 9 at UC Santa Cruz’s Mainstage Theater, tells the story of Ugly, an odd-looking duckling who was cast out at birth because of his appearance, and his journey to find love and acceptance.

Directed by Nancy Carlin, with music by George Stiles and text by Anthony Drewe, “Honk!” is a co-production of the UCSC Theater Arts Department and Shakespeare Santa Cruz. It will star many UCSC students alongside specialized actors, including Smith, who is a professional actress and musician based in the Bay Area.

The musical is the latest in a long line of non-Shakespearean holiday productions put on by SSC since 1997.

“Part of our mission at SSC is education, and the annual holiday show plays a big part in that—especially the special weekday matinées we perform for school groups,” explains Kyle Clausen, managing director of SSC. “They include an opportunity for a backstage tour and [for kids to pose] questions to the artists. For many of the over 2,000 children that will attend one of these matinées, it is their first exposure to live theater.”

The biggest difference between “The Ugly Duckling” and “Honk!” is the musical element. SSC’s adaptation is filled with rollicking song and dance numbers performed with the accompaniment of a live onstage band.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself as a performer being able to push myself in all of those directions of dance, song, and acting,” says Smith. “I think everyone in the cast would probably say the same thing; it’s great to be challenged to do all three of those things well for the purpose of telling a story.”

Smith has had plenty of practice telling stories through music, as one half of the popular acoustic Americana folk duo Misner and Smith. As actors, both Sam Misner and Smith work to integrate their passion for theater and music. The pair addresses the universality of storytelling in their songwriting and uses the vibrancy of each song to bring the action on stage to life.

“We believe in the music we’re making just as much if not more than we believe in theater. It’s the same artistic vision,” explains Smith. “I think what sets us apart is our live performance and our attention to detail, and the feeling of this openness with what we are performing that really draws people in.”

With a cast comprised predominantly of students—18 on stage, and more than 30 working behind the scenes—“Honk!” has given UCSC Theater Department students a chance to engage in a dialogue with and work alongside professional union actors. “This is a class for them, and an important part of their education as they apply skills learned in the classroom to this professional setting,” notes Clausen.

Smith’s role in the show and as a mentor to students has made her a mother hen in more ways than one. “It’s funny, I expected to be working with student actors who were very unseasoned and green—and they’re not,” says Smith. “They’re really professional, they come focused to work and that hard work makes it possible for me to do my work well.”

 “Honk!” may seem like an odd choice for a holiday production, but the themes presented—namely tolerance, compassion and understanding—are an excellent reminder of the true meaning of the season.

“This story is about the power of love and family and overcoming steep odds,” says Smith. “I think it’s important to highlight those things when a lot of people are really distracted by material wants [and] getting swept up in the craziness of the holiday shopping season—this has nothing to do with that.

“There are those cheesy moments—because it’s a musical—people break into song and we’re all dressed up as birds, and it's silly,” Smith continues, with a laugh, “but at the end of the day, the play has a heart to it that is undeniable.” 


“Honk!” runs Nov. 16-Dec. 9 at UCSC’s Mainstage Theater, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $18-30. Visit shakespearesantacruz.org or call 459-2159.

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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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