This season at the Walnut Street Theatre, audiences will leave changed; enlightened by two unique Philadelphia natives, who share the common goal of bringing theatre "from the people to the people". Roll out the red carpet please... Introducing two of my new local favorites- the late actor Edwin Forrest, and the great playwright/director/actor, Mister Armen Pandola.
Pandola carries on the tradition of Edwin Forrest, America's first real leading actor, living to create, communicate and aid others in producing their own creations. Our theatre community benefits and our community as a whole is better off, as it once was in Forrest's time, when he set the standard for the American stage.
Pandola is the winner of the Walnut Street Theatre’s Edwin Forrest Playwriting Competition, created by the theatre's producing artistic director, Bernard Harvard, to commemorate the 200th birthday of Edwin Forrest.
Unlike many of today's "American Idols", Forrest actually possessed talent, using it in a way that was new to performer's of his time, making the theatre more than just a place for the elite to show off their money and understanding of fancy language. He helped make the theatre a place for everyone. He spoke to the people of the human condition and on a level they could understand. His professional debut took place at the Walnut Street Theatre in 1820, and audiences couldn't get enough of him. They flocked to the theatres like kids to a cracked piñata. And when you see one of Pandola’s innovative, empathetic and sympathetic new works, I expect you will do the same. His latest work, and the winner of the Forrest competition is titled, Forrest: A Riot of Dreams.
Having won the Walnut's Competition it will be produced this season as a part of the Independent Studio Series in March 2006, celebrating Forrest's Birthday, March 09, 1806.
"Edwin Forrest lived in the public eye and he fed off of it. He found strength in being popular." Says Pandola
Forrest: A Riot of Dreams is multi- faceted, as all of Pandola’s plays are. There's something in it for everybody, even if you've never heard a line of Shakespeare and you're not educated in the background of Theatre History. Don't worry. You need not be. Just come with an open mind and ears. That's all Pandola requests of any of his audiences.
His goal is to convey a truth to an audience, and this isn't easy in a modern world that as of late seems to have given up on the imagination. "Real truth is in fiction" Armen smiles and sips his coffee. "Modern writers are not addressing issues"
I am so happy to hear somebody say this, because I couldn't agree more. Writers are reluctant to do drama that deals with what's happening in the world. Sure, we see explosions. We see things happen, one event after another. One mainstream movie with a bad script starring Pierce Brosnan and computer graphics taking over language, literature and drama... But we don't know how people are dealing with what is going on around them. We don't know the truth. We don't know how to listen to what someone else is saying or how to listen to our own thoughts.
But then there are the plays of Pandola. He believes the theatre is the best form of communication.
"I want people to understand what I'm trying to say. I'm not deliberately obtuse. I write plays. Not ranting and raving. Theatre is the best form of explicating the human condition. It can't happen anywhere else."
And he's right, isn't he? Where else can one group of people really listen to another group, while at the same time listen to themselves? And both sides go home that same evening a different person. And hopefully the good infection spreads. That is the way of the theatre.
So pay tribute to Armen Pandola, who has done the theatre community many good deeds with his several new completed works and who, along with his playwriting, co- founded Green Light Theatrical Productions with his daughter.
I urge you to visit the Walnut in March, and pay tribute to Edwin Forrest. Thank him for the birth of a new form of theatre in Philadelphia. We are following in his footsteps, after all, and after this week, I am following even more closely.
Maybe the world doesn't see theatre as the most important thing, but if we, as a closely knit community can do our best to say what we think is truthful and necessary, I think we can follow in the footsteps of Edwin Forrest, as Armen Pandola has done, and use our imaginations to make this life a little more inviting, one scene, one act, one curtain at a time.