Golden Toad | Talking Band

Rediscovering Our Repertoire, Planning the Party

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In preparation for Talking Band’s 40th Anniversary Party, Ellen Maddow and I have been listening to cassette tapes, video tracks, CD’s, and MP3s of 40 years of Talking Band music. We are choosing the songs from past shows, which a stellar group of singers and musicians will be performing at the Party.   There is a lot to choose from. We are looking for songs from a wide range of our past shows, contrasting musical styles and moods, songs that the performers said they wanted to sing, and mostly songs that we still love. We also want to have some songs sung by the original performers, and other songs, in new musical arrangements, covered by performers who hadn’t done them before. We have narrowed down our list to about twenty songs going as far back as Bedroom Suite (1984), Ellen’s first show about the avant-garde housewife, Betty Suffer, and as recent as this year’s The Golden Toad. In between there will be songs from: Black Milk Quartet (1989), Party Time (1996), Star Messengers (2000), Bitterroot (2001), New Islands Archipelago (2010), The Peripherals (2012), and more.

The process of selection has been a great excuse for Ellen and me to dip into the rich archive of the Talking Band’s past work, uncover some wonderful material (as well as some not so wonderful material) that we had forgotten, and especially to be reminded of the fabulous work of so many artistic collaborators over the last four decades. We are truly excited that we will get to re-connect with many of these artists – some of whom are coming from great distances to perform in the celebration.

In addition to being a celebration of 40 years of creating theater, the Gala on April 27th is also a fundraiser. When you buy a ticket you will be helping Talking Band to continue bringing you new theater and music for years to come. Next season, we will produce a new play by Ellen Maddow, Burnished by Grief; launch the Marcellus Shale Project – a national initiative to develop regional productions of Talking Band’s play Marcellus Shale in communities effected by fracking; and start new theatrical explorations in the Talking Band’s Performance Lab on music, photography and time (the fruits of which will undoubtedly find their way into new work).

We have set a goal this year of raising $40,000 from individual contributions, and we are already halfway to our goal. In addition, two generous supporters, in honor of our 40th,  have created a $10,000 matching grant so that your contribution (whether it’s through a ticket purchase or a donation) will be doubled! So please join us! Bring your friends! Spread the word! You can buy a ticket and/or make a contribution here.

Listen to the song that Lou Reed said “should be a  hit single!” and then come to the 40th Anniversary gala on the 27th to hear it live and in person. This is “Hello Stranger” from Bitterroot (Music-Peter Gordon, Lyrics-Paul Zimet, Performed by Michelle Rios):

A Letter from Paul

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Dear Friends,

I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who joined us at LaMama over the last few weeks for The Golden Toad, and to say how deeply satisfying it was to finally put together all four episodes – plus an epilogue! – and share it with you after two years of research and development. This long developmental period allowed us the time to explore, refine the writing, and deepen the work of the ensemble – and we couldn’t have done it without you. A group of committed audience members who saw some or all of the episodes as works-in-progress in their original sites formed an essential part of the creative process by supporting our wonderful group of performers and artistic collaborators.

Part of the adventure of each site-specific episode was a certain degree of seat-of-your-pants unpredictability and intermingling of audience and performers. These performances were a lot of fun to put on, but frankly, I was worried about how it would all translate into a theater space. Fortunately, with the help of our brilliant designers, cast, and technical crew I think we pulled it off. Whatever was lost by not being in the actual locations, was more than made up for by getting to know the characters through the whole trajectory of the story.

We were pleased to receive some terrific press coverage for the show and if you haven’t read any of it yet, you can find links to select press here. But even more meaningful to us has been the extraordinary outpouring of enthusiasm we received from audience members – old friends, new friends and strangers alike – after the show, in emails, on Facebook and on blogs.

Many of you probably know Ellie Covan, founder and guiding light of Dixon Place and long-time Talking Band supporter who wrote to us after show, “wow (shaking my head back n forth…). anything i could say would b insufficient. I had an amazing experience. I’m soooo happy/fortunate I got to see it. Honestly, i’ve never seen anything like it. Thank you so, so much for an incredible adventure.”

A new arrival in the extended Talking Band community, the promising young musician Jonathan Ragonese, wrote, “I cannot express to you how much I enjoyed your play. Your show was the first thing I have come in contact with in [a long time] that has been utterly uncompromising, fun, and filled with a sense of depth that most things lack.”

Jan Cohen Cruz left us a note on Facebook saying, “Dionisio and I were moved and delighted by The Golden Toad. We were especially struck by it as a reflection on aging, and so enjoyable. Thank you all!

Our longtime friend, colleague and former collaborator Jean-Claude van Itallie said, “I had the pleasure of watching my old friends and colleagues of the Talking Band — Paul Zimet, Ellen Maddow, Tina Shepherd et al — in a fantastical, whimsical three and a half hour (for once long theatre is good theatre) light-hearted, touching, musical, quirky, funny extravaganza called Golden Toad that they created. Between old friends performing and other old friends mesmerized by them in the audience, my realities were pleasantly confused. Go see Golden Toad. It’s wild and unique.”

Ronnie Scharfman wrote, “Joe and I have been musing, smiling, tearing up and exchanging impressions all weekend of your marvelous “Golden Toad”. It is quintessential Talking Band – zany, inspired, surprising, inventive, poetic, hilarious, imaginative and deeply moving.  This time, though – is it our age and the poignancy of loss, or your 40 some-odd years of endless creative searching and researching, or the constant commitment to your collective process and the community that has fostered? – the whole work, in its novelistic breadth, has the feeling of burnished copper.  It is deep and shines with a patina of emotion and wisdom as well as theatrical brilliance We wanted to thank you for all the years that your work has brought joy to our spirits and stimulation to our minds.  May there be many more!”

Frank Paiva told us “I really loved it. Fantastic music. Fantastic performances … I was sad to see it end. Looking forward to the next show and the one after that and the one after that!”

And Rev. M. Zell Schwartzman wrote us saying, “The final coda/tableau captures the shimmering aura of inevitability – and we (who had become friends) have now known what you have made for us to know – that we, indeed, have always been family.  And what a tree we be!  As theater it’s Talking Band at its heart centered best – –ultimately, brilliantly, so completely satisfying! “

“We who had become friends had always been family and what a tree we be!” And as the character Amethyst (indelibly played by Tina Shepard) sings at the end of Episode 4, “What’s Next?”

Well, we have a number of projects percolating in our heads and will fill you in on all that soon enough. But the next big event is 40th Anniversary Celebration/Gala/Bash on Monday, April 27. We plan to have many of the extraordinary performers we have worked with over the years sing songs, and play music, from 40 years of Talking Band shows.

The list of performers is growing, so far the line-up includes: David Greenspan, Loudon Wainwright III, Theresa McCarthy, Kamala Sakaram, Peter Gordon, Kim Gambino, Steven Rattazzi, Tom Nellis, Randy Reyes, Michelle Rios, William Badgett, Viva deConcini, Sam Kulik, Jonathan Hart Makwaia, Harry Mann, and of course, Tina Shepard, Ellen Maddow, and myself! It will be an amazing, joyful event and we want all of you to join us at the celebration. So mark that in your calendars now and we will let you know more soon.

With gratitude to you all for the theatrical journeys you have taken with us,