Playwright, Actor, Producer Have Strong Ties to Arizona Theatre Company
Photos by Carol Goldfarb
“Albatross,” a high-octane, adventure story and multi-media extravaganza, comes to Stage West at the Herberger Theater Center, March 16-26.
Inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Albatross” blends multimedia technology with a fast-paced rollicking sea yarn to explore the themes of regret, isolation and the interconnected relationship between human beings and the natural world we inhabit. The play delivers a profound and relevant message about mindfulness and the effect of our thoughtless actions on all living things.
“Albatross” won two prestigious Elliot Norton Awards from the Boston Drama Critics Association and is currently on stage at one of New York City’s top off-Broadway theater, 59E59 Theater.
The show is produced by Valley resident Michael Seiden and Poet’s Theatre of Cambridge, Mass. and presented by Arizona Theatre Company. Seiden is past chair of the ATC board of trustees. “Albatross” had its initial reading through ATC’s Café Bohemia in Tucson and Phoenix.
An Involved Background in Arizona Theatre Company
Seiden has been involved on the Arizona Theatre Company’s Board for at least 10 years and at one point served as Board Chair. Seiden explains, “We’ve been through good times, we’ve been through bad times. We’ve been through a lot, but we’ve continued to provide great theater for Phoenix, Tucson and all over the state.” He retired as President of Western International University in 2009 after serving as Executive Director, Technology Programs for the University of Phoenix, Managing Consultant for Berger & Co. and Director, Information Systems for Johns Manville Corporation. He is also on the Board of Trustees of Jewish Family and Children’s Services. In his role as producer, he’s learned a lot!
“I did not retire specifically to be a theatre producer, although, I’ve always been involved with the theatre on boards,” says Seiden. “I retired to pursue board work and do some writing. Through my contacts with Arizona Theatre Company, I met playwrights, actors and so forth. One day, I decided to talk with Matt Spangler who had been here. He wrote the play from the book, ‘The Kite Runner.’ He and I talked and I said, ‘I have a book that I’d like to turn into a play. I read this book over 50 years ago.’” They ran into a few snags because the author of the source material for “Albatross” was Swiss and the publisher was in Germany. Enter Benjamin Evett, who had appeared several times at ATC. Seiden, Spangler and Evett buckled down and were able to get “Albatross” off the ground.
Like Seiden, co-playwrights Matthew Spangler (“Kite Runner,” “Tortilla Curtain”) and star Benjamin Evett have ATC connections. ATC produced and premiered Spangler’s “Kite Runner” and Evett performed in the ATC production of “Freud’s Last Session,” as well as other ATC productions.
“The fact is: Arizona Theatre Company brought us together and the eventual outcome was Albatross becoming a reality,” Seiden states.
WBUR (National Public Radio) in Boston wrote that “Evett’s performance (in Albatross) is spellbinding, Rick Lombardo’s direction is dynamic and focused, and the finely attuned production design serves as a living argument for the poetic possibilities of the theatrical form.”
The Role as Producer
Stepping into the shoes of a producer, Seiden has entailed many things. “The first and foremost thing that a producer does is write checks,” Seiden says with all seriousness. “One of roles is to finance the enterprise, if you will. It is getting a good group of people – a set designer, a costume designer, a stage manager and a director.” Rick Lombardo, former artistic director with San Jose Repertory Theatre was secured as director for “Albatross.”
The story follows an 18th-century sailor, cursed with immortality, who is thrust into the modern world. The audience sets sail in a spare but visually thrilling stagecraft. Immersed in this sensory otherworld, audiences come to find out who the Mariner is, why he must forever tell his story, and what he is searching for as he roams the earth.
Spangler describes the play as “very relevant” in light of the today’s world events. “The play asks that we be keenly present and cultivate an awareness of how nearly everything we do affects other people,” Spangler says. “This idea, that all our fates are interconnected, provides something of a balance to an era of environmental degradation, increasing income disparity and radical individuality.”
“Albatross” has been presented in two theaters in Boston, Massachusetts, Georgia, New York and in Scotland. After the ATC presentation, “Albatross” will take flight in some other cities, too, after Seiden takes a short break.
Ticket prices begin at $40 and can be purchased through the Arizona Theatre Company website at www.arizonatheatre.org or the Herberger Theater Box office at (602) 252-8497. For more information about Albatross, visit www.albatrosstheplay.net.
Fact Sheet: “Albatross”
Based on the Poem, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Co-Written by: Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett
Directed by: Rick Lombardo
Produced by: Michael Seiden and Poet’s Theater, Cambridge, Mass.
Presented by: Arizona Theatre Company
Projection Design: Garrett Herzog
Lighting Design: Franklin Meissner, Jr.
Set Design: Cristina Tedesco
Costume Design: Frances McSherry
Stage Manager: Leslie Sears
Venue: Herberger Theater Center Stage West, 222 E. Monroe St. Phoenix.
Previews Begin: Thursday, March 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Opening Night: Friday, March 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Closing Performance: Sunday, March 26 at 2:00 p.m.