Friday, January 27, 2012

Poe-Dunk - A Matchbox Entertainment at FRIGID New York

Playlab NYC is excited to present Poe-Dunk – A Matchbox Entertainment as a part of the 2012 FRIGID New York Festival. Poe-Dunk is an itty-bitty puppet repertoire of obscure curios, marginalia, and even a couple popular classics from America’s most versatile writer. It is conceived and performed by Playlab NYC’s artistic director Kevin P. Hale and directed by John Pieza. Originally a part of the 15th Annual New York International Fringe Festival, this production promises an enjoyable time with opening night Wednesday, February 22nd at 6:30pm.

Poe-Dunk – A Matchbox Entertainment is centered on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and features the artwork of Kevin P. Hale. Out of a passion for toy theaters and Poe, Kevin initially created a few matchbox theaters inspired by Poe’s poems as a hobby. Poe-Dunk is a must see for lovers of Poe and the art of toy theater. Of Poe-Dunk Kevin said, “The collection of stories and essays from Poe is so vast that you can forget that not only was he a poet and horror writer, but he was also a newspaperman, a playwright, a critic and humorist. I confess to spending a lot of time reading and researching this writer since my years in high school and I still find him fascinating. I want the audience to share in my fascination.”

Poe-Dunk – A Matchbox Entertainment is based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, conceived and performed by Kevin P. Hale. It is produced by Playlab NYC, directed by John Pieza, with sound by Trevor Dallier, and lights by Jennifer Linn Wilcox.

Founded in 2008, the members of Playlab NYC are mad scientists of imagination. They concoct, unleash and support enjoyably absurd and absurdly enjoyable amusements that engage artists and audiences in the spirit of play. Past works include: Goldilocks and the Three Polar Bears, a co-production with Wide Eyed Productions (FringeNYC 2011); The Altoona Dada Society Presents: The Velvet Gentleman, presenting the unusual life of composer Erik Satie (FringeNYC 2010); Professor Ralph’s Loss of Breath, based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe (FringeNYC 2009); Perfectly Natural, four fables from a different perspective (Midtown International Theater Festival 2009); and The Tempest, Shakespeare’s tale of magic, forgiveness, and fathers (Socrates Sculpture Park 2008). For more info visit

Poe-Dunk – A Matchbox Entertainment runs February 22nd – March 3rd 2012, Wednesday, February 22 at 6:30 PM; Friday, February 24 at 9:30 PM; Monday, February 27 at 8:00 PM; Wednesday, February 29 at 11:00 PM; and Saturday, March 3 at 12:30 PM. The Red Room is located in the Lower East Side at 85 East 4th Street (2nd and 3rd Ave) - - accessible from the N,R (8 St-NYU) or 4, 6, 6x (Bleecker) stop. Tickets are $12 available at

FRIGID New York was founded by Horse Trade and EXIT Theatre in 2007. FRIGID New York is a non-juried festival where participants are chosen by lottery, and 100% of ticket sales are returned to the performing company. They take a total of 30 participants.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Reviews for Poe-Dunk at FringeNYC

Hurricane Irene caused the final weekend of the Fringe Festival to be cancelled. Which meant that I didn't get the chance to say a proper goodbye to Poe-Dunk - A Matchbox. I had a great time at FringeNYC. It turns out that my audiences were having a good time with me. Some even went so far as to say nice things about the show!

"Kevin Hale is a charming guy who knows his stuff, yet relates in
oblique ways that make it fun to learn."

"Hale breathes a lively fire into his matchstick characters, crafting
subtle tongue-in-cheek humor with good-natured slapstick." -High 5

" of the most painstakingly-wrought and gleefully-enacted
shows of the Fringe." -Stage Rush

"It's a perfect expression of why the Fringe Festival still, after all
these years, allows for the opportunity of greatness."

"...a delightful performance." -Artsy Fartsy Show Blog


Friday, November 6, 2009

Poe-Dunk: "The Oval Portrait"

The next story I tackled was Poe’s 1842 story “The Oval Portrait.” Here is the summary from Wikipedia:

The tale begins with an injured narrator seeking refuge in an abandoned mansion in the Apennines, with no explanation for his wound. He spends his time admiring the works of art decorating the strangely-shaped room and perusing a volume which "purported to criticize and describe" the paintings. He eventually discovers a painting which shocks him with its extreme realism, which he refers to as "absolute life-likeliness of expression". He spends a moment ("for an hour, perhaps", the reader is told) in silent awe of it until he cannot bear to look any more, then consults the book for an explanation.

The remainder of the story is a selection from this book discussing how the painting was created — a story within a story. The book explains that the picture was painted by an eccentric artist depicting his young wife, but that he grew obsessed with his painting to the point that he paid no attention the woman he was painting. When he finishes the painting he is appalled at his own work, and exclaims, "This is indeed Life itself!" Then he turns to see his bride, and discovers that she has died and her spirit was transferred into the lifelike painting.

The story was originally published as “Life in Death” and is the shortest of Poe’s stories. It was also the inspiration for Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. The actual story of the portrait only takes a single paragraph to tell, and everything else leading up it that story seems like filler. It was precisely because it was Poe's shortest work that I thought it would lend itself well to matchbox treatment. Instead I found it to be the most frustrating stage to craft.

Beginning in the usual manner, I put a white base coat on the box of matches (2 1/16" x 1 3/8" x 1/2").

I almost immediately discovered my error in choosing to interpret “The Oval Portrait.” The painting is supposed to be so lifelike that it holds the soul of the young woman it depicts. Not being an artist this became a daunting task for me. After a few attempts to find an appropriate painting for inspiration, I gave up and tried a different tactic.

The portrait obviously came from the very famous optical illusion of the young maiden and the old hag.

I had hoped that it would allow the oval portrait to convey the idea of the painting draining the life of the young bride. Mostly though it just looks like the very famous optical illusion of the young maiden and the old hag.

Next I created a 2” x 1” artist’s pallet and enlisted one of the penny matches as a paintbrush. The idea being that as the performer told the story of the portrait; they could act out the painting of the actual portrait.

At the beginning of the story the wounded narrator and his servant break into an abandoned chateau. It is in the bedroom where the narrator is recovering that he sees the portrait.

The chateau at the beginning of the story was referenced from an image of the Chateau Les Roches, a bed and breakfast in Burgundy, France. I attempted to make my painting of the Chateau larger in scale and it probably only has a passing resemblance to the real country house.

Below are the characters of painter and his wife. The characters are acrylic on poster board. Instead of being mounted on matches, this time the figures are mounted into the studio. It ultimately creates a diorama more than an actual theater.

As you can see model sitting in her wedding gown in no way resembles the actual finished oval portrait.

The artist’s studio was referenced from an image of Horace Vernet’s 1820 oil painting “The Artist’s Studio.” My own artist’s look was taken from the painter sitting in the bottom left corner of Vernet’s work.

Feeling that the optical illusion portrait failed to capture the fate of the Artist's wife, I added a painting to the backside of the interior diorama. I'm afraid though that the wife doesn't look dead so much as a little tired.

For me this turned out to be the weakest of my Poe-Dunk theaters, and I won't be surprised to see it replaced in the rotation of short plays.

Next week: "Desultory Notes on Cats."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Poe-Dunk: "Theatrical Rats"

This third Poe-Dunk stage comes from a newspaper article in 1845. In 1978, Poe scholar Thomas Ollive Mabbott attributed the article to Poe based partially on the fact that Poe was the sole editor of the paper at the time.

Following is the entire piece originally published in the November 1, 1845 edition of the Broadway Journal:

The well-known company of rats at the Park Theatre understand, it is said, their cue perfectly. It is worth the price of admission to see their performance. By long training they know precisely the time when the curtain rises, and the exact degree in which the audience is spellbound by what is going on. At the sound of the bell they sally out; scouring the pit for chance peanuts and orange-peel. When, by the rhyming couplets, they are made aware that the curtain is about to fall, they disappear – through respect for the moving heels of the audience. Their temerity is regulated by the intensity of the performers. A profitable engagement might be made, we think, with “the celebrated Dog Billy.”

I was drawn to the “Theatrical Rats” for a variety of reasons. 1. The brevity of the article. 2. It is actually about theatre! 3. It is an actual newspaper piece, as opposed to a poem or a short story. 4. I was looking to work on as wide an array of Poe’s work as possible. I wanted to adapt not just the greatest hits, but some lesser know work. I was looking to find a balance of his essays, poems, and humorous works in addition to the creepy stories. Right now the only thing that seems totally ignored at Poe-Dunk are his works as a mystery writer.

As always, I began with a box of penny matches (2 1/16" x 1 3/8" x 1/2"), and gave it a base coat of white acrylic. The stage and set pieces again are painted in acrylic on the matchbox itself or on poster board.

Because the Park Theatre in the article was a real place, I did a little research to find photos and illustrations of the stage. Wikipedia had a good write up about the history of the theater as well has an excellent drawing of the interior.

Using my computer I adjusted the drawing to the dimensions needed to work with the matchbox. I used transfer paper to draw the proscenium onto poster board.

My image research also turned up a reproduction of a John Searle painting of the stage and auditorium.

The painting allowed me to roughly match up the colors of the stage. I am particularly happy with my recreation of the marble pillars!

Because I didn’t want to handle every story in the same manner, I decided to paint both sides of the matchbox. Flipping over the Park Theatre’s stage would reveal not the box of matches but a rat.

I found my inspiration for the rat at Moduni with the Richard Wetzel created Lucky Pig in a matchbox.

Because the Park Theatre had such a notorious problem with rodents, Mabbott mentions that a number of New York newspapers in the 1840’s had written stories about the rats. I found a variety of images of newspapers from 1845 the year the Poe article was published. I again used my computer to scale the newspapers to a size that would fit into the matchbox. I mounted the images with spray adhesive to poster board and cut them out.

I created a pair of rats by using Elmer’s glue to attach wire tails to the match heads. I made one black and one gray because I wasn't sure what would be the best visual on the tiny stage.

The characters I imagined for the story were a pair of Shakespearean actors playing Ophelia and Hamlet. I also referenced one of the other newspaper stories that Mabbott discusses by creating a rat catcher. The characters are acrylic on watercolor paper and mounted on penny matches.

The rat catcher was referenced from an image of Queen Victoria’s royal rat catcher Jack Black.

For a brief moment I was very excited to find that all of the pieces fit nicely into the matchbox. But then I realized I had forgotten to include the proscenium! The arch and curtain obviously wouldn’t fit into the tiny matchbox.

Next week: "The Oval Portrait."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Poe-Dunk: "The Cask of Amontillado"

The second story for Poe-Dunk is a short story from 1846 "The Cask of Amontillado."

Following is a summary edited from a longer piece by Sparks Notes:

The narrator, Montresor, opens the story by stating that he has been irreparably insulted by Fortunato, and that he seeks revenge. He decides to use Fortunato’s fondness for wine against him. During the carnival season, Montresor approaches Fortunato. He tells Fortunato that he has acquired something that could pass for Amontillado, a light Spanish sherry. Fortunato is anxious to taste the wine and to determine for Montresor whether or not it is truly Amontillado. Fortunato insists that they go to Montresor’s vaults.

The two men descend into the damp vaults, which are full of the dead bodies of the Montresor family. The men walk into a crypt, where human bones decorate three of the four walls. The bones from the fourth wall have been thrown down on the ground. On the exposed wall is a small recess, where Montresor tells Fortunato that the Amontillado is being stored. An intoxicated Fortunato goes to the back of the recess. Montresor then suddenly chains the slow-footed Fortunato to a stone.

Montresor begins to wall up the entrance to this small crypt, thereby trapping Fortunato inside. Fortunato screams confusedly as Montresor builds the first layer of the wall. The alcohol soon wears off and Fortunato moans, terrified and helpless. As the layers continue to rise, though, Fortunato falls silent. Just as Montresor is about to finish, Fortunato laughs as if Montresor is playing a joke on him, but Montresor is not joking. At last, after a final plea, “For the love of God, Montresor!” Fortunato stops answering Montresor, who then twice calls out his enemy’s name. After no response, Montresor claims that his heart feels sick because of the dampness of the catacombs. He fits the last stone into place and plasters the wall closed, his actions accompanied only by the jingling of Fortunato’s bells.

As I said last week, the photos seem self-explanatory, but I've added a few comments.

I again began with a box of penny matches (2 1/16" x 1 3/8" x 1/2"), giving it a quick base coat of white. Wanting each of the Poe-Dunk shows to be flipped over to look like a normal box of matches, I only painted the two sides of the matchbox. The set pieces have been painted in acrylic on the matchbox itself or on poster board.

Because I didn’t want to handle every story in the same manner, I decided not to use the matchbox as the playing area. Instead I painted it as the wall that Montressor builds to hide Fortunato in the catacombs.

The action of the story is set against a folding backdrop. The catacombs are made of eight 2” x 1 ¼” poster board panels. I used white cloth tape to hold the panels together and built it to fold accordion style.

Below are Montresor and Fortunato. The characters are painted with acrylic on watercolor paper and mounted on penny matches with Elmer’s Glue.

After I finished the figures I decided that I wanted a small bottle of wine for them to share as they make their way through the vault. I mounted the bottle to a piece of brass wire in order for the characters to be able to pass it back and forth.

Below are more detailed close ups of the catacomb backdrop.

I added another piece of brass wire to the final two panels of the scene so that Montressor was able to chain Fortunato to the wall. Below you can see how the matchbox wall is build up around Fortunato.

The last photo shows how all the pieces pack up into the matchbox. Unlike the castle in “Annabel Lee,” this time the scenery and actors all fit into the matchbox.

Next week: "Theatrical Rats."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Poe-Dunk: "Annabel Lee"

I began work on the Poe-Dunk matchbox theaters because Playlab NYC had just finished up doing Professor Ralph’s Loss of Breath at the New York International Fringe Festival and I was looking for a new project I could work on alone. Originally I had conceived of combining my interest in tabletop theater with Shakespeare and creating a matchbox production of The Winter’s Tale. I wanted to take a practice run with some self contained Poe Stories, and Poe-Dunk was born.

The first story I tackled was Poe’s 1849 poem “Annabel Lee.” Here is the summary from Wikipedia:

The poem's narrator describes his love for Annabel Lee, which began many years ago in an unnamed "kingdom by the sea." Though they were young, their love for one another burned with such an intensity that angels became jealous. For that reason, the narrator believes, the angels caused her death. Even so, their love is strong enough that it extends beyond the grave and the narrator believes their two souls are still entwined. Every night, he dreams of Annabel Lee and sees the brightness of her eyes in the stars. He admits that every night he lies down by her side in her tomb by the sea.

The photos are pretty self-explanatory, but I've added a few comments about the choices I've made.

I began with a box of penny matches (2 1/16" x 1 3/8" x 1/2"), and gave it a base coat of white.

I only painted the two sides shown below of the matchbox. I wanted each of the Poe-Dunk shows to be flipped over to look like a normal box of matches. (Like so many of my self imposed rules, I will end up being pretty inconsistent about this as the project develops.)

The stage and set pieces have been painted in acrylic on the matchbox itself or on poster board.

I’m no artist, so almost everything you will see in the Poe-Dunk series has a visual reference. Because it might be of interest to see my swipe file, I include some of the images.

The kingdom by the sea came from a desktop wallpaper image that is readily available on many websites.

Annabel Lee’s final resting place was referenced from an image of the Macquarie Mausoleum in Scotland.

The angel in heaven above, and the demon down under the sea are separate pieces painted on poster board that can be easily added to or taken from the castle.

Below are the characters of Annabel Lee and the narrator. The characters are acrylic on watercolor paper and mounted on penny matches with Elmer’s Glue. Also pictured is the chilling wind that kills the young Annabel Lee.

The narrator’s dreams are illustrated on a strip of watercolor paper that rolls up inside the matchbox. The idea came from Lara Heit’s “Look for Me” which is part of The Matchbox Shows. “Look for Me” uses a similar visual to depict various animals and people fleeing a forest fire.

Below is the completed piece.

In the last photo, I wanted to show how all the pieces pack up into the matchbox. It turns out though that the castle is too big to fit into the box. It was the first time I broke my own rule that the shows each fit inside the stage, but it won’t be the last.

Next week: "The Cask of Amontillado."