All photos by Mark Gordan
Our first production of New Year’s eve at Grandma’s House April 13 was a smashing success. Our two shows played to sold-out houses. We even had to bring in extra chairs for the 8 p.m. show to accommodate all the people waiting to get in.
So what’s next? We had two great audience talk-backs that gave us some great ideas for what will be the second act of this play as it expands from a one-act into a full production. In the meantime, the one-act is available to charitable organizations that wish to perform it as a fund-raising endeavor. Simply contact us here to pursue that option.Members of the cast continue in their acting endeavors after turning in memorable performances. For one evening, they transported me back to my childhood in Brooklyn and to my grandmother’s house as it was that New Year’s Eve so long ago. For that and for all their hard work, I am eternally grateful. Our director, Ryan Kitley, also continues in his acting career. We could not have made this production a reality without him. He is always a most welcome guest at grandma’s house, as are all of you who came to the shows and follow us on this blog.
John N. Frank
The response to our one-act play has been truly amazing; we have sold out tickets for both performances as of Wednesday of this week. While we had hoped to sell out, we thought it would happen from last-minute people walking up to buy tickets the night of the show, not in advance like this.
We could still have some no-shows, so there may be tickets at the door Saturday. So if you’re adventurous, please do stop by to check at the Piven Theatre in Evanston.
For the 140-plus people already coming, welcome to Grandma’s House, the party is about to begin!
The cast and crew of New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House is going to great lengths to recreate the look and feel on New Year’s Eve 1960. Some of the furniture on stage during our April 13 performance, for example, actually comes from the Smaldone House which forms the inspiration for the play.
Costumes are being assembled to recreate what people were wearing. The time, 1960, saw fashion trends which still looked back more to the 1950s. The Hippie Era and look, which many now associate with the 1960s, was still some years away. Men almost uniformly wore white shirts while ties were about two inches wide and straight rather than tapered, narrow by today’s standards.
Furniture was largely traditional, which meant bulky with dark wood finishes. Anything sleeker was often dubbed “Danish Modern” or Scandinavian and relegated to younger people just starting to live on their own.
Grandma’s House is a traditional New York brownstone with rooms lined up front to back, an arrangement known in New York as railroad rooms because they resemble the cars on a train. The front door led into the living room or a side hallway that might lead to the middle dining room or parlor. The kitchen was usually in the back, behind the dining room.
So you’ll see people coming in from the living room into the dining room and going out the other direction to the kitchen repeatedly at Grandma’s House. They’ll also be hearing the front door from the dining room since sound travels freely from room to room.
New Year’s Eve was perhaps the biggest feast of all because it was not unusual to have several meals over the course of the party, the first before midnight, a second after midnight and a third in the wee hours of the morning. Food was more than sustenance, it was the almost sacred element to bind the family together. No matter how many fights broke out over the course of an evening, everyone came together around the food.
Those days seem so long ago now, I sometimes wonder if I imagined them. So few people are left in my family now who remember them. So I have tried to capture that magic again in New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House. You’ll hear all about Italian dishes that were common during the holiday season.
We wish we could serve you some of those dishes in the theater but of course that’s not possible. But you can try some after the show at Dave’s Italian Kitchen, a long-time Evanston establishment that I personally recruited as a sponsor because I have loved the food there for more than 35 years. Dave, there really is a Dave, continues to make Italian food the way I remember it as a kid growing up in Brooklyn. And he’s added new dishes to keep up with the times as well.
Click here to see his ad on our sponsor page and click through there to see his menu and Website. Dave’s is only a few minutes from the theater in downtown Evanston, well worth a stop after the show or anytime you want real Southern Italian cooking.
And if you’d like to hear more about Italians and the family bond that food brings, check out this video I found on YouTube. This person is not affiliate with the show in any way but he is definitely a kindred spirit:
New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House will take you back to Dec. 31, 1960. That was the year the United States elected an Irish-Catholic president, the precursor of a decade filled with change and upheaval for the country and the world.
How will we make you feel that you’re in that time and place? Hopefully with our words but also with our staging of Grandma’s House. We are so fortunate to have a sponsor, Swantiques, an Evanston antiques store that offers a wonderful array of mid-century furniture and memorabilia.
Much of the furniture you will see on stage, along with other items in the house, is being supplied by Swantiques for our performances. Chief among those items is momma’s chair, the throne-like seat from which she presides over the Smaldone family.
Also on-stage that night will be items from cast members family homes, items that date back to that era. Included in these will be side cabinets that were in the actual Smaldone home that inspired this play. When you hear poppa spoken of, know that these were pieces of furniture poppa actually made.
How do you buy tickets for our shows April 13? We’re offering several options to make purchasing tickets easy for you.
You can email us directly at lvl1971@yahoo,com, tell us how many tickets you would like for which performance. We’ll email you instructions for mailing payment and, once received, send out your tickets Orders close to performance date will be asked to pick up their tickets at the show.
We also offer the option of using PayPal or credit or debit cards via PayPal. Just go to our BUY TICKETS HERE page and click on the payment button for the show time you’d like to attend. Once you get to the payment window, fill in how many tickets you’d like and click update. They either use your PayPal account or click on the option below that, “Don’t have a PayPal account.” You’ll see there how to use a credit or debit card to pay for your tickets.
Once we receive notice of your order, we will have your tickets waiting at the box office for you.
The Piven Theatre is an intimate performance space with only 73 seats, so order early before we’re sold out.
Cast members in New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House are responsible for assembling their own costumes — costumes that approximate what party goers in 1960 would have been wearing that night at Grandma’s House.
The styles most closely associated with the 1960s, loud, Hippie-inspired looks, had not happened yet in 1960. Styles that year still harkened back to the 1950s. Men were wearing ties and white shirts along with pleated front pants. Ties had shrunk to approximately two inches wide after narrowing throughout the late 1950s.
Women’s dresses looked formal by today’s standards but seemed casual at the time compared to some styles that had come before them. The level of casual dress we practice today was unheard of in 1960 America. Even attending a party with family was a dress-up occasion, as you’ll see here looking at the pictures from the actual Smaldone family New Year’s Eve party that inspired the play (see left column here).
So cast members are searching for appropriate attire. Some have even bought patterns and are making party dresses. Men’s ties have already been crafted from ties of today.
It’s all about carrying you back in time to Dec. 31, 1960, to a little Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone for New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House.
So who are the Evanston 2nd Act Players? A group of actors brought together by their love of theater and the telling of simple stories that touch everyone’s lives.
The core of the troupe, including teacher/director Ryan Kitley, met in a 2012 acting class. Some went on to workshop New Year’s Eve at Grandma’s House in late 2012 and again in early 2013 to prepare it for the production you will see April 13.
To read bios of the entire cast, plus of our wonderful stage manager Claire Shavzin, click here to go to our cast page. More bios will be appearing there on a regula