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CalArts School of Theater Brings 'Hellzapoppin' to the Stage

The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) School of Theater presents Hellzapoppin', a dark comedy written and directed by Robert Cucuzza, to be performed at the CalArts Walt Disney Modular Theater (24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia). With a preview performance on Monday, November 16 at 8:30pm Hellzapoppin’ will run Tuesday, November 17 through Friday, November 20 at 8:30pm and Saturday, November 21 at 8:00pm. Admission is free and by reservation only. For reservations, please visit www.calarts.edu/events.

Inspired by the 1941 film Hellzapoppin', Cucuzza's version imagines vaudeville team Olsen and Johnson cast off to Tinseltown to turn their hit stage show into a motion picture. Dropped unceremoniously into the intense eye of the film production storm, they realize that their successful brand of audience-driven chaos has no value in this artificial world. Their ideas are plundered, their routines met with silence, their personas reconfigured and their friendship put to the test.  Severely disoriented, Olsen and Johnson fight to hold on to their life's blood—the connection with each other and their audience.

Playwright and director Robert Cucuzza, a 2011 MFA in Directing candidate, leads the ensemble of 16 performers through this explosive and absurd production. The theatrical designs follow the show's salutation to the old vaudeville catchphrase:  "anything can happen and it probably will." Transformative costumes, cinematic landscapes, original puppetry, special effects and music from the 1930s and 1940s fuse together old Hollywood, vaudeville and the present day to literally bring down the house.

"When I finally got my hands on the obscure film version of Hellzapoppin'," said Cucuzza, "what spoke to me were the deeply embedded themes of loss, decay and failure: a highly-successful yet long-forgotten vaudeville team, an awkward transition from stage to film, an excruciating distance from their audience—all within a film print that is scratched, torn, taped together, and dirty. It got me thinking about themes of alienation, obscurity and decomposition. I began to realize just how much Olsen and Johnson's West Coast experience may have been similar to my own—of moving my family and myself to Los Angeles. Feeling alienated in this alien world, living in a hostile environment (wildfires, earthquakes, desert, financial crises, sleep deprivation, daily logistics), distanced from family and friends, willingly offering our lives up for deconstruction and re-composition, all in the name of golden opportunity."

Robert Cucuzza spent six years as an artist-in-residence at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in NYC where he wrote, directed and produced many highly-acclaimed original plays. As a stage actor he has performed at the Ontological-Hysteric and across Europe in Richard Foreman's Panic! (How to be Happy!), Permanent Brain Damage, and My Head Was a Sledgehammer. He originated and played the role of Tom Buchanan in U.S. and world tours of Elevator Repair Service's Gatz. As an acting instructor, he currently teaches Acting Studio at CalArts. Previously, he was Director of the Acting for Film program at the New York Film Academy and the founder and director of ACME Acting Lab in NYC. Robert was the recipient of a 1990 Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for a one-year independent study of experimental theater.

CalArts is unique in its multidisciplinary approach to studying the arts through its six related schools: Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music and Theatre.  CalArts encourages students to recognize and explore the complexity of the aesthetic, social and political aspects of the arts.  It is supported by its distinguished faculty of practicing artists and provides its BFA and MFA students with both the hands-on training and the engagement with the cultural community necessary for artists' growth.  CalArts was founded in 1961—and opened in 1969—as the first institution of higher learning in the U.S. specifically for students interested in pursuing degrees in all areas of the visual and performing arts.

Last edited by Smith on Aug 18, 2010
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