Gruff! was Doppelskope's first musical. It premiered in 2014 at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre and it was our first collaboration with Toby Singer as composer. I was Gruff!'s co-writer, assistant director and puppet captain. I also puppeteered Aquifer, a frantic little troll with a big heart.
Gruff! allowed us to take the playful and absurd aesthetic that we developed for ourselves and expand it to a larger ensemble and a higher level of production value. Among other things, it's The Three Billy Goats Gruff retold through a radical environmentalist lens.
The Morning Call wrote that Gruff! is "a playful romp with a serious message". With a 36 show run, I like to think we started many family conversations and instilled a love of nature and a distrust of corporate greed in thousands of children.
Fellow playwright Josh Shapiro wrote "Gruff! doesn't dumb down language or plot for the sake of kids, and it doesn't toss in the occasional joke aimed exclusively at adults. It is truly for everyone. Gruff! knows that kids are smart. It teaches them without insulting their intelligence. I see their faces light up whenever their inputs are acknowledged. And some might think to themselves 'if I can make a difference in the show, why not in the world?'"
Audience member Alyssa Trombitas wrote "Gruff! made me laugh so hard out of pure delight the lady next to me shushed me."
Team Spirit's Surrender
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Ora Fruchter and I both puppeteered for Team Spirit shortly after Gruff! In this wickedly odd music video, the band, all portrayed as puppets, sell their soul to the devil. The band prerecorded their voices and I puppeteered the lead singer, Ayad. Rocking out with a puppet may be the closest I come to being a rockstar.
In addition to getting to rock out, Ora and I puppeteered Satan's limbs as he sat on his thrown (with Julia Darden as the head puppeteer).
The 39 Steps
I played Richard Hannay in Lost Nation's production of The 39 Steps. I've wanted to play Hannay for years, ever since I first saw this show at New World Stages.
Jim Lowe of the Times Argus wrote "Christopher Scheer, an expert clown, was the only actor to play a single role. As Hannay, he managed a wonderful balance among hero, fool and clown." Incidentally he also wrote that I was "straight enough for the others to play off him," and I had a lot of fun using "straight enough" by itself as a pull quote.
Alex Brown of Seven Days wrote "Scheer is a delight as the square-jawed hero.... He makes the jokes, stunts and storytelling all appear effortless, a mark of consummate skill.... Scheer captivates by losing himself in the moment."
The Comedy of Errors
Comedy ran in rep with 39 Steps. I played both Antipholus twins, opposite Eric Love playing both Dromios. This was a very exciting project for me, as it was my first opportunity to explore Shakespeare with my Fiasco training. Under Kim Bent and Brett Gamboa's direction, we raised the stakes as high as we possibly could, and between that frantic urgency and the direct relationship I was able to create with the audience, this was the most fun I've ever had with Shakespeare.
Jim Lowe wrote "Christopher Scheer and Eric Love, both expert comics, simply reveled in the roles of Antipholus and Dromio respectively. They not only delivered delightful comic characters, their intimate interaction is dangerously funny." Alex Brown focused on the differences between my two characters, writing that "His transformations are sharp enough to make his mustache look like a villain's as Ephesus and like a sweet youth's first facial hair as Syracuse." This is the first, and so far only critical analysis of any of my mustaches.
I had a few months off between theatre contracts, so: I became the resident pediatric clown at 4 different Brooklyn hospitals. I recorded a voice over for the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre. I had a callback for the Dinosaur Train tour. Ora and I created two new short pieces for Doppelskope. I worked on Long Spoon with Sara Newman. I played an awkward youth pastor for a new web series called Church Office (footage forthcoming). And of course I did a bunch of shows for Shrink: Puppet Therapy with Ora, Bradford, Toby and Yoshie.
Jim Lowe called Eurydice "a spectacular dream."
Alex Brown wrote "In outstanding performances, Kenney and Scheer emphasize the simple clarity in Ruhl's distinctive language. They play lovers without irony and suffer without artifice, giving equal weight to the play's humor and its dreamy lyricism....Scheer is a charming mix of ardent and offhand. His love never needs its flames fanned — he has simply discovered a powerful truth and doesn't need to embellish it."
It's always exciting to return to LNT and grow with my ensemble members old and new.
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Ora, Toby and I returned to Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre to create another original musical puppetry/clown hybrid! It felt like we took the artistic success of Gruff! and grew on top of it as writers, theatre-makers and collaborators. I love working for SMT - they are wicked smart and supportive as producers, and they hook us up with amazing designers (in this case - Lex Gurst on costumes, Tim Averill on set, and Daniel del Busto on lights.)
Grimm! is a new family musical about the wonder of storytime and imagination, and the new challenges that families face as personal devices divide our attention. In Grimm!, a dad falls under the spell of the Blue Glowing Madness and gets lost in his personal devices. His daughter Charlotte must travel through her storybooks and through outer space to save him. In this highly interactive, fast paced show, audience members cheer for storytime and blast lasers at attention-sucking alien robots.
Muhlenberg professor Irene Chien nailed it with this audience feedback: "The show was thematically dead-on in terms of playfully (and non-didactically) addressing the tension between the undivided attention of live, face-to-face storytelling that parents all aspire to and the reality of parenting distractedly while attached to mobile devices. And it gave the kids and I a platform for an important and hopefully ongoing conversation about how those screens of 'blue glowing madness' fit into their lives and our family interactions. As a parent who is sick to death of Disney's colonization of fairytale princesses as plucky but ultimately insipid and gender-normative, I appreciate the irreverent physicality and boisterousness of the two main female actresses, and the re-imagining of the Grimm fairytales to focus on the agency rather than passivity of the girl characters while still remaining true to the brutality of the original stories. The puppetry and choregraphy with the smartphone/tablet lights was clever and played tricks with stage illusion in a visually delightful way. Harriet's (three-year-old) feedback: 'I loved it! It was so funny and not scary at all! The glowing was mysterious.'"
The National Puppetry Festival
I met wonderful people and saw some amazing puppetry at the National Puppetry Festival, held at UConn. I went as part of the team for Depict-O-Mat, which performed for 6 hours on the opening day. Then Ora and I performed The Existential Variety Hour as part of the fringe portion of the festival.
Lee Armstrong and Kamela Portuges wrote in the National Puppetry Journal that Doppelskope was "a highlight of the festival" and that "the show embraced the audience, sharing the innocence of childhood and the angst of adult life."
The Hound of the Baskervilles
As You Like It
Also, in an innovative move, Kim had me play Audrey (Touchstone's new girlfriend) and William (a rival suitor). Audrey and William were both portrayed by sock puppets that Touchstone invents out of boredom and desperation while stranded in the forest.
Jim Lowe wrote "Contrasting [Rosalind's] subtle comedy was Christopher Scheer’s ridiculously funny clowning as Touchstone. This wasn’t slapstick; rather it was overt comedy that was delivered with wit. It was just too funny, and it fit this play perfectly. (He also plays Audrey and William, but you’ll need to see the production to find out how.)"
Alex Brown wrote "the boldest move is the production's most memorable innovation - all three sides of the Touchstone-Audrey-William triangle are put in one actor's hands. That hint as to how it's accomplished is the only one you're getting, but actor Christopher Scheer conveys all the necessary nuances of a last set of lovers in a play already stuffed with them.
Next up... the future! Stay tuned.