Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Daniel Roebuck's 'Getting Grace' comedy ready for NJ film festival

Bethlehem native and actor Daniel Roebuck believes in celebrating life every day and sharing goodness with others. It was reason enough for him to return to his roots last summer for his latest project, "Getting Grace," an independent film that he co-wrote, directed and produced. As of Tuesday evening, Dan broke the news via Facebook that the comedy, which he refers to as "a love letter to the Lehigh Valley," will have an opening night on September 8 at the Northeast Film Festival in Teaneck, New Jersey.

"I am beyond thrilled that everyone's hard work is already paying off," Dan said in an email on Wednesday morning. "I think that the Northeast Film Festival is the perfect place for 'Getting Grace' to begin her journey to distribution. And it's even better that I'll have this chance to share this opening night experience with a group of our Lehigh Valley supporters, thanks to Trans-Bridge Tours! I hope many local friends will join us in Teaneck."

In the film, Dan portrays shy and quiet funeral director Bill Jankowski, whose life is about to explode when 16-year-old Grace, who is dying of cancer, walks through the door seeking what will happen after she dies. Grace, played by Bethlehem Catholic grad Madelyn Dundon (also Dan's alma mater) not only changes lives as she journeys toward the end of her own, but teaches Bill how to live his life.

Dan's career in film and television is extensive, with his most recognizable work as a character actor in the television series, "Matlock" and "Lost," and films, "The Fugitive" and "U.S. Marshals." But he has never lost touch with the Lehigh Valley, which is why he chose southside Bethlehem and the surrounding area as the backdrop for his film. Scene locations included St. Luke's University Health Network, Sell-Herron Funeral Home, Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, Monocacy Park, Burnside Plantation, Moravian Book Shop, and Bushkill Park, to name some.

In a phone interview last week from California, Dan called "Getting Grace," which he co-wrote with Jeff Lewis, "a celebration of life." Among its producers are Dan, wife Tammy, also a film editor, and Mark Rupp. Dan's brother-in-law, Corey Geryak, is director of photography. Rody Gilkeson served as local casting director.

There were some challenges for Dan as a director, such as having an entire casket showroom built; having only 45 minutes of time, in between actual patients, to film Grace in an MRI machine, and filming a family mealtime from various angles to keep the flow.

"It was one miracle after another," he said, thankful to the staffs of businesses that went out of their way to make everything run smoothly.

"We saw a lot of talented kids," Dan said, adding that he saw "one Grace" in Madelyn Dundon, who reminded him of his own 21-year-old daughter, also named Grace.

"I like titles that have dual meanings," Dan said. "Grace is such a perfect name for a kid. It has secondary meaning. Getting Grace from God, it's there for all of us."

Madelyn, who actually shaved her head for the role, is currently majoring in musical theater at West Virginia University. While at Bethlehem Catholic, she received the Vic Kumma Outstanding Solo Vocal Award for the song, "One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man," from her school musical, "Wonderful Town," at the State Theatre's Freddy Awards program in Easton. She also was nominated as lead actress.

"Madelyn has always been center-stage at the Freddys... a very talented student," said Shelley Brown, the State Theatre's president and CEO. "She just shines. What is really special is that, thanks to her participation in our program, she received a full, four-year scholarship at West Virginia University. It was the first time they participated with us, and I'm pretty sure Madelyn helped pave the way to their relationship with us, which is now two scholarships."

Dan said once the word got out about his filming in the Lehigh Valley, even parents got into the act by contacting him at the request of their out-of-town children who wanted to be a part of the project.

"There's no better agent than your parents," he said.

Such was the case with Central Catholic grad and composer Alex Kovacs, who was in California. Kovacs composed the music for "Getting Grace." Alyssa Garcia, a singer-songwriter from Norristown, Montgomery County, has her original song, "Better Life," featured in the film's trailer.

Greg Roth, of Emmaus, Lehigh County, said he was attending workshops by the American Society of Cinematographers in Los Angeles when he heard about the film. A cinematographer and editor with The Media People in Lower Macungie Township, Lehigh County, and with 69-WFMZ-TV's sports department, Greg said his experience as second assistant cameraman for "Getting Grace" and working under Corey Geryak was invaluable.

"Working with Dan was great fun," Greg said. "He had a way of putting everyone at ease... I gained a sense of respect for what others were doing. We see the actors on the screen, but there's a whole lot going on behind the scenes, as well. We were all artists, all coming together to work as one."

As for Dan, he generously gives credit to Greg and all the other interns who helped make it "a family."

"We were all climbing up the mountain together," Dan said, "with the blessing of all those kids."

Currently, Dan is actively seeking distribution for "Getting Grace." He keeps a daily blog on Facebook reflecting on last summer's filming and "what we pulled off in a limited amount of time." He also has been posting scenes and thanking friends and families whose assistance made it all possible.

When the public does get to view the film, Dan said he'd like them to "truly start celebrating every day like it's your last. Don't say no to yourself. There's so much greatness in the world. God is good. Life is sweet. Let's just celebrate all the good stuff. In the movie, there's the line: 'Dying is easy. It's living right that's hard.' It's decisions you have to make every day."

Can another film shooting in the Lehigh Valley be on the horizon? Dan said he'd like to return for another project he's working on. Also, he's writing a book, "The Audition is the Job and Other Truths that I've Learned in the Land of Make Believe."

"God gave me a very specific gift," he said. "It's not about the training you get, it's about the gift you've got."

For further info: GettingGracethemovie.com     Tour reservations: 610-868-6001 or 610-776-8687


ARTS ROUNDUP

After 10 years of free summer Shakespeare productions at Allentown's Joseph S. Daddona Lake and Terrace, the final bow will come this weekend with the classic, "Richard III." Show times are Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. at St. Elmo and Union streets, rain or shine.

"We are so grateful to our supporters and champions over the years," said Sarah Steele, founder and producer. "It was a difficult decision but we have outgrown our producing model and feel this milestone anniversary summer provided us a unique opportunity to close this chapter on the high note it deserves. We hope our fans will join us in the park this summer with all their family and friends and help us celebrate a decade of community and art that we grew together."

To date, more than 7,500 patrons have experienced the Allentown Shakespeare in the Park performances under the stars, Steele said. The audience is encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets and also picnic dinners to enjoy during the show.

The production will be performed by a troupe of professional New York City actors, this time around by an all-female cast yet with the gender of the characters unchanged. An hour of live music by local musicians will precede each performance. Award-winning New York director is Erik Pearson.

In "Richard III," now is the winter of our discontent and peace has finally been restored to England after years of violence and turmoil in the War of the Roses. But not everyone is happy. When Richard, the king's cunning, charismatic and corrupt younger brother, sets his own eyes on the throne, he stops at nothing to seize power and plow down everyone in his way.

A company of 10 actors will play multiple roles. The cast includes Kate Abbruzzese, Mary Cavett, Victoria Frings, Ann Henk, Tia James, Kelly McCrann, Gabriella Rose, Ashton Spencer, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, and Rachel Towne.

Local students participating in the company's actor apprentice program also will perform: Jamie Wehr, graduate of Bethlehem Catholic High School, and Kathryn Rein, graduate of Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts.

The creative team includes Anthony Forchielli, lighting design; An-lin Dauber, costume design; John Glover, original music, sound design; Cassey Kivnic, properties design, and Leighton Schlanger, fight choreography.

For further info: allentownshakespeare.org

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Berks Opera Company is hosting two performances of Gioachino Rossini's "La Cenerentola," conducted by Christopher Cinquini, on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., at the Miller Center for the Arts in Reading.

Rossini's take on the classic fairy tale, "Cinderella," "La Cenerentola" is recognized as one of his greatest operatic achievements, with hilarity from beginning to end. A free lecture by David Richie will be held 45 minutes prior to each performance.

The cast includes mezzo soprano Lauren Curnow as Angelina (Cenerentola), Jarrod Miller as Prince Ramiro, Jackson Williams as Dandini, Jeremy Galyon as Alidoro, Julie Kremm as Clorinda, Tanisha Anderson as Tisbe, and Andy Papas as Don Magnifico.

For further info: millercenter.racc.edu/la-cenerentola

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If you're a fan of railroads, you'll enjoy "Railfest," Friday through Sunday, at the Reading Railroad Heritage Museum, 500 South Third Street, Hamburg. The event marks the 50th anniversary of Reading #5308 and #6300, the first locomotives to display the logo of the Reading Railroad's innovative Bee Line Service.

The festival begins Friday with a rail excursion on the Allentown & Auburn Railroad, starting at 7 p.m. at the station in Kutztown and through the scenic countryside and the shops of the A & A in Topton.

Activities at the museum on Saturday and Sunday will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will include tours and an "air brake class," taught by a former Reading Railroad engineer.

Kids can enjoy a ride on the hand-pedaled "Munchkin Railway" and railroad crafts and games in the activities tent. Railroad music will be presented at the music stage.

On Saturday at 2 p.m., former Reading Railroad employees will meet to exchange memories in the museum's theater room.

A dinner (advance reservation/tickets at Brown Paper Tickets) at Hamburg High School at 6 p.m. will feature speaker, "Classic Trains" magazine editor, Robert McGonigal. A post-dinner night photo session will be held at 9 p.m. in the museum rail yard, again with advance reservation/tickets.

For further info: readingrailroad.org

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The Baum School of Art in Allentown presents its annual "Faculty & Staff Exhibition," featuring painting, drawing, ceramics, jewelry, photography, and more, through September 6. An artists reception will be held August 17 (third Thursday) from 6 to 8 p.m.

Also at the Baum through September 6 is the annual "juried exhibition," with more than 75 local and regional artists.

Reception and awards will be held same as above.

For further info: baumschool.org

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The Cabaret & Concert Series continues at Civic Theatre of Allentown on North 19th Street, with "Tracy Ceschin: What's Going On" on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with old favorites and signature songs from some of her favorite shows. Ceschin has appeared in past Civic productions of "Carrie: The Musical," "Gypsy," "Titanic," "Godspell," and "The Full Monty."

"A Broadway Cavalcade" on August 18 and 19 will bring a cast of more than 20 performers together to recreate moments from past Civic musicals including "Annie," "Les Miserables," "Rent," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Cabaret," and "Gypsy." Songs from musicals that Civic hopes to produce in the future will include "Cats," "Phantom of the Opera," "Wicked," "Chicago," "Anything Goes," "Mame," and "Once."

For further info: civictheatre.com

***

"The Wizard of Oz" continues through August 20 at the Washington Crossing Open Air Theatre at Washington Crossing State Park, 455 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, Titusville, New Jersey.

The role of Dorothy will be shared by TaylorRae Carter of Lambertville, New Jersey, and Makenna Stergion of Yardley, Bucks County, both high school seniors who studied at the Downtown Performing Arts Center in Lambertville and performed in previous Open Air productions of "The Wizard of Oz."

The cast includes the return of David McCloughan as the cowardly lion, Joan Hoffman as the wicked witch of the West, and David Whiteman as Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz.

The venue’s summer children series continues through Sunday with "Snow White," with music and lyrics by Open Air co-artistic director Louis Palena.

For further info: downtownpac.com

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