Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Warmer Stage and Dead Birds

Tonight inside the theatre, it was a balmy 41 degrees. In other words, an improvement over last night.

As far as rehearsing, I did not have alot to do in the scenes we worked on today. I learned I would be on stage for yet another scary dance sequence. I have not yet mastered the first one. It should prove interesting to say the very least.

Several main people were absent today. We did what we could without them.

I ended up staying later than most people tonight, because at the spur of the moment we ran a scene not on the schedule originally. A scene in which I have a mere two lines. No matter to me, though. Progress is progress. I was once in a show wherein I had but one line in all of act 2, yet always showed up for nights dedicated to rehearsing act 2. I did not mind that either. However, back then route 340 was a much tamer beast than it is today. Yet I digress.

A group of people backstage got a little too rowdy tonight. I admit being in physical proximity to them, and paying some attention to the conversation. Yet when the stage manager came and told us to quiet down, I refused to honor the joking request she made of me to set an example. As if it was my fault those people were getting worked into a frenzy of laughter over the notion of dropping random dead seagulls on the stage during the performances. (This was in fact the topic of the conversation. Take that as you will.)

I think I will spend most of tomorrow afternoon memorizing at least the one scene we are doing tomorrow evening. I would like to be off book for it by the time we run it at 7:00. I won't be totally off book for a week or so, but I am tired of carrying the book around already.

The Space Between the Bars

Today was without a doubt the single coldest night I have ever spent at the Old Opera House. The heater was not working. It literally felt no warmer to me inside than it did outside.

Despite that it was a fun rehearsal. We ran the first scene of the play, where everyone is introduced to the audience, as it were. It sets the tone, as we see this quirky cabal of tramps, duds, and would-be villains for the first time. Not to over emphasize the scene's importance, but in a show like this, I theorize that if you start out on a weak step, it could take half the show to catch up to the energy that Porter's score demands.

All that notwithstanding, I get to yell one of the most stock lines in all of theatre, "Seize him!". I had not given it much thought up until tonight, but it is rather fun that I get a chance to say that. Despite having no idea what is actually going on, the purser gets to take charge of things and cause a ruckus. That could be fun.

Something else that was fun was my position for the first company music number. The director placed me next to the Captain at the "top" of the ship. This is good for two reasons. One, it gives my character, the purser, a sense of authority, if only in a cosmetic sense. The second good thing about this position is that the Captain and I are singing the same parts of the harmony during that song, and being close to him will keep me in line. In theory anyway.

Sometimes it's the extra things, the nuances of a performance that add to both to the overall production and to specific characters. At the end of rehearsal, our director spoke about this concept. He told us that while this particular musical contains some of the finest music ever written for the stage, the book is less than inspirational. (There are some funny one liners, however.) Consequently, our director mentioned, the moments of acting between the actual lines are what is going to give the non-singing parts of the play their luster.

An old Taoist proverb came to mind when he said that. "It is the space between the bars that holds the tiger in." To be more contemporary, "It is the silence between the notes that makes the song." Either way you express it, the approach is the same; we all must find ways of providing that intangible something to the milieu of the production. Facial expressions, walks, tones of voice. All of these tools need to be given particular care, so as to not allow the production to be merely a collection of famous musical numbers, separated by a rather mediocre book.

This commission from the director to search for such nuances gave me a renewed sense of what I can work towards in this show. Despite it being a minor role, mine is not one which has to lack substance, if I choose otherwise. I look forward to carving out those fine nuances. It is after all, the nuances which can float or sink a show. (Pun semi-intended.)

And of course, if the much hoped for cool hat is a part of the mix for me, it will all be that much better.

Friday, February 24, 2006

"Let Them Eat Cake" (after scene 3)

Tonight (technically last night by the time this gets posted) was a short rehearsal for me, as rehearsals go. We ran two scenes, only one of which I was in, so I got to go home early.

Not everyone was there. The chorus and the smaller parts were not needed tonight, though some of them did not get the email to this effect. They came, and were sent home. I feel for them, as I know I hate riding on 340 for no reason. (I have mentioned this various times throughout this blog, but it bears repeating.)

All told, there were only about 7 people there. Like some of the early rehearsals for Miracle on 34th Street, it had this small cast feel tonight, despite being nothing of the kind.

We just worked on some blocking. In order to have something as a reference for a bunk, the director pulled out this hideous, rotting former front seat of a car. I think it was a set piece for the previous show. Rusted metal, fabric all over the place. The thing is, it was red and white leather, with huge red leather hearts on the back of the seats. It looked like it should be from the remnants of Thelma and Louise's car. It must have been just as hideous when it was new. I am semi-thankful I did not have to sit on the thing myself.

I made the small error of mentioning something to our stage manager. I told her in an email that I might be late for practice tonight, because of birthday plans. (I turned 28 yesterday.) I was not late, but after we ran through the first scene, "Happy Birthday" singing and ice cream cake abounded. That was fun. Very rich cake. I could almost feel my teeth decay as I ate it. Yet, it was tasty. Nice of her and the rest of the group to do that.

I overheard the costume designer mention that she was finding more stuff in storage that was usable for this show than she anticipated. Still no word on whether a cool hat for me is part of that collection. As soon as word on headgear is confirmed, I will post on same.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

On Stage and the Sith

Tonight was the first night of blocking for Anything Goes. I have been lucky in that the last two plays I have been in have gotten onto the stage in rather short order. We never used the small/stuffy rehearsal room to block scenes. (This is where we practice the music still, however.)

Not everyone was present, and I guess that is typical for a community show. It just so happens that the people who are most often missing are the ones who leave the biggest holes in the blocking. It's never a walk on or background role that is missing. It's people around whom an entire scene is built.

That being said, we covered some ground. Given that we did not have to sing or dance tonight, I think things went rather well.

There is a minor character concern I have about my part. To be more accurate, it is two parts consolidated into one. Yet I will not share that here on the blog just yet, as I have not yet spoken to the director about it. I will probably either email him tomorrow, or the following day.

One thing that will make my life easier is a different copy of the script the director gave me today. That is to say a copy of the whole script. This is so I will not have to juggle back and forth between the two "sides" as they call them. I am much relieved by this. That whole nonsense with side scripts boggles my mind to no end.

I watched "Revenge of the Sith" for the first time today. Borrowed the DVD. This is not going to be a full fledged review, as I am not a Jedi. (Read, die hard fan of the series). I will say that is was the most tolerable of the three prequels. That however is like saying the boil on one's left arm is somewhat less engorged than the boil on one's right arm. The whole trilogy was not only unnecessary, but poorly done. The few moments that struck my attention in this third installment were cheats on the part of Lucas; the short and hurried references to future events in the real Star Wars Trilogy. "So that is why Vader needed the mask", type of scenes. Such moments alone do not an epic make, however.

That being said I will probably watch the special features of the DVD before it goes back anyway. It is hard for me to resist those, much of the time.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Talent Show Part 3, and more

mSo, the talent show was last night. I intended to record an audio blog entry after I sang, but I forgot to bring my password on a piece of paper. Oh well.

I did not win anything. This does not really sadden me though. I got many compliments, and the audience was into my routine. That is what counts for me.

The only thing I regret is that the previously mentioned jerks dressed in black won the grand prize. Not nice people.

However, that semi-stressful event is now complete. My 2 minutes with the audience was fun, and beyond that it just does not matter anymore.

As for today I just got back from the first dance rehearsal for Anything Goes. (That I could attend.) To be brief but descriptive, I was there dancing an hour ago as I type this. I remember nothing. Even the "cheats" she gave to those of us who cannot dance, but need to look like we are dancing, were too complex for me to remember.

I am not bitter about this, nor am I angry. I expected it to be so, and I went in there knowing that I would not be able to do most of it. If they still want me there based on whatever I end up doing by show time, than God love them.

Almost on cue, "Dancing Queen" by ABBA came on not once, but twice on the radio on my drive home. No one would ever confuse me with a dancing queen. Or dancing king, duke, earl, prince or peasant, for that matter. I am the guy that the dancing queen would send to the tower, or something, if she had an actual kingdom.

Thankfully, she does not, or else she would in fact find me after today, and order me to knock it off.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Talent Show Part 2

My practice went all right tonight I suppose. I do not think anyone in this show really likes or appreciates much of what anyone else is doing, to be honest with you. It's all kind of a joyless affair, at least thus far. Maybe that is how talent shows always are, but That makes getting up there hard. It takes some of the fun I thought I would be having out of it.

Not to mention, some guy wearing all black leather and a buzz cut, accompanied by a girl in black with black lipstick, that belonged to a band with a name no one could pronounce, informed me that he hates canned music (such as I am using for my act). He says karaoke sucks and that it is not original.

This, of course, coming from a guy dressed all in black and leather with a buzz cut, with a girl friend who wears all black lipstick, that belongs to a band with a name no one can pronounce...a list of characteristics which by no means are original for bands anymore. Each of those traits is so far removed from counter-culture that they are mainstream these days. The sorts of people who first created that look and attitude have grandkids by now.

My point? Those with unoriginal acts that play on glass stages should not throw stones. Enough said.

I suppose there is a chance that the real fun will come out tomorrow when the live audience is there. Few if any of my friends can come, so it will mostly be strangers. I hope that I have fun, though all of the others worries that this mini-show has accumulated in my mind make me wonder. I will do my best to both perform well, and to have fun, and we will see what happens.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Talent Show, Part 1

I know, not a very creative title. Cut me some slack, I am tired. Tonight was the first semi-rehearsal for Friday's talent show. Personally I would have preferred a little more time to get ready for the actual show, but I think it will be fine nonetheless.

There are about 25 acts in all. Not all of them will be competing for prizes. Though I am technically on the sheet as a competitor, I am really doing this just as something different and fun to do. If I win, fine, but if not, I accomplished my main goal of performing at the Apollo Civic Theatre for the first time.

My friend gave me a tour, as I had never been there except as an audience member. The place is much bigger than the Old Opera House, where I have done most of my stuff. Many parts of it are in disrepair because of a constant need of funding. It is not difficult to tell, however, that at one time the place was rather magnificent.

Up in the lighting booth they even have two movie projectors still at their posts, back from the building's days as a cinema. I am not an expert, but by the looks of them, they dated back until at least the 1930's. I also saw on shelves in the basement stacks of old fashioned iron letters, as would be hung on the old style marquee, when it was in use. Looked like a complete set too. Even saw the comma.

As for the practice itself, it went well. I was not sure what the acoustics would be like, for my voice or the music. Both were fine, however. I could hear myself and my backup music. In addition to myself, there are several other very talented people that are taking part in this show, either as competitors, or just as featured acts. Not bad.

The word is getting out too, it seems. The directors of this event even mention to us tonight that they were on local radio this morning, discussing the show coming up. It seems the community has eagerly awaited this event since the great success of last season. (The inaugural year for this particular talent show.) We did not go in order tonight, opting instead just to let everyone get used to the stage and the audio. Tomorrow night will be full dress, in the actual order of the acts. We will see how that goes. I will be the 8th act to perform. I am very happy with this position, as it is neither too early too be comfortable, nor so late as to be fatigued.

More tomorrow from the talent show front.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Voyage Begins

Last night and the night before were the first days of rehearsal for Anything Goes.

I have yet to meet the entire cast, as both nights some of the same people were missing. Out of the people I have seen so far, though, I know most of them.

One thing I did not like was the fact that the company that owns the scripts sent us prompt books. In other words, you only get the parts of the script that you personally appear in. (They even have stage directions which read "YOU enter".) It cannot be helped, if that is what they do at the company, but I really dislike this set up. You need to have the whole script available to reference things that happen before you show up, and to get an idea of your place in the grand scheme of things. Especially in a show as confusing as this one. There is no rhythm to a reading when someone has to inform you that your scene is about to start. Silly.

It seems I play the part of the Purser, specifically. A small role, with nothing to say that most people would consider funny. This does sadden me somewhat. Yet nothing else was meant to be for me this time. Maybe there will be a cool hat involved.

Last night was the first singing rehearsal. I think it helped me make a decision; I should not try to be in musicals anymore. This is not because I cannot sing well. It is also not because this music is especially complex. In fact as I sat there I recognized it was rather straight forward, as choral music goes. Yet I still was not succeeding in doing what I had to do, or understanding the instructions. It is the very fact that it is so straight forward yet confusing to me that bothers me so. I cannot pick out a harmony, and when it is played for me I cannot keep it in a sea of voices. Furthermore, I get lost in my attempts to read sheet music, as I did last night. To me Fate was saying, albeit in a very polite manner, that I should hang up my treble clef and retire from the world of musicals.

Not that I ever did many of them anyway. However, unless I learn to read music in a fast and dependable manner, I do not see it being worth it to me to continue even my one musical a year plan. This is too bad because when you get the right show, and are given the right kind of character, a musical can be great fun. (Which I suspect is why I keep trying out for them, despite my incompetence.)

An extremely unfortunate scheduling snafu will cause me to miss the very first dance rehearsal on Thursday. I really very much needed to be there for that one, so I did not fall far behind everyone else. I am more worried about my dancing than about my singing. Yet on that very day I have to go for a tech rehearsal of the talent show at the Apollo Civic Theatre. I guess the schedules of everyone else would not allow any other day. I just hope I can catch up after missing the first day. I am further behind the learning curve than most.

Either way, for the time being, the ship of this production has begun to sail.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Auditions Mean Never Having to Say You're Sorry

I cannot speak to how professional auditions work at all. Nor can I speak with universal certainty how all amateur auditions work, or how people react to them. That being said, I think my experience is sufficient enough to detect a few common threads that run through most community theatre auditions with amateur or first time actors. One of those threads is the mid-audition apology.

It is by no means exclusive to first time actors. I have occasionally been guilty of it myself. You skip a line in the script as you read, and naturally want to apologize for throwing other people off. It is very natural to both want to defend ourselves from potential embarrassment, while also showing respect for the time other people are putting into the audition.

I think, however, the best way to show respect for the audition, (and to look your best in the process) is to try to limit the things you apologize for during the actual read. Apologies to you out of the moment of the audition, and out of the character you are trying to play. It is true that we may not have a great deal of a character fleshed out for just the audition. However, what little that may have presented itself during the reading can be thrown off by saying "Sorry about that, it was my fault."

Keep going! Use the adrenaline that you most likely have coursing through you during the reading to push things beyond the little hitches. Most people you read with will not expect an instant apology for such things. I know I would not. Wait until the end of the audition, and then confess your sins.

This goes for the director as well. He is looking for presence, confidence, and creativity. He or she can more easily assess these qualities if you are acting through the whole audition, no matter how short it is. Indeed, your ability to pick up and recover from a mistake is quite an important skill when performing live, on stage. The director may even take note of how well you handle a mistake. The moments following a foul up may actually impress the director, believe it or not. But only if you do not stop and say "I'm sorry, my bad" or something equivalent.

None of this is to say, of course, that an apology is never appropriate. Nor do I mean to suggest that you will ruin your chances of getting cast if you apologize for something during an audition. You probably will not. Despite those assurances, refraining from the knee jerk apology it is still a good habit to get into. If you feel you have made a terrible mistake, and that you have been thrown totally off, simply ask if you may begin over again. In most cases, a director of an amateur show will be more than happy to allow you to do so. Otherwise, full speed ahead.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Anchors Aweigh

I found out recently that I was indeed cast in Anything Goes at the Old Opera House. I will be one of the sailors.

To be truthful, this was the closest I have come to turning down a part in a long time. The reason being my lack of dancing skills.

The initial impression about the sailors that I got from the director was of a group that sang danced quite a bit in various numbers. Singing I have no problem with, never have. Dancing on the other hand... I wanted to learn more about the role. (As I mentioned previously I have not yet read the script. )

I have gotten away with some small amounts of dancing in some shows. In others I had small dance numbers removed from my responsibility two weeks before opening, because of a total lack of progress on my part. So I set out to discover just what kind of dancing sailor I was going to be.

I could not find specific mention of the sailors in any of the online summaries. So I took to looking for pictures and videos of the production on the internet. What I found in many cases was very intricate dances being performed by dozens of sailors in unison. This frightened me to no end.

You see, dear readers, my dancing has not ever been stellar. Honestly, my rhythm is usually quite good. It would be more accurate to say that my ability to follow choreographed routines has, thus far, not been proven to exist. When I saw those pictures and home videos of sailors galore on the stage in other productions of this play, my imagination went into overdrive. I suddenly had nightmarish flashes of elaborate show stopping dance routines by the entire company, with all attention focused on one sailor going the wrong way or possibly falling. I was, of course, said clumsy sailor.

I would be lying if I said a bit of cold sweat was not involved as I pondered the prospect.

I talked to the director though, and he seems to think that the dancing will not as bad as all of that. Read, it will not be as hopelessly complicated as all that. Those are the famous last words of many a people who have attempted to show me how "easy" a dance is to learn. Yet I opted for taking the role, in the end. I figure this can be a sort of do or die type of thing. I either learn, under the gun how to get dancing down properly, or I can let the entire experience serve as a warning to never again try out for a musical.

Either way, the theatre going public wins. Mostly.

First read through is in a few days. May there be mercy upon me as I undertake a whole different type of theatre adventure. Man, am I nervous about dancing.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Much Belated Movie Review

I saw a used VHS copy of Mel Gibson's Hamlet on sale for 2 dollars at the local library. Like a beacon in the "used videos" shelf it stuck out above anything else there. I did not even look at the rest of the stuff on the shelf. I had to do it. This version has always been one of my favorites.

It is certainly not without its critics. In fact it has a great deal of criticism attached to it. Scenes are juggled around in different orders. Dialogue is shifted to other characters when convenient. The plot definitely unfolds along a somewhat different linear plane than does the actual play. This version is not one for the purists among us.

This does not offend me. If I want more pure Shakespeare, I will take a trip down to D.C. and see some at the
Folger. Yet even on stage the possibilities are often endless with a work of Shakespeare, particularly Hamlet. It is even more true on film.

The medium demands such open mindedness, I think. While some Shakespeare films are more purist than this one, it is in its own right, excellent. Director Franco Zefferilli (it is never referred to as his version) creates a gritty, spartan, yet civilized Elsinore. It is this sort of closed off, barebones approach to the setting that gives it a very Shakespearean feel, despite the editorial choices made. (Contrasting greatly to the distracting opulence of the
Kenneth Branagh version of Elsinore on film.)

Despite the ideal setting, this version succeeds by it's focus on the performances.

Shakespearean stories are, above all, stories about characters; about people. Indeed they are not just about people, but humanity itself. Humanity must therefore be present in each individual. Not sympathy necessarily, but humanity. Often times when doing Shakespeare actors get lost in the iconic status of the people they are portraying. There is either no attempt, or no ability to make them alive. Such is not the problem here. Despite some of the controversial choices made by the director in regards to the plot, individual moments and scenes are dead on in regards to motivations and interactions between individuals.

Gibson himself, thus far, has come closest to the Hamlet I conjure in my mind when I read the play. This may be why it is one of my favorite versions, despite overall differences from the source material. The man's the thing.

People and on stage have tended to portray Hamlet in one of two ways; majestic to the point of Christ like, or indecisive to the point of parody. Both of these extremes haunt those who play Hamlet in worse ways than the ghost haunts Hamlet himself. Yet Gibson truly does pull off a near perfect balance. He is the kind of prince I could personally relate to, if I were among the "distracted multitude" of a kingdom.

The supporting cast also rarely misses. Alan Bates, Glenn Close, Sir Ian Holm. All of them present Shakespearean characters in such a way that you are convinced you have met people like them in your daily life. Every performance rings true.

Two supporting roles that particularly stand out for me are
Stephen Dillane's Horatio and the great Paul Scofield's Ghost.

Horatio is often an under used presence in Hamlet. Yet like the Prince, when I first read the play I had a very specific notion as to what Horatio was; the friend who is both concerned with the state of affairs in Denmark, but who clearly loves his Prince and friend. Dillane does well in projecting this, despite the fact that many of the best Horatio moments are cut from this script. It is not perfect, but he certainly is not the Horatio-5000 cyborg I often see in renditions of the play, and that alone is worthy of praise.

As for Scofield's ghost; again talk about humanity! This ghost has it in abundance. The lines of the ghost were also greatly edited. However, if the entire appearance of the ghost consisted only of Scofield's face (especially his eyes) and his rendering of the line "Remember me", the performance would be memorable.

If you are a Shakespeare purist than indeed this movie would probably give you ulcers. Yet I am willing to say that even half the purists out there who see it would be able to say "It's not pure, but I don't care...its just plain good."

There you have it. A movie review 16 yeas after the film's release.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Jukebox Dichotomy

I stumbled across this article about jukebox( aka catalog) musicals, and how they have nearly become ubiquitous in theatre these days.

I am not totally sure where I stand on the issue of jukeboxes. Their exponential proliferation does bother me somewhat, for various reasons. One is the copy cat syndrome. As the artilce states, they had been around in one form or another for a while. Yet once
Mamma Mia! and a few others became certifiable mega-hits, everyone and their cousin suddenly wanted a piece of the action. The theatre landscape became, (and in some ways still is) flooded with musicals based on the hits of fill in the blank. It would seem many of them turned out to be trash.

Honestly, though, I get annoyed and fed up with any trend. The reality trend on television is one example. The boy band trend of the late 1990's is another. The concept of people, particularly in the entertainment industry, doing exactly what everyone else is doing always reeks in my opinion. People fear originality. Particularly in American musical theatre, so it would seem.

That aversion to originality is another reason I am somewhat reluctant to embrace the jukebox productions wholesale. It seems possible to me, that the more we spoon-feed this kind of fan service in our live theatres, the less potential for artistry there is.

Yet it cannot be denied that several of these shows make good money. It is show business after all, and producers have the right to make money, I suppose. I furthermore admit that seeing some of the jukebox shows, would be quite fun for me. (Though as of yet I have not.) Actually being in some of them myself would be even more fun. So they do have their place, even if I do not think they should dominate the way they do. Like french fries. They are still food, and in the right portions are fine. I just would not want every meal to be mostly a plate of fries.

Maybe if these musicals could thrive elsewhere other than Broadway itself, I would be less conflicted. I suppose there is a part of me that wishes that the Great White Way would opt out of the genre, and leave it to the folks downtown. Just for the sake of making a point. That is unrealistic, I understand. Yet I would venture to say I am not the only person who holds that view somewhere deep inside.

In the interest of full disclosure, however, I should admit that if some theatre somewhere decides to produce an
REO Speedwagon catalog musical and offered me a chance to be in it, I would be there before you could say "Take It On the Run".