Saturday, May 27, 2006

BOTH Sides of the Curtain

I mentioned in my last post that I would be directing. This is still true.

What has changed is that I will now be one of the leads in the very play I am directing.

Allow me to say that this is a last resort measure on my part. Turn out for the auditions was much lower than in previous years, and it made filling all of the roles in all of the plays (5) a bit of a challenge this time around. As usual, it was harder to find usable men for the whole festival And there ended up being zero men available that were the appropriate age for the character in question.

After trying everything else, the director of the whole festival of plays suggested I play the part myself. Realizing it was last resort time, I agreed. I did not want to hold up the rehearsal process any longer.

Some may ask why this is not ideal. I will explain.

Being a good director requires a god's eye view of everything. Facial expressions of actors, blocking, positioning on stage, volume from the back of the house, and other such things. A lot of that is missed when the director is on the stage playing a part himself. Objective views are not really possible. It is not because I cannot separate the actor in me from the director in me. It is simple physics. I literally cannot see all that I would like to be able to see.

I am giving consideration to video taping a few rehearsals once we are on stage. Just so I can go home that night and take a look at how things are evolving. That has potential.

Plus I am sure the rest of the cast will do just fine at adapting to the unusual circumstance.

That being said, I plan to make this one of the few times I mention the specific problems with this scenario. Regardless of the obstacles, this is the situation that I have. If any project is ever going to succeed, the people involved must at some point look only at what they have, and think about how to accomplish the goal in mind.

That is where I choose to be now. This is a challenge which I now accept exactly as is.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Other Side of the Curtain...

I mentioned last week that I had some other theatre projects lined up. I also promised to fill everyone in on it. That is the purpose of this post.

Every summer, The Old Opera House, where I do most of my acting, holds a contest for playwrights. It is called the New Voice Play Festival. Playwrights from all over the country submit their unpublished one-act plays. The top finishers receive a small cash prize. They also receive the honor of having their play performed on the stage of the Opera House.

I have appeared in the festival as an actor for the last two summers. This year, the Opera House was kind enough to offer me a chance to direct one of the winners. I have accepted this offer. This is what I will be working on for about the next 6 weeks or so.

My position is unique. The third place winners of the contest do get presented to an audience. However, those plays are presented in a dramatic reading. For those of you not familiar with this term, the play I am directing will have few props, and very little blocking. This is because the actors will be presenting the piece directly from the script. (Hopefully with podiums or music stands in front of them.)

Directing this sort of presentation has its own unique limitations as well as advantages, as you might imagine. The biggest advantage, however, is that it will allow my actors to delve into the nature of their characters and the script earlier on in the process than might otherwise be possible. I very much look forward to this.

It all begins tomorrow evening. There will be open auditions for the whole festival (5 one act-plays this year). There will be a second night of auditions on Tuesday.

As previously mentioned on this blog, I have directed before. But it has been a few years. I have every confidence in my abilities to do so, however. It is just been so long since I pursued a play from the top of the pyramid.

Of course, as the process goes on, I will be describing my adventures, here on Always Off Book, so that all of you loyal blog readers can be a part of my theatrical dealing in the way in which you are accustomed. Indeed, I will be more specific as to the nature of the one act I am directing in the days to come.

If you happen to be a loyal blog reader that lives in or near Charles Town, West Virginia, stop on by and see us. You may end up in one of the shows. Perhaps mine! (And what greater thrill could there be to a loyal blog reader than to be in a play Ty himself is directing?)

Stay tuned, as usual.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Give My Apologies to Broadway

I am a rarity, loyal blog readers. I am an actor that is clueless about Broadway.

Many actors I know are in touch with everything going down on the Great White Way. They are the first to buy albums to new musicals that just opened, and can list which Broadway personalities are in what show, sometimes even in what theatre. (Usually, but not always, the musicals as opposed to the straight shows.)

As for me, I can only name at most 4 or 5 shows that are even on Broadway at the moment. And I may be wrong about one of them. It is certain I could not name a single Broadway star, (not counting those made famous in other mediums currently doing a stint in a Broadway show.)

It took a friend of mine several weeks to teach me that it is 526,600 minutes.

Yet why do I know so little? Several reasons. I think the first of which is that right now I have no plans to try to make it on Broadway.

Is it because I detest it? Certainly not. While I agree that in some ways Broadway’s allure is slipping because of its commercialization, I hold nothing against that great American institution. When I get to New York every few years there is nothing I like more than strolling down the theatre district, taking it all in. I have no current aspirations to “make it” there, but I am often enthralled by it all.

The two shows I have seen on Broadway have been great experiences. So I certainly am not casting aspersions.

In fact, I have often wondered if it is that esteem that keeps me out of the loop. I myself cannot afford to go to Broadway anytime I please to see a new show. (Or an old one, for that matter.) As a result, any information I get about the nature of new shows, and Tony Award winning performances comes from reading about it online. In turn I do not often do such reading, because I do not like to ruin the plot of a show, in case by some chance I do get a chance to see it. And hence the cycle goes.

Another thing that I think contributes to my not being in the know is the fact that I am usually in straight shows. I am not what you would call a musical actor. As I mentioned, the vast majority of Broadway superfans that I know are predominately “musicals only” performers. There always seems to be more readily available news pertaining to the world of musicals, than that of straight shows, even on Broadway. (Now it seems, more than 15 years ago.)

I maintain that I can still be a good actor and not be up to speed on the ins and outs of the professional circuit. I would be more than content to hear about and understand shows as I saw them, or was cast in them. Yet I do have one or two Broadway based sites on my favorites list. (Among them I am starting to think I should make a concerted effort to read up on such things more often…to be a little more in tune to some conversations that circle around the green room.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

A Simple Trick

I always strive to be the best actor I can be, during any given show or scene. I never “phone it in”, as they say.

Yet I, and everyone else who acts can sometimes get to the point where complex methods and strategic approaches are either too much, or in some cases, just do not work. In such times, uncommon as they may be for me, I find it acceptable to make use of an acting trick here or there. I will share one with you here today.

Just to reiterate, tricks and short cuts should be an occasional tool for the actor, not a well worn method of the actor. Use them when time or energy are of the essence. Use them when you have struck out in other ways to make a moment true, (and it always has to be true on stage of course.) Use them when you are drowning in your on complexity and need to take a step back into simplicity. (Something I have been known to experience.)

To make a long story short, use them sparingly.

That being said, one of my “tricks” is employed when I need to “fall in love” in a short amount of time. Say, a love at first sight moment.

I think of a power ballad playing in my head the moment I am to fall in love. It helps if you like the song you are thinking of. The most effective part is that crescendo either right before the chorus, or right in the middle of same.

I have found that when one thinks of one of those power love songs, one’s face and in particular one’s eyes tend to respond, almost involuntarily, in certain ways. Those ways replicate the appearance of falling in love quite well I have found.

Truth be told, rare is the play I have been called upon to portray goofy “love at first sight” moments. The use of this trick is made more acceptable to me because of that infrequency. Furthermore, the few times when I did have to use it were during neither climactic nor pivotal moments in the production. If ever a moment of “falling in love” were the main focus of an entire act or something, I would be more organic in my approach.

Besides, sometimes it shakes things up on stage, and makes them more fun. You need to be having that if you are going to portray falling in love with someone you barely know.

For the sake of the curious, the song I have used is Almost Paradise, a duet by Ann Wilson and Mike Reno. It has that excellent, slow build to the big refrain. Perfect for what I am talking about. (I only use the chorus.)

Just don’t use this trick if your scene is heavy on lines. You might say the lyrics to your song instead of what the script has. (Though I have never done that, better safe than sorry.)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Still Alive

Loyal blog readers...

Worry not. I am still around. But between getting a new computer and various other things, blogging has not been as possible. I did finally get on here to let you know now o give up on Always Off Book.

In fact I do have one or two future theatre projects already in the works which I will very soon be sharing with you all, as soon as I get things straight myself.

Stay tuned, and thanks for your patience.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Semi-Creepy Ads

DirectTV has a new ad campaign, and it's creepy.

They play scenes from movies we know and sometimes love. But in the middle of it, an actor from one of those scenes, perfectly placed through seamless editing back in their old movie, turns to the camera and starts pitching DirectTV to the audience!

I first saw this in the middle of the night a few nights ago. The scene from Ferris Bueller's Day Off when Ben Stein is droning, "Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?"

All of the sudden, Stein turns to the camera, and says something like,

"He's probably at home watching DirectTV...."

Let me tell you do NOT do that to an exhausted insomniac in the middle of the night! I am not ashamed to admit that for a moment, half of the living hell was scared out of me. It feels like a dream or a hallucination when you first see it. Something you have seen a trillion times, that you know every moment of, suddenly...Changing! And the guy stares right at you, no less!

To make it even more surreal, after the pitch, Ben Stein "returned" perfectly to what he would have been doing next in that scene.

"Fry? Fry? Fry?"

Fade to black. Ty sits in stunned 2AM exhausted silence for the next 5 minutes until it all comes into focus in his mind.

Even now when I see it and know what's coming, it's still slightly unnerving.

There is another one I saw tonight. The scene from Twister, when Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton are in the truck, and a cow blows by.

"Cow", Helen shouts.

Then Paxton turns right to the camera and makes the same pitch as described above, before the scene slips back, without a hitch, into the real movie. Fade to black.

I do not know how much of the original scene is used vs. the actors recreating the moment on a sound stage. However, if they are going to continue on this route, they MUST do one thing...they simply have to have a commercial using the boat scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If a commercial ever exists wherein Gene Wilder is singing that boat song, and then turns and stares directly at the camera with that possessed face, and says "DirectTv is where we're going, as the rowers keep on rowing", followed by him screaming, and then a fade to would bar none be the single greatest advertisement in all of human history.

Unless...they did Sir Anthony as Hannibal pitching DirectTV through the glass...I scare myself at the thought.

Who's with me on this?