Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Thousand Words

I went into the theatre today, so that the local newspaper could take pictures of various actors from the festival in costume. For various reasons, my cast was not available tonight. So I put on my simple costume and posed for a few myself. There are a brief few moments in the play where I am the only one onstage, so the pictures are true to the show.

I get the slight sense, however, that I may look like a stark raving madman in some, if not all of the shots. I was going for the whole "half drunk,poet struck in the dead of night by the muse" look. I may come off looking like that. Or, based on some of the times the flash went off, I may just as easily come off as Dr. Frankenstein at his over the top, lunatic genius best.

I also talked to the local reporter. Seems she has interviewed me so many times, she remembers my name. She even spelled it correctly. I was so impressed by this, I could have asked her out on the spot.

Tomorrow the cast will be together again for what I hope will be the first run through on the stage itself. I plan to go over the handling of hand props, and the few crosses and entrance/exits the show has. If we run it twice as we usually do, possibly repeating a few complicated prop related moments, I think we will be fine headed into tech week.

One week from tomorrow the New Voice Play Festival will open. What excitement will it bring? Check back often to find out.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

But Seriously...

I was walking through the mall today, and saw a poster for the next Will Ferrell movie. It’s called “Talladega Nights” Just from the poster and the bylines and such you can tell what kind of movie it is. Surprise of all surprises, Ferrell will be playing a really really dumb guy. This time, a really really dumb guy that is also a NASCAR driver.

This will be biting at the heels of the latest
Adam Sandler offering, “Click”, which despite whispers of somewhat unique material, is, according to reviews, filled with the requisite Sandler toilet humor and adolescent sexual fixations.

What do the stars of these two movies have in common? Other than a complete void of originality, both have expressed, and in small ways attempted to make the cross into…(wait for it)…More dramatic roles.

Jim Carrey before them, these gross-out idols of dumbed-down cinema have on various occasions mentioned plans to make what some have called the “Tom Hanks Conversion”, from goofy comedies, to mainstream, respectable (mostly) dramatic story telling. With the brief exception of Sandler’s Punch Drunk Love, neither Saturday Night Live alumnus has proven consistently that they have the ability to flex dramatic chops. I would even argue that Jim Carrey has not quite sealed the deal himself on this matter.

One main reason for this is that people have yet to truly buy into these men being dramatic. Some have not yet made an official attempt, (Ferrell), while the more serious undertakings of the others are more often than not met with tepid response from the public. (Carrey)

The reason, in case they are reading, is that unlike pre-Philadelphia Tom Hanks, the comedies of Ferrell, Sandler, and Carrey have been, by and large…stupid. Childish. Ignorant, poorly written, site gag infested, cookie cutter dreck. It is obvious that there is a loyal demographic for such drivel, and the money will always roll in for it. Yet it is for that very reason that they cannot at this time expect to ever be taken seriously.

At best, a mainstream audience is going to be skeptical about any of these gentleman trying to establish pathos or gravitas. At worst, the movie going public that seeks more from their comedies than extensive farting, drunkenness and genitalia references has already forever written off all three actors, and other of their genre.

That is not to say that every script Hanks accepted in his early career was stellar. Yet I think most serious movie critics would be hard pressed to disagree with the notion that most of Hanks' comic work at that time was at least well thought out, sincere, and even sometimes smacking of depth of character. Therefore, Hanks’ move into more meaty, sober fare was seen not so much as a paradigm shift as a logical progression.

Can you watch “Anchorman” or Little Nicky and feel you are witnessing the birth of the next Paul Newman? If you can, in all sincerity, you are both more generous and open minded than I am.

(Writer's Note: I realize Jim Carrey started out early on in dramatic roles before stardom...but does anyone really remember him doing that anymore?)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Can You Handle It?

Sometimes a better acting experience is not about profound thought patterns or earth shattering introspection. As often as not it is the practical concepts that seem so minor that actors become complacent about them, assuming they need not put much effort into something so deceptively insignificant.

One such often-overlooked concept is use of the hand prop.

“Oh, it’s just a (fill in the blank) I hold in my hand during a scene. I won’t need to worry about it until tech week.”


Or maybe, putting in a good performance on stage already requires so much concentration and presence in the moment, that the slightest weight shift in any direction can capsize the ship.

Whenever I know in advance I am going to have a hand prop to work with during a scene, I start working with it (ousableable substitution) as soon as I am off book. Sometimes even before I am off book. Not only that, I tend to walk around the theatre with it when I am not on stage. If the prop happens to be a household item, I have even been known to walk around my house with it in my hand.

Why? Practicality, my dear blog readers.

The more we get used to an object being in our hand, the more comfortable we are with it. We become more aware of its balance in the hand, it’s texture, it behavior when tossed about, or moved from hand to hand. Off stage, such details about an object are not that important in general. We need only pick up the thing, and go. But I am talking about “stage comfort”, which requires about 50% more awareness than everyday comfort requires. A good performance is about being in control of all aspects of what you are doing. This means knowing all of those characteristics about an object you are called upon to use or hold.

Not only that, if you get to know your character and learn your lines while making use of such objects, your mind will associate possession of that object with doing the scene. It will soon be as automatic a part of your presentation, as the voice you use, or the inflection of a line reading.

Small holes sink big ships, they say. I have seen the delayed introduction of even the smallest of hand props prove this euphemism true time and again. Take things in hand as soon as possible.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Joys of Progress

Today was a sort of last minute rehearsal for the show. Due to one of my cast mates being stuck in horrible traffic, I had to close the rehearsal planned for yesterday.

We made up for it tonight though. We found a small room upstairs, and did a reading, without any of the minimal blocking. (That’s one reason I love readings.)

Let me say that I am very pleased with the progress we made tonight. To clarify, I have been pleased with the work we have done from the very beginning. Yet tonight in particular saw several key moments in the development of the show.

Without getting into specific wordy details here, I will say that there is a scene, several minutes in duration, in the middle of the play, wherein I am not on stage. During such time, it is just the two actresses. One plays my character’s girlfriend, and that other plays his overbearing sister.

As I have envisioned the show, it is during this scene that the two characters, antagonistic to one another for most of the play, come to an “almost understanding”. At least on a temporary basis. While said transition was always present with these two actresses, tonight it was much more defined, and well timed. The transition back into that slight antagonism once my character returns was just as seamless. It was very rewarding as the director to observe this. They should both be proud.

For now, there will be a hiatus of about ten days, as one of the actresses will be traveling. But I am not at all concerned about this. Indeed, after reading through the script twice this evening, the three of us had a very constructive conversation pertaining to where the play is headed, and how on target we all feel about everything.

As one of the actresses pointed out, this would go really well as a fully staged production, and not just a reading. I agreed, but I also feel fortunate to have this script for our purposes. It is very dialogue and character based, and as I told the rest of the cast, it will suffer far less from being rendered as a reading than some other scripts may have.Indeed in some ways it will force all three of us to play up the dialogue and the writing even more. One of the reasons I was glad to take on this project.

So that is where things stand. A mild breakthrough for one of the scenes today, an overall recognition of our mutual confidence in each other and the show, and a hiatus that begins on a very positive note. I very much look forward to resuming our rehearsals.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Old Twice Over..

This evening I had the second rehearsal for the play I am in/directing. As the title indicates, we went through it twice.

I am very proud to say right off that I was able to finish the rehearsal in less than 90 minutes, as promised.

Despite the short duration of the rehearsal, a lot got accomplished. We had music stands, just as I was hoping we would have, to rest the scripts on. (Recall it's a reading.) The nature of the characters and their interaction began to take greater shape. Several new ideas came about today also, as we worked our way through some of the blocking I had planned for the first time.

My cast mates are great, and we almost always seemed to be thinking along the same lines. I encouraged them from the start to point out something to me if I did not notice it. Several times this was done, much to the betterment of the show. I am glad some of those observations were made, and ideas were added to the presentation.

My own nervousness about this project has abated somewhat. I suppose it is fair to conclude that it will lesson each time we run the show. Still, I would by lying if I said I am not longer stressed at all. However, when I can already see it coming together, I have nothing to complain about. (Although it is sometimes nerve wracking to have an idea or a note come into my head, but be unable to write it down whilst performing. Amazingly, I forget nothing, though.)

The main thing to work out will be the use of props, and the little bit of blocking. Most of the blocking worked today, though we did not have props to work with. I hope to have at least substitute props for our next rehearsal so that every one can get used to holding things as soon as they can.

Our next get together will be this coming Sunday. I plan to run it twice, with, as I said, props, and blocking. After that there will be a long hiatus between rehearsals. So I we will need to make as much progress as possible. But I have every confidence that we will. We are a group that talks things out, and that makes all the difference.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tears Over Tears

Many non-actors, (and about half of the actors out there) have certain notions as to what makes a brilliant performance. If an actor can accomplish a certain achievement, people believe that by default, they are witnessing a genius at work.

One action which holds this misguided esteem in people is bringing forth real tears during a performance.

This skill is overrated in my view. While it may certainly be part of a great actor's arsenal, the ability to cry on cue is not by itself an indicator of greatness. It is not, in my estimation, even an indicator that any acting is taking place. Those that can cry on cue, (as fascinating as the talent may be in its own right) are doing little more than those who can whistle.

I mention this because I think that actual crying, with tears and such, is a goal a lot of actors work too hard at achieving. By actual crying, I mean the shedding of tears.

Yet acting is about being sincere in presentation of the character's emotions. Unless you just happen to have the gift of instant water works coupled with a keen understanding of what leads up to a character crying, the mere process of calling forth actual tears is usually noticeable from about 30 miles away.

People tend to forget that the act of crying only culminates in the production of tears. But tear production can take place for so many reasons other than weeping. Furthermore, a person may experience something that is, for all intents and purposes, weeping, with minimal tear production.

Physically, crying begins within the chest or throat, passes slowly from the back of the neck up to and encompassing the face. To skip these steps and try to start crying right out of your eyeballs is one of the worst, (and detectable) examples of fraud in the acting world. I have worked with actors guilty of this.

Setting aside the physical sensations, let us not forget the stimulus to the heart that takes place to bring about the weeping. Unless you are an infant, crying is rarely an instant action. The pain, the fear, the realization of the circumstances that bring about the tears all must be registered by the actor. If little has led up to it, you could summon forth Niagara Falls from your tear ducts at the drop of a hat, but it will not do you or the scene an ounce of good.

An actor who is committed to all aspects of a portrayal of weeping will give an audience an authentic and memorable performance, even if no visible tears show up.

Of course if they do show up along with a sincere performance, great. But if you find yourself laboring too much over producing tears, set it aside. Otherwise your performance may illicit the wrong type of tears from the audience.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Setting Forth

Today was the first meeting for my cast and I. Right off the bat I confessed to both of them that I was somewhat nervous, wearing two hats for this show. I feel better now though. I am not totally over it, but now that the first meeting has taken place, I am somewhat more at ease.

I have worked with both of these actresses before. In fact, a year ago three of us played in the same one-act for the same festival. So we each play off of each other well. That is a blessing that offsets that unusual nature of the other stuff.

It went so well in fact that I honestly do believe we will have enough time to rehearse. Previously I was somewhat apprehensive about that. I knew we could do it, but it felt crunched before. After the reading however, I felt like there was more breathing room.

Once I determined how long it would take it to read the show, (about 20 minutes), I came to realize we could easily go over the whole play twice per session. Right now, that will add up to 5 run throughs of the show before tech week, plus the 4 run throughs during tech week itself. Math majors out there have already determined that this gives us 9 chances to run the show, top to bottom before we open. With this group, that sounds like more than enough.

Our next rehearsal is scheduled for a week from tomorrow. I will be perusing the text even more, seeing what sort of nuances I can pick up on, and maybe send them an email later in the week with some thoughts.

Off we go.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Current Project

Well, as for my latest project, the cast is set, and the parties are agreed. Given that, I thought it was about time I describe things in more detail. So, here are the basics.

The play I am to direct, (and perform in) is called "What Are Words Worth to a Long Fellow?" It was one of three entries that tied for third place at this year's New Voice Play Festival. (Check out the Old Opera House website for more information.)

As mentioned before, it is to be a dramatic reading, as opposed to a full fledged production.

It was written by one Carl L. Williams of Houston, Texas. I have not met the playwright, and at this time am not certain if he will be in attendance, though at this time I doubt it.

The play is a comedy with three characters. One is named Norris. (Played by myself in this production.) Norris is in his 20's and living off of a trust fund set up for him by his late aunt. He is an aspiring poet, and hence there is much wine, women and song in his life.

One such woman is a young college coed named Debbie. At the start of the play she was a "guest" of Norris.

The mood is spoiled when Phyllis, Norris' older sister arrives, intent on convincing the wayward Norris to find a job, and make something of his life, before the trust fund is depleted.

That is the show in a nutshell. I found the writing to be quick, concise, and witty. This is why I am glad to be directing this particular play. (Though I have not yet read the scripts from the other entries into this years festival.)

I have worked with both of the actresses I cast in this play before. At this time, I am not sure if that will add to, or take away from some of my initial nervousness about playing a part and directing the show. As it stands now, our first meeting as a cast is set for this coming Monday. I suppose I will find out then. I will certainly let you, loyal blog readers, in on how I am feeling after that encounter.

And that is where is stands for now. Wish me and my two cast mates luck as we endeavor to bring this piece to life.