Sunday, July 30, 2006

Some Private Archeology

I was engaged in the next stage of my massive bedroom overall, when I made a semi-interesting discovery.

After a thorough closet cleaning, I came across a container with several of those micro-tapes that I use to record stuff onto my micro-recorder.

I have many of them which I have recycled for 5 or ten years. I will be done with one recording, and just record over it the next time I need the tape. This specific group of tapes had been sitting undisturbed at the bottom of the closest for years.

One thing I use the tapes for most often is for memorizing lines. I will read my lines, and those of other people in a scene, and listen to the tape over and over, to help me get off book. Snippets of dialogue from about a million shows can be found on those tapes.

Yet what I found today amusing and surprised me. As I was listening to the tape to see what was on it, it gradually dawned on me that I had found the very first known example of me doing it. I found a recording of me delivering lines for a scene I was to do during my first acting class in college, (which of course pre-dates any actual appearance on a real stage.) I could not help but smile.

The odd thing about it was, earlier in my cleaning out process, I had discovered my final report for the class in directing I took at the same college. I had chosen to direct the very play I had acted in years previous...The same play featured on the tape. So in the course of a few hours, I ran across my directing notes for the show, as well as some of my lines from when I appeared in it myself.

The things you find when you bother cleaning up the closest.

For those interested, the play was John Bishop's one act, "Confluence".

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Objectively Speaking...

"What's my motivation?"

Though I have never worked with anyone who succumbed to this cliche, I sometimes question the almost universal notion among theatre-types that an actor must in every way be working towards a scene's stated objective.

I am not for a moment advocating a method of acting wherein motivation or objective are tossed aside. On the contrary. I want all characters to behave with intention, so as to bring a show to life. I just happen to think that this goal can be achieved through a determined focus on character, as opposed to that character's objective.

Let's examine a scene from a fictitious play.

A wimpy husband enters a room where a wife is already seated. The husband makes himself a drink or something, and the wife reads the paper. The husband sits down, and a conversation ensues about what the wife is reading. During the discussion, the headstrong wife decides to take some action that the milquetoast husband is against.

At first, the wife appears as though she will get her way as always. Yet the topic at hand is very distasteful to the husband, who is taken by surprise by his wife's plans.

An argument starts between the two of them. The scene ends with the husband storming out of the room with more boldness than he has ever shown before.

I think the objective of the scene itself is quite clear; the scene exists to allow the husband to assert himself for the first time.

Yet consider, simply because the playwright included this scene for that purpose, does that mean the actor playing the husband should proceed to play the whole scene with that knowledge? After all, when his character enters the room, he has no intention whatsoever of making such a shift in his personality. Should the actor make this his "motivation" for everything in the scene?

I know it flies in the face of convention, but I say, no.

Despite the fact that a specific goal or motivation may not always be present, an actor's character IS always present. Ergo, if one remains focused on the perspectives, views, attitudes, traits, and nature of one's character, one is better able to respond to stimulus while "in character." This allows the character to "discover" an objective, as opposed to the actor "having" one.

Now, from a logical standpoint, I realize that an actor knows how a scene is going to play out before he performs. We call this, memorization. Yet I have found that far more organic performances come about as a result of just thinking about who I am on stage than have come about by asking, "What's my motivation?"

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lady in the Water

A recurring difficulty that critics have faced when trying to review films by M. Night Shyamalan is to describe the movie's quality and purpose without giving away his patented plot twist. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village all, with varying degrees of success, contained a surprise that made everything you saw in the movie up until that point take on a whole new meaning.

This "Shyamalan Twist" can pose a problem for audiences as well. People are tempted to spend more time trying to "figure it out" than enjoying the story as it unfolds.

If this is your worry, you can go see Shyamalan's latest offering, Lady in the Water with your mind at ease. There is no plot twist, per se.

That being said, is the film worth going to see, in its own right?

Despite some obvious flaws and a
negative reception from most critics, I think I will have to say that yes, it is. But only if you are willing to accept a major qualifier.

You must, no matter what, be willing to view the film as a pure whimsical fantasy. It is billed as "a bedtime story from M. Night Shyamalan" in many of the posters. That is exactly what it is. See it with a desire to escape, or do not see it at all.

Once you accept this, it is up to you whether or not it is a good, average, or poor fantasy/fairy tale. But if you do not go into the movie with at least that much of an assumption, I can almost guarantee that you will not like it, because of many inconsistencies or flaws.

Some of these flaws are perhaps inherent to the fantasy/bed time story genre.

For example, more than once, characters without a whole lot of background tend to show up at just the right time, simply because they need to be there. Once there, many characters tend to accept the more fanciful aspects of their situation without a whole lot of questions or skepticism.

And of course there are the requisite creatures, magic, and what have you.

Such things bother many, if not most people. But do those same people complain that in Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack does not simply go to a physician, assuming that the huge beanstalk is a hallucination? I would think not, because Jack and the Beanstalk is accepted for the fantasy that it is. This film should be as well.

It does tend to run a little bit long and slow in some parts. It also has a few too many characters to keep track of, as well as plot points that are not really examined or discovered by the characters. At times, a bunch of knowledge shows up when it is needed. Like a kid making up a story as he goes along, and backtracking to account for an inconsistency he only just now realizes his impromptu story has.

"I forgot to mention a while ago", such a kid might say as he catches his breath. It is clear that this movie is guilty of that at certain points.

Then again even that may have been done on purpose. The tale is in fact based on real bedtime story Shymalan himself made up on the cuff for his young daughters as he was tucking them in. Maybe it is that sense of "don't think, just listen" that he is going for.

Does this concept translate onto the screen in this movie? I am still not certain. I can say that other movies with a similar conceit have done a better job of suspending my disbelief. But more ofthem have done a worse job.

So Lady in the Water is by far not his best work, and it does suffer from some mistakes. But unlike most critics I have heard review the movie, I am willing to overlook them in light of several things:

-The ensemble cast is funny. Not hilarious, but worth a few giggles.

-Paul Giamatti, as usual, is doing good things here.

-It is a large improvement over M. Night's last effort, The Village.

-Despite the weirdness, it makes far more sense than any anime related thing I have ever made the mistake of tying to watch.

-I feel that if this movie had been written and directed by an unknown, the fantasy/wonder angles of it would be more appreciated. Given that M. Night has been set on such a pedestal by some, there is going to be an air of "he blew it again", when compared to his earlier, more successful movies.

-It has a slight moral to it. Nothing we have not seen before from M.Night, but it's there.

-At least it is original in its weirdness. In a world where Hollywood makes 5 sequels, and 9 movies based on forgotten TV shows every month, the film industry could use a little something unique, even if it does have its weak spots.

Overall grade is a B-.


Just wanted to fill everyone in on the status of Gypsy at the Old Opera House.

Those of us that tried out were sent an email today. It seems that they will be taking the unusual step of scheduling another open audition night. From what I gathered from the email, they have not yet been able to cast the principle roles. I guess this means that the turn out was underwhelming in regards to numbers, given the size of the cast.

So if any of you loyal blog readers live in the Charles Town, West Virginia area, stop on by for another go round of open auditions for Gypsy, at the Old Opera house on July 31st at 7PM.

Who knows? You may even find yourself on stage with me. Then you would have a first hand account of my adventures. How exciting would that be?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Next Chapter?

This evening I was back at the Old Opera House. This time I was auditioning. Again.

The play is Gypsy, by Stephen Sondheim.

I knew, and still know, next to nothing about the show. But my niece was trying out for her very first play, and I thought it would be fun to try out with her.

She did great in all three aspects of her audition. (Singing, dancing, reading.)

As for me, I went through my singing part first. As usual, "Master the House." I think I might have messed up something. I felt like I was not singing the right notes for the middle part. If it was not a note thing, I felt somewhat off anyway. I think I pulled it together in the end though. I hope.

About an hour later, they called me in to read. I did not read with anyone. Just read a small part in a short scene by myself. This may be because, I requested a non-dancing role.

This was not just presumption on my part. The audition notice made particular mention of their being several adults roles that did not require dancing. Seeing as how I barely made it through dancing in "Anything Goes" earlier this year, I figured I would request one of these non-dancing roles. (Though I said I would take any role they thought I would do best in.)

They did not even send me in to dance auditions.

The director did confirm, however, that there were several non-dancing parts. In fact, he said some guys may be doubling up by playing two rolls. This can be a challenge and an adventure in it's own right. (See this previous post of mine.)

Yet I will not know for three weeks or so if I have any part. They had auditions early. Though there will be call backs on Tuesday, so I guess if I am not called back, I do not have a part(s).

So, we will see.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Each theatre or theatre company is different, naturally. But it seems to me that community theatres are rife with pranksters. The worst kind of them being those who strike at performers while on stage.

Perhaps there is something in the nature of those who are passionate about theatre that makes them more likely to engage in prankdom. Perhaps it is a way to relieve high levels of tension and stress that live theatre can bring. Maybe it is the chance of a prank throwing someone off their game while in front of a live audience. It could be neither of these things.

Whatever the reason, I must be a spoiled sport on this one. Though I have never been the victim of a prank, I have to, in most cases, stand in opposition to doing so, when it comes to theatre performances.

To begin with, the audience, who has usually paid money to watch a group of actors perform, are not in on the joke. If said joke or prank has a decent chance of affecting an actor's performance in the scene, (and that is generally the idea), it is unfair to ticket holders. Why should they product they pay for be lessoned in quality just because you thought it would be funny? To do so indicates a lack of dedication to the production as a whole.

Recall I did say I was opposed "in most cases". If you are very familiar with the person being pranked, and can be certain they will not be thrown off of their performance by what you have done, the occasional tom foolery may be acceptable. Even then , however, it should not be anything that affects the blocking of the play, the ability to hear one's cue, or throw off the audience's understanding of the scene. (Writing goofy messages, or weird faces on pieces of paper that have to be handled, but not read, by an actor is a famous example where I come from.)

To be safe though, these kind of antics, if you must succumb to them, should be reserved for late, pre-technical rehearsals. Or during pick-up rehearsals between weekends. That way the central focus of any show, the audience, does not have to pay for your inside joke.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Three for Three

Sorry I did not post this yesterday when it happened, but I had many other things to attend to.

As the title to this post indicates, however, the third and final performance of the play was a success. I could not tell how many people were in the audience. (Probably about the same as Friday night.) Numbers aside, however, they were perhaps the most responsive of all three crowds. They laughed in one or two places that the previous audiences didn't. They also bestowed upon us more than one round of sustained laughter. As an actor, and as a director in particular, you cannot ask for much more than that.

This is the third years I have participated in this festival. It is only the 6th time is has taken place at all. I know that some of my colleagues have been concerned about the low attendance at these festivals. (It fluctuates somewhat each year.) While I did notice that the crowds this year were smaller than previous years, I cannot ignore the fact that all three audiences were in fact larger than predicted. While small by comparison, I have no complaints at all about the audiences.

That may be because, in my slightly biased opinion, my play got the most consistent laughter from the audience out of the three nights. True, I was not present for every moment of every performance. However from what I gathered from here and there, I feel emboldened enough to say that our play was at least one of the best received of the lot this year.

It did remain somewhat awkward for me to direct a piece I was also appearing in. I did not quite get to experience total stepping back from a piece one has guided into excellence that most director's get. And from an actor's standpoint, I could never quite be 100% dedicated to just the character building aspects for this show, as I am wont to do. Nevertheless, our peak was achieved and our stride was hit with some of the most exceptional timing out of anything I have been involved in at that theatre.

I will not go so far as to say it was because of my direction, but I am willing to say that my hard work, and that of my cast mates paid off in very rich dividends. In a very literal sense, I could not asked for much more out of this experience.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Hitting the Stride

Indeed we have.

Despite there being one or two places where all three of us in the cast tripped a bit over a line or two, I think this was an even better night than last for the show.

For one thing, very surprisingly, more people came to see the show tonight, than came to see it last night. This many were not expected, and just the fact that the crowd was slightly bigger than last night was pleasant in and of itself.

Not to be out done, however, it was a responsive and sharp crowd. All of the laugh lines got laughs from this group, and many of them got hearty laughs. The pacing was good, the timing close to spot on, and there was a lot of fun in the air.

The applause at the end of the performance said it all, as far as I am concerned. Warm applause. The kind where you know it is more than simply being polite; it's a sign that a good time was had by most.

I have said it a million times...I would rather have 35 people really into a show, than 100 duds out in the house.

So, perhaps tomorrow's matinee and closing performance will be a surprise, and have the same amount of people, equally warm. Statistics say that it will not be, however. Either way, I cannot complain. Two consecutive nights with appreciative audiences more than makes up for a matinee that might be dull.

To quote Meat Loaf, "Two outta three ain't bad."

Of course, three out of three being a bull's eye would be even better.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Opening Night

this is an audio post - click to play

Last Practice

So today was the final practice for the New Voice Play Festival. I am pleased to report that it went just as well as it did last night, for my cast. We are ready.

Not to sound like a bore, but there is nothing really specific about tonight to report other than that.

We ran the curtain call for the entire festival, where everyone comes out and takes a company bow. That's the only thing that was new in that regard.

I did, however, notice that the local newspaper's write up about the festival was posted on the bulletin board at the theatre. As I suspected, there is indeed a picture of me looking like a mad man. But in a good way.

Also, I am quoted a great deal in the write up itself. This is every entertaining to me. Not because I have never been quoted in the newspaper before, (I have), but because I thought I said little of interest in the interview.

Attendance is not expected to be very good, sadly. So if any of you that read this blog live near Charles Town, West Virginia, and want to come check us out, we could really use the support. (It's ok, you do not have to introduce yourself to me. You can remain blissfully anonymous. Just come see the show.)

Looks like that is about it. Tomorrow is the real deal, my friends.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Last Night

My apologies for not posting last night. I have been a bit more tired than usual in the evening.

Last night's rehearsal was our best so far. We were hitting just the right amount of levity, balanced with the more somber moments. I have mentioned that balance for this show previously in this blog. Last night we came pretty close to perfect in that regard.

It is not just for the sake of getting more potential laughs, though. The play is more fun to do, and honestly felt better paced when the three of us took on that lighter tone.

Last night I also finally got the remainder of the props taken care of. Real liquid in the glasses and all of that. No problems adjusting there. I had one semi-awkward moment when I had too much stuff in my hand, but I already know a way to correct that tonight.

With one more rehearsal tonight before we open on Friday, I am very satisfied. My cast mates seem to feel the same way. One of them mentioned last night that we are set to peak at just the right time with this show. I agree with this. One last rehearsal tonight, wherein my only note will be to repeated what we did last night. Then we will hit the ground running for Friday evening, and on into the rest of the weekend.

More tonight on how the final rehearsal goes.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Tech Week, Continued

My cast and I declared independence from rehearsing today, once it became clear that none of the other plays would be running their shows. So we will pick things up again tomorrow.

We did, however, rehearse last night. It went alright. Due to various other pressures, and a bit of a long day before hand, I was somewhat off my game, performance wise. Nothing terrible. I was just not hitting that stride that I like to hit. I have a day off and then two more chances to rehearse though. I am sure I will regain my focus.

As I told my cast, some of the parts of the play are really looking fantastic. (One of the best segments of the play is one where I am not even on stage. Take that however you like...) Overall I have asked all of us to work on making it a bit lighter, as sometimes we seem to be a half a degree too dramatic at points.

Taken as a whole, however, I am pleased. A few small issues for me to work out, regarding props and costumes. But mostly prop issues are ironed out, and everybody knows where they are going and when.

I also have selected short musical clips for the opening and closing of the show. Classical pieces that in one way or another reflect the atmosphere of the show. Hopefully. I burned those onto a CD and will present it to the sound guy before tomorrow's rehearsal.

We have not yet run the whole festival as one entity. I imagine this will take place either tomorrow or Thursday, so that the timing of the entire evening can be ascertained.

Home stretch time.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Stage "Debut" and Dry Tech

Greetings all.

No advice column this week, as I have two nights of rehearsal to cover tonight.

Last night my cast and I were on stage for the first time. It takes some getting used to of course, and I fully expected there to be some issues to work out. There were, but not as many as I anticipated. I am happy to report that my overall vision for such things as blocking, prop handling, and podium positioning remains intact. The few changes that were suggested were things I had overlooked. The show is better for having made the changes.

At the end of the practice, one of the actresses said, “I’m having fun now.” I relate. It is always good to get on stage for the first time, even if it is just a reading. The chance to feel out your performance space, and to orient yourself, and your character to the surroundings is long awaited to most actors, and directors. The smooth transition from rehearsal space to the stage has guaranteed us even more time to hone in on character nuance and line readings. I could hardly have asked for a better condition for the play to be in heading into the final week.

Today was a dry tech. Due to the limited technical requirements of my show, I did not have very much to stress about today.

True, the whole day was time consuming. Given that it is a festival four other shows must be incorporated into the space and time allotted. That notwithstanding, once some initial delays were overcome, the more technical aspects were laid out. Cue sheets and lighting plots were worked out for each play. (By and large.)

As I mentioned, spiking the set and plotting the light cues for my show literally took less than 5 minutes. Does not sound like a lot, and indeed by some standards, it is not. I have never been a techie inclined director. I try to adopt a minimalist approach to such matters, when possible. Without a doubt it is possible in this show.

After that though, I had little to do. I did not want to over-examine the technical angles, and complicate the simple, so I went home.

The order of the shows has been set. A comedy will start off the evening, followed by the only drama. Clocking in and 40 minutes, this is the longest one act in the festival this year. After the first two shows, there will be a brief intermission. After said intermission, my show will open up the second act. I like this. It allows me and my cast to be less stressed about setting the stage. We can simply do it during intermission.

Tomorrow is to be the first run through of all of the shows in one sitting. Much to my regret, one of my cast members will not be able to attend this rehearsal. I don’t know if this means we will run it with a stand in, just to get the timing for the other shows down, or if my show will just be skipped. Either way, I return tomorrow.

What has been a confederation of 5 separate and very different one-acts will start to come together as one evening of theatre tomorrow. Time will tell how smooth such an amalgamation will be for us all.