Sunday, May 27, 2007

Move to the "Rhythm"

One thing I am already learning by playing this ”silent” role is how advantageous it is to run the blocking in my head, or in fact, even physically, when going over a script by myself.

This is not a totally new concept to me, as I try to visualize my blocking in my head during the early stages of a rehearsal. Yet it is usually done at an expedited pace, in order to get to the lines. (The lines being the main thing I am committing to memory when I am on my own at home when I am in a show.) Yet with this show, 85% of what I will be doing will be blocking based. Because of this, I have been reading the block directions extra carefully, and have been running through them physically in my room, when applicable. The result is that the blocking and movements are becoming more natural to me earlier in the process.

I think I shall adopt this method to a deeper degree in future productions. Instead of just visualizing what I have to do, I can see the benefits of actually moving about as I review my script in the privacy of my own room. I do not have to wait until I am on stage to do so. While there is a limit to doing this depending on how sweeping the blocking of any given show is, practicing the crosses and sit-downs and such while committing lines to memory in future shows just may help me commit both to memory sooner.

I realize that block often changes, even when dialogue doesn’t. Nevertheless, a development of muscle memory that is tied in intimately with the delivery of my non-lines in this play is giving providing me with obvious benefits. I therefore conclude that adapting the method for use in plays where I have to know lines would behoove me.
And so the learning and evolving in the craft continues. One reason I love the theatre. You never perfect the art. You just continually evolve. Particularly when something that should have been obvious all along suddenly strikes you as being useful. (Such as the case with me and this concept.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Dubious First

Well, loyal blog readers, the other day I did something that I have never before done in my years in theatre.

I quit a show.

It was not at all an easy decision for me, actually. I know alot of actors have no problem with it. Something better comes along, they do not feel like it anymore, etc. But for my it is quite counterintuitive.

So, what could beso important that I would go against mynature and quit a theatre project?

A theatre project.

Readers may recall I got into two of the shows for this year's New Voice Play Festival. The one play, where I will remain silent, is still on. I decided to leave the lead role in the second play from the festival, in order to concentrate on the other role.

Here is how it all came about.

I had the first rehearsal for the second play on Monday. Though I had said from the beginning I didn't get a great vibe about the show, and stated so at auditions, they offered me the role anyway. I like may of the people at the Opera House, and did not want to let them down personally, as a friend. I realize this was my first mistake, and that I should have only based my acceptance on my professional feelings about the work. What can I say? I slipped on this one.

Now I had not read the scripts in total for any of the shows. I heard some talk about them, and i had sort of gathered that the role I was being offered in the second show was a smaller, supporting role.

Turns out, it wasn't.

I got to rehearsal, and was about 5 minutes in, when I suddenly realized it was to be a rather complex role, with more going on during my stage time than I had guessed. As rehearsal went on, I began to fear that I would not be able to give my all to both of these roles at the same time, as both had unique challenges. I was disappointed in myself a bit, but one has to assess the good of the show, based on what one feels at the time. Though I had the ability to do both, the desire wasn't there, given how much each would take away from the other.

So I emailed the director late that night, and explained how I was sorry, but did not feel the role was a good match for me at this time. All the things I mentioned here. I offered to trade roles with someone who was playing a "sexy waiter" in the show. That role was much smaller.

The director emailed me today and said I didn't fit the role of "sexy waiter". I personally believe I am quite sexy, and am not sure what was meant by the comment exactly. (!) But either way, it seems official...I am now only in one of the plays in the festival this year.

So in the last year, I have turned down a role for the first time, and quit a show for the first time. Really, it should have been two examples of turning down a role. But I am only human. I hope the other play finds someone quickly. I know it can be hard. Last year I had to cast myself when I was directing.) But I am sure something will come up.

In a few hours I have the first rehearsal for the one play I am in now. I look forward to it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Task Ahead, (One of Them)

Instead of my usual Sunday evening article of general acting interest, I am going to talk a little bit about what I expect to be doing in my current project. More specifically, in the one act without any lines for me. I will not meet with the director or the cast until Wednesday. (3 days from now.) So I may find that my perceptions going in are off. But this is an initial assessment only.

To review what I myself know of the play so far...(though I have not read the whole script.)

All of the dialogue will be delivered by two characters, the interpreters. One for JFK, and one for Fidel Castro. The time is the Cuban Missile Crisis. Though I do not know the nature of the set or the blocking just yet, I learned at the auditions that both world leaders will be somewhere on stage, speaking into either headsets or telephones. Their voices, however, will not be heard. The audience will not know what the leaders have said until the interpreters speak.

If I understood it correctly, that is a major component to all of this. My character, (JFK) will not be mute, as it were. He will in fact be speaking. His voice simply will not be heard. This will require a different approach then it would if my character merely said nothing during the entire performance.

(I leave the arguments as to whether it would be easier or more difficult to be "mute" for another day.)

Those who have read this blog before already know that I take what I call "background acting" seriously. A silent character must register each moment through his face or body movements so as to never be out of character, or out of the moment. I have done this many times. As I explained above, this is somewhat different. Yet I believe many of the same skills will be utilized. It is just that in the case of most plays, such skills act as back up singers. In this play, those skills will be the soloists, in a sense.

I say this now, because I am willing to wager that a large amount of attention will be paid to my performance, (and that of the actor playing Castro) despite it being a background role. The nature of the play, as well as the notoriety of the characters I think will see to that, even if I, (and Castro) are not the leads of the piece. What this means to me is that the facial nuances, as well as body stance and gesticulations might have to be a bit more choreographed and rehearsed. More so at least than what might otherwise be called for in such a role.

As far as other preparations, I am not one that believes in verbatim memorization of everyone else's line in a show or scene. Familiarity, of course. I have spoken on this in the past. But memorizing everyone's lines in a scene is not usually my mode of attack. I am thinking however that in a play like this, it may be of more benefit. If not a verbatim commitment to the lines, at least a more narrow concentration on the scene than I may otherwise engage in.

Of course, I am often told that my concentration on every moment of a scene is more intense than most actors. If this is true, perhaps I am already ahead of the game here. We will find out.

I assume that my performance will rely on the same things it always relies on...inner thoughts which lead to lines. (We call that inner monologue in the acting world.) Only this time, the creation of said inner thought might have to be more obvious to the audience than it might otherwise be. This will depend on the script and the director, but I am prepared to go this route.

However one slices it, I must maintain the same standard of excellence on stage that I am used to giving an audience.

In sum, making use of non-verbal tactics will not be a totally new concept to me, as I believe every actor must always be acting. Relying on such things totally during certain scenes or certain moments is commonplace. Finding a way to rely on them for an entire play, albeit a one act play, is not something I have run into very often. Therefore I do look forward to this.

And technically, I can say right here and now that I am book.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Up Next

It looks like I shall be appearing in the Old Opera House's New Voice Play Festival for the 4th year in a row.

Here is how it came about.

Auditions were Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. I had to stop by the OOH on Tuesday to pick something up. While there I asked what the plays were about this year.

Hoping for something dramatic, as I have not been in a drama in a while, I was slightly let down to learn that this year all four selections were comedies.

One was a historical comedy. A telephone call between Kennedy and Castro during the Cuban missile crisis. The catch is that despite being onstage the whole time, neither Kennedy nor Castro is heard speaking. Instead, the dialogue is delivered by two interpreters.

The next one dealt with a married couple trying to set up two of their friends on a date. Not an overtly original idea, but it provided the chance for back and forth sarcastic dialogue, which I have usually excelled at one stage. That also sounded interesting.

The third play was a sort of cute idea about a bartender that runs a bar across from a funeral home, that has a unique way of consoling mourners who come in.

The 4th play involved two people on a blind date. Actors on stage portray the alter-egos of the two people, delivering out loud the inner thoughts of each.

I went home and pondered if I wanted to audition, given what little I knew about each of the plays.

I was intrigued by the notion of being onstage, but without audible lines for a whole show. Invoking a character, particularly one so famous, would be a unique challenge without speaking, I thought.

I also liked the possibilities of the matchmaker play. Not a very original idea, but it was said to have a lot of sarcastic give and take between the characters. I excel at that on stage, I am told.

The one about the bar was cute enough. I was neutral, but thought it held possibilities.

The alter-ego one did not appeal top me at all, really.

I woke up Wednesday morning, and it was not until after I ate that I decided I would try out. I determined that on my audition sheet, I would mention preferences for the two that I liked, and point out the one I was not at all fond of.

I tried out with a small group of people. There were only about 5 of us at first with two showing up later. As I read the various parts for each play, I found my initial reactions to be on target in regards to which ones sounded most fun. Though I must say the one about the bar, from what I read, was more well written than I expected it to be.

Near the end of the audition, one of the directors asked if anyone was willing to be double cast. It seemed they were not sure they would meet the quota of men needed. I thought for a few minutes, and mentioned that is needed, I would be willing, if one of my parts was small, or if one of them was one of the non-speaking roles.

I got home, expecting to hear from them in a few days, as usual. I pondered the notion of emailing the OOH, and letting them know that my preference for the Kennedy character has increased. I went to wash my face, and the phone rang. I didn't get to it in time, but figured it couldn't be the Opera House yet.

It was.

They offered me two roles, but didn't say which ones on the voice mail. And by the time I got the message, i knew no one would be there. So for the first time in my career, I went to bed knowing I had a role of some sort, but having no idea what it was.

I called back this morning. The two roles offered were JFK in the one play...and one of the larger parts in the alter-ego play. I will be playing the actual clue yet who is playing "my" alter-ego.

The director acknowledged that I expressed a lack of interest in that latter. He added that he understood, and they were reluctant to give it to me, but I seemed to be the only one that fit the role out of those that tried out. So I agreed to take on the role anyway. Especially when I recalled that last year I was a director, and not having anyone to fill the roles for a while was quite frustrating.

So there you have it. Just like that I am back at the OOH after all. I do still want to expand my horizons to other theatres, but right now, nobody else is doing anything at all worth my trying out for, as far as I can gather. And as Olivier said, "an actor must act". So I will.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


I have not had many chances to play “evil” people on stage. I do not mean the antagonist necessarily, (though I rarely play that either.) Nor do I mean the black hat and long moustache cartoon evil found in a farce. I mean evil in a very human, realistic sense.

The most evil people I have portrayed thus far were Aaron McKinney, a murderer, and Fred Phelps, a hateful, bloodthirsty preacher. Both of them were in The Laramie Project.

I will not get into the details about the characters here, other than to say that they presented some of my favorite acting challenges thus far. Therefore I would like to address the concept of playing evil characters in general.

Like any facet of the human spectrum, there is more than one kind of evil. Ergo, there is more than one approach to be taken when playing evil. I think, however, a common mistake is made, at least on the amateur theatre level. That mistake is that actors attempt to actually portray evil itself. This you cannot do, and appear real.You must portray a person.

Always, always, you must present a character to the audience. Too often people work on showing anger, or hate, or some long, drawn out laugh when they play the villain, even when the script calls for a realistic one. Such performances practically say, “insert concept of evil here.”

That is not to say that evil people do not possess such qualities. Many if not most evil people do not, however. It is difficult to walk outside and point to the “evil” people. What is worse, many evil people possess some characteristics that most people would find very familiar. And that is the truly horrifying nature of the evil person, and what most be explored by the actor portraying an evil person.

If I can make an evil character act in ways an audience is familiar with, fear begins to build within those watching the play. If a killer on stage also answers the phone, prepares a meal, or uses a tone that someone in the audience recognizes in themselves, the audience does not get off as easily. They must confront the truth that no matter how evil, the character being portrayed is in fact a human being, like the rest of us. It’s easy to laugh or just cringe at a cartoon villain on the stage. In contrast, But when the villain spend much of his time on stage behaving like your neighbor, or your brother or yourself, the real squirming in the seats starts.

Obviously, there will be a point when the actions of the villain differ from those of us who are not. But the idea of them being motivated by a need to take a certain action is pretty much universal to all of us. When an actor is able to tap into that, and to make the horrific action of an evil character the result of the very sympathetic concept of needing something, and pursuing it in a way that we all pursue our dreams, the real acting begins.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Way Short

I didn't mention this before, because it is not EXACTLY within the boundaries of my being an amateur actor. But since it is now over, and does involve community theatre, I will mention it anyway.

Every summer, the Old Opera House, (which if you have read this blog you know has been so far my "home base" community theatre), holds a contest which they call the New Voice Play Festival. In theory, it exists to give new up and coming playwrights from across the country the chance to have their one act plays performed for the first time.

I entered, and did not win. Not only that, I did not make it into the top 9 plays honored out of about 40 or so. (Not even honorable mention.)

Those that did win, are those that have won in at least one previous year, if not more than that. This, in my opinion, disqualifies the notion of it being a "New" voice play festival, if the same people can enter and win over and over. But in the interest of full exposure, the judging is blind, in that the name of the playwright is not known to the judges at the time of adjudication. Still seems a bit unfortunate that true new voices are not being brought to the stage, but I guess that is they way they have chosen to do it.

I don't know. I thought my play was quite on par with the winners of past years. It is the first and so far only complete stage play I have ever written. I perfected it, and got all of the bugs out in anticipation of it being used by another theatre last year, and due to absurd circumstances, I was kicked out of that festival. It came as no surprise given how horrid the leadership of that theatre, and that workshop in particular was. Yet to have not one but two theatres reject the same work is a bit mind boggling to me.

It may all be a sign that it is time for me to move on from that which I am used to. Get beyond the strict confines of the Opera House, etc, and see what other theatres are out there. I know there are not many, but perhaps I will investigate them in the near future.

As for the play of mine, you can not resubmit a losing piece once it has lost, because the judges would probably remember who wrote it the following year, thus killing the blind part of the judging. So perhaps I will search out another contest to submit it to. I do not know what my plans are for that as of yet.

So, no sour grapes or anything, but I honestly have my questions and disappointments. I will not dwell on the thing, but this being my theatre blog, I did want to share with my loyal readers the most recent theatrical happening I was undergoing.

As for the next acting related thing, the auditions for said winners of the New Voice Play Festival will be taking place in less than two weeks. I must decide if the awkwardness of working directly with the judges, (who usually also end up directing the plays in the festival) is worth it. I have been in the festival for the last three years, and directed last year, but was not asked back as a director this year. So, again, maybe it's time for a break from it.

Any thoughts from any of my loyal blog readers on this would be appreciated as always.