Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Much Delayed

The holidays, dear blog readers, have kept me away from updates, but that will change in the new year. Until then, on this auspicious night, allow me to say, simply...

Merry Christmas, loyal Blog readers!

---from, Ty

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Ghost of Productions Past

Into whose domain the Full Circle's "A Christmas Carol" is now consigned.

The final show on Sunday went well, but I think the night before was probably the best overall.

As is the case with many shows, I think there was a sense of relaxation to the cast, given that is was the last show. This relaxation often leads to a more open performance on stage, which in turn leads to new ideas. Irony of ironies, the final performance of a show often represents the turning of a corner of a show into improved creativity.

If only that sense of openness and relaxation could be captured earlier in a run... This is why I have for a long time advocated a three weekend run for community theatre shows. It has happened on rare occasion, but in general, it is not done. But I maintain it is the best thing to do.

With amazing consistency, the arc of a production I am in is as follows. You get through opening night, iron out the bugs on the second night, and the first matinee is lower energy, but technically a better presentation of the show.

You slack off a bit during the week, but also get to rest. Assuming you had a productive pick up, there is a renewed excitement on the second Friday, and the show goes new places...finally hitting a great stride.

80% of the shows I have been in, the second Saturday is the best performance of the show. A corner is turned and you know you have nailed down much of what had been bothering you.

Then the final matinee comes, and as I described above, the show is flying in many ways it had not been flying before.

And then, you strike the set, and everybody goes home.


With a three weekend show, all of that peaking that starts to happen way too late in the process can be capitalized upon for a third weekend...and instead of having one or two great shows at the end of everything, the average show can have one great weekend, and possibly a half.

Yes, this is a bit of a digression from the actual play I was in recently. And it would not apply to all shows every time, naturally. But as a concept, it really is frustrating to hit that stride on the final day, and it happens so often.

I concur with those who are thinking that enough preparation would make a show sparkle earlier. Legitimate point. But there still seems to be some sort of magic veil in community theatre that requires a show a bit of extra time to reach that zenith. I cannot explain it, I can only recognize it. Make of it what you will.

As for the actual show I was in, as I said, it went well. And some scenes, due to the last day phenomena, went better even than they did the previous night. The now infamous Topper scene, to which I have referring often in this blog, was wild with it's energy. As was the dance during the Fezziwig scene.

As for me personally, I had a bit more difficulty getting into the correct main frame to do the Cratchit mourning scene. I did it, and am satisfied, but it was not my best run of it. I think because that last 30 minutes of the show, where I play about 4 different people, with barely a minute to spare in between them, plus my one and only tech job of the show all running together was a particularly draining prospect on the final day. (Even I fall victim to the temptations, good and bad, of a final performance. I'd be lying if I said I did not. So would any actor.)

Audiences in general seemed to enjoy the show. So I suppose that makes it a success. But it was a very grueling production at times. Building the theatre while we rehearsed tech week. Having no real tech week. Construction people who did not care how loud or disruptive they were of same. Several cast members showing little to no inclination to follow direction of ANY kind, and certainly showing ZERO respect for theatre etiquette. As well as the director not always receiving the respect her position demanded. A conspiracy of such factors tends to weigh on the emotions of even the most seasoned and professional actor. (It did at times, to mine.)

But, the overall success of the end product despite all of that is something that I cannot ignore.

However it managed to happen. And I cannot rule out a Christmas Mini-Miracle.

Next stop for me? Who knows. Full Circle shows are already casted up through May, when they will put on "The Importance of Being Earnest". No idea if I will be involved in that. But, I do not have to decide that now. I have Christmas to tend to.

And so do most of my readers, I dare say. So here's to the end of another production of mine, and here's to all of you. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Since I did not write last night.

As for the show last night, it went well. It was high energy, and I think we were having noticeably more fun. A few line flubs here and there, and a techie snafu in places, but nothing that would have been noticed much by the audience, I do not think.

I was a little off in the first Cratchit Christmas Present. I was not horrible, but I felt half a step removed for some reason. Just for a few moments. I think i dropped a line. Or the person before me did. I honestly do not know for certain what happened. But it was covered well by "Peter", and for that I thank him.

I think I had more energy as well on Friday. I found a place to sit, (an uncommon thing in our tiny, unfinished black-box), and pretty much remained there, in a semi-meditative state for 20 minutes or so. Nothing Zen like or anything. But enough to be mindful of all of the noise and sensations going on around me in great detail, but to not be bothered or affected by any of them.

Those who read this blog know that under normal circumstances in other places, there is where I like to try to get before a show. Not comatose, but highly focused. With Full Circle Theater Company, the only theatre I have worked with for the past year and a half, that has been a bit more difficult. Each show has been in a different venue, and there is not a lot of back stage space in any of them, and there have been no dressing rooms of any kind. So, I find myself moving around more, trying to stay out of the way, and sometimes getting in my OWN way in the process. Friday felt like the more relaxed final 20 minutes before curtain I am used to from other more conventional theaters. But that is harder to find in such a smaller space. I have managed to do it more than I thought I would however. Just that Friday was especially successful for a longer period of time.

During the crying scene of Cratchit in the future, when he breaks down over Tim, I tried the effect of delivering the first of two exclamations of "my poor boy" in a quiet, strangled way, instead of the instant breaking down that I had been using. I think it was more affective, and I decided to keep it for the rest of the run.

Which of course, at that point constituted only 2 more shows. And now, only one, since I have completed the Saturday show, about which I will share details now.

I think, (despite some very obvious tech issues) it was our best overall performance of the show. The energy is most places was high, and as with last night, the fun was more evident amongst most of the cast people. The "Topper" scene, as I call it, was a particularly good example of the manic, high energy fun that can make such a party scene so enjoyable to be in, (and I would hope, to witness.)

My family was in the audience tonight, and they were laughing during the scene. Few others were. And in fact, I have been overall rather disappointed and puzzled as to why my boisterous take on Topper has not amused more people. It saddens me a bit, as I am quite proud of the portrayal. But I had fun tonight, and the scene was the best it has ever been.

There is still the problem of some of the less experienced people decided to add lines, or extra entrances, as well as delaying their exits, in order to stay in the spot light longer than the director intended. This shows little respect for the show, in my view, and something that I have taken note of in certain cases. I am unlikely to ever cast someone who would behave in a similar manner should I direct a show.

That may be harsh, and of course, I do not name names. But those guilty of such things have been instructed literally dozens of times to not do it. This assures me that it is a matter of them choosing to ignore their directions, and not simply a matter of not knowing any better. So I feel my frustration is justified.

As was my slight frustration tonight over a very specific stool that ended up in the wrong place in every single scene. It is really just this tiny box that Tim sits on, but somehow, in more than one scene involving me, and presented itself, like a nemesis, right in the middle of my path. (The only snafu in the great Topper Scene tonight being that I had to come up, in character, with an excuse to move it). Actually, I think "bemused" is a better term than frustrated. It is just such a mystery, though. That piece has never been a problem a single time before tonight.

But such is life, amateur theatre sometimes. You do not always get explanations. Realizing that is difficult, though. I am still working on it.

The best news of all, outside of the good performances, was the fact that we were sold out tonight, and had to literally turn people away at the door. Hopefully they will come tomorrow. But of all the problems this show has had, that is one problem I welcome.

Only one performance left. Amazing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pick It Up

Tonight was the pick-up rehearsal for "A Christmas Carol".

In a way I am glad we had it, because I do think the play needed it, and most plays I am in do not end up having them. On the other hand, many of the things we could have used the most practice on...,that is to say the things that went the roughest in the first weekend, were not run through today after all. This is due to the fact that two actors and the entire tech crew were missing.

So in that sense, it seemed a little bit silly.

But, I did get to go over my lines. As did the people who were present. I also got to review my blocking, as best as I could without the missing actors.

There is something useful, I think, in having to run a scene with one or more people missing. You have to visualize their blocking in your head, so that is mental exercise that is useful.

And as for missing actors lines, someone else, off stage, is reading the, usually nothing like the way the actual actor reads them. This, therefore encourages the actor to pay attention to exactly what is being said, instead of relying simply on the timing, or the cadence of how something is said by a specific individual.

So there was a great deal of that sort of exercising today.

The concept of pranks came up. It is a tradition among many theatres, to fill a pick-up rehearsal with goofiness and pranks. While I believe in having fun, I do not believe in this sort of derailment. It is a waste of time for all involved. A previous show got so out of hand during the pick-up, that the second half of rehearsal was cancelled by the director. And I only ever really did anything in act 2 for that play. So I had driven 45 minutes, and waited all that time to practice my problem spots for nothing. I, therefore am glad that most of us agreed that it would not be a joking pick-up rehearsal.

I still think it could have been taken a tad more seriously overall...but I think most people did focus more by the second act than they did in the first.

I must confess here that second to last line I did goof off with. I told Dickens to "kiss my ass" instead of saying "of course", when my character is asked to do something. But that late in the game, there is little harm. I literally was off stage for the final time within 2 minutes of that. And had it ruined anything major I would not have even done it then.

Overall, there were no major problems tonight, if you ignore the fact that I was one of only two people that made use of props, most set pieces were not places, we had no tech people, and about a third of the cast was missing. A lot to ignore, of course. But, it certainly could have been worse.

The reservation numbers are even better for the second weekend than they were for the first. If you should be in the area, and want to secure a ticket, we are getting down to the wire now.

Go to the Full Circle Theater Company website for details.

Here's to a better second weekend even than the first.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

"What Could I Be Thinking to Forget That?"

Not only is that one of my lines in "A Christmas Carol", it expresses a sentiment of mine over the last few days. I have been so busy and/or tired with the show, that I have forgotten to do some blogging about it.

Which ends now, of course.

To begin with, our final rehearsal. Truly the rehearsal was not horrible, as the director said we gave the impression we were having fun for the first time. So in this, it was a good practice, despite some difficulties.

As for opening night...

There were several technical problems. Lighting, prop placement, set piece placement and the like. One or two minor costume situations. I myself did not feel that I lost my place at any given moment due to these situations, but at times I did notice them. Not to mention the fact that some less fortunate cast mates of mine were more affected by some of the mistakes mentioned above.

The director also had her concerns about it.

But, the crowd was about 30 people out of 80 seats for the first show ever in the venue. And they were responsive for the most part. They laughed, and seemed to enjoy themselves. That was a plus, without a doubt.

So overall, despite the obvious flaws, given how much work we had left to do at the start of this week, I would say we all pulled off quite an upset, as it were.

I myself have no major complaints about my performances. I switched a few words around here and there, I confess, but corrected myself quickly. Though I was responsible for one of the techie issues...I think when I moved Scrooge's tombstone at the end of the Future scene, I brought it in upside down...oops.

As for tonight, I would say it was the best run through of the show we have accomplished thus far, though I was exhausted from the start. I never like to start a show when tired. But I had had a trying commute into the theater involving mountain roads, darkness, and unsalted snow covered roads. Plus a very large amount of traffic due to a local event that I had no clue was taking place tonight.

I had been at the theatre about 15 minutes when I reached breaking point.

The stage manager mentioned to me that a prop would be placed in a different location tonight than it had been the previous night.

Well, the dangerous commute, the fatigue, the previous worries of the show, and other such things conspired to cause me to raise my voice.

Ask any fellow actor I have worked with, and they will tell you that I rarely blow up. I pride myself on not doing so very often. Yet, it happened tonight, and the stage manager was the unfortunate catalyst of this event. Not that I blamed him directly, even as I yelled. But, he was the bearer of bad news, and there you have it.

We are on even terms now though. I got over it. And at least it that it has, it is far less likely to occur again for the rest of the run.

As for the production, as I said, it was the best it has been. And despite my exhaustion, some of my scenes went better than they have ever before. I felt particularly good about the scene where the Cratchits mourn the loss of Tiny Tim. It was extra draining tonight, but worthy it. I hear I almost made some in the audience cry. That means I am doing my job of course.

That ten minutes of the play are my hardest. First, all of act 2 is twice as active for me as act one is. I play four characters in about 20 minutes. This ends with the Cratchit scene I mentioned previously. There is that draining performance, which I must follow up right away with the placement of the tombstone. No real time for me to recover.

On top of that, after I move the tombstone, I must convert directly into the most jovial, carefree character that I play, Topper.

It's quite an emotional, tiring stretch of time for me. But, as I have said from the beginning of this show, I welcome that extra challenge.

Doesn't mean it won't knock me on my ass though...

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Best Policy

Rehearsal with rough tonight. I made mistakes. My co-stars made mistakes. Unknown entities made mistakes.

Nerves were exposed, and patience was in short supply.

On the bright side, I drew a semi-cool abstract picture today at rehearsal. I did it to feel more like my character before I started. (The character is an artist.)

I have zero training in drawing. So it really was literally just a by the seat of my pants thing. A cast mate liked it...said they could tell exactly what it was supposed to be. (The view of the house from the perspective of the stage where I was sitting.)

So that was cool.

And I held a violin for the first time in my life. Hard to believe some people hold anything like that for an hour at a time. One of the most unnatural positions for the human upper body to be in. I now have even more respect for those who play. And my appreciation for the lady who will actually be playing the violin music while I pretend to.

I asked said violinist to help me hold the instrument in the exact right way. I want to at least look authentic. So I will be working on that tomorrow.

It's the little things, sometimes, that help with the big things. Those little authenticites I take pride in.

One more rehearsal. I wish we had at least 5 more.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"Come Together"

The sound technician will often play her play list through the sound system, (a laptop connected to a boom box at this point) in order to test everything. One of the songs the played briefly tonight was the Beatles tune, "Come Together".

A very tiny bit of that started to take place last night, but there was a large price to pay for it.

I did not leave the theatre until midnight. I think that is the latest rehearsal I have attended since college.

Still a lot of problems and annoyances. Namely, the construction crew STILL insists on hammering, nailing, sawing, pounding, etc, while we are trying to rehearse. I await still the first rehearsal in the actual venue which will replicate a performance mode. Hopefully tonight. But that is a big hope to hope for at the moment.

I did get my costume. Or part of it. The overall coat for Stanfield, which will serve as my base costume, as I throw on other pieces that will, on a superficial level consistent with the script, indicate the various other characters Stanfield will be portraying throughout the telling of the tale.

We do not have a costume person per se, so many period pieces were borrowed from other theatres. (I am not certain where they came from.) We all basically stood and tried on things until we found something that fit comfortably. I found two such frocks. Both consistent with the period. One was clean and new looking. The other was tattered in places, and looked like it had been repaired more than once.

I opted for the latter believe it or not.

One main reason is that I felt it went with the idea of Stanfield being an artist. A painter, to be specific. And while I know not if the historical Clarkson Stanfield would approve, or if he ever truly suffered from a lack of wealth, I have opted to play him in this production as a good natured, modest person, so typical of many painters that I myself know. In other words, the tattered overcoat works for two reasons. The first being that Stanfield probably did not get wealthy from his paintings. The second, even if he did make a living wage at it, my version of him simply doesn't concern himself much with the finest of clothing and other such trinkets. He is an artist.

So, I am going with the damaged overcoat. Which will probably have to be repaired a little bit to make it show worthy. It will not require much, I am sure.

So I wore that. And despite some delays during the show, this was the first real chance I had to gauge the time I had to make my costume changes backstage, as I became other characters.

It is tight in a few places.

Mainly, the gloves I wear tend to get tied up with one another when I fold them up. So I have often been fiddling with pulling them apart and getting them right side out before going on stage. I made it, but I want it to be smoother. I might store each glove in a separate pocket of the overcoat to prevent that.

This is also one of the most prop laden plays i have ever been in. Especially considering the rather small size of the cast. Objects are everywhere in our already tiny backstage area. But a system is slowly being initiated.

Now, for the acting. (By now it would be easy to forget that I talk about that on this blog as well.)

There were many confusing moments, in regards to entrances, exists, and set pieces not being where they should be. This I really cannot be surprises about...we are two days from opening and did not run the show on the stage we will be actually using until yesterday. I would have been amazed if there had not been major screw ups and delays.

Overall, I was pleased with my ability to improvise around these obstacles while remaining in character. I know that in the beginning one of the actors has never once delivered a line that belongs to him at a certain moment. Ever. Not one single time ever has it occurred, except for the very first read through when we all had books in our hand. (It managed to not happen the other times we had books in our hands. I have no explanation.)

Last night was no different.

So when the silence came, I tried to deliver a line similar to the one that is perpetually missed. I mangled it a bit, but I think I gave enough of the cue. Problem was, once I delivered it, the appropriate actor suddenly decided to deliver it as well.

So that is what it is like sometimes in the show.

Later, I had to add lines just to kill time as late props arrived, or other such dilemmas. I like to hope it looked natural enough.

I did blow it a few times. I forgot some changes to my blocking that had been made the day before, and reverted back to my old movements in a few scenes.

There was also one mistake by somebody else that through me so, that I had to take the rare step of asking for help in the middle of a tech rehearsal. Normally I never do this, but I had no clue, and given the fact that not everyone else has respected the sanctity of the tech rehearsal this week, I saw no reason for me not to make my exception.

I do not think it will happen again. Not that there is much time for it to do so.

On the positive side of things, I believe several scenes went very well. In the very least, they felt good to me. Many of the high energy scenes seemed to propel themselves, and create some sparks of improvisation and nuance. It is widely known here on the blog I love that experience. I would say the scenes in which this happened the most last night were the "happy" Cratchit scene, and the party at Scrooge's nephews house. We went off the track in one or two minor ways but recovered quickly, and nobody in the world would have ever noticed, without a script to follow word for word.

So, is this becoming a perfect show in the final few days? I do not wish to go that far. Not now anyway. But there did seem to be a greater sense of responsibility and attention permeating throughout most of the cast members last night. (Though not all.) That increased desire; that tangible higher dedication to purpose did at least make the experience of being there until midnight more tolerable.

I certainly hope it continues to increase tonight, and for the rest of the run. If it does, things will improve.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Cue-to-Cue rehearsal for techies. Without proper lights. After rebuilding the set again..while we rehearsed. And we did not get through the first act.

It really was too chaotic for me to have much of a focused thought to provide you, loyal blog readers. Hopefully the final three rehearsals will go smoothly, and help me be less taciturn afterward.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Chaos Out of Order

This was a very rough and frustrating evening of theatre rehearsal.

We were in fact back in the performance space, but those doing construction, contrary to the director's wishes, were totally unconcerned with the fact that there was a rehearsal going on. So, there was extra noise to contend with.

Also, though the set is built, it had to be partially torn down, re-built, torn down, and rebuilt again, and again several times as the concept changed right before our eyes.

Which entailed pushing and pulling some extraordinarily heavy walls and other pieces of the building that we had yet to tear down, or are trying to incorporate into the set.

Huge amounts of junk to be moved, and stashed in random corners in the building, so that we can trip over them when we are off stage, as opposed to on stage.

Then there was the concept of the platforms we needed for this set. It would appear that the person in charge of delivering them has been late on two different occassions, leaving us a bit high and dry. Today, just as we were finally settling in to begin rehearsal, 45 minutes late or so, the platforms show up...and everything had to be re-arranged, town down, etc, in order to make room for the platforms.

One of which was, after all of that, the wrong size.

Then there was the matter of the lighting person not having shown up to install the light board. There were therefore no lights with which to work on stage on this, the first day of tech week.

Not to mention the same member of the cast that I have talked about before...who has been to no more than half of the rehearsals, and who once missed a whole week, and promised he would not miss another...missed rehearsal tonight. I hate to be picky, but it is hard to respect anyone who can show so little respect for the play he chose to try out for himself.

I have not yet tried on any costumes for my base character.

Not everyone is off book.

And we go on in four days.

I am doing my best to go deep within myself, and find all that needs to be found to turn in a great performance. I usually have to deal with some kind of adversity when I am in a show, and I always find it within me to make the character mine, and to give life to what I am doing, regardless of what is going on around me. I hope to do so this time, and I feel it can happen, but I confess that it has never been this difficult. I feel somewhat disappointed in myself that I have not been able to do everything I need to do with ease. I suppose everyone has a point beyond which the distractions and adversities outweigh one's strength and dedication to purpose. Perhaps this is my point.

Trying to look on a more positive side, I think I was doing some good things in the Cratchit scenes. It seems that obstacles on stage, physical and symbollic, often bring about greater creativity and depth of character. You have to be extra careful in such circumstances if you want to keep up the pace. So the dodges and curves you go through can take you to some interesting places if you do not give up. I have not given up.

I did find a hat to wear for the Undertaker. It actually fits my oddly shaped head. Not many hats in the history of theatre have done so.

I also wore a cloak type of thing for my time as The Ghost of Christmas Past. Feels good. Simple garment. Suits the character.

Sadly, I did drop a line during that scene. But not because of the cloak.

Outside of the Crachit scene, I felt a bit flat in what I was giving. I need to watch that.

In theory, full tech capabilities should be attains by Tuesday. Which will give us three days to run the show as performed.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Weekend Recap

Rehearsal the last two nights has been, for various reason, quite sporadic.

People's schedules required changed of times, which in turn conflicted with other people's schedules. As a result, on Saturday we really only worked on a few problems spots.

We also worked on the song for the play. There is only one that is sun throughout, and woven into the fabric of the play. "The Christmas Child" it is called. I had never heard of it, and to be frank about it, I am not too impressed with it. It sounds like a song someone threw together in a hurry. At least the lyrics do.

That often seems the case when a single Christmas song is produced, mainly, for the benefit of a single production.

Nothing to worry about though. After a few days of hearing it by ear, I will be able to sing it, since reading music is not something I do.

As for today, it was a bit chaotic. The theatre had someone come in to do head shots of all the actors. (While I am the official photographer of the company, head shots are a whole other thing, and as of now, do not really have the equipment to do them. I think in the future I shall.

Then, to the total surprise of everyone assembled, including the director, the local paper showed up to take pictures.

This meant, of course that most of us had no costumes to wear for pictures, and the paper prefers to only shoot people in costume.

If it sounds like they didn't exactly get together on this one to help us out, you would be correct.

But we threw together some stop gap costumes for a few shots that hopefully will appear in print. We will know in a few weeks.

This took an hour and a half or so. After that, we really only ran portions of two scenes, since there was still someone missing.

Plus the heat was broken, and the bathrooms were locked.

Not one of the most comfortable rehearsals for a show I have been through. I always try to make the best out of any conditions, since I am dedicated to being an actor of merit. But nights like tonight really push my boundary, I have to admit.

It will all be much better when we finally take over our own space. (Which, if all things go well, is supposed to be a week before opening night...)

I am off book except for a few lines that still fight me here and there. My task it to iron them out, and then to come up with some more nuance for the characters I play.

Rehearsal again on Tuesday.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The ACTUAL First Full Run Though

Not almost. We did the whole thing today. Furthermore, I was 95% off book. I called for line I think twice, and muddled through one or to. And as silly as it was, I needed my book for the literal final page of the script in which I appear...obviously that will not take much to memorize.

But a good night for certain. It would have felt even better if the whole cast had been there.

Sadly, one of the main characters was absent today. And in fact has been absent for a great deal of the rehearsals so far, specifically in the last two weeks. This really isn't the sort of thing you want to see when you are less than a month away from your opening night.

That notwithstanding, scenes without the missing actor went well all and all. Progress is being made on every front. Most of my fellow cast members are also off book, or very near it. Props have been added to the mix. Technical difficulties are slowly being widdled away.

All we need now, (aside from the entire cast to be at a rehearsal, which I am not sure had happened yet since the read through), is for the new building to be ready for a performance. All indications are that it will be.

I am finding that of all the things I do in the show, the build up to the "Death of Tiny Tim" scene causes me the most apprehension. Not because it goes poorly. But because it is so intense, and so short. It is of course quite necessary, and I am committed to excellence for it as much as any other scene I am in, or any other play. But right now it still feels like I am waiting in line to get a vaccination; it is a greater good, but still hurts like hell for a split second. I am hoping that the intensity will remain even as the apprehension fades.

Also, one minor thing. Despite Topper's pipe being a hit with me and with others, the director noted that men would probably not have smoked in front of woman back then. And it is a point well taken. He probably would not have. The question that must be answered now is whether it would be better to ignore this convention, to have Topper simply keep it in his mouth without giving any indication of him smoking it, (which I do not actually do anyway), or to get rid of it completely. The jury is out, but you will hear it's verdict here first of course.

My next assignment for myself is to look more into the real Clarkson Stanfield. This is not a historical piece, but if I can find any quirks or characteristics of the man that I can make use of in my portrayal of him, all the better.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

First "Full" Run-Through

We skipped the last scene or two because we were running late. But we got all of the major parts in.

I can say that I am off book for half of act 2 now. By the weekend it will be a done deal, and I will be off book, basically, for the entire show. Not bad. Could have been better.

I can say that most of my cast mates are also mostly off book. And despite a few confusing spots here and there in regards to blocking and the calling of lines, tonight was the smoothest the show has ever gone, I dare say. It can only get better form here.

Yes, the freedom of having books (usually) out of the hands. The emergence of nuance and the sudden ability to dedicate time and energies into details.

Details such as line readings, facial expressions, and, in the case of tonight, props.

Several props, (many provided by a local antique shop) were available for use today.

For Bob Cratchit I had what I call "fingerless gloves". And for Topper, the pipe.

I am glad the director let me go with that choice. It seems to suit him quite well, as I am playing the man, (Peter O'Toole and James Bond). That scene, in fact as I whole was quite fun to do this evening. (The party at Fred's in Christmas Present.)

My own personal energy was up, as it always is at this stage of development of a show. (Losing the book.) Already , as though a veil were lifted, new, deeper dimensions are emerging for each of my characters.

In other words, the truly fun part.

IN fact, I got what I consider very high praise for my version of the Undertaker today. The director said, something along the lines of, "it was like watching an actor I had never seen before". I assume that means I did not seem like myself, so removed from my own mannerisms did I get in the short but memorable scene. This is the highest of compliments. Oliver himself often said he took pleasure in being on stage for 5 or ten minutes before anyone recognized it was him. Now of course, everyone knew, and will know it's me up there, but the fact that I took on a persona that appeared to transform me into someone else means I am doing things right.

At least in that scene.

We shall run the whole show now, and each of the rehearsals. I think that we really have benefited from moving rehearsals to the chapel, as I mentioned. That consistent workspace, despite it's limitations, has done us good. I think I will look back on today as the day when everything started to fall together for the show.

I am getting more excited now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Official Info

This post is here to provide loyal blog readers who may want to see the show I am currently in with the official information.

The Full Circle Theater Company, (out of Shepherdstown, West Virginia) present, the Michael Paller adaptation of the Charles Dickens immortal classic, "A Christmas Carol".

This unique version will play at the Full Circle Theater, on South Princess Street in Shepherdstown, West Virginia at the following times.

Friday, December 5th at 8:00PM.
Saturday, December 6th at 8:00PM.

Friday, December 12th at 8:00PM
Saturday, December 13th at 8:00PM
Sunday, December 14th at 2:30PM

This is a very intimate, almost black box venue, and so there is limited seating. (About 75 seats per show.) Order ahead, if you can.

More information can be found at the official website of the Full Circle Theater Company, to the left. Or simply click on the link within this post.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Homing Signal Aquired

Alright, so I am not certain that is actually a term. But I do know that the spirit behind it applied to today's rehearsal.

In other words, for the first time, I felt that much longed for synergy within a cast putting on a play. It is early yet, and the production has a long way to go. Yet between more and more scenes taking place off book, and a consistently spacious rehearsal space, (see previous post), that first sense of connectivity between the script and the individual performances of the actors was present for me today.

That intangible extra that I have oft written of here on the blog, (both in the practice and in the breach.) When you start to feel that things are at last unifying.

I have to say this was one of the more subtle dawnings of the aforementioned phenomena that I have experienced in my theatre career. Perhaps because I was not expecting today's rehearsal to be much different than the last few. I am not off book for act 2, and neither are most of the other actors. Not to mention the overall uncertainty about our new theatre space.

So suffice to say, it was good news, and a good feeling this afternoon.

I don't want to over analyze why it began to day, in fear of jinxing it. But suffice to say that what I have mentioned probably had something to do with it.

It turns out I am further off book for act 2 than I thought. I initially felt I was falling quite behind. But after running a few speeches by myself before we got started today, I found that a good portion of my act 2 lines are actually in my head already, somewhere. Knowing that many of them come from the source material helps of course, (I have read that many many times.) But the rhythm of the lines is starting to sink in. I now feel more confident than I did previously about my ability to be off book by mid next week.

From a more technical standpoint, two things that remained to be blocked, or in this case, choreographed, were taken care of today. At least the initial sketching of same.

The first was a game of blind man's buff which take place at Fred's house during the Christmas Present scenes. As Topper, I am to be blindfolded, spun about, and led to "tag" the object of Topper's affections...Mrs. Fred's sister. (as she is called in the script.) A lot of running around and frantic raucous fun has to be present in the scene, and so who runs where, and how I stumbled about the room had to be worked out rather carefully.

I will not actually be blind...I will be able to see through the blindfold. Yet there is still much movement that needs to take place in a small space, and the scene requires more work.

The other scene to be choreographed today was the group dance engaged in by the guests at the Fezziwig party during Christmas Past. Given that I play the Ghost of Christmas Past, I, thank all that is holy, do not have to dance in the scene. Which is just as well. If any of you have followed this blog from the beginning, you know I can't learn dances to save my life.

After rehearsal, the director told me she was quite pleased with the qualities I am giving Bob Cratchit. Her highest compliment was that I was "making him human" in unique ways. This in fact has been one of my goals, not just with Cratchit, but with all of these characters. They are such a part of our collective subconscious that the temptation to phone them in is high. I am determined not to do so, and to hear the director say that I am making Cratchit both unique, and real, is quite satisfying.

Something else that is satisfying is the progress of the new theatre. Today was a major work day which started early in the morning. (I did not attend this particular day, given that getting up early enough to do so would have proven difficult for me this morning. Plus, I put in several hours the previous day.) I was not in the theatre today, but I was told that the last of the major extraneous walls finally came down today, and that, in the words of one of the Company's founders, "The place is starting to actually look like a performance space."

Again, a long way to go before we can call it ready, and little time in which to make it so. But I feel that having the building start to look like a theatre will lift everyone's spirits, and excite them to work extra hard to complete the remaining construction work. I personally can hardly wait to experience rehearsing in the building as was originally intended.

And then of course there is the set itself to build. But first things first.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Most Recent Part Two

Today was quite a long day at the theatre.

To begin with, I am proud to declare myself off book for act one. I was close before, and of course could still flub a line or two here and there between now and the opening of the show. (Hopefully not afterwords!) But today marked the second time I ran through act one without major problems. When that happens, I usually declare victory in the off book battle. Now that just leaves the process of getting there with act two, which I have only a few days to do....

Rehearsal was still rife with stops and starts today. We are all trying to get used to the "new" rehearsal space, and to remember what piece of random chapel furniture represents what eventual set piece. So once again there was halting progress today.

Yet it was progress nonetheless. I can now, in the time I have left, begin playing with the nuances of the scenes and the characters. Which I love to do.

One thing I am attempting to do in various ways is to have my base character, (Stanfield) foreshadow all of the roles he will play later on. I am trying to do this but given him certain stances, or gesticulations, or facial expressions in the first scene which will be utilized heavily by his characters later on. Some might notice. Most shall probably not notice. But those extra touches are what make the process so rewarding for me.

It requires more thought and work. But I shall loyally report to you as the weeks tick by, the details of progress, as always.

The director wants the play to be light, and even bordering on silly for the first few scenes or two. The Dickens party, and the first few scenes wherein that group begins to tell the tale. A notion of the characters settling in to telling this story at this party. But by the time the story shifts to Christmas Past, (enter yours truly), a dark atmosphere is the general goal. Being unchangeable it could be argued, as we did today, that they past is in fact in some ways more depressing and dark than is the future. So I shall play the Ghost with that in mind.

After rehearsal, the real fun began. Those of us who could stay, (sadly, not many), travelled the three blocks down to the new theatre, to begin construction work.

My main goal was to be able to help tear down some remaining walls. But it was not to be, as they were not ready to come down today. So I found myself using table saws and electric drill/screwdrivers for the first time (consistently) since my college theatre days. Back when every actor was essentially pulling double duty as a tech crew and a set builder.

I was uncertain about power tools in college most of the time until near the end of a project, when momentum sort of pushed me into being more tolerant of them. And after about a half an hour of drilling and lumber selection and measuring, (under very precise directions from someone who knew what i was supposed to do), it begun to come back to me. I was drilling and sawing up to my optimum proficiency, (about that of an average 13 year old girl) in no time.

By the end of this ordeal, (carrying in the back of my mind strong memories of doing this sort of stuff for which I had a lukewarm view), I had helped construct two monstrous risers on which to mount the seats of the house when all is said and done.

Sawdust and shrill noises, and having no clue what to do unless somebody tells me. I half expected my theatre professor to round a corner and ask me if I needed something to do...

Sunrise, sunset.

Tomorrow is another work/rehearsal day. This time construction in the morning. Don't think I will make it very early this time. So maybe the one wall will be gone by the time I arrive.

If not, I have a hammer in my bag.

Most Recent Part One

Breaking this update into two parts, as there are two rehearsals to cover. First, this past Thursday.

An executive decision was made to move all remaining rehearsals until tech week, into the nearby chapel a few blocks away from the Full Circle building. Those loyal blog readers among you will recall that this is where most of my rehearsals for The Lion in Winter took place back in the early part of this year. It is also the same place where the performances for All in the Timing

This change was made so as to allow the contractors to get more work done in the new space, without disturbing the actors as we were trying to practice the play. And though I would personally prefer to be on a brand new stage earlier than a week before opening, (as would most of us), I think this was a wise decision on the part of our director. It will give us a space that has consistent dimensions, with more quiet, and much more space than we had amidst the construction left overs at the new place.

And so the chapel it is.

That being said...Thursday...

It was a piecemeal rehearsal for me. I am a bit behind my time in getting off book for the second act, which is what we ran then. So there is still a book in my hand, (and in most people's), plus much confusion remains as to where on the stage certain props and set pieces will be found in the final show. So it was stop and start for all of us.

The main challenge that hit home for me on that day was how little time I will have to go from the extreme darkness of the "Future Cratchits", upon losing Tiny Tim, to the brief but exuberant persona of Topper at Fred's house, in the "real" timeline. It represents quite a roller coaster.

This is of course my job, and I will do what I have to do to make the leap. But just because it is my job does not mean it is easy to do. Hitting a tiny sphere moving at 90 miles an hour with a large piece of wood is the job of a baseball player, but it's considered one of the most difficult things to do in all of sports. And while I would not say this leap from portraying despair, to portraying glee (in a few short minutes) is the most difficult thing possible for the actor, it has its complexities.

For one, I think, in the intimate theatre, that if my eyes tear up in the Cratchit scene, of even get a little red simply our of physiological reflex, they are not likely to clear up by the time I have to rush back out on stage as Topper. It would be clear to anyone, I would imagine, why that would be so if they noticed Topper's eyes at that point. (Plus a "normal" Cratchit only a few minutes after THAT.) Still, I do not want to be too worn down by the leap.

In the end, however, I would rather have Bob Cratchit's breakdown scene look sincere, even if it affects the remainder of the play somewhat, than to tone down or hold back in the mourning scene. I have sometime to achieve that balance, however.

Just another one of the unique challenges to this adaptation.

I would say this is the main thoughts that i took with me after Thursday's rehearsal. Beyond that it was a rather nondescript rehearsal, albeit it one that required some time to get off the ground.

For my thoughts on today's practice, check out the sequel to this entry, above.
took place during Full Circle's debut just over one year ago. So we are quite familiar with the venue.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Halfway There

We ran Act One last night. With only a tiny handful of times when I had to call for a line, I feel confident in projecting that I am off book for the first half of the show.

The bad news is that I am not yet off for the second half, and I have about a week to do it.

It can be done, but for some reason, the first half has gone easier in regards to memorizing than has the second half. I am usually not this far behind. But, as any of you who might have listened to my radio show last night are aware, I have had all kinds of things that have kept me behind on assignments these last two weeks.

Yet, I was one of the first off book for Act One, so I imagine that I will be alright with Act Two. Maybe not totally off book in one week's time, but well on my way.

Nanowrimo is kicking my backside a little more this year than last between catching up with that and studying lines for act 2, I probably will not be doing much else when I am free for the next week or so.

Originally, we were to run the whole show last night. But Act One took longer than expected, due to several considerations.

Firstly, a lot of the blocking was lost because mistakenly we blocked the first several scenes backwards at first. When we were unsure of the nature of the stage. Now that we know how it is being built, we realized all crosses and entrance/exits had to take place on the opposite sides of the stage than were at first set down.

In addition to that, one of the cast members, who has missed every single night that we have gone over these first few scenes, was once again unable to attend rehearsal. So the stage manager had to stand in for him, and that was a halting experience at best, which took more time.

Plus, some light construction work was going on at the same time in the building.

All conspired to slow progress a bit.

I can however report that being without a book in my hands produced the usual effect of liberation and increased creativity with the characters I am playing. Squelched a bit by all of the hindrances mentioned above, but nonetheless a breath of fresh air, as it always is to get to that milestone in a production.

The director did as me, and the actress playing Mrs. Cratchit to not speak in Cockney. I in fact, to be fair, had not been full out Cockney. More like "mockney" as they call it. I have done full throttle Cockney before. In fact, the last time I was in a Christmas Carol, four years ago. But that sort of speech never quite felt write with the words Cratchit was speaking. Particularly the scene in "The Future", after Tiny Tim has died. The vocabulary of those sentiments was never truly Cockney to begin with. So I had watered it down a bit.

So despite the Cratchits being working-class folk, I am not at all bothered about being asked to get rid of the Cockney in favor of a different sort of British accent. The challenge now will be to come up with a voice that is appropriate, and yet distinct from the other 5 that I employ throughout the play. I have already been toying with a few ideas. I will try them tonight when we rehearse again.

Another plus about last night was that the trash from the last demolition had finally been hauled out, giving us a bit more room. We still have not been able to rehearse with the same amount of space in which we will perform, but it was somewhat less cramped.

A table we had planned to used however must be scrapped, as it takes up far too much of the stage.

I look forward to the weekend, when it is planned, the last of the extraneous walls will be demolished, given us all the room we need.

I am not sure what we do tonight. All I know is, I should get to studying lines after I do some of my writing work for today.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Topp"ing off the Weekend.

Sunday night, weekly post. Deferring, as usual when I am in a play, to covering the rehearsal process.

Which continued this weekend despite some snags. Our work space seems to shrink each day, due to construction equipment, and leftover demolition detritus. But we muddle through somehow, and we get the job done. (The first chair-filled risers are in place and ready to go. Starting to take shape, despite a long way to go in a short time.)

We are still working on blocking. I think today we blocked the last of the scenes that remained to be blocked. Meaning that now we will be running the scenes more or less from start to finish, barring major changes which always happen to a show's blocking as time goes on.

Nevertheless, progress will begin to speedup from here on out each rehearsal night.

We worked on blocking various scenes in the last two days. But the one that has got me thinking most is that scene during Christmas Present, at Fred's house. The party scene where they talk about Scrooge. One "Topper" is present. In this production he is played by yours truly.

Topper is in the novel, and though he does in fact appear in some movie versions by name, as often as not he is skipped, or blends into the scene without much comment. Even in versions where he has a few lines, I find that he is often a through away character. I was determined not to let that happen to my version of him.

From the first moment I read the part during the read-through a few weeks ago, I gave Topper a sort of arrogant, rambling delivery...a mix of Peter O'Toole and James Bond I think. I do not agree with my cast mates who have declared him a total sleaze. That is not how I am playing him, nor is that how I wish him to come off. But I do wish him to be an assertive, laid back sort of personality. Like the type one might find in a lounge.Or perhaps what an early movie star would be like, had movies existed in 1843.

Nonetheless he must put the move son Fred's sister-in-law, and I wanted his interest to be obvious, but not creepy. Given that some of my cast mates have commented on him being a sleaze, I may have to alter my presentation somewhat. I will see how things progress without books in hands.

One thing is clear, however...I am not throwing away old Topper. In fact, I asked the director if he could have a pipe.

In an ensemble piece like this, it's vital that each character an actor plays have some sort of prop or costume piece. As I ran the Topper scene, a pipe just seemed to naturally present itself as his hand prop.

As for the other characters...more thought is required. At least one of them could wear glasses. That seems like a very easy thing to take on and off.

Speaking of costumes, we were measured today. A small and uninteresting, but nonetheless true fact.

As for lines, I am off book for the most part, for act one. Act Two is going to take some work over the next week. But better half done than none at all. Next time we run act one scenes, I should be set, with someone on book. One rehearsal after that I don;t think I will even require that much.

One final bit of trivia. Today I engaged in the coldest read in my life.

They were conducting auditions for the spring play in the building today. I literally had not yet said hello to anyone, or put down my bag, when the director handed me a script and asked me to help out by reading one of the parts. Which I did.

I knew basically nothing about this play, other than the fact they were going to produce it next year. Seemed interesting, to say the least.

I lept in head first, knowing nothing, and read the part of "Heisenberg" (The guy who came up with the Uncertainty Principle. How is that for irony???) The play is "Copenhagen".

To be honest, given the instantaneous nature of the request, and the small amount of info I had, I think I read pretty damn well.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

It Ain't All Candy Canes

If you know the story of "A Christmas Carol", (and I am willing to assume that you do), you know that despite over a century and a half of re-tellings, newer versions, adaptations, movies, stage renditions, and overall sublimation into the consciousness of holiday season jollity, the story is, in the end, rife with both political and tragic, sometimes scary moments.

Given that I am portraying, among other things, Bob Cratchit in this version, one of those moments is the portrayal of a poverty stricken father who has losses his chronically ill youngest child.

It is not a light moment, by any means, and I do not for a moment take it lightly. Respect for the story, and for theatre itself would not allow me to do so. Because of that commitment, I think perhaps the scene from Christmas Future, wherein Cratchit mourns said loss, might be one of my more difficult moments to perfect.

Last night we went over the blocking for it, and I had not performed the scene since the initial read through a few weeks ago. Because I do not believe in holding one's intensity in reserve until later rehearsals, I did my best to go all out for it. I think it is effective, but has a ways to go.

I do feel that intensity when I do the scene. The key to it, as is the key to so many scenes wherein someone breaks down, is to strive to invoke a man who wants to maintain composure, as opposed to invoking the break down itself. Doing the latter, i feel, tends to lead to less realistic moments.

Not to mention the fact that I see Cratchit as the ultimate, humble servant of God and Christ. Accepting what the Lord has given him, not questioning how little he has. Being a symbol and source of joy, even despite his poverty. In the very depths of his want, h is able to raise a glass to his horrible employer, Scrooge, and even encouraging his family to find pity for the man.

By the time we see him mourning his son, (albeit it in an unreal, shadow future), I see him as finally getting to the point where, at least for the moment, he has no reserve with which o handle the situation. The loss of Tim is a final rock bottom moment for a man who has essentially refused to accept rock bottom moments.

Whether or not Cratchit eventually heals and returns to his happier ways is beyond the scope of our telling of the story. The vision ends at the break down moment. Yet for my part, I feel he probably does recover eventually, even from this. That is the nature of what Bob Cratchit is. So there is hope, if that matters, from this actor's perspective on the character. The main purpose, however, is to invoke that lowest moment in the man's history. Even if that history does not truly exist once Scrooge changes the future.

Some people feel the most vulnerable during sexual scenes. Some feel so when they are singing. I feel at the moment, among my most vulnerable in portraying such a horrible moment in this good man's life. My challenge will be not so much to give a good performance in that moment, (though I intend to of course), but to play through that feeling of vulnerability while I perform it. When I achieve that higher level of comfort, and feel a bit less vulnerable, the performance will follow.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Big Old Saturday

Quite a long day at the theatre on Saturday.

As for actual rehearsing, it went well enough. I went through the blocking for my scenes as the Ghost of Christmas Past. The director suggested, and I concurred, that the character be a very gentle, nearly effeminate entity. A stark contrast to the bombast of Christmas Present, or the foreboding mystique of Christmas Yet to Come.

To that end, I am working on an accent that is gentle, but with the appropriate authority. Plus an accent of course. I think I have nearly perfected it. I have used the idea of an elderly British school teacher as a base, and have been working from there. It seems to fit in well. I am comfortable with it.

I will have to learn to pretend to play a violin, while an actual musician plays one from somewhere. What would that be called, violin-syncing?

I am also about 85% off book for act one. A good solid place to be.

The next four hours or so after the rather average rehearsal, was spent demolishing. Literally. Those who could spare the time tour down walls and old lights, and such, to begin the process of converting the venue into a theatre. Quite a bit of exhausting work, no doubt. Though it all happened faster than I thought it would...two whole pillars were stripped of drywall and wood paneling, some overhang walls totally demolished, and ceiling tiles and lights all gone...within as I said four hours or so. At that rate, if we have a few more work days, the space could be totally ready. This excites me. I have never been part of actually building a theatre before. As in literally helping to build it.

The place gets a lot of foot traffic, and more than a few people peeked their heads in to ask us what we were up to. That is good word of mouth for you.

Next rehearsal is on Wednesday evening. Post election. Whatever shall the mood be like then?

More of Me to Go Around

I shall have two Sunday entries this week, neither of which is opinion or advice, given the large amount of news to cover.

I will go into detail about Saturday's rehearsal in the next entry. But for now, I would like to announce a partnership of sorts, between yours truly, and the proprietors of the website

If you go there, you will see that the website is dedicated to reviews, thoughts and news concerning theatre happenings in the Washington D.C. area. Starting this coming Wednesday, I will have a column appearing on this site, bi-monthly. The first and third Wednesdays of every month to be precise. I shall be discussing much of the same material that I have always discussed here on the blog. Namely, theatrical pursuits from the community actor's perspective.

Content for these columns will be exclusive to So essentially, I shall continue to write my weekly advice and opinion column here on Always Off Book, but you can read further perspectives of mine on similar issues on said alternate location.

Do stop in and read my columns there, as much as you do here. And read the other fine things the site has to offer as well.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Piggy Backs and Pictures

Earlier this evening was a rehearsal for "A Christmas Carol". We had planned to do all of act one, but we only got halfway through it. Yet that doesn't bother me, given how much we accomplished tonight.

Keep in mind that we are now rehearsing in what will be the house of a theatre we have not yet built. So in reality it is not yet even the house. It is the lobby of a former art gallery that over the coming weeks we hope to convert into a performance space. Given those limitations, going through blocking can be a stop and go process. But most theatres I have worked in require at least half of the rehearsals to take place in an area other than the stage, so I didn't have too much of a problem. As long as I know where the audience is supposed to be, I can rehearse in just about any space.

That being said, we were one man down tonight, which means things went a little bit slower still. However, i was more prepared than I might have been. I spent most of the free time I had in the last two days trying to get off book for at least the first scene, (wherein the dinner guests and Dickens explore the notion of presenting the story.) While I did have to refer to my book a few times, I found that I had it nearly cold in most sections.

I was semi-forced to get even further off book due to the nature of the blocking, which did not allow me to easily carry a script around with me. The first of these moment involved me entering while carrying a 13 year old girl on my back. I don't do this often, but the script called for her to be on my shoulder. If I had done that, her face would have been up in the lighting somewhere. So we went with the piggybacking.

The other moment involved a sequence wherein my character is mocked, has his eyes covered, is spun about to confuse him, before recovering and jumping onto an up stage platform...all with a violin and bow in his hand.

We had no instrument tonight, but all of the blocking I just described would have been dead on arrival if I had had to look at the book for every line. So I made double sure that my speech for that section was in my head. I anticipated yesterday that i would probably not be able to make much use of the book for this part, so I went over the speech a few extra times. I am glad I did.

Yet still I had to approximate the lines once or twice. I think you simply have to do that once in a while in a rehearsal. Normally you should try to say things exactly as you would in a performance. Yet, if the time comes to rehearse specific blocking which precludes holding a book, I advocate saying the gist of the lines until you are off book, so as not to slow up the blocking rehearsal. Memorization can be worked on when one is alone. Blocking requires everyone's time. Learn how to move, and then later what to say. You can always polish up what you say, when you say it. But unclear blocking often sticks out like a sore thumb.

I also came up with some good business to do when I am Bob Cratchit sitting in the tank. I think I will do some basic algebra. He was after all a clerk, and would be working with a lot of numbers for Scrooge. And for someone like me who is deplorable at math, doing intermediate algebra might be just the think to give Cratchit the look of tedious number crunching. Just a little trick I came up with.

Being the official photographer of the Full Circle Theatre Company, I also took quite a few pictures of rehearsal tonight. Of course, none of the scenes I was in. I may try to take a few pictures while my character is in a few background scenes once I am off book, I will have to think about it. But for now, it wasn't going to work.

One thing taking pictures of a show does is give you a good sense of stage composition. What is a show if not, among other things, a moving picture of sorts? I have the basics of stage placement of course, having studied it in school, but usually I do what the director says will look good. When I take pictures, I can see what works and what does not work with all the more clarity.

Saturday morning is the next rehearsal, and afterwards we are tearing down walls to begin the construction process. I have to work that evening, of course, so I will be unable to stay long, but I do want to stay long enough to help out. I truly want the place to be ready in time, at least in a rudimentary sense, because I do not really want to go back to the previous space the company used. So, I will see if I can find a sledge hammer, and do what I can do for the good of the cause.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I Don't Have a Light

Much to my chagrin, (and to the chagrin of many other actors, with good reason), some playwrights insist on making the smoking of a cigarette integral to plot of a piece, of at least of a specific scene.

I am not a smoker, and if Broadway called and offered me a role tonight, with my name on the marquee, if only I would agree to smoke for the role, I would turn it down. And I mean it.

This of course is not an anti-smoking public service announcement. (Though, as a point of personal privilege, I will say anyone who becomes a smoker has quite a bit less intelligence than most people.) What this site is about, is acting, and the question of the actor smoking on stage is not as uncommon as you might think, when you have been in as many shows as I have.

To begin with, I know of people who have gotten roles based almost solely on their willingness to smoke a cigarette. This to me is not only unfair, but sending quite the wrong message...that trickery and props are going to be more important in a show, than the story and the performances.

As much as we actors like to make it as real as possible, being on stage is a process of illusion and creation. Our lives are not really in danger. In most cases, the people kissing on stage are not actually in love, and not many people rub elbows with royalty. I therefore must conclude that a sudden need to be 100% true to life when it comes to tobacco products is not only lazy, and uncreative, but morally questionable to an extent.

Someone who has never smoked should NEVER be asked to do so in a show. To potential risk of addiction is not worth any part, and any director unaware of this is someone I would not trust to direct me to the men's room in the lobby, let alone on stage. The same goes for a director who would choose someone based on the fact they already had an addiction.

If no other advice I have ever give on this blog up until this point has ever been followed by actors, I hope this piece will be. Do not, under any circumstances, take a smoking role if you are required to smoke for real.

Know your script. Find out if any characters you may be cast as are smokers. If so, ask the director at the audition right away if you would be called upon to really smoke. If you would be permitted to simply appear to smoke, without actually lighting the cigar or cigarette, proceed. If the director is adamant that it be real, so no thanks to that particular role.

I would also caution against herbal cigarettes. There is a common misconception that these herbal smokes are safe. They merely lack nicotine and tobacco, and hence have no potential for addiction. But inhaling any kind of smoke is a health risk. Beware of directors that are willing to make this substitution.

I was in Anything Goes a few years ago, and my character usually had a cigarette in his mouth or his hand. I never lit it. Nobody complained, that I know of. Your "smoking roles" will survive, as mine did, simply by going through the motions of lighting a cigarette, and puffing, etc. All the goodies that go along with it.

"There will not be any smoke to be seen," many will argue. My counter, as it is for many things, is that if your audience is paying close attention to how much, if any smoke is rolling out of a prop cigarette, your production is in a lot of trouble.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Reading

So, My Sunday/Monday evening weekly column is taking a Monday turn this week. In fact, given that I performed on Sunday, this week will be a recap as opposed to a column.

Let me say that the reading for Dinner with Friends went quite well. Very intimate setting, (it is a small theatre, maybe 75 seats total, not sure.) I think we had about 30 people there, and they were all very warm and responsive to our reading.

So warm in fact, that as I read, I found the play to be a bit lighter than I originally thought. At least the way we did it. I still would not classify it as a comedy per se, but compared to how heavy and depressing I found the piece to be after my initial readings, the presentation was far more comical than I expected it to be. (If the laughter of the audience was any indication.)

I have done readings before. But none with such a small time commitment. So I got there early yesterday, (before our practice run through) just to get a feel for the space.

It was nice to experience all of the ambiance of the theatrical experience in such a short amount of time; meeting the cast, having the initial read through, working through some blocking, hanging out in the blue lights back stage, and smelling the aroma of saw dust, paint, and other such things.

It was a bit surreal in some ways. There were moments when it felt like I had been in the show for several weeks, as opposed to 24 hours. Probably because all of the sensory stimuli I previously mentioned usually don't conspire into a pre-curtain atmosphere until near the end of a rehearsal process.

And then there is the performance itself. The speed with which one has to get comfortable with a script, to find small nuances, to come up with facial expressions and line readings, and characterizations. Though our production was very minimalist, there was still some blocking to go over. With a fair amount of leeway for impromptu blocking, the idea of throwing movements and line deliveries into an entertaining and convincing show in one day stretched acting muscles that often do not get utilized to such an extent in a straight show. At least not that early.

I don't know if the performance from a one day reading should qualify, in general, as a complete performance. I would still hope that given 6 weeks with this play,I would be more nuanced, and be able to give greater depth the character. Yet, I was pleased with how much creativity I and the rest of the cast was able to make use of under the gun. When you do things this quickly, and are not consumed with all the technical aspects of theatre, such as being off book, costumes, sets, (though we did make some use of doors that belong to the current main stage show), there is a well of rapid fire creativity that opens up to you, which I enjoyed.

All of the acting inhibitions that one may encounter as one starts to stage a show simply can't be succumbed to in a staged reading like this. It was both a little scary and thrilling to have to toss all of those comfortable buffer zones aside and get right down to it. So much so, that I pondered whether or not a straight show would benefit from requiring a cast to sort of put on a full throttled reading, complete with some rudimentary blocking, in front of a small audience, right off the bat, say in the first week. Even if things would evolve and change from there, a sort of baptism by fire would give greater, and earlier life to many casts, I do believe. Just a theory though.

As far as the people, I mentioned how relaxed and easy to work with my cast was. The same was true for all of the people I encountered at the theatre. I am sure I will be doing other things in Winchester in the future.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

First/Last Rehearsal for "Dinner with Friends"

All on the same day!

Actually, there will in fact be a run through again tomorrow right before we do that reading. But that title sounded better.

To begin with, I have to say that while I still have reservations about the script itself, (see my previous entry), I have far fewer personal reservation about performing it now that I have met the cast and we have gone through it once.

Not that I ever dreaded doing it. I just had not yet found as much of a groove as I am wont to have when I start any kind of performance. And while "Tom" will still remain one of my least sympathetic characters (to me), a few more things came to light, and life, as I read the part with my cast mates this afternoon.

I think the best way to describe it, is that as I was reading the lines, and interacting with others, I was able to recognize this guy in my head. Perhaps not intimately know him, as I have with other roles, but as we rolled on together today, i was able to say, "oh, he;s one of those people."

What do I mean by "one of those" people? Without giving too much away of the plot of the piece, I'll say that he spends a great deal of time being insecure in everything, particularly his own identity. (In fact, as I read, i realized that all four characters share this flaw in one form or another. I had not seen that as clearly before my cast mates brought them to life today.)

Tom thinks that certain things are required to define him, even though they go counter to his nature. The play is about him realizing that his bitterness will not fade until he behaves more like his inner self desires.

Now, it's no Mickey Mouse moralizing. Tom's inner self happens to be, in my opinion, a prick. Hence a large portion of what he is doing is becoming more true to his inner prick, instead of pretending he is not one. He doesn't know that he is a prick, so I will not play him as one. But I know he is a prick, and now that I know, I can tell myself to just perform his lines, and project his moods in a way that a selfish, immature prick may do. not a perfect starting point, but something to sink my teeth into, given the short span of time I have.

I knew nobody in the cast formally. I had emailed one of them a few times. (And it so happens I know her mother...) The director, (who is also in a Christmas Carol with me) I had met way back in May during the cattle call. Which is where I also briefly met the other man in the play. But that was it, and there is always a tad more trepidation when you don't know anyone. But that faded quickly. A very fun group. Very relaxed. Which I think helped with the reading, actually. At least with the woman playing opposite of me.

There is a scene where Tom fights with his soon to be ex-wife. Fights are sometimes the most difficult thing to do in a rehearsal when you do not know your partner. (And in this case, I had never met her. Only exchanged an email or two.) But, the scene went incredibly well, according to the director, and the others present. It did feel very potent. Very powerful. It just clicked, which is good, because if that had gone awry, the rest of the play would have been more flat for it.

I guess sometimes two performances just click. Mine, and that of my opposite happened to be two that did.

I am glad this happened. I was a little concerned at first about how well i was connecting. Now that I have gained some trust with my co-stars, and come to find some truths about "Tom" in a more organic fashion, I have some more wiggle room. And to think, I will only ever have performed him three times once this is all over...24 hours from now!

How very visceral this reader presentation is turning out to be.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

(Early) Season's Greetings

The first cast meeting for "A Christmas Carol" was earlier tonight, in the brand new venue for the Full Circle Theater Company. Though some were absent, it all went quite well.

To begin with, the new venue seems to be an old art gallery of some sort. Walls are to be torn down, doors to be installed, etc. But it is a very nice building that will suit our purposes very well.

I play 6 different characters in this ensemble piece. I find I am already enjoying the challenge of this. Finding different voices, different facial expressions, different overall tones for each of these characters. (Without falling into some common stereotypes for these characters.) There is no to perfectly attain 6 separate authentic British accents, but it is important to me to make each voice, if not each accent distinct. Given that tonight was my first attempt at doing it, I feel I did fairly well.

Each person plays a "base" character...someone who is present at the home of Charles Dickens for a Christmas Eve party. These guests, in turn, portray different characters from the novel, under the direction of Charles Dickens himself.

My base character is real life Dickens friend, the painter Clarkson Stanfield. I found that not only do the characters he plays suit him, he, and all of his characters, suit my quite nicely. We are about the same age, and he is described as both mischievous and gentle. Both very much Ty qualities. I would have enjoyed any of the roles, of course, but I have determined that this one is probably the best fit for me at this exact time. I d in turn all of the very famous (to us) roles that he will bring to life in the play within a play.

A question was brought up tonight, as to how much of our base characters should shine through during the "Christmas Carol" portions of the show. This could go one of two ways, of course, with some room in the middle. We could either present it as though our characters were well aware of their limitations as performers, where the personalities of the guests shine through based on how they portray the characters. Or we could proceed as though our base characters were putting on an actual play...ignoring, as much as they can, their own personalities, and making every effort to assume the 4th wall during the Christmas Carol segments. (Which are about 85% of the play.)

Right now, the director has not made that decision. She told us that she leans more towards allowing some of the base characters to come out, but she also cautioned that she does not want this to become a full out winking audience participation situation either. She went on to add that alot will be determined by future rehearsals, and what our performance space will be like.

I can see both ways as being viable. As for me personally, I would prefer to have "Stanfield" disappear as much as possible when the Christmas Carol parts are being presented. But that is merely one actor's opinion on the situation, and naturally, it will be a fun play to be in, regardless of what the final place on that spectrum ends up being.

All things being equal, Saturday will mark the first time in my career that I will rehearse two plays in one day. It will be an interesting week. I look forward to all of it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dinner with Friends: Initial Impressions

I have already mentioned that I am to appear in a one night only staged reading of Dinner with Friends, by Donald Marguiles. (At the Winchester Little Theater) We have a practice read through this Saturday, and perform it the day after. Today was the first chance I had to go over it in depth.

Specifics of the play can be found here.

I have to say that sometimes as an actor you can admire a piece, without necessarily enjoying it. I find that it is, for the most part well written, from a dialogue standpoint. It is a bit thin on action and plot, and what action it does have is not, in my opinion particularly interesting or unique. And while possessive of a certain degree of realism, none of the four characters comes off, in my first read through, as overtly sympathetic. I would say that I would not choose to try out for a main stage production of this piece. (It was a cattle call audition that landed me this role, i did not audition for this play itself, nor did I know that it was under consideration by the company at the time of my try-out for the staged reading series.)

However, I am intrigued by some of the specific challenges of doing this piece, at this time, as a reading.

Given that I will only be performing it once, and will in fact have the benefit of the script, I went against my standard practice of reading the whole play all the way through at first. I have opted instead to only read the parts in which I appear. I normally read an entire play, not only because I prefer to know the entire arc of a story, but also attempting to avoid knowledge of scenes wherein your character does not appear is usually silly given the endless rehearsals and performances of a play for which you as an actor will be present.

For this play, however, a very large segment of the theme revolves around conflicting perceptions among people over the same event. Particularly in the first act. The idea of some being absent, while others are present. I thought that only reading my scenes today would give the reading a possibly invigorating one-sidedness that I usually don't choose to make use of. Fundamentally a weak approach for a standard play, but a very effective one for this play. not only because it suits well with the theme, as mentioned, but because it is a one time only staged reading...a production which shall posses unique energies in its own right, due to the short prep time. My approach, i am hoping, will add to that visceral quality, for me and for the audience.

Another challenge for me is the character himself. At least at first blush, I can say with confidence that "Tom" is in the running for the character that is least like me, ever. I've not conducted an in depth comparison, and don't plan to. Suffice to say, I have played bigots and murderers, and not felt as isolated from them as I do this character, this far.

Before alarms start firing off in your head, allow me to state the obvious; I do not condone murder or bigotry. However, I recall being able to latch on to specific causes and motivations within myself that could, if approached in the wrong way, lead to villainy. So, the concept of finding something to relate to, and sympathize with, even in a villain, (see my most recent post) is a large part of my method.

In this case of this character, Tom is not only NOT a villain in the truest sense of the term, but his motivations and desires are very far removed from what I am familiar with. This is the point of acting, to portray someone to whom you feel little initial connection. Otherwise, evil characters would never be portrayed. And as I said, this is the least connected to a character that I recall feeling in a very long time. As an actor, I am trained to present a well formed character, and I will do so. I always do so, given enough time to look inward, to meditate on the piece, to absorb lines, and such. And I will this time. But to require such a large amount of that kind of work, in such a small amount of time is, without a doubt, a bit of a gauntlet to run. But this is good for the actor sometimes. Keeps one sharp.

More difficulty with the piece lies in the fact that it is depressing. There may be some hope sprinkled here and there, but by and large, it is a heavy play. A sad play. I am usually not a fan of plays that have sadness as there overall mood. Tragedy I can deal with an even admire. It is an all too common mistake to make "tragic" and "depressing" synonymous. They are not. Tragedy points to something larger than the bad events around it. A higher theme. A depressing play exists, it seems, just to point out that depression, or those sad events, without a real tie to anything greater than itself. Dinner with Friends is the latter. By no means do I think productions should always have a happy ending, (No true Shakespeare fan could want that), I am convinced that my theatrical constitution is, by and large, not entirely at ease with "rainy day" plays. (See also, Willy Russell's Blood Brothers).

Plus all of this is being done during one of the busiestweeks I have had in 2008. The crush and rush is on...and I think it is terrible and exciting at the same time.

One thing that annoyed me about this script is not atall unique to it. The playwright sticks his nose where it does not belong.

Yes, this can happen

First off, there were constant, (and distracting) parentheticals in the script, which call for any given actor not only to overlap what another character is saying, but specifying on what word such overlap should begin. Talk about micro-managing.

Secondly, there are "author's notes" as the end of the script. Essentially telling director's and actors how to play any given scene, and what to avoid in performances.

I hate when playwrights do this. I have always felt it was the playwright's job to write, not to direct or act. Those playwrights who feel the need to include direction on how to perform a scene show little faith in directors or actors, and really should find a way to let go of their work a bit more.

That is all on that for now. I shall return with another entry tonight, as it happens to be the night of our first read-through of a Christmas Carol, over at the Full Circle Theater Company. I very much look forward to that, and the production as a whole.