Monday, September 29, 2008

Critiques of Castmates: Proceed with Caution

Moving to a new apartment can surely put a cramp in one's apologies again, loyal blog readers, for a Monday appearance this week. ---Ty

If you are in theatre, in particular amateur theatre, it will happen. Someone in the show with you will ask you what you think of their performance, and ask for ways they could improve it.

Before you get a chance to wince and stammer, the one who approaches reassures you;

"Be honest. You can't hurt my feelings on this, I want to know what you think, so I can improve."

Given that you are in a show and have obligations, you cannot run. And they know you are probably not deaf, if they have exchanged verbal lines with you on stage.

In the end, some response is called for.

Overall, my suggestion in such a situation is this; unless they are a personal friend of yours of extraordinary depth, or if you have no desire to make friends with said person, do NOT give them a full critique, if you can help it.

Yes, there are people who are professional enough in spirit to handle any criticisms without go haywire over it. But I am not reluctant to conclude that the vast majority of people who ask this question are really asking, "Am I doing good? Am I at least doing better than I think I am? Because if not, that would be really horrible."

To come back at such a person with such hidden motivations, one who does not make their living in this fashion, with lists of things at which they are lousy would have, shall we say, unpleasant results. Bad blood, awkward times together in the future, misinterpretation, retaliation, tears, and in some rare, (but not unheard of cases in my experience) resignation from the show, on their part.

Sort of takes the whole "community" thing right out of community theatre, doesn't it?

I like to remind people that I am not a director, and that it is hard for me to assess an entire performance, when I myself are coming in and out of the show, seeing bits and pieces, and concentrating mostly on my own performance. All of which are true and fair responses, from my perspectives. One cannot deny that the above truths apply.

However, if that should seem too cold, or if the advice seeker is persistent, I try to always start with positives things. Nothing is too small here. The way they enter, a face they make in Scene 3. How they look in the costume.

I then try to get from them what it is they think they are not doing well. I ask them what they think their problem areas are. When I learn this, I feel somewhat more free to discuss with them some of the problems I notice, (if I have indeed noticed ANY) with the aspects of performance in question. This is because they know that they are struggling, and hearing it from someone else will not strike quite as deep a blow.

There are always exceptions of course. But try to remember that in most cases when you are in a show, you are NOT a director. If you have a problem with something someone else is doing go to the director. If someone has a problem with what they themselves are doing, advise them to ask the director what they think. Otherwise, be positive, interactive, and as brief as possible in your response. It saves them face, and saves you and the show, a lot of other negatives.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Latest Audition

First let me thank Anonymous for their thoughts about R.L. I had not spoken to him in a while, but I appreciate the sentiment.

Now, on a lighter note...

I just got back from auditioning at the Full Circle Theater Company. They are doing a version of
"A Christmas Carol".

I have to say, in all honesty, it was one of my better auditions. Even if I do not get cast, I am proud of this audition. (Which I cannot always say, even when I get into a show, as odd as that may sound.)

First, some background on this particular version. It was adapted by Micheal Paller, and it takes a somewhat different turn. It opens in the house of Dickens himself, who is hosting a party. The guests plead with him to tell a story, which he agrees to only if the guests help to tell it with him. The result is an ensemble piece wherein each party guest, as well as Dickens himself, portrays several characters from the familiar story throughout the play.

As a result, the director told those of us trying out that she would be looking for an ability to portray varying roles, in different styles, throughout the production. Having been in several ensemble pieces like this before, I felt confident I would be up to the task, if invited to join the cast.

I started off by reading for Scrooge, opposite Marley in the confrontation scene. Scrooge is in general, older than most roles I have had, but that is part of it all. I felt fairly decent in being able to portray age and bitterness. (Though I forgot to try a British accent.)

A moment later, I was Marley, and another actor played Scrooge, in the same scene. This is where I felt great about how I read.

I never doubted I would do well. Confidence is important, after all. But given that this story andit's lines are so deeply imbedded into the collective subconcious, andgiven that I am very familiar with the director, and the actor reading Scrooge, there was a possibility of slipping into the mundane, if I was not careful. So I put a very specific effot into giving as much life and depth to Marley as I could. (Ironically, given that he is dead. But I digress.)

As a result, the character felt very real to me as I read. All of the aspects of a great audition were present...a good reading partner, the lines flowing easily as I read them, a minimal need to refer to the script, and most importantly, relaxation, and it's kissing cousin, openness. (Which you need if you are going to do that blood curdling scream Marley is famous for.)

Other complimented me on the reading, which made me feel good, obviously.

So, regardless of what happens, it is very gratifying to know that I gave everything that was possible to the try-out. I will not have to worry over what i left out, or forget to do. Everything I wanted to accomplish, was accomplished this morning.

I should know in about a week if I got in. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

In Memoriam: Ron Loreman

In lieu of my usual advice/opinion column this week, I wish to acknowledge the death and life, of a very theatre oriented person. A former professor of mine, Ron Loreman, though to his students, he was known as simply R.L.

R.L. died just a few days ago.

When I went to Marietta College, 1999-2002, R.L. was the chairman of the Theatre Department, (and had been for some time.) He also taught classes of course, and directed a few shows each season.

I was never in any of R.L.'s shows. I did not take any of his classes until my final year at MC. Yet, one could not be a part of the theatre community at Marietta, without knowing, and getting to know, R.L.

Whether he was teaching a class, helping to design and build the set for someone else's show, or just watching one of the shows as a member of the audience, R.L. could be summarized in one word; warm. The personal kindness of the man, and his overall decency was inextricably linked with the work that he did. Work that he very obviously enjoyed doing, and was blessed to be able to do for nearly 5 decades.

I think that is the greatest testament to the man, for me. Unlike some of my fellow students, I did not have the most personal or emotional relationship with R.L. Yet, I could not help but admire the love he showed in the two things he was most involved in, (outside of his family); educating, and theatre. How blessed the man was to be able to both be an educator, and take part in theatre for the lion's share of his life. I could not read his mind, but if the nearly constant smile upon his face was any indication, R.L. was happy to be doing what he was doing. And I was happy to have been a part of it for those few years.

I particularly remember the class I took with him, (which happened to be the very last credit college course I ever took). Studies in Asian Drama. I was struck by how much passion for that genre, and that culture he had. It rubbed off in class, as I think that was my favorite R.L. course that I took, (though I only took four, in the end.)

So, my thoughts and meditations go out to his family. And my gratitude goes out to him.

Exuent, R.L.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Coventional Fare?

First of all, my apologies for once again getting to his on Monday instead of Sunday. Maybe I should just switch my weekly deadline to Mondays?

Either way, some local goings on inspired me to think about the nature of what community theatres offer in general, and that's what I would like to talk about this week.

For one thing, The Full Circle Theater Company is going to be holding auditions for "A Christmas Carol" later this month. I intend to be there, given that I have always loved the story, and have been in two other productions of it before. It never really gets old to be in such a show that time of year. Plus, those who have read the blog before know I have been in two shows with Full Circle already.

The company, after being around for little over a year has it's own venue now. They have not yet set it up, and I have not yet seen it, but I look forward to doing so. A company that finds it's own space within a year has much to be thankful for! Particularly when, at their previous venue, (a municipally owned stage), they were actually forced to shorten a run of their last production, "Extremites" due to "mature content" that the town fathers did not approve of.

Which leads me into my these this week. The company, like many smaller companies, hopes to do edgier things, like Extremities, often in the future. I praise them, and many other companies for doing this.

At the same time, however, I also applaud their willingness to go with the classics, such as A Christmas Carol. I cannot say what they have planned in the future for future years. I can only say that to present oneself as a more experimental, or edgy theatre need not mean that the classics, such as a Christmas Carol be avoided in perpituity.

Community theatres seem to hover on one end of a spectrum or another. They either tend to be dedicated only to outlandish, rarely heard of, or even controversial pieces, to the exclusion of others, or they rely totally on the old stand bys, never wavering from the same set of over-produced musicals (Gilbert and Sullivan, Oklahoma, Grease, the Music Man) and farcical straight shows and mysteries. (The Importance of Being Earnet, or Ten Little Indians.) I contend that complete allegience to either side serves only to weaken community theatre.

On the one hand, theatre should challenge us. It should stretch our horizons, make us think, sometimes, (though in small doses) even make us squirm. Yet, if a place is to don the mantle of community theatre, it cannot be ignored that such plays tend to be less well known, attract fewer people, and tend to draw the same loyal unconventional types each time. A perhaps deep but very narrow audience base. Something like Grease will pack the seats just about anywhere, and what community theatre doesn't need to hear the cash register ring once in a while?

The same goes for the talent pool. True, there are some actors who will travel far and wide for any given show. But if the community is to be a resource for their own productions, a company is well advised to have the occasionally well known, well worn script, which is likley to attract the attention of new comers who otherwise might be intimidated by the obscure offerings. Bringing new people into theatre is what community theatre is about.

But the opposite side of this coin also lacks luster. If all a company ever does are the well known, and oft repeated shows, like the ones I mentioned above, creativity becomes stale. The productions become similar in scope and theme year to year. The company becomes totally predictable in what it has to offer, which runs the risk of densenitizing any spectacle that one might hope for.

And again, the acting talent pool sees this as a negative. Most actors love to do the well known travel tested shows at some point. But if Company A only ever does those things, actors will begin to think they will never be challeneged and will seek to volunteer elsewhere. This creates a community oriented, but potentially stagnant group of actors to fill the casts of virtually every show a company does.

Variety and balance. As in so many other aspects of living, particularly in the arts, these two things are the key to success at the community level. Leave it to the professional theatres with endowments and members and all such things to possess a laser like focus on only certain types of shows.

(Though, to be honest, I would give the exact same advice to professional companies as well.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Back to the Kissing Again

Amazing! We are approaching the three year anniversary of my "Kiss Is Still a Kiss" post, and I am still getting comments and questions about it! A popular topic indeed.

It deserves it's own post, as a comment on the original post might not get noticed.

It is also, once again, from an Anonymous person, so I cannot contact them directly to let them know I got their comments. So, if you are out there, Anonymous, I hope you are reading this.

The question this time is, how does one get past not just a stage kiss, but a scene requiring a full on "make out session".

My answer to this, for anyone who would like to know, is not unlike my answer for a simple kiss...practice it as early and often as possible.

It is very natural to feel that a "make out" scene would be more difficult to get passed than a kiss. And on the surface perhaps it would be. But let's stop and think about it on it's most basic level. It's another scene. Nothing more.

At least it should be. Granted there are added difficulties at first, but address them as you would any other difficult scene. Do so by setting a goal for the scene as early as possible, and practicing it as early as possible.

If your director does not have any particular ideas, you and your scene partner MUST approach the director privately, and ask him/her to work out the specific moves of the make out scene. The worst thing you can do is to wing a scene like that. This is no place for improvising. That just puts pressure on the actors to make it look "good". That will increase the awkwardness.

Like any scene, it must be mapped out. A hand goes here. Then this area is kissed. After that, a leg moves to this position.

This is vital is making it less awkward, because it then becomes clinical. Nothing will make the initial jitters go away, but if approached like a dance, mapped out and practiced (without oggling eyes at first), it will begin to feel more like any other part of your performance; something that you practice in order to get comfortable with. Run it into the ground. It will eventually bore you more than scare you.

When that happens, and you and your scene partner are comfortable with it, begin to do it in front of a few other people before rehearsal. Just so you can get used to the idea of doing this very well rehearsed dance in front of others. Again, there will be some awkwardness when you first do it for others, but by now you have the moves in your mind, and you know what your objective is. Just concentrate on making that believable, and doing what you have worked on, and the awkwardness WILL fade.

Don't put it off. Don't make excuses. If you are reading this, Anonymous, talk to your partner and director during your very next rehearsal. It will NOT get easier the longer you wait. It will in fact get harder. But with a plan, and practice, you will be able to do this.

And do not leave me in suspense...keep me updated on how it is going!

Monday, September 08, 2008


Sunday came and went, and I had not written my weekly column. Been a crazy week around here, so do pardon the mistake.

"There are no small parts. Only small actors." What a tired and often ignored cliche that has come to be in the acting world.

Yet like many cliche', it has a basis in the truth. But I think one aspect of it's truth is long overlooked.

At first pass, if people are not numbed to the saying by overuse, they feel they know what it is getting at; no matter how small a part you may have, you are just as important to the show as the star.

This is a portion of the meaning, and is certainly true to a large extent. But one of the reasons the expression, dare i say, the proverb has lost it's luster over the centuries is that many of those with small roles have come to conclude, fairly, that there are in fact small parts.

To qualify, this does not mean that these parts are useless. Yet, if an actor uses applause and notoriety at the end of the production as a metric by which to measure his contribution to the direct impact of the pieces, he is in all likelihood going to be dissapointed. The notorious fickle nature of the theatre audience cannot be counted upon to give every actor in a show it's total due much of the time.

While I maintain that appreciation is owed by the cast and the audience to such small parts, the reality of the situation dictates that it may not always be forthcoming from either group. I therefore maintain that this ancient addage applies more to how large or small an individual actor's opinion of his role is. The "only small actors" segment referring not to the largeness of a stage presence bestowed on an audience by an actor, but the largeness of the same bestowed by the actor upon an audience.

I have seen it many times in my community theatre travels. People who "really wanted" X-part, but took the smaller one ofered because they had nothing better to do. Or for other silly reasons.

The atmousphere around such people is predictable; contempt. Sarcasm. Laziness. Lack of committment to what they are doing. Easily distracted from the task at hand.

I despise this, and I have tried my whole career to avoid it, no mattrer what role I am playing, leads or ensemble.

You see, if you keep at theatre, the chances are you will one day have a larger role than the one you find yourself in now. But awaiting that future production should not dampen what you are doing now, if you have bothered to accept the role in the first place. For once you do accept, accept everything about it. The lines, the blocking, the smallness, and the lack o applause during your curtain call if it comes to that. For if you cannot be totally into what you are doing now, I imagine there is little reason to believe you can totally be into any part in the future.

Actors that have decades long careers often forget which plays they have done, or in which theatres. They have to think sometimes if they have ever played certain roles. For me, this is hard to imagine, given that I remember with great detail the experience of each of the plays I have ever been in. I could tell you right off if I had ever played a certain role or not. But then again I am still early in my career relative to a veteran. Yet it is my hope that even the veterans, who find they took jobs here and there for too numerable to recall now, at least put everything they had into said roles at the time, even if later they would not think much of it. I think those that do that are the truly great ones...concentrating wholeheartedly on what they are doing now, not what they wish they had been doing onstage.

I have always tried to make whatever show I am in at the exact second count the most. Perhaps that is why I remember them all so well looking back on them. And maybe that is why I often get a lot of feedback, even when I have a tiny role.

I am not a small actor, it would seem. May it always be so.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Not Meant to Be

Due to a large scheduling change of a rather personal nature, I sadly had to withdraw myself from consideration for "The Sister's Rosenweig" at the Montgomery Playhouse. (Where I auditioned last week.) I don't take the choice lightly, but, circumstances are what they are.

I just hope that this doesn't leave them with a terrible impression of me. I am certain, however, that I will audition for that company again in the near future. I had that planned anyway, in case I did not get into this show.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Joke's On...Everyone

I have said a million times that casts do not have to bond socially in order to do their jobs on stage. However, it certainly is fair to say those jobs are much harder when there is no social connection.

Indeed, with most community plays, I dare say some sort of social bonding is inevitable. Perhaps not with everyone, but certainly with various different parties and factions within the cast.

And with social closeness comes playfulness. And with playfulness comes levity. Both of which are fine, but...sometimes levity leads to pranks. On stage pranks. And I for one have in general been against them.

Yes, they can be quite fun. They can sometimes bring people closer, and without fail they break up the monotony of later rehearsals, when everything seems to be going exactly the same minute to minute each night...even using the bathroom at the exact same moments. The temptation is great to go for the gag.

But the truth is, despite what humor their may be, they potential costs out weigh such antics:

-Even the best of actors can be thrown when a very carefully rehearsed routine is interrupted.

-If the gag itself is not rehearsed numerous time, (and any gag that would be would cease to be a gag) always has the potential of going wrong. In terms of timing, appropriateness, the target of the "attack", or, in some very foolish cases, in terms of safety.

-Other actors on stage, that are not in on the joke run the risk of thinking something else is going on. Or worse, have no idea what may be going on. Remember, those people rely on the lines and blocking of other people to know what they are supposed to do next.

--It is exceedingly rare that a director will be as amused as you and your co-conspirators are.

All that being said, I know that gags and pranks are going to happen. Ergo, in order to avoid the problems I have just mentioned, those that simply must prank during a show should follow the following guidelines:

--Naturally, there should be in no way, any potential for danger, even the slightest bit, for the shortest amount of time.

--You should know the "target" personally quite well. As in friends before and after the show. Any less than that, and you may have an eruption on your hands. NEVER try to MAKE new friends in this way. You have no clue how an actor might act, and we tend to be a sensitive breed.

--Perform the gag, or have it discovered by your target during a scene wherein he will have few lines, and little blocking. That way there is plenty of time to recover, and whatever reaction they may have to said stimulus will not, hopefully affect the scene. (Crowd scenes, for example. I have been known to throw the odd shocking phrase at people when my character is in the background of a scene, when I know I will not be speaking officially for a considerable length of time.) This is especially true if you plan to do it during a performance as opposed to a rehearsal. (Which I advise against in the first place.)

--Do not do anything during tech week. Though this stressful time is when it could be the most tempting, everything should go exactly as planned on tech week, for actors as well as crew.

--Don't get caught by the director.

--Inform every single other person that is in the scene of what you plan to do to your "victim". This runs the risk of the beans being spilled, but if a significant number of others in the scene object to whatever you have up your sleeve, you shouldn't be doing it anyway.

--One prank per run of a show is sufficient.

Everyone wants to have fun, and we all like to spice things up occasionally. And though you find yourself in community theatre, that does not translate into "unimportant". Alot of people work hard, and people still pay money to see your show. No sense in mucking it up for everyone who does not find your hidden fart machine on stage particularly amusing.