Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas Carol Reading, Part 2

Well, the theatrical adventure with the quickest turnaround ever for me. (All rehearsals and both presentations within one week's time) is concluded.

I have to admit that I am somewhat disappointed in this one. The audience was only a handful for both nights combined, and we didn't really have much of a chance to give extra nuances to our voices, as I would have liked. I love the story, and was happy to be working with some of my friends again, but even I sometimes find it hard to enjoy something when nobody comes to see it.

Last night we had about 6 people that were not connected with the show itself, or family of same.

The sound effects worked better last night I can say.They were much quieter, and didn't drown out the actors. Plus there were not surprise announcements of the time in the middle of the show. So at least there was that.

As for me, I did what I had to do with the reading. I repeated the added flourish at the end with Bob Cratchit that I mentioned in my last entry, but to little or no reaction from the tiny audience.

I didn't see the scarf I had worn the previous night for Cratchit, so I went without last night. Which is just as well, as I was the only person with a costume piece the first night anyway. I felt a bit out of place using it.

Given that I work hard at establishing a reputation as a good blogger, one would think I would be able, and in fact should find a way to, write a more extensive description of both last night, and the whole experience. Sadly, however, I must confess that I can't. There really is not much more to tell about this reading.

I will say that perhaps the script as is is too verbal to be enjoyed by most modern audiences. (I saw the glazed looks of most of the small audience both nights.) I myself enjoy hearing the words of Dickens, but I think they may be too thick for a presentation like this. (By words I mean the narration.)

Or maybe it was just bad timing or some other intangible. Who can say?

Either way, it is in fact another theatrical experience under my belt, even though it was not a play.

My thoughts now bend towards "Bedford Falls", as I prepare for the "It's a Wonderful Life" radio play.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas Carol Reading, Night One

I wish I could report that tonight's reading of "A Christmas Carol" was well attended. Sadly, I cannot. It could have been worse and for a while during the meet and greet before hand, it looked as though it might have been much worse. (As in, no outside guests.) But a few did trickle in near the end. 15 people total, maybe, out of 70 seats. I am not sure why it was so low. Maybe it being black Friday. Perhaps tomorrow will be better attended. (If you live near Shepherdstown, West Virginia, do stop by!)

The reading itself went well. Sound effects were added today, as was live music between staves. The latter was a nice touch. The former would have been, if there had been fewer snafus.

The biggest of which was a robotic female voice which intoned, "It is not nine o'clock" in the middle of the performance. Not sure what happened. I would have preferred it not to, and it was clear the audience was amused by this. IN that case though, it is hard to blame them. I am sure it will be fixed by tomorrow.

We only rehearsed twice for this, really. We had some blocking ideas and general notes, but basically there was not much we had to be doing. Some of the things we had talked about it became clear on the evening, would not work. (Such as me moving my chair outside of the semi-circle at some point.) But what didn't happen was made up for by a few things that did, which were not planned.

When you are up there doing something like that, which doesn't have every moment drawn on a blueprint, things just sort of come to you. At least they do me. (Though I was once told I had an unusually high level of instinct when it came to moving around on stage.) Whether or not that is true, several things occurred to me tonight in regards to movements and positions as we performed that didn't occur to me before. It is rather hard to explain specifics without being visual, but overall the effect was more movement that was reading friendly, without moving into stage play territory.

I also got some laughs, which I didn't expect. Last minute I decided to pretend like Scrooge was going to hit me in the final scene, where he pretends to be angry at Cratchit. I scrunched my face up really tight, and then looked as perplexed as I could when he raised Bob's salary. I suppose people enjoyed that.

The whole process has been walking that line between a staged reading that keeps interest by having some movement and props, (though I was the only one who ended up with props...a scarf), and not trying to stage a regular play. Because it is adapted to be read, it could never work as an actual play script. And in our second/final rehearsal the other night, we struggled a bit with that. Fighting the urge to have too many crosses, or props and costumes. It's easy to slip into full play mode.

Yet we must not do so. We are not running a play with scripts in out hands. We are conducting a reading a child a bed time story. (Though we hope nobody falls asleep!) Such a presentation cannot be handled as a play.

But I think we have struck a pretty good balance overall. We do it one more time tomorrow night with, (hopefully) more people to watch it.

Check back then to see what happens.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Week O' Dickens, Day One

Last night was the first get together at Full Circle for the dramatic reading of "A Christmas Carol". An interesting group of people.

About 30 different speaking parts, amongst I think 15 or so people there. (I had originally thought there were more parts than that.) Two whole families are in this play. At least I think one of them has every member in it, I am not sure. Might have to ask.

I will be reading Bob Cratchit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Old Joe. These roles are interesting in a number of ways. First off, in last year's full regular staging of "A Christmas Carol" (follow my adventures with that show by going to the archives of October through December 2008), I also played Cratchit and the Ghost of Christmas Past. So in a way that is familiar territory. (And there were a few moments of flashback for me, as I was saying some of the same lines among some of the same people, in the same building.)

I was not Old Joe last year, yet he is also familiar territory. In 2003, I read for Old Joe, with this same director, in a one night only performance of a reading of a Christmas Carol. A year after that, I played Old Joe in a main stage production of the musical "Scrooge". I guess there is something about me and Old Joe.

As for the reading, as I said, it went well, though I admit I was a bit low on energy last night. That is rather uncommon for me in such situations. Not a disaster, by any means. But I think I need to work a bit harder on making some of my voices different between characters. They were distinct, but they need more personality.

I also admit to tapping into what I remember doing last year with Cratchit and the Ghost. Is this wrong? I think not. If I were to be in another full fledged production playing the same character, I may give it a bit of a different read. But then again, I may not. Unless a director would have a specific problem with me reading a certain way, why not stay with what works? (More on the interesting possibilities of being the same character a second time later in the post.)

One clever adaptation that has been made to this script, is that the role of the narrator, (which was about 80% of the lines, initially) has been broken into two narrators; one serious, and one more silly. This allows the lines to be broken up a bit, and lets the narrators play off of one another. This was a good call.

There is talk of just how much extra movement and ornamentation there is to be. The gamut can be run from simple readings, ala, actors walking into the center stage with their scripts, and simply reading with feeling, to having small costume pieces, props, music and sound effects. A decision has not yet been made, but things seem to be trending towards the minimalist. Which for a show that has one two nights to rehearse is best, I do believe.

I am however in favor of one possible idea. This story is of course broken up into staves, or acts, if you will. We may be able to get a small choral group to sing harmonized a capella Christmas carols between the staves. This I think would be a nice touch, seeing as how the reading is a culmination of a holiday party fundraiser for the theatre. The evening should be an experience that includes the reading, more so than everyone coming just for the reading. But those decisions are not mine. I just need to know where to stand and when.

The plan is to meet again Wednesday evening, and run the show twice. (It took about an hour an ten minutes last night.)

Now for a bit of trivia contemplation.

Does any of this qualify for playing the same role twice? It only matters because thus far I have never done so out of all the shows I have been in. (If you don't count parodies. I don't.) I was Cratchit last year, but in a different version of the script. Just as I was Old Joe in years past, but again a much different script. So in those cases it might be the same character, but not the same role. And there is a difference.

Old Joe is where this comes into play.

About six years ago I was in a reading of a Christmas Carol, under the same director. In that reading I read Old Joe. The script we are reading this year is BASED on that script, but as I said, somewhat adapted. So it is not technically the same script, even though all of Old Joe's lines are the same.

So, is this playing the same role in the same show again? Or does the adaptation of this script make it different? I'd be curious on anyone's thoughts on this one!

Monday, November 23, 2009

2 Launches in 48 Hours, Part 2

If I wasn't busy enough with the reading of "It's a Wonderful Life", I'm also involved in a dramatic reading of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" at the Full Circle Theater Company. The first rehearsal for that will be happening tonight.

Yes, you read correctly. Two nights. Two shows. Two theatres. Two states. Two Christmas classics. And though I am not usually in favor of being in two shows at once, there were some exceptions in this case.

To begin with, given that they were readings, and not all out plays, I figured it would be doable. Especially since anytime I can be a part of telling the story of A Christmas Carol, I seize the chance. I admit, however, that I thought rehearsals for it would start much earlier. But those things could not be controlled.

One thing that makes it somewhat easier at this point is that it was reduced from 6 readings to only two. And those two readings will take place this week. Yes, both rehearsals, and both readings all within one week. I would have liked more time and more performances, but Full Circle works that way sometimes...

At least I will not have to juggle rehearsals for both readings I am in. A Christmas Carol will be over and done with, top to bottom, before "It's a Wonderful Life" even meets up again.

I don't yet know who I will be playing in it. I do know that the same actor who beat me out for the starring role in "It's a Wonderful Life" will also have the starring role, as Scrooge, in this reading. But to be clear, there were no auditions for this one. I expressed interest in it to the director, a friend of mine, months ago, and I was in it. It has gone through many forms, and many other cast members since then, so I don't really know what to expect when I get there tonight. But one things seems certain; I will be reading a lot of parts for this one.

The entire thing is a fundraiser for the theatre. I am not a huge fan of fundraiser activities. But again, it's theatre, and it's Christmas. Plus if I get some food out of the deal in the party leading up to each reading, I can't find fault with that.

More on that this evening, or tomorrow.

2 Launches in 48 Hours, Part 1

Last night was the first rehearsal for "It's a Wonderful Life", the radio play, at the Winchester Little Theater. A few people were not there, it seems, but most were.

It looks like most of the people that were cast were people that showed up for both nights of auditions. A coincidence perhaps, but I did notice it.

The cast does indeed appear to be about 16 people, as the director estimated it would be during auditions. So, when I consider that I made a cut that small out of 65 or so that auditioned, (have of which were men), I can't really complain.

Despite arriving early, (as per my custom), I was still scrambling a bit to identify which roles I would be playing exactly.

I already knew from the start I would be playing Peter Bailey, father of George. That is by far my largest role. Two scenes with him. I'll basically be reading him the way I read for George when I auditioned. A gentler noble sort of man. He will probably have the closest to my own voice.

Then there is "Welch". He slugs George at some point in the bar. (For insulting his wife over the phone.) IN fact, I made one mistake last night, in not realizing that Welch was supposed to be in the telephone scene. He is heard in a muffled tone yelling through the Bailey's telephone. It is well marked now. I won't miss it again.

I am giving Welch a very deep voice. Very throaty. He is probably the voice that is least like my own.

Looks like I will also be playing "Man", which is literally one line. He asks for spaghetti at a restaurant. I think I'll call him "Spaghetti Man". The unique thing about that is that the one line Spaghetti Man has comes only a few moments before I play the aforementioned Welch. So, as is the case for most people in the show at several points, a quick and distinct transition to another character will have to be made. I'm not too worried about it though.

Then there is the small role of Second Commercial Man, a role I was not initially supposed to have, but was given as a sort of last minute switch by the director. This is not a character in "It's a Wonderful Life". But because it is a radio play, old fashioned radio commercials from the "sponsors" of the program are part of the action. During one such break, I am the man who learns to use "Dux Toilet Cakes". If I am allowed to keep the goofy, nerdy voice I came up with for the ad, it will be a fun moment for me, and hopefully the audience. (Ironically, it is not a product for the toilet, as the later lines reveal.) Two lines for that section. But I will also be up front when the jingle is sung for that one, set to the tune of "Santa Claus if Coming to Town", if I remember correctly. I guess I will sing it as the nerdy guy.

And finally, I also play one "Ed". If you recall from the story, there is at one point a run on the banks and the Bailey Building and Loan. Ed is one of the disgruntled Bedford Fallsians that comes to get his money. That's about three lines. I'm going with a sort of raspy, maybe short of breath voice for him. (He mentions having medical bills to bay; I thought that would be a logical decision. I will find out when we get our emailed notes if that will work for the director.)

Previously, I was intended to play one of the board members of the Bailey Building and Loan, but I was removed from that in favor of Second Commercial Man. No complaints here, even though the board member had a few more lines.

As for the mechanics of everything, I didn't yet have any trouble. Bear in mind, however, that there is not yet any set. What's more, the director said that the set was not going to be anything like he initially thought it would be. (As a side note, I always did think directors should have more say over how sets look. The notion of an independent set designer that has total reign honestly makes little sense to me. But oh well.) The moral of the story is, the shape of the "radio station" will be different than expected, and there may be a sort of hallway/waiting room type of area for those not performing. Still part of the set, but it may allow for off stage time for some actors, whereas at first we were told we'd all have to be on stage for the entire show.

I'm not great at visualizing structures before they exist, so I suppose my questions will be answered.

Otherwise, it's fairly simple. Each actor is assigned one of the two microphones that will be downstage. A few lines before one goes on, one approaches their assigned microphone from one side, delivers the lines, and then leaves the mike from the opposite side, returning to back stage. (Whatever that ends up being.) The effect is a circular pattern, one way street type of deal. If everyone pays attention to where they are in the script, their shouldn't be any problems.

I do have two very large chunks of time without being on. One of them comes 15 or so minutes before the intermission, so that will be the easier of the two. I can just relax after I deliver my final lines for the first act.

The commute was about an hour, with the highway. But it would be much longer if I took the highway during the weak I am sure, so I may opt for the already longer back ways, in hope of avoiding traffic next time. If my phones navigator can find that route. (I recently had to give back the borrowed GPS unit I was using.)

Last night's was the only rehearsal before Thanksgiving, the next being on Tuesday, December 1st. I think there will be 5 or 6 altogether, with 4 performances. A busy Early December for me. But November is not left out of this equation. Continue on to read, "2 Launches in 48 Hours, Part 2" to learn more.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Last night was the first read through of "It's a Wonderful Life."

I wasn't there.

I can't tell you how angry and embarrassing I found that to be, when the director sent me a Facebook message mentioning it. I couldn't understand it. I checked my email spam folders, my voice mail, Facebook itself, several times over. I connected with him later that night, and it was determined, (after many live tests) that there is a severe server problem between his email and my own.

Even when he tried his auxiliary email address, and sent it to my work email, I got his messages, but he got nothing in return.

So very frustrating. I will now be at a disadvantage, for I will be coming in late, and I missed the all important meeting of these new people I will be working with. Their first impressions of me are hopefully not too damaged by this.

There will be, (I managed to finally learn) the first rehearsal on Sunday coming up. There will probably be about 5 rehearsals before we actually do it. So that remains to be seen.

I am trying to see if I can get a copy of the script before Sunday, so I can know what parts I will be playing. Or in the very least, get to the WLT early enough on Sunday to acclimate myself to the full script.

This is a first for me, and I admit it has thrown me quite off my game today. I don't doubt I can catch up and perform just fine. But there is so little time together for the cast that I feel very upset that I missed one of the meetings.

All I can do now of course it to make the most of the time that reminds, and make extra sure I turn in my usual caliber of performance. I will do so.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"It's a Wonderful Life" Results.

I made it in. But not as the lead. I am actually playing several of the smaller roles. More on that later.

If you read my two previous posts about auditioning for this show, (first night and second night), you know that I surmised I was being considered, along with one other guy, for the lead role of George. I also speculated that it was a zero sum game. George or nothing. Obviously in that regard I was wrong, so it's gratifying to know that I earned some kind of place in a 16 member cast, out of 70 or so who tried out.

Yet for tonight, I admit to some disappointment in not getting a large role. One is not supposed to say that, but at the moment I just want to own that feeling. If for no other reason than to get passed it faster.

The fact is that I hate to lose horse races, which this was. (The director even admitted as much in his phone call to me earlier this evening, so it is no longer speculation.) If it had been an even mix of roles that I read for, I'd feel differently. Or if the horse race were not so clear to start with. But in the theatre world, as well as in many other facets of my life, I tend to lose horse races. Almost every time. The longer I am in contention for something, especially a role, the least likely I am to be successful. Just an unfortunate and mysterious aspect to my endeavors thus far. If this were not so often true I don't think I'd mind getting so close with no cigar. I'll get passed it. But this is my blog of theatre adventures, you are my loyal blog readers, and I had to at least get that out, before moving on to the actual experience of the play.

Now for the guts of the matter.

The only roles I know for sure that I have are the role of George's father, (who is in one scene I believe) and the microscopic role of Welch...a guy in a bar who delivers two lines after punching George in the face. Interesting, those two roles were in fact two of the other roles I actually read for during auditions, all be they briefly. The director actually told me on the phone that I had convinced him I "was" Welch during the reading. I admit, I was sort of thrown into Welch at the last minute that night, and kind of put together something on the fly for him. Obviously, it worked somehow.

The director also mentioned that they were still working out "some other things" that I may be doing, but he wasn't sure yet. The logistics of 65 roles take some time to sort out, after all. But it's possible I would be reading 4 or 5 small roles, depending.

An associate of mine reminded me earlier this evening that it is the small character roles that are the most fun. Sometimes that is certainly true. Hopefully all of the aspects the are unique to this production will conspire to make a memorable experience for me in the ensemble.

The first meeting of the cast has yet to be determined, but probably Tuesday or Thursday of the coming week. I will of course keep you posted, as I embark on yet another of my theatrical adventures. I look forward to seeing who else got into this play. (Though I really didn't know many of the people that tried out.)

Opting Out 2

In the interest of completeness, I want to mention that the final day of the acting class I signed up for is tonight. (As far as I know, unless it has been changed again.)

I will not be attending.

I mentioned that I skipped last week's class due to not having time to prepare for the short scene, and for various other reasons. In contemplated for a time going back tonight to cap things off, but decided that not only is my schedule for tonight problematic, it would also be a bit fruitless.

Given that I have not been involved in this second scene, and that the exercises and discussions are unlikley to vary much from the first round of scenes, I don't think there would be much reason to attend. Especially considering that the last time I attended, having completed my monologue for the second time, really and truly felt like a concluding point for the class for me in my heart. It was a high note, during which I learned some things, and felt satisfied with a few things I had previously been unsatisfied with. Even before the scheduling conflict, I think I knew deep down that when I left that night I probably wouldn't be coming back.

So what have I learned from this experience? on the acting side I did learn a few tips and tricks that I think I can put to use during some future rehearsal processes. I also learned to ask for a syllabus and schedule confirmation before committed the money and time to another such class in the future.

But that goes to the heart of another thing I learned. Perhaps the biggest thing; acting classes may not be the thing for me.

I say that not because I do not feel I have learned everything I need to learn. On the contrary. I have advised readers of this blog, and of my column on more than one occasion that the actor's education is never over. I stand by that.

Yet being in this class did illuminate something that I have suspected. Classes with instructors tend to teach methods. One method often at the expense of the other. And while sometimes being trained in a specific method can be very helpful to the first time actor, (as several in this class were), I think for the seasoned actor, like myself, it is more often than not going to cause friction and stress. I tend to feel that I have paid my dues already in college by being educated through formal classes, and that now in my career it is time to educate myself through experience. Through experimentation. Taking risks. Reading and writing about the craft. In general opening myself up to all of the arts, and related experiences. By doing this I can come to the truth of what I wish to do, and ignore calls to follow specific laid out plans.

Each show, character and theatre is different, and they call for different approaches. At least they do for me. And while a class may in fact exist that is more about bringing out the individual actor than it is about coaxing conformity to one perspective or another, I am thinking that it is probably not worth the investment and risk to find out in the future. Not without meeting the instructor and talking to those who have taken the class before. That probably would have been a good idea this time, but I didn't do so, and that cannot be undone.

Barring the discovery of such an instructor, I think future acting related classes I take will be focused tightly on specific aspects. Stage combat for instance. Dialect classes. Singing. By improving specific aspects of my craft, I improve my whole approach by default.

So, my approach was confirmed in the breach of the class more so than in the practice of it. But I will not say the class was a waste. Though it was through the back door in some ways, being in the class did help me focus even greater attention on the things that work for me, and the things that do not. We are also improved by such knowledge. Though the class was not what I was expecting, I do not come away empty handed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"It's a Wonderful Audition", Part 2

More like an exhausting one.

Actually I don't know if exhausting is the real word for it. And even if it were, most of that would have to do with the long commute I take to get to Winchester. But near the end I certainly was a bit fatigued. I appreciate the committee being thorough, because that is better than casting out of hand without enough information. But spending two evening in a row, three hours at a time auditioning takes its toll.

Plus there were so many people to get through. More than the previous night, and as the director told us, between 65 and 70 people altogether! Given that he wants to keep the cast down to 16, that makes for a narrow window for me. (Being an out of town sort.)

Not that I can complain about my second night from a personal angle. I tripped up in one or two places, but otherwise did well. I once again did pretty much the very best I felt I was capable of doing with the readings I was asked to give.

Which is where some of my concerns come in. The readings I was asked to give.

Both nights, 90% of what I read was for George Bailey, which is of course the protagonist of the piece. I would be happy to be George, as I feel I have a lot to offer the role. Yet I didn't request him, nor did I refuse to take any other part. As I said before, I got there two nights in a row with no expectations in my head. No preferences. I just wanted to be involved.

But when it became clear that I was reading almost exclusively for George on the first night, and especially on the second, a few things started to enter my head. The first thing was that it was shaping up like a zero sum game for me. That the appearance was the committee was trying to decide if I should be George, or not be in the show. I have no proof of this, but it is a hunch I have, based on the fact that I was asked to read George more than anything else. By a long shot.

The second thing I am thinking right now, is that it is between me and one other person, for the role of George. For this other person, whom I know, was asked to read almost exclusively for George as well. This by itself doesn't bother me, but it does once again indicate to me that the committee was basically going back and forth between this other guy and myself in regards to casting George. I say this because he and I were almost the only ones to read for the part, and because neither of us read for anythign else. This reinforces my concern that I am not being considered for any other role.

One way I could look at it is that the committee must really be working extra hard to get me in the play SOMEHOW, and they are just determining where. That if I am not cast as the George character, after all that time spent evaluating me, that I will stand a good chance at being someone else in the play. Which would not be horrible.

Yet I would be more likely to think that way if I had read for dozens of roles. Obviously not all 65 roles could be read for, but if I had been reading for say, 5 different roles throughout the night, I could see perhaps the brighter view; that they wanted me in the show somehow, but didn't know where yet. But since I read almost exclusively for one part, my initial concern is that if they decide they don't ant me in that role, they don't have enough to determine that I would be good anywhere else. So I would not make the cut.

Again, this is all circumstantial evidence. If it even passes as that. But it is backed up with ten years of accumulated theatre audition instinct. I'd be happy to be wrong about it. I just feel that I am on target with it. At least to some degree.

I won't know of course until the end of the week. They expect to call people Friday or Saturday. So I suppose you will have to tune in then to find out what happens.

In the end, though, the audition process for this show was, to me, a better experience than the last time I auditioned for one of their shows. I am thankful for that at least.

Monday, November 09, 2009

"It's a Wonderful Audition" Part 1

That may be over dramatizing it just a bit. But last night I did have a good audition for "It's a Wonderful Life", a radio play being produced by the Winchester Little Theater.

Some background.

Loyal blog readers will remember my limited yet, shall we say, diverse previous experiences at the WLT. (They can be read about here, here, and here.) Reading those entries one will see that I don't head up there very often due to the commute. But as I mentioned last week here on the blog, several things convinced me to try out for this WLT production. Namely the director, the Christmas theme, and the unique chance to appear on FM radio. So, I borrowed my sister's GPS, and off I went.

I have been to the WLT enough times now to know that their audition process is a bit different from other local theatres. Everyone is present in the house of the theatre during auditions, as opposed to calling in smaller groups or individuals. They also require a two to three hour time commitment. Most other auditions locally take about an hour or so for straight shows, depending on the turn out. But I don't mind this; it is a thorough process, and though like any it can be abused by unfair practices, I rather like to the time and consideration put into the audition process at the WLT. At least on the surface.

And unlike most other places, the rest of the people trying out for a role tend to applaud the efforts of those who have completed their readings. I don't see that very often. Maybe it's the intimate quasi-black box feel of the small theatre. Who knows?

As for the audition itself, the turnout for this first day of two was strong. I think about 25 people of various ages. I really have not developed a relationship with many Winchester regulars, but I did recognize several people from previous auditions, as well as photographs on the walls of the lobby. You get the sense of who usually shows up for these things.

Not that I was totally among strangers. I have worked with the director before when we were cast mates in Romeo and Juliet this summer. Plus another friend of mine with whom I have worked in two shows, and another that I have worked with once before, and seen at I believe each of my previous WLT auditions.

All and all I felt much more comfortable last night than I did during my previous audition experience at the place. (Again, read previous entries for that story.)

"It's a Wonderful Life" is presented as a radio play. To an extent a story within a story, for each person cast will be playing an old radio actor with their own identity, who in turn will play several parts within "It's a Wonderful Life". The overall effect is to give the feeling to the audience that they are in an old time radio station watching people perform. If I get cast in this production, it will be the second year in a row that I have been in a "story within a story" for the holidays. (Last year, I appeared in a version of "A Christmas Carol" which has a similar premise.) To make it even more unique, it is to be recorded all three nights. Then the best overall recording will be selected, and played on a local FM radio station as part of their Christmas Day programming. I think that is a very neat concept, and one reason I hope to get into this show.

There are 65 speaking parts of various sizes, so obviously not all parts got read for. When it is something this big, I tend to not request a specific role. Rather, I just point out my willingness to be cast in whatever role, if any, I could be of most use. That being said, I did volunteer once to read for "Clarence" the angel, (it follows the movie pretty closely.) Turns out he only had two lines in that scene, but who knew?

I spent most of my other readings as George Bailey. Actually most of the men read a lot from the George Bailey scenes. This isn't surprising though, given that it is the larger part, and there were in fact an unusually high number of men there for a community theatre audition.

In all honesty, I feel I did well with my readings. It is of course hard to judge ones self in such things, especially when you have never worked for a specific director before and don't know what exactly they are looking for. In those cases one can only hope to come away from the audition knowing that they did everything that they wanted to do with their readings. I am happy to report that I did so. I turned in what I feel were the best possible readings that I could given the various circumstances. And in fact i don't think I would have been much better even if I had reviewed the script. I am after all familiar enough with the movie to have a sense of the story. That helped, no doubt.

There were in fact many good readings, and by no means do I have a read on whether or not I will be cast. I can say that with 65 possible roles, I would think anybody's chances of getting in were greater, but I am not sure how many people the director intends to cast. Last year in seems there were 26 actors involved, though the director indicated he wanted the cast to be smaller this year. I can just hope for the best.

Which is why I think I will return for the second night of auditions tonight. The director emphasized that this was not required, but admitted that it would be "useful" in making the final decisions. Seeing more combinations of people, and more readings from the same people make the job of the casting committee easier. This is another unique facet of the WLT. Most theatres around here don't suggest you come back, and in one case at least, they request that you not return to audition again. The impression I get is that as often as not, WLT folk return for the second night. So despite the commute, I believe I will do so. Even if I don't have a specific role in mind, the more I read, and the more people I interact with, the better chance I have of showing what I could offer any of the roles. So it stands to reason that I make it the second night. I feel very confident it will not be for naught as it was the last time I showed up for the second night at the WLT.

So please stay tuned for part 2 of this audition story. I know how folks love a cliffhanger...


As I wait for my dinner to cook before I head over to the WLT for the second night, I thought of something else that was very much a part of my conscious mind last night, but that I forgot to mention earlier when I first wrote this entry.

The movie "It's a Wonderful Life" is iconic. If that was not enough Jimmy Stewart himself was iconic, before and after that movie. The inherent risk of being in or trying out for a production that is based on pre-existing material, especially movies, is that the actor will ape the original performances. At least in subtle ways. Probably without even being aware that he is doing it. I faced a similar danger when I was in "The Lion in Winter" a few years back. (Talk about a movie packed with icons!) Yet even then it was not quite as problematic, because the movie was actually an adaptation of a play, not vice-versa. We still had to be careful not to ape the movie, but it was rather easy to keep it in mind, because of the nature of the play itself.

In this case, the movie IS the source material. A Jimmy Stewart movie. That millions adore. I would advise anyone that ever tries out for this thing to do as I make a conscious decision to NOT be Jimmy Stewart. Not even a little bit. As in any other role, it must become your own, and you mustn't simply mimic someone else. This should be obvious, but like I said it is not always a conscious aping. It is so ingrained into our zeitgeist, that movie. (Probably why the radio play script is somewhat different from the movie.)

Stewart did not simply deliver the definitive performance of George Bailey. He CREATED it. He originated it. And because it is a film, that creation is eternal. Those of us trying out for, and possibly starring in this adaptation MUST aim square for the epicenter of the heart of the story. Not get distracted by what everyone knows of the movie.

I tried not to get distracted by the idea of AVOIDING it either, but if one were to err, I think in this case it's better to err on the side of avoidance than mimicry of the source material.

As with last night, I shall endeavor to remember this in my readings tonight.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Opting Out....

Loyal blog readers...

Tonight was supposed to be the next night of my acting class. But for various reasons, some of which I will expound upon herein, I will not be attending.

The gist of all the reasons is this; I have not had the time to be as prepared as I expect myself to be for this scene.

My schedule has recently changed quite a bit, (now that we are passed the date wherein the class was originally scheduled to conclude.) It has not allowed for a lot of time to study my scene, let alone the entire play. And since Chekov's "Three Sisters" is in fact a very rich, deep, and multi-layered piece, anything less than full submergence into the text before attempting the first scene would be unsatisfactory to my standards. So after consulting with my scene partner, I decided it was best for me to not attend tonight's class.

My partner in fact would have been presenting two scenes tonight at any rate, given that she has not yet finished with her first scene. So perhaps it is a weight off of her own shoulders as well. Either way, I am thinking, indeed planning to try to attend the final class next week, to both glean what I can from the other scenes, and to close things off right. I cannot assure anyone that I can make it, but I have advised the instructor of my intentions.

I could have gone anyway, and half-assed it. but I do nothing half-assed when it comes to acting. Even if it is what people accept and expect. I have a higher standard for myself.

So, for the moment, that is that.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"A Robin Redbreast in a Cage, Puts All Heaven in a Rage."

I don't really understand those who feel that actors have minimal or no investment to make into a piece. Don't laugh, this view is more common to theatre these days than you may think, in all levels of performing. The notion that all emotions, motivations, character traits, quirks, back story and creativity in presentation are none of the actor's affair. A notion that reduces fine acting into nothing more than projecting one's voice, and not tripping over anything on stage.

I try to preach against theatrical monotheism here on the blog. I avoid, when I can, the notion, that any given method is wrong. Getting to the truth of a character, remaining consistent throughout a performance, and doing so with passion and energy is my acting credo. Whatever a person needs to do in order to maintain that, without denying it to someone else, is generally fine by me.

Yet once in a while, I feel an almost visceral need to reject certain notions. One of them is in fact this idea of actor slavery to text, to directors, to the whims of stage managers, and basically, just about to anything but their own creativity. The "actors as living furniture" view of live theatre, which dictates that the true nature of the experience is exclusively the director's vision, (read as "dictates" to many), and the words of the playwright. I have always found this to be particularly offensive.

In too many places the actor is considered subservient to some other person or institution. Yet that is the nature of some media. Movies. Television. A certain degree of acceptance to the idea that actors are lower on the totem pole in those two industries is inevitable if one wishes to be part of them. It has been that way for decades. Yet part of the compensation for this acceptance was the idea that live theatre remained the actor's medium. Yet in far too many circles, (amateur was well as professional) an attempt has been made to shift the theatrical tide towards less actor oriented, and more director centered, spectacle driven productions. And I say, enough is enough.

Mechanical, uninspired, and lazy is the director who insists on one unchanging vision from first rehearsal to opening night. The same goes for the playwright that leaves no room for personal interpretation of his text. And even applies to those actors who feel that they can only perform when being placed like a pawn on a chess board. None of these types breathe much life into theatre.

The stage is an actor's medium, despite a trend away from that notion in recent years. Directors who want to be tyrants should get into film. That is where directors must be given the highest amount of freedom in the creative collaboration. Writers who want to be gods ought to enter television, where their talents and positions generally reign over that of others. The peculiarities of those industries require such hierarchy. But I stand vehemently opposed to the encroachment of these philosophies and practices into live theatre. As I said, it is the actor's medium, and those involved in it, directors, playwrights (and yes, actors) should learn to accept it if they wish to create the best possible result.

This means in fact that within the teamwork and collaborative efforts of a stage production, actors ought to be the one with the greatest amount of freedom. Unlike TV and the movies, the very specific draw of live theatre is exactly that. It is live. It is visceral. If we rushed the stage from the audience, we would encounter human beings of flesh and blood. That is live theatre, and it is what people pay for. It is what people as a whole fall in love with when they come to the theatre. Directors and playwrights, stage managers and set designers who think otherwise are quite simply unwilling to relinquish power and are afraid of not having 100% control over things. Equally unwilling are they to concede the notion that people do not generally go to the theatre to see "how something was directed". We have cinemas for that. People attend theatre to see how it is acted.

Naturally, directors and playwrights are not irrelevant. A script needs to work according to certain rules, and somebody must be directing traffic. So this is not an advocacy of eliminating the director, or of ignoring/changing a script in the middle of a performance. (You can face legal issues there.) It is rather, a call for those involved in all aspects of bringing a live theatre production to life to recognize the freedom that actors deserve. And a plea to not be afraid of same. Let us do our jobs, and the magic will happen. (If the right actors are selected, which is another actual job of the director.)

Actors, don't accept a shrinking influence in your own medium. You are not in a movie. You are not in television. You are in live theatre. Don't let anyone take that away from you. And if they would, go be in another show, with people who know their place and are willing to let you do your thing, and won't silence you and your need to connect with what you are doing. Don't accept limitations on your creative power in order to maintain the false and insecure notion that any one person in theatre is sacrosanct. Truth and passions are the sacred things of theatre. The rest will follow if you possess them. If you do not, it's a crap shoot at the best.

There are directors out there who understand this. Find them, and be in every show you can with them. You will better for it, and so will theatre itself.