Monday, December 28, 2009

Quick Update

I hope all my loyal blog readers had an excellent Christmas Day. Remember to hold on to the festive spirit through New Years! Keep the music, egg nog and movies going!

But as to relevant things...

"It's a Wonderful Life", as you all know, was scheduled to be broadcast over local radio on Christmas Day. I was out of range, but I kept up to speed through the Facebook comments of my friends in the cast.

And sadly...the first of the broadcasts did not happen! That's right, through some automated glitch, regular programming for the station resumed after a mere few moments of our show. Highly disappointing.

However, the second broadcast, in the evening, went off well. (Being interrupted once, only briefly, for a severe winter storm alert.) So while I lament not being able to hear how it all turned out, I am glad that at least one of the broadcasts worked properly. Perhaps the radio station will allow some of us that lived out of range to listen to the master recording at some point.

One other note of interest for right now; auditions are already set for a July performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", put on by The Bard's Men. This is the new company with whom I did Romeo and Juliet last summer. (Check the entries in this blog for last summer to follow that adventure.) I don't think I have ever seen an audition notice that far in advance, but the director is also a student, and would have no time between now and summer to organize anything. So, though it be a long way off, I thought I would mention my initial consideration of that production here.

That is all for now. This time of year does tend to be slow for theatre. I am going to look for some winter productions though, as nothing picks up January through March as much as being in a good show.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Deliquent is My Post...

As I have so often allowed when I am tired and busy, I left a whole weekend of a show unwritten about. So, I will now have to provide you with accounts of all three nights of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play", that I didn't share with you before. I will break it down into days.


A mostly solid night, but with some noticeable sound mistakes, and line fumbling on various fronts. No crash and burn moments, but it was rough there for a while. Not as good as the Thursday night benefit audience, and not as large. Our singing of "Auld Lang Syne" at the end was pretty much botched. There is no other way to put that, honestly.

Yet odd as it is, I actually hit a bit of a stride that night. Not just the position of where to stand at the mike, or how to hold my script, either. That was the night when the cadence and feel of the entire radio play structure just came together for me. Not that I had major problems before, but it seemed as though I wasn't quite getting the click I needed for this style of performance. Friday night, it finally did. The reason, if I had to guess, was that was when began to treat the whole thing like a radio broadcast, as opposed to a play about a radio broadcast.

Sounds like the same thing to many of you, I am sure. But consider that with the former approach, I was trying to be a character who just happened to have all of his lines delivered while being "On-Air" within the context of the story. But with the latter approach to the show, I tried to see the entire thing as a bunch of people who really were in a radio station, and I adjusted my performance accordingly.

That means I didn't play to the live audience as much as an actor normally does for a stage show. I didn't orient as much of my energies directly towards how I looked, or how I would be perceived. I directed my performances to the mike itself, in a way. I stopped trying to interact directly with the other actors as much as I had been. Instead, I treated it as something that was being done, to which a few people were invited. Oh, i was still very much aware of them, and knew when they were enjoying themselves or not. I even got a little nervous in front of them a few times. But I was at last able to stop trying to make it a play, and just let it be "radio". That seems to have been the key to hitting the stride I was talking about. If I do it next year, I will keep that in mind from the start. But that approach on Friday continued into...


Our best night. No question. With very few exceptions, both sound and lines were spot on for most of the night. Word of mouth and an article in the local paper pushed out previously weak numbers for Saturday up to a near full house. And it was one of those crowds whose electricity you could feel even before the show started. You knew they were going to be responsive just be listening to them.

And they were. They laughed a lot. (Again at some things I didn't think were supposed to be funny.) They really got into the commercials, (especially my Duks Toilet Guy, if I may say so myself.) And the ovation at the end was sustained and enthusiastic. We didn't do a curtain call for this production, but we could easily hear everyone from backstage. And, unlike all the other local theatres that i have been involved in, the WLT encourages actors to go mingle with the crowd. Something I had not felt totally free to do since college. I am not a mingler, but I do like to hear how we did. And I received several compliments.

The best compliment, in fact, was a lady who told me I had done a great job at differentiating my voices. That is high praise indeed, because the success of something like this show rests very much on such a skill. I was very gratified to learn my hard work on that aspect of my performance really paid off.

I slipped on one word during one of my Toilet Cake lines. A mistake I oddly repeated the next day. But as I said, they loved it, and I loved what we all were able to do that night. It was not only the show's best night, but I feel it was my best night as well. Particularly for the Peter Bailey scene at the beginning.

Our director mentioned earlier in the week that it was one of the voice roles that wouldn't really allow alot of caricature , or funny voice tricks. I hadn't given that much thought before, but he was right. Peter has to be played deep, and straight forward. It has to be the performance, m ore than any voice, that sells him. And indeed, I used 90% my own voice for Peter, and I am happy to know what I did with him had the desired effect.


My mom and sister were in this audience. So were 25 local Boy Scouts, as part of a full house. (A fact which really bothered a lot of us actors when we heard about it, but which turned out to be not so bad. They were surprisingly well behaved, if not that entertained by the show.)

The best thing to say about Sunday is that my mom and sister said they didn't think it went too badly from the audience perspective. Which is good, because there wasn't an actor in the show who didn't think act one on Sunday was something between pathetic and disappointing.

It did not go well for us. Not as many line flubs and mistakes as Friday night, but some of the mistakes that were made with both sound and lines left rather large holes in scenes. (Especially when the ice did NOT break at first, to let Harry Baily fall into. A key plot point that, when missed at first, required Harry to yell "yippeee!" for what seems like 3 minutes, until the situation was rectified.

Yet, as I mentioned, the audience didn't seem to notice most of those sort of things. Again, a very responsive group. Not as much as the night6 before, (Though they still loved Dux Toilet Cake, despite me flubbing a word AGAIN), they nonetheless enjoyed the show a great deal, and said so to us with their generous applause.

Act 2 went far better than act one did, and by the end, most of us felt better about the note we would be closing the show on.

Now the best moments of each night will be spliced together, it seems, and sent to WINC AM to be played twice on Christmas Day. Which is exciting in a way that of course other shows can't be.


I am glad I took part in this unique experience. I am willing to try again next year if I am not in anything else. It was a great cast, and I finally feel I have established a memorable presence at the Winchester Little Theatre. I made some new friends, and took part in something I had never done before, on various levels. Now that I have my feet wet with it, I will keep my eyes open for other chances to do radio oriented plays.

There is talk of trying to do War of the World for Halloween at the WLT. Perhaps I'll look into that as well. But in the mean time, despite some unavoidable difficulties, and a sadly short rehearsal/bonding time for this show, (two weeks, basically), I got more out of being in this show then some shows I have been in, and consider the small pains in the neck worth the out come.

I hope what Clarence said is in fact true;

"No man is a failure who has friends." I now have some more of them, so, that is an inspiring notion.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Opener

Oops. I totally forgot to blog about how the last rehearsal went. But there wasn't much more to report, really. The only big difference being that we practiced throwing our scripts up in the air at the end of the show, as sort of a send off.

So I'll just talk about the first performance.

It was nearly a full house. But, it was a benefit performance. Meaning that a company bought up all the tickets, and sold them on their own, with the proceeds benefiting a charity of their choice. ( I don't recall the name, but it was an affordable housing organization in the area.)

It was a warm crowd. They certainly seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. Though they did laugh at odd places. A cast mate reminded me that every audience is different, and that is true. Still, sometimes I couldn't help but wonder why they found certain things so humorous. Mary screaming to get away from George in the alternate life sequence, for instance. That's funny?

They also laughed when I said, "Alright" as Mr. Welsh, when I left the microphone and went back to my seat. That one baffles me as well.

But overall it went well. The last 5 minutes, however, hit a snag. We have never perfected when to break into song at the end, and we came in late. And by doing that the energy was low, and never to me felt quite right. The audience was already clapping, which was ok, but I don't think they understood what we were doing there at the end.

I threw my papers up about 3/4 of a second before everyone else, and for a moment thought I'd be the only one to do so. But everyone else followed suit.

My roles went well. The extra polish that tends to show up when an audience is present was there. (And not just for me.) I really don't have any idea if the previous problems with me being picked up on the mike were solved or not. I guess we will get techie notes on such things tonight.

It's really a different kind of "nerves" for this show. At least last night. Maybe because I have not yet gotten totally into the rhythm of holding pages and using a mike. I didn't freeze or anything. After all, the script is right there in front of me. But there is just that little something extra; a real tiny bit of something when I walk up to the stage with an audience there for this show that isn't there when it's a more standard show.

I hope that the publicity from the newspaper article last night will drive up ticket sales for tonight's show. At last check we were at about half house. We'd like more than that. (Though there are several Christmas shows running tonight, which will cut into our numbers.) But if you are near Winchester, Virginia and want to check us out, go to the Winchester Little Theatre site, and reserve a ticket!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Marked Improvement

Last night's rehearsal for "It's a Wonderful Life" went much better than Monday night. We still have some rough patches with sound here and there, but nothing like before. It is coming together well in spite of those patches.

Due to the fact that Act 2 had given us the most trouble previously, we ran that first last night. Just in case we needed to work on problem spots. (Which we did here and there.) After a break, we moved to Act One.

Act One of course is where I give my largest single performance, as George's father, Peter, in two scenes. I take all the roles seriously, but that is the one that I feel will leave the deepest impression. It is the one with the most character work required, as compared to the other roles.

"Peter" is coming along well. I feel I give him more depth each night. The director is very pleased with the tone I am giving him. (In particular my successful implementation of a note he gave me on a specific line on Monday.) From a technical standpoint I am told I am still "popping the 'p's' " when I do Peter. (An audio term referring to overloading the mike when one pronounces the letter "p". I am not really sure what to do about his, as it is something I fear when I was further from the mike. I made a concerted effort to be more direct with the mike, and that problem showed up. Maybe there is something that can be done with the setting. Or maybe I can find a way to stay within the range of the device, but at an angle. I suppose we will talk about it tonight.

I admit that I am having some difficulty with these sort of moments. The technical aspects. I feel my acting is sufficient, but I admit I could be somewhat less inhibited in a more traditional setting. There are so many other things to worry about that you do not have to worry about when in a standard play. Or even in a standard reading that is not going to be recorded. As mentioned, there is closeness to the mike, and angle. There is volume. There is how to stand at the mike. The idea of where to hold the script, and how to hold it, while still being able to face the mike properly. All of these worries, (none of which I have mastered just yet) tend to sometimes take over the forefront of my mind while I am trying to perform. I must work extra hard tonight (full dress rehearsal) to iron out some of these problems. They are not huge, but they will require specific effort. (And questions for the director.)

I don't seem to have as much worry when playing the other parts. Probably because they are of shorter duration. One or two lines at a time, whereas Peter is a "lead" if you will in the two scenes he is in. (It is just he and George for those two scenes, for the most part.)

So I have things to work on tonight. I hope to avoid two non-theatre related things as well. I hope to avoid driving home in a horrendous surprise winter storm last night. And before rehearsal I was ask to rid the theatre office of three mice. I hate vermin. But since they were already trapped in a basket, I was able to (barely) take the thing outside to the parking lot, on behalf of those who didn't feel they could do it. But I do not want to do it again.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Miked Up and (Not Quite) Ready To Go

I made it to rehearsal last night, thankfully. (Though I took what has to be the 7th different route to get there that I have found so far.)

The set looks good. Painted and stock with props and such. Plus the audio system is now up and running.

Mostly. The day I couldn't make it to rehearsal water had been dripping in some of the equipment. It seems that it escaped mostly undamaged, but that a few tiny problems may have been caused by the (now fixed) leak in the ceiling from the other day.

Those are just the mechanical problems, however. Issues of timing certain sound effects, and making sure the right mikes are on at the right time are another issue. It's a delicate balance that requires several people to coordinate their efforts. Given that we had not run some of these moments until last night, there were several snafus and issues to be worked on. But much was learned and I have every reason to believe that tonight will be better, and Wednesday better still.

As for me, I did mostly all right with the mikes. Early on I was told that I was outside the range of the device. I think I know why that may have been though. I have always had a strong voice. One that carries very well. (Sometimes to the point of annoying family members in my younger days.) The vast majority of mikes I have ever spoken into have been set at levels that were not prepared for my full speaking voice, let along my full acting voice. (As a child, I drowned out other people during a show, and refused to use a mike again for years because of that.)

The point is I have adjusted over the years, and spoken into a mike not only slightly askew most times, but from a greater distance than most people do. But given the nature of these mikes, and the fact that trained audio technicians are running them, I need to get used to the idea of delivering my lines directly into the mike, and being at close range when I do so. I need to lose that timidity when working with the equipment. I was more used to it by the end of last night's rehearsal, so I am certain things will be smoother tonight, and for the rest of the week.

The trick is to be able to hold the script in such a way that it can be seen, yet still speak directly into the mike. Not always an easy position to be in when there is somebody else standing on the other side of the mike where your script should be. But that is why we rehearse.

I am proud to say that at least last night, I never got called out for rustling pages; that was something that the audio guy was pointing out to people when he picked it up in the headset.

From a performance standpoint, I am happy with the progress I have made with my largest character, Peter Bailey. The director said that despite the mike problems, the scenes with Peter "played well to the house", so that is a plus. As mentioned I have given him a somewhat more serious tone. Not a brash tone, but a serious one. It seems to be working with the character quite well. Maybe stronger is a better word for it. Yes. Stronger. Before I think he sounded like he was deferring too much. Now I am playing him as more of a force.

A little confusion as I went to give one line...someone who had not stood there before was there last night. I guess his position was changed. Not a big deal but I have to make sure I am close enough to give those lines now, when before it was just me at the mike at that time.

The costume parade was also last night. I wore black pants, and a white shirt, with a mostly black sweater over top. (It also has one gray stripe and one white strip.) With all of this, I wore a darker multi-colored neck tie. (No bow tie I am sad to report, though I looked all over for one.) It is mostly red, to go with the holiday season. I got the ok from the director on all of that, so my costume is set.

I also started parting my hair in the middle last night, just to get it trained to do so for the show. Looks more period that way I feel.

One down and 6 to go. (Half rehearsals, half performances.)

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Week Ahead

Will consist of doing "It's a Wonderful Life" every single evening.

Which is fine by me, despite the fact that it will be a somewhat tiring week. I always did say my favorite part of a rehearsal process are the later, more intense stages. Well, with a show like this, that stage comes far sooner.

I am sad to report that I could not attend last night rehearsal. Weather was just terrible making for bad travel just about everywhere around here. Most of the people more local to the theatre showed up, though. However most have better vehicles then I, are more used to the roads than I, and probably are not as much of a danger to themselves or others during winter driving as I. I deeply regret it whenever I have to miss a rehearsal, (I have missed less than 5 in my whole career, mostly having to do with weather.) But I do not regret my decision. I just didn't think it was safe.

But the director did initiate an extra rehearsal for Tuesday. It was a move he reserved the right to make and he made it. His latest email to us all stated that he feels we need it, and that we cannot afford to have anybody miss any rehearsals from here on out. I have every intention to making them all from now on.

Thursday night is to be a benefit performance for something, though I am not sure what. I wasn't aware we would be performing on Thursday, but again, I don't mind this. It will technically be a performance, but it will also be one more chance to run through it before we "officially" open on Friday.

As for tomorrow, we are to have a costume parade. I went shopping for some appropriate pieces today. (They are supposed to be mainly black and white, or as close as we can get to same.) I did find a nice vest that was closer to dark gray, and a sweater that is mostly black, with some white on the front. I bought both. My big hope, however, was to find a clip on bow-tie. That really says 1940's to me, but none were to be found anywhere I looked. It seems I have run across them when I have no need for them, and now for the first time in my life I could use one, and they are nowhere. Maybe the theatre itself has one in it's collection. I will have to ask. I just think that really sells the time period. That, and my parting my hair down the middle, which I intend to do. I may even start that tomorrow as well, as it takes a few days to train it properly to lay like that. And it will give the director a full sense of what I will be looking like during the show when we have the costume parade.

Lots of hard work, but hopefully also lots of fun lay ahead of me this week. Tune in here all week for details.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Promos and Problem Spots

Last night's rehearsal for "It's a Wonderful Life" consisted mostly of running problem spots. If they can really be called that; we have only rehearsed twice. Either way we worked specific moments.

To begin with, however, the director assigned each actor a specific seat on the set. (If you read my previous entry, you'll learn more on that.) Now all of the actors have seats on stage, without the need to have some of them backstage. My seat ended up being only one seat over to the left than what it was before. So no big change there. I am still in a secluded little corner of the set. One actress in fact who had been sitting there previously, but has not been place very near front and center lamented to me that she no longer would be sitting in the "party corner" where the luxury of being a bit more hidden is enjoyed. It's true, she and others will now have to be more "on" than us over in the corner. But I intend to stay on as much as possible anyway.

After the seating was set up, we concentrated on the entrance of the actors at the top of the show. At this point we are to mingle with one another and the audience. Breaking the 4th wall and all of that. Always a bit awkward to think about doing that. Against one's instincts. But for this play it makes total sense.

After that, we spent most of the evening working all of the crowd scenes. Having the rest of the ensemble provide noises of crowds, mobs, board meetings, bars, and celebrations. This is not as easy as it may sound at first, for several reasons.

To begin with, the temptation is great to simply glaze over these sort of moments. Actors are tempted as well as directors. There is a tendency to just suggest crowd commotion, and then move on with the specific lines by specific characters in the scene. That has never been enough for me, and it certainly would not work for a radio play. Thankfully, our director is aware of this, and has us work on such moments.

Appropriate ad-libs at such moments can be tricky. People tend to not want to begin to yell and shout as part of a crowd, until they are sure everyone else is doing it already. I guess it may be because many are reluctant to say anything that is not directly in the script. Or they fear being the only one doing anything and looking stupid. And when most of a cast thinks this at the same time, you get to a direction for "Crowd Noise" and are met with silence and a smattering of milquetoast attempts to sounds like a mob. So you have to liberate a cast's hesitance to break in with such noise.

Once that is established, you have to remind them to actually say something. Another temptation for actors when providing background noise for a crowd scene is to simply go..."arr arr arr arr ahhh" under ones breath. Again, thankfully, our director recognized that this doesn't cut it. And the reason it doesn't cut it is that the overall cacophony or low rumble one hears when listening to a crowd does not come about because 20 people are standing in a room going "arr arr arr arr." It may sound like that somethings, but obviously that is not what is happening. What is happening is that many different conversations, (or accusations, depending on the scene) are blending together, making most of the words indistinct, and the overall effect SOUND like "arr arr arr arr" or whatever. Therefore, people doing crowd scenes must think of something to actually say, or shout, that is relevant to the proceedings.

So we worked a bit on that last night.

Timing was another issue. We will be getting hand signals from the "stage manager" (Who is in fact the director portraying the fake radio stations stage manager) which will indicate when to come in, and when to fade out, as well as how quickly or gradually to do it. We definitely needed some work on the timing, and still do. Especially in scenes where a door opens onto a bustling crowd, and then immediately shuts out the noise. That will be a bit tricky. But we will get it.

On the subject of slamming doors, there were more of the foley sound effects in place last night. Not all of them, however. Still, what they were doing was fun to watch sometimes. Clanking bottles. Dropping things that sound like shattering glass. Footsteps need some work in a few places, but that will be taken care of.

We also practiced the singing of the commercials, and of Auld Lang Syne at the end of the play. The former are going fine. The latter is going to require some timing work, in order to get to a decent place in the song by the same the dialogue stops. That will only come with practice, unless they change a few things in the script. I seem to be less worried about that working out than a lot of people do. I just don't think it is going to be as difficult to coordinate as others think, I suppose.

By the time we finished all of those trouble spots, we only had time to run act one. So we did. I gave Peter Bailey a more serious bent, as requested by the director. It felt all right. I can see where I can be more serious, without losing the depth of his humanity. It works for me. Don't know yet if it worked for the director. I haven't been getting the emails with notes in them. That is also being worked on.

During our break, the gentleman from the radio station on which this play is to be broadcast came in with a hand held recorder. He asked each of us to say our name, and the roles we were playing, (along with a short holiday greeting if we wanted to). These snippets will be used for on air promotions of the program. I think he also said it would be like the audio playbill at the end of the show. I didn't mention all of my speaking roles when I did it. I have five, but not all of them are really significant enough to mention, I didn't think. Yes, I should be credited for everything, but It just seemed tedious to me to record something like,

"I'm Ty and I will be playing Peter Bailey, Ed, the Man at the Bar, Mr. Welch and the Commercial Guy."

Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. So I chose what, at the time, I thought were my two most memorable roles. I said;

"Happy Holidays. My Name is Ty Unglebower, and I play Peter Bailey and the Dux Cake Guy."

It wasn't until later that I thought I really should have included Mr. Welch in the promotion since that is once of my voices that is very distinctive in the play. But oh well. If I am remembered for both my biggest part (Peter) and my funniest (Dux Guy), that will be enough.

May look for some costume pieces today. They want mostly black and white stuff, without too much white showing at one time. (Because of the lights.) I have most of that stuff, but we are allowed a bit of color, I think, and I need to find that. More importantly, I need to find something to wear over the shirt that is black, as right now, I have nothing.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Rough Hewing

Last night was the second rehearsal for "It's a Wonderful Life". The rudimentary elements of the set are up, so we now have an idea of what our workspace will be like.

In a word, cramped. At least for most of the cast. The actors with the three largest roles get their own chairs down stage further when they are not performing.

It will eventually look like a radio station, of course. Quasi 1940s. In the center upstage will be the table with the 4 or so foley sound people. On either side of them, on both stage right and stage left, or small rows of chairs in which actors will sit when they are not performing. (When their time comes to perform, the will contort themselves and step over fellow actors as best as they can to reach the microphones downstage.

I happen to be seated with the stage right group of actors, as I am always assigned to the stage right mike.

Rehearsal itself went well. The director is pleased with the fact that actors with multiple roles are starting to come up with distinctive voices for each role. I myself have been working on that in my free time. Some of my roles, (in fact most of them) have only one or two lines, but that makes it all the more important to find ways of making each role stand out. The worst is to sound like the same person each time. I believe I am avoiding that. I have not been told otherwise.

This whole play in fact reminds me that I have not usually been called upon to use different voices or accents in the plays I have been in. I guess either my directors are not usually worried about it, or they think my own voice is fine. But I am already taking away from this experience a desire to experiment more with different voices for future roles in standard shows.

Sometimes voices you come up with hurt your throat, and you don't want that of course. One character I play, I am playing as though he is somewhat sick, so his voice is a little gravelly. I think using that voice all night would be unwise. But since it is only for one scene and three lines, I can get away with it I believe, without hurting my real voice.

The director is also pleased with characterization. People are developing their roles, and hopefully I am as well. The role of Peter Bailey, George's father, requires most of my attention in regards to character and voice, given that it is my largest role in the production. I got a note during the break that the seriousness I gave to Peter near the end of one of my scenes was good, and that I should find a way to bring that to bear for all of Peter's lines. I will attempt to do so, of course, though I think one reason it had not shone through in earlier scenes was that I was going for warmth with anger. But perhaps righteous indignation, (a term that is a perfect for that scene) cannot mix with that sort of softness. It probably can't. I will work on it. I just don't want him to be irate.

Another change I will have to make is in regards to the physical script itself. Though he said he will not force anyone to change anything, he would prefer that all scripts be in hand, as opposed to in a binder, as I have done. I admit to preferring the binder myself, given that not having it makes the papers a bit unruly to me. But given that the director was gracious enough to leave it up to us, and that he expressed his preference, I will get rid of it. Plus, there is a gag at the end of the play wherein we, as the radio actors, toss our scripts into the air in celebration. This would not go over well with a binder.

Which brings up one final point I have been pondering about this production lately. The "base" character. The radio player that I, like everyone in the show, will be portraying, who in turns portrays the various roles in the radio play.

If this sounds familiar, check out all my entries for a year ago for "A Christmas Carol", wherein I also played a base character that in turn played other roles.

Unlike a year ago, the base character for this has no particular identity provided by the script. Not even a name. Given that we have not been instructed to do otherwise, it would be easy enough to just have Ty Unglebower mingling with the crowd before the show, and sitting on stage all night waiting for his cue. But if you read this blog regularly, you know by now that I don't usually settle for what is easy on stage. Therefore, I will be giving this random "1940's" radio talent some sort of identity. Name. History. You know the drill. I may or may not share those decisions with you here on the blog, but I will let you know when I have made them.

Next rehearsal is Thursday night.