Tuesday, December 28, 2010

An Actor's Auld Lang Syne: 2010 Edition

I hope all of my loyal blog readers are enjoying the holiday season. (Which to me doesn't end until January 2, basically.) Mine has been going well, for the most part.

At this season,  one naturally looks back at the year about to be completed. I thought I'd do that in regards to my theatre activites in 2010, as well as share some thoughts on 2011.

I won't get into too much detail, because I covered the specifics here in the blog. I advise you to go back tot he archive for more. But here is an overview with some thoughts.

In March, I auditioned for the first time for The Potomac Playmakers, based in Hagerstown, Maryland. It was part of my decision to expand my theatre experience beyond the same few location in West Virginia. Obvious I made it into their production of "Heaven Can Wait", and it became my first full production in my home state of Maryland. I made a few new friends, and was exposed to the nearly built Academy Theater. The experience altogether was a pleasant, positive one, despite some very frustrating difficulties with the production itself.I intend to, but as of yet have not, returned there to audition for future plays, even though I learned their play selection tends to lean toward the tame and conservative.

Naturally, that process took up most of my time in April and May of this year. The 6 shows were mostly a success in regards to crowd size and response.

June brought an aborted attempt at a second summer for the Bard's Men, a theatre company with whom I worked a year earlier on Romeo and Juliet. The summer of 2010 was to be a touring summer for the venue-less company, and the material was to consist of several scenes from various Shakespeare plays, along with some educational commentary. The script was created, and auditions were held, but almost zero interest in same resulted in a decision by management to cancel the production, with hopes of preparing for the summer of 2011.

It was a personal disappointment, as I had looked forward to the chance to find venues, and travel to them, in order to present different Shakespearean speeches and scenes. I have had a similar idea for a traveling company ever sense I performed "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged" in college, which was also a traveling show and an excellent experience. This Bard's Men production remains the only show in which I was involved that was ultimately canceled.

In August I tried out for what seemed at the time a fun and witty collection of short plays, known as "A Thurber Carnival." The season opener for The Full Circle Theater Company, I was under the impression that the play would be a fun, relaxing, and relatively low pressure experience. I hadn't been on stage at Full Circle for over a year, and I had been looking forward to getting back there.

As my blog entries during that time indicated, it quickly became a very stressful and unpleasant event in many ways. (In a major way due to the unprofessional behavior of our choreographer.) Not to mention some serious ego problems on the part of some truly odious people. As a result, it ended up being more something to be survived, than enjoyed, and I got the feeling I was not the only member of the cast who felt as much. This experience was enduring through half of August, all of September, and a weekend in October.

Before "Thurber" tent was taken down, I was approached to take a role in The Full Circle's production of "A Christmas Carol". I hadn't auditioned for the this play, (one in which I had appeared two years previous), but turn out for auditions was very low. Not enough to cover all of the roles. After some conversation I agreed to appear in the play, if nobody else could be located. Nobody else was, and so I took on the role.(Which in fact was several roles, making it the second ensemble piece at Full Circle in a row I appeared in this year.)

Most of October and November was spend on this project, and in sharp contrast to "Thurber", it was a smooth, peaceful, easy going rehearsal process from start to finish. Some of that I realize was due to the fact I had been in the play before. (Though in a different set of roles.) But dedication and organization played a large role in the smooth as glass production.

There was talk of making that particular adaptation a yearly thing at Full Circle. I determined I'd be willing to participate in it again in the future, provided I had the same roles I had this year. Having done it twice, I have determined the set of roles I had for 2010 (Fred, Old Joe, Young Scrooge) are more enjoyable to me than the ones I had two years ago.

Just as the dust from "Thurber" had not settled before we began "A Christmas Carol", auditions were held for Full Circle's next play "Claudie Hukill" on the same day we performed the second Saturday of "A Christmas Carol". As I have explained, I am the assistant-director of that play. And though I won't be writing regular updates on the experience here in the blog, (as I decided it was not about acting directly), I will be posting some updates here and there.

"Claudie Hukill" doesn't open until February, but it is the theatre experience with which I am closing out 2010, regardless.

So, as it can be seen, 2010 has been a Full Circle year for me. I have had no more than four evenings in a row away from the place since early August. Nor shall I again until Mid-February. But I look forward to it.

And on the subject of looking forward, what might 2011 hold for me in the world of acting? What are my plans?

None specifically at this time. I can say that nothing remaining in the Full Circle season strikes me as particularly interesting. And I have no idea what the other theatres in the area are doing. I will be looking into that at the start of the year.

My hope is to once again audition at at least one theatre that I have never been to before. I am running out of local options, but there must be some within driving distance. I think it is good to keep up that policy of trying to broaden the theatre horizon. And if I cannot find a new theatre, I may consider trying out for something in Frederick, Maryland again, even though all the theatres in the city with whom I have dealt personally are cliquey and have terrible attitudes towards performing. They are under the impression, (so far as I can tell) that they are somehow more important to the world of theatre than those to the south of the Potomac River. I don't like that. But perhaps attitudes have changed. It has been about 8 years since I even attempted to get into a show in one of those places.

I am going to check on the Winchester Little Theater, to see if any upcoming auditions there interest me. After last year's pleasant experience during "It's a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play", I determined not only that there are some good people there, and that the venue is charming, but that if I were to make the hour-plus commute there again, it would be only for a spring/summer time show. I had a nightmare wintry commute home from there last year.

But again, a warm weather show may be worth the commute, as it was for The Potomac Playmakers. I do want to appear at the WLT again at some point.

I don't yet know what the plans are for The Bard's Men for this summer. I know there was talk of staging "Titus Andronicus", a play in which I have very little interest, I must admit. That is not to say I would reject the chance outright to be in it if that is what they are doing, but if the chance presented itself elsewhere, I would take a look.

Especially for Shakespeare. I have a hope to perform some sort of Shakespeare in 2011, even if it is just a reading someplace. I don't know how or where, but I intend to research that.

I also may finally begin taking steps to start my own theatre company. A traveling, public domain showcase of the classics, including Shakespeare. I have talked about that on this blogs several times before, but 2011 seems to be the year to begin building, even if it is not the year to begin performing. (Though it may come to that as well.) I will blog about that as more becomes known.

When Christmas rolls around again, I hope that the aforementioned WLT is again putting on the "It's a Wonderful Life" radio play. They didn't this year, and I was disappointed. If they do so in 2011, I feel fairly confident I will be there for auditions.

I also plan to spend more time reading scripts. This is a big one for me. Whether I have my own company, or plan to make suggestions to other companies, I have been a bit delinquent in reading new scripts, as far as being an active community theatre personality is concerned. If I hope to direct, I need to be familiar with more scripts. And the more familiar I am with scripts, the more I know going into an audition should a local company decide to perform one that I have read.

I also plan to memorize more monologues. It's good to have a few in one's arsenal, and I have been derelict in my duties pertaining to that aspect of being an actor. That ends in 2011.

One thing in certain about 2011; I won't have any idea all of what will occur. And indeed I predict that at least one theatre project in which I find myself involved during the year will be unexpected, as it pertains to what I am thinking now. But that is the beauty of it, I suppose.

And so, as 2010 prepares its exit from the stage, 2011 is waiting in the wings. I am hoping for a warm and large crowd to welcome it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Showbiz Radio Post for December 15, 2010

One thing I have decided to do more regularly here on the blog is to provide a link, and brief commentary on my regular pieces for Showbizradio.net. This is my latest column.

In it I talk about the luxury that community players have over where and with whom they will be working on a show. Particularly, directors. A martyr complex sets in with some people when they do community theatre which convinces them they must work for "the good of the art", even if that mean being around a director they cannot stand. I argue that community players can and should be picky about which directors they audition for. 6-8 weeks is a long time to spend with someone you cannot stand.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A New (Yet Unwritten?) Chapter

It's hard to believe that the second Friday of A Christmas Carol was a week ago tonight. The show went fast, and the time after the show has gone rather fast as well. (The holidays I am sure contribute to this sensation in this case.)

I mention in a few previous entries that the end of A Christmas Carol did not spell the end of my work at Full Circle Theater Company this year. Tomorrow I begin my next adventure there; I will be the assistant-director for a February production of Sean O'Leary's Claudie Hukill.

It should be an interesting and rewarding experience. Auditions were a week ago, and the director has chosen the cast, and contacted same. We have our first read-through tomorrow.

However, I have decided that I will not be posting regular updates about the experience here on Always Off Book.

I went back and forth no it all week, and I said I would do so. I came close to deciding to post about it as I do any of the shows I have been in. I have also previously written about my experience as a director for a one act several years ago. But I decided against doing so this time because as an assistant-director, I am neither a member of the cast, having experiences of the actor, as I usually write about. And nor am I shaping the production myself as director. I have no doubt that I will have influence over the process, as the director has told me so. I may even have to fill in any given day as Acting-Director of a rehearsal, should the director not be able to attend. But in general, my position in this play is, as the name suggests, assistant, and as such I determined it would not be wholly appropriate for me to post thoughts and impressions about rehearsal specifics.

That isn't to say I won't ever be making mention of the upcoming experience. I certainly shall be, when I feel it will fit in well with my goals of sharing knowledge about the theatre. Specifically acting. For any  actor that finds himself as a director or assistant-director ought to be able to learn something about acting, as much as they learn something about directing. If not, something is missing. I don't intend to allow that element to be missing.

So my next theatre project will not remain a mystery to you, loyal blog readers. It will simply be less regularly discussed. I can't promise I will never change my mind about that, but for now, I will confine most of the documentation about being the assistant-director of this show to my private production journal.

Yet still check back often, as I hope to start once again posting more advice on acting and links to other theatre related things as we head towards the New Year and beyond.

Monday, December 06, 2010

"The End Of It"

The title of this entry comes not from the play, but from the last section of the original novel, A Christmas Carol. But I used it for the final entry for this play two years ago, and I am doing so again.

First and foremost, I need to say that it is quite an infrequent experience for me to have my final performance be either the best, or in front of the biggest crowd. Today's matinee, however was both. Five seats short of a full house, and a very response, cheerful crowd at that. They laughed at a few things that the other crowds did not find so amusing.

As well as things that all of the other crowds found amusing. Such as my often mentioned "Happy New Year!" bit. It was always well received, and tonight was it's best reception. And though I didn't reach 100% internalization, (another hot topic here on the blog the last two weeks) I do feel my performances in this final day were of high quality, and full of energy. And the same can be said for basically everyone else in the show.

It was especially true for the break-up scene. It went better than last night, as Belle and I managed to more successfully recreate the graceful hand motion at the end of the waltz that we first did on Friday, but didn't quite achieve the following night. It may have been our best presentation of that scene. If not, it was certainly the second best. I am happy with my move in later rehearsals to present Scrooge's frustration, as opposed to presenting anger or total coldness. I shall miss performing that scene just as much as I shall miss Fred's first scene, wherein he greets Uncle Scrooge.

I had fun with Old Joe, and will miss him a bit as well. I won't miss being Peter Cratchit in either scene, frankly, despite the drama in the second. My brief moments as Christmas Future were always fun, though not my biggest challenge ever. I won't particularly miss any of the scenes in Dickens' attic, even though they are sort of the raison detre of this particular version. I always found myself chomping at the bit to get on with the actual story. (And according to my mother, who was in today's audience, some people in the house agreed with this notion, being confused by the attic moments, and unsure of what was happening.)

And then there is the Fred party scene in the Christmas Present section. The one scene that always made me a bit nervous beforehand, despite it usually being just fine. A scene I did not hate, but probably won't miss too much. And it was just fine today, and the audience was very appreciative of it. But it was not without it's problems.

To begin with, a moment wherein I was supposed to walk slowly off of a 5 step turret we built for the play did not exactly go off as planned. It is round in shape, and as I turned to deliver a line, something happened. I lost my balance for a moment, or caught my show on something, and felt myself falling forward a bit toward the ground, and away from the steps. So in the only thing I could think of to correct it error, as well as to prevent possible injury, I simply leaped off of the turret and landed in the middle of the stage while delivering said line. A bit much, but I don't think the audience noticed, and in fact seemed to be laughing rather heartily at that moment. But whether at my mini-stunt, or at something else going on on stage, I can't say. I can say the jump was a bit higher than I initially thought it would be. But better by far than falling off the thing.

The second snafu for that scene will take some explaining, but was so amusing to me I'd like to take the time to do so.

Fred blindfolds his friend Topper during the scene for a game of "Blindman's Buff". There is a gag here, wherein I look for a handkerchief, and the supposedly unseen Ghost of Christmas Present throws it, and I catch it. It always got a chuckle or two. However, at the top of the act, one of my fellow actors came off stage, and delivered a message to me on behalf of the actor who was playing Christmas Present; He had forgotten to grab the handkerchief.

That actor didn't come off stage for close to half an hour straight. He had no way to get it, and I was about to go on as Peter Cratchit. I pondered ways to cover the problem while performing Peter. (A role which had few lines.) During my brief exit, I discussed it with a fellow actress who suggested something I had already considered...taking off my ascot during the scene and using that. (Ironically, this is exactly what happened two years ago, when another actor was playing Fred, and the blindfold was somehow misplaced.) The problem was, I wasn't sure I'd have time to put it back on for my remaining scenes. I never could get it on without several tries.

Bob Cratchit enters the scene now. Played by the same actor who will later play Topper. During a section we all hated, wherein the Cracthit family had to mime its way through what seemed like a 10 minute speech by the Ghost of Christmas Present, I leaned over toward "Bob" and explained the problem to him. "Bob" then explained to me that he had retrieved the blindfold from backstage and sneaked it on with him. He mentioned it was laying behind us. I couldn't look without being conspicuous, but sure enough when I exited the Cratchit scene, to prepare for the Fred scene, I saw the wayward prop, and pocketed it quietly. It was then available to me during the party scene. And though a joke was lost, the audience was none the wiser of this. (At least until some of them read this entry!) It was a nearly perfect fix involving nearly half the cast, and not a bead of sweat was shed because of it. That is what focus and team work will bring you during a show!

None of that would have been possible if this production wasn't one of the most prepared, well rehearsed, and overall smooth flowing shows I have been in for a while. I have discussed the reasons why this may have been so for in previous entries. I won't go into them again, but suffice to say today was a prime example of the importance of being so.

As well as a prime example of why two weekend simply are not enough in most community theatre shows. Loyal blog readers will know already I have long advocated for a three weekend schedule for at least some community shows, given how almost all of them hit their true stride during the second weekend, right before they close. (If the stride is ever hit at all...) If once in a while that sense of finally hitting that rhythm could carry into one more weekend, I think a show could have more life than most community players would imagine.

A subject worthy of further consideration and discussion, but not here. Here is the time I look back on yet another show that has concluded. A show that I didn't even think I would be in, given I did not audition for it. But one I am glad I agreed to appear in. It was not revolutionary, nor life changing. nor was it perfect. But as I was telling one of the other actors during strike today, I feel it was one of those shows where we basically achieved anything we could have expected to achieve. I don't think we left anything on the stage, as it were. I think we did everything we set out to do, despite the inevitable obstacles. And hopefully we opened up the holiday season on a positive note for at least some of the people who came to see us these last two weekends. Perhaps even converted a real Scrooge or two into a happier frame of mind? One never knows.

So though once again almost none of my friends came to see me, (a sadly regular occurrence) I count this production of A Christmas Carol as a positive one. I give us a B+ or A- for the entire run. Quite the improvement over my previous show.

And an improvement over the last time we performed this show, two years ago, in some ways. Even the strike was smooth and without incident.

Now my focus turns both towards the holidays themselves, and toward my next theatre project; being an assistant-director for Full Circle's next production. I will decide in the coming days whether or not to chronicle that here on the blog, but until then, I bring my blogging about the Full Circle Theater Company's 2010 production of A Christmas Carol to a close. With my thanks to cast and crew of same.

And no, I will not end this entry with the most obvious Tiny Tim reference of all time.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Winding Down

Very often, I don't end up writing an entry about a second Saturday performance. It's true. Look back over previous shows I have chronicled here, and you will see that often I was too tired on Saturday night, and I end up blogging about both the second Saturday, and the final performance/strike in the same entry. Not this time, though there isn't much to say.

I was at the theatre for hours before call today, helping to run auditions for the show I am the assistant-director of. So I felt more than usually prepared and well balanced with my surroundings tonight. And once everyone else started to arrive, it felt like it was the most relaxed, and in some ways crazy atmosphere in the green room thus far in the run. Everyone just seemed to be more energetic tonight.

Plus we knew we were going to have a very large crowd, based on reservations. By the time it was all over, we were just 14 seats shy of filling the 100 seat house. Not bad. Our largest so far.

And our most responsive. Friday night was good, but most of the folks in tonight's crowd seemed to come ready to laugh and get into the proceedings. I even heard a few people laughing before I did my "Happy New Year" thing as Fred. I think they all knew something was coming from him, they just didn't know what exactly, nor the precise moment it would come. But it got the big laugh again once it did come.

I agreed with "Belle" that our dance and break-up scene felt better on Friday than tonight. Better than most others, and still certainly good, but it didn't flow quite as gracefully as last night. We have one more shot at it. One more shot at everything, of course.

Such as the party scene, which was fine, but sluggish in a place or two for a moment. I am not sure the exact cause, (other than me getting tongue tied once.) But the audience was laughing quite a bit at certain sections of it, so I would call it a success overall.

I almost tripped again on the damn cloak for Christmas Future. I got to wear i needed to go, but felt I had stepped on the cloth, so I stopped. I was still in my light, but could not extend my arm as far as normal when I pointed at Scrooge. Correcting it on stage would have been too awkward for that character, so I just left things alone. But people are a fan of the way I nod my head in that scene. One of the tech crew complimented that again tonight during intermission.

I screwed up in the Old Joe scene. There is always a line or two, even in a good show, that for whatever reason you worry about or struggle with. I had gotten through mine without hitches until tonight, when for a moment I blanked on the next thing I was to say. A few seconds at most, but of course it felt longer as it always does. Then I recovered and delivered the line. I hate that it happened. But am grateful it was as brief as it was, and that it was not some of my other lines at other moments.

Otherwise, another good, solid performance for everyone involved. Now comes the realization that each time I do something in the show tomorrow, it will be that last time. Or in the very least, the last time I will do it this year. There is talk of making this play an annual event, in which case I very well may end up playing the exact same role again in the future. But as for this moment in time, the sand is falling through the hour glass.

But it has not stopped yet. One more show, and despite it being a matinee, promises to be a crowd as big, if not bigger than tonight's crowd, based on reservations. I don't know if I have ever closed with the biggest crowd of the run. But whatever the size I hope it's the best crowd of the run. For even more rarely does one close with one's best crowd. Yet my mother will be in tomorrow's crowd, and I'd like her to see some of our best stuff.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Crossing the Median

The second Friday's performance of A Christmas Carol seemed to have a few tiny sticky points at the start. Yet in spite of that fact I'd say we had one of our best nights so far.

The crowd was small, but more responsive than the previous three. They laughed a several things that just had not been getting laughs. And though I was not out in the audience itself of course, and could not judge it's overall mood, our choreographer was out there, and she revealed to us during intermission that the peopel were very much into every scene. (A little theatre secret for you: sometimes your backstage people will watch the audience as much or even more than they watch what is going on on stage.) Given that I trust her view on things, I must conclude that indeed we were holding the attention of the small house quite well.

I think the waltz with "Belle" was the best it has been, leading into one of the best break-up scenes we have done.

The timing of the waltz was great tonight, and something happened that doesn't usually happen, which I think led to those enhancements. From the start, near the end of my waltz with "Belle", I step away and into the part of the set wherein Scrooge's desk sits, thus symbolizing the character's transformation from "good Scrooge" to "not so good Scrooge" if you will. While I am doing so, the actor playing the current, older Scrooge finishing the waltz with Belle that I started. Probably the most allegorical moment of the play, now that I think of it.

When I walk away from Belle, I have always done a bit of a flourish with my hand, my arm extended as though releasing a balloon in a matter of fact manner. Tonight, Belle held that hand longer than usual, and as a result her hand gracefully glided out of my own, as opposed to my simply stepping out of it. It made the whole scene feel more graceful. Possibly even more poignant. And from what I am told, (though I cannot see it happening from my vantage point) it led to an excellent timing for the other actor to step into the dance. Really nice effect, so we were told later.

The break-up scene itself went well as usual, but with the added momentum from the previously described new moment. Couple this with me changing up a line delivery here and there, (leaning more towards frustration with Belle, than anger), and we had perhaps the most complete presentation of that whole sequence we have yet achieved. I hope we can replicate the effect in the final two performances.

Beyond this, I am happy to report that my "Happy New Year!" jab and Uncle Scrooge got a luagh again. It always does.

All the rest of my scenes, save one, went by without hitches. I did trip ever so slightly on the long black cloth I wear during the entrance of Christmas Future. It is a very meshy, long and unruly piece of cloth that is probably best suited for a much taller person. It has always been a bit tricky for me, especially during the quick costume change I must make right after that first exit. But today I stepped on it just off stage, and for the first milli-second I was on stage. I don't think the audience noticed, as it was very brief. But finding my balance did prevent me from pointing at Scrooge as early as I usually do. Annoying, but by no means devastating.

This remains one of the fastest runs I have ever been in, and it is a little stunning to think we have but two more performances remaining.

Though it will not mark the end of my time at Full Circle, even for what little remains of 2010. Tomorrow, before the call for the evening show, I will be present there to help conduct auditions for the next play. I am the assistant director of that show. I have not yet decided how, or if I will report on that adventure here on this blog, because this has always been about acting, not directing. I must give it some thought.

But not yet as much though as delivering strong performances tomorrow night and Sunday evening. Until such time as the set is literally struck, that remains, as it must, my primary focus.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Pick Me Up, Before You Go-Go

Last night we had the final rehearsal for A Christmas Carol ever. A pick-up rehearsal to keep us fresh between our two weekends. Not all community shows have one, but all of them should. I am glad that this show did. Props, but no costumes. Despite that, there was actually some new stuff going on.

I think there is a certain unique freedom to a pick-up rehearsal.  It if the very last chance for a cast to feel totally free enough to expand, without the worries of an audience. (Which is why I wish more community theatres would go for 3 weekends.)The show has run one weekend already, and some of the kinks are out. It has been proven that the show can work in front of an audience. So once a pick-up rolls around, actors tend to let loose a bit more, whether consciously or unconsciously. (I am not referring to prank-laden pick up rehearsals, which are common, but I frown upon them.)

I am happy to report that this occurred last night in several places. No specific new choices were made on my part, but as I said, I felt more free and energetic to just go all out with some of the scenes, and the result was some new things happening. More of that treasured nuance about which I write so often here on Always Off Book. For me I think this was especially true during the break-up scene. The director offered particular kudos for that scene. (I didn't think to ask "Belle" how she thought it went.)

I also got kudos for the way I enter in my one scene as the Ghost of Christmas Future, though I have not changed that much for several weeks.

This show is probably one of the most well oiled machines I have been in for a while. The final two weeks of rehearsal, you will note from my blogging, were very productive, and the first weekend proved this. If there were any doubt in anyone's head, the pick-up last night should have removed them; we are running on as close to automatic as any show I have been in at this point. And I do not mean a lifeless automatic, but an automatic indicative of the entire cast and crew being so well prepared for what comes next, that little thought must be placed on it. Flow is the word, in fact. The show flows well from almost beginning to end. I knew for certain he much we had it nailed when both the Fezziwig dancing, and the Fred party word game went by with virtually zero problems.

Not that the entire rehearsal was problem free. An actor who is supposed to hand me a handkerchief at some point did not have it on his person. "Dammit" I ad-libbed, which is something I would not have done had it been anything but a pick-up.

But other than that I am aware of no major mistakes from last night.

So, it is my hope that the new things that were discovered during the freedom and relaxation of Wednesday can be applied to the three remaining shows. It seems that reservations for the second weekend are already at higher numbers than the first, so there will be a lot more people to present the improved show to in the coming days.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Better Than Average Sunday

If you have read this blog with any regularity, you will know that I am no fan of matinees. Theatre just seems to belong to the evening. Like football belongs in the cold weather.

Energy is often low for matinees, both for audiences and for the cast. Fewer people tend to come to a matinee, and those that do tend to skew towards the elderly in age. The size, and age of the crowd for today fit that description. But thankfully, the energy factor did not. It was a warmer crowd. The even laughed at a few more things than the evening crowds did. (Despite being half of their size, or about 25 people.)

In turn, I think that gave the actors more energy, which seemed to carry throughout most of the show. In some ways it was the best performance of the show so far. So prepared have we been for the last two weeks that I think for a change the play will peak before the final performance. If we hold on to what we had today in fact, the entire second weekend has the potential to be optimal.

It is more than a little ironic than that the very first moments of the show were almost quite problematic. The sound monitor we use in the green room to listen for our cues was sort of fading in and out there for a while, and the moment of my entrance was upon me much quicker than I am used to. I was in place in time, and I entered on time. But I literally went from the rest of the green room, through backstage, and right into my place off right, and thence to my first entrance, in one long, brisk and unbroken motion. So that made the first few moments exciting, given that I didn't get my usual time to collect myself.

Maybe it was that unexpected excitement that led to some of the energy of the show as a whole? I doubt it. At last I doubt it had much of an impact passed the first few moments. (As important as they can be.) And it wouldn't account for the energy of the others.

Whatever the reason, both the crowd and the cast were unusually into it for a matinee performance, and as a result, I was able to "feel it" more than I otherwise might. Still not the height of internalization that I reached in that one rehearsal, at to which I was close on Friday night, but a fair amount of it was there.

Our choreographer was on hand again today, and she mentioned that not only was she saddened by the break up scene, but also got chills from the moment before it. She couldn't offer details, but she felt them when I stepped out of the waltz with Belle. It is a point that is surreal, because it is not an actual moment in time. It is symbolic of Scrooge going from being the warm Scrooge, to the beginnings of the cold one. At that moment, the present day Scrooge dances with Belle's shadow, as I make my way to the other end of the set, in preparation for the break-up scene.

And the scene itself felt good. "Belle" still feels that opening night was our best for that scene, but I continue to think it goes just as well every night.

The party scene at Fred's gets better each night, though. The choreographer also mentioned how well that scene was going, and applauded the chemistry. I am willing to agree with her assessment, now that the lines are coming easier for everyone. Plus I didn't have as many nerves going into it as usual. They were there, but I think they decrease a little more each night. It is one of those scenes that community players notoriously tend to lethargic in. To our credit, i think we keep the very high energy level going throughout the entirety of that eight minute scene. And that is not always easy to do. I am proud of how much it has evolved.

I am also proud that I have now gone three nights in a row without dropping something at the end of the Old Joe scene. (Another scene that continues to go very well, though there were some tiny hitches in it tonight.)

So at the end of the first weekend, I give the cast of A Christmas Carol at Full Circle a very solid B+, with moments of Grade A material. Here is hoping that we can achieve the overall A for the second half of the run.

But first we must hold on to what we have learned for the next three days until our pick-up rehearsal on Wednesday. If we show no signs of rust for that, I predict a a very strong total run.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Oil On the Machine

Well, we moved the choreographer to tears tonight. And not because the dance was bad. (It was the break-up scene.) So I would say that the night had quite its share of fine acting moments.

Indeed the whole night was even better than last night. The crowd, though slightly smaller was a bit warmer. More responsive. Which is good, because I think we gave them some of our best stuff in more than one place tonight.

The top of Act One, which tends to suffer from dragging, had more energy tonight. It just felt like there was more pop in some of the speeches and exchanges. It was the most vibrant that my Frederick Dickens had felt in a while. Part of that may have to do with the fact that I was able to get a half an hour or so to myself before getting dressed; an option I did not have in the rushed madness of being late for opening night. But an equal or greater part had to do with the conspiracy of a warm crowd and a group of actors that are obviously very much at ease now with virtually the entire show.

There were some minor flubs here and there. I got tongue tired for a moment once or twice. A line here and there was dropped but quickly covered. What I call "invisible" flubs, because they get covered well and fast enough that there is no way an audience would know any better without a script in front of them. If there were any "visible flubs", I was and remain unaware of what they were.

So, going through things in order. The opening I have already talked about. The first scene with Fred, which has never really suffered from any major problems continued to feel near perfect. My exit got laughs again, and I imagine it often will.

The dance, both the fast one and my waltz went well. I feel we have the group dance nailed down, though it is probably still a bit low on energy.

Then the break up scene. (Which as I said, moved our choreographer.) It continues to go very well. I get the feeling my opposite was more happy with her performance last night, but I have no complaints about it whatsoever. Never have, actually. For my part it continues to feel more and more natural. I have had to walk a line with the scene. Scrooge must be the changed, shallow and greedy Scrooge. That is why Belle is leaving him. However there should still be a palpable sense of loss, and a bit of surprise on the part of Scrooge. Confusion and some disbelief over the fact that this engagement, this life plan which has been in place for so long, borne out of what was once love, is coming to an end. He perhaps feels sustained by the memory of a feeling, more than any actual feeling at this point. At least that is how I have been trying to play him.

Which means he can neither be totally cold and mechanical as he is when an old man. But he can not be a blubbering heart broken fellow either. Perhaps he wishes she would have changed in the same way he had, and is lamenting that as well. Either way he must still show some humanity in the scene, in the way we have been playing it. I think in the last two nights I have taken a step or two towards the man with some remains of emotion, as opposed to the man who has none left. And I think the choice had added the depth to the scene that perhaps had been lacking in some of the later rehearsals. (To my end of the scene, that is.)

The first Cratchit scene is still just...there. Not much to tell about it, really.

The second Fred scene is the one scene that I admit still causes me a slight case of nerves right before I go on. My longest scene with the most moving parts if you will, there had been a few potholes in that scene in the last few rehearsals. It has my longest sustained speeches of the entire play, and some of the quickest dialogue between several characters. There was a minor flub in it today which was covered, but for a moment I admit to being afraid we might spin out. Thankfully we did not. But there would have been little I could do. All of my lines are the result of questions in that scene. The other must course correct when needed.

Otherwise that scene continues to improve, despite my slight nervousness before hand.

At long last the Old Joe scene, which for whatever reason was one of the last scenes to become totally processed in my mind, feel totally natural for me. I now even have a system for taking all of the stuff off stage at the end of it that works. Everything about the scene, (which I think most of my scene partners don't care for) is smooth sailing for me now. Plus there is a slight ham-factor involved. I have to say I enjoy the scene a lot.

I made an effort to put more emotion into the second Cratchit scene. (In the future, when Tim is dead.) Tried to make him more weary, and lost in his grief than I have previously, when I was playing the "brave-face" Peter. I think I like the dazed and mourning one better. I think I will keep it.

Such are the main moments for me. (Though a minor moment wherein I use a hand gesture at the end of the play did get a few laughs.)

As one of my fellow actors so rightly told one of the children in the show today, there is no such thing as a perfect show, and there isn't. But most everything went right today and yesterday, and I am starting to really get inside the show, to coin a phrase. It doesn't always happen on the first night, as much as we wish it would. But on the other side, sometimes it doesn't happen at all. I am glad it happened earlier for this show. I will not be complacent for the final 4 shows by any means. But I am going to try to enjoy the high comfort levels we are all experiencing.

Matinee tomorrow, then a few days off before pick-up rehearsal.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Christmas Carol: Opening Night

Tonight was it. After two days off, we opened the show. But you wouldn't know we had two days off, as smoothly as it went. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there were no major mistakes at any point. A few minor things, mostly involving props falling off of tables. But any previous problems spots to which I have been a party went well tonight. And I heard no mention of major speed bumps anywhere else.

And what of my much talked about "internalization"? Was it present tonight? Some. Not as much as the final dress rehearsal. It may be due to the natural ebb and flow of such things. It may be because, due to traffic I was later in getting there than I wanted to be. (I am always early, but not tonight...) Whatever the reason there was a bit more distance between myself and the characters in most places than is ideal to me.

That isn't to say, however, that there were no such moments. Despite an annoying costume issue on my part, the break up scene was probably the best it has ever been. I think we delivered it a bit different tonight, as the crowd looked on. It has more energy, and I think both I and my opposite were more emphatic in our delivery. Less casual in some places, and as a result more poignant. She even said she almost felt herself tearing up a bit. I rarely do that myself, but as I said, it was better. My natural is the best way to put it. It felt less like a presentation than it sometimes feels like. Maybe because I played Ebenezer as a bit less brooding, and a bit more confused about the turns of events. Not crushed exactly, because then he would not have been dumped in the first place. But tonight it just felt right to play him a bit less cool. And I think it paid off.

The Fred party scene, complete with word game, also felt more natural than ever before. That had suffered both from my tendency to be too fast as well as feeling a bit mechanical during rehearsal. Tonight however it was warmer. More fluid. Engaging. And it got a few laughs here and there. Not as many as it might have, but I can't complain too much.

And I believe I have at last mastered a system of organizing all of the crap from the Old Joe scene that allows me to easily carry everything off stage. I didn't drop anything. And that's twice in a row counting the final rehearsal. So, (knock on wood), it shouldn't be a problem anymore.

The crowd itself I think was more into it in Act Two than in Act One. But the second half is much more dynamic and moves a lot faster, as I have mentioned here several times. And though they did enjoy Act One, (I got some laughs as Fred in that first scene, whilst needling Scrooge with a "Happy New Year!"), I think ti took them a while to warm to this unique version of the story. So not a bad crowd, Just a bit cold at times.

Hopefully my half/vest with the dry rotted elastic belt will not give me as much trouble from here on out. I safety pinned that sucker during intermission. Hopefully it will not unbuckle again as it did during the dance scene. (Which also went well, incidentally.)

So we have proven that we can perform this show as smoothly as we have rehearsed it. We just need to keep doing that, and make it a little better each time. I generally enjoy Saturday performances the most. Will this weekend be the same? Check back tomorrow to find out, loyal blog readers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Countdown to Black Friday

And I don't mean for the shopping deals. I mean because it is our opening night, and there are no more rehearsals between now and then!

It is strange. I have on occasion gotten the night before opening night off for rehearsal, but never before have I ever had two days off leading into the first performance. I don't anticipate any major problems, so long as everyone goes over their lines and blocking at some point during the break. Still, I think that come Friday night, the nerves might be at slightly higher levels as we approach curtain than they otherwise would be for me in a show like this. It may feel like we are ever so slightly cold going into the first night. Or at least, lukewarm.

But what of tonight and the final rehearsal? I have to say, not as good as last night. I almost expected that to be the case. We really hit a stride on Monday night, with costumes, make up, lights and sound. The novelty of having everything together probably drove the energy up. The realization that we were getting close contributed as well, I believe. But tonight there were no costumes. The result I think was a decrease in energy and expectation. As well as a few more mistakes.

Last night, one of the kids totally missed their entrance due to playing around too much in the green room. That also happened tonight, though it was a different child actor this time. And I dropped a line in the Old Joe scene myself, though thankfully it wasn't a direct cue line per se. The other person just needed to hand me a prop with their own motivation, as the moment is a tone change of sorts. Still I felt bad for forgetting to say it. I didn't drop any of my stuff when I exited that scene this time, though.

The game at Fred's house scene went well, though. As did most other scenes I was in, as far as I could tell.

Even the dance feels on track. Mostly.

The break-up scene didn't feel as good overall as it did last night. But the ending felt good.

I wasn't without my moments of internalization tonight, don't get me wrong. But the were more sporadic than last night, when they were almost universal and uniform. But perhaps it is good that this happened. Having had a taste of what I know is there, having two days off my provide just enough distance, and hence incentive to focus  on each aspect of the performance.Perhaps this will help me internalize as it did when sickness forced me to be ultra-focused a few days ago.

Speaking of sick, I have felt better the last two nights than I have felt in about a week and a half. I still have some head cold issues, but they have become far more manageable, and I certainly hope they stay that way for the remainder of the run.

We also rehearsed the opening moment, wherein we all sing for a moment backstage. We did this after we had rehearsed to full show. And then even later, we rehearsed the curtain call, which is a very simple affair.

So, a short entry about the final rehearsal. But there really wasn't much to report about this nondescript evening beyond what I have already provided here. Though the more I think about it, the more I think having this average final rehearsal two days before opening is a good thing. Not because of the common belief that the worse the last rehearsal goes, the better the opening night goes. I have never totally bought into that one. But because the absence should set off just enough of a spark upon our return on Friday to motivate us into getting it down. Had tonight's rehearsal been out best yet, the two days may have acted as a downhill slope for us to coast into Friday, and lose energy. Or, if this mediocre rehearsal had been the very night before we opened we may have found that inertia would have kept us from hitting the ground running from the start. It may have taken us a night or two. So, according to my theory, the combination of a lackluster rehearsal being two days away from opening could work to our advantage.

This seemed like one of the faster rehearsal periods for any show I have been in for a while.I think it is due both to it coming immediately after Thurber in the same building, and my familiarity with the script from two years ago. Either way, it has been one of the quickest and (mostly) smoothest rehearsal periods in the last two years or so for me. Now all we need are the crowds to enjoy the fruits of that labor.

If you are in the area and would like to come see what I have been referring to the last few months, visit the Full Circle website, and get yourself some tickets today.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Suddenly, Penultimate

Tonight it was made official; there will be no Wednesday rehearsal. Ergo, we have but one rehearsal left before we open.

Tonight was a dress rehearsal, and all hands were on deck again. Though not fully recovered, I myself was feeling better than I have the last few evenings. In more ways than one.

I think this was my best rehearsal so far. Things were clicking. Connections were being made. Nuances, by nearly everyone were more frequent in all of the performances. I have waded into the Rubicon of internalizing my characters now. I have not crossed it totally yet, and sometimes you don't totally cross it until the audience is there. But this is as close as I have felt the entire time thus far.

I have to give at least half of the credit for this development to my cast mates. Nearly everyone else also seemed to be more intensely involved in there performances tonight. Seeing as how I cannot read their minds I don't know if they too felt things were more internalized today, or if indeed that is a goal of anyone else but me. But I can say that many people had what appeared to be a keener focus tonight.

I have been acting for over ten years, and blogging about it for over five. Yet I still have not found the best way, or even a practical way to describe in words these moments. The best I have ever come up with, as my loyal blog readers will know, is the highly cliched and only partially accurate, "click". And I don't mean the usual use of the word in that everything went smoothly and without mistakes. (We were not without mistakes tonight, which I will address later.) But click into place, so to speak. When what I am trying to personally accomplish as an actor "clicks into place" with what is going on around me. You never quite know when it will happen. Sometimes, it just doesn't. But tonight it did. Not my most definitive clicking ever, but it was there. Even my costume felt natural on me.

Is this a moment within me, or within a show? Or a combination of the two? Most phenomena are combinations of several things, and I would venture to guess, (without being able to prove) that the "click" is no exception.

From here on out, the ideal is that it will feel even better, and equally good throughout each scene I am in. Practically though, oftentimes one scene feel better than others. They all felt good tonight, but I felt Old Joe was the best example. I really like all that I did with that one. Especially the effect of slinging my coat around my shoulders, to get more mileage out of the same costume.

I dropped something on the way out again. But that didn't ruin the whole scene.

And the break up was almost as good. In some ways better. Even my scene partner admitted that it finally felt better to her tonight. (She has never quite done what she wants to do in the scene. Not that one can tell from watching her excellent performance. But each person has their own metric, naturally.) The whole scene has felt better to me ever since the suggestion was made for me to take a small step towards the departed Belle, before turning to leave. As though I almost go after her, but do not do so.

The party scene at Fred's went better than it has the last few nights. No mistakes in the word game, which had given us some trouble the last few evenings. One thing about it, which I remember from the last time I was in the play, but as a different character, is that Fred doesn't really have much leeway in regards to feeding lines to the others in the event of a mistake. 99% of what he says is either "yes" or "no" during the game, because he can only respond to questions. It is the other three that have to be most on guard, I dare say, for chances to cover a mistake. Yet tonight we proved that we have it down, we just need to relax when we do it.

I have to main performance things to work on. "Frederick Dickens" still needs to be a bit less generic than I feel I am making him. I'd like to develop a distinct look and sound to him that is not yet there to the degree I want. I have some things I have been working with, but he still needs a bit more. The character isn't lost, and perhaps I am doing a better job at setting him apart than I thought. But as I said earlier each actor has his own metric, and according to mine, I could do a bit more. Yet after the good feelings I had tonight with so much of the play, I feel confident something will emerge.

One final rehearsal. No costumes this time. Some directors have costumes all tech week, some do not. I'd almost rather wear mine, but I do not think I will do so. I would feel out of place with everyone else not in costume, and feeling out of place doesn't help a performance.

Monday, November 22, 2010

One (and a Half) Men Down

What does my cryptic title mean exactly? It means that last night we were missing one actress. (Which makes the "men" thing inappropriate I realize), and I myself was continuing, as I am tonight, to fight this cold/fever thing I have had for a month or so.

It's not as bad as it may have sounded, though. I was in some noticeable discomfort Earlier in the evening, which flared up a bit as time went on. But during the constant motion of Act Two, I think I became too busy to be worried about some of my ailments. That, or the small amount of medicine I took had some effect.

Despite these setbacks though, I have to say that in places, I actually felt more in the zone mentally last night than I have in most of the previous rehearsals. Before anyone jumps to conclusions about it being an effect of any cold medicine, I will point out I took nothing so strong as that. Really, just a regimen of cough drops. Yet perhaps my being sick did contribute in a way to those at long last more internalized moments. In order to get passed the illness and fatigue, I had to really be mindful of everything that was happening onstage to a degree higher than it otherwise might have been. Of course I am always paying attention, but last night I had a physical need to just absorb the actions of the scenes, or else feel too run down by the work to get through it. As a result, the much awaited internalization of a few moments.

Oddly, one of those moments was the break up scene, though my opposite in that scene was not present. It just felt like at least I was owning some of the lines when previously I was just saying them. At least some of them.

I also felt more in tune with some of my Fred moments later in the play. That too as more difficult because of the missing actress, but nonetheless my condition forced me to slow down a bit and process what I was saying. I have blogged earlier this month about how for some reason that scene has sometimes gotten away from me. But not last night. It was aligned well, if I do say so myself.

I am hoping to take what I felt last night, and apply it to tonight, while not having to feel so lousy in so doing. And to apply it with the missing actress, who plays an important role in almost every scene in which I appear.

Not wanting to jynx anything, I will say that last night felt like a possible turning point inside my head. I still have some work to do, but I can suddenly see some of my goals on the horizon now, whereas before, I was still waiting.

I also has a few more little costume pieces, and was given permission to take off my coat in one scene if I wanted to. This gave me just enough of a feeling of being a different character in each scene that it too may have contributed to the internalization that was happening here and there for me. I will know more tonight when I run those costume mini-changes again.

The director told us that if we did well enough tonight (Monday) and tomorrow, we may get Wednesday off. The play as a whole truly is progressing nicely, and we shall see soon enough if it has earned us the night off on Wednesday.

But Monday and Tuesday first, and there is still much to do.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cue to Cue

Not much can really be said about a lighting/sound cue to cue rehearsal. They are very important for the technical crew, but for the actor they tend to be tests patience/endurance or both. Some theatres do not even have actors present for them. But the theatre being so small in this case, we were there to go over, (and in fact to learn ourselves) when and how the light changes and sound effects would take place. So it wasn't a pointless night for the actors by any means. It just didn't lend itself to be the source of a particularly interesting post here.

Though I have to say, ironically, that we were in and out of that rehearsal slightly faster than some of our performance rehearsals. The director begged our patience the night before, and warned that it could be a very long evening, but in the end it was at most the average length of time for a rehearsal.

Most notable about the whole evening was that I think i set a record for most cough drops consumed at one time. I basically kept them in a constant feed. Despite having shaken most of my cold symptoms two weeks ago, a different set of them, in some ways worse than the first, have returned to plague me for tech week. I really hope they are mostly gone (again) by the time we open the show.

Tonight is full dress.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Warm and Crisp and Even Keel.

When a rehearsal process goes by without any major hitches this late in the game, I am starting to realize there may be less to write about each night. No doubt this is a good problem to have, at least from the standpoint of the show. Perhaps not for this blog.

Yet it is true. No major mishaps, problems or concerns have been present in our last few rehearsals. Today was no exception. A stride has very nearly been hit by us all.

We did have some light cues tonight, as well as sound. No costumes required tonight.

One different thing about tonight was that the director mentioned she would only be paying attention to and pointing out the negatives, or the things that needed work during notes. Yet even with that plan, she didn't have to say much, and truth be told she still threw in compliments anyway.

My only error was very nearly tripping over a trunk on stage while trying to back out of the room as the Ghost of Christmas Future. I never quite go totally backwards, so I have never had any problems exiting before. But I wasn't injured, so no harm done.

I mentioned previously that I didn't think I was internalizing all of my scenes as much as I wanted to. Tonight I think I noticed that some moments are more internalized than others. The first scene with Fred certainly is very nearly. Tonight, the Old Joe scene felt as though it was very much the closest to being as internal as I like to be. ( I even threw in an extra moment of wiping my dirty hands on one of the other actors in the scene at one point.)

I still need to work on getting the sometimes chaotic party scene to feel more real to me. There is a lot going on in that one, and the word game has gone a bit rough the last two evenings. We covered well, but it still has some road blocks. I may be sacrificing internal energy of character in order to be ready for possible mistakes, and I shouldn't do so. Not in that fashion at least. I think I am not alone. The other three in that scene also proceed with a bit more caution than is ideal for now. We have six more time to get it right, however, so I am not worried much.

The break up scene with Belle is getting closer to being internalized for me, though not quite there. "Belle" herself has thus far not felt totally satisfied with her part in the scene. Though I have no complaints as her opposite, the scene will go better if both parties feel that they are nailing it. Again, there is plenty of time to get it where we both want it to be. (Which for me means, again, feeling it internally as well as externally.)

It really is time for me to be artistic as opposed to technical with some of these moments. I sometimes have a tendency to spend more energy on making sure my performance is technically flawless than I do on making it feel real to me. That ratio almost always becomes a bit more balanced the minute I step in front of an audience, but it should be closer to equal long before that. I suppose sometimes it is the fear of lines being lost or something. I don;t have it for every show. But I have some of it for this show. Who knows why? But no more excuses for me. It is time to fine tune, and give those extras I know are within me for these roles. It is time to polish, even if a few technical aspects are closer to 90% as opposed to 100%. I am promising you, loyal blog reader, here and now, that I will be doing exactly that in the coming days.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Tonight we started tech week. Pursuant to that, we had sound, minimal light cues, and most different, costumes.

I have always said a little something extra kicks in when costumes show up.

However I think i shall have to add to mine somehow. To begin with, I cannot button the coat and be comfortable. Too tight around the middle. That however won't be a problem, as I was told in casual settings many men would leave them unbuttoned. Most of the scenes in the play take place in casual settings, so I won't have it buttoned most of the time. Maybe for the short scene between Fred and Scrooge at the beginning, because he just came in out of the cold at that point.

I am basically wearing the same thing for every character though, and that is a little bit bothersome. For while our base characters are portraying the characters in the story, I find it a bit hard to get into each of those characters individually if they all lost mostly the same. (Other than a hate here and there.) I had planned on just taking my overcoat off for one of the scenes, but the problem with that is that the vest I am wearing is not a real vest. It's a fake one. It has no back to it. So removing the coat would spoil that illusion.

I talked to the costume person (a friend of mine) and asked if there were any real vests available. She is going to look. If so, I can just shed my coat and throw on a scarf or something for a scene. But tonight she did secure an additional coat. A really heavy, gritty one that I think will look well on Old Joe. So at least for that scene I will look considerably different.

I also wear an ascot. Those things are weird. But it seems that they were tied in any number of ways in the 19th century, so I can't screw it up.

The show was surprisingly high in energy and low in mistakes, though I did make one. I have a throw away line, followed by an important line, and there is no connection between the two at all. Total tone change. I forgot it a lot in earlier rehearsals and I did tonight. I must pound that one into my mind.

But the good news is, that was my only mistake tonight, even including the technical aspects. So I am happy about that. In fact, there were not many mistakes that I noticed. (Though the toilet seat door knocker has to be replaced due to damage!) Because we were not stopping nearly as much, the whole play went faster than ever before tonight.

On a different subject, my last few shows I have been a bit rushed to the finished line, so I haven't been able to get as deeply into the characters as I would like. I have had some more time in this one, but I still think the residual effects of being a bit more shallow are present in places. I am hoping to internalize a few more moments than I am now. Having all the extras will help. Having an audience sometimes helps as well. Now that my tech duties are going smoother, hopefully I can spend the final week going inward a bit more.

I welcome this tech week.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Full Run at Full Circle

Last night we ran both acts of A Christmas Carol for the first time. Given that, it was a satisfactory rehearsal, though there were several mistakes. I myself made two of them, at least.

Act Two has become less rushed in the last few rehearsals, but it nonetheless is still the more complicated of the two halves. There is still much to do, and less time in which to do it as compared with the first act. I think there may have been some fatigue on my part once we got to Act Two, having done Act One before hand. Not permanent fatigue, as of course, I will be ready to perform the entire play eventually. But it being the first time we had Act One to do right before the complex Act Two may have something to do with why I was off later in the evening.

To begin with, I once again forgot to set Tiny Tim's stool, which is my job. A minor flub, but still something I am annoyed with about myself. The second moment where I was below par was not a screw-up because I fixed it, but it still showed how off I was. I almost did not remember I have an entrance as the Ghost of Christmas Future. I did get into costume, and I made the entrance in plenty of time, but I did not remember right off that that was my next duty.

The other actual mistake I made was missing a line during the Old Joe scene. I skipped one, and went right to the next. I knew something was off but wasn't sure at first what it was. It dawned on me though, and if I had not told the other actress I was sorry, (something I realized later I shouldn't have done), my mistake would have probably gone unnoticed, the lines being so similar.

So I am not happy about those things. But there is this consolation; I will now put extra effort into fixing those very moments I flubbed last night. Of course that is no guarantee of perfection from here on out, but it decreases the odds of making the same mistakes.

The mistakes were the exception for me though. And indeed for most of the cast, most of whom continue to improve each night. The "break-up" scene with Belle continues to feel better each time I do it. I must be careful in the scene to not fall back on affectations, which is easily done when working with uber-familiar material such as this. That has been something to resist from the start. In some scenes I have succeeded more so than other in that mission. Yet I would surmise that having costumes, lights and sounds effects in place starting Wednesday, thus giving it a feel of a full-on production, will help align me, and deepen my performances. Tech week almost always has that effect to one degree or another, anyway.

I did feel better about Fred's party scene last night. I feel I am starting to slow things down, and make that Fred more like the Fred at the start of the play. For a while they felt like different people. I am not sure why. Perhaps because there is a lot more going on, with different people than in the first scene. But either way, the gap is closing as I take more command of all of the dynamic things happening within the scene. I'm going to start experimenting with those lines on my own, I think, now that they are memorized.

All and all, I think the show needs more energy. It does seem to fall a bit flat and quiet at times, especially in Act Two. And that is not due to any one particular person, but rather the entire show still feeling it's way. But, just as with my own personal moments, I can't help but believe getting all of the extras in place this week will improve things. That tends to happen most when a show is well prepared to enter it's final week of rehearsal, and honestly, I think this one is in very solid shape, all and all.

And so ends the last of the "regular" rehearsal updates. Starting Wednesday we enter technical rehearsals. Rubber, prepare to meet road.

Addendum: I just got an e-mail from the director stating that lights will not actually be in place until Saturday. Tech week does begin Wednesday, but the polish won't show up until the weekend.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"I Say This Could Be Fun"

That's one of my lines in Act One, and it could apply to this show as a whole. For we are now getting to the fun parts of being in a show. Blocking solidified. Everyone off book, (mostly). Props in hand. The real fine tuning of a production begins about two weeks out as we are.

Tonight we ran Act One. We even tried to run the dance, and remembered most of it, but not enough to warrant doing it the second time. The choreographer will be back on Sunday, and I am sure she will set it all straight at that point. We almost got it anyway.

The Fred/Scrooge greeting continues to go well. In many ways that scene has gone well from the earliest point, as compared to the others. It feels 100% natural the entire time for me. I really feel I am starting to tap into the charitable notion that is Fred's treatment of his Uncle. Truly viewing the man as a lost, (but retrievable) soul. Fred mentions in Act Two that he "could be angry with him if I tried", and I think that sums up well what the scene should be, and how I want to play it. And how I have been playing it. A religious conviction of redemption without proselytization. Just poor joy and compassion. To that end, I have begun smiling off stage before I enter, to build up the right amount of joy.

The so called "break up" scene gets better each time. The scene proceeding it needs work. It is supposed to be a party but as a cast I don't think we are quite hitting a high enough energy level for it. It seems to drag on a bit too long, and is a bit too quiet. I bet once we get the dance mastered it will give the scene an injection of energy, but even then we can do better. "Belle" and I though seem to have mastered our waltz for said scene, however.

I don't say much about the opening scene in the attic, with Dickens himself and his friends because that hasn't warranted a lot of commentary to tell you the truth. It too could go a bit quicker in my opinion, but really seems to be on an even keel. I know I could use a bit of work on making the character if Frederick Dickens a bit more distinct, but I am not certain how to go about it just yet. I think a gesticulation and a back story may be in order. (Though it's harder for him because he was a real person.)

Our next rehearsal is Sunday, and we will be attempting to run the whole show for the first time. It truly is getting quite close. Running the whole show for the first time in one night always hits that point home.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Getting There

I don't know which is more stunning at the moment. That Thanksgiving is two weeks from today, or that we open A Christmas Carol two weeks from tomorrow. But since this blog is about my acting, and not about food, I will comment on the latter.

And may I say that last night's rehearsal was one of the smoothest and most productive we have yet had for Act Two. The director admitted that the second act is a "complicated" one, and she is right, but the rough edges ended up being smoother last night than I would have expected them to be.

To begin with, I am feeling much better about my technical duties than I did a week ago. The location for the furniture has been spiked, so the guess work is gone. And with the addition of sound cues for scene transitions last night, we now have more time to accomplish the set changes than I initially believed we would have. The pace is still pretty constant, but there wasn't as much rushing as there had been before. It was not as frenzied as I thought it would be previously. I still don't get much down time in Act Two, but the pace of all of my duties is quite palatable, if they remain as they did last night.

One technical thing that I keep screwing up is the end of the Old Joe scene. All of the stuff he has just bought from the scavengers must be bundled into a large sheet, and carried off stage. The first time we tried that, I dumped half the stuff all over the place when I exited. But I managed to get it all off stage the second time around. Hopefully whatever I did then can be repeated.

Everyone seems to be off book now, as well. Which means I was able to explore some of that nuance I have mentioned here previously. Mainly with Old Joe, though some with Fred. I still must work hard to slow down my delivery of Fred's lines in the party scene. I must balance exuberance with being intelligible. I have not been given a note otherwise, but I sense within myself that I could very easily deliver those lines too fast. It is my biggest scene in the play, so I want to make sure I articulate. I want to make sure I do that in every scene of course, but that is the only one I feel myself going to fast for. Oddly enough, I don't feel I go to fast during Fred's other scene.

Despite my work on Fred, I feel that the Old Joe scene has the greatest potential to evolve between now and opening night. I have several ideas, and the character is just teeming with possibilities for traits and quirks, both subtle and obvious. While Fred is more at the polishing and occasional addition stage, Old Joe still has some actual carving left. If that metaphor makes any sense. But who knows? Something new about Fred may hit me in the final weeks. It has happened before, loyal blog readers.

Tonight we run Act One. It is not as stress free as it previously was, given that we now have the dance. I should point out however that the dance has not, so far, been as stressful as it could have been. I actually think I remember it, for the most part. I don't know if the choreographer will be there tonight or not, but I think I actually remember most of what I need to remember.

That aside, the first act remains my favorite, and not simply because it is technically easier. It is because my two most fulfilling scenes are in Act One. Fred's greeting of his Uncle at the office, and Belle's ending of the engagement. Both scene are short, and from a script standpoint rather simple. But they are two of the most famous moments in he story, and both reveal a lot about the characters therein. I don't have the precise words for it, but I enjoy performing them is a different way than i enjoy performing, say, Old Joe, (my favorite moment from Act Two, no doubt.) So I look forward to that tonight.

Some hitches and obstacles remain. But two weeks out, we are in very solid shape, it seems to me.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Shall We Dance Again?

Last night the choreographer came to teach us all the dance for the Fezziwig party scene in A Christmas Carol.

I know. Loyal blog readers who kept up with my experience in A Thurber Carnival are probably already cringing as the prospect of reading about my experience with formal dancing. But rest assured, this experience was not like the previous one. For several very important reasons.

To begin with, I have known this choreographer, as well as her daughter, for several years now. Though I have never really been instructed in dance by her, she has been part of the same theatre scene in which I have traveled for years. Just being familiar with her as a person helped.

Secondly, she did something from the very start of the session that the previous choreographer would never have thought to do; she told us to make our own decisions about how our characters would enter the dance. In other words, she showed some respect for the acting part of all of this. Instead of presuming she had the authority to make acting decisions for us, she let us think about those moments. It was refreshing to be in a dance scenario where I knew that I was respected as an individual, as opposed to being treated merely like a large chess piece for her to enjoy in any way she pleased any given moment. (Which is what Thurber's dance was, in the end.)

Perhaps the biggest change of them all between the choreographer of this show and my previous show, was that if something wasn't working, she was willing to change it somehow. In other words to actually observe and teach, instead of letting her ego issue commands, and bitch when the vision in her head didn't pan out. (And she didn't blame us when it didn't.) Night and day compared to the last choreographer with whom I had to "work".

Don't get me wrong. I am still overwhelmed, nervous, and unlikley to master all of what I need to do for the dance. Not with technical correctness anyway. The very concept of formal dance still is a nerve wracking one to me. But at least this time around there is humanity and respect involved. That makes my worry easier to handle. (Though I did have to ask people to please be quieter during the instruction. Nobody seems to ever understand that I need to concentrate on those things. Dance rehearsals to a lot of people are an excuse to screw around, for some reason.)

Aside from the dance, (which actually did go better by the end than I thought it would), we ran Act One. That continues to go very well. A few snags here and there, but by and large the first half of the show is becoming quite polished already. Very few line calls this time from anyone. None from me this time.

I do need to slow down a bit. I always have the tendency to speak a little too fast, but for whatever reason some of these lines increase that tendency. Is it because some of the characters, like Fred, are so boisterous that I feel a subconscious need to go quickly? Is it the latent familiarity with some of the lines? I am not sure, but I have made an effort in the last two rehearsals to slow down. Especially with Fred.

Some sound cues were in place last night, as was some spike tape, though we didn't need the latter last night. But we will on Wednesday, and I am relieved that it is there. I don't think I ever placed the furniture in the correct place during my set changes, no matter how many times I tried to commit it to memory. The techie stuff in this show is throwing me. I hope that the far more frantic Act Two will become smoother with every repetition from here on out, now that books are gone, and blocking is solidified.

It is my own fault that I haven't spent as much time on characterization as I intended to by this point. I am going to make a concerted effort to do so. I think I will right some character back stories, to give some depth here and there. This is not a practice of mine for every show I am in, but on occasion it is quite useful in filling in the blanks. Especially in shows where little is provided by the script, and shows when time seems to be of the essence. Creating that framework separately and using it as a reference can yield some positive results, and sometimes I just have to do it. The "right" moment to create them may never come. But the sooner I come up with some metaphorical handle bars for the characters, the sooner I can add the nuance I have been meaning to add, but haven't had the time for yet.

As I mentioned, the next rehearsal is on Wednesday, when we run the hectic and frantic (for me) Act Two.

Friday, November 05, 2010

A Bit of a Cluster...

You know what.

Last night was not a disaster. But it was very confusing to me, and I was not feeling as well as I had been the night before.

It turns out that I was wrong about what our goal for the evening was. It turns out we ran Act Two from the beginning last night. And then with what time we had left over we moved into Act One. So between Wednesday night when we tried to run Act Two twice, and last night, certain segments of the play had been run three times in two days. We probably needed it in some ways, though as I said, I probably wasn't at full capacity for much of what we did last night.

I say that because Act  Two is the most labor intensive act for me. Nearly too much so, in fact. Literally 100% of my time for almost the entire act is constant motion. Nearly all of what would be my off stage time is totally monopolized by the need to move furniture and/or props between every scene I am in. And I am in nearly every scene. As a result, the time I have to collect my props and change costume pieces between scenes is cut down somewhat, and everything is a rush. I essentially do a scene, run around pretty frantically to accomplish some technical task, and turn right around run on stage and assume another character. No real time to get into character at all.

This was a problem two years ago as well, even though my role was different. I felt then, as now, that the script tries to do far too many things, with far too little resources in too small a time frame. Certainly with too few people. The worst example is probably the 30 seconds during which I play the Ghost of Christmas Future. That takes up just enough of my time after the boisterous party scene with Fred to prevent me from taking a breather. Given that two different people play this role in the script, and given that the costume obscures the face of an actor so doing, I think it would have made more sense to have one of the female characters come out in this outfit for the brief moment. Nobody would know the difference.

But aside from that, I just have many items to set, move, place, alter, etc. the second I am done in a scene in order to prepare for my next scene, that I feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Ideally this show would have a running crew. But then I suppose one misses out on the "a bunch of people putting on their own show in an attic" feel the the playwright, Paller, was going for when he adapted it.

All of this is by way of saying that I don't yet feel as connected to my character's in Act Two as I'd like to be. My belief is that I will actually have to nail down all of the set changes and technical responsibilities I have first before I can feel totally at ease with the performance aspect. I will have more to say about characterizations then.

We did end up running part of Act One last night, complete with the Prologue. (I talked about that in my previous entry.) I got one more of my major hand props for it. The gift Fred gives to Scrooge.  Act One is far less complicated from a stage craft standpoint. Few changes in setting. (As well as set.)

We didn't have sound last night, but the sound guy was there for a few minutes before we started, running some of the effects. They sound pretty good.

Sunday is our next rehearsal. We will be learning the brief dance. And I feel confident that unlike my most recent production "brief dance" will actually mean a brief dance.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What's the Name of the Blog Again??

I am off book. I still think I will probably have to call for a line here and there, but perhaps not. Either way, I am off book for both acts now. No small feat considering that for most of this weeks I have been combating some kind of cold/fever.

Which brings me to Wednesday's rehearsal. I once again had a bit of a cough and some aches to deal with while practicing, but with two days off during which to heal, it seems, (knock on wood) that I kicked most of it away. I am not 100% well again, but I have no fever, and the aches have diminished today. I slept better last night, and I seem to be on the mend.

As for the show, it has some mending of its own to do.

Not everybody was able to be off book for last night's Act Two rehearsal, despite it being the deadline. So there were some books out. A minor problem, really. At least at this point. As an actor during rehearsal, I would rather have everyone else on stage able to deliver most of their lines without struggles so I can deliver mine, then having to have them call for most of their lines during a scene. The off book question at this point is more of a director's concern than a fellow actor's. So it is what it is. I am only responsible for my own progress, and I did get through the act without calling for any lines for the first time.

Many that were off book though did call for lines, or otherwise needed some time to recall them. Because of this, I have often noted that despite it being later in the process, the first off book rehearsal regresses a bit when it comes to impact and actual performances. A step or two backward as people adjust to not having the books in their hands. The adjustment is usually made quickly, when all hands are dedicated, so I don't expect it to have a lasting impact, but it did make some exploration of nuance with and between characters less accessible to us all that night.

But the bigger issue for me last night was the rearranging of some furniture. It does clear up some sight lines, which is good. But I know I missed several of my furniture moving responsibilities during the scene changes last night. In Act Two I seem to do the lion's share of the furniture moving for a certain stretch and it is a lot to commit to memory. Obviously I have not done so successfully as of now. But it should be easier now that I am not also trying to commit lines to memory as much every day.

We didn't run at full speed for the entire act, as there are still issues to be worked out. I am however getting enough of an idea as to where my props and costumes need to be back stage in order to pull off my transitions on cue.

We began to run the act the second time, but ran out of time. The plan tonight is to run through those parts of Act Two we did not get to during last night's second run through of same, and then flip to the top of the show and run all of Act One. Which I welcome, due to it's more relaxed pace.

That pace in fact will be even more relaxed today, because one minor, mysterious character has at last been added to our regular rehearsals. A boy, and figment of Dickens imagination, is part of select scenes, including the very opening. The actor playing this role has heretofore practiced with the actor playing Scrooge during separate sessions. But from here on out, he will be with the entire cast during rehearsals.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Two and a Half Missing Actors

The two were the only adults women in the cast, who called just before rehearsal to say they couldn't make it on Sunday night. The half was yours truly, who was, (and currently still is) fighting a cold/fever situation.

But it was Act One, which is my shortest act, and I got through it. It's always harder when people are missing, and there have been people missing for all but two rehearsals thus far. Nevertheless I am off book for the first half of the show, so that wasn't a worry.

The choreographer came to observe the scene today wherein we will need to dance. (Thankfully, it is not the same choreographer as the one from A Thurber Carnival.) By next Sunday she will have a short dance for us all to do during the Fezziwig party scene.

A few more props were added to the set for this rehearsal. Each will be stored in a conveniently labeled bag back stage. (Thanks to the stage manager.)

One thing I still need to work on is making Young Scrooge more sympathetic. As of now, it seems that I am appearing too cold for the director's taste. It is probably a matter of me trying to have a similar voice as the actor who portrays Scrooge; something I opted to do simply for the sake of accuracy. I pay close attention to those little nuances. But perhaps I won't be able to do that and still seem like a slightly different person. Perhaps in duplicated his voice I am duplicated his personality? (Which, one could argue, is worse than it was even when Belle dumped him.)

I am going to continue to try to find the right medium between the two though.

Wednesday is our next rehearsal, and it is off book, Act Two. I have one scene I need to get down by then, and then I will be good.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bookless (Mostly)

I decided to go ahead and cover two nights of rehearsal on one entry, since both were similar in regards to progress.

I went off book for as much of them as I could.

First off, Wednesday night was Act One. We weren't due to be off book yet, but I, along with several other, opted to give it a try. Given that I already knew I was off book for the first half, I felt pretty confident, and sure enough I didn't have to call for any lines. So, the important (mentally) milestone of performing the entire first act without my book for the first time is behind me. This milestone doesn't guarantee that there will be no mistakes from here on out. Far from it. But once I perform and act or a scene without book and without line calls, all parts of my brain have proof that it is no possible. That a threshold has been crossed, and that the synapses begin to fire in a different way. They approach performance mode, where character issues begin to take the front seat.

Not that the evening was ideal. One of the actors had to leave after only about 45 minutes of rehearsing. And the vast majority of what he does takes place in the second half of the first act. So we had to do the all too familiar "phantom blocking", that is to say, pretending to speak and interact with someone who isn't there, leaving a physical space open for where they should be. A sometimes troublesome thing to do so early and so often.

Nonetheless, I am pleased with my progress for Act One on the night. And for that of most everyone else as well. Especially the scene between Scrooge and his nephew, Fred. That one has great energy and interaction already. The scene between Young Scrooge and Belle I think also promises to be a strong scene.

Act Two was tonight, and as I have mentioned there is more blocking, more set changing, and for me, more responsibility, both as an actor and in a technical capacity. Not everything is in place to rehearse all technical elements, but a fair portion of them were. I am glad of this, because the more I can practice that long list of things, the more comfortable with it I will feel.

But first, the acting portion of tonight. I again attempted to go off book for most of the act. Much to my delight I was able to get through the long party scene at Fred's house, (my longest single scene) only calling for lines twice during the first go around. I didn't have to call for them at all during the second run through of Act Two tonight. Including the word game sequence. That had originally been the scene I thought would take me the longest to memorize, but based on tonight, that wasn't the case. The other actors in it are not yet off book, so I will have to see how it feels when they are. But for now, I am pleased with my progress on the lines.

And with the feel of the scene. I still have to remember to keep the joy up, because Fred is a joyful, boisterous fellow. I can do better, but I am keeping it at a decent level for now. The director allowed me to walk about the room during the word game sequence, instead of remaining seated. That helped add a lot of energy to my work in the scene. Once everyone else is off book for it, I am sure the scene will be even more dynamic.

The only scene for which I carried my script on stage was the Old Joe scene. In every play there is a scene that always ends up being the last to enter your mind, and that's the one this time. But I have until next Wednesday to have it memorized, (We do Act One again on Sunday), so I have no doubt I will be ready to go. Especially since I was able to be off book for everything else tonight.

I mentioned some of the scene and costume changes. We still pause a great deal between scenes to clarify and confer. But we have already incorporated many of these things into the rehearsals, and though some of it is bound to change, I don't have any sense of my being rushed to get anything done, so long as I keep moving.

We did change the mask that Christmas Future will be wearing. It had been a hockey mask, but is now some kind of...I can't really describe it. It's just a nondescript though eerie white face. It works well, (though I myself only wear it for mere moments.)

Accents are coming along as well. I have some work to do, but in the last day or so I have found the beginnings of distinctions between the characters I will be playing. Keeping Frederick Dickens and Fred the Nephew distinct will probably be the biggest challenge in that department. But given that I am playing Fred in a boisterous manner, and that Frederick is more subdued, I should think difference will naturally emerge.

My hope is to emulate, as much as I can without caricature, the voice of the actor playing Scrooge when I am playing Young Scrooge. That will be most most difficult single accent, I think.

We open 4 weeks from tomorrow. Black Friday itself. Knock on wood, the progress for this show continues to feel rapid. Next week being the first set of rehearsals during which we are required to be off book will be a bit rough, they always are, but we are ahead of where many plays would be four weeks out.

Next rehearsal is Sunday. Act One.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Add Ons and Take Aways

Sunday's rehearsal was a bit tricky. But not as problematic as it might have been.

For starters, two actors were missing. That always makes the earliest rehearsals more difficult. As a director, I always prefer people to miss rehearsals at the halfway mark or beyond, if they have to miss any at all. Things cannot solidify until everyone is at least familiar with the basic blocking and prop usage. That solidity is delayed when there are a lot of absences in the early weeks. (I think A Thurber Carnival suffered from this problem.) However I don't think this play is paying the price of it just yet. Both actors are expected to return for Thursday. (Though a different will be out that night.)

In addition, more set pieces, props and costume pieces were added to the mix last night. (My favorite being a toilet seat through which Marley's face will appear when opened. Don't worry, it has never been used.)

I like having those things a bit earlier than most people. The outfit for my one scene as the Ghost of Christmas Future is wild. A black mesh over my face and body, in addition to a white hockey mask. Simple, but effective.

Old Joe will have a beat up stove pipe hat, and an eye patch. I don't know which eye it should go on yet, but probably the left, given that for most of that scene I am addressing a character that sits to my right. That would make some degree of eye contact easier.

There were also some new set change assignments. I will have a whole lot to do from a "tech crew" standpoint, with little time in which to do it, in Act Two. That is because I am rarely off the stage for more than 60 seconds or so during the second half of the play. This play will involve much back stage shuffling and quick movements. We took things slow yesterday so it is difficult to determine how much time I actually will have for some of the actions, but I gather I will have just enough time in most cases.

I'm declaring myself off book for the shorter Act One. I have some work to do in the coming days to get off for the second act, but as I was reviewing yesterday before rehearsal, it won't be as daunting as I initially thought. Half of the long scene at Fred's house, (which I felt would give me the most trouble) consists of a word game. I remember how tedious it was to memorize that the last time I was in this production, but I did forget one thing; as Fred this year, as opposed to one of the guests, most of my lines in this section are "Yes" or "no." It will take a lot of repetition to get it between now and Sunday, but perhaps not as much as I thought at first.

Really, that, and the Old Joe scene represent most of my lines. They just happen to be two longer scenes. My lines as Peter Cratchit are few and far between, and as Frederick Dickens I say only two things in the entire act. One line at the top of the half, one line near the very end. So I have work to do, but not quite as much as I had thought a week ago, before I delved into Act Two in earnest.

Being familiar with both the Dickens text, and this script from two years ago doesn't hurt either.

I feel characterizations starting to emerge from my characters, despite still being on book in many places. I look forward to running Act One on Wednesday without the book, so I can take the roles out for a true spin.

Hard to believe we open in just over four weeks. Or that Christmas itself is just over eight weeks away for that matter.