Monday, March 29, 2010

Act One Rehearsal

Granted, it's rather short for a first act of a play, but we ran the whole thing twice today. As before the director is very pleased with our progress, feeling that we appear to be much further along than a third rehearsal would indicate.

The assistant director, who was present today for the first time (while I was there) concurred with this statement. I was also flattered by her compliments for my performance. In short, she is very pleased with the way I play "sliminess". She said something to the effect of how I give the impression of just sliming my way from one point to another during the scene. This is the second set of compliments I have gotten that specifically mentioned this trait, using the same adjectives. It is important to play the villains and the sleazes well, and I am quite satisfied to hear that so far i am doing so in this play. (Later the assistant director said I reminded her of the way Rob Lowe plays such characters. Not bad company.)

My first scene for act one is rather short, so I am essentially off book for it already. I had to check the page once or twice, but by the second time we ran the act tonight, it was pretty close to being in the bag. I have been going over that scene the most so far while at home, so it paid off. Even if it is just for a few lines in a short scene, being able to do anything off book always represents such a liberation; when the encumbrances of referring to the script directly are lifted and there is more creative elbow room.

Some sad news is that the actress who plays my love interest was not in today. Her husband suffered a heart attack last night. Thus far she has not quit the show, and if all continues to go well for him she, in theory, will be back soon. So we send good thoughts her way tonight.

In other news about the show, we are on the look out for many non-speaking extras for the first scene. Extras that will quite literally be walk on parts. Walking across the stage once, saying nothing, and then exiting via a flight of stairs. Extras won't even have to stay for curtain call. If you happen to live near Hagerstown, Maryland and are interested, drop me a comment here on the blog. Or you can Twitter me @TyUnglebower.

Next rehearsal is Thursday. First scene of act 2. That is what I will be studying in the mean time.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

In Honor of World Theatre Day...

I want to present a story that demonstrates why I love theatre.

Sure, I could write some sort of complex essay about the reasons, including the service to man and the primordial importance of story telling. But I won't tell, I'll show. I will re-post here today a story I posted on the one year anniversary of this blog of mine. A story which is an excerpt of a much longer memoir that I wrote after completing what to me was in many ways a pivotal point in my relationship with performing. The play was "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged." The time was college. The place was the Lincoln Theatre in New Martinsville, West Virginia.

And now, the extended excerpt from that memoir, which is just as relevant now as it ever was to the reasons I still do this.

The Lincoln Theater turned out to be the largest one we would perform in on the road, as far as seating. If I had to guess, I would say a full house would be able to hold roughly 700 people or so. By no means were we getting a full house, but from what we had heard in the proceeding days from their ticket office, it was nonetheless going to be a large crowd.
                                                                                                                                                                The stage itself was much bigger than the space we had to work in at Marietta College. There was some space in the wings, and backstage, but not much. Off to the side both left and right, there was a depth of about 5 feet from the walls of the building, to the actual stage, on both sides. Both wings were separated into little sections by a series of mini-curtains, which, in effect, created 3 or 4 cubicle type areas on either side of the stage. It was in these areas, (which were already cluttered with folding chairs, pipes, and other various stage related material), that we had to place all the costumes and props. Kind of a tight fit, but it worked.
                                                                                                                                                                              I spent most of the prep time in the dressing room in the basement. (The rickety staircase to which was behind the back stage curtain, stage left.) I never did wear any make up during those road trips, mainly because I did not own my own, and did not know how to put it on or anything. Yet the dressing room is where we actors hung out and got psyched for a show, and so in the dressing room we convened.

Once our stage manager called for places, I made my way back up the staircase, and took my usual spot, in the down stage right wing area, between two of the mini curtains, giving the sort of feeling of having my own private warm up booth. I could hear the large murmur of the crowd, and I just had to peer out very slowly from behind said mini-curtain, (The house curtains were not closed for our show opening). It was the largest audience we had yet performed for. I estimated maybe three or four hundred people.

                                                                                                                                                                There was a sense of anticipation in those last few moments before starting that night that was somewhat different than previous nights. There just seemed to be a bit more of an edge to the energy of the crowd. Finally, the lights dimmed a bit, and Gloria, who opened the show, walked out on stage. The large crowd quieted down.

Right away, I noticed something different. They clapped when she entered, which no one else had done. Furthermore, as her speech went on, they were laughing at several of the jokes. This was unique, because normally Gloria would go through her speech, and audiences would generally laugh, (modestly), at the same two jokes, if they laughed at any of them at all. (This speech was in the original script.) This audience was laughing at things that others had never laughed at; things that we as a cast had basically forgotten were supposed to be funny.
This was also true of the first few gags of the play. This crowd was not only laughing more heartily at moments that others had only giggled at, they had showed signs of enjoying things that no one else had yet laughed at. In fact, more than once or twice, I think our timing was thrown off in the first few minutes, during the opening sketch or two, because this crowd was actually laughing at things that even we as the writers and actors had forgotten were supposed to be jokes.

The energy of the crowd only built as the show went on. The folks in the house were not just watching a showl; they were letting themselves be drawn into the show. As though they all knew us personally. As a result, the cast took on a new, more exciting dynamic, unlike anything we had accomplished up until that point.

With each passing sketch or joke, the audience became even warmer, and as a result, everyone in the cast became bolder, and more confident in their individual performances. Lines were delivered with new power. Jokes were punched with better timing than we had ever had. Ad-libs came flying forth at a pace unmatched by any of our previous performances. The audience kept eating all of it up. Nothing felt like it was failing, as I was able to lose myself totally in this audience before the end of Act 1. Speaking for me, it felt fabulous.

                                                                                                                                                                      During intermission, a very excited cast chattered about how well the show was going, as we all got into out “costumes” for the beginning of Act 2. For me and two others, this entailed putting on makeshift Roman togas. 
                                                                                                                                                                         About halfway through intermission, the toga wearers had to exit the building through a side door, so we could walk up an alley, and enter the house at the top of the Act from the lobby of the theatre. Our director had told us that we could, during these moments, interact with audience members if we so chose. All audiences at all the venues found this mildly entertaining, or in some cases confusing, when they swathe actors walking amongst them at intermission, but this crowd was impressed by it. Their excitement at watching me walk by on my way to a seat in the house was palpable. Some woman I think even whispered, “that’s him”, as I walked by.
                                                                                                                                                                                 When we interacted with the audience at this time, we could choose to do so either as ourselves, or as the character we were portraying. I myself, chose the former, opting to be myself. But I did not seek out interaction with the audience. I simply sat there quietly, and responded if anyone had anything to say to me. (Which several people did.)
One the total opposite end of that spectrum another one of my cast mates was on the other side of the house as dressed as Richard III. At that moment, he was attempting to start "the wave" with the audience members. At first I thought it a bit much to ask of them, but the audience complied! Nearly everyone in the theatre was doing it, including myself. Wonderfully fun, for all involved.

                                                                                                                                                                            Act 2 finally got under way, and it went even better than Act 1. This crowd was giving me all kinds of energy. The audience itself was so energetic throughout the entire show, it would be hard to be performing for them and not have energy yourself. All my life I had desired reach out to a group of people like that; warm, intelligent, willing to have fun. We had all been interacting with them the whole time, of course. But I had two special chances to reach out to them all by myself.
                                                                                                                                                                         There were two points in this particular show where I was left on stage all by myself, to deal with the audience. The first of these took place during our Hamlet sketch. When we announced plans to present Hamlet, one of our actors would get nervous, have a breakdown, and run down the aisle of the theatre to escape the show, with everyone in the cast pursuing him, except for myself. This of course left me on stage alone.

This audience totally adored this part. They applauded as the cast rushed out of the building. I knew soon enough, however, that I had not been forgotten in the fray; for when the clapping died down, I heard a girl from somewhere in the middle of the crowd shout "Yeah Ty!"

At this point in the action of the play, I would yell after the rest of the group, telling them not to “leave me with these idiots”, (referring to the audience.) Most audiences rolls with that punch. But not that night. This audience moaned at the notion of being called idiots! Imagine, 300 or so people going "hey!" collectively because of something you did. Now, I am sure they knew it was all part of the show, and were willing to go along with the jab, but so surprised was I by their response, I knew I had to make up for it somehow. Simply continuing with the bit as written would have felt false. So I bowed at the waist unto them, in an apologetic manner, saying;

"No, ladies and gentleman, I was just kidding, of course. You are not idiots. You are in fact probably the best audience we have had so far."

At this point, I pointed to some of the people in the balcony, (yes, they had a rather large balcony with a particularly enthusiastic crowd) and added,

"Especially those of you in the balcony".

The balcony applauded and waved at me.

Getting back to the script, my job was to explain that the cast would be returning any minute. When they did not after a few moments, I was to awkwardly stall, until they had the cue to come back to the stage. To accomplish this, I had written two very lame stories about how the cast knew what their duty was, or something. Everyone seemed to really enjoy these lame tales.

Perhaps that is why when I finished each story, this group applauded as though they were good, instead of being amused by the lameness of them. Even the parts that by design were supposed to appear bad and poorly constructed were adored for what they were. I am not sure if they, or I, was having a better time, though I would guess them, despite how high I felt. They just really seemed to click with me, and I with them.

That was always one of my favorite parts to perform, and that night it was even greater for me than usual. I dare say here and now, that during that part of the play that night, I ruled. It was just me, and four hundred people, who paid total attention to everything I was saying.

Not bad.

Of course that segment could not last forever. But less than an hour later I would get to be alone with them all over again. So I ended that bit, and cued the rest of the cast to come bursting back in through the doors.
The Hamlet sketch, like the whole show, was received far better than previous performances. I will never forget one particular example of how the jokes in Hamlet went off much better that night than ever before.

After the Hamlet segment, we would begin to close the show. We would thank everyone, mention where our next performance would be, and one by one re-introduce ourselves, before declaring unison “We are the Reduced Shakespeare Company”

But it was a false ending.

We had written our version of the show, so as to in a very subtle manner avoid all mention of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The gag was, the cast would claim to be done, and I would send them off ahead of me, while I would“clean up”. Once they had left, I would reveal to the audience that my cast has totally forgotten to mention that particular play. I would then proceed to provide the true closing of the production, by reciting, in a straight manner, Puck’s closing speech from that play. Afterwards, the lights would go down, come back up, and I would call back the rest of the cast.

As you may have come to expect, it did not work exactly likethat on this night of night. After our false ending, I heard someone yell "hell yes!" moments before the place erupted in very powerful applause. I assumed many of them thought it was over, as was the point, of course, but for a moment I was worried that the audience would start leaving before the final speech. I could not be heard at first, over the roar. Yet I still had to tell the cast to leave without me. Though it somewhat broke the apparent spontaneity of the moment, I felt I had little choice but to raise my hand to call for quiet, in order to deliver those lines. I honestly thought if I had not, people would either keep applauding, or begin to leave.

Thankfully, not one person stood up to leave early.

Just as the crowd was quieting down, I sent the cast on their way. As soon as they were all out of sight, I heard someone in the front row say something to the effect of, "They left you all alone again, Ty." I looked down to said person and replied, "Yes, they did, but this time I wanted them to."

I then began my usual bit. I looked out on that amazing audience. Four hundred quiet faces looking right at me, wondering what I was up to. Yet you could feel they were, as ever, open a receptive to anything that was coming next. You could feel them waiting to be delighted.

I mentioned to them that we had not done all of the plays, but that we had skipped "A Midsummer Night's Dream". In response, a female voice in the audience called out, "I knew you had missed that one!"

These interruptions may have bugged other people, but it never really bothered me. I figure they would not be so anxious to be a part of the play if they had not enjoyed it so much. This particular time I was not sure who exactly had said it, so I looked in the general direction and said, "You are the smartest person I have ever met." Laughter all around.

I have to say that although the nature of the show allowed for this back and forth with the audience, with ad-libs and everything else, at no time during the run of the show did it feel more natural than it did that night with that crowd. I was one with this audience, as clich├ęd as that may sound.

I gave my speech, and ended the play with the snap of my fingers. The lights went out. The darkness in the large theatre made it more dramatic when thunderous sustained applause again erupted. Our hands down greatest performance in front of our greatest audience had ended.

And the "ups" did not stop once the show was over, either. In fact one of the most rewarding aspects of the whole experience took place after the cast exited the house at the end of the show, and waited in the lobby.
We all stood behind this unused receptionist desk type thing, (or perhaps it was an unused concessions stand). It resembled a bar and faced the entrance to the house of the theater. The idea was to greet the audience as they came out, and to thank them, if any of them should come to us with comments and congratulations and such.

Come they did. In droves. Within moments fans surrounded us. Not simply those trying to exit the building, but those who gathered around us for a chance to meet us. (Which is why I call them fans as opposed to merely audience members.)

There were small spurts of applause, handshaking, chatting, and a great deal of autograph seeking on the part of the fans. It was a very constant stream of people wanting us to sign things, (Who were very excited to have us do so.) I signed programs, flyers, notebooks, memo pads, just about anything. I had never signed my name so many times in one night before. (Not that I minded for a moment.)

I was amazed and very humbled by this. For a time, I caught a glimpse of what the Beatles must have felt like.
These people were no fools, either. They wanted to engage us. They talked to us at length about theater, about the play we had just did, about Shakespeare. Several people mentioned that they had seen the "Complete Works" performed according to the original script, and had found our adaptation to be much better.

After a few minutes of mingling and signing and vigorous hand shaking, three girls came up to me whom I recognized right away. They were the girls who were in the front row of the audience during the show, one of whom had been the one I had talked back and forth with during my closing bit. I would say they were between 15 and 17 years old.
                                                                                                                                                                One of the girls identified herself as the girl who said "I knew that", when I mentioned on stage that we had skipped "A Midsummer Night's Dream". I remember telling her that I hoped she had not taken offense by my remark of her being the "smartest person I have ever met." She had not, and I suppose had I been thinking, I would have realized that she would not have been talking to me at that moment, had I pissed her off.

I talked with the girls for several minutes, taking measures to maintain humility in the face of such adoration for my performance. They invited me to come see them in the play they would be doing for their high school in a few weeks. I told them honestly that I was not sure if I would be able to make it, but that I would certainly try, because I was sure that they had enough talent to put on a performance that was just as enjoyable as mine had been to them. (I was not able to attend, as it turns out.)

At one point the younger of the girls asked me if I had seen any of her signs while I was on stage. She said, "They were small, so I was not sure if you would be able to see them." I confessed to her that I had not noticed them while I was performing. She then pulled out a small assignment pad, on which she seemed to have written in bold letters during the show, several messages that she had intended me to see from my vantage point on stage.
Flipping through the pages slowly, I read each of the make shift signs that I had missed during the performance 

"You rock!" "Awesome!", and "We love you" were all among the little notes she had scrolled, in hopes of being seen from the front row.

It was at that moment that I began to realize that we had not simply entertained that night, but had overjoyed people. During these moments, I became certain that theatre was not simply a hobby, or a way of passing time, but when used properly, could do good in people's lives, and make a significant impact, if only for 2 hours at a time. Though I did not know what the future would hold for me and theatre, in the lobby with those people that night, I ceased to view it as merely an exercise.

I humbly thanked the girl, and told her she was very kind. I asked to see the pad, so I could sign it. It was the very best way I knew how to show my gratitude for her gratitude. The more I would have tried to say, the less sincere I am sure it would have sounded. So, for better or worse, I left it at that.

This fan-fest had been going on to close to 20 minutes, when out director announced that we had to be moving on. I bid goodbye to those I had been talking to, and followed the cast back into the house of the theatre, in order to retrieve our stuff from the stage.

While we were picking up our props on stage, several cast mates began to complain about botched lines, costume problems, and the like. We had obviously knocked everyone dead that night, but I started to wonder if anyone else knew that, given the banter of regret I heard from various corners. One or two people did agree it was our best audience ever, and understood where I was coming from with the power of the evening. Sadly, they all did not seem to.

But as we piled into the cars to head back to campus, it did not matter to me what the others thought. I knew, though I could not define it, that I had been immersed in something that transcended inner monologue and blocking technique. In fact, it transcended theatre. It was a night I brushed up against a sort of immortality, brought about by what I have come to believe is the most potent combination in life; people being made happy, by other people working their ass off at something the enjoy doing.

That show, and many shows have opened and closed in my life since that night. Yet the impact has never fully left me. I think back on that night whenever I question why I choose to continue acting, and wonder if it is worth the time I put into it all. So far, despite years having past, upon review of those events my answer to that question has always been, “hell yes.”

Friday, March 26, 2010

"This Doesn't Feel Like a First Rehearsal."

The title for this post is a direct quotation from the director of "Heaven Can Wait". And I agree with her wholeheartedly. Though we only block and ran one scene, it's progression was more rapid than most first rehearsals which I have attended.

You sometimes get the sense early on that a group is going to do quite well together. The age old "chemistry" thing. It may be too early to know for sure, and tonight was after all rehearsal for only five members of the 15 member cast, but early indications are that we are headed for good things as we march on towards more full rehearsals. Everyone on stage today was doing good things, and taking direction very well.

I have to say those days are fast approaching. I have less time to get off book for this show than I have had in a while. I can do it, and I will start working on it this very night at some point, (reading my lines into my recording device), but I have about a week less to get it done than I have been used to for the last several shows.

It remains strange to be running rehearsals with total strangers in a basically brand new venue. I almost expected someone I know from the other theatres to show up at some point.

And it was so quiet tonight! I don't know if it was because there were only 5 actors present, or if those five happen to be quiet people. Or if as a rule rehearsals with this company tend to be quieter in comparison to some of the other companies for which I have performed. Perhaps even it was because we were the only people in the building, whereas there is usually at least one other group doing something in the other venues while a show is rehearsing. But it just felt so quiet in this place.

Now that the set from the previous play is gone, I can get a sense of the whole performance space. It is quite deep. I would say just about as deep as the full sized theatres I have performed in, such as the Old Opera House. (See previous posts and links section.) Not as long as the bigger venues, and less backstage space, but still plenty of room to go upstage.

As for my actual rehearsing, I am doing the right thing so far, according to the notes I got at the end of the evening. The director said my character was "so slimy", and that she is really enjoying some of the small hand gestures and facial expressions I am coming up with so far. I am glad she noticed this because I have been toying with a few things, some of which I utilized while running the scene. It's still the broad strokes, but it would appear those strokes are headed in the right direction.

I have a stage kiss in this first scene. We didn't run it tonight. Nothing I haven't done before. I didn't think to ask my opposite if she has stage kissed before. But either way that was nothing that we had to work out tonight.

I also didn't have to work with a cigarette, as the script calls for. The director has eliminated it from out production. While I can see some great character moments I could create with the cigarette, I don't actually smoke, and a lit cigarette is sort of a pain in the ass anyway. Perhaps there can be some other prop with which I can fiddle during my first entrance, and subsequent moments throughout the play.

Finally, a major decision the director made was to set the play in 1979, as opposed to the late 1930's or early 1940's, as written. Pursuant to that, some line changes will be made, but those have not been finalized yet. So as I sketch out my character, I need to consider those time frames.

Next rehearsal is on Monday, where we plan to run all of Act I several times. The acts are short in this play, come to think of it, so we have gotten to full act rehearsals very early on. I am going to see if I can be off book for the scene I ran tonight by the time Monday's rehearsal is underway.

Keep checking back, loyal blog readers.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Focusing Too Much on Arts Funding May Just be the Reason Arts Funding is Drying Up

Here is a post by someone with Americans for the Arts. It is a good post, and what it says is not untrue for the most part. (It talks about the need for Arts organizations to partner up with non-arts organizations in order to increase funding, given the decline of funding for arts-only initiatives.)

The problem I have with it, (and many other similar blog posts that can be found over at the Americans for the Arts website) is that it isn't addressing the underlying problem. That problem is that the arts are losing funding for their own sake, and are having to piggy back on the funding efforts of other institutions that would be secure standing on their own right.

If funding, both public and private for the arts has been decreasing over the last 20 or 30 years while funding and donations for other non-profits has not been, doesn't it stand to reason that there is something intrinsically missing in the message that the arts world is sending out? We have known and proved for years that a strong arts presence in a community is a benefit to non-arts essentials such as education, employment, and tourism, but that doesn't seem to be enough.

If all people at Americans for the Arts and other similar organizations are concerned about is being able to say they pulled in X amount of donations per year, then perhaps this piggy back approach is all we need. Cash, after all is important. Yet isn't the concept of the arts important enough in its own right to put in the effort to get it to stand on it's own? Do the arts really want to tie their financial success directly to the stern of somebody else's ship? Even if it works? Shouldn't arts organizations be projecting their mission in such a way that people want to continue to fund them for their own sake? Or is the mission primarily about funding as opposed to educating people about and seeking to preserve the glories of the arts themselves?

If it is simply about fighting the war for better funding, that may be one reason why the arts are losing that very funding for which they are fighting so hard. I am not naive enough to think that any organization can run without funds, but there comes a time in any institution where you have to stop talking about the need for money, and start producing something with that money which reaches the people. Or in the very least the most relevant demographic of same. This requires more than fundraisers and more than the important work of lobbying legislators. It requires putting the arts out there, to be consumed. To be understood. To be loved.

Perhaps it is time to increase the amount of communication having nothing to do with the funding aspects of the arts. If we do a better job at that, maybe, just maybe, more money will follow.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Off We Go...

So it begins. I just got back from the first read-through for "Heaven Can Wait" at the Academy Theatre in Hagerstown. I guess I am now officially a Potomac Playmaker. At least until May.

If I am not mistaken only one or two people were missing. A few were late. Of the people there, I recognized virtually all of them from last week's auditions. Each playing the role that seems to have suited them best.

And what an eclectic group it is, too. Published authors. Radio personalities. Television voice over professionals. Public defenders. Wide range of ages. And several, like myself, who had never done anything at this theatre or with this company before. A few have never done theatre at all before, or at least not for many years.

I admit I was actually a tad more nervous headed into today than I was for the audition, given my lack of familiarity with anyone or anything associated with this production. (Script included.) But I felt more at ease as we did the requisite, "go around the circle and tell us a little about yourself.)

Said circle consisted of some chairs and tables from backstage that I helped bring out onto the stage before rehearsal. (I was one of the first people there.)

The performance space and the back stage area are quite nice. A bit tight backstage, though that is with the current set that is still up from the previous show. So there could be more, but still not as much as many theatres I have been in.

Nice shop, and storage. Excellent looking light instruments, from my non-technical point of view. I will be taking pictures at some point and see if I can post them here.

As for the reading itself, we weren't expected to do a whole lot of acting tonight. No notes or directions were given, to that end. Nonetheless, I found my lines truly did lend themselves quite well to the smariness the director mentioned I had when I auditioned. He does appear to be quite the sleaze, which is the sense I got based on what little of his lines I read for the audition. So I am already getting an outline sketch of how I'd like to play the character. It is my hope that what I am starting to sense is consistent with the director's vision.

The role itself I would say is medium sized as far as total lines. (I had not read the whole script until tonight.)

Having now read the whole script, the hurdle of "cold" is over. I have now delivered each of my lines for the first time. And I have experienced the story as a whole. Now that I have, I think I may catergorize it more as a fantasy than as a dark comedy. There are some dark comic elements, of course, and there are some funny moments, but I really think the entire play is more focused on the supernatural, and on human nature, than on the laughs. But I suppose that is up to an audience to decide.

It's also in three acts, which is quite uncommon anymore. But we only have one intermission, so it will still feel like two.

One decision that was made was to change the rehearsal schedule from Monday, Wednesday and Friday, to Monday, Thursday and Friday until tech week. I like this, actually. The chance to rehearse two nights in a row some weeks provides momentum I think will serve us, and at least me, well.

I have just over 3 weeks to get off book. I will be starting on that tomorrow. I feel it's doable. It will have to be of course.

I don't report for rehearsal on Thursday, so I will not be back until Friday. I look forward to it, to getting to know my cast mates, and getting to know the rhythm of The Potomac Playmakers way.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

First Directions

I received the first cast email from the director of "Heaven Can Wait". It gave some initial instructions about when we will meet for a read through (Monday) as well as a few house keeping items. So in that sense it was the first set of directions in this production.

It also included a cast list. I only recognized one name for certain from the night of auditions. (And was pleased to learn I was accurate in my guess for which part he would be assigned.) The rest of the names I can't yet put to a face.

This is uncommon for me. I haven't been in a show without at least one acquaintance in years.But this will be an even rarer occurrence; it will be a cast full of strangers in a venue I have never performed in. It's been about 7 years since that one happened.

But I welcome it. As fond as I am of many of my local actor friends, and as much as I love some of the venues, (in some cases I love the venue more than the people who run it), I am excited about the chance for so much newness. I think it can only add a little something extra to both my performance and the production as a whole.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Maryland Debut at Hand.

Today I auditioned for the Potomac Playmakers production of "Heaven Can Wait". I am happy to say I got in. In fact in a first for me, I, along with the rest of the group that remained at the end of the night, was told that we had been blanket casted for sure when the evening was over. The director was impressed with all of us, but just didn't know who would be playing what at the time.

Though my phone was off at the time, I got the call telling me I would be playing "Tony" less than halfway into my ride home. Talk about a quick turnaround!

It was the role I thought I would probably get, once I knew for certain I was getting one.

Yet I had no role in mind. This was one of the coldest reads I have ever done, in fact. I have never seen or read the show. Normally I try to be more familiar with a show than that, but this time I just really wanted to introduce myself to this company, and check out the new facility. (The Academy Theatre, in Hagerstown, Maryland.) So I stayed totally open minded about the entire thing. I even agreed on my audition form to accept a non-speaking role if offered. (Something I rarely do.)

Though the company is one of the oldest in the nation, the facility is less than 2 years old. (The company having been in the same location for over 70 years, ending a few years ago. The story is all on their website.)

The facility is very nice. It was previously a long abandoned warehouse of some sort, to which additions were put on. The house and stage are in the original building, and in a choice that I find ascetically pleasing, the walls on the inside of the house were left in their original brick. (Though I imagine there was some replacements in sections.) A catering company and banquet hall are on the second floor, and the Playmakers often work in tandem with the caterers are various events.

I would say the house seats about 220. I didn't see how deep the stage was, as the curtain was drawn tonight. They have the bathrooms in the back of the house. Posters from previous productions, (very nice ones) adorn various parts of the house. I will post pictures once I am there more. (I had thought about posting pictures of other theatres I have been in on the blog, but always forgot, so somebody remind me.)

As for the experience, it was one of the most laid back auditions I have attended, even by community theatre standards. I have a knack for picking up the wavelength of a company, or at least a director, pretty quickly based on the audition atmosphere. Sometimes you can just tell as soon as you walk in that they are looking to cast their favorites, and that it is all a formality.No matter what they claim. Not so with this audition.

Nobody was familiar to me, (though there was a picture of a guy I worked with once, years ago, on the wall.) That has not happened in a while. So I have no notions as to what the people are capable of.

I wasn't the only first timer there, though, judging by what the director said. It was clear she knew most of the assembled people from previous shows, but about four or five, including myself, had not been there before.

The director asked me to read a total of four times in the 90 minute or so audition. Twice for the lead, "Joe", and twice for "Tony" one of the medium sized roles, if I recall correctly. I felt my readings for both characters were solid, if I may say so myself. Ultimately, I was given the role of Tony, and I honestly sensed that would be the one I would get as I was getting in my car.

There were a lot of good readings going on, I have to say. Though I hate to predict, I do have the sense of who at least two of the other characters will be played by. When you have done this as long as I have, you develop a sense of who the director is leaning towards sometimes.

When I got home and checked my voice mail, I learned that the director thought I added a "smarmy" quality to the character that she liked. He is, from what I could gather, the sleaze of the play, so that should serve me well.

Our first read through will be a mere week from today. (I love getting started quickly.) Monday, Wednesday and Friday rehearsals thereafter. I look forward to it, and I hope you will check back here to the blog frequently, so you can follow me on this, my first ever regular performance in my home state of Maryland.

And a play in the spring. I love being in a play in the spring.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In Russia, Theatre Goes to YOU!

That only made a little bit of sense, if any. I understand that. But you try coming up with a catchy title for a post dealing with a dark comedy based around the embalming of Vladimir Lenin's corpse.

No, it isn't something I made up. As this article states, it comes from the mind of Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen, and it is called, (little shock here), "Lenin's Embalmers".

Ever had a play that you just know you'd want to see based on the title alone? Ever heard just the briefest description of a play and just somehow sensed that you would make a good fit as a performer IN that play? Welcome to one such moment to me. I haven't read a word of the script, and it seems very unlikley that I would find myself at the Ensemble Studio Theatre to see it before it ends it's run. But it just sounds like something bizare I would both go see and be in. Perhaps in years to come the public will be able to perform it. I'll certainly know what to suggest to my local community theatres if that day ever comes.

The weird thing is, I have already played  Leon Trotsky in a dark comedy. ("Variations on the Death of Trotsky", by David Ives. I loved being in that. Maybe I have some sort of vibe for dark comedies centered around dead Soviets.

If anyone reading this has actually seen this play, I very much want to hear from you! Do drop me a comment or an email and tell me if it is delightfully weird as it sounds.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Standing Up For Quality Theatre At Any Level

I have no idea who this person is, and I have not seen any of the productions to which she refers. However, she expresses very nicely what I think about theatre quality. That it is dependent on a desire to be creative and to do well, not on fancy sets and expensive costumes. Kudos to her. Read the post here.